Pete Chatmon followed his passion for storytelling—and created a million-dollar, one-man business along the way. He’s a TV and film director who runs the production company TheDirector in Los Angeles.
Chatmon has directed more than 60 TV episodes, among them HBO Max’s The Flight Attendant, Insecure, Silicon Valley, and Love Life; You, on Netflix; ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy and Blackish; and Apple TV’s Mythic Quest. Recently, Chatmon was co-executive producer for Reasonable Doubt, a new show for Hulu.
Chatmon’s production company got its start creating branded content for advertisers in 2014, relying on help from a team of contractors. He branched out into producing podcasts (including his own, Let’s Shoot! with Pete Chatmon, where he interviews directors); short feature films; commercials and direct TV. “It’s an ecosystem of creative solutions, anchored around hiring me to direct,” he says.
Chatmon is part of a fast-growing trend: the rise of million-dollar, one-person businesses. In 2019, there were 43,012 businesses with no employees except the owners that made it into the $1 million to $2.49 million in revenue category, up from 41,666 in 2018, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Another 2,553 made it to $2.5 to $4.99 million in revenue, and 388 made to $5 million in revenue and beyond.
“I think in today’s world what’s really exciting for almost any business is that there have been varying levels of democratization,” says Chatmon. “For me, specifically, your phone is a camera. When I was coming up I had to go in debt at NYU Film School to touch a camera. The barriers to entry have been lowered. Information access has been heightened. You add your own passion and persistence to that cocktail, and there isn’t much you can’t accomplish.”
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After picking up his first Super 8 camera at NYU Film School, Chatmon started his career making short films, and went to the Sundance Film Festival with his NYU thesis film, 3D, in which Kerry Washington starred. He then wrote and directed the feature film Premium, which premiered on Showtime after a limited theatrical run.
By 2017, his small shop was doing well with branded content for Fortune 100 companies and ad agencies. “We would supply them with video content for the brand to share with their social media channels, primarily,” says Chatmon.
Chatmon moved to Los Angeles, where continued doing branded work—but stayed open to other opportunities. “As TV directing became a higher volume, that got added to the portfolio,” he says.
It was during these years that he learned an important lesson: “Whatever your creative pursuit is, you have to master your craft,” he says. “You have to be curious about what has come before you and what’s is out now.”
But beyond that, he learned that to go the independent route, he needed to understand the commerce of his craft, too. “You have to be aware of the business side of it, the specifics of your business,” he says. “It’s different for film, TV, commercials.”
To keep business flowing, Chatmon works with clients to help them come up with content that not only meets their creative needs but fits their budgets. “I appreciate where a client is coming from,” he says. “If we have $30,000 to make a short film, we’re trying to make those numbers work.”
Chatmon found his business grew during the pandemic. “A lot of the producers and distributors of content recognized it made sense to stockpile more,” he says. “There’s been a lot more production. Should this happen again, networks are going to want to have more content in the well.”
Recently, Chatmon entered another arena: as a book author. Earlier this year, he released Transitions: A Director’s Journey and Motivational Handbook. “It’s full of principles I found, in hindsight, were the North Star of what we are doing,” he says. “It’s a book I wanted to read all the years I was trying to find a way to connect the dots and be paid for what I was trying to do.”