21 March 2022 | By Matt Miller, Sr. Copywriter
CA in LA trailer
It’s early summer 2021, and Courtney Birk and Ashleigh Coffelt are both bawling their eyes out during a Twitch stream. Moments ago, the musicians and filmmaking duo known as CA in LA completed their fourth and final round of fundraising with their Twitch community, reaching a goal of $15,000. The funds raised will help the artists buy the Arri Amira, a professional camera used for film and TV production. Viewers in the chat say they’re also crying. Everyone is crying. It’s a triumphant, life-changing moment they’re all sharing together.
“It’s not just a thing we’re buying. That’s our career right there they just redefined,” Coffelt remembers a few months later.
The mainstream entertainment industry is known for being an unforgiving place for newcomers1 trying to make it as musicians or actors or filmmakers. But, rather than go the traditional route2 of record labels, talent agencies, casting calls, major studios or other institutional necessities, Birk and Coffelt have paved their own path in the industry by means of Twitch. Award-winning actors and directors, Birk and Coffelt have appeared in, or made, more than a hundred films which have screened at national and international film festivals. Ranging from deeply emotional dramas to insightful comedies, their films explore mental health, relationships and everything it takes to be a twenty-something in modern times. They’ve recorded two albums of atmospheric indie pop and have more than 18,000 followers on Twitch.
Making it in LA their own way
CA in LA formed in late 2012 under somewhat unexpected circumstances, Birk admits. They were both working a restaurant job in Columbia, Maryland, when Birk overheard Coffelt talking to another server about her plans to make 13 short films in 2013. “So I, very rudely, messaged her on Facebook really late that night, and said, ‘Put me in one of your movies.’” It might have been brazen, but it worked. They made a film together, “and after that I didn’t ever want to work with anybody else,” Birk says.
By 2016, their creative partnership evolved into music as well. While still working restaurant jobs in Maryland, they started playing music together professionally while funding a feature film. In 2017, they moved to Los Angeles, where they got new restaurant jobs and took various gigs in the film industry to help support their art.
In 2018, a friend introduced the duo to Twitch. Immediately, they saw it as a new stage to sharpen their skills as performers and share their art. They debuted on Twitch making gaming content, knowing that’s where the biggest audiences were at the time. But they began adding music into their streams and quickly realised that they could “showcase [their] films on top of that music and really bring the visual elements in to bridge the gap for us as creators and say, ‘Hey, we’re doing something different’”.
Within a few months, CA in LA decided to devote their channel fully to film and music. Today, their streams have become a space to sit and hang, to play music and to watch and discuss films. Their stream feels like a cozy local coffee shop where artists converge. A replica of the iconic leg lamp from the movie A Christmas Story sits on a bookshelf behind them year-round. Art supplies and instruments are scattered around their apartment, illuminated by projectors casting designs on the wall behind them. They play covers requested by their audience via their stream’s chat. Sometimes they’ll dress as a hot dog and banana; they’ll host movie nights. They also provide a space for other young artists and diverse voices in film and music – with movie screenings and interviews with other directors. In October 2021 they planned an event for Filipino American History Month, “and we made it our goal to spend as much time as we could with fellow Filipino creators,” Coffelt says.
Arts communities on Twitch
In early 2020, the duo was carving out time to stream around their shifts at their restaurant jobs. But in March of that year, when the pandemic began to surge in the US, they got a letter informing them that the restaurant was closing. “Our rent in LA is astronomical and now we’re without our day job,” Coffelt remembers.
But Birk and Coffelt weren’t alone. They turned to CA in LA’s community for support.
“As soon as we set up a donor (tip) goal for rent, everyone flooded it. They were just like, ‘Whatever you guys need, I got you.’ And no lie. Everyone had us,” Coffelt says. “We had our highest sub numbers. We had our highest [concurrent] viewer count on our channel. People really supported us. It was such an interesting transition that we are now able to be full-time artists, but it also wasn’t safe to go out and make films. Twitch was our escape and our outlet and also our livelihood. It was literally a sink-or-swim moment.”
With the help of their community, which they call their Ohana, the Hawaiian word for family, they swam. For the next year, the duo hunkered down and devoted themselves fully to building their community and creating art.
CA in LA receives a $1,772.82 donation from a single viewer to help reach their $10,000 funding goal for a new film.
How brands and creators can make art together
While CA in LA’s Ohana has continued to support their art (in late 2021, they reached a $10,000 funding goal for a new film with a $1,772.82 donation from a single viewer), they’ve also worked with brands to help support themselves full-time. Right now, their sponsorships include the beverage company Intent and the lighting company Rosco.
“The Rosco sponsorship really came to fruition because we’re involved in a lot of women in film groups out here, and I was trying to bridge that gap because they didn’t have many streamers,” Coffelt says. “It has worked out really, really well for us to provide value for them, because our stream is very aesthetically specific. If you see our stream, it’s going to pop on the [Twitch homepage] carousel. For them that was very desirable.”
For Intent, it was a natural fit, because Birk and Coffelt say they believe in the values of the company. “So, to find brands that align with our values has been huge,” Coffelt says. “And that’s why we’ve turned down some sponsorships as well.”
When courting these collaborations between brands and streamers, Birk and Coffelt say it’s important for creators to be proactive and show what they can do for brands. For Birk and Coffelt, it’s all about authenticity. They say it’s important to support brands that they actively want to use – the Rosco lights illuminate every one of their streams.
“That means we do a lot of research on our end to make sure we align with that company,” Coffelt says. “We know the influence we have with our community, and they will jump behind something because they see us and trust us at our word. As long as you’ve developed that trust and authenticity and aren’t just like throwing 100 products at them left and right.”
With the support of Ohana and brands, CA in LA is “dreaming as big as possible” for the year ahead, says Coffelt. They’ve made a new feature film using the camera that their Ohana helped fund. Meanwhile, they want to dive deeper into film and bring their community on the journey of developing stories. “We really want to be the people that are showing people that going the studio route isn’t necessarily the only way to succeed as an indie filmmaker,” she says.
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1 Paoletta, Kyle. Why it’s Harder Than Ever to Make it in Hollywood. July 2020.
2 Tseng, Ada. How to pay your bills when you’re starting out in Hollywood. June 2021.