Say Hello to Tello, Offering Alternatives for Online Viewers

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Christin Baker was a Southern girl from Tennessee with plans to work in the entertainment industry when she came to Los Angeles. She procured a position with the Writers Guild of America (WGA), but then, “I kind of got burned out and ended up going to work in the nonprofit world,” Baker told Goweho Managing Editor Laurie Schenden. “But I always still loved storytelling.”

When Baker returned to her storytelling roots, she vowed to generate stories she wanted to see. In 2008 she started Tello Films, and now divides her time between Nashville and Los Angeles.

Goweho: Can you tell us how Tello, the company and the name, came about?

Christin Baker: I wanted to watch stuff that had lesbian characters, so [I thought] why don’t I just start making it? The Tello name came from Television Online. I thought it was a peppy, happy name. “Hello, Tello” is sort of a fun greeting.

[Photo by Regina Paris]

LGBT Industry Spotlight: Tello’s Christin Baker talks Weho biz at The Abbey.                                                                      Photo by Regina Paris

G: You recently teamed up with OneMoreLesbian.com (which offers an on-demand, pay-per-view service), how did that come about?

C.B.: Shirin Papillon [CEO of OML) and I have always had a great relationship. We realized that we were doing things that complimented one another, [because] Tello was all original lesbian content and OML was an aggregator and promoter of lesbian content. It seemed like a natural partnership. We post our original content and trailers and free episodes [on OML]. They love that we’re putting more free content on their site … and we can promote one another.

G: “Nikki and Nora” is a clever, sophisticated show (which originated as a pilot for TV), how did it end up on Tello?

B: I was a big fan of [writer] Nancylee Myatt’s and the show. When she received the rights to the project she checked in with Liz and Christina [lead actors Christina Cox (“Better than Chocolate,” “F/X the Series”), and Liz Vassey (“Tru Calling,” “CSI”)] and they were up to do a reboot. Nancylee, whom we worked with on “Cowgirl Up” [also available on Tello] thought Tello would be a great home for this project. It’s the first time an unaired pilot was reimagined as a Web series. We were so honored Nancylee trusted us with one of her babies.

G: Is the purpose of sites such as yours to give storytellers a place to put their projects?

B: We create our own projects but we also distribute other people’s series. We want to support anyone making content for our community. We’re trying to help them monetize their work. As a filmmaker, you have to look at what you want to do. Some people see a Web series as a way to be discovered and get their project picked up. As a filmmaker, as an artist, you have to ask what is the ultimate goal. If you put it on Tello, it means you might not get as many views but you will be able to get paid for your work. We run a very generous distribution deal, we call them web residuals. So 100% of our net subscription fees are divided among our content providers.

G: Do you only work with lesbians?
B: It’s not a requirement. It’s so important to us to continue to have female voices behind the camera so it’s been a happy coincidence that all of our projects have been produced and written and directed by lesbians.

G: How do people who are looking for LGBT shows and films find them?
B: People who are hungry for that definitely come to Tello Films. We are like the Netflix for lesbian content. We have samples of the series to give people an idea what it is before you pay to see the whole series. For $4.99 a month you watch anything on the site.

G: Are you competing with filmmakers or producers of web series–who is your competition?
B: Because we make our own content, we’re not vying for a piece of someone else’s project. We can distribute someone else’s project, but they still own the copyright. They can decide to take it off our site if they want to and do other things with it. We don’t feel like there’s any reason to see them as competition.

G: You have in fact been called the Netflix of lesbian content, is that accurate?
B: [Laughs] We definitely are–except we were making original content before they were! They’re much bigger than we are.

G: Where do you hope to go next with the business?
B: We want to grow our budgets for our web series. I think we make amazing content for the amount of money, but I think it’s time we look for ways for how we can grow. The next thing we want to do is some Syfy stuff, which requires a bigger budget. We want to grow as a company and be able to give more back to the filmmakers who distribute through us.

Journalist Laurie Schenden covers the entertainment industry, with many of her notable celebrity interviews appearing in the Los Angeles Times and other national and international publications. As a longtime columnist and feature writer for the LA Times, she also covered events and California destinations for the lifestyle, Outdoors and Travel sections. Laurie Schenden's international pieces include the long-running Where Are They Now celebrity feature for Spotlight Magazine, published in five languages. Laurie has also contributed to numerous documentary films, and produces content via Saving Grace Films.

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