Tom McPhee: “World Animal Awareness Society” | Talks at Google

Welcome to Talks at Google. I’m Mark de Schweinitz. I’m here with Tom McPhee. Tom, thanks for joining us. TOM MCPHEE: Oh,
my pleasure, Mark. I actually came
bearing gifts, too. I know you can’t see
it in front of here. But I wanted to really thank
you because I do appreciate you giving me this opportunity
and just the friendship that we’ve started to develop. I appreciate that. This is what got me
started in this whole field in the first place. So I want to give you have
copy of my movie “An American Opera.” MARC DE SCHWEINITZ:
Wow, thank you. That’s awesome. I’m definitely
going to watch this. I’m a big documentary fan,
so I look forward to that. TOM MCPHEE: Thanks. MARC DE SCHWEINITZ: Good. Well, Tom and I first
met about a year ago. It was at a Google
for Nonprofits. I was a volunteer. Tom was here in the
office at Ann Arbor. And I saw a video
of what he does. It was a about himself running
down Gratiot Avenue in Detroit, documenting dogs and the
problems that some of them are facing based on abuse
and other problems like that. I was impressed by
what you did, Tom. So thanks for coming. TOM MCPHEE: Oh, my pleasure. And I can’t believe
it’s been, seriously, a year since that took place. Was it really last
fall, last late fall? MARC DE SCHWEINITZ: Yeah,
something like that. TOM MCPHEE: Oh, my goodness. MARC DE SCHWEINITZ: Yeah. And what we really want
to learn about today is what you do as a filmmaker,
making documentaries like this, and how we can learn
as Googlers and others watching how to tell great
stories through video, and other ways like that. So first, maybe you
could just tell us what you do in general as
a documentary filmmaker? TOM MCPHEE: Well,
I’m kind of, I think, a very contemporary hybrid. I’ve been fancying about
the whole independent film scene for a long time. I actually started my
career in technology. I worked for Hamilton Avnet
and then Avnet Computer. And I [INAUDIBLE]
big-box computers coupled with really
expensive software. That afforded me to get involved
with creating my own software company in the early ’90s. And the whole reason for me was
to get closer to film-making. And initially, for many
years, that process was making interactive content
for commercial entities like Ford and Saturn and
so on here in a car town. But I always wanted
to be involved with the more commercial
or the more available form of entertainment. And I like documentaries
a lot, too. But I was able to make
some independent films. I was able to create
an independent film tour called Flicks Tour that
toured around the country. We actually helped, in
essence, find Paul Feig. Paul Feig, who now just got
“Ghostbusters” that’s coming out, he did “Bridesmaids.” He did “Spy.” His coming out was
“Freaks and Geeks.” And he wrote that while he was
on my film tour, the Flicks Tour, at that time. And Kevin Smith actually
started doing his college touring because he appeared at
a couple of our presentations with Flicks Tour on
the college circuit. And we were always
mobbed when he was there. Now he’s making, like, $50,000
and up per three hours. MARC DE SCHWEINITZ:
That’d be nice. TOM MCPHEE: Oh, I know. It’s crazy. But for me, I was
really fascinated with telling stories and
being able to communicate. I always thought I was going
to be a baseball player. Since I couldn’t be a baseball
player forever, what do you do? And as a storyteller, I can
tell stories all my life. You know, the rest of my life. In this realm, though, I’m
telling stories visually. It has been a 25-year
journey for me to go from producer hiring
people and interacting with people to make movies. The very first movie I made
was with Bruce Campbell. It was a little
independent film. I don’t know if people
know horror films. And we just lost Gunnar Hansen,
who was the original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” leatherface. But he was our
star in our movie. When you’re doing
a horror film, you need to have some kind of icon. But Gunnar just passed away. Rest his soul. But I went from that
to going through a book should gyrations of
trying to understand what I wanted to do in this realm. And in 2005, as soon as
Hurricane Katrina hit and everything took
place there, I’d been doing this type of
stuff for 15, 20 years. And I found myself being in– MARC DE SCHWEINITZ: This one? TOM MCPHEE: That’s right
–in New Orleans immediately afterwards. We thought we were
going to help people. And a very specific moment
in time sort of flashed. It literally just happened. And I saw the next three to
five years in front of me. And that was– I
thought I was seeing our evolutionary
essence, how we evolve. In front my eyes, in this
catastrophic environment, people were trying to do good. So you had a bunch of people
trying to do good with people. But then you had
this mass of humanity that came down to try to
do good with animals, too. And when I started to look at
how this whole thing played out, I thought, this is
amazing because the facade of everything and what
we are was ripped away. And you could actually
see people’s essence in their humanity. And I thought it was
the perfect opportunity to figure out a way to
spend time with this realm, to tell stories, and, for
me, uncover our evolution in real time– not in the
future looking back at us, but right now. What do we do? MARC DE SCHWEINITZ: So this
film, “An American Opera,” is about people saving their
pets after Hurricane Katrina? Is that correct? TOM MCPHEE: Well, actually,
it’s about the disaster within a disaster. And what happened was in this
disaster, about three days, four days into it, there
was a fourth evacuation because people hadn’t left for
a lot of different reasons. And many of those
