True Hollywood Stories

Casting Call

By Laura Tiffany

Entrepreneurs: Robert Platts, 29; Jeff Hamilton, 31

Company: Gonzo Bros.

Description: They rent cardboard cutout "extras" at $5 a pop for crowd scenes

Location: Hollywood, California

Year started: 1997

Casting call: After working in management for a now-defunct studio, Hamilton and Platts were approached by a company seeking 2,000 cardboard cutouts. Remembering their former boss had a stash, they approached him and split the money. The partners saw gold and had 4,000 cutouts made.

Media blitz: In a very low-budget marketing campaign, Hamilton and Platts faxed every commercial, TV and film director in the Hollywood 411 directory. Since then, they've provided cutout extras for crowd scenes in commercials (which make up about 80 percent of their business) for Nike, Adidas and Gatorade, as well as for the movies American Pie and Man in the Moon and the TV series Dawson's Creek.

What theyreallywant: Hamilton and Platts, who also provide independent sales and marketing for a studio, see this as a stepping stone to their true goals: producing and acting. "The access we have to producers and directors enables us to learn faster and figure out how to do what we want to in this industry," says Hamilton. "If we had regular jobs, it would be more difficult to break into the entertainment industry."

Cutthroat business: Their current competition--$90-a-day human extras and studios with their own cache of cutouts--aren't as threatening as their future competition. What are their plans for when computer graphics takes over the crowd-extra niche? "We're very flexible," says Hamilton. "We'll adjust to whatever the demands are." But he agrees with Platt, who says, "By then, we want to be producing."

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This article was originally published in the January 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: True Hollywood Stories.

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