Can an influencer make it in Hollywood — and why bother?

By David Weinberg

Elliott Walker, 22, sits at the controls of his homemade spaceship, the centerpiece of his latest TikTok series. Photo by David Weinberg.

On a recent afternoon, I met up with Elliott Walker in an industrial part of the San Fernando Valley at an electronics supply warehouse and prop house called Apex. On a shelf in the corner sits the original proton packs from Ghostbusters. Tucked away inside an old shipping container is the machine that became the sound of Darth Vader’s breath.

Walke stares through his wire-rimmed glasses and a mop of bleach blond hair at a keypad in a display case. It was taken from the DeLorean in Back to the Future, and it’s autographed by Christopher Lloyd. Walker loves this place.  

“It’s like a heaven,” he breathes, “for people that love old sci-fi movies.”

Over the past few weeks, Walker has been coming to Apex to get parts for a spaceship, but each time he leaves empty-handed. He can’t afford to actually buy anything. His budget is only $1,500.

So instead he’s been shopping at Goodwill. That’s where he found the ship’s warp core, whatever that is. 

“Our warp core is a George Foreman rotisserie chicken machine that was $14,” he notes.

Walker is working on a super-short series for TikTok. The premise is that he’s a delivery driver for a company called Void, who carries packages to other planets. Walker’s the writer and director, and he plays the main character.

Each episode is under three minutes long. It’s a passion project. 

He’s already a TikTok star, at least in Chicago. 

Now he’s in LA to find out: Will social media likes translate into big screen success? And if having lots of followers pays the bills – does he even need Hollywood anyway? 

And how does one build a spaceship for less than $2,000?

Elliott Walker (left) and his production designer (right) peruse the offerings of Apex, an electronic supply warehouse and prop shop in the San Fernando Valley. Photo by David Weinberg.

It all started a couple years ago in Chicago with a pilot he made for different series, a romantic comedy called You Know that Feeling. 

Walker and a friend shot the pilot on a phone. The whole thing was only one minute long, and then they posted it to TikTok. Then it took off. 

“It got a million views and I was like, okay, wait,” Walker recalls. A series was born.

After posting the episodes, Walker was surprised to find that people on the street recognized him: “It was cool because I would walk out and people would be like, ‘TikTok guy!’” 

Walker now had 400,000 followers on TikTok, enough to make him a bonafide influencer.

Which for many people his age –19 at the time – would mean he’d made it.

Lia Haberman teaches influencer marketing at UCLA Extension, and says that half of all Gen-Z respondents to a recent survey report that they want to be influencers. “This is now like a viable career path that they want to pursue,” she says.

Haberman notes, “This year, it's the first time that influencer marketing spend has outpaced ad spend, [meaning] brands are seeing influencers as a better way to advertise their product than running a Facebook ad, or running an Instagram ad, for example.”

Walker is a good example. After his followers shot up, the marketing team for the Chicago Bulls contacted him about making a video for the team. Walker came up with the idea of asking the team’s mascot, Benny the Bull, for dating advice

Walker signed with a talent manager, and since then has been able to make a decent living from a string of brand deals. And he’s having fun.

“I get to make exactly what I write down, even if it's really silly and crazy and absurd,” he says. “I can get my friends together, and we can make something that we have a blast doing.”

But eventually Walker would like to have a proper TV show. He moved to LA – just like every other generation of screenwriters and actors  – because he’s hoping that his new project will get noticed by executives in Hollywood. 

“Once I start posting videos,” he says of his spaceship series, “I think it's just going to open a lot more doors than could have opened in Chicago.”

If that plan pans out, Walker will be one of those rare success stories, where a social media influencer was able to translate their 15 minutes of internet fame into a career in show business. 

Back at Apex, Walker found a prop about the size of a cereal box. He thought it kind of looked like a map and could work as some kind of navigational device. He brought it to the cashier, asked the price, and braced himself. When the cashier said it was $40, Walker gleefully purchased it. 

It was a small victory. Walker’s spaceship may not win an Emmy for set design, but it will have this one small piece from Apex that connects it in a cosmic sort of way to the great sci-fi films and TV shows of the past.  Walker tucked his new score under his harm and headed out into the bright sunlight of the Valley.



David Weinberg