Dino-Mite: Video Killed the Photography Star

Editor’s note: Originally published in the Oscars 2020 print edition of Variety, as part of the annual Showbiz Real Estate Elite feature.

Los Angeles County’s luxury real estate market is among the most competitive in the world; per the MLS, there are 263 homes currently available with pricetags exceeding $10 million. To close a major sale — and to make their listings stand out — agents have increasingly turned to high-quality, immersive video experiences from specialist producers like Westlake Village-based Tri-Blend Media, SoCal’s preeminent production outfit for high-dollar real estate.

Tri-Blend’s owner Blake Richards fell into the business accidentally, thanks to a chance meeting with mega-developer Bruce Makowsky. “Seven years ago, I was experimenting with drone technology at a music concert, back when nobody really knew its full capabilities,” he tells Variety. “[Bruce’s] photographer saw the drone and hired me to take some aerial real estate photos. At the property, I also shot an aerial video, showed it to Bruce, and Tri-Blend was born.”

The timing couldn’t have been more ideal. It was 2013, and L.A.’s spec-mansion boom was in its bright-eyed infancy. Developers were only just beginning to construct contemporary mega-homes, and they hadn’t yet grasped the power that social media could wield. Makowsky, a successful businessman who cashed out of his handbag company for hundreds of millions, had just moved from New York to L.A. and was eager to make a splash in his second career: developing ultra-high-end, bespoke real estate.

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One of Makowsky’s earliest projects, a 22,000-sq.-ft. mansion in Beverly Hills, debuted with a slick promotional video created by Tri-Blend. The gimmicky opulence was on a stratospheric level previously unseen — there were models sitting in a Bugatti, Bentley-branded pillows and a wall of candy. Viewers gawked, and media outlets fell over themselves covering the sexy marketing of the mansion. And it all worked — the house quickly sold to Minecraft billionaire Markus “Notch” Persson for $70 million, easily smashing the sale price record for a Beverly Hills home. That’s when Richards’ phone really started to ring.

“High-quality videos provide a depth of experience that still photos just can’t, and are particularly attractive to international buyers,” says Richards, who directs, edits and produces all his own footage. Tri-Blend’s business has boomed even as the market for luxury spec homes has grown soft; video orders from agents looking to stand out from the pack have morphed from conventional house tours into full-blown mini-movies with a storyline, models and pricey props, all in the name of grabbing online views.

Viral fame is marketing’s holy grail, and Tri-Blend clients are known for outrageous video concepts. For one Lenny Kravitz-designed mansion, Richards filmed a live Bengal tiger traipsing through the property. And his latest production features a mansion with a $1.5 million dinosaur fossil inside. 

Richards doesn’t attempt to put his own directorial stamp on a production; if a client has a vision, he’s happy to help make it come to life. Still, “I’ve had to say no to a couple of really wild concepts … you just have to draw the moral line at some point,” he admits, noting he originally passed on filming Opus, a $100 million estate in Beverly Hills listed with a marketing video showing nude women, covered in gold paint, cavorting in bed. (He’s since filmed a more PG-rated video for the property.)

And while most comments on his videos are appreciative, there are those naysayers who decry the absurdity of a $250 million house with a non-functioning helicopter parked on its roof. “So, so gross,” one simply commented.

Richards welcomes the criticism. After filming 110 homes representing a collective $4 billion in listing volume, he says every view, even from hate-watchers, brings his videos closer to achieving viral fame, the kind that L.A.’s Realtors and developers relish. And with seven years of experience, he’s now equipped with the tools to help them make that happen — a YouTube channel that’s accumulated 41 million total views and 154,000 share-happy subscribers, for starters. 

“At the end of the day, I can look my client in the eye and guarantee their video will get a minimum of 200,000 views,” Richards says. “That’s pretty much priceless.” 

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