people, a huge portion of the population, because
they can’t take their pets. And so when they were
forced to evacuate, they were forcibly
separated from their pets. And there were literally
tens of thousands of animals of all
sorts left behind. And there was all kinds
of really horrific things happening there, too. I know we’ve heard
about the situation with the people being
gunned down on the bridge. But in St. Bernard Parish,
for two whole days, the police were going
up and down the streets shooting everybody’s dogs. They actually sent out
texts to their fellow– because in those
situations, firemen, police around the world
help band together, hey, what do you need? And there’s texts of
the police going, hey, we need more bullets. We ran out of bullets shooting
all the dogs in the streets. MARC DE SCHWEINITZ:
Oh, that’s terrible. TOM MCPHEE: And it’s a story
that people don’t really realize. And I didn’t either. And this is the
thing that kind of cauterized this or kind
of made this real for me. And that is the fact that there
is this soul-bond connection with people, with animals. They’re family members. And you can’t just– so you
things go wrong at that point when you try to
separate families. MARC DE SCHWEINITZ: So when
you went down to Louisiana after this disaster,
did you know that you’d be
making a documentary about this incident? TOM MCPHEE: No. MARC DE SCHWEINITZ: Or you
just went down and said, this is something
terrible happening. I need to figure out
how I can help here? TOM MCPHEE: We heard Mayor Nagin
basically pleading for help on that September 1, like a
couple days after the storm. And he was pleading
for assistance, in essence crying on the radio. And I heard this a
couple days later when I was getting ready
for something else. And I just felt like I
have to do something. I’m at a moment in time
I can go address this. I’m going to go down there. We thought we were going
to be helping pull people, dead bodies out of
the– I had no concept about animal-related–
oh, this is a new world. MARC DE SCHWEINITZ: So
this was, really, a foray into animal-related film? TOM MCPHEE: Absolutely. MARC DE SCHWEINITZ: And
this was about 10 years ago? TOM MCPHEE: Yes. MARC DE SCHWEINITZ: OK. TOM MCPHEE: When it
happened, when I went down, it was early September, 2005. And I had been doing this
type of production, producer, and so on. But I ended up participating
on two Animal Planet specials about the event,
a National Geographic special, and Nova, their
natural history series. It was on there, too. And they were looking at
certain aspects of the story. And I was seeing a much
richer story down there. And so I wanted to
tell the greater story. And that’s why the
movie came out of it, because there was
quite a bit of material that I participated in. I needed to tell my story, what
I saw, this ongoing situation. Once all the dogs, in
essence, or animals, were scattered about, as
people were fostering them around the country, and then
people were working behind the scenes around
the country going, oh, I couldn’t have
been there, but maybe we can help reunite
animals, then you had this mass of people
trying to find these dogs. And so our photographs,
about 10,000 of them that we shot immediately
when we got down there were used to start to put all
the people and animals back together. And then you had a
whole other disaster because the people
who were fostering didn’t want to give
the animals back. They go, oh, these people
left those animals. They shouldn’t have them. So there was so many things. There were so many layers going
onto this, and the humanity. And again, it created a whole
bunch of content for history. “An American Opera” and all
of its contents, by the way, is going into the
Library of Congress. And it was a very
important period of time. The animal welfare and
animal rescue realm really blew up at that point. There’s two contributing
factors– social media, because Facebook, Craig’s
List was a huge impact on that environment. And then this event,
this massive event that people saw unfold
on their– they had seen five years before– 9/11. Oh, my god. What do you do
after– and here, they watched this event unfold
over a couple days. And they go, that’s close
enough that I can drive there. Even if they’re somewhere in
Quebec or Washington state, people were driving
there to help out, and tens of thousands. And I was part of
that collective that was down there that
had those experiences and then had those
experiences for many months. Then I interacted with
a lot of those people again to watch their evolution. And it’s been amazing. Just this year, they had
the 10-year anniversary. And again, there were 10-year
anniversary [INAUDIBLE]. I was filming something else,
so I couldn’t go this year, but I filmed a bunch of
five-year reunion stuff. I was down there. I was actually down
there at that time covering the BP disaster
in the Gulf for WA2S Films. So that’s what kind of
initiated everything. And then a publisher
friend of mine said, hey, we really want to
get behind what you’re doing. And we think we can
get behind it more if you started a nonprofit. And I thought about that. And I said, aw,
that’s a good idea. I’d love to just because I
don’t want to go and fund each individual thing. We need to be able to figure
out how to create an entity to fund all the things. I want to be able
to be in a situation where our organization
can, at six hours notice after a major disaster,
go off into that disaster. I was at BP. We were in Fukushima. We were in Haiti studying
the relationships and stuff. This publisher friend
of mine said, look, you need to do this. And I thought about it. I said, OK. And then I told her the name. She was like, what’s that? Like, because it’s so long. MARC DE SCHWEINITZ: The World
