James Kotecki (00:08): 

This is CES Tech Talk. I'm James Kotecki, bringing you one of my favorite C Space Studio interviews from CES 2024. I had a lot of great conversations in Las Vegas and I know you're going to like this one, so enjoy. 


This is the C Space Studio at CES 2024. I am James Kotecki. Very excited to welcome the co-founders of Mortal Media, Blake Griffin and Ryan Kalil. Thank you so much for joining me here in C Space Studio. 

Ryan Khalil (00:36): 

Thanks for having us. 

Blake Griffin (00:37): 

Thanks for having us. 

James Kotecki (00:38): 

Okay. So NFL Pro, NBA All-Star. How did you guys meet, find each other, and create this company in the first place? 

Blake Griffin (00:44): 

We met through mutual friends a long time ago, 2010, I think it was, and both had various projects on our own and both were interested in this space for a long time. And in 2016, we decided to team up together and the rest is history. 

James Kotecki (00:59): 

So tell me about some of the things that you're producing. Mortal Media is a company that is behind some shows and movies that people might know, and I know there's some exciting stuff in the pipeline. So tell me about how do you contextualize it? 

Ryan Khalil (01:09): 

Yeah, we're still pretty young in the space. To use sports analogy, we feel like rookies. But yeah, we started in 2016, but really took our time. Obviously, we had other careers going on in sports so we felt it wasn't going to last forever. Thus, the name Mortal Media came about. And then we just decided, "Let's take our time. Let's try to find mentors. Let's really try to be sponges and learn and try to figure out as much as we can before we really get into this and leap in." So that's what we did. Luckily, our off seasons offset each other. So one was in town, the other was playing and vice versa. 


And we were able to really garner a ton of relationships and really start to craft a slate of projects that got us really excited. Early on, everybody pitched us sports shows and movies. We felt we didn't want to get pigeonholed, so we really stuck to our guns. Blake more of a comedy guy, me more fanboy genre. In the perfect world, we have both projects, but a longwinded way of getting to just last year we were able to release our first TV show on Apple, Hello Tomorrow! starring Billy Crudup. And then we did a reboot to White Men Can't Jump at Hulu. 

James Kotecki (02:24): 

So Hello Tomorrow! is a sci-fi show, I believe, about selling property on the moon. 

Ryan Khalil (02:27): 

That's right. 

James Kotecki (02:29): 

I understand that you both get involved in the actual creative process. So take me through the details of that. What does it actually mean for you? Let's start with you, Blake. 

Blake Griffin (02:37): 

For us, like Ryan said, early on, we met with a lot of people in the industry and wanted to make sure that we really immersed ourselves and people knew how seriously we take this business. So we develop a lot of stuff in-house. We develop a lot of our own IP. But at the same time, early on, especially White Men Can't Jump is a good example of a preexisting IP and partnered with a producer to get that done. For us, it's really just about creating and making things that we ourselves would want to watch and staying true to that mantra. I think you can get lost a lot of times in mandates of studios and what they want and what they think audiences want. But for us, we were fortunate enough to have long careers in our respective professions and it allowed us to explore and to really be picky and take our time and do the things that we wanted to do. 

James Kotecki (03:34): 

And on the level of detail, Ryan, are you getting into the script level? I imagine being producers, it can be a nebulous term, but I imagine you can take that to different levels. So what does it mean for you? 

Ryan Khalil (03:44): 

You can. Blake and I, obviously, there's a sports background, but we definitely have an artistic itch and we have talents that we've been able to use for our own ideation phase of this and come up with our own ideas in-house. But we know our limitations and we know we're competing against titan producers that have been in this for a long time and amazing writers and storytellers who know how to craft a story who've been doing it a long time. So for us, we take it as far as we can. And then I think our superpower and the thing that is relative to the former careers we've had is how to build a team. So we have been really great GMs, so to speak, and we've gone out and really found the talented people who can see the visions through. And then our job is to really get behind them and support them and make sure that vision stays true. 

James Kotecki (04:31): 

Are you able to announce anything that's in the pipeline that hasn't come out yet, but that you're excited about for 2024? 

Ryan Khalil (04:36): 

Not really. We've been dabbling with a few really exciting projects. One thing we tried to do, especially there was a little bit of a lull during the writer's strike, one thing we really tried to do during that time was to really find ways we could be more additive to, again, talking about all the different talented folks we have to compete against, what are ways we can really, really be additive to the process? And something that we found during that downtime was really talking with people that we respected who understood where the future of the business was going and making bets for us. 


Investment opportunities came about so we found a couple of companies that are able to help us on the post-production side really bring down costs. We think studios are really going to be more budget-conscious coming out into this year. So specifically animation is something we've been really excited about and passionate about. There's a studio in New Orleans called Swaybox that are doing some really exciting things with puppetry and machine learning. 

James Kotecki (05:34): 

This was a Super Bowl commercial, I believe. 

Ryan Khalil (05:36): 

They did a Super Bowl commercial, that's really- 

James Kotecki (05:37): 

The players come out of the TV and- 

Ryan Khalil (05:38): 

That's the only thing they've done. They've gotten away from commercial work and they're getting into more narrative stuff. They have some amazing talented people that I don't even know if we're allowed to say who's involved with on the directing side. Really big-name directors and producers. We have several projects that we're working on with them right now that we're really excited, but again, still early on and can't say much 

James Kotecki (05:59): 

Exciting things are coming, suffice it to say. 

Ryan Khalil (06:01): 

They are. 

