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Show Business Is Still A Business: Lucky Birds Media

Show Business Is Still A Business: Lucky Birds Media

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Show Business Is Still A Business: Lucky Birds Media

Lucky Birds Media 1

Lights…camera…entrepreneurship? 

When most people consider a career in show business, they dream of fortune and fame, red carpets, and award shows. But for every Tom Hanks or Margot Robbie who strikes it rich doing what they love, there are thousands of people who may not be household names but still find a role to play in the Hollywood ecosystem. Contrary to popular belief, you can survive – and even thrive – in the entertainment business without ever achieving megastar status. Ben Zelevansky, founder and president of Lucky Birds Media, is living proof.

After graduating from NYU with a degree in Film and Television, Zelevansky found production work at such iconic shows as Saturday Night Live, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and Late Show with David Letterman, where he coordinated the show’s signature Stupid Pet Tricks segment. While traveling the country and holding animal auditions for Dave was a fun and exciting job for a 21-year-old, Zelevansky couldn’t shake the pull of the creative side of the business and decided to refocus on writing and performing. “I was excited to be working towards my goal again, but somewhat less excited with the total lack of salary that comes with starting out as a writer/performer in New York City,” says Zelevansky. It was then that an improv comedy friend mentioned that his company was hiring temp workers to do data entry. “It seemed like the perfect type of mind-numbing day job that would pay some bills without distracting me from my creative efforts, so I jumped – or at least hopped – at the chance.”

But before Zelevansky knew it, he was on his way up the corporate ladder. A supportive boss and comfortable working environment made for an easy climb, all the way to the level of Associate Vice President. But when the company was purchased by a large private equity firm, it became clear that change was in the wind, and Zelevansky decided it was once again time to refocus – and relocate. He pulled up stakes and moved across the country to Los Angeles. “I had a few college friends who were making nice inroads in show business, and they encouraged me to join them. Seeing their names in the credits of some hit television shows really demystified the whole thing and made me feel like I could follow in their footsteps.”

With advice and help from old friends and new, Zelevansky began to book a few small acting gigs on television. “I was very pleased and surprised to have had that kind of success so quickly after landing in LA,” he says. “But there are a lot of ups and downs in show business, and before long, I learned that I had simply had the good fortune to start on an ‘up.’” In the “downs” to follow, Zelevansky realized that once again, he was going to need a reliable revenue stream to support his creative pursuits: “I felt a little too old to wait tables or do temp work, so I decided to start my own business.” While it’s de rigueur today for performers to be their own full-time PR and marketing departments, the same was true even when Zelevansky was starting out and “Tik Tok” was still just a hit song by Ke$ha. Actors need websites, demo reels and lots of other marketing materials, and Zelevansky thought he might save a few dollars on his by applying the DIY spirit of his days in New York’s indie comedy scene. “There’s also a nice tradition of self-employment in my family. We’ve had a pharmacist, a shoe store owner, a psychologist, and a photojournalist, just to name a few. So I sometimes think I might have a genetic predisposition to entrepreneurship,” says Zelevansky.

Developing his graphic design and video production skills while working on his own materials gave Zelevansky the comfort and confidence to offer those services to his fellow actors. At the same time, he had been writing and producing short-form comedy videos to showcase his creative side: “Once again, it was cheaper and made more sense to produce these videos myself rather than hire an outside production company. And combining all these different odds and ends under a single umbrella was the start of Lucky Birds Media.”

LBMLogo

While the company’s primary function is to provide a home base for Zelevansky’s acting and writing work, Lucky Birds’ RipIt division is its most consistent revenue generator. For over a decade, RipIt has been capturing actor performances from film, television, and the Internet and converting them into downloadable clips that can be posted to casting websites, IMDb, and social media. Being able to quickly and easily share recent work with casting directors is vital for working actors, so Zelevansky made it his goal to streamline the process as much as possible. “Things were clunky in the early days of Ripit,” says Zelevansky. “But as technology progressed, I was able to develop a website with e-commerce functionality that lets actors choose from a list of services, add them to a shopping cart, and submit payment all in one go.” 

With a customer base of all ages and backgrounds, Zelevansky knew that clarity and ease of use were going to be key factors to differentiate himself from similar services. These same principles help Zelevansky limit the amount of back-and-forth between himself and his customers, which in turn helps keep his pricing competitive. “I’m always available to advise my customers and answer their questions, but I also have plenty of repeat customers who know exactly what they want, have all their needs met by the website, and have never asked me a thing,” says Zelevansky. In addition to RipIt, Lucky Birds Media has started to branch out into real estate photography and video, as well as freelance writing outside of film and television. “It’s been a fun challenge to think of ways to use my various skill sets outside of my primary industry,” says Zelevansky. “You can never have too many revenue streams…and it sure beats data entry.”

Nearly 15 years in, Lucky Birds Media is going strong, but the early days presented their share of challenges. The idea of starting a business from scratch is a daunting one, and Zelevansky wasn’t always sure he was up to it. “It seemed like there was going to be a lot of paperwork and bookkeeping and other sorts of ‘businessy’ stuff that was foreign to me,” he says. “I haven’t taken a math class since high school, and that one didn’t end particularly well.” Lucky Birds Media started life as an LLC but eventually grew to the point where it made more sense to become an S Corp. While Zelevansky doesn’t claim expertise on all the intricacies of these designations, he has made his peace with relying on people who do. “It’s important to know your limitations and determine when you would benefit from working with a professional. After all,” he says, “you can’t do everything yourself.” 

Seeking expert counsel has also helped Zelevansky’s bottom line. While Lucky Birds Media didn’t require much in terms of startup costs, a trusted tax professional has helped Zelevansky maximize the many deductions – like home office, internet, and cell phone costs – that are available to the self-employed. But these types of challenges pale in comparison to the risk that comes with uprooting your life and moving across the country to chase a dream. “It was a definite leap of faith,” says Zelevansky. “But I had reached a point where I was more afraid of not doing it than I was of doing it.” Having supportive friends and family (and no small amount of luck) made the transition easier than it might have been, but consolidating his side hustles into a thriving business has provided the stability and longevity required to pursue a career in such a turbulent industry. “You’ve got to find an enjoyable way to pay your bills while you’re waiting for your big break – or your series of small to medium-sized breaks,” he says. “Otherwise, it can be extremely easy to burn out.”

Despite the many challenges, Zelevansky loves owning his own company and has even found parallels to his creative work. Both pursuits require preparation, hard work and professionalism, but in the end the customer will make the choice that feels right for them. “If you gauge your success by whether you’re the ‘best’ at what you do, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment,” he says. “That’s true whether you’re an actor or a mechanic or a dentist or a plumber.” Handling the frequent rejection that comes with a life in the arts has made it easier for him to manage expectations for his business. “One thing you learn as an actor is that no matter how good you are or how hard you work, sometimes you just don’t get the part. I learned fairly quickly to let go of the things you can’t control and focus your efforts on the things you can.”

By all accounts, show business is a tough racket, but Zelevansky says that he’s pleased and proud to have built a business that makes things a little easier for his fellow creatives. How’s that for a Hollywood ending?


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Show Business Is Still A Business: Lucky Birds Media

Show Business Is Still A Business: Lucky Birds Media

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