Animal Awareness Society? TOM MCPHEE: Yeah, it’s a
mouthful and a half, right? She was like, why don’t you
just call it, like, Dogville? It’s like, well, no. I want it to do something
a little bit more. We don’t want to do just
funny animal things. We want to do stuff that’s
really meaningful here. And unfortunately,
I want to pack all of what we do into that name. So, World Animal
Awareness Society, which says exactly what we are. MARC DE SCHWEINITZ: And what’s
the goal of the World Animal Awareness Society? TOM MCPHEE: To be
able to tell stories that [INAUDIBLE] human-animal
interaction to try to understand our
evolutionary arc. I mean, it really boils down
to that simple of a thing. And our URL, which is an homage
to Ann Arbor, too, is Anybody who knows Ann Arbor
knows it’s A2 or A-squared. Our A-squared is
Animal Awareness. So it’s MARC DE SCHWEINITZ: Great. So before we learn
more about, can you share with us how you
develop a story, such as when you made “An American Opera”? What was your
process for saying, in a 45-minute, an
hour-long documentary, here is the
start-to-finish of a story? Just more for education
for our viewers, how do you tell a
story like that? TOM MCPHEE: I appreciate that. I’ve been doing this
a long time now. I’m starting to figure out
all the different processes and how to use what I’m doing. And you asked me early on
about being a filmmaker. I think I’m a contemporary
filmmaker because I’m making for the internet. I making for commercial. I’m making for
television, theatrical. And so they’re all different. But they all kind of
contribute to each other. A lot of filmmakers don’t really
understand that, by the way. I love, love, love YouTube,
Google, the Google family. It’s been a great partnership
with Google Nonprofit. And YouTube is just
such a powerful entity to be able to create
my own channel and be able to communicate
what’s going on in the world. It’s been truly phenomenal. But for me, there has
been this evolution. And I think it starts
with understanding, where’s your target? And then, what’s your medium? And so that whole idea of,
are we really targeting the internet? Are we targeting–
“The Martian” looks very different than
“An American Opera.” There’s a whole different thing
in terms of cost and everything that goes into it. And so for me, as a
documentary filmmaker, I don’t want to
create the construct. I want you observe the world. And then I want to assemble
based on what I’ve seen and what I’ve assimilated
of that information. “An American Opera,” I was
just talking about this with somebody recently ago. When do you get into being able
to talk about facts and figures with a documentary? When is it a good
situation to look at maybe the emotional
aspects of the storytelling? And for “An American Opera,”
because the facts weren’t known, it was such
a big crazy mess that you couldn’t really sort
through what was going on. And the emotions
took huge precedence. The idea was here we just
happened to be at ground zero when those things happened. And you start to kind
of work your way out. OK, where are the story threads? What’s going on? That’s when we found
that the dogs were being murdered in St. Bernard Parish. That’s when we find that
people are [INAUDIBLE]. That’s when we go chase
after Marilyn Pickens, [INAUDIBLE] Pickens’
wife, was flying dogs out by the Airbus load. So we went down to the
airport, and we’re filming. You go, oh, there’s
something going on here. And you start to
kind of expand out. So that’s how
“American Opera” went. When I look at
doing doc projects, though, I want to
take that process. And the reason is
because every time that I started to go and
examine these things, my brain starts to tell me,
oh, this is what I’m seeing. This is what I’m seeing. This is kind of
what I’m looking at. And as I look at it more, it’s
like, oh, no, no, no, no, no. There’s something else going on. There’s another layer that
we’ve got to peel back. And time– and I
appreciate doing long form, but I’m started to
specialize in short form, too, for the internet. We shot something
yesterday afternoon. It’s on the top
of our page right now–– a bunch of
puppies and dogs being rescued. It’s a five-minute piece. We flipped it around. We’re trying to understand
how to best do look and feel and aesthetic and tell a
story and connect with that. And for us, it also
helps boil down what might work in a
television piece, what might work in a film festival piece. And they’re different. So I’ve started to look
at how can we just shoot as much as we can, and
then start to chase after the different threads. And the ones that stick to each
other, you put them together. MARC DE SCHWEINITZ:
So your approach is really go gather the– TOM MCPHEE: Oh, yeah. MARC DE SCHWEINITZ:
–information, just see what’s
happening, and then figure out what’s the
story here as opposed to coming in with a
pre-determined plan, structure. TOM MCPHEE: One of
the first things that we did with
World Animal Awareness Society was make a presentation
to Rotary in Saline, Michigan. And I exclaimed what–
and people can you find it on our YouTube channel. There’s a three-part thing
about why we’re doing it. And for me, it’s
about documentum. MARC DE SCHWEINITZ:
Documentum, what is that? TOM MCPHEE: It’s kind
of the Latin from where “documentary” comes
from. “Documentary” is a very contemporary word,
like maybe 100 years old or so. And it’s really come forth
with the moving image. But going back 2,000 years or
more, the idea of a documentum is telling stories in essence to
learn from, stories to educate, to pass on knowledge to
allow you to move forward, progressively, happily. There’s idea of documentum,
just saying what happens. And a lot of times,
with documentaries, especially now, we’re
trying to confect too much. And my belief is, and
