In our premiere episode, host Kody Ford talks to Mario Troncoso, Director of Film and Media Ecosystems at CACHE in Northwest Arkansas, about OZCast, the experimental variety show that's making waves in the region.
Welcome to Reel Talk Arkansas! We're kicking off this new podcast from Arkansas Cinema Society with Mario Troncoso, Director of Film and Media Ecosystems at CACHE in Northwest Arkansas. Mario is the co-producer of OZCast, an experimental variety show that's showcasing and supporting artists in the region. He joins our host, ACS Director of Outreach and Educational Programming Kody Ford, to discuss the genesis of the show and the pivotal role it has played in the lives of local creatives during the pandemic.
Catch up on OZCast's first season on their website, OZCast.art. For more information about CACHE, visit CACHEcreate.org.
Reel Talk Arkansas is presented by the Arkansas Cinema Society and produced by Christian Leus and Kody Ford, with theme music is by Amos Cochran. To find out more about ACS's programming, visit arkansascinemasociety.org.
KODY FORD (VOICEOVER): Welcome to Reel Talk Arkansas, a podcast presented by the Arkansas Cinema Society. This is our first ever episode, where we’ll discuss film and art in Arkansas and the South. We’re going to have panels of creatives talking about pressing issues in the arts world today, as well as interviews with filmmakers and others in the industry to discuss their work. If you like this podcast, please subscribe, and check out more of what we do on our website at arkansascinemasociety.org. This is just one of our many great programs, and we have a lot more to come in the year.
KODY FORD: Hey everybody. Thanks for listening today. Uh, it's Kody Ford. I am Director of Outreach and Educational Programming here at Arkansas Cinema Society, and we appreciate you tuning in to our podcast. Today, I have a special guest with us, Mario Troncoso, who is Director of Film and Media Ecosystems at CACHE in Northwest Arkansas and co-producer of something we're gonna be talking about today, OZCast. Mario, thanks for joining us.
MARIO TRONCOSO: Thanks for having me, Kody.
KF: Yeah, for sure. Uh, you know, OZCast first came on my radar, I guess, last fall, and I wasn't aware that you guys were even prepping it. And then, you know, suddenly this is in my inbox, I'm like, "Oh, this is really cool." So it's been interesting to just see, I'm sure this was in the works for a long time, but, you know, not everybody necessarily knew about it. So, so what's the background on OZCast? Can you just kind of explain to our listeners what it is, exactly, in case they don't know?
MT: Yeah. So OZCast is a, it's a weekly, we call it experimental variety show. So we've actually feature local artists, um, we commission, we license content. Uh, 90% is local, but we also invite some national artists, uh, to be part of the show. And the way, the backstory is, um, and everything happened really quick, So that's why you didn't know about it. Uh, it was a response to really the, the pandemic. Um, once we realized there were so many artists at home, uh, not being able to make an income, not being able to make art, uh, and everybody was trying to use the social media to put out shows, all those type of things, right. Um, and that was great, you know, maybe not really high quality, but it was great to see that, people trying find ways to do it. Um, so we realized also that there were many people in this region, artists, who did not have the platform to do that. Uh, there's so many are still today who don't really have any presence in social media, don't have websites. Uh, they don't have the technology to make these things happen. They don't have the training. Uh, so OZCast was really a reaction to that. How come we, what we are here to do is to serve the artist community and the community at large. Um, what can we offer these artists to help them be part of the conversation that was happening during the pandemic? Uh, so one way was we can give them money, right? So a huge part of our budget, uh, we didn't start, even start with a production budget. Uh, even though this is content that we're creating, we didn't really have a production budget. Our budget goes almost entirely directly to artists. Um, so instead of us creating the content, we give people money, and let them make their own content. And then when, when, because of the pandemic, even doing that is hard for some people. Then, okay, can we license your content that is already made? Um, that was one way to do it, financially supporting artists. Um, a second way that we saw was important to create, uh, create a platform that will outlast the pandemic. Um, so instead of, uh, first we thought maybe we should do like a Facebook Live every week and have people perform and we pay them for their work, but that was not gonna last. That wasn't really, that was not going to create community. And it wasn't really gonna, wasn't gonna support creating a bigger artist scene that we want to create here. Um, so that's what we came up with. Let's do something that resembles a TV format, um, something that has an online platform—uh, which we are still growing, OZCast.art, uh, is our, our website—and that has a format that people can recognize every week, right? With an opening sequence, a title sequence, um, and something that can grow, eventually, into broadcasting. Uh, so that was a big thing to do because we didn't really have the budget for that. Uh, but that was what was gonna make it different than everything else that was happening already online. Um, that's did I answer your question?
