theWeb3.News Audio Experience
In the warm ambiance of a cozy setting, we have the privilege of sitting down with Brian Weiner, the visionary Chief Executive Officer and Founder of The Illusion Factory. With a career spanning over 44 years, Brian’s journey has been an intricate tapestry woven with dreams, risks, and relentless pursuit of innovation in the entertainment industry. As we settle in for a candid conversation, we delve into the formative experiences that have shaped his remarkable trajectory, his insights on leadership, and the bold decisions that have transformed The Illusion Factory into a dynamic force in the ever-evolving landscape of creativity and technology.
Looking back at your formative years, dreams, and aspirations, how do they align with the accomplishments you have achieved as the CEO and Founder of The Illusion Factory?
My fortune in surrounding myself with teams far more advanced and intelligent than I, has enabled me to substantially exceed my most ambitious expectations of myself as the 19-year-old who started this company. I started The Illusion Factory back in 1979 when I was at UCLA. I had said to my father that “I was pissed off at American Greetings and Hallmark for writing insipid content for their cards. I always cross out their words and write my own, so why doesn’t anyone make a blank greeting card?” He replied, “I don’t know, why don’t you?” That was Paradise Photography, the original first product of The Illusion Factory. We invented the blank note card (I think) and became the number-one-selling card in universities and colleges nationwide. From those profits, we created a commercial photo studio, then an advertising and marketing firm specializing in marketing global entertainment for every one of the major studios, networks, and cable systems, then a production company, then a metaverse company, a gaming company, then a tech company, and now a full entertainment studio with many divisions, global relationships and our premier new global Trans media network platform as service, Sizzle.
How has your upbringing influenced your leadership style, and how have these qualities contributed to The Illusion Factory’s growth?
In our home, I was free to say whatever I wished. I just had to be respectful and polite in my statements. This created a sense of autonomy within me, at a young age, as to my ability to impact my world. The Illusion Factory is an ego-free environment and always has been. Starting with me. I am happy to see every last one of my creative ideas surpassed, improved, and realized by my teams. They recognize that we are only as strong as the weakest person on the team so they always collaborate and work to achieve greatness together. I think my greatest accomplishment in my career is the ecosystem I have fostered in my companies. Many employees have matriculated to the highest career positions in the studios, and other agencies, and a large number of them reflect that The Illusion Factory was (by far) the best place they have ever worked. (in terms of harmony, the attitude of management, the elasticity of schedule, and empowerment to achieve their greatest potential). We are very informal in our communication with one another, we feel free to say whatever we wish, so long as it is tempered by respect and a polite approach.
Were there any family influences that guided you toward your current career path in entrepreneurship?
My parents were very progressive for their era. My father was an attorney who was the antithesis of the attorney joke. He located his practice in a low-income neighborhood because he said he could “do more good there.” In his free time, he was a brilliant photographer. He adored Ansel Adams and worked to learn from his technique in shooting people. He put a Zeiss Ikon camera in my hands at age 5 and taught me everything about lighting, shutter speeds, FStops, Focal length, depth of field, developing film, darkroom techniques for printing, and more. My mom is an equally (if not more) talented artist, who has been designing award-winning jewelry from antique Chinese, Indian, pre-Columbian, and African artifacts. InnerDivaStudio When I was very young, she would take me to the Santa Barbara Museum to take art classes. Each week would be a different medium…macrame, weaving, carving sandstone, ceramics, painting, etc. I wasn’t terrific at any of those mediums, but it reinforced in my young, impressionable mind, that design and art can be expressed in countless ways. My parents would always take me to art shows and art galleries. I would look at all the different styles, media, tech, and other elements that really fueled my creativity. Clearly, that has manifested across my career. I think it made me fearless to try anything. The worst that happens is I won’t be great at it, but I may learn something in the process.
Those elements impacted my creativity. My entrepreneurship started when I was five years old when I discovered lemons on the tree plus water, sugar, a dixie cup, and my impish smile would turn a profit. By 10 years old, my best friend, Mel Metcalfe, and I started a candle business, in which we created sand candles with driftwood and we sold them in front of Safeway. The store manager came out on the first day and saw us, asked what we were doing. We explained, and then he immediately made us move our booth. (much closer to the door so ALL of his customers would see our wares). I wish I knew who he was now, I would love to give him a big hug and say thank you! I have always helped entrepreneurs. Just as this manager of Safeway was so kind to us, you must pay it forward, wherever you may.
