Last month, we were thrilled to sit down with President/CEO of OBB Pictures, Michael D. Ratner. Founded in 2014, OBB Pictures is a leading millennial-driven and digital focused content production company whose current slate includes developing and producing original scripted and unscripted content across all media platforms, including Netflix, MTV, ESPN, EPIX, VICE and many others. Most recently, Ratner served as creator, showrunner and executive producer for seasons 2 and 3 of The 5th Quarter a scripted comedy series he created for Verizon’s go90, as well as creator, executive producer and director of OBB’s most recent show, Cold as Balls starring Kevin Hart.
Our conversation covered Michael’s rise from NYU Tisch graduate to company founder, his approach to creating content for all platforms, and his thoughts on the long-running debate on the differences in the East and West Coast industry!
Tell us a little about your journey from graduating NYU Tisch to your move to LA?
Following my second year at NYU Tisch Grad Film, I interned at Relativity and spent the time between terms making content specifically for their sports division. They needed a one man band to create limited size and scope content, and I fit the bill. By the end of summer, I had a job offer on the table and had to make a decision: go back to school or stay out in LA to start my career. I opted to head back to New York and finish the MFA program, but luckily after graduating, I set up a first look with the studio.
What differences have you seen in the how the industry operates on the East vs West coast?
I love New York and often miss it—I spent the first 24 years of my life on the East coast. That said, if you want to break into this business, I do think you have to come out west, at least to start. I always joke that what you can accomplish in a day in LA, takes a week back home. That may seem counterintuitive because New York is known for its hustle—and I certainly find LA to be more laid back, but I attribute this more so to the ability to really have face-to-face meetings in LA. Many of our world’s decision makers are based in LA, and a phone call just isn’t the same as a sit down. Plus, a little New York hustle in LA isn’t such a bad thing either.
Interestingly, nearly our entire company is originally from the North East, which is where many of us met and first started working together, but I think we’ve all found ourselves in LA because we felt there were more opportunities to collaborate with exciting partners and to tackle bigger projects.
OBB was founded on creating successful sport related content. Today, you not only produce content on wide ranging subject matters, but also are platform agnostic across the film, TV, and digital projects you make. Why the expanded focus?
I enjoyed my time focusing on sports content, but always knew that was just the opportunity that got me in the “Hollywood door.” I always wanted to diversify the portfolio and make content across all genres—that could be platform and duration agnostic. I just wanted to make cool, premium stuff. After my first look at Relativity, my brother Scott and I took our time to position ourselves to be able to make the types of content we’d want to watch, and opened up shop independently as OBB Pictures. For the first time, we had no ties to any company or first look, and we opened the first OBB office in Beverly Hills with just a handful of employees.
Two years later, we’re more than double in size and just moved into our new, expanded offices in West Hollywood (former home of Scooter Braun Projects), where we have room to shoot in-house, handle all post-production, and can oversee an expanded slate ranging from unscripted to scripted, sports, comedy, music, drama, and horror.
With a proven track record of producing wide-ranging work from episodic to film, and social video to television, how does OBB stand out from the crowd?
When founding OBB, we saw an opportunity to make premium, millennial-driven content for this burgeoning OTT space that was continuing to grow (lucky timing given our particular skill set and sensibilities.) In our minds, all questions about format, genre, length, structure, or platform should be determined by one, simple mandate: “would we want to watch it?” That’s the connective tissue across our work, from the interview series like Cold As Balls with Kevin Hart, our half-hour scripted comedy The Smart Money, or our hour long horror series with Crypt TV, Mercy, and more.
We are lucky to be a part of the demographic we create for, so we can assess within OBB’s walls if something will work or not. The dream at a production company is to have a team of executives, tastemakers, and entrepreneurs; that’s what we strive for at OBB.
What are you most looking forward to in 2018?
We are closing deals on four serial projects that have been 2 years in the making, so it’s a crazy time right now! I’m excited for our traditional projects to roll out—three are half hours and one is an hour-long on exciting networks and platforms. It will be fun to shift a bit from selling to creating again. Recently, we were in Canoga Park shooting Season 2 of Cold As Balls with Kevin Hart, which has really amazing moments. I’m excited for everyone to see this when it drops!