How To Produce Hit Television Shows Like Charlie Day

As a filmmaker, getting a project off the ground is often easier said than done. From day one, you are faced with a seemingly never ending barrage of challenges like how to get money, how to actually finish what you start, and importantly, how to sell your project…

Faced with this level of uncertainty, it’s not surprising why many would-be filmmakers and producers give up before they get started. But thankfully there are some creative types who face these challenges, go the distance and come out on top.

Today we are going to focus on one such story. It’s a true story about a group of friends who had a great idea, limited resources and no budget. (Sound familiar?) But what these friends lacked in cash did not in any way hinder their creativity. And thankfully so.

Charlie Day

Charlie Day at the premiere for Horrible Bosses in August 2011

How To Produce Hits Like Charlie Day

The television show they created is called Always Sunny in Philadelphia and it has become one of the biggest hits on American television.

Charlie Day is an actor, writer and executive producer of the hit series, and he took a few minutes to stop by Filmmaking Stuff to chat about the show and share a little filmmaker inspiration.

Jason Brubaker
Hi Charlie. Thanks for stopping by today to share some thoughts.

Charlie Day
Sure. No problem.

Jason Brubaker
Can you tell us how you shot the pilot? Is it true that you guys came up with a few ideas, grabbed a camera and did it all for $200.

Charlie Day
The only cost was the cost of video tape really.

Jason Brubaker
Did you have a script?

Charlie Day
There was a script. We did improv off of the script.

Jason Brubaker
Originally Always Sunny revolved around a bunch of out-of-work actors trying to break into the industry. But if I understand correctly, the network made some tweaks and set the story in Philadelphia.

Charlie Day
Well let’s get one thing straight. We are the producers so we changed it. However it was the Network’s suggestion that we do so and I think it was a good one. There were already too many shows about the entertainment industry at that time.

Jason Brubaker
Was the initial story idea autobiographical?

Charlie Day
Ours was not really autobiographical at all. Maybe we used our real names or referenced a show that we were on but outside of that it was all fiction.

Jason Brubaker
Once you had a cut, did you shop the show to other networks before the eventual deal with FX?

Charlie Day
I think we went to Comedy Central, HBO, NBC, VH1 and Fox as well.

Jason Brubaker
Then once things got rolling with FX, you guys ended up with over a million viewers in your first season! Were you surprised by the positive audience reaction?

Charlie Day
We were always proud of our show and expected people to like it. So surprised, no. Pleased yes.

Jason Brubaker
So to put this in perspective, you guys had an idea, grabbed a camera, created a hit TV show… And then one day Danny DeVito decides to join the cast.

Charlie Day
Well it was not a hit when Danny joined the cast. We were looking to boost ratings and get a press story by adding a well known cast member. We got lucky with Danny.

Jason Brubaker
With the addition of Danny and the added exposure that he brought, there had to be some question of what would happen next. Did you feel like your life was about to change?

Charlie Day
I didn’t feel like my life was going to change. If anything I was hoping it wouldn’t ruin the show. We didn’t know what Danny would be like as a person. It turned out he is as great an actor as he is a person. Like I said, we got lucky with Danny.

Jason Brubaker
With over 100 episodes,  the story remains entertaining, funny and totally off-the-wall. How are you guys able keep the story fresh and interesting?

Charlie Day
There’s just a lot of things that make us laugh. And the more we get to know the characters the more fun it is to write for them. It also helps that we are working with some other talented writers.

Jason Brubaker
Would you say the creative process has evolved a lot since the pilot?

Charlie Day
Well since the pilot, yes. It takes a lot more work to do 60+ episodes.

Jason Brubaker
Some people now describe the show as a cult hit. Is there an initiation ritual to join?

Charlie Day
Just watch the show and join the cult!

Jason Brubaker
What advice do you have for filmmakers and other would-be producers who still think they need a gazillion dollars to garner success on their projects?

Charlie Day
If you can get it, great. If not find another way. There’s no one way to make a hit.

– – –

If you like this filmmaking stuff, you’ll love the filmmaker checklist.

