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Mike Heslin talks ‘The Influencers,’ digital age, and filmmaking (Includes interview)

“I was between acting gigs and was freelancing for a social media agency working as a social media director and creative director,” he said. “Casting and contracting influencers was part of my day to day and while there are tons of influencers out there who are super intelligent and incredibly business savvy, I happened to work with a few that were gorgeous, sweet, but who were lacking any real skillset.”

Heslin continued, “I started to wonder what would happen if these individuals had to prove themselves in a real public forum and how they would fare on an unfiltered platform where you couldn’t perfectly curate your persona. Thus the inception for The Influencers was born. At this time, social media was really at the forefront of American pop culture as well with hit reality shows like The Circle and Love is Blind on Netflix – Fyre Festival documentaries were all the rage too.”

“I realized that there weren’t any scripted narratives exploring this subject matter so I started to imagine what that would look like. I then began to develop the characters and story while pulling inspiration from the format and style of hit reality shows such as Big Brother and The Real Housewives and combining it with the depth of character you see in mockumentaries such as The Comeback and Best in Show,” he said.

On his inspiration to write, direct, and star in it, he said, “The idea tickled me so I started writing pretty immediately. A few weeks later, the five episodes were completed. Whenever I fall for a subject matter and feel that a certain idea really has legs to it, I get this specific buzz of excitement. I had it in spades with this project and felt really attached to it, so I decided to take a stab at directing it as well.”

“I had a very clear vision for the show and have always loved directing,” he said. “While this is my professional directorial debut, I minored in directing in college and have acted as creative director for many video campaigns and photoshoots. I wrote the roles of the instacouple for my real-life partner and me as well.”

“One of the original intentions and inspirations for the show was to create something for my friends and me (and that includes my partner as well) – so I knew very early on that I wanted Nic (aka Scotty Dynamo) and I to play Tyler and Taylor. We don’t really argue or fight in real life so it was fun to play the complete opposite of ourselves and act as a really dramatic, dysfunctional couple who is constantly bickering and fighting,” he said.

On being a filmmaker in the digital age, he said, “It’s an exciting time (pandemic excluded obviously). I do believe we’re living in a golden age of television and that with all of the various streaming platforms, we’re entering a new digital era where I think the landscape of TV/Film is in the early stages of drastic, exciting change. With all of the various streaming services on top of the different social medial outlets, there are so many ways to get your work out there as a filmmaker and/or artist and to find your audience.”

“As a filmmaker who’s a director/writer/producer/actor, it’s also an exciting time as it seems to be the age of the multi-hyphenate, where artists and filmmakers who wear several different hats such as Dan Levy are being supported and embraced by the community more than ever before. It’s encouraging and inspiring to see so many different paths for filmmakers,” he added.

For young and aspiring filmmakers, Heslin said, “Be a first-rate version of yourself, not a second rate version of somebody else. I spent a lot of my early years trying to be like other actors/filmmakers who I thought were similar to me vs identifying what my own unique, special sauce was. Once I did some personal excavation and identified what makes me tick and makes me different from the other thousand guys who are seemingly “identical” or in the same category as me, I found that I had much more success.”

“Identify your personal magic, that thing that makes people gravitate towards you, and lead with that. It’ll get you so much further than trying to replicate someone or something that’s already been done. In this industry (and in life), it’s so easy to compare yourself to others and that’s what The Influencers is really about: recognizing that what you see online is rarely what you get in real life, so just be unapologetically you and don’t compare yourself to others or let them have too much power over your life. It also helps if you can have a sense of humor and not take yourself so seriously,” he elaborated.

Regarding his favorite part of making The Influencers, he said, “It’s hard to pick. The positive response and tremendous support we’ve received since it came out has been overwhelming, but I think I’d have to say that my favorite part of the experience was the actual shoot, directing, and being on set.”

“One of my favorite things about filmmaking is that it feels like camp,” he said. “You form a little family and develop close bonds really quickly. It was such a blast to direct and I was really lucky to have such an incredible, fun, and collaborative cast and crew. The shoot was filled with laughs and was very collaborative. Definitely the most creatively fulfilling experience of my career thus far.”

Heslin defined the word success as follows: “Success means to accomplish a goal or purpose, but what I’m more interested in is personal success. What professional ‘success’ means to you will change year to year depending on where you are at in your career, what doors have been opened due to prior accomplishments and what curveballs are thrown your way by the universe and/or industry,” he said.

He continued, “I think what really matters is cultivating a sense of personal success and being proud of/accomplishing what you set out to do, no matter how big or small. Are you living the life you want to live? Are you honestly doing everything in your power to accomplish your dreams and goals? What are you building towards and are you proud of yourself for it, regardless of what stage you are at? I think these are the real questions we should ask ourselves and that will lead to an authentic feeling of ‘success’ and genuine fulfillment vs how many awards or how much money you have (although money and awards are nice too).”

He expressed that he is very excited that The Influencers is now streaming on Prime Video. “The show features six social media ‘stars’ who are selected to compete in a series of creative challenges for an exclusive brand deal with the latest millennial juice craze: Jücytox. As cameras capture each influencer IRL, the manicured versions they present to the world online implode before our eyes,” he said.

“Whether you love or loathe social media, this show is for you,” he said. “The Influencers is just as much for social media addicts as it is for those who think Instagram and TikTok are the death of humanity. It’s a ton of fun, self-aware (even if the influencers aren’t) and has a great message to boot that is pretty universal under all of the laughs and drama. May the Likes be ever in your favor.”

Filmmaker Mike Heslin

Filmmaker Mike Heslin
Jason Shum

Markos Papadatos
Written By

Markos Papadatos is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for Music News. Papadatos is a Greek-American journalist and educator that has authored over 21,000 original articles over the past 18 years. He has interviewed some of the biggest names in music, entertainment, lifestyle, magic, and sports. He is a 16-time "Best of Long Island" winner, where for three consecutive years (2020, 2021, and 2022), he was honored as the "Best Long Island Personality" in Arts & Entertainment, an honor that has gone to Billy Joel six times.

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