Zeke Kamm is a writer, filmmaker, and local celebrity in Bend for his role in producing The Last Blockbuster, the 2020 Netflix documentary that put Bend on the map for home movie lovers around the world. Our very own Doone Williams, filmmaker and Tin Pan Marketing and Programming coordinator, spoke with Zeke about his early career, the inspirations that made him pivot, and his goals for developing the comedy scene in town.
Doone Williams: How are you doing? What are you up to?
Zeke Kamm: Nothing that new. The movie just premiered in Spain a couple of weeks ago, which is cool. We got a lot of good press. It made it to Turner Classic Movies (TCM) in Spain. And then I think it’s going to be on in France as well, but I don’t have a date on that yet.
DW: How are you feeling about the difference between partnering with TCM versus Netflix? They’re two very different entities.
ZK: I mean, honestly, I just want people to see it, and I want to make the most money possible. So it doesn’t really matter to me. You know, as long as they’re nice to me, and they promote it, and they pay and people get to see it, then I’m stoked. I’ve been in the business too long to be snobby about it, you know? I mean, it’s not like Netflix is known for horrible things—most of the people who work there that I know, love working there. It’s supposed to be a pretty great place to work.
DW: Oh, really?
ZK: Yeah. Especially creatively. All my friends that have had stuff produced by Netflix are like, ‘We almost have too much freedom.’
DW: Interesting. Is that a kind of position that inspires you?
ZK: I mean, it would be pretty awesome to be in that situation where you have a built-in audience and you’re not worrying about ratings. I think that’s why Netflix isn’t heavy handed. Because they don’t care about the ratings. And they want this stuff to get watched a lot, but they’ve got all of the computer algorithms and things. So as long as your stuff doesn’t make people stop watching Netflix, then they’re happy.
DW: What’s different about Netflix compared to your time working at Cartoon Network? Were you able to get that same creative freedom?
ZK: Netflix is definitely an anomaly. [At Sony], everything was about ad dollars. So decisions were made. There was a transition from when I first started, where the creative executives made the decision about what shows got made. And then the marketing departments had to figure out how to market that to get the most ad dollars. And then, it switched over to where they put the marketing department in charge above the creative department. So the marketing department decided what shows would be easy to market. And that’s how things got bought. And that was when I really saw the writing on the wall. And I was like, I don’t think this is gonna work out for me.
I don’t have a problem with making something commercial. I’m quite good at it. I like for lots of people to get my message, whatever the story is I’m trying to tell. I’m really good at threading meaningful things into commercial problems. But I don’t want to have to do the marketing department’s job for them. And if you only buy things that you don’t have to work hard to market, then it’s just all garbage.
DW: Do you think that media corporations are turning the landscape to garbage?
ZK: I think it’s a complicated answer when you throw the word corporations in because when I step back and look at the landscape, maybe 10% is high quality. There’s just so much more being made, but all I know is when I look at what’s getting made, I think we have some of the best music, some of the best television and some of the best movies being made in history. Like, I know that’s not a cool thing. The cool thing is to pick a time period and say that’s when all the best stuff was being made. There’s great stuff in every time period, but I’m consistently blown away with what people are doing right now.
DW: Like what?
ZK: I think all the most interesting things are in television. But there’s still lots of great movies out there. Around 15-20 years ago, I think what happened is a lot of the great independent filmmakers went into television. And I think that’s why there’s so much good television. I could be wrong. But that’s my impression of the situation. Right? All the big studios bought all the independent film studios, so now there’s no independent film studios… Now, if you’re at a party and someone says they own an independent record label, you’re like, what? What do you do to earn money?
DW: Is that what it means now? If you’re indie just means you’re broke?
ZK: If you own an independent film studio, most likely you’re broke.
ZK: If you’re an independent producer, you can make a living if you work hard. Indie filmmakers? That’s another thing. So, you know, there’s no money in this business anymore. For the indie. It’s like, the top 1% make enough money to survive. In the independent film, documentary space. I mean, if you knew what people were offering us for this movie, you’d be horrified.
DW: Was that insulting to you? Or are those just the times we’re in?
