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.

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

Future Of Filmmaking: Will You Be Replaced By A Robot?

In case you haven’t noticed, filmmaking is changing. And the future of filmmaking is now.

In years past, if you wanted to make a movie, you had to raise enough money to not only cover the film and equipment, but you paid for your DP, your camera operator, someone to pull focus, someone to load the film, someone to lay dolly track and someone else to push your dolly.

If you wanted to create an awesome movie on a budget, you shot Super 16mm. Once the film was in the can, you paid to get the film processed, color corrected, transferred to video, edited “off line” and later blown up to 35mm. And all these steps were considered an affordable option!

Then you crossed your fingers, hoping to land an awesome distribution deal. Can you imagine trying to make movies like that? It’s easy to understand why most would-be filmmakers never took action.

Future Of Filmmaking

Photo © Dmytro Tolokonov / Dollar Photo Club

Future Of Filmmaking: Will You Be Replaced By A Robot?

With the emergence of awesomely inexpensive production technology, making a movie is getting easier. And everything has changed.

It’s been over a decade since I’ve heard anybody in the filmmaking community seriously consider shooting their first feature on film. And why would they? These days, if you want to make a great looking movie, you grab your $2,000 DSLR camera and you start shooting.

That’s it. No film stock. No silly processing costs. And no transfers to video.

You simply take your camera out of the bag, point and shoot. Then you edit on your computer and upload to several of the video on demand websites. And you can start selling your work to the world.

This is an AMAZING time to make movies, right?

Or is it?

For the first time in history, filmmakers are experiencing what happens in other industries when robots