Ash Avildsen. Photo Credit: Bobby Quillard.

Filmmaker Ash Avildsen. Photo Credit: Bobby Quillard.

For many people, making a movie is the ultimate career goal, but for first-time filmmaker Ash Avildsen, it’s just the next step. After spending the past nine years as the CEO of Sumerian Records, Avildsen now has his sights set on the film industry as the writer, director, and star of Sumerian Films’ first project, What Now.

A lighthearted comedy, this independent film revolves around the lives of three friends — DJ (played by Avildsen), Bruno and Joey — as they try to navigate the ever-changing online dating scene after being forced to move out of their best friend’s (rapper turned actor “B-Murda,” who is played by Bizzy Bone of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony) mansion by the time he gets married. This sudden change in their lives prompts them to come to terms with the fact that not only are they unhappy with their current jobs and living situation, but that they themselves finally want a relationship. Cue the Tinder-esque swipe-dating app that launches this trio on a wild ride of crazy dates and life-changing experiences. And even though the comedic premise might come off as a bit outlandish in regard to the rest of the plot (after all, not all of us get to party with Ice-T and Coco Austin), it is just the springboard for these three pals as they come to grips with who they are and who they want to be.

While this is his first foray into the narrative film world, Avildsen already has plans in motion for Sumerian Films to keep expanding. The ever-hungry entrepreneur’s next project, which is said to be titled When the Music’s Over, will be a rock ‘n’ roll drama set around the real world stakes of a young band making it big. As the specific details pertaining to this endeavor remain largely unknown, GALO recently had the distinct opportunity to sit down with Avildsen to talk about his transition from music to film, online dating, and more.

GALO: Sumerian Records is a label that you started in 2006 out of your one-bedroom Venice Beach apartment. Since then, you have grown to represent more than 30 bands, run your own booking agency and have even been named in Billboard’s “Top 30 under 30.” How does it feel to look back on the past nine years and reflect on how you and your company have grown?

Ash Avildsen: I’m very grateful for what it’s been able to accomplish, especially considering the current state the record label industry is in. Actually, last week we surpassed two million combined albums sold in the U.S., which has been an exciting moment for us. It’s been fantastic.

GALO: As you’ve developed your brand and expanded into a global market, you’ve seemingly embraced any and all challenges that have come your way. Twelve months ago, you shared a photo revealing Sumerian Films’ first endeavor: the feature-length film, What Now. Was this expansion into film something that you had your eye on back in 2006?

AA: It’s always something I’ve wanted to do, but I wanted to make my name in music first. I wanted to have my own backbone to stand on before diversifying, and I felt I had gotten sturdy enough to the point where I was comfortable taking that next step.

GALO: Although vastly different in their mediums, ultimately, the film and music industry are about producing entertainment. Having now experienced the full spectrum of work that goes into producing an album and film, how would you say the two industries compare?

AA: There are a lot of moving pieces, but it all comes down to art. All in all, its [about] producing entertainment, and you need to resonate with people. They have to feel something, whether they’re watching the story or listening to a song, so it really comes down to this human emotion.

GALO: Due to the nature of these two businesses, it is very difficult for independent artists to break into the mainstream. Lately though, it seems even well-known bands are experimenting with alternative ways of getting their music out. For example, Radiohead and Circa Survive (a band signed to Sumerian Records) have both released “pay-what-you-want” albums. Film though, continues to trend with tent-pole features that have budgets far surpassing anything a young filmmaker could dream of. Now having been a part of it, how do you feel about the challenges facing an independent filmmaker?

AA: I think a big part involved is streaming. Streaming has really hurt the record business in the sense that companies like Spotify don’t really yield the payouts that artists and labels can survive on — but with film, it has really opened a lot of doors. There are all these aggregators — Distribber is one of them — which allow independent filmmakers to put out their movies. I think it’s a better time than ever for independent filmmakers to have an honest shot and not be at the whim of big studios and producers.

It’s like music videos — when I was a kid, the only music videos I watched were on MTV or VH1, but now with YouTube anyone can become popular because of the nature of things. I think it’s similar with a movie trailer, if you make a good trailer that has the ability to go viral, [it will be seen by people]. When I was a kid, [in order] to see a trailer, it had to be on TV or in a theater. I think, overall, Internet technology has done a lot of great things for independent filmmaking. It doesn’t mean you’re going to be successful and make a lot of money, but it does mean that you’re going to have that much better of a shot than you would years ago.

GALO: Do you think these current trends bode well for independent artists?

AA: I think so. The flip side is there’s way more content than ever, and there’s an easier way for people to find out about things, much easier than when the amount of content being made was a lot more limited. There are certain things from that era [pre-Internet] that have gone away that I personally miss, and there’s a little bit of dialogue in What Now that touches upon this. The characters are talking about how they have everything at their fingertips, which is great, but does making things more convenient make it that much better of an experience? They’re referencing how they miss going out with friends to record stores to buy music and rent movies. I do think it’s sad. I tried to run a record store recently on the Sunset Strip and it was very challenging. We ended up having to close our doors because it’s a very difficult business to be in now that everything is digital. I feel that those are the casualties with the change in technology. It is great to have everything at our fingertips, but I do think record stores and video stores were a fun part of our culture and are [now] kind of a thing of the past.

GALO: Yeah, like despite the accessibility of everything, it kind of takes away from, like you said, the culture of it all.

AA: Yeah, I mean going to a Blockbuster with friends, and hoping the movie you wanted to see was still in stock, was an experience. It’s awesome that I can just go on AppleTV and buy whatever I want. I love that instantaneous gratification. But I also miss going out to go rent a movie and making it a sort of event — same with going to a record store. It’s basically extinct now. Sumerian [Records] is lucky because we have fans that will listen and really embrace physical products. We are able to keep roughly a 50-50 physical to digital ratio. And that’s still changing as more stores close, but a lot of our fans enjoy having the CD. I personally love opening up the record and seeing the artwork and reading the lyrics, seeing the credits — just experiencing it from all angles rather than only listening to the song. I guess the other argument is that they can take up a lot of space, and space is limited.