Interesting Television Production Trend

The last 6-10 months as we’ve seen cost cutting accelerate at networks, it’s interesting to see a new trend emerging.

Some networks are moving more production in-house.

Meaning, they’re taking more individual pitches, and fewer pitches from production companies.

This, I believe, is good for the shows, and good for the networks, but good only for the show creators to the extent that they and their lawyers can cut a deal to retain international rights and participation in ancillaries.

Off the bat, in-house production means you might actually have *more* money to spend on your show, since your budget doesn’t have to cover the overhead of a third-party production company (typically a 10-15% markup). So if you don’t have to whack that off of your actual production budget, maybe you can spend 2-3% more on stuff that actually ends up on-screen.

Most recently, I’m noticing this trend accelerate at places like BET, and E!

The downside is these companies will have to learn to carry larger idle assets in between productions (such as physical production space, and office resources), but the costs of those are far lower than what they lose in “fees” to third party production houses.

It’ll be interesting to see if this continues to tick upwards or not. My guess is that it will.

More info on the Camera Assessment Series

A brief trailer for the upcoming CAS presentation at the Produced By Conference.

*fun note – I got to write Mr. Freeman’s VO…

The presentation of the results should be interesting, hopefully the PGA will make it a priority to make the videos and results accessible to all.

Absolute Proof of how screwed up the stock market is.

Well, it’s official, the space-time continuum must be in complete ruins and dolphins everywhere must be close to packing their bags.

As of today, our little indie film “Family,” has returned all of its investors capital, plus 3.9%.

Granted, we didn’t spend much, but it was still a considerable amount, and the proof that the stock market is a mess?

If you had invested in the S&P; 500 in October of 2004 when we financed the bulk of the film, the S&P; 500 index was at 1,106.59. Today, at 893.07, you would have lost 19.3% on your investment. That makes a 3.9% positive return not look all too shabby, I suppose.

I never thought I’d see the day an indie film outperforms the stock market over a 5 year period. So, that said, if you’re considering an indie film investment, AND the filmmakers have a good plan for selling and marketing the film (DO YOUR DUE DILIGENCE!!!), then hey, maybe now isn’t a bad time to support an indie filmmaker.

(Yet Another) Reason Old Media will continue to decline

In another mind-boggling example of why television networks will continue to decline in relevancy and dominance, there is a circumstance that networks foist upon small production companies with great frequency.

That circumstance is called “Deficit Financing.”

More and more, I see companies being “forced” into production by a network they want to do a show for, without any funding in place from the network.

With increasing reliance on reality-television formats, which by default means higher reliance on smaller companies less able to cope with the intense cash flow demands of production, I’m pretty certain we’re going to continue to see a lot of churn of production companies going out of businesses as their cash flow gets hammered by this setup.

A single reality show episodic pilot might set you back $200-300K, a full series order, several million.

The network says “we want the show delivered on this date” and the production company says, “well, we have to start production on this date to make that date.” The problem is the networks drag their feet on cash-flowing production.

With contracts that never account for the current value of money, or have any sort of penalties or interest, production companies put up and shut up, hoping they’ll get paid soon enough to not lose their companies.

In the process, they delay payroll, rental payments and a host of other payments that virtually guarantee they’ll have more difficult and more costly labor and services agreements on the next show, if they get a next show. Vendors and employees loathe doing business with a company they know is going to screw them and leave them holding an empty bag for a month or more.

This is a self-perpetuating cycle driven by networks that over-value their distribution chain, and by producers who are clinging to the old models because no one has figured out the new one yet.

In the end, this practice leaves behind a lot of carnage and will only result in a lot of pain, and a continued decline of network relevance. Creatives with any wit of business sense will flee farther and farther from these companies until all those networks have left are the idiots who produce junk and will put up with permanent cash-flow handicaps.

There is one note to add; however. That is to say that there *are* a few networks who cash-flow properly, and quickly, and turn around payments in fair time-periods. Those are an exception, not the rule, they will survive, and eventually attract the smartest talent to their networks.

2009 Camera Assessment Series

Back in December & January, I volunteered to work on a rather historic shoot being produced in conjunction with Revelations Entertainment, the Producers Guild of America, and the American Society of Cinematographers.

As the PGA has finally started to release publicity about it being a part of their 2009 “Produced By” conference, now is a great time to finally release some of the behind-the-scenes photos from the production.

2009 PGA-ASC Camera Assessment Series

The link above is to a Picasa Album of the pics – though I’ve not yet had time to caption them – I’ll try to over the next few weeks.

The shoot itself was really quite interesting, and we assessed both the physical production and the image capture performances of eight cinema cameras. The cameras were selected based upon their common ability to capture 4:4:4 10 bit images, and deliver 4:4:4 10-bit DPX files for DI and film outs. (which is the reason a number of other excellent cameras, such as the Sony PWM-EX3 were left out – it can “only” record 4:2:2).

The cameras in the test included:
– Arri 435 film camera (various Kodak film stocks, but primarily 5217)
– Arri D21 digital camera
– Panavision Genesis digital camera (based on the same sensor as the Sony F35)
– Panasonic 3700 digital camera
– RED One digital camera
– Sony F23 digital camera
– Sony F35 digital camera
– Thomson Viper

Some cameras were tethered to decks, some had their own on board storage, some used tape. The full results of the test, as covered by ASC members from the whitepaper perspective, and from the production and narrative side by nine field teams of documentary filmmakers (which I produced, along with PGA member Michael Shores), will be presented this summer, and then be archived in the libraries of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, the American Society of Cinematographers, and the Producers Guild of America.

We took each camera from delivering 10 bit DPX files, (and conversions from native capture files such as with RED RAW) to Laser Pacific for both one-light and fully-windowed Digital Intermediate passes, which are then being finaled as DCP (digital cinema packages) and as filmed out negatives.

The results of the tests really showed that producers and DP’s alike face a growing need to consider not only the aesthetics and the budget of their shows, but the workflows in production and post production in terms of extra time transcoding or managing data.

Anyone interested in the results should really check out the upcoming conference, and I hope that eventually the PGA and ASC will make the documentary (for which we shot over 100 hours of footage) and the white papers accessible online.