Editor’s Note: This is the second piece in a series about Will Bakke, a recent Baylor graduate who has created two films and founded Riot Studios, a Christian film company. The first piece ran on Jan. 18 and can be found here.
By Joshua Madden
Most film studios are about the chase for the almighty dollar, but that’s simply not Riot Studios’ style.
Asking potential customers to name their own price before purchasing your DVD might be an unconventional way to start a film studio, but that’s exactly what Will Bakke is doing with his films “Beware of Christians” and “One Nation Under God.”
Bakke is a 2011 Baylor graduate with a degree in film and digital media. He is self-employed at Riot Studios, the Christian film studio that he founded with friends to distribute his work.
“We do ‘Name Your Own Price’ because it’s about the message for us, not the money,” Bakke said.
Starting Riot Studios was not Bakke’s original plan for getting into the film industry, however.
“I thought that I needed to go out to LA and work on sets before ever making a movie. Sure we were a little naive, but we were also crazy enough to go out and try to make a film,” Bakke said.
Having already made “Beware of Christians” and “One Nation Under God,” Bakke found that the traditional route to success in the film industry might not be for him, so alongside his collaborators from “Beware of Christians,” he founded Riot Studios.
“While I was at school at Baylor I made two documentaries. I am now distributing these two films and started my own production company in Austin along with two fellow cast members,” Bakke said.
One of these fellow cast-members was Alex Carroll, a high school friend of Bakke’s who had worked with him on “Beware of Christians.” Carroll, who was at the time a New and Small Businesses major at Georgetown University, brought a degree of business knowledge to the newly founded company.
For Carroll, starting a business was something that ran in his family. Russ Carroll, Alex’s father, started Carroll Realty in the Dallas area. Carroll said this played a role in inspiring him to create his own company. Nancy Carroll, Alex’s mother, works for Stewards Foundation, a nonprofit group that works with church financing.
“I think that my parents were at a point where they didn’t want to argue with my life choices, but they were excited that I had graduated and really happy to see me starting a company. Overall I would say that they were very excited,” Carroll said.
Between all of these various factors in his life, Carroll said it never felt like much of a jump to starting his own company with Bakke.
“It was kind of a natural extension of what I was already studying — to call theaters and book showings. I won’t say it was a complete no-brainer, but it did come kind of naturally,” Carroll said about his role in founding Riot Studios.
The group’s work eventually attracted the interest of Provident Films. Provident Films had just released the successful Christian film “Courageous,” but it wanted to give the group at Riot Studios its own degree of focus on college and high school age demographic.
This success led the group to build its own office for Riot Studios in Austin. Carroll said that moving to Austin was exciting although the group had toured for more than three months before actually settling down and starting Riot Studios.
“Who knows where we will be in a year? There’s something both exciting and nerve-racking about not knowing what the company will be doing a year from now,” Carroll said. “We could focus on advertising and creating commercials and building a brand, but we’re more focused on our ministry and telling a great story using the gifts that God has given us.”
Riot Studios worked a deal to release and distribute the film. The film is on Netflix, which Bakke said is “pretty crazy.” The film is currently just on DVD until enough people put the film on queue to show the interest in having it on instant stream.
Riot Studios, now based out of its own office in Austin, has always focused on unconventional ways to distribute the group’s films.
Just ask Kevin Cochran. A senior from Oak Park, Calif., and currently an accounting major at Baylor, he first met Bakke while the two were in the same fraternity at Baylor, Kappa Sigma.
Bakke printed off 10,000 copies of “Beware of Christians,” and so Cochran had the opportunity to distribute the copies at the Passion Conference in Atlanta, Ga. Cochran said Bakke and other members of the cast were recognized by some of those receiving copies of the film.
Even now, with Bakke leading the charge at an independent film studio in Austin, Cochran says he still gets the chance to see him periodically.
“He comes through town once a month or so, so we grab coffee and catch up,” Cochran said.
How are these unconventional distribution methods working for Riot Studios? Pretty well, if you ask Bakke.
Although the group does allow people to give whatever they want for a DVD copy of their film, their asking price is $10. Their average earnings? Above $10 per copy.
Bakke is thrilled with the studio’s results.
“We just realized how much of a voice the film really had, how different it was from other Christian films being made. It’s just honest and refreshing,” Bakke said.