Flashbacks & Flashforwards

A good friend of ours has scheduled a series of 80’s movies screenings at his home throughout the summer, and we love going.

The classic films we grew up with are always great to revisit. From Raiders of the Lost Ark, to the Goonies, and more – a lot of Spielberg and a lot of Lucas. It’s Flashback city.

As we continue to evolve what entertainment is, and the more I get into new media, the more quaint the storytelling structure of a traditional narrative film seems.

I’m coming to firmly believe that the film business is really missing the boat in just taking our old, tired, 2 hour passive story structures and the only thing “cutting edge” about them is either the visual effects, or in some cases, online sales or streaming of the same old format.

The storytellers of Hollywood really haven’t even begun to explore what new story structures we can create in the brave new world at our doorstep. But story format isn’t static; and there will be a new generation of storytellers who step forward in the years ahead to present formats that will be totally new, engaging, and groundbreaking.

I’m excited about the possibilities.

Power to the Producers

I think sooner or later we have a couple of game changing things we need to be aware of as content producers.

  1. Audiences are (mostly) unwilling to pay for content.

    Movies are still an exception, but only when priced fairly. The collapse of the movie rental industry (in their $3.99 Brick and Mortar incarnation anyway) is a clear sign of this. As is the drop in attendance at movie theaters the last few years (though gaining in overall dollars as ticket prices are hiked – again, at odds with the continued perceived decline of the quality of the product).

  2. Advertisers are willing to pay for access to the audience that wants our content.Unfortunately, I know most of us really hate advertising, but in lieu of a better way to pay for the cost of the creating content in the first place, this is about as good an option as we have.

In light of those facts, Chris Anderson over at The Long Tail has put up some great data on Ad CPM’s that I strongly believe are a leading indicator of putting power back into the hands of the producers.

The data shows that higher traffic websites (eg – bigger distributors of content), receive far lower CPM’s than smaller traffic websites that deliver more focused demographics.

The vast majority of content created today really *does* fall into niche categories – and niches where even a (relatively) small number of viewers could potentially turn a profit for smart producers.

It also means that as producers we have to be more savvy about *where* our audience is, what their interests are, and how to engage them, and how to earn enough revenue from them that we can survive, maybe even thrive.

It means we have to be smart enough to adapt and learn more about business than maybe we did in the past. It may mean extending your product “brand” to finite goods ahead of seeing if you have a hit movie or not. With low/no cost on-demand product fulfillment these days, there’s absolutely no reason you can’t launch your new online series with a shopping cart and backend vendor already set up to sell t-shirts or mugs or whatever with your show logo on them or catchy phrases from your script (think: “I drink your milkshake”).

This is all usually way out of bounds for producers, as studios took that to run with themselves, but as our business models change, so must the things we do to keep our livelihoods lively.

Why do commercials cost so much?

I’m working on an ad campaign at the moment, and it’s an interesting break from the more traditional film, television, and new media stuff I’ve been doing over the years.

I forgot that 10 years ago when I got my first “break” in the business, it was working on a couple of commercial sets in Seattle.

I never went back to working on commercials after moving to Los Angeles. Not that there were some points where financially, I wished I could have, my energy just never really worked in that direction.

Now that I’m at least being a tourist back in the commercial biz, I find that a lot of people in the business hate what they’re doing, or just seem to be totally deluded about the importance of advertising (or the creative that goes with it).

The more I examine it, the more convinced I am that the exorbitant costs of producing commercials is more a product of self-loathing than it is based in any rational logic.

The director’s who’ll create a feature film and spend a year or more of their life on it for $50k, or even DGA minimums of $300k, and won’t take a commercial for less than $10k PER DAY. There are a number of commercial directors who do movies at $5m for a year or two of their lives, and demand $50k a day to shoot commercials.

The producers – who on the feature and television sides often work tirelessly for years to see a project through, often with paydays that average out to less than $100k/year for the years they put into a film (again, this is referring to the 1% at the top, not the averages by any means), and their commercial counterparts who arguably know less about real filmmaking, pricing themselves at $50k for a month of work.

This reaches all the way down the line too. Cameramen that I could hire on features and TV for $500/day or so, won’t set foot on a commercial set for less than $700/10 – meaning that in the guaranteed overtime of a commercial set due to noodling by a tent full of ad agency execs, his day rate will come close to, if not over, $1000 for the day.

Watching the actions and words of some people in the commercial business, it’s clear that a lot of them hate advertising and commercials as much as the average non-industry person does. They know deep down that what they create is an uninvited, often infuriating intrusion and a meaningless distraction in the world at large. And in order to make it ok, they try to make sure it generates enough money they can buy their souls back.