Making a name in a fictional world

March 28th, 2017 Posted in Alumni Profiles

UT alumnus balances creativity with financing of movies in Los Angeles film scene
By Laurie B. Davis

Branden Cobb (BA’10, MBA’14), has formed his own film production company in Los Angeles, named Starring Entertainment. He hopes to continue to produce films for national and international filmmakers through the company.

It’s a Wednesday night and you’re escaping work mode by settling in with a Redbox or Netflix movie. You’ve chosen a little-known title of an independent film—you’ve never seen it advertised on TV or seen plastic figures of its characters in your children’s Happy Meals®. You watch, and to your pleasant surprise discover a memorable movie to recommend to a friend. In the near future, your rental might be one recently produced by University of Toledo alumnus Branden Cobb (A/S ’10, MBA ’14).

Independent films—from sci-fi fantasies and westerns to dramas and comedies—are in production daily around the world. Cobb has jumped into Los Angeles’ indie film industry with ambitions to exclusively run his own production company, Starring Entertainment. “You have to be able to generate your own opportunities here, so that means being able to market myself. I brand everything under my own company. I want to ultimately have a studio that’s pumping out a lot of films,” says Cobb.

In 2007, Cobb came to The University of Toledo to study film and public relations, offered through the former College of Arts and Sciences. “The reason I chose UT, is that many schools around Ohio had various broadcast programs or good media programs, but at the time, UT was the only school that had a film program: a fictional, narrative movie-making program.”

As an undergraduate, the UT film program taught him physical production and a lot about the diverse styles of films. “We studied third-world cinema, documentaries, South American cinema, European cinema; they vary from the Hollywood style. All the production courses were awesome, film as well as video courses,” he says. He also had the chance to do an internship at MTV in New York while working on his BA, and he spent time in L.A. working for Viacom after graduating. “I jumped around; it’s a tough business to start in. When I got out to L.A., I realized this is a really tough world here, and I need all of the knowledge I can get in order to compete with people who are very skilled at what they do,” says Cobb.

Cobb decided he needed more education. He needed balance between the creativity of filmmaking and the business side of the industry. So, he returned to Toledo to get his MBA with an emphasis in marketing and international business. After earning his degree in 2014, he went back to L.A., where he now lives.

Branden Cobb looks into the distance with some of the crew members working on the movie Gold Dust for which Cobb served as line producer and associate producer.

All four areas of concentration in his UT education—international business, marketing, film and public relations—were instrumental in jumpstarting his career. Cobb also connected with other UT alumni in the Los Angeles area who are working in the film industry—Roger Burlage (Bus ’73) and Eric Miller (Univ Coll ’05)— and sought advice from UT mentors, who have counseled him on what it takes to succeed in film on the West Coast. “Dyrk Ashton was always great,” says Cobb, referring to the assistant professor of film and cinema studies. “He taught me about many different genres and international styles of film.” Cobb says Ashton worked in Hollywood before teaching at UT, and that experience made him a good source to learn about the ins and outs of film production in a city that’s saturated with fledgling producers, directors and actors.

“He was always willing to provide consultation and career advice. He wrote me letters of recommendation that helped start my career. When I returned to Toledo to do the MBA, I met up multiple times for lunch with Dryk, and he continued to guide me with developing a plan to return to Los Angeles. He has been an amazing mentor,” says Cobb.

Cobb has projects in all stages of the production pipeline, including several in development and one that has received distribution offers. When he’s not on the set, he typically is meeting with any number of production companies, studios and in general making contacts within the industry. “The goal is to expand the Starring Entertainment brand both horizontally, more projects occurring at once, and vertically, larger budgeted projects,” he says.