KF: Yeah, definitely! One of the things that I thought was interesting is just how professional the quality is, even looking back at the first episode. So you guys basically just handed it off and said, go find your own person, film and edit, and they paid for it out of their budget? Is that how that works, kind of,?
MT: It's a mix of that. That was, originally, that was the idea, is we give people money, um, and they figure it out on their own, right? They will find somebody to collaborate with, a local filmmaker, a local editor, and they put it together. Um, but after just the first episode, even before we released the first episode, we realized that was not going to work for a lot of people. So that's one way we do it. We do, we give a budget to people and they hire a friend or somebody that already worked with them to create, like, we've done a number of really awesome music videos. And the ones we made, most of them, people already have a filmmaker in mind, you know, maybe they already have started a conversation before the pandemic and this was the excuse for them to make it happen. Um, and then what we added to that is, well, for the people that don't know any filmmakers, uh, any editors, any shooters, what can we provide that is safe, you know, during COVID? Uh, so that's when I went out and I started searching for local filmmakers. And we found a small team of people that can work on their own, you know, like a one-person band, um, and then we paired these filmmakers with artists. And then, you know, I made the introductions, told them kind of what the idea is, and then I let them figure it out on their own. Uh, with some basic rules, like all the format, you know, that we have is short format, so it can't be too long and things like that. Um, and then when, you know, one of those filmmakers, Evan Albarado, who's doing a lot of work with that, is now going to start working with us full time, uh, doing OZCast and all the other things around film on media. Uh, so the idea was always to create, uh, a team and a collaboration, so, the space for these to be just the seed of something much bigger. Um, and on that, it's been already a success. We still have a few episodes left, but we are really, you know, we already made, I've seen pretty much every, or achieved every goal that we have. Um, even more for many people that, I realized early on that a lot of the people around the project, in terms of financing and things like that, they didn't really believe. They knew this was a way to relieve the artists, but they didn't really see it as actual content. They didn't realize how much talent there is here. Uh, because a lot of funders in the region are really focused on national art, you know, global art, you know, big museum, these big names. And they were really missing on a lot of local content and local talent. And I think that's the best thing we've been able to do. Cause we have like a hundred artists that we are featuring in just one season. Um, we are going to have season two coming up soon and we'll have another hundred artists. Uh, some of those that were on the first season will be able to come back, you know? So that was part of the conversation every time I reached out to an artist, is think about this relation as a long-term thing. Even if I'm asking you to make a thirty-second piece, uh, you can come back and make five minutes or ten minutes, you know, whatever it is. Uh, so OZCast's idea is that it can grow into, like, a network where there are different shows. Uh, OZCast the show will be one, but there may be other things that are more like documentary-based, which is something that people really wanted, but we couldn't really provide, uh, even though that's really my background. There may be things that are more music, performance oriented. Uh, so I'd say it's going to start growing in different directions as we build a community. And, um, uh, I've seen that so far.
KF: Okay. Yeah, it's definitely interesting, it sounds like it has a lot of potential to grow. It, you mentioned how you guys kind of learned, uh, you know, through trial and error about, you know, we should probably pair people with uh, you know, shooter, editor types, uh, to help produce it. Well, have there been any other lessons that you guys have kind of learned along the way?
MT: Yeah. I mean, people really need, there's a mix of things. Like, being able to see who needs to be challenged. You know, there are people that have never been challenged to make better content, you know? Um, and learning how to deal with people that that's not what they need, they just need a, an extra hand, maybe. Because people are, right now, it's like, it's COVID, right? So people are under a lot of pressure in so many different ways. So, to challenge people to make content, sometimes is not the best idea. Uh, so there's sort of like a split, it's the people who need to be, uh, artists, communities that need to be represented because they need to be part of the conversation. Uh, and it's not about the quality, uh, it's about what they have to say, and it's not really up to me or anybody on our team to decide what it is. But then there's the other people who are, who want to be challenged. And it's about improving their quality. And I've seen that's something that we can, we kind of have to balance. So, learning the balance between those two things—you know, representation, and when we have to get out of the way and let people do what they have to do, and art, uh, which is about quality. So, uh, it's really about learning what, what people want from the show and, and what people have to say. So, it's, 90% of it is really just listening and learning from people. So, uh, still processing a lot of the things that we've done, because we are, like, in the middle of it, this weekly show. So, we haven't probably stopped to really learn a lot of the lessons that, you know, we probably already learned, but we haven't really stopped and do like a, sort of like a look back and really go through the process. And, um, but I think we'll have time between seasons to really recap that, uh, and somehow put it out there and what we learn from it, you know?
