How Chase Crawford’s Four by Three is building on a ‘cultural renaissance’ in the Queen City
For as long as people have been watching movies, the coasts have been the center of American filmmaking. But that mindset is changing every day, thanks to more accessible technology, a wider pool of filmmakers across the country and even the effects of the pandemic. And one of the country’s most exciting young film studios is growing in Cincinnati, where Chase Crawford’s Four by Three wants to bring the next great indie movie to your local theater.
“We’re positioning ourselves as an independent film studio,” he said. “We started off as a production company, just making one film at a time and it snowballed from there. But ultimately, it’s a group of friends working together to share art that we think is cool. We still do production, but we’ve signaled to the industry that our hopes and dreams are bigger than just being a production company. I want us to be the next Bleecker Street or A24, the next great independent film studio. And I think we’re close.”
Crawford, who grew up in Monroe, got his big break while still in high school, when Taco Bell flew him to Los Angeles to help make a commercial after seeing some spec work he had done with friends. He founded Four by Three in 2017, and has spent the last five years growing and evolving his company. He got another boost early this year when he was named to Forbes’ “Next 1000” list, which features “the upstart entrepreneurs redefining the American dream.” Originally focusing on creating original content, the business has expanded to help other artists distribute their work, a goal that Crawford finds more fulfilling than he ever expected.
“We’ve built this company on movies that we have produced and distributed,” he said. “We can provide that distribution to other filmmakers and make the process more equitable. The steps can be very scary for independent filmmakers, me included. You can hand your film off to a company but if you sign the wrong agreement, you can be billed a lot of charges and fees that are not profitable for the filmmaker — we’re changing that process.”
When Four by Three had one of their most exciting films’ 25-week theatrical run canceled by the pandemic, it seemed like a major setback. But the experience of finding a plan B led the Four by Three team to a relationship with Amazon Prime and a better understanding of the path to distribution on streaming platforms. Now, Crawford said his team is in the best position yet to identify “gaps” in the market, which they’ve recently identified as standup comedy specials.
“We’ve created a really good model where we can film standup specials and get them to a streaming platform,” he said. “There’s a large group of comedians who are touring and have followings but aren’t getting offered specials by the big names. When you can produce your own content, it’s empowering. And when you have the ability to distribute, you start to think, ‘What can we make next?’ It’s so much fun. We actually have an endpoint where this content can live.”
Crawford has spent time in Los Angeles and other cities known more for their entertainment scenes than Cincinnati. But in the Queen City, he said he’s watching something amazing develop. Between the creatives who live and work in the city and the supporting network around them, Crawford is proud to be building Four by Three in Ohio.
“I almost don’t want to let everyone in on the secret,” he said with a laugh. “It’s like we’re all keeping our mouths shut about how exciting this is. It feels like there’s a real cultural renaissance happening here, a genuine rise of artistry. And to me, it’s no surprise. We have great and supportive institutions in town like Artswave. You see all these artists and all this creativity being explored. Cincinnati is a very unique town with a cultural blend. You have career people and artists here, and there are a lot of wonderful things happening.”
Four by Three has recently acquired eight more films ready to distribute. And with their new distribution goals and a better grasp on the process, Crawford said they’re focused more on quality and content that fits their mission than amassing a large quantity of work. And along the way, he hopes they can inspire the next generation of filmmakers and artists.
“At a certain point, you realize that you’re empowering a lot of people in your community, and for me it all comes back to helping independent filmmakers in our backyard,” he said. “These artists just need someone to believe in them. I grew up in Monroe, Ohio, where there isn’t exactly a densely populated area of directors or producers. I got inspired making YouTube skits in my yard with friends. But I’ve had a lot of people who have supported me in a lot of ways. So now I want to inspire people like that. I want kids to be able to say, ‘Chase Crawford was from Monroe.’”