Can you share any bold decisions or risks you took as a teenager or young adult that laid the foundation for your success as an entrepreneur?
I have made a career by doing all the things I wanted to do but never learned how to do in school. I may always have been the least informed person in the room as projects came to The Illusion Factory, but I learned at an early age that if you do not open your mouth to confirm you do not know, everyone thinks you do. Then, if you are aggressive, perpetually curious, and inquisitive, you learn on the job so quickly that by the end, you are the expert and the work you have produced is stellar. Once you establish that as your M.O., you get very comfortable doing this. I enjoy bidding on doing something that has never been done, on a fixed timeline and budget. There is an immediate knot in the stomach when the contract is signed and you stare at the abyss. But you can only use either your left foot or your right foot, and take your first step. Chances are, it is the wrong one, and you fall. Then you get back up and keep moving. You eventually accomplish the goal despite all obstacles and then you have the highest rush of them all. You conquered the unknown! The Illusion Factory has more than 30 firsts to accomplish to our credit, perhaps more. Here’s an explanation and timeline.
What are the most important lessons you’ve learned about resilience and adaptability from your 44 years of experience in the fast-paced entertainment industry?
Stay 100% honorable at all times. Even when others are not. You will take losses. Others will betray you. You will be cheated. You will be fooled. You will not always come out on top. So what? Your honor is everything. My dad taught me legalese and I write all of my contracts. In his explanation of this, he shared that if you cannot make a deal with another person, look them in the eye, shake their hand and give them your word and abide by it, then the contract is valueless. A stand-up person is what it is all about. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Stay ahead of technology, it is moving so fast. You must be ready to accelerate with it or you will for sure, be left behind. I have written extensively on my philosophy on life. When I took a break from UCLA film school and moved to Hawaii, my mom wrote about 150 quotations in her beautiful calligraphy in a journal as a going-away gift. These aphorisms have become my backbone in life. Each day since the lockdown of Covid, I have written about one of them and shared it on LinkedIn, Facebook, and my blog. I currently reach about 25,000 people per month. I hope through this effort to contribute to changing the world, one thought at a time. Lastly, study a martial art and earn one or two black belts. I am a second-degree black belt. This mental training is incomparable. As a black belt, we are taught to avoid conflict and danger at all times. We do not engage. We do not respond to the arrogance of others. We walk away. If there is no possible way to walk away and it is them or us, well then sadly, they are the ones who will suffer.
How has your exploration of cutting-edge technologies like Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality influenced your personal growth and approach to innovation?
I have been fascinated/obsessed with alternate realities since, as a little child, I first saw Gumby and Pokie walk into a book. This sent my brain whizzing with what-ifs. Decades later, I had a chance to work for Art Clokey’s son and made the first Gumby app using augmented reality. It felt like a wonderful homage opportunity. The Illusion Factory is named within that fascination because we are continually looking to create ever greater illusions using AR and VR to make a mixed reality experience that is part of that same altered universe passion that kindled my growth along this pathway. We have built over 40 metaverse experiences 18 years ago, including the International Space Station for NASA, the Bellagio Casino, a new fundraising experience for the National MS Society, an art gallery that explored what it would feel like to be schizophrenic, the world’s first virtual learning center in a metaverse, featuring a massive heart walkthrough with open heart transplant surgeons from around the world, a theme park for Warner Bros., Chan Poker for WSOP multi-champion, Johnny Chan. We created the virtual reality world with a headset that enabled you to play casino table games with a live dealer from a remote location. In AR we created the first Augmented Reality Music video featuring Mel B, along with the SizzleFX system that composites multiple layers of AR into stills and videos for consumers, and so much more.
How do you balance your personal growth while managing the demands and expectations of working with A-list studios and Fortune 500 clients?
