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Meet Jesse Selwyn of Cutaway in Mid-City

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jesse Selwyn.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I grew up in Tucson, made my way to NYU Tisch, and came to Los Angeles shortly after graduation. Right out of film school, I started as a production assistant and associate producer while shooting and editing any side project that would have me. Within a couple years, my brother and I got a chance to collaborate on scripted comedy shorts for a cable network. It was an incredibly fun time – being commissioned to make stuff with my brother was a childhood dream come true.

Exciting as it was to see my directing work on television, I knew there had to be life for our content beyond a single episode airing. This was early on, mind you, when a MySpace front page feature was hugely thrilling. It took some convincing for my boss to sign off, but ultimately I shared our segments on a few young digital platforms. It paid off: online features led to some early viral success which caught the eyes of brands and digital outlets looking to build web content.

This recognition landed me on rosters at a few commercial production companies who were hoping to break into the content game. Another exciting benchmark, but the reps weren’t quite sure how to promote my work in a broadcast-dominated landscape. After bouncing around and crafting my reel with specs and other content for a couple years, I grew anxious to take more control of my path. I’d been building a network of collaborators, and wanted to spearhead projects for us to work on together.

I formed Cutaway to market my directing style within the frame of a full-service creative and production company. I wanted to offer a nimble production model to fit within a range of budgets and end-to-end offerings from ideas through post, scaling as needed per project. A central pillar would be our belief in brand web video as a focus, rather than an afterthought or spillover from broadcast. My brand/agency contacts who knew me as a director were excited to collaborate in this capacity; I got things up and running and small jobs eventually led to larger ones.

As we’ve grown, I’ve brought on additional directors to appeal to a wider array of jobs. This has been a growth opportunity for me to migrate into the EP role, focus on developing directors, and spend more time expanding business. Currently, I direct about half the projects, and produce the rest. The founding principles remain, and our projects continue to be all shapes and sizes.

Has it been a smooth road?
Overall, it’s been a progressive journey, but the road conditions are ever-changing. There are miles of all out cruising, stretches of steep grades… and an occasional pileup in the fog.

As a creative thinker, it can be tricky to balance business logistics with artistic integrity. The young me dreamed of creating things, but had no awareness of the business end (I think film schools could do better at teaching this side of things). I’m fortunate to have some wise mentors to lean on for guidance as my company grows. With their help, and plenty of trial and error, I’ve transitioned from director into creative business owner, and continue to learn.

Marketing and finding project opportunities is a central challenge – we never know what’s going to work. When’s the right time for a rep? Do I make the cold calls? What’s our followup strategy? What should our agency presentation include? How are we different? Things are constantly changing, and mustering the motivation to try new tactics can be a struggle. Ultimately it’s worth it, of course – landing just one new client can smooth out the road for miles. But again, it’s a side of the business I didn’t consider as a young director. This is why many directors wisely remain directors… they get to live on the creative side.

There are also common trials faced by any creative company: weighing budget vs creative, managing client expectations, problem-solving out of a corner, staying centered during busy stretches, and breathing through the slow times. Every project will have its twists and turns, no matter how straightforward the concept. Learning to anticipate these curves is a skill I’m always sharpening.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
In short: we’re funny, fun to work with, and… not jerks. We’re non-ego collaborators, excited to sharpen ideas with creatively inspired people. Here’s the full breakdown:

Cutaway is a full-service creative/production group working on a range of projects from social video to broadcast spots. We work alongside brands, agencies, PR firms, networks, and entertainment platforms to provide nimble, end-to-end services resulting in dynamic content. The bulk of our clients tap us for comedy, branded storytelling/branded reality, and celebrity/influencer focused efforts. We’ve recently expanded our director pool, including a few talented women in the fashion-beauty-lifestyle realm.

I’m proud of our highly collaborative, fun-to-work-with reputation, and that we’ve broken through some thick walls to become the go-to production partner for top brands.

We’ve shot for AT&T, Netflix, Nintendo, McDonald’s, Pampers, Frito-Lay/PepsiCo, Lyft, Oreo, Burt’s Bees, Samsung, Nestlé, Stand Up 2 Cancer, P&G, Verizon, Mercury Insurance, and others. Celebrity talent includes Joel McHale, Jim Parsons, Darren Criss, Zoe Saldana, Natalie Portman, Chrissy Teigen, Ariana Grande, Nick Lachey, Wayne Brady, Ross Mathews, and more, including a lengthy list of social influencers.

Projects range from B-Roll or interview setups to fully staffed commercial-scale, multi-day productions. We’re nimble and fit in as needed – we love pitching/ideating and scripting from the ground up when possible, but often bid on boards/RFPs, or just execute to spec, whether that’s production only, or handling post as well.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
Obviously, Los Angeles is known as a hub for entertainment/production – with the talent pool and wealth of resources, you can really figure out any type of project here. I love being surrounded by so many creative people, though there can be a lot of red tape before the camera rolls (permits, city logistics, etc). We’ve been traveling for more projects lately, and it’s markedly easier to shoot outside of southern California. The saturation of productions in our region has made everyone hyperaware, and it can be a detriment to smaller shoots.

Nonetheless, I have a lot of respect and gratitude for our local production community, the opportunities I’ve been given here and collaborators I’ve learned from and grown with over the years.

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