A young entrepreneur helping producers to create automated videos: The Carmine Di Maro Story

Carmine is passionate about the power media and entertainment have on people’s lives. As an entrepreneur, he is helping creatives develop their brands and build businesses around their work.

Renzo: How is your day to day?

Carmine: So in terms of what I’m doing day to day, really my mission is to support creatives, artists, directors, writers, producers, and musicians and basically producing videos, telling their stories and kind of helping them find that creative direction and setting their vision and helping them monetize that. So much like yourself, I consider myself an entrepreneur, an entrepreneur specifically in the media space and in the service of the artist. So yeah, my day to day is connecting with artists and figuring out ways to help them. How can they build a business around their content? So two things. One: how can they develop their talent? And two: how can they develop a business around that? Because, you know, a lot of people get very creative, very talented, but they don’t necessarily understand or want to be involved with the business part of it. So I think that’s where I come in. I use technology in my background in startups to help them figure out how they can take some of the work off of their plate, focus on the creative vision, and still be able to capture that value.

R: Why in the media industry?

C: I love the media industry. It’s something I’ve been passionate about for years now, really starting in college. And the reason for that is, is because, you know, I believe stories are what shape our beliefs, and beliefs shape our behaviors. That’s how our society is shaped. So really, storytellers and artists are the people who are sort of holding the keys in shaping our society because everything around, you know, whether it be the way that we think about different groups of people, the way we think about ways of governments, you know, those are all stories that we’ve been told. And that is why I went to media. Because I feel like the way that we have the biggest impact on people’s lives is by changing the stories that they are told.

R: Tell me about your startup Velvet Labs.

C: So we started with the focus of using machine learning to automate video production of music videos specifically. So the way it would work is a musician would send us that audio file. And it was myself and I worked with a really wonderful engineer named Andrew who’s brilliant. And we would basically run the audio through a script that would pull in different clips of video, it would edit the clips together into a 30-second video along with music. So I would change in sync to the music. And so that would allow us to create a 30-second promotional video. Now, instead of spending their time, you know, your average musician doesn’t know how to edit video. They don’t know how to produce videos. They know how to create music. So this really was a way to save them time so that they could focus on making the music and we could focus on creating these sorts of quick-hit videos.

Now, what we’re more changing to is working to have a broader view where we’re merging technology, the processes and thinking behind technology startups with that video production, music production, TV production–take advantage of the trends going on in today’s landscape. So now that could take a lot of different ways. Right now we’re talking again every day with different artists, musicians, directors, etc. She got the best way we can help them. But really, it’s a vehicle for how do you use technology to make life easier for these creators so that they can focus on creating.

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R: What is the stage of the company?

C: We started in March of last year. So we’ve been working on it for close to a year now and we have gone through an accelerator program. So we went through the venture for America Accelerator, which is a network for entrepreneurs. And it’s really good entrepreneurs from all around the country, usually fresh out of college and its network. They’ve helped us a lot in terms of facilitating connections and going through their accelerator program, getting mentorship, that sort of thing. We haven’t raised investment at this point. I don’t think we’re at that stage yet. As we sort of solidify the business file, that will be the plan in 2020.

R: I saw that you worked a lot of years in Detroit. Now you live in Ohio. Why did you move there? 

C: We went to Cleveland for the Venture for America program. But I’m really based out of Detroit and I’m moving to Los Angeles in the first week of March, in order to be around more directors, musicians, editors, and writers. My engineer partner is in Richmond, Virginia. He has a full-time job there which pays the bills. So we do everything remotely and we think that’s actually very important for sort of the vision that we have is to build a remote company where you get the best people and they can work from wherever they want. Unless, of course, you have no in-person production.

R: How are you meeting new people in the media industry to test your product?