How To Network In Hollywood (Or anywhere, really)

The other night, I was at some party. I didn’t know a lot of people, but this is nothing new.

Learning how to network in Hollywood, or anywhere really is one of  the most important skills you can refine. Besides, meeting new people is fun. It leads to new ideas and new opportunties.

But every so often, you will meet a jerk or two .

That is exactly what happened when I walked into a conversation where this guy was bragging about his shoes. Something about Italian leather or some crap.

Anyway, as the conversation shifted from shoes to the movie industry, I started to chime in about video on demand distribution.

And do you know what?

This guy…

He totally looked down at my shoes. He noticed my low top Converse and literally cut me off mid-sentence.

WTF?

(I promise this is not a segue into a fashion blog…)

But here’s the fun part. Later in the evening, I guess somebody tells this guy that I’m connected… That I know people. That maybe I can introduce him to people who could help him in his career.

So this filmmaker comes up to me and actually starts talking about a movie idea.

Pretty silly. No thanks.

I don’t think him and I will ever do business together.

Why?

Frankly, because I don’t like him. He made a poor judgement on how to treat me.

This is an example of BAD NETWORKING

Here is a video on how I thought about Hollywood before I got into the game.

A lot of filmmakers visit LA, wondering how to network in Hollywood. Before I get too far into some awesome networking tips, let me clarify something.

You don’t have to be in Hollywood to make movies!

But if your goal is to make movies, you are going to need a way to raise money. And unless you have a rich uncle or an awesome hookup, you’re going to have to do what most unknown filmmakers do… They get out there and they hustle!

Which begs the question:

“How do filmmakers meet and network with rich people?”

Good question.

You will meet rich people through your ever expanding network of awesomeness. In other words, you’re going to make lots of cold calls, take lots of lunches and network!

The following principals will reveal how to network in everyday life. But importantly, they will show you how to network in Hollywood.

Here is the reason you need to learn how to network in Hollywood:

Odds are good that if you make movies, sooner or later you’re going to end up in Hollywood.

Makes sense right?

how to network in Hollywood with Jason Brubaker

How To Network In Hollywood

As you can probably guess, the guy in our previous example needs to learn how to network in Hollywood. (Or anywhere, for that matter.)

And maybe you’ve experienced this type of crap too.

It happens all the time. I mostly see it at film festivals. Somebody approaches you and immediately asks what you do.

As soon as you tell the other person, there is a beat – A moment or two when the person decides if you are worth his time.

If not, then the other person will feign a polite interest in you, look over your shoulder for someone more important to talk to and leave the scene, tossing you a business card on his way out.

Whenever someone mentions the word “networking” the mental picture that comes into focus, often involves an overly energetic schmoozer who hands out business cards like candy.

These people typically have their own agenda in mind and could care less about you – unless they could potentially USE you.

While this strategy may be utilized by many up-and-coming filmmakers, it won’t be ours.

Avoid becoming a walking business card dispensary”

In order to avoid becoming a walking business card dispensary,  every time you think about networking, I want you to focus on one thing – and one thing only.

Focus on the other person!

If you like the other person and think they are a nice human being, I want you to always focus on finding ways to help. By helping other people reach their goals, all the lessons we spoke about (rapport, reputation and building relationships) will work in your favor.

Here is what I learned. Help enough people, and enough people will help you.

Simple, right?

Action Steps

  1. Build a network of like minded individuals.
  2. If you live in a small town like I did, try to find a local art scene and other local filmmakers.If your area is limited, then contact people through social networking websites.
  3. Consider taking weekend trips to film festivals and screenings within your proximity. Strike up conversations.
  4. Consider helping as PA for movies in your area.
  5. Once you make friends. Go to their screenings. Get business cards. Follow up. Always ask yourself: “What can I do to help this person succeed?”

Get Movie MoneyOne of the best parts about working in the movie industry is meeting other like-minded, creative people. If you go out of your way to help other people as much as you can (without allowing other people to take advantage of you), then you’ll be in very good shape when it comes time to create your own projects.