the whole reason I started this was to try to cut
through all of that stuff, all the static, to figure
out what’s real, what is really going on here
and not what they’re selling me or not what this
place is selling me. I want to know really
what the deal is. MARC DE SCHWEINITZ: Is
this a belief you have? Or is it shared amongst
all of the main documentary filmmakers? When you go to a Sundance
Film Festival or something like that, do you share
this belief with others? TOM MCPHEE: I think it all
depends on– sometimes, but I think it all depends
on how successful you are. I love watching all
different– and looking at all different– types
of documentary filmmakers for all different
types of reasons. I like Michael Moore just for
how commercially successful that guy is. Amazing. Now some of his work has
been really phenomenal, too, in terms of how he’s
digging up stuff. But that’s a certain
type of documentary. Then you’ve got Alex Gibney,
who’s won some Oscars. And he’s got a very
specific look to him. Morgan Spurlock’s got a look. I’ve got a lot of
people that I’m interacting with in the
filmmaking community. And they all kind of– hey, some
focus in rock documentaries, so it kind of has that flavor. But everything is evolving
because right now the tools are evolving. We’re not working with– the
fact that I can be– sorry, but I’m killing my mic, too–
an opposite brain person coming from the
sales side of things, to be able to now
really kind of fully make the adjustment to
be a creative person is because the tools exist–
the digital tools, the cameras. I’m going to bring this up now
so I don’t forget about it. I wanted to have some
of our filmmaking have a much more
dynamic look to it. And so we’re using drones. MARC DE SCHWEINITZ:
That’s awesome. TOM MCPHEE: This is
DJI’s Inspire 1. ? It’s super easy to use. MARC DE SCHWEINITZ: Easy to fly? No accidents? Crashing here? TOM MCPHEE: Well, this is the
second one. [LAUGHTER] However, they are super easy. It’s five minutes
out of the box. They’ve got lots
of stuff built in. And their firmware
keeps getting better in terms of being able to do it. It’s got follow technology. Now you can actually lock in
wave points and you can focus. They have a new
camera system, too. But for a filmmaker that’s
always been pedestrian and on the ground, and wanting
to get into lots of places– especially since we’ve started
the “American Strays” project, we’re chasing dogs. We’re trying to get into areas
that we just can’t get into. You want something like this. But prior to this,
this past year, the technology was too hard to
do in a run-and-done fashion like we do it here. I throw open the truck. I pull it out. If I had it already
pre-configured, all I do is set my compass, kind
of like I do this little dance. And I watch. I get a GPS. MARC DE SCHWEINITZ:
So I guess it’s really a game changer for you? TOM MCPHEE: It’s huge. And it pokes into a lot
of different places. We’ve been able to chase
and find dogs this way as part of the work
that we’re doing. But it also gives us really
dynamic picture-making capabilities, too. So, yeah, it’s
totally game-changing. But the thing is, everybody
and their brother’s going to have one. And they are already
starting to have them. And you’re going to
see them everywhere. But then there’s going
to be something else. And for us, that something
else right now, that is, we’re doing this series with
teen girls that involves animal rescue and technology. And we want to use
the Ricoh Theta 360S. And we want to attach
it to the girls. It’s a 360. It’s your Google Earth– your
Google Street camera– brought down into miniature size that
you can attach to somebody. 360 is the thing, right now. And YouTube allows
us to share 360 video and to interact with stuff. MARC DE SCHWEINITZ: So
they wear it on a helmet? Or how does this work? TOM MCPHEE: Yeah, we’ll
probably figure out the best way to wear it. It might on a chestie. It might be a helmet. But we’ll figure that out. My guess is it would
probably be up front. That way the person
is in the action. But then the person
looking at them is here. So we’ll film conventionally
certain parts of the series. But then you can
go online and have this more immersive experience. Especially if you’re a girl
to– you work with this material that these other girls
are doing by being able to explore in the video. It’s accessible right now. As a matter of fact,
we’re looking for donors. We’re trying to raise–
get four cameras. They’re like $350 a piece
to get the 360 HD video. It’s crazy. Technology’s very,
very available. MARC DE SCHWEINITZ:
So, Tom, you’ve mentioned the evolution
of more traditional media, television to
YouTube, the internet. How have you
changed your content or the way you do
your work because of YouTube and the internet? TOM MCPHEE: I’m a
[INAUDIBLE] genius. I love technology. I’ve always loved technology. I’ve had early everything. I had one of the
first CD players. I had early everything
that’s been coming out since I was growing up. I was the very end
of the Baby Boomer. I’m a ’64 baby. And we had phones with
cords in the kitchen. One of my first
professional jobs was selling– I’m
killing my mic, I’m sure– one of my first jobs
was selling cellular phones very early on. I was selling those brick
phones for $3,000 a pop. I love technology. And right now, there’s so many
different ways to apply it. So to me, it’s not
even about keeping up. It’s about being in this
joyous place because I can find more things to do what
we’re doing better, cheaper, faster. I want to be the
Vice in this realm. As a matter of fact,
we’ve been talking with Shane Smith and Vice. We’ve been talking with
a few other broadcasters about ramping up our
content and production. We want to be broadcasting
