The world of entertainment has been democratized with the advent of more accessible and affordable equipment, but Hollywood remains the ultimate destination for aspiring filmmakers. Wisconsin natives Nick Sommer and Drew Rosas followed the stars out West themselves after graduating from UWM's film school. And their experience became the inspiration for their eventual Web series, Shangri-LA.
Shangri-LA questions the merit of going West to follow your dreams and what true paradise means. "The concept really came from transplanting ourselves from the Midwest out to California, and being sort of thrown into the monster of the entertainment industry," explains Rosas, director and co-creator.
As they began working in LA, Rosas and Sommer noticed the large number of transient people in Los Angeles. What surprised them, though, was how many of them "were former industry people that had a shot at the industry and it didn't quite work out or they're still trying to make it, and they kinda had found themselves at the street level of Los Angeles ... You have this giant monster of a machine that is just chewing people up and spitting them back out," says Rosas.
Sommer says, "We looked in the mirror and we found ourselves in the exact same place. And we thought, 'Hey, let's make a story about our lives, about filmmakers trying to make it in LA.' So, we came up with the series idea and it grew from there."
The show follows an ensemble cast of unique and memorable characters trying to "make it" in Hollywood while surviving the streets of Los Angeles. Sommer also plays Nicky Kaplow — a former somewhat famous infomercial personality turned urban survivalist. The series takes the original Tibetan utopia of Shangri-La and flips it on its head to poke holes in the myth of Hollywood and that mirage.
Creating these productions has become more accessible, says Rosas, who filmed the series on a camera that costs around $1,000. But making a mark and gaining recognition can be a challenge with so many shows out there. "You can have really great stuff, but you have to figure out a way to swim above the rest ... and find your little niche," says Rosas.
In order to get the word out in a unique way and connect with viewers, Rosas and Sommer are taking the show on the road. Sommer says they "want to make it a big event, make it fun, and get people out to actually realize ... we're making beautiful-looking content that hopefully, also, is entertaining."
They hope to bridge the disconnect of online content and interact with viewers as they travel across the Midwest. "We're trying every angle we can to sort of break through the noise," adds Rosas.
Sommer and Rosas will both be at The Cooperage Friday evening for a screening of the first season as a part of their 2019 Midwest Tour. On Monday evening, they'll be giving a live commentary along with a screening at NO Studios.