When ad agency Wieden + Kennedy first approached Psyop with the idea for a dating simulator based around the KFC franchise—starring the brand’s namesake Colonel as a romance-able character—one of Alexei Bochenek’s first thoughts was that if he didn’t ultimately win this pitch, then he’d have to “resign in shame.”
Bochenek ultimately served as the game director and narrative designer for what would become I Love You, Colonel Sanders! At that point, he had worked his way up to creative director from strategist at the Los Angeles-based production company Psyop over roughly four years. But what got Bochenek the gig with W+K wasn’t reams of experience; it was because he is a giant nerd.
“They were really happy to have people who were fans of the [dating simulator] genre, and had experience in that whole realm of anime and video games,” he said. “And well, that’s me, and that’s my larger team here.”
As Bochenek put it, that kind of fandom—about Japanese animation, video games or pop culture in general—is the sole driving force behind his career trajectory. Even in college at Boston University, his major in English literature and minor in film studies allowed him to get a degree in “being a fan of stuff”: good books and good film.
That degree of stuff led Bochenek to a short-lived stint at a talent agency and a slightly longer tenure writing an email newsletter for Chris Hardwick’s Nerdist brand. Eventually, those gigs would lead Bochenek to Disney in 2013, where he climbed the ranks to become editor in chief of Disney Insider—pumping out social-first content for Disney fans, by a Disney fan.
“I was in the sweet spot of the best era of Disney movies when I was a kid: The Little Mermaid, Lion King, Aladdin, all of that,” he said. “I was big into Disney cartoons, and that’s what ultimately led me into other types of animation, like Japanese animation.”
This kind of nerdiness is what led Bochenek as a teenager to spend hours in internet chat rooms talking about bootlegged Japanese TV programs, and also what made him spend “way too much money” on comic books and collectibles. Evidently, that intel turned out to be crucial for his role at Psyop, which he snagged after spending two years repping the Disney brand.
Five years into the Psyop gig, the one thing Bochenek wants to do next is tell “more unexpected stories that lean into the world of popular culture.”
“Joining an agency as an assistant because I was told it’s the way everything worked in Hollywood,” Bochenek said. For young creatives in particular, he said don’t waste time—or that sense of “creative excitement”—punching into a job that your heart isn’t in.
Instead of “waiting to go out” and grab a career that encompasses the things you’re excited about, Bochenek said he learned to simply take the plunge and grab those jobs, even if it seems like the riskier option at first glance.
How he got the gig
When asked what ultimately won over KFC and W+K, Bochenek credits his genuine, deep-rooted appreciation and respect for all things pop culture. “They said, ‘Hey, this guy gets it; he’s a legitimate fan,’ and it’s in all of our best interests to empower real fans,” he explained. “If this thing wasn’t authentic—and it felt like it wasn’t authentic—then nobody would want to spend two hours [playing] it.”
Especially when it comes to tackling topics like animation that have such deep-seated audiences, Bochenek said it’s not only important to “think about the conversation you’re starting with the story you’ve chosen to tell” but to also consider “how that story will grow as more and more voices are added to the discussion.”