24/7 around the world. MARC DE SCHWEINITZ: And there’s
so much content on YouTube right now. How do you cut through
that clutter and stand out? I’ve seen some of your videos
have hundreds of thousands of views, and
organically, I believe? TOM MCPHEE: Yeah, well,
it’s building relationships. So part of that is that
we put out some content. Someone would think
well enough of it that they start to carry it. And using analytics–
YouTube’s some great analytics. Google has great analytics. We can actually
really understand who’s using those
videos, who likes them. And then we can go
and cater to them. In our situation, we
communicate out to about 185 different– from the dark side
of things– digital publishers that over time have
carried our content. And some of them do really well. Some of them are pretty
big digital publishers. Little Things, which ranks
really high right now in terms of the mobile world. The Animal Rescue Site is a
monster in terms of depth. It’s part of the Greater
Good Organization, just on their Animal Rescue Site
Facebook page, like 6 million, but very active viewers. Rough Life, I think,
is one of the videos we were just recently
talking about, just passed a half-million
views in the last six weeks. And it did exceedingly well. They did 150,000 shares in
three days off of that one. But then, that’s
what happens, too. In a viral sense,
we are absolutely selling some of our content
through these channels now. And how you set them
up, how you build them, the cards that you use,
the metatags that you use, the title. People will notice
that our titles, that they’re longer titles, but
they’re all very descriptive. “Puppy in pipe terrified.” So it’s all these
very descriptive words that help generate and make
those other connections. And once we get to a certain
point with each of our videos that goes out to a
pipeline, gets to a point, then it starts to do a
regular wavelength of content. And I don’t know if it’s
how people are finding it, the tags, and so on. So our video’s then start to
be these little engines that start to continue. But you got to get
to a certain point. And I don’t know
what that is just yet when they start to just roll. MARC DE SCHWEINITZ: How do you
know when you’re succeeding? You have your subscriber
base is going up, more views. And what’s ultimately your
goal, then, with awareness? TOM MCPHEE: Our goal, really,
is to try to make it very easy, like ESPN, to look
into this realm and sort through what’s
real and what’s not. I mean, they’re first
entity that I look in. They’re omnipresent,
they deal with sports. I think this is as big of
a market segment that’s heavily underserved because it
hasn’t been served properly. The producers in the past, or
the broadcasters in the past, they become somewhat
users of the content and then users of
the environment. We don’t want to do that. We actually have
a no-touching– we are banned from interacting
with animals whatsoever. Our objective is to
communicate all of the stories out there of all the nonprofits
that are doing righteous work. And there’s literally
tens of thousands of them. And for us, when
we start to look at what they do, the
interactions that they have, and we start to
build stories around them, then we start to create
that impact for them. For the people that are
watching the content, for us to build a base of
broadcasters and production departments that come to us
because we monetize what we’re doing a lot of different ways. You talk about success. What’s successful? For us, our numbers of
views are exceedingly high for our subscribers. We’re going to hit about 13,000
subscribers here shortly. We’re working with a
consulting company right now. And our goal is by this
time September of next year to be 100,000 subscribers. So we’ve got 87,000
to go in 10 months. So that’s one way to measure it. But for us, it’s also donations. Are we generating
the donations that we should through these programs? Everything that we do is
generated from outside income, whether we license
content, whether we do work for hire– so
someone might go, hey, we need this kind of
stuff– everything then goes back into World Animal
Awareness Society and WA2S Films so we can
actually tell stories about all these other
organizations that have no communications entity. They rely on someone like us. We want to be Vice, ESPN,
and National Geographic. Five years from now, when
we have this conversation, I expect it to be in one
of the YouTube auditoriums on one of the coasts. And we’re greeting
so many people because we’ve been then
broadcasting for a year already 24/7. And we’ve got our mass
audience that we can tap into. So you might find [INAUDIBLE]. MARC DE SCHWEINITZ: Yeah, great. That’s exciting. Let’s talk about your
lifestyle a little bit. As capturing all this film,
I imagine you’re on the road quite a bit. TOM MCPHEE: Yes. MARC DE SCHWEINITZ:
What is that like? For people that are
used to a 9-5 job– TOM MCPHEE: No. MARC DE SCHWEINITZ: –how’s
that differ for you? TOM MCPHEE: Yes. Yes, it does. MARC DE SCHWEINITZ: Yeah. Tell us what your typical
week might look like. TOM MCPHEE: Seriously,
look, there’s no such thing. I burn through houses and
wives and girlfriends. And I am very happy to say
I am in a really happy point in my life because
the love of my life happens to be also
a partner in crime and loves being on the
front lines here capturing this stuff. Yesterday, Sunday mornings are
normally like go to the movies because you got a rave. On first movie of the
day, it’s like $5, real cheap for a
first-run movie. And think we wanted to
see “Bridge of Spies” and break down some of the film,
look at it, watch the movie and enjoy it, but also
look at it as filmmakers. And instead, because
it was so nice, we decided to go and film this
