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Website aims to be the 'HBO of lesbian content'
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times
2012-02-22

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Christin Mell spent her elementary school years in Chattanooga, Tenn., where she attended a co-ed, conservative Catholic school, complete with uniforms.

That's where she confronted "Tommy Finch."

He actually really wasn't named Tommy Finch; that's just the fictitious name Mell gave the Finch-like character that many know oh-so-well: that annoying, pesky school bully. He tortured all of the girls, pulling their pigtails, pinching them or just causing havoc, Mell said.

Fast forward to the present, and I Hate Tommy Finch is a two-woman show that follows the friendship/relationship of best friends from the age of 8 to 35. Each scene is a moment during a pivotal age in their life. The show will focus on their first meeting and the ups and downs of the friendship as they discover themselves and love. I Hate Tommy Finch is a new original play/web series.

The play/web series stars Nicole Pacent and Shannan Leigh Reeve, with musicians Sami Grisafe and Shannon Nicole.

The play was performed in Chicago in mid-October, and two of the three shows were sold out.

A continuing series, I Hate Tommy Finch, launched in January on Mell's lesbian-driven website, www.tellofilms.com .

"We have had such an overwhelmingly positive response" to I Hate Tommy finch, Mell said.

Mell confirmed that the play, I Hate Tommy Finch, will be back in Chicago in the spring.

Chicago-based Tellofilms.com is a web-based video distribution company for films made for, by and about lesbians. The tello mission statement is: to be a virtual forum devoted to provoking thought, empowering people, and fostering connectivity through original projects essential to the lesbian experience.

Mell, 36, who lives in Chicago's Avondale neighborhood, is the co-founder and CEO. She works for the YMCA by day, focuses on tellofilms.com before and after her day job and on weekends. Her partner is State Rep. Deb Mel.

Nicole Valentine is the co-founder of tellofilms.com .

"Over the past year, we have posted an impressive little array of web series," said Mell, who expanded the company in the fall. Jessica King was named the COO, while Julie Keck is the new Chief Creative Director.

"It got to the point where I needed more support because we were continuing to receive more project interests, more scripts, [plus] the website numbers were growing. It was just me and Nicole, so we needed to expand. We needed more folks who had this wonderful skillset.

"Both [Jessica and Julie] are amazing writers; each can read and re-write a script, if needed. Their ability to read a script and tell that story is fantastic. They also are absolute geniuses when it comes to social media; their use of Twitter and Facebook is so impressive. Each has a lot of great tech skills.

"Jessica is a wonderful director and cinematographer, who also can edit. Julie is a great writer, who does a lot of marketing, too."

King and Keck designed and developed tello's live game show, 'Who Knows Her Better,' which was taped in Chicago and hosted by The L Word's Elizabeth Keener.

"We want to be the HBO of lesbian content," Mell said. "We want to have thousands of subscribers and be able to fund our projects, but also support other producers and fund their projects. Sure, we're already doing that, but we want to do it to a larger extent."

Tello offers free content for website visitors and also exclusive material through its Premium Content section ($3.99 per month). The Premium content includes Cowgirl Up, McManusLand, and more.

The Premium section has nine web series—and Cowgirl Up is its most popular. "There's nothing else out there like it," Mell said. "It's essentially a lesbian Western, with an all-female cast, except for one male. The storytelling is really fun and funny. There are great stars, great writing."

Mell confirmed that McManusLand, Season 2, will be launching in the spring. She said there also is a possibility of CowGirl Up, Season 2.

"The biggest surprise is just that this model actually is working," Mell said. "If you tell a good story and actively engage with your fans, they will come to your site and support you, subscribe to the content.

"A lot of people are hungry for content, but they aren't primed to go make it themselves. It's been interesting to hear people tell us what they'd like to see. I'm surprised a bit at that, given today's technology, I thought they would try it themselves, then upload it [to the web], but that's not the case."

Mell said the majority of the visitors to the tello website are from the U.S., but there are viewers from Japan, Australia and England, among other countries.

So what about a website for gay male content?

"Originally, we thought it would be really good to expand into the gay community, and actually were going to call it Fello Films," Mell said. "But, I don't feel like I could run a site because I don't feel like I know what resonates with the gay male community. I focus on lesbian content because it's what I know."


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