Lots of people see New York City as the place to make your biggest dreams come true. But, two years ago Eli Ash had another idea in mind.
When I first met her in 2011, I really adored her instantly. But a future CEO just a few years later — I never saw that coming. Though I should have. She had a congenial sense of confusion that most twenty somethings have when their creative talents are big and a satisfying outlet is nonexistent. Yet, as a production manager who could make the most elaborate party decorations you’ve ever seen, the signs of a creative lioness waiting to pounce on the world were always there — she had all the heart it takes to see beyond her present circumstances and make something happen, regardless.
And two years later, that’s exactly what she did. Leaving her Metro card and a cozy BK apartment behind, she moved to a the last place on Earth you’d expect to start a creative production company — New Orleans, Louisiana. And celebrating it’s two year anniversary this month, Bound Entertainment is killing the creative NOLA scene — specializing in video, photography, audio engineering, design and branding for clients across the country.
Luckily, Miss Liz had some time to sit down and give me the full scoop on how she Drake’d it up from the bottom and started the life of her dreams. And it’s really one of Zenfulie’s loveliest and inspirational interviews to date. Check it out.
What made you launch your own production company?
It’s a bit of a story….
Emily (her partner) and I lived in the same small French Quarter apartment building when I first moved to NOLA (the only place that would let me sign a lease from NYC without having seen the place). We were the only two tenants but had opposite schedules so we barely saw each other. Our building was taken over by new property management a month or so in to my living there and they decided to have a strict pet policy. We both had cats, so I left a note on her door “hey fellow crazy cay lady, want to grab a drink and talk about getting evicted?”
It was best-friend love at first cat-lady note from there. She decided to come to the Dominican Republic with me to work on a documentary for a non-profit organization a friend from High School had started. Not many people you barely know will fly to a 3rd world country with you for 10 days to film in the slums and shower out of a cold water hose.
It was a trying experience, it always is and will be given the nature of it, but we bonded in a way that only travel and parasites and extreme circumstances can bring you together. We both wanted to create more original content and tell stories that mattered to us. We wanted the same thing out of a company and the same cultural exchanges. So we thought, why not try and have a company of our own?
When did you form bound?
Officially, September 1st 2014, but I moved to New Orleans with an entrepreneurial spirit and spent my first year here building my network and working for a small local production company while I built up my reserves (and nerves) to go full steam ahead on my own. I had another LLC “Eli Ash Was Here” which supported my freelance photography and videography, but that was less of a company and more of a protection layer for my freelance work.
How many people did you start with / how many are you now?
On staff, it’s just myself and my business partner Emily Istre. We work with a vast network of freelancers and contractors regularly and we partner with another local production company, The Deltree, regularly.
What is it like being a young and a woman running your own business?
I think it’s a mix of so many different emotions. Pride, fear, excitement, anxiety, empowering, overwhelming. Every day is a new challenge, there is SO much work that needs to be done and it’s a constant pace. I think as a woman, it offers more challenges than some male dominated businesses.
There are times Emily or I will take a business meeting which turns out to be a date. There are times where the nature of negotiating is tiresome when you’re intelligence is de-valued by your cup size. But those moments are few and far between these days. We have to let them roll off our shoulders and carry on. Emily is great about it, she is clever and has a great wit about her, so everything is spun in to a smart, classy joke and carried over to a punchline to drive home whatever our goal was for the endeavor. I’m learning a lot about thickening my skin from seeing her thrive in these situations.
What scared you about starting Bound?
Everything. It all still scares me. There is so much work, so many tiny details about running a growing business that I have no idea about, that I’m troubleshooting and learning as we go. Finances are always scary — because we are just closing out our first year, and although we are profitable, we didn’t make nearly as much as wanted or needed.
I think it’s scary being the one in charge, the one at the top of the ladder. Everyone is looking to you for the answers. I have to always be on point, I can have private freak outs with Emily, but it’s bad for the culture of the organization to show that to your team. You lead the moral, so I want that enthusiasm, that go-getter, “we can do this, lets rally” mentality bleeding through. Not the panic or the pitfalls.
I want my team of contractors and freelancers to be well fed, to know they have work coming, to know if they need something, we will have it for them. I want that stability and comfort, which is what keeps us pushing forward. But it’s not perfect yet and we still have a lot of growing pains to get through.
It’s all scary, I don’t know if it ever stops being scary, but I’m ok with that. Certain fears are good motivators. We’re still young, we’re still learning, it’s ok to be scared now.
What has been the most profound thing you’ve experienced about owning your own business?
NOLA is an entrepreneurs city, so many small and emerging business are around us, it feels like owning a business here is akin to owning a car someplace else. I love it. I love that the community and people are making things happen for themselves even when the economy and the marketplace isn’t at it’s best.