rescue of 13 dogs, six puppies, which is now at,
because we wanted to actually practice
our filmmaking skills and work with this new camera. There is no– I have, from
what I understand, we all die. I have a limited number of
days between now and then. And I go, that’s
what I want to do. And there’s a lot of things
that I need to learn, especially as we roll into some
of this new technology, and we’re using some
online platforms, and we’re smushing
it all together. So don’t expect golf
trips, bass fishing. I used to do all that stuff. I used to ski. I used to go fishing
all the time. I used to play 30,
40 rounds of golf. I used to travel. My travel is into a danger zone
to film these interactions. And I couldn’t imagine
doing anything else. I live for this stuff. MARC DE SCHWEINITZ:
That’s great. You have definitely a
lot passion about this. I can tell. I have seen you in
some what looked like dangerous neighborhoods
in some of your videos. Are you ever scared? Do you feel like
you’re in danger ever? TOM MCPHEE: Not in the moment. And a lot of times, a lot of
disturbing situations, too. And I filter every
through a lens. The idea for me
is I need to focus on what I’m doing because I want
you to be able to look at this. Now, afterwards, like
“American Opera,” so we captured hundreds
of hours of stuff. We’re seeing footage of police
officers shooting dogs, just really horrific stuff. And then I’ve got to go edit
this for a couple years. The first six months of editing
that, everything caught up to me. So you’re out there,
just doing whatever. It’s like all– and then
you get into the edit suite, and you get in. And then things stop. And then you start
to see everything and you’re building this thing. And then everything that you’re
running from and filtering through catches up. And I was knocked out. I cried every day for
probably 45 minutes every day. When it first started happening,
I was really freaked out. And then I just let it happen. Everyday, it was
like, OK, we do that. And it actually led
to the creative stuff that came out of it. “An
American Opera” totally would not have happened if I did
not have this total meltdown. But I figured out how to
kind of deal with that stuff and to sort through. But there is– you
can’t [INAUDIBLE]. We’re putting out
a lot of content. We’ve got very impressive goals. We have a lot of
people that are getting behind what we’re doing. We’re interacting with HBO and
[INAUDIBLE] Productions and Nat Geographic and all these others. And there is no–
this is what we do. MARC DE SCHWEINITZ: Right. That makes sense. So what would you be
doing if WA2S graduated? Do you have any other projects
that you want to work on? Or do you plan to stay
with this organization for the next [INAUDIBLE]? TOM MCPHEE: Well, yeah,
see, that’s the thing. The whole ideas was to
take this and to build this foundational
thing so we can then jump into anything, anywhere. MARC DE SCHWEINITZ: [INAUDIBLE]. TOM MCPHEE: Yeah, we’re
pitching an incredible show with this guy called Steve
[? Henny ?] on Shark Online. This guy has been incredible,
taking on very powerful people. Right now, he’s taking on
United States Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma. On 9/11 this year he ran the
tenth of his canned pigeon shoots where they bring
a thousand pigeons and they throw them up and
they just shoot them all. And they pitch them into
a pit and burn them all. And so these guys have been
after them for a couple years. And this year, they were flying
a drone to capture whatever. And someone from the Inhofe
collective shot down the drone. And then a bunch of other
federal legal things. We’re trying to get Steve on
as a contributor to the John Oliver show on Sunday nights. He’s extremely serious. He’s a ball-buster. And we think he’d be an
all-too-great foil because it would be fun almost to have John
Oliver play with this things how he does and still
push [INAUDIBLE] agenda. There’s so much going
on at this realm, Mark. So right now, we’ve done a
number of different things over the last couple years. We have a focus on
emergency disasters– [INAUDIBLE] which I
want to really ramp up. And we’ve bee focusing on what
I been call the American Strays Umbrella Program,
Operation Houston good pet guardian lesson plans,
American Strays canine survey, bringing in science to really
then build stories around, but we’re still
putting out science. We’re actually
serving these places and providing real data to
help them make some decisions. So this has been a big
initiative for four years. The next one that
we’ve been kind of messing with a little
bit– and it goes to our Steve [? Henny ?] the
shark relationship– is the use of animal in sport. So if I was to say
another big umbrella, it would be everything
that you can imagine of where man fits with animal in
any kind of sporting situation, whether it’s bull
fighting, or derby fishing, or rattle snake round-ups,
or snapper fests, or pig wrestling. A lot of these things we’ve
already done some filming. I’m fascinated of how we have
these physical interactions with it. And then probably once
we’ve got a handle on that, too– only because it’s
such a massive environment and I’d probably need to bring
in some outside specialists– is the whole idea of food. The whole vegan– I have no
concept of vegan and vegetarian and that. And I keep reaching out
to the vegan community, and they all just
say, it’s [MUMBLING]. I’d love to have some
help really breaking down the intrigue and the mystique. But to me, that’s
such a big thing to chase after, I want to get
these other big things out of the way first before
we get after that. MARC DE SCHWEINITZ: Makes sense. Yeah, that’s a big topic. TOM MCPHEE: It’s huge. And you’re talking about the
