Eric Wotila touts the good news with Local Edition
By Kelsey Lauer 7/6/09
Eric Wotilas cell phone rings as he puts the final touches on a
last-minute TV commercial for Swaffers Toyota of Cadillac. Its the
painters, come to change the wall color in the new office of his video
production company in downtown Cadillac.
Its an ordinary enough scene, but Wotila, 20, is hardly your typical
video producer. He started Freelancer Productions when he was just 16
without any outside assistance. He also made a feature-length movie at 14
and has created his own local newscast, called Local Edition.
Im pretty much self-taught. Google is my teacher. Like news, Ill go on
and watch some CNN. Okay, they use this sort of angle; they shoot things
this way, he says.
I still do a decent amount of commercial projects. I do corporate
industrial marketing, videos, he adds. I do TV ads like this ad for
Swaffers Toyota that I was just editing here; I do a lot of web design.
But the main project Im working on right now is the community newscast.
Wotila has accomplished all this despite being diagnosed with Aspergers
syndromea milder version of autism at a young age.
There are times when I felt as if I wanted to use it as an excuse; you
know, if somethings going wrong, its because of But I never once have
used it as an excuse or said I cant do this because Im autistic or
something like that, he says. I had a psychiatrist that I worked with
for years to overcome it.
And now, according to Wotila, his struggle with Aspergers is mostly a
thing of the past.
As (my psychiatrist) has put it, if I walked in and didnt have the
medical records from years past, nobody would ever guess that I had any
form of autism, he says. In the years of Local Edition, it hasnt
affected (anything) that much because I think Ive, for the most part,
Wotilas latest project is a televised newscast created by Freelancer
Productions and focuses on what he calls positive community news in the
Cadillac and Traverse City areas.
Ive always felt theres a need for coverage of good news in the
community, he says. We see so much of the if it bleeds, it leads,
philosophy, if you will, and my view is well, theres definitely a need to
cover hard news, but I dont think it needs to be all hard news. In fact,
I know it doesnt need to be all hard news, and thats (why) our angle is
local, positive community news from around Northern Michigan.
And the community has been giving him some positive feedback about that
I was actually grabbing some lunch at Quiznos earlier today and had a guy
walk up to me and say Youre that guy from Local Edition, right? I really
enjoy your show, Wotila says. When you see that the community
appreciates that little five minutes of positive news when theyre sitting
in front of their TVs, it really makes it worthwhile.
HOW IT CAME TO BE
Wotila had been pitching the idea of a televised community newscast to
Charter Media for a couple of years before Local Edition began, according
to the companys advertising account executive Margo Jacobs, who helped to
bring the newscast to cable.
We started with his Web site, working on promoting it through Charter,
Jacobs says. And it didnt quite go the way we thought. We couldnt put
enough dollars behind it at that time.
It wasnt until Wotila created a webcast version of Local Edition on his
own then known as TVCadillac.comthat he made any real progress.
Once I started the webcast, they looked at it and said, Wait a minute,
this is really high quality stuff. This is a really good program. Yeah,
wed be interested in this, Wotila says.
Wotila knew where he was going with his newscast from the beginning, even
envisioning it on CNN headline news, according to Jacobs.
Its neat to be able to offer a good news segment, she says. I feel
good about being able to support him, but Eric has done all the work. It
has all been up to his tenacity and commitment to producing a local news
The show went on-air in the form of a five-minute newscast on CNN headline
news in Cadillac in March 2008, and hit the Traverse City airwaves about
six months ago, according to Wotila. It plays at 24 minutes after the hour
from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day.
Besides recently moving his office to a larger location, Wotila has also
expanded Local Edition to include reporters Vic McCarty and Kris Darrow,
as well as a newly-hired sales rep in Traverse City. Hes even hired an
intern, Josephine Suhs, a friend since preschool, according to Wotila.
He had me first just posting stuff on his site, and now he has me go out
and interview people and shoot short stories that he puts together, Suhs
says. I really like learning more about my community that I didnt know,
and I really like being in control of what I shoot, getting the shots that
I think look good, being behind the camera.
She adds that she especially appreciates the positive emphasis of the
I think Local Edition is a benefit to our community because it offers a
lot of the good news thats happening, rather than always hearing the bad
things. People dont realize how amazing it is that Eric does it, with him
having autism and being so young.
THE EARLY YEARS
Wotila says he has been interested in video production for as long as he
When we were four-five years old, my sister and I would run around with
my parents old VHS, early 90s camcorder, he says. Wed run around,
videotaping little sketches; wed make up little skits, I did some
stop-motion stuff with Legos, which, let me tell you, is not easy to do on
a VHS camera. (Around 2000) I got an iMac, and I was able to start editing
the video I shot. And it kind of just built from there.
With his early video expertise, at fourteen years old Wotila was able to
tackle a feature-length film entitled Internet Detectives: Net Bandits,
based on a book of the same title by British author Michael Coleman.
We made a movie out of this book a few years back, and that was a lot of
fun, he says. I look back and I think, I dont know how in the world I
managed to do that with school and everything else going. We had 180
people attend a premiere at the Cadillac High School auditorium back in
04, and a bunch of the local media covered it, which was pretty cool.
After his work at the local public broadcast station TV2&98 in 2004, where
he produced another Cadillac-based newscast titled Lakeline News, Wotila
completed a six month internship in commercial broadcasting at Fox 33,
Cadillacs Fox affiliate.
I turned 16 about a month into the internship and I remember that because
I was able to drive to cover my own stories, he says. I learned more
from my six months at Fox 33 than I have learned from anything in high
school, from any of the college that I took.
IN THE FUTURE
I see that he is going to have his own station some day, Jacobs says.
Hes going to take Local Edition nationwide some day. This is a product
that can basically be franchised into any market in the country.
For now, Wotila says that he plans to stay local, although nationwide
coverage is a possibility farther down the road.
Ive grown up here, so I want to keep a focus on local news, he says.
The path I would be more likely to take (would be to) expand our coverage
to the rest of Northern Michigan. Literally, just a little more money and
a quick phone call and I could be on in the Petoskey area. The hold-up
there is the money factor.
He also wants to expand the amount of community news that the show is able
Right now, we produce roughly one newscast a daywe usually have one day
with a rerun each weekbut Id like to get up to a few newscasts a day, a
few different updates there throughout the day, he says. (Id also like)
to get Local Edition to float on its own so I dont have to go out and
freelance all this work to just pay for the projects.
Jacobs says she hopes to be able to see him do it.
I feel like Ive just opened a really good book, and that book is called
Eric Wotila, she says. Hopefully, well have a chance to read that book
in its entirety. Itll be one hell of a good book.
For more information and examples of Wotilas work, visit
www.local-edition.com/content or www.freelancerproductions.com/content.