KF: Yeah, absolutely. How did you guys enlist talent with this, exactly? What was, uh, I mean, did it start like kind of in-house and then there was more of an open call?
MT: Yeah, well, there, that's a great question. And that was really the key of how to do this, uh, which it was not easy. Um, for one, also, because of the pandemic and it makes communicating so, you know, complicated for some people. Um, and at the beginning of the pandemic we were all learning how to use Zoom, you know, learning how to meet up like this. So, it's like, how do we do this? Um, so the idea was that we were gonna do the first few episodes as like invite-only, we'll select artists to invite and to be on the show. And then we were gonna follow up with an open call. Uh, but that didn't work because it was way, way too difficult, uh, to put it out there and organize it and to manage that. So, the only way I could make, um, really secure a weekly show is if I have control over who I invited to the show. Uh, so mostly, like, having full control of that, that was required to really produce a weekly show. And I've done, you know, eight, nine years of shows uninterrupted on TV, so I knew that was going to be it. Uh, you know, uh, people that were coming more from the art, non-profit world, they were really all about the open call. And that will happen in season two, now that we have experience. But it was impossible for me to deliver a show and do an open call at the same time. Totally different worlds. So, the way we did it, um, is we have a serious of community liaisons, artist liaisons, uh, which all are working full- or part-time for CACHE at different, different jobs. Uh, each of these team members are part of one community, right? Um, they are all community activists on their own, they're all artists themselves. Uh, so basically we send them out as an assignment to each of them, come back with a list of artists that they think should be featured on the show. I knew, again, going back to that, some of them were on the list because of the quality of the work and some of them were on the list for the, because of the importance of their voices. Uh, so it was some mix of many different places. So, basically I brought all these lists, I made my own, too. Um, so I end up with like hundreds of names, maybe three to five hundred names that I can't remember right now. And then I started going through all those to see the people who actually made video content. You know, there was a lot of people on, on, on the list that were great artists, but they have never made any video content themselves, uh, the work they do is really slow, so it doesn't really work on camera very well. Uh, unless we do documentary, which is not what we were doing. Um, so a lot of the people have, you know, went off that. Then we look for anybody, uh, that have already video content, but they never had a platform before. And that was very specific to season one. Season two won't be like that, season two will be mostly, like, 95%, probably, new content. Season one we, we set up to do like almost half and half, half is new content and half content that was already out there, but that have never been really watched by anybody around. Um, and there was a lot of that. It was actually hard to find. Uh, but that's when having all these community liaisons made it easy. They will send me links, like, every day, "Here, I found this person, I found this person." And then we will invite artists to send me content, friends that they have. Um, anyway, a lot of the names on the lists were the same. So, that's probably where we, you know, those went to the top. Uh, and then there were some random people that we found, um, that nobody else knew, you know? Just, you know, watch something online, YouTube, finding out, like, nobody knew who these people are, and they didn't even know they live here. Uh, so there was a lot of that, like, discovery of that. And then we work with, uh, The Momentary, uh, and Crystal Bridges to, to find national artists. Uh, because they are both partners on this, they're both funders of this project. Uh, so they came, their curators came with a list of I think about ten national artists. And out of those ten, we probably invited six or seven to create content. Um, and that's how we, we completed the lists. So, but moving forward now, now we're on that topic, on season two, there will be, we will have a proper open call, uh, that we'll probably announce in the next couple of months. Um, the format is going to be very similar, but the open call would be really the key to next season. Um, now that everybody can see the content, it will be a little easier. Because it was hard, that was another thing that was hard about the open call, is nobody really knew what we were talking about. So, it was hard to put an open call. It was like, people started sending ideas that were, like, it didn't make any sense. Like, they didn't, they didn't get what we were trying to do. Um, now that people can go and watch it, it's, you know, they, they get it. Now they know what we expect from them.
KF: And for the open call that you guys will be doing, would that be for any creatives around the state?
MT: Yes. Well, yes. It's open to everybody. Uh, we still have, like, uh, our primary focus is still going to be Northwest Arkansas. Uh, so that's gonna be, uh, a big chunk of the artists. Then we have the Heartland, which is the rest of the state plus surrounding states. We have featured several people from Oklahoma on this season. Uh, we even have artists from all the way to Texas.
KF: Uh, I noticed a few that I knew who used to live here, like, one and I think is in New Orleans, the other she's in Tulsa, but they still had that sort of Northwest Arkansas connection.
