*cover/photos: photographer Kirstin Knufmann

Being a visionary/ game changer is who Brian Gramo is. He took his passion for technology and entertainment and expanded it into a visual/technical element as the TV/Film industry evolved with the internet. SayWhatNews sat down with Brian and discussed his company theStream.tv and the road that took him to L.A.:

SayWhatNews: Good morning Brian. Thanks for speaking with SayWhatNews. First tell us who is Brian Gramo?

Brian: Brian Gramo is a computer nerd and the founder of theStream.tv. He’s a techno-hippie, camera loving, plant-based food junkie.

SayWhatNews: At the tender age of 13 you built your first computer. What inspired you to build a computer?

Brian: I wanted the best computer that could possibly exist in 1991 with my available budget. So I went to a trade show and got all the parts I needed to make it the way I wanted.

SayWhatNews: How did an avid gamer find a passion for technology and production?

Brian: I believe they all go hand-in-hand as the technology was the biggest part that attracted me to video games. It was also the fact that anything someone imagined could be literally “played” with. From there I was always inspired to help others take their dreams and form them into something you could actually experience.

SayWhatNews: Brian, one of your first projects in production you formed Semper Mental Productions. Tell us about the idea behind that?

Brian: I always referred to my design company as SMP. So one day when a client asked what it stood for, I blurted out “Semper Mental Productions” since I didn’t feel like explaining what the acronym REALLY meant (I won’t do that here either). They wrote a check out to that name instead of paying cash so I had to open a business account in order to deposit it. I’ve been using the name ever since.

SayWhatNews: How challenging was it to produce an improv comedy show every Saturday night?

Brian: I didn’t feel that job was challenging at all! I had one of the most talented groups of people I’d ever met to work with. They were the ones that had to deliver the amazing performances each night. I just made sure the whole theater experience was pleasant for guests so they’d return. I also booked bands to play during their intermission and after the show. That really helped with cross promotion to keep new faces finding out about them. The shows were sold out nearly every night while I was running the ship!

SayWhatNews: That sounds exciting! So, what inspired you to found your own web development form?

Brian: To be honest? Money. The cash was just too great to pass up, considering I knew how to do it and had just graduated college with a Computer Science degree. However, after a few years I quickly realized that no one was showing up to the website because the website was cool. They were showing up because of the content the website contained. Money isn’t nearly as important to me as the feeling I got from entertainment projects like the comedy shows. That’s when I decided to move out to the LA area and pursue a career in production.

SayWhatNews: Before blogs were even thought of, you developed a content message board for troupe. How did that come to be?

Brian: The group wasn’t very technically savvy, but I knew they were funny and wanted their ideas on the website. So I programmed a way for them to login to the site and post articles. It showed a little picture of them next to the post and separated their posts into categories. I didn’t think at the time that I’d created a blog site. It was just easier than me doing it manually for them each time they had an idea. I grew that into a message board for the users as well, and those had been around already. After a few years when Blogs started popping up everywhere on the web I was like, “Hey, how about that!”

SayWhatNews: After 3 years of owning your own web development firm you sold the company to pursue TV/Film production. Why did you make such a drastic change then when things were going so well?

Brian: To be honest? Money.

SayWhatNews: Brian your passion for technology and production led you to a variety of jobs in production like being the casting assistant for Blind Date and Production Coordinator for video media house G-Net. Can you give us more insight on this?

Brian: True. Oddly enough, I was trying to get an editor job at Blind Date. One of the dating recruiters convinced me to audition for the show and perhaps get a job that way. This was a complete ploy of course as no one had ever gotten a job that way. However, I actually got cast to appear on Blind Date and got along with the casting staff so well that I got hired.

Now, the same company that produced Blind Date is producing Excused, which Iliza Shlesinger hosts. Iliza’s been with theStream.tv for years now, even before she won Last Comic Standing, and continues to host The Weakly News on our network.

SayWhatNews: From there you became Producer of Tom Green Live. Is it true you found the job on Craigslist?

Brian: Yep! I was working mainly as an Assistant Director for indie films at the time. I enjoyed breaking down the scripts and running sets. Craigslist.org was a great way to find those projects, and that job was posted right in the “gigs” section.

SayWhatNews: I have to ask, is it true you were fired live during an airing of Tom Green Live? What was the breaking point that led to that moment?

Brian: That is also true. You’d have a difficult time finding any video of me swearing anywhere online. In five years of broadcasting uncensored television, it’s just not something I do often. However, I can state, without hesitation, that Tom Green is a total fucking asshole. He treats his employees and volunteers like sub-par life-forms and ejects people from his world for the most trivial actions.