I think learning that anything you want, you can have it, you can achieve it. The highest cost is your time and ambition. If you want something enough, you have to make the time to work for it. It’s really that simple. No one is going to hand you anything in life, you have to make it and take it for yourself. And do so with integrity and compassion.
It’s honestly like the Britney Spears song, “you gotta work, bitch.” It’s just hard work and determination at the end of the day. Whether it’s growing a small business or learning a new language or fitting back in to your skinny jeans. I love how empowering it is to feel that in control of your own destiny.
Do you feel like you’ve made a dream come true? Or does it still feel like you are grinding towards something?
We’re definitely still grinding toward something. I’m definitely one of those personalities where it’s “never enough” in my career. I feel like I always want more and I need to work harder, better, faster, stronger. I’m still so young and early along this road, it’s not a dream come true yet because my dreams are much, much bigger. Ask me again in another decade, but I’ll probably say the same thing.
What do you love about what you do?
I’ve only ever wanted to be a visual storyteller. This has always been it for me, nothing else, no back up plan, no question. I always wanted to do this and I still can’t imagine doing anything else. I’ve always had this certainty about my passion, I’m very grateful for that clarity and for the opportunities I’ve had that allow me to do what I love every day.
I’ve been doing photography since I was a child and my father set up a dark room in a spare bedroom in his house. I remember taking photos of everything; my brother, my dog, the streets around the neighborhood. And running to develop them right away. I just fell in love and it’s been that way ever since.
By the time I was in middle school I was a child actor doing local commercials (which will hopefully never see the light of day, thank God this was pre YouTube). From there I got to see sets and be that annoying, eager child who ran around asking too many questions. Which led me to interning in high school and volunteering for anything I could find around my city. Thankfully I lived in Orlando at the time, so Disney and Universal were readily available.
It was never a question I would go to film school for college and that obviously has a natural track in to production in the real world. When people talk about their greatest loves, I always say film and storytelling are mine. It’s my longest relationship to date, hah!
What do you love about NOLA ….and moving out of NYC to start a creative career?
I think my biggest grief with NYC was that I didn’t feel empowered enough or liberated enough to create my own content while I lived there. And I’m sure this is exclusive to my own story based on the socioeconomics of my circumstances and the situations I was in at the time.
Moving to NOLA, you are surrounded by incredible artists everywhere and entrepreneurs on every corner. It’s a city that embraces that juxtaposition very well. Everyone is working on so many different things; I’m surrounded by very motivated and talented individuals on a regular basis and that is inspiring and pushes me to do more.
I think it’s a testament to what NOLA has been through and the creed of character it breeds. I know NYC is known as the cut throat place that the greatest successes are born from, but I feel like NOLA deserves it’s own par for the course. People here do not have the same privileges and their stories are rich in the triumph and power they created around limited circumstances. But no one is looking for sympathy, they are thriving, they are living, they are engaged in their city.
Before I left NYC, I had been emailing with so many folks about moving to NOLA. And one thing really stuck with me and it was from a potential craigslist sublet, of all places. But he said “…the thing about NYC is, now matter how much you love that city, she will never love you back. If you love New Orleans, New Orleans will love you back.”
What advice do you have for people wanting to start over?
I’ve done it 3 times in my life: Miami, New York City and New Orleans. Although I don’t believe we ever truly “start over,” we carry our experiences and our lessons with us. We always know more than we did before, but I absolutely believe in a change of place or spirit. In starting new.
So if you want a fresh start, do it.
What advice would you give about making your dreams come true?
We’re in control of our dreams and I believe that we’re empowered enough to make them come true. Obviously if you’re wishing on a star to be a princess and have prince charming rescue you, that’s different. But if your dream is to start a catering business or to be a good mom or to travel the world, empower yourself to make it happen.
Dreams only feel and seem futile when we put them on this unattainable pedestal or when you think you can’t reach them because they’re too far away. But nothing worth having or doing or seeing or dreaming about is going to happen overnight. Start working toward those goals one step at a time, knocking off the to-do list. Eventually you’re going to be a lot closer and the end game will be in site.
Where is Bound heading next?
Right now we’ve been doing a lot of local commercials primarily for the web, some music videos and other small scale projects on a very narrow margin and small level. We’re focused on growing our revenue stream and production base to work toward developing more original and narrative creative content. We have a TV series we’re developing, a few short films and one incredible feature we want to see come to fruition.
Right now we’re trying to make ends meet and be financially responsible while still nurturing this other work. It’s important for us to make content that has a message behind and that matters. I want to tell so many stories and create characters and paint with light.
If we can be smart and diligent about balancing the work that created the money we need to support our artistic endeavors, I think you can expect to see more engaging content from us in the next few years.