If you’re still trying to find out how to network in Hollywood, or if you are looking for strategies on how to meet and mingle with prospective investors or Hollywood Heavyweights – I recommend you check out my guide focused on: “How To Meet Rich People So You Can Fund Your Movie.”


Cynicism Won’t Make Movies

Getting your movie made can be frustrating. I know the feeling.

Over the course of a year, I get involved in hundreds of conversations with people with the hopes of making a deal. Most of the deals fall apart. And even though this is part of the game, every time I experience a setback, I spend a few days moping.

Then I find my next project and repeat the cycle.

Experience has taught me that if you consistently put yourself out there and make new friends and try to put together new deals, sooner or later something will work out.

Call it the law of probability. Call it par for the course. But never let yourself get jaded or cynical. Cynicism won’t make movies.

Cynicism Won't Make Movies

Photo © contrastwerkstatt / Dollar Photo Club

 Cynicism Won’t Make Movies

As a filmmaker, it’s easy to make excuses for why you aren’t making movies. Maybe you don’t have enough experience, time, money, connections, friends or [fill in the blank with your best reason HERE.]

A few weeks ago, I found myself watching a movie with some Hollywood acquaintances. At the end of the movie, one guy started blabbering on about why the movie was horrible and why the filmmaker should call it quits.

Then his wife joined in and suddenly everybody starts criticizing Hollywood, other movies and people.

The conversation escalated into a cynical bitch session with bullet-points as to why screenwriting work is hard to find. Keep in mind these are all people in the conversation make a very nice living in entertainment.

But based on the conversation, you would have thought they dug ditches for a living… Ugh.

If you’ve been in this game for any length of time, you probably met these people. If not, you will.

These people are frustrated with their current work. And instead of writing more and doing more to level up their careers, they find it easier to embrace cynicism.

This is a trap for all of us.

And the thing to remember is, cynicism won’t make movies.

Here is the filmmaker challenge:
For the next 30 days, force yourself to stop complaining and refrain from voicing anything negative.

The reason for this exercise is simple. If you can do this, you will stop talking and start doing. And the ongoing goal is to ask yourself the right questions.

One of my favorite filmmaking questions is, “Given the resources that you have now, what is the movie that you can make this year?” And if you would like some professional filmmaking tools, make sure you check out: www.MakeYourMovieNow.com

How To Make Your Movie Rise Above The Noise

Working in film distribution, I can tell you that everything is changing. Production is getting cheaper and easy access to the marketplace is the norm. This is an exciting time to be a filmmaker.

Paradoxically, because more and more movies are getting made each year, this is also one of the most challenging times for making money as a filmmaker. We are experiencing a market saturation similar to what happens when sweatshop factories start producing comparable goods for less money.

And while you may argue that many backyard indies are amateur garbage, this doesn’t change the fact that filmmakers now have more competition than ever before. Your biggest problem is figuring out how to make your movie rise above the noise.

Rise Above The Noise

Photo © Sergey Nivens / Dollar Photo Club

How To Make Your Movie Rise Above The Noise

Before you pour your heart and soul into your passion project, answer these questions:

  1. What is your movie about?
  2. Who is in your movie?
  3. Who is going to buy your movie?

Most filmmakers never take time to answer these simple, yet essential questions. Or if they do, the answers are often based on hope or delusions of grandeur. My target audience is everybody!

Having well rehearsed answers to these questions (that you can deliver with enthusiasm) will increase the odds that a movie distributor or a fan could potentially (easily) tell other people about your movie.

sell your movie“Zooey Deschanel is attached to your movie?!?”

Having a name actor or a strong story hook makes your movie memorable. Knowing that an audience exists for your type of movie, as well as having a promotional plan for reaching your audience is also helpful.

That is what word-of-mouth is all about.

Once your pitch is established, all of your other movie marketing tasks such like your logo, font, DVD cover (still important), poster and website will be much easier to design.

So I’ll end today’s thought with three questions: What is your movie about? Who’s in it? And who is gonna buy it?  And if you like this sort of stuff, you’ll love my Sell Your Movie System.

 

How To Find Movie Investors

A lot of filmmakers are looking for movie investors.