I brought a lot to the table so he tolerated our differences for much longer that most I think. One day, Tom gave us a very dangerous turn-around time. He had us work until 2am, then gave us an 8am call time without the option to even crash at his home studio. I protested, and continued to be augmentative when he wasn’t happy with things the next morning. That escalated and he eventually threw a piece of my gear that I had brought just to help out. I got in his face about it and was fired during the live broadcast. It’s a shame that I can’t find that video anywhere. I’d love to watch it!

SayWhatNews: So intense, but hey a few weeks later you took your ideas and founded theStream.tv. Tell us about the mission of your company?

Brian: It may have been as early as the very next week. There were so many talented people in the LA area, and I saw the unlimited reach potential of streaming live via the Internet. YouTube had just launched about a year before that and it was clear that video on the Internet was the future. I created theStream.tv so the up-and-coming creative talent in the area could have an awesome platform to perform without worrying about how to make their video look good or sound right. Plus, I had been a huge fan of interactive chat-rooms like Camfrog. Combining that online social experience with cool shows was what I set out to do.

SayWhatNews: How did you come up with the name theStream.tv?

Brian: This goes back to Tom Green again. He called his stream “The Channel.” I was doing something similar, but would have many channels within the network. I also wanted it to be clear that this was “the” stream to be on since several sites of this nature were popping up. theStream.tv was my first choice and it was actually available, so I nabbed it.

SayWhatNews: Is it true that in the beginning you did everything out of your home and you already owned all the equipment (computers, cameras and etc.) needed?

Brian: Yes, I started it out of my bedroom. When we wanted to do a show, we pushed my mattress (no bed frame) up against the wall and covered it with a photo backdrop. I had a handful of cameras and several computers and was able to do a live stream without any upfront investment at first. However, I only had a multi-media video switcher that you would use in your living room to switch from your VCR to your cable box. So you actually saw the crappy “switches” sometimes as we went from camera to camera. No one cared though. We were just having fun.

SayWhatNews: theStream.tv has produced over 1300 live interactive shows from film making, video games, green living, entertainment news and more. Is it true that initially viewers donations helped keep the business going?

Brian: We’re approaching 1500 at this point, and yes viewer donations certainly helped. For the first few years, it was common for theStream.tv go take four to six week breaks while I took production gigs to build up more cash to keep the business going. Clearly, the fans wanted more shows and less breaks so I put up a PayPal donation button. That significantly reduced the side jobs I needed to take so I could focus on the shows.

SayWhatNews: So many shows online have shutdown. Why do you believe your company has been able to strive and keep going?

Brian: Advertisers are still having a hard time moving over from traditional television advertising to new media outlets like live streaming. Change is difficult and there are millions, make that billions of dollars at stake. Online shows, especially live ones, certainly come and go because it’s really difficult to produce high quality live content that’s not riddled with technical issues. I thought we had seen the end as well when the 3.0 studio shut down in July 2010. My business partner, Susan Wrenn, found the resources we needed to re-launch the 4.0 studio with all HD gear. I believe our longevity and continued support is the result of theStream.tv being a studio, a programming incubator and a network, and not one particular show. Our financial model is better, so I'm told.

SayWhatNews: Your vision for live streaming interactive shows online has helped you receive recognition like the Clicker Award for “Best Live Production” and Streamy Award nominations for “Best News Show” and “Best Live Production”. How amazing does it feel to be recognized for your achievements?

Brian: I’m actually pretty confused by award shows in general. Some shows are picked when others are completely ignored. Sometimes I’ve felt we’ve been passed over, when other times I’m surprised that we’ve been picked over other competition that I’m a fan of. It’s always flattering to be grouped with other professionals that you respect. However, in the end it seems many awards go to who’s marketed themselves the best, and not who is technically the leader in the given category. Hurt Locker anyone?

SayWhatNews: Television on the internet is becoming a popular thing i.e. Hulu and many others. What is the pitch process to get a new show on theStream.tv?

Brian: Sleeping with me never hurt. Otherwise, you need to demonstrate that the show makes sense being a part of theStream.tv. Does it need to be live? Is it interactive? I’m trying to stray away from just plain talk shows, but if that’s your show then you’d better be an all out authority on the topic. Take Cross Counter Live for example... There are certainly talk show elements to it, but it’s based around the fighting game community that the hosts are extremely involved in. There are also live matches that take place during the show, or even complete tournaments. These are exciting events that are best experienced live. That’s what I’m looking for.

SayWhatNews: What’s next in the future for Brian Gramo and theStream.tv?

Brian: Tom Green is launching a new show with us this February!


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