James Kotecki (06:02): 

So we're here at CES, which is a show where science fiction can often seem to be coming true. And you guys have produced science fiction, so I'm curious, are there things here at CES or are there technologies that might be out on the show floor or otherwise but are inspiring you right now as you think about stories or futures that you want to talk about? 

Blake Griffin (06:19): 

Yeah, it's cool being in this space and getting to see some of the new up-and-coming stuff. And like Ryan talked about with Swaybox, there's a myriad of companies that will be able to lend their hand to the entertainment world and to streamline things, to make things easier, to make things faster for a better cost, which in turn benefits the viewers, especially with all the streaming platforms there are now and all the different ways to consume entertainment, the more high-quality stuff that's able to put out, the more people can watch and enjoy. So it's been really cool to see the way technology has advanced the entertainment industry. 

James Kotecki (07:02): 

And do you look at things like drones or flying electric cars or any of the other stuff that might be here at CES and find that interesting? Is that what's compelling to you about science fiction or are there other things that are compelling about those genres? 

Ryan Khalil (07:16): 

Yeah, sure. You're a fanboy, obviously, you want the Back to the Future flying cars. 

James Kotecki (07:21): 

We do. 

Ryan Khalil (07:21): 

That's a definite must. I think for us from the storytelling standpoint, there's a lot of exciting tools and that's what they are at the end of the day. So we feel pretty safe in that there's still going to be a need for producers to go find really great storytellers to put projects together, to really use these tools and utilize them for the best of the business. Again, to Blake's point, still making quality things but doing a lot more of them because the cost is productive in a way that can lend itself to that. 

James Kotecki (07:51): 

We talked a lot about AI here in the C Space studio and AI is the talk of CES 2024. And it sounds like maybe some of the things you're alluding to may have AI components to them, right? Able to do things faster, do things better, do things more creatively. Is that some of the things that you're thinking about? 

Blake Griffin (08:05): 

Yeah, for sure. And AI was sort of a hot-button topic during the writer's strike particularly. But for us, a company like Swaybox or some of these other companies we're looking at, AI just allows the artists, the writers, the creators, the illustrators to do less of the tedious work that no one really wants to do and focus more time on the actual craft and focus more time on the art. So like I said, not only from a time perspective, from a cost perspective, but it also allows artists, actors, and illustrators to spend more time doing what they love and doing what no computer can do. 

Ryan Khalil (08:46): 


James Kotecki (08:47): 

We love to talk about inspiration here. I'd love to hear maybe your inspiration, Blake, on the comedy side and on the fanboy sci-fi side, you, Ryan. What are some of the movies, the TV shows, the ideas that inspire you and maybe are in your head as you're thinking about new stories to tell? 

Blake Griffin (09:01): 

Yeah, for me, early on I loved Saturday Night Live. I would watch that every Saturday night, even some episodes I probably wasn't able to, some standup. My dad loves comedy, so getting to watch stuff with him as I was younger. And then as I got older and developed my own taste, I continued that love. So that was just what I was always attracted to, it was always comedy. But like I said, I still do love sci-fi stuff. I still love other stuff. So we try to find those things that intersect. 

Ryan Khalil (09:30): 

And for me, Star Wars. I love George Lucas. And I got into stop-motion animation early because of him and Phil Tippett and the stuff I got to see in the behind-the-scenes VHS work. So yeah, I've always been a Lucas film, in that camp and Amlin and all those very classic- 

James Kotecki (09:51): 

You can't go wrong. 

Ryan Khalil (09:51): 

... 70's/80's sci-fi. 

James Kotecki (09:51): 

Especially with a crowded CES, you can't go wrong. 

Ryan Khalil (09:52): 

No, you can't. 

James Kotecki (09:54): 

We talked a bit about how your sports backgrounds have influenced the way you approach this business. I'm wondering as we close out here, how does it feel to do what you're doing now on the creative side and have success? Does it feel at all like succeeding in sports? When you're in the flow creatively, does it feel like being on the court or being on the field, or are those two totally separate things? 

Ryan Khalil (10:16): 

I think we get excited by the temperament we bring to it in a way that sports has lend itself really well for us, again, building teams. I will say it hurts way less for us physically to be in these meetings. Maybe not emotionally. There's a lot of rejection, which as athletes we're very used to. But yeah, I think we've been able to fit in pretty well. 

Blake Griffin (10:38): 

Yeah, it's been great. I think leaning on the work ethic and all that has been important for us too. But there is a lot of hurry up and wait in this industry. Sports, you kind of get that immediate feedback, especially with games. 

Ryan Khalil (10:53): 

Especially if you lose. 

Blake Griffin (10:54): 

Yeah, especially if you lose. 

Ryan Khalil (10:55): 

You get a chance really quick to go make it right. And in this business, you might have to wait a few years. 

Blake Griffin (11:00): 

So it's been fun. It's just sort of exercising a different part of our brains in a way. And I think we're both very competitive and I think we love that challenge of having to navigate a whole new world, a world that we haven't really truly been a part of for a long time. So the challenge has been great and we're always pushing forward. 

James Kotecki (11:19): 

Well, thanks for sharing a bit of that world and insight with us. Ryan Kalil, Blake Griffin, thank you so much for joining us in the C Space Studio. 

Blake Griffin (11:24): 

Thanks for having us. 

Ryan Khalil (11:25): 

Appreciate it. Thank you. 

James Kotecki (11:26): 

Well, I hope you enjoyed that conversation from CES 2024. That's our show for now, but there's always more tech to talk about. Hit that YouTube subscribe button, leave a comment, follow us on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, iHeartMedia, or ever you're getting this show. And get more CES at ces.tech. That's CES.T-E-C-H. I'm James Kotecki talking tech on CES Tech Talk.