ZK: Well, both. Yeah. You know it’s people, I think the people with the money are greedier and more aggressive than ever. And, you know, if you do something on your own, and you finish it, and it’s watchable, you should be able to make enough money to have it be worth your time. Just if it’s watchable. But it’s not the case. You’ve got to get real lucky, too.
DW: So it really does have to do with luck.
ZK: So, I’m not a sports guy. I’m going to use a sports analogy, but I’ll probably get it wrong. In basketball, you have to be a certain amount tall. Right? But then after that, you have to be talented. And then after that, you have to be lucky. So I think it’s like that, right? To be successful in the industry. You have to be able to craft a story, at least a tolerable story. If you can’t even do that, then you’re already out. But let’s say you can create an excellent story, like an incredible story, way better than average. You still have to have luck.
DW: Do you have other film connections in Bend?
ZK: There’s a producer here in town who’s produced like eight or 10 feature films. I don’t see him very often. But he does a storytelling / comedy show every once in a while, and I did a set for him once.
DW: Do you do stand up?
ZK: I do. I haven’t done it since the pandemic. I didn’t actually start doing it until I was living in Bend. I wish I had started doing it when I was in LA—I would have had a lot of opportunities to go up more often. But yeah, I wrote comedy, mostly for TV, for forever. And then I was reading a book of interviews with stand up comedians put together by Judd Apatow. He’s been interviewing stand up comedians since he was in high school, and he saved all the recordings. And then now that he’s this mega-huge famous guy, he put together this book. I was reading it, and every time one of the stand-ups described going up on stage, I started feeling sick to my stomach with anxiety at the thought of me going up…. I thought, This is no good. This is something I have to fix. So I decided I would start doing stand up.
DW: Wow. That’s such an interesting way to look at it.
ZK: If I’m scared of skydiving, that makes sense. If something goes wrong, I could die. It’s fair to be nervous about that. But going up on stage in front of people? Maybe someone can throw a beer bottle at you. But that’s unlikely.
DW: That’s so cool, though. You’ve got a great presence. And what you say is very funny. You’re just a funny guy. So you should definitely keep doing standup.
ZK: I’m sure I’ll do it for the rest of my life. It’s just too fun not to do it. When you write TV or movies or whatever, you don’t get to have that instant feedback or adoration. You know, I don’t think anyone’s an artist without having an ego. And I only say that as an excuse for why I have such a big ego.
DW: What I’m hearing is we should start a comedy group.
ZK: Actually that’s something I’ve been working on for a while now. I would love to have a whole group of new people and start writing sketches. And we could do a weekly or bi weekly sketch show in town, live… I used to write radio plays that were performed live in front of an audience. And it was every week, so I got to do one or two every week. And they weren’t just comedy. Some were comedy, some were horror, science fiction, all that stuff. And it’s great because you spend one week max writing it, then they have like three days to rehearse it. Then the actors perform it live in front of an audience. So less than two weeks after you wrote it, you’re experiencing it being performed, and audiences reacting to it. People laughing in parts that you didn’t plan on people laughing at; people gasping at other things that you hoped they would gasp at. It’s pretty awesome.
DW: Alright, last question. What are you most looking forward to working on and seeing in film, or just in any creative direction?
ZK: I would like to do a live sketch comedy troupe in Bend. That would be a lot of fun. It’s a lot of work. And there’s certainly no financial reward for it. I would say to the people that are reading this, if they are funny and like a little pain mixed in with their humor, and they want to act in it, they should reach out.
What Zeke is watching right now:
- The Last Man on Earth on Hulu
- “Watch at least three episodes, it changes every episode and it progresses a ton. So if you hate it at first, watch three and then if you hate it, then keep it to yourself.”
- Loki on Disney+
- “It would definitely be on my top five list for Greatest TV show pilots of all time.”
- WandaVision on Disney+
- “It would never even make my top 1000 list of favorite TV shows, but it’s one of the boldest.”
For more about The Last Blockbuster, check out Doone’s interview with Taylor Morden and Zeke Kamm on Youtube.