food for most of the world. And it’s a big thing. I need years to still think
about how do we really get at it and do it justice. MARC DE SCHWEINITZ:
Last topic before we have Q&A if anyone in the
audience has a question. Let’s talk about the
Michigan economy. You’re Ann Arbor-based,
Detroit-based. How important is it for you to
be in Michigan and capturing stories in the area? TOM MCPHEE: I am from Michigan. My family helped settle the town
of Dearborn where I grew up. And I have lot of
[? heritage ?] now. Most of us have now all
moved away from Dearborn. There’s something
about Michigan. I’ve had opportunities to move,
to be in different places. And we have a presence
on both coasts. We have editing and sales
in New York, and then sales in LA as well. I’m almost done
with the winters, so I can see the migration. Maybe Arizona. I don’t know. We’ll see. MARC DE SCHWEINITZ:
Better weather. TOM MCPHEE: Yeah, right. For sure. But I’ve been kind
of keen to the state. I’ve been asked in the
past, for instance, about incentives and this. I’m not an economist. I’ve watched things
go up and down. Our familiy is– we were in
the automotive business, had automotive concerns. And the thing that I
don’t understand– I spent time interacting with the
Detroit economic environment in the ’90s when I
had a film festival. And everything was still so
tied to auto this and auto that. And then my family,
now, we were tied to it. I just think that it’s
been such a hard uncoupling of the environment as a
whole and diversifying to other things that when
we started to actually look at our efficiencies
and how we do business and moving a lot
of our labor away, it really fractured
just dramatically. And hopefully,
though, for instance, with Detroit, a lot of
the artistic endeavors that are taking place, a lot
of the push for this culture– culture is hard to do. It’s usually expensive, money,
whether it’s art this and that. But when you have a really
depressed environment like that that needs some help,
it’s like the first thing and the greatest
thing that can help. But it’s like they
need each other. The city needs that
kind of vibrant stuff. And vibrant people need a place
that’s inexpensive to go to. I just hope Detroit doesn’t
get too expensive too quick before it can really heal
itself because it needs to have a great deal–
we spend a lot of time in a lot of cities. Houston, sure, you
talk about things. We don’t think about it. We don’t. We just kind of do it. We interact. We try to be true
about what’s going on. A couple of times
we’ve run really quickly out of situations. But Detroit’s huge. It’s a big place. And there’s a lot of people
that are missing from it. And it’s got a lot
of healing to do. The surrounding area
is very popular. Oakland County for the
longest period of time was the third wealthiest
county in the country. MARC DE SCHWEINITZ:
We appreciate you being in the area and
industry like yourself. TOM MCPHEE: If I’m
going to be here, Ann Arbor is totally
the place to be. I love Ann Arbor. I love Grand Rapids.
[INAUDIBLE] Traverse City. But here, I love Ann Arbor. The vibe is just great. MARC DE SCHWEINITZ: Great. Do we have any
questions from anyone in the audience about making
documentary films or anything else you want to ask about? TOM MCPHEE: What’s your name? AUDIENCE: Hi, I’m Kelsey. TOM MCPHEE: Kelsey? AUDIENCE: Oh, I don’t
need a microphone. TOM MCPHEE: Yeah, you do. AUDIENCE: I’m just loud. TOM MCPHEE: Kelsey, there’s
a whole bunch of other people all over the world that are
actually paying attention to what we’re doing. AUDIENCE: Hello? TOM MCPHEE: What’s
your full name again? AUDIENCE: My name
is Kelsey Snyder. TOM MCPHEE: That’s cool. AUDIENCE: Thanks for coming. This is super interesting. TOM MCPHEE: [INAUDIBLE]
we could get it done. AUDIENCE: So I was
just curious, You mentioned that you’d done work
for Animal Planet and Nat Geo. You worked with Bruce Campbell. I was wondering if you could
go into a little bit more about how something like a
show on Animal Planet works? Are a lot of the shows on
those types of channels from independent filmmakers? TOM MCPHEE: No. And it’s not really to do
from an independent sense because a lot the big brands
definitely have a specific look and feel. For instance, right now,
Fox has a huge investment in Nat Geo and the National
Geographic properties. And that’s all
shifting and changing. They definitely want some brand,
but it has its kind of look and feel. When you look across
the different brands, they all have their
distinct look and feel. I’m really good with the
fact that Animal Planet is what it is right now, Nat
Geo is what it is right now. Because for me, it’s
a huge opportunity because it’s a massive
market niche that is tremendously underserved. You’re putting tree house
and mermaid shows and stuff like that on Animal Planet. Or, the river monster,
he’s interesting. But it’s just titillating. There’s a certain aspect to it. And we’re not really
getting anything of substance out of it. And that’s the thing. How do you– for
us, it’s always, how do we get
something to go viral? So you do some
bait-clicky type things. But you also have something
that’s really juicy behind it. It is very hard for
independents to get into that environment of
you need to generate partner with an existing entity. We’re looking at a partnerships. We’re looking to storm these
gates in a lot different ways. So we’re looking for our own
content to stand on its own and to have a viral capability,
and to start to build a brand. It’s really important for
us to have subscribers because these are
leverage points. We get carried in more
places if we ourselves have more YouTube subscribers. And so that gives
me the opportunity to also have leverage in
terms of setting meetings. Hey, we got a million people