That was truly a challenge. The demands and expectations are superhuman. You find yourself compartmentalizing stress from all sides. One of my main clients at Warner Bros. looked at me one day and said, “I love Brian, he is the black hole of all stress around here!” It was meant as a compliment because we always come through, but the truth was stress in, must require stress out. You do not want to take it out on others, so you must find pathways to solving this issue. For me that comes through intelligence in eating. Intermittent fasting of quality food. Through the mental process, I write about philosophy every morning as I drive home from the gym, and you must have very regular physical exercise, which for me came through my studying Tang Soo Do Karate for 12 years and earning my second-degree black belt while hiking in the mountains most mornings to watch the sunrise and going to the gym to stay in shape. You must find time to travel, to be a good human being, to give back to the world, and to be warm and loving and nurturing to your family and friends.
The Illusion Factory has experienced remarkable growth over the years. Can you share some key strategies and decisions that contributed to the company’s consistent success in the competitive entertainment industry?
We have won over 265 of the top creative and technical awards. We have been entrusted with the promotion and marketing of over $7 Billion in film, television, gaming, live events, sports, and comedy. Many shops specialize in one thing… print design, trailers, or other elements as they were invented. We approached it from the other side. The Illusion Factory has always been a 360º shop. We never shied away from adding new services and functionalities to our company so that our clients had consistency across all media. If you are the company that is producing the sales art, the key art, the trailers, commercials, next-ons, websites, banner ads, outdoor media, print media, games, apps, contests, and promotional programs, you are in a plum position to leverage all of them together to a significant whole. This thought process has given birth to our new tech platform, Sizzle. Sizzle is a direct embodiment of all of our games, contests, sweepstakes, polls, AR, VR, and more in one easy-to-use platform that services all of our customers in intelligent, proven methodologies that revolutionize the relationship between the brand and the consumer. You must be fearless to succeed in Hollywood and have a thick skin. The industry is populated with many highly intelligent and super-friendly individuals who can and will have your back, regardless of the stigma that states otherwise. There are, of course, others. If you are a stand-up human being, fearless and unwavering in your determination, you will succeed, for others will sense this about you. Always keep your word.
As the industry evolves, how do you ensure The Illusion Factory remains at the forefront and doesn’t become a “legacy” player?
We live 15 – 20 years in the future. We always have. We created a product better than Zoom in 2006. They are violating our patent. Sizzle is equally that far in the future. We are opening our AI studio, Synth Studio with our dear friends/partners at Reality Kraft, and WP1 Concerts and we are working to walk the talk. To use AI in an intelligent manner that protects actors, writers, and all of the other players from being victimized by AI. You must always start by asking, “What do my customers want, and how may we improve upon their experience in consuming that so that I build long-term customer relationships that are loyal?” If you are not currently studying all tech that is around the corner, by the time it arrives, you are already obsolete.
Critics might question your ability to create groundbreaking intellectual property. How do you plan to prove them wrong and deliver innovative content?
I never waste a minute worrying about critics. They may have their place in society, but their opinion is just that. It’s an opinion. I also ignore V.C.s. I think their approach is distorted and does not resonate with me. I ignore naysayers and am actually fueled by that mindset. The more someone thinks we will fail, the more assured it makes me that we will not. One of my first large studio clients sent this to me saying she thought it was the embodiment of me. “Don’t tell me it’s impossible, until after I have already done it. The Illusion Factory has more than 30 firsts to accomplish to our credit, perhaps more. Here’s an explanation and timeline. These pale in comparison to what we are about to do with Sizzle and Synth Studio.
Balancing company values and innovation can be challenging. How do you maintain a strong focus on core values while embracing change for sustained business growth?
Values must take priority. Innovation is outstanding and I am passionate about that, but without company values, you are nothing. I can point to a lot of examples, but I am sure you have seen them yourselves. There are companies manufacturing absolute trash for humans to consume and witness the horrible obesity problem here in the US. I could make a long list, but that is not the point. Go study the companies that do it right. The ones that care about their people and their teams. The ones that treat women as equals and pay them as equals. Those that are intelligent and compassionate and understanding. If you do not have that as your foundation, you may still survive, but your karma will eventually deliver a karmic slap from which you will most likely not survive. Walk the talk. It is that simple.
How do you plan to strengthen the focus on storytelling and content development to resonate with audiences on a deeper level?
