5Qs with… The Alchemists CEO Luke Ryan, Dishing on ‘East Los High’

/ Jul 7, 2014

east los high 2

With season two of “East Los High” fast approaching, VideoInk took the time to ask The Alchemists’ CEO Luke Ryan some questions about the popular online show, which airs on Hulu.

The digital series, which Hulu says is one of the most popular originals on its service, explores young Latino lives and issues of sexual and reproductive health in a way that manages not to preach. Explaining how the show fulfilled the desires of a “hungry audience,” Ryan delved into its distinctive funding method and addressed the ever-merging worlds of film, TV, and digital video.

When The Alchemists originally started work on “East Los High,” did you have any idea that it would be such a huge success on Hulu?

The project was financed outside of the traditional Hollywood system, so we approached it more in terms of making a great show that was authentic in terms of culture and accurate in terms of issues. We believed that if we did that, we would find the right home. Ultimately, we couldn’t have asked for a better partner than Hulu. Between the support of the network and the simple fact that our core audience is consuming the majority of their content digitally, it was the perfect home for “East Los High.”

Based on the recent Nielsen report, Hispanic viewers in the US watch about 22% more hours of online video than “the average American.” Do you think this statistic does ultimately reflect the popularity of “East Los High”?

We were able to deliver a great show on the platform where our core audience is migrating to for entertainment, so I have to say yes. On the other end of that, this was a show that targeted an audience that deserves to have more content that speaks directly to them and is an accurate reflection of their lives while still being fun to watch. When you make something that connects with a hungry audience, success tends to follow.

How has your past work as a story consultant for New Line Cinema and as SVP/VP of production for MGM and MTV influenced the work you do today?

I spent a long time inside of the traditional Hollywood system, which is a fantastic education — and one of the best lessons of the last few years is that the standard business models in every corner of media are facing major challenges. The Alchemists are dedicated to creating innovative content that ultimately maximizes what every media platform can be on its own and in the way it can work together with others. For instance, if you look at “East Los High,” there are a number of of different ways to interact with the show through various forms of media — we like content that can live exponentially and reach as wide an audience as possible.

We know season one of “East Los High” was funded entirely by non-profits. What were some of the pros and cons of having a show that was completely funded by non-profit partners (as season two now receives partial funding from Hulu)?

The first season of “East Los High” was completely funded by non-profits, and the people who spent four years building that deserve a ton of credit because it was a model that didn’t exist before them. Now that it does, I think it opens up a lot of doorways to make entertaining content that can serve a bigger purpose without ever hitting you over the head with the message. For us, we wanted our audience to be entertained, educated, and know that they have options.

What are some of the ways in which working with digital content is unique from working on content for larger screens?

The truth is, the more you work in “digital,” the more you realize it’s not all that different from the larger screens. The major digital distributors are Television with a capital “T” now for all intents and purposes. They’re getting high-end talent that used to only be in traditional film and TV  There’s a flexibility and an energy to it from a creative standpoint, and it has numerous advantages in terms of distribution strategies that are starting to mature and become as powerful as the more traditional systems.

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