MT: Right. And that's, that's really a good point, um, that kind of got lost to me because I forgot about it. But that was something, at the beginning of the, of, of curating the content, um, that was a really important thing. Is, is people that have a connection to Northwest Arkansas, to Arkansas, um, even if they are not here. Uh, so yeah, so we, we, we did a lot of research on that. Uh, because of the way we were doing it, we didn't have a lot of time to do outreach outside, you know? Uh, but that's, that's the goal. You know, I came from, I spent ten years in Austin working in the arts and music industries. Um, what I learned there is, well, the Austin music scene, or experience as they call it, uh, is anybody that has ever played in Austin. Right? And that's really smart because anybody, doesn't matter which country you come from, which city. If, when you go to this city, people treat you like you are one of them, you will take that with you, right? So, that's, that's what I was trying to do is anybody that has any connection here, you are welcome. You are part of it, you know? I'm also myself an immigrant, so I'm very sensitive to when people see me as the outsider, as the foreigner, as whatever they want to call it. Um, um, I'm comfortable with that, being the outsider, but I'm also very sensitive in the way people talk about newcomers, you know? Like, who says who is new to what? And how long it takes for anybody to not be new anymore? Uh, so even if somebody was here, you know, so many people come here for school, right? And then they move on. They come here, spend a few great years, sometimes, going to school in Fayetteville, and then they move on. Those people are still part of the scene. Even in ten, twenty years, they still have that connection, to me. They're still part of, you know, they connect to the community here. Um, obviously anybody in Little Rock, you know, which it was a big question for us, you know, whether to include Little Rock on the first season. Because it's such a bigger, stronger community, which is an identity. And we didn't really have the capacity when we started to work on that connection, but that connection is there. And it'll be part of the show eventually. Uh, at the beginning, the first season was just a pilot program. So, even though there were things that we wanted to do, we kind of had to stop ourselves. Um, but it will keep growing and definitely the whole state, um, will be part of it. And a big part of that, which is, you know, our goal, at least, is to try to have this as a TV show, uh, that we'll broadcast all over the state. Um, so, you know, we'll continue making those connections and, uh, try to make Northwest Arkansas the epicenter of what's happening here. Um, we all know this is happening because we had the funding that other people don't have. But also I've seen the, the waves are going to start reaching more and more people outside. Uh, I've been talking in terms of filmmaking, making a lot of connections with filmmakers in Tulsa. Uh, that is really interesting because it's really close. Uh, so why not make it part of the same community? That's a matter of another state, another city, to me, it's the same film community. There's Kansas City to me is the same film community, you know, we are around the corner, so.
KF: It's a more of a regional kind of film community.
MT: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And a cultural thing, you know, we are, I spent so many, almost twenty years in Texas and, uh, and to me it's the same culture, you know. I don't really see many differences from Arkansas to Texas. Um, I did see the difference when I live in the East Coast, right? That was a different culture. Uh, it was almost like moving to a foreign country, in some ways. You had to learn how to speak to people, you know, people react to what you say in a different way. Even a business meeting doesn't flow the same way. So, uh, and I, and that was present when we, when our first name that we had for the show was called "Downstream." And there was something about, it has to do with nature and Native American heritage, but also, you know, the flow of the river. You know, going from up here all the way to the, to the South. So we were really trying to make this show as this, you know, connection to the rest of the region, not just Arkansas. Uh, and I think that's where it's going. I think I'm confident that we'll keep expanding in that way.
KF: Okay. Well, let's talk about, you know, you guys are coming to a close on the first season. What can people look for in some of these last few episodes?
MT: Yeah, so we, uh, I mean, one thing that we, again, because of my TV experience, was always to make it consistent. You know, not, not try to have one part of the season too strong and then suddenly this flop. Uh, so there, it was kinda like, can we make the last part of the season the stronger part of the season? So, now that everybody's getting used to it, people are watching it, is that's where most of the national artists that we have, we have on that last part of the season. Um, so I think what people can expect is to see more of, more of the same, again, to keep it consistent, but also some, uh, bigger names. Um, like, let's say on the last episode, season finale, we have a special guest, uh, which is Cameron Esposito, uh, famous, very well-known comedian. She's not from the region, so she's one of our national guests. Uh, very famous, iconic queer community comedian, has a Netflix show, a book just came out recently. Uh, very hard to get her, uh, but she's the sister of the Executive Director of CACHE. So, that was the reason we were able to get her. Uh, so, it's going to be ending with the bigger star that we have on the show so far. And also a very, very funny person with a really positive energy, which I think that's where we want to lead to the next season. Season one was all about resilience, um, dealing with, really, trauma through art. And the way we want to end the show is, okay, we've done that. We suffered through that. Now let's move on in a positive way. You know, trying to give, uh, you know, the future OZCast is not going to be resilience. It's going to be, you know, energy, positive energy, creativity, focus back on the art. Um, so that's what we're trying to do. We also have, uh, we'll have animations by Lisa Marie Evans, which has been a key part of the show. Uh, she's the project manager, animator, editor. Um, she's an amazing person who's done a lot of work in this community. Uh, so we have her, we have her in another episode already, but I still, it will be great to, you know, because of the work that she's done already is to have her then on the last episode. Um, but yeah, so, you know, looking forward to, I think people should look forward to many years of OZCast, that's really what we've, we've done. We already got approved for two more seasons, which is pretty unique. Uh, usually you have to go one by one. Uh, but I think people, our funders really believe in what we're doing. Um, and I think they believe that because we are, I think we are definitely meeting or fulfilling a need for this community that they want to see us grow in, like, a longterm way. Um, and as a non-profit project, that's, uh, you know, it's a privilege that we have. Um, yeah. So I think, you know, getting bigger and better. That's, that's, uh, what we're looking forward to.
