issue three // Test City, USA

issue three //
Test City, USA

September 2019

from the editors

from the editors

This month, we released our 100th episode of upside.

Those 100 episodes include 30 coffee chats and 57 standard episodes spanning more than 60 different unique cities and ecosystems nationally (we’ve even had a few international companies!)

But each of those episodes also contains one or maybe two different perspectives from that particular ecosystem. They’re all valuable and many of them fascinating, but taken individually, they’re limited in perspective.

the idea

Back in November 2018, we began talking about producing more in-depth pieces on specific ecosystems. It’s great to learn more about Memphis, but what if we had dozens of data points from different stakeholders in Memphis, or Kansas City, or Tulsa?

There didn’t seem to be unbiased, nuanced coverage of specific cities. Everything we found was commissioned by the city, or economic development, or a community organization with a vested interest of showing, “Here’s what’s awesome about [city].” and a vested interest in not showing, “Here’s the problem about [city].”

To us, it was much more interesting and valuable to create documentary-style story about a city with the goal of being honest as opposed to being positive.

And we wanted the film to be valuable to other cities, or individuals located outside of that city. Not just an insular film for the locals, but a film to inform people outside of the community.

We talked about it a lot, but ultimately didn’t do much with the idea — it seemed like a lengthy, difficult piece of audio to produce and not confuse the listener.

Basically, we realized it was a project best served for video. And without any type of video background or equipment, we tabled it.

pulling it off the shelf

Several months later, we were hiring summer interns. One of our applicants was an aspiring filmmaker, and we thought it was a perfect opportunity to shoot a proof of concept.

We hired Kyle Skinner for the summer to shoot our film prototype. Jay lives in Columbus and has been part of the scene there for several years, so it made sense to tell the story of Columbus.

We lined up more than two dozen interviews with founders, investors, city council president, real estate experts, and other community builders. Before we knew it, we had recorded around 50 hours of content.

When we saw the footage Kyle captured and listened back to the interviews, we realized we had something special. We decided to make this film as good as it could be...

screening the film

We titled the film Test City, USA as both an homage to Columbus’s history as a key American test market, and also a nod to the position Columbus finds itself. Not in the same league as the valley, New York, or Boston. Slightly outside the tier of Austin, Chicago, Seattle, or LA.

Columbus finds itself leading the pack in tier-three startup communities.

In a lot of ways, the Columbus startup ecosystem can be seen as a model and experiment for other tier-two and tier-three cities.

On September 12, 2019, our film Test City, USA premiered at the Film Festival of Columbus at the Gateway Film Center in Columbus.

We sold out the largest house in the theater, and packed the room with founders, investors, and community members from all over Columbus.

And to add a cherry on top, the film won Best Ohio Feature.

what we learned

The most difficult part of the production was accurately showing both praise and criticism from different interview subjects without bias. As previously written, our goal was to show an accurate look at the Columbus ecosystem and not simply be a hype film.

Naturally, that required capturing real constructive criticism in our interviews and sharing that in a way that didn’t unfairly depict any system or organization as a villain.

We weren’t sure how that criticism would be received live in a theater with city leaders, community leaders, and local journalists.

We were surprised to hear applause, cheering, and even laughter throughout the film. And in the Q&A following the film, several members of the crowd shared their gratitude that we didn’t shy away from criticism.

We also learned how much work making a good film is. After about a month in post-production, we decided we would pursue a public screening of the film locally in Columbus. After meeting with the President of the Gateway Film Center, we decided to pursue film festivals (which, we learned, needs to happen before any type of theatrical release if you’re interested in pursuing them).

next steps

Since the premiere, we’ve received a ton of interest in doing additional screenings of the film locally as well as a lot of interest in watching the film online.

We would love to pursue both of those paths, and we thought we would share the film as Issue Three of The Update.

But as we continue to pursue other film festivals in cities who can learn from Test City, USA, we want to make sure we’re dotting our i’s and crossing our t’s.

We want to make sure we do it right and give ourselves the best shot at showing in other festivals.

see the film

Our ask to you is simple: if you want to watch the film at a screening or online, enter your email below.

We’ll send you an email any time we have another screening confirmed. And when the film is available to watch online, we’ll let you know about that too.

Thanks for your patience and understanding with this “skinny” issue of The Update. We’re incredibly proud of this film, and we can’t wait to share it with you.

Jay & Eric

UPDATE: The film is now available to stream here!


on the podcast

on the podcast

There is undeniable energy and momentum in the growing startup ecosystem of Columbus, Ohio. Test City, USA explores this moment in time for the city, how the ecosystem evolved, and the challenges of what comes next.

Directed by: Kyle Skinner
Produced by: Jay Clouse

A film by The Up Company


Interested in hosting a viewing party? Click here to email us and let us know.