One of the films Cobb has worked on as executive producer is Point Man, a movie written and directed by Phil Blattenberger. The film was shot in Cambodia in January 2017, and is now being filmed in South Carolina through April. The IMDb summary of the film reads: “Point Man is a feature-length film about the Vietnam War. Set in April 1968 — three months after the tide-turning Tet Offensive and one month after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Point Man is the story of a U.S. Army fire team fractured by racial tensions, moral crises, and the crushing pressures of combat in a war nobody wants to fight.”

Cobb says producing blends the creative with business. “I enjoy being a leader in the creation of a film, and I enjoy seeing the pieces fall into place. When people ask about producing and what I do, I describe it as: I don’t have to know a lot about any one thing, but I have to know a little about everything. It’s multi-tasking. It’s putting the pieces of a puzzle together and seeing the big picture. Every project comes together differently. There are unique strategies and goals for each project, so the variety involved with producing keeps the work flow fresh.”

Actor David Wysocki, left, speaks with Branden Cobb, on location in the Mohave Desert, for the shooting of the film Gold Dust, which was directed by David Wall.

His personal philosophy about filmmaking is that movies should have a positive influence on viewers by instilling good values. “I have gained experience through a mixture of content creation, but as I begin to be able to be more selective on what type of content I involve myself with, I want to create positive fun.

“Content consumption passively changes the way an audience and the public think, so it is important to put content out there that will inspire people to live better lives. I want to do this through movies that either allow people to escape from the hardships of life and enter a world of joy, or through stories that inspire and motivate people.”

Balancing that creative content with the financial considerations of filmmaking are uppermost in Cobb’s mind. “While the art of filmmaking is a passion, in order to continue making projects we need to make sure we are creating a perceived value that is greater than the actual cost. If projects keep making their money back, and especially if making a profit, then we’ll continue to be able to make them.”

It’s not surprising that some of Cobb’s favorite films include Rudy, Remember the Titans and Little Giants, and it’s not simply because he’s a sports fan. “I enjoy movies and stories in which people went from nothing to something. While I would love to see that done more in positive, influential content, I enjoy it in a wide range of movies.” He also likes movies in which the character who bends the rules for personal gain gets caught, such as New York stockbroker Jordan Belfort, who defrauds investors both in real life and in the film, Wolf of Wall Street, directed by Martin Scorsese.

Branden Cobb watches as a scene is being reviewed during the shooting of Gold Dust, a film by David Wall, which currently is in post-production and is expected to release this year.

Cobb’s goals for Starring Entertainment and his role as an executive producer are to step up in budget sizes and create financial returns for the films he makes. He also wants the content of his films to have a positive impact on society, just as his personal mentors have influenced his success in Hollywood. “I have been lucky to have many mentors out here in Los Angeles, and in general, who are helping me layout the blueprint of what needs to be done to continue advancing as a producer,” says Cobb.

As a producer who considers the benefits for the audience in every project he undertakes, it’s likely Cobb’s rise in the movie industry is assured. “I don’t want to be involved with or known for cheesy, weak content. I want intense, relatable, cool content. It’s all about the feelings and thoughts that the work provokes for the viewers. I want people to feel joy and see things that make them know life is good.”

Other projects on Cobb’s schedule include:

Production — Landfill
Yesser Laham, writer/director, Branden Cobb, producer, Starring Entertainment, sole production company. Actors: Linda Blair (Oscar-nominated and Golden Globe winner for The Exorcist), David Lee Smith (Fight Club), Michael Dudikoff (American Ninja), Christine Elise (Childs Play 2, 90210), Angela Jones (Pulp Fiction). Production began March 20 in Los Angeles

Post-production — Ink & Rain
Dallas King, writer/director, Branden Cobb, producer and line producer, Starring Entertainment, co-production company. Shot in downtown Los Angeles

Post-production — Gold Dust
David Wall, writer/director, Branden Cobb, line producer and associate producer. Shot in the Mojave Desert in 2016

Completed — Gone Are the Days
Mark Landre Gould, director, Starring Entertainment brought in three distribution offers from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Gravitas Ventures, and Hannover House.

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