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Sole Searcher

A simple experiment with Google turned Jim Killeen into a filmmaker and strengthened his entrepreneurial spirit.
May 22, 2008
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/194068

What's in a name? In an age when a few keystrokes will deliver just about anything you'd ever want to know about another human being, Shakespeare's eternal question seems all the more profound.

But for Jim Killeen, pondering the question wasn't enough. With a little help from Google and inspiration from his entrepreneurial roots, he set out to discover more about his name--and six other men who share it with him--and became a filmmaker in the process.

Killeen, 38, is a former professional poker player who started Casino Massage by himself in 2000. The company is now the official tableside chair massage provider of the famous Commerce Casino in California, with 45 employees and double-digit sales growth over the past few years.

Killeen acknowledges that he broke the first rule of filmmaking in the production of "Google Me" by spending his own money to make it. But he also broke the mold when it came to releasing the film, circumventing the notoriously nightmarish Hollywood distribution quagmire by debuting "Google Me" on YouTube and then selling DVDs of the film from his website.

"Having an entrepreneurial background, you can't be too risk-averse," Killeen says. "You have to be able to feel confident about taking calculated risks. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you don't. I've just always been more satisfied to attempt to control the means of production. For me, it was complementary that I had some experience as an entrepreneur to find this new path and new distribution model. I think I have the skill set as a filmmaker and as a business person, which you don't always see in people who have the ability to make an independent film."

The film follows Killeen as he uses Google to track down six other men named Jim Killeen and arranges to meet with each of them on film, traveling all over the U.S. as well as Ireland, Scotland and Australia. Killeen says his background as a business owner taught him the value of delegation, an essential part of any business venture that often gets lost in the creative territoriality of filmmaking.

"There are so many specific skill sets in filmmaking that you know you don't know," he says. "I have an increased knowledge of what I don't know. I know I don't know how to edit, I know I'm not a cameraman. It's a case of being able to more clearly recognize the things I don't know. Sometimes as an entrepreneur, you tend to fake it to your detriment. It's important to recognize a little more honestly your strengths and your weaknesses."

Once the film was made, Killeen says, his entrepreneurial skills became all the more valuable. The film's YouTube release seems to be a sign of things to come.

"It's part of the marketing to broaden the base of the fans," he says. "The whole idea is to reach directly to the public. My first effort was to not pursue traditional Hollywood distribution and use technology to control the means of distribution. We're going to see more and more of it, so I'm happy to be the guinea pig."

"Google Me" was screened at the Newport Beach Film Festival in April, and Killeen's entrepreneurial wheels are still turning, with a one-hour reality show in the works based on the movie. He says it's at this stage of the process where his understanding of business really comes in handy.

"I've got a few things up my sleeve," he says. "But until this baby is self-sufficient and on its own, I'm going to give it the attention it needs. . . . You've just planted the crop when you make the film. You still have to water, weed, fertilize and spray for bugs."

Despite everything he learned about the ins and outs of making a movie, Killeen says the real impact of the experience was on a personal level in terms of what he discovered about connecting with people and about the myth that the internet has isolated people.

"The world's shrinking," he says. "We are connected in the world, in an offline way as well as in an online way. We're in it together. It's not dog-eat-dog. It's dog-help-dog. The thing that really surprised me was not that you could make the connection. The thing that I was blown away by was the depth of the connections I made. These are just average guys in everyday life. Having these guys go along with the spirit of play was a really pleasant payoff--that depth on a human level."