Joseph Saroufim of Wheelhouse Labs on Brands Leaning In to Entertainment
As head of creative development, Joseph Saroufim is responsible for furthering, building and managing Wheelhouse Labs' growing creative services and capabilities to support all its partner brands as well as the creative support for Wheelhouse Group's growing roster of investments and entertainment initiatives.
Prior to joining Wheelhouse Labs, Saroufim honed his marketing skills at 72andSunny, as well as CAA and Observatory. He has written and produced award-winning content, including a television pilot for Samsung, a mini documentary exploring the evolving definition of masculinity for Bonobos and a short comedy series for VCA. Saroufim's understanding of story structure and narrative content is what makes brands like Netflix, AB InBev, Ben & Jerry's, USAFacts, Kajabi, Target and Marriott trust his bespoke approach. His versatile and celebrated work in entertainment includes developing TV show concepts for Vh1, entertainment projects for Waffle Iron Entertainment (a division of Nike) as well as scripted features and feature documentary projects.
We spoke with Joseph for our Backstory series, where we chat with folks in the entertainment industry about their creative inspirations and more.
Joseph, tell us...
Where you were born, and where you live now.
I was born in Boston and now I live in Inglewood, California.
Your first job in the industry.
My first job in the industry was an internship at Scout Productions, when they were still headquartered in Boston, creating the first iteration of Queer Eye. My first paid gig was as a production assistant on Nora Ephron's movie Bewitched.
A breakthrough moment in your career.
Winning the best writing award at the New York TV Festival for a pilot I wrote and directed with my wife.
Three movies you couldn't do without.
I was a film major, so there are so many that influenced me and I can't live without. Three that come to mind:
Holiday. Because Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn are the greatest on screen duo.
The Princess Bride. Because of the instant nostalgia and the expertly crafted screenwriting by William Goldman.
Hamilton. Because when it came out on Disney+ during the pandemic the entire family got obsessed and it was great bonding via culture with the kids.
Your favorite movie quote.
"The time to make up your mind about people is never." —Tracy Lord (played by Katharine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story)
Your favorite movie trailer or poster.
The teaser trailer for Marie Antoinette.
A classic TV show and a recent TV show that you loved.
A recent project you're proud of.
The brand project I am most proud of is called #EvolveTheDefinition for Bonobos. The short doc was an attempt at expanding the current, narrow definition of "masculine"—which includes toxic synonyms like macho, powerful, red-blooded, vigorous—to help create a more inclusive world.
Someone else's project that you admired recently.
I really enjoyed Skate Nation Ghana for Facebook because it used cinematic storytelling to turn a product feature into an emotional narrative and exposed me to a subculture I wasn't familiar with.
I also really admired what the team at Wheelhouse did creating Discovery Channel's "I Quit" with Shopify, prior to my joining the team. The ability to create original entertainment so expertly aligned to a brand's ethos is something Wheelhouse was built to do and I'm looking forward to being part of more of that in the future.
One thing about how entertainment marketing is evolving that you're excited about.
I'm excited to see brands embracing entertainment as a primarily marketing pillar, and even more excited to see the gatekeepers of entertainment accepting brands as legitimate production partners. The relationship between brand, producer and distributor is becoming more and more collaborative and will result in better entertainment and better bottom lines.
What would you be doing if you weren't in entertainment marketing.
Ideally, I'd be a full time dad to my two kids and I would read a lot more. Or maybe I would take over my uncle's Lebanese hummus business. Or I'd flip houses. Or I'd coach basketball. I don't know, I'm not great at hypotheticals, but now you have me thinking.