Amazon Prime Video is changing the game for a brand new generation of filmmakers and narrative storytellers, offering new opportunities and a new space for them to unleash their voices and craft exciting and entertaining pieces of content.
One such filmmaker is Mike Heslin, the writer/director, and one of the key stars of Amazon Prime Video’s The Influencers, a hilarious comedy series that looks into the lives of a group of young people who are desperate for influencer fame in our social media-obsessed world.
We got the chance to sit down with Mike to explore his reasons behind why he wanted to bring The Influencers to life and how he thinks Amazon Prime Video is the right place for him to express his voice as a filmmaker.
Q: Hey Mike, I hope you’ve been doing well and getting through the pandemic alright, obviously as something we’ve all been facing, have you been getting through it ok and did it ever challenge your work with The Influencers at all?
We were really fortunate and had already completed production on The Influencers before March 2020, so by the time the pandemic hit, we were well into post-production (and then went into distribution) i.e. were already in the phase of doing everything remotely from a studio and our home offices anyway. We’ll see how 2021 treats us though… My business partner (Noam Ash) and I have several features slated to shoot and ready to start pre-production in the coming months, so we’ll see what the year brings and what we’re able to actually shoot safely/pandemic allowing.
Q: Where did the initial inspiration for The Influencers come from?
I was between acting gigs and was freelancing for a social media agency working as a social media director and creative director. Casting and contracting influencers was part of my day to day and while there are tons of influencers out there who are super intelligent and incredibly business savvy, I happened to work with a few that were gorgeous, sweet, but who were lacking any real skillset. I started to wonder what would happen if these individuals had to prove themselves in a real public forum and how they would fare on an unfiltered platform where you couldn’t perfectly curate your persona. Thus the inception for The Influencers was born! At this time, social media was really at the forefront of American pop culture as well with hit reality shows like The Circle and Love is Blind on Netflix – Fyre Festival documentaries were all the rage too. I realized that there weren’t any scripted narratives exploring this subject matter so I started to imagine what that would look like. I then began to develop the characters and story while pulling inspiration from the format and style of hit reality shows such as Big Brother and The Real Housewives and combining it with the depth of character you see in mockumentaries such as The Comeback and Best in Show.
Q: Did you initially see the series as a show or film? And if so, do you have a preference for one type of medium over the other?
I think it could be reworked into a film but I’ve always seen it as a TV series. I’ve already written the pilot for a second season and my whole idea is that it would be like Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story where each season is a completely different setup with different characters that (in our case) would spoof a different reality show, current social media/pop culture scandals, etc. The second season will be a completely different ballgame but that being said, we could and will bring back some of the same actors in new roles and/or may tie in a character from season one as a cameo appearance in season two.
Q: As a filmmaker how do you see streaming platforms, like Amazon Prime, helping you to tell your stories, and giving new opportunities to filmmakers?
I truly believe we’re living in a golden age of television thanks to the boom of streaming platforms, so the opportunities for filmmakers are endless. Between all of the various streaming services and new social media platforms like TikTok that basically encourage regular people to become basic level creators/video editors, the opportunity and ability to get your stories into the public stratosphere has never been greater. That being said, it seems likes every network, organization, etc, is trying to jump on board and a new streaming platform is announced every week, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens in the next five to ten years, if they are all acquired into a few big umbrellas, and if the pendulum swings back the other way in a new, digital fashion.
Q: Obviously the series deals with celebrity and our culture’s obsession with it? Do you think the world is changing due to the rise of influencers, obviously stars like Robert Downey Jr. and Margot Robbie (to name a few) are popular stars, but they are dwarfed by platform creators, such as PewDiePie, on different social media platforms, do you think the very nature of celebrity is changing?
Totally. Celebrity culture has totally shifted and now YouTubers and TikTok celebs are more famous than Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. The younger generations who are growing up with cell phones and social media from an early age, are so desensitized and used to the old fashioned version of “celebrity culture”, that they gravitate more towards influencers and personalities who vlog their lives 24-7 and are unabashedly candid/vulnerable compared to their interest in movie stars. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing because it ultimately means people want to feel more connected and be able to relate to one another, but I am concerned that that will mean more space and roles are carved out in TV/Film for famous TikTokers vs trained actors who are qualified and deserve the role.
Q: Where are you directing your energy for your next project to? As a filmmaker are there any other genres, or series ideas that you’d like to explore?
My production company Well-Versed Entertainment has several feature films on its docket including a stage to screen adaptation and a few pilots as well. We are overwhelmed by the positive response and support surround The Influencers and are looking forward to taking our upcoming projects to the next level and to share more about those soon! I’ve been primarily writing and shooting episodic comedies for the past few years, so I’m excited to spend some time working on dramas/our upcoming features just to flex and utilize some other creative muscles.
Audiences looking for something fresh and new can find out about The Influencers now at Amazon Prime Video, and make sure you keep up with Mike’s activities on both his official social media channel @mikeheslin and check out the work of Well-Versed Entertainment at their official website here.
Feature Image Headshot: Andre Jones
BTS: Courtesy of Well-Versed Entertainment