At Synth Studio, we are passionate about the technology, but even more passionate about the story. Hollywood has devolved as a direct result of the foreign marketplace. Comedy does not always translate, nor do deep dialogue stories, with complex twists, turns, and intellectual plot lines. At Synth, we are returning to the old adage of “concept is king,” and only supporting content that reflects what made me so passionate about filmmaking when I was a kid. When you see an amazing story that makes you think like 2001 A Space Odyssey, The Usual Suspects, Memento, Jacob’s Ladder, Angel Heart, Brazil, 12 Monkeys, and others of that ilk, you remember how much they made you contemplate what you just watched. How they evoked something deep inside of you. How they made you want to discuss it with someone after the experience because your mind was reeling with what you just experienced. These types of films are getting fewer and further between, and we are betting that there is a vast audience for this caliber of production going forward. We will use AI ethically, to enhance bringing these deep plots to reality.
Investing in intellectual property and technologies is bold. How has this decision impacted your business growth, and what are your expansion plans in this direction?
This has paid off for The Illusion Factory in spades. For decades, we were a reactive business model, in which we could only be as useful as our clients’ needs dictated. When they hit a hiatus, or if the Writer’s Guild or SAG, or others went on strike, we were highly vulnerable. The choice to start building our own gaming companies, tech companies, and production studio, stems directly from this core problem. Now that we have completed that business investment for us, we are in the plum position to be in a proactive business model where we can know in advance and control The Illusion Factory’s needs on a more stable, more predictable basis. Besides the financial advantages, all creative people want a chance to be the entertainment or diversion rather than just the marketing of such. This gives everyone on my team ample ammunition to reach ever higher with their creative and technical prowess and evolve personally and professionally… and that is a key component to satisfaction from your team.
The Illusion Factory has worked with A-list studios and Fortune 500 companies. How do you plan to diversify your client base and collaborate with emerging talents and startups?
Our move into web3 with Sizzle opened that door wide open. We are built on top of the revolutionary MetaKeep web 3 wallet protocol. Naga Samineni and I were introduced by Majid Zafer last year and became fast friends and collaborators. He has the ultimate web3 wallet that is unhackable. It is a fully noncustodial wallet that is hardware-based and is the only one in the world that Lloyd’s of London will insure the contents of for up to $ 1 million per account. This is revolutionary! The Illusion Factory’s new platform, Sizzle, makes all media in the real world and virtual worlds, instantly transactional, interactive, and hyperconnected while it also empowers all metaverses, games, blockchain, and NFT/Tokens to bestow privileges in embedded rewards web3 wallet, the metaverse and the real world using discounts, games, augmented reality, virtual reality, metaverse experiences, digital downloads, market research, contests, polls, sweepstakes and more.
Sizzle is a new perspective on advertising in print, out-of-home, tv, radio, and streaming media that favors the advertiser and the consumer equally by completely changing the playing field of functionality, experience, etc. It is all browser-based so easily used/adopted by all third parties and we have paired it with a state-of-the-art web3 wallet that enables one-click downloads of NFTs into a new wallet, without any of the old web3 cumbersome experiences. MetaKeep is the wallet that keeps rewarding you by delivering automatic, seamless Web3 experiences for all your current users that are indistinguishable from Web 2.0… meaning no seed phrases, and no passwords. No losing private keys. No getting locked out.
With these relationships and suites of tools, Sizzle is opening up as a platform as a service model. We are partnering with the Rich Communication Systems that are overtaking the current SMS messaging and substantially empowering them to add all of the Sizzle functionalities within.
In the rapidly changing entertainment landscape, how do you stay ahead of the competition and maintain The Illusion Factory’s position as an industry leader?
We no longer have any competition whatsoever. In the Web 3 world, everyone is collaborative! To that point, we currently have 200 companies in our Consortium. These are all stellar companies that are a great fit to pair with the Sizzle platform. When I speak with a company that has similar items, we no longer see each other as competition, even if there is an 80% overlap, there is still 20% room for us to become friends and make money together. Citi projects this online economy will top $13,000,000,000,000 by 2030. If Sizzle controls 0.25% of 13 Trillion dollars, we are doing just fine. And even more important, if my new tech empowers existing start-ups to accomplish their dreams and make those a reality, then I have really done my job in life. Raise everyone up with me, not defeating a competitor and leaving them devastated. I think that is an old model and there are better ways to conduct yourself and maintain a very positive karma.
How can people find out more about The Illusion Factory and connect with you?
MY BLOG on philosophy