Many of these filmmakers are looking for movie investors in the wrong place.

Living here in Hollywood, I can tell you that most hopefuls hold the misguided belief that there is some secret list of movie investors who can’t wait to hand over hard earned cash to filmmakers. And the truth is, these places exist. And they aren’t so secret.

Ready?

The popular movie investors are Universal, Paramount and Fox.

The problem is, everybody wants a piece of their action. And while navigating the studio system is one way to find movie investors, it’s impracticable and slow for most newbies.

Instead I would invite you to look elsewhere. While it’s true that many movie investors are here in LA, there are prospective business investors in just about every state and every country on earth. In fact, according to this article in LA Times, there are now 9.63 million millionaires in the United States.

This means you don’t have to look very far to find, introduce yourself and build business relationships with people who could conceivably invest in your movie.

Movie_Investors

How To Find Movie Investors

The challenge in finding movie investors is taking time to reach out through your network and find out who you need to telephone. And assuming you get traction, your next goal is to convince a traditional investor that joining the bandwagon of movie investors is a good idea.

There are two tools you can use to find movie investors.

  1. Your network.
  2. Your telephone.

When I tell you to leverage your network, I mean just that. You may not know this, but you know someone who knows someone who has enough money to be considered an accredited investor.

Once you locate a prospective movie investor, your next goal is to grab your phone, call their professional office and ask for a meeting. This is known as a cold call.

While this type of telephone prospecting can feel scary – Take comfort in the fact that your prospective investor gets these types of pitches every day.

In fact, what we are talking about is similar to any entrepreneur working to get a start up off the ground. Your start up just happens to be an indie film. And like any start-up entrepreneur, you are approaching prospects (prospective movie investors) who are new to filmmaking.

From their perspective, you, your movie and your movie business is a new concept. As a consequence, many of your first meetings will be spent educating and building trust. And this could mean a very long process.

It is during this time that many filmmakers give up. They pull-the-plug on prospecting too early, lose momentum and fail to get their movie funded.

I am sad to say this, but many filmmakers will quit at the first challenge.

Maybe you make a telephone call to a prospective movie investor and he fails to return the call. Or you get hung up on. Or his assistant says “he’s in a meeting.”

Maybe it’s something else…

And if you have never cold-called a prospect before, you may give up before you even start.

Crowdfunding To Prove Your Concept

One of the reasons prospective investors do not invest is because of risk. Even though you are convinced your movie will be the next Paranormal Activity, many movie investors may think differently.

Odds are good they are comparing your movie to other, less risky investments like real estate or the stock market.

To mitigate your risk, you will need to include elements that attract an audience. I talk a lot about this in my guide to distribution. But for the sake of this article, it’s important to know that having “name” talent as well as a clear marketing plan can help put prospective movie investors at ease.

The other part of your initial plan should involve crowdfunding. Crowdfunding allows you to pitch your movie ideas to crowds of people online, who are enthusiastic about sponsoring movie projects.

Many filmmakers try to raise their entire budget via crowdfunding and fail. I do not recommend this. Instead, consider limiting your crowdfunding campaign to a few thousand dollars.

Why? Because if your movie has a real budget, you are going to need real money outside of the crowds. In this context, the more important reason to utilize crowdfunding is to test your movie concept and source your initial audience.

Going into a pitch with a prospective movie investor is much stronger with a successful crowdfunding campaign under your belt.

“We just tested the concept and essentially pre-sold over one-thousand units!”

A successful crowdfunding campaign allows you to prove there is an interest for your movie in the marketplace. And because you have already garnered a few thousand dollars, you now have a much greater incentive to finish what you start – You wouldn’t want to let your sponsors down, right?

While there are no guarantees in business, especially the independent movie business – having the ability to test your concept, source an initial audience and set up shop in the many popular video on demand marketplaces might just help you move prospective movie investors to invest now, instead of later.

If you would like more information on how to find and build relationships with prospective investors, you might want to check out my get movie money guide. In the guide, you will get valuable step-by-step tips on how to build relationships with rich and successful people in your home town. Find out more here.