Pete Chatmon followed his passion for storytelling – and founded a multi-million dollar one-man business on the side. He is a television and film director and runs the production company TheDirector in Los Angeles.
Chatmon has directed more than 60 TV episodes, including HBO Max’s The flight attendant, Unsure, Silicon Valleyand love life; You, on Netflix; ABC’s Grey’s anatomy and blackness; and Apple TVs Mythic Quest. Most recently, Chatmon served as co-executive producer for Reasonable doubta new show for Hulu.
Chatmon’s production company began creating branded content for advertisers in 2014, relying on the help of a team of contractors. He branched out into producing podcasts (including his own, let’s shoot! with Pete Chatmon, where he interviews directors); short films; Commercials and Direct TV. “It’s an ecosystem of creative solutions based on hiring me as a director,” he says.
Chatmon is part of a rapidly growing trend: the rise of million-dollar one-person businesses. In 2019, according to the US Census Bureau, there were 43,012 businesses with no employees other than owners that made it into the $1 million to $2.49 million revenue category, up from 41,666 in 2018. Another 2,553 made 2.5 revenue to $4.99 million and 388 sales of $5 million and above.
“I think what’s really exciting for almost every company in today’s world is that there have been different levels of democratization,” says Chatmon. “To me, your phone is a camera. When I got up, I had to go into debt at NYU Film School to touch a camera. The barriers to entry have been lowered. Access to information has been improved. You add your own passion and persistence to this cocktail and there isn’t much you can’t accomplish.”
After picking up his first Super 8 camera at NYU Film School, Chatmon began his career making short films and went to the Sundance Film Festival with his graduation film from NYU. 3D, in which Kerry Washington starred. He then wrote and directed the feature film bonuswhich premiered on Showtime after a limited theatrical run.
By 2017, his small shop was doing well with branded content for Fortune 100 companies and advertising agencies. “We would provide them with video content for the brand, which they can mainly share with their social media channels,” says Chatmon.
Chatmon relocated to Los Angeles where he continued to work for brands – but remained open to other opportunities. “As TV directing became a bigger volume, that was added to the portfolio,” he says.
During those years, he learned an important lesson: “Whatever your creative endeavor, you must master your craft,” he says. “You have to be curious about what came before you and what’s coming out now.”
But beyond that, he learned that in order to walk the independent path, he also had to understand the trade of his craft. “You have to be aware of the business side, the specifics of your business,” he says. “It’s different with film, television and advertising.”
To keep the business afloat, Chatmon works with clients to help them develop content that not only meets their creative needs, but also fits their budget. “I guess where a customer comes from,” he says. “If we have $30,000 to do a short film, we try to make those numbers work.”
Chatmon noted his business has grown during the pandemic. “Many content producers and distributors have realized that it makes sense to stockpile more,” he says. “A lot more was produced. If this happens again, networks will want more content in the wells.”
Chatmon recently entered a different arena: as a book author. Earlier this year he published Transitions: A director’s journey and a motivational guide. “It’s packed with principles that I’ve found in hindsight to be the north star of what we do,” he says. “It’s a book I’ve wanted to read through all these years of trying to find a way to connect the dots and get paid for what I’ve been trying to do.”