KF: It definitely sounds like it. Looking forward to seeing, you know, how this season wraps up and, you know, catching season two. So, if any of our listeners out there want to follow along with what you guys are doing, how can they do that?
MT: Well, the best way is through our website, which is OZCast.art. Um, that's, that's where we publish the, the episodes every week. We have a Facebook page, Instagram, Twitter, um, another way to follow us and follow the bigger picture is to follow the CACHE website, which is brand new, just came up, you know, was published a couple weeks ago, which is CACHEcreate.org.
KF: That is "CACHE" as in C-A-C-H-E.
MT: Dot org, yeah. Um, because we are giving like really hundreds of thousands of dollars to artists. So, any artist listening, any filmmaker, uh, that's the place to connect to see what's coming. Uh, there are a lot of new programs. We are gonna, uh, start an equipment lending library, uh, for artists working with OZCast. But for the community, for filmmakers, um, creating a media space, you know, for creators, we're gonna have lots of classes, resources. So, uh, so this is really the beginning of something, much, much bigger, um, and something that is very unique because it's happening during the pandemic, when everybody else is suffering and shrinking, we are growing really, really fast. Uh, so I think for, you know, for people, like, some of our team that are not from the area and they moved here for this purpose, uh, with a lot of big ideas, um, it's exciting. But I've seen more exciting things for the people here, uh, because this is an amazing opportunity, you know? And, and it's very unique. I mean, I really follow many, many scenes around the country right now, and everybody's struggling so much, you know? People are being fired everywhere. Uh, a lot of film, TV people that I've talked to in LA are being fired in the last year. I just had a conversation with friends, uh, Austin PBS, they have fifteen people fired this year. It's like, you know, so we are doing the opposite. You know, our CACHE team is now fifteen people. Uh, and probably by, in a year, it will be double that. Um, that's the, that's my guess. It's not a fact that. For the pace that is taking on things that are going. Um, and they send a lot of, in terms of film, a lot of exciting things happening that we'll talk again soon, once it's still feasible, but there's going to be a lot of opportunity for filmmakers. Uh, and on season two, one thing that's important, I think, on the open call, uh, we are going to do something new. Um, is that we are gonna basically hire a filmmaker per episode to make a short documentary. And that's totally new. We don't have that right now. So we will be needing, you know, twelve episodes, twelve filmmakers, all local, all to make a three- to five-minute documentary about a local artist. Uh, so that's going to be fun to, to see, you know, um, to see how, how that unfolds.
KF: Absolutely. That's a really great opportunity for people. So, yeah, I mean, that's really good to hear. We would love to have you back whenever some other things are ready to be announced. You know, you're welcome here anytime. And, uh, looking forward, you know, hopefully ACS can, you know, work with CACHE and we can do some good things together this year, for sure. Uh, so, uh, you know, we're still shaking things up ourselves for the coming months. But, uh, thank you again, Mario, for being on here and, uh, you know, let's stay in touch and to all of our listeners, please go catch up, uh, look at OZCast.art or CACHE create.
KF: CACHEcreate.org. We'll make sure this is linked properly on our website, I promise. Uh, but yeah. Thank you again for being on here and look forward to seeing you soon.
MT: Yeah, thanks a lot.
KODY FORD (VOICEOVER): Reel Talk Arkansas is produced by Christian Leus and Kody Ford. Theme music by Amos Cochran. Thank you for listening and tune in next time. To find out more about Arkansas Cinema Society, visit our website, www.arkansascinemasociety.org.