C: I find people on LinkedIn but also Instagram is really great for finding musicians. Youtube is obviously a great place to find creators as well. And you’re just going through finding people, reaching out to them, finding out what they’re working on, what their vision is, what they need help with. I’m just doing that over and over again, taking notes and figuring out the kind of like there. I mean, just like with any startup, you have to figure out who your target customer is. That’s creatives. And you got to figure out what their problems are and then how you can best use your skillset, which for us is business and technology to help those people.

R: What are you curious about right now?

C: I love reading about media. Just exploring the new ways that things are changing both in terms of technology and the kinds of stories that are being told. One thing I am really interested in right now is about localization of content, like how stories are being translated from China to the United States or vice versa for example. Now, even Indian programs that are very popular in India on Netflix and Amazon Video are becoming popular in the United States, too. Like the South Korean movie Parasite that won a lot of Oscar awards. It’s been doing extremely well in the United States. And so just seeing like these films here playing across cultures and how you can design a film to do well in multiple markets, I think that’s going to be really interesting, especially as the world becomes more global. Obviously, short-form content is super interesting. A lot of stuff is going there. There’s a very interesting company called Quibi that’s launching here in April in L.A. and they’ve raised 1.5 billion dollars to create a platform that’s basically like Netflix for short-form video. 

So I think short-form is super interesting, there’s some interesting stuff going on with ads. As more streaming platforms start to take on advertisements and people have become used to not having these advertisements, you’re not going to be able to do advertisements in the same way. So even advertisements are going to become sort of their own stories, with characters and plots, and you’re going to have multiple episodes. The advertisements are going to start to become harder to differentiate from entertainment. They’re going to become more entertaining. It’s going to get to the point where you might actually think, “OK, what’s going to happen in the next episode of the series and advertisements for catch up on coffee or whatever it is.” I think that’s really cool. And then the last thing is just like experience in real life. I think phones and social media have done a lot of good, but probably have done more bad than good in a lot of ways because they’ve caused a lot of disconnection. And so I think in the 20s, a lot of entertainment is going to come back to how we get people to connect with each other in real life again.

R: Content creation usually is a manual process where you have a lot of repetitive tasks, and there are a lot of entrepreneurs trying automated processes using technology like you. So what do you think is the most important skill to develop as an entrepreneur in media production?

C: That’s a good question. I think it depends on what role you’re coming into media so like as a producer specifically, you have to be one really familiar with the structure of stories like the different types of stories and what goes into creating characters and narratives and plots and settings and all that stuff. Even if you’re not a writer, I think you really need to understand all the things that a writer understands. Even if you don’t understand them as well as they do, you have to understand it well enough to communicate with the creatives and get feedback on the stories and also know when you have a good story in the first place. 

You have to have a lot of the entrepreneurial mindset that you have to know how to go and network. You have to not get permits. How to find locations. You have to know how to build a team and how to project manage all of that stuff together, so I think that’s really important.

Understanding the sort of the distribution side of it is really important for a producer too, because you’re probably your screenwriter or your family musician is probably not going to—I mean, maybe they do, but I think most of the time probably not going to be a master of marketing and distribution. So I think you either need to be able to recruit that person or you need to understand how you’re going to get the work in front of the most people, how you’re going to sell it and how you’re gonna market.

R: And what do you think about the big streaming war that is going on right now between Netflix, Disney+, etc

C: I think it’s amazing because one, it’s so competitive. We’re getting the best content that we’ve ever seen. I mean, the average quality of a show that comes out now is just really good for the most part, because people know that if they put out something like some of the stuff that you would have put out in the 80s or 90s or, you know, ten or five years ago, no one would even register that it exists today. So everything that comes out has to be, you know, almost Sopranos or The Wire, Breaking Bad level well, even if it’s a documentary series like it has to be extremely good. So I think the quality has gone up. The price for content has gone up. So if you are a platform that’s not so great. But if you’re a content creator, that’s an awesome thing. You have more opportunities than ever to sell your content and you can probably get a really good price for your content too.

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