that tune into us every time. And we’re not just
showing funny cat videos, but we’re actually a
meaningful piece behind this. So there’s that. Then you’re developing
relationships with potentially production
partner companies that are already putting out
content that are already being asked to look at other content. And this is where the show
with the girls with technology and so on comes in. So they’re looking for someone
to take on and put together a sizzle for this concept
because they’re already looking for it. So there’s already a little
bit of a door opened up. And then it’s depending on
some of the other things that you might do and
spin-offs may take place. “An American Opera” led to
two shows that I did in Canada in 2009, “Tom McPhee’s
Rescue Journal” and “Rock-and-Roll Dogs.” We were using dogs
and spoofing them. They were making people
sound like idiots. It was kind of fun. So it depends. But right now, I’m trying to
not be beholden to any entity where we have to look and
feel like them because I don’t like a lot of the stuff
that we see on Animal Plant. It doesn’t hold my attention. I want to know more
of what’s going on. Look, HBO’s changed the
game because they said, we’re going to just go direct. We can host this stuff. We’re going to run
our own pay gate. And you’re just
going to come to us. And you’re going to pay us. And you’re going to run through
your own internet, wherever that may be. And you can watch our content. Well, they changed the game. That’s what basically
YouTube’s doing. And we’re playing YouTube. And so we’re doing the same
thing as HBO right now. Everybody that’s connected to
the internet is my audience. That’s one of the reasons
I wanted to put “world” in then name of it. Because I never stop. We pushed a lot into the
Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, China,
India because these are massive populations, too. So it all plays into it. So I see these
really power brokers. For me, it is a great time
to be a content producer. The last couple of years it’s
been great being a curator. I know Scott DeLong. Scott DeLong just sold
ViralNova for $100 million after setting that up
for a couple of years. And that’s a
bait-click, curatorial. You put stuff. And they carried a lot of
our stuff that went well. Little Things is just
the same kind way. Came out of PetFlow. The curatorial
side, though, is now creating this hunger
for more content. And they want videos. Video is king. We’re looking at
partnerships similar to Vice. So Vice puts out content. They’ve got the people
that they serve. But because they
have a large base, they also have these
commercial partners that they are making
content for, and now these different [INAUDIBLE]. So it’s changing. And the one thing that’s really
great about today and the tools and places like YouTube and
Google is it absolutely allows a small outfit like us to
have a bigger footprint and start to play and let
our content get out there. And bang, and then it’s about
grabbing as many eyeballs as possible. And it’s not about–
although we’d like to have the
broadcast relationships, if we do that, it’s
going to be on our terms because we’re going to build the
foundation enough that they’re going to want to deal with
us, have our partnerships. We’re going to getting
into some of the content that we get into. We’re starting to
do things better than people in our realm, too. But it’s a new day. And they’re all shifting to go,
but I’m doing the same thing as HBO right now. MARC DE SCHWEINITZ:
So it almost sounds like the power has shifted quite
a bit from the big networks to the content
creators like yourself. TOM MCPHEE: Absolutely. MARC DE SCHWEINITZ:
Yeah, that’s great. TOM MCPHEE: No, I love it. MARC DE SCHWEINITZ: Good. Well, Tom, I think we’re going
to wrap it up at this point. I’ve learned a lot about
what you do in filmmaking. And I think all of us
appreciate the storytelling and the cause for the World
Animal Awareness Society. What is another way that
viewers can help your cause? To subscribe to your
YouTube channel? To download the– TOM MCPHEE: Yeah, absolutely. And all that stuff
comes from going to the front page, And there is jumping points
to either Google+ or Facebook or YouTube. It would be great
to have everyone be a YouTube subscriber was
interested in their content. If there’s a program that
you’re interested in, there’s plenty of
ways to donate. We have ways that people
can volunteer, too. There’s a volunteer component. And there’s lots
of stuff that can be done from anywhere in the
world to volunteer and to help with us. And I appreciate you, Mark, as
a volunteer doing what you do and helping us make
the connection. We’ve just recently
gone, as you know, from a Google Ad
Nonprofit partner to a Nonprofit Pro partner. And you helped us
set up someone here in Ann Arbor that’s
helping us drive that, which is really mondo great. And so I appreciate that. Google has been
exceptional to us. YouTube partnership
has been– I mean, I can’t even describe it enough. The last thing I want to say to
you, I’m very excited for you, and this new project, this side
project that we have coming up, the horses and everything. You might be able
to get a chance to be on camera yourself more. MARC DE SCHWEINITZ:
That’d be fun. TOM MCPHEE: I’m
excited about it. MARC DE SCHWEINITZ: Sure. Thanks again for
joining us, Tom. And thanks for everyone. This is Talks at Google. I’m Mark de Schweinitz
and Tom McPhee. TOM MCPHEE: Thank you. MARC DE SCHWEINITZ:

6 thoughts on “Tom McPhee: “World Animal Awareness Society” | Talks at Google

  1. Were the microphones they are wearing not working or just not recorded for some reason? Because the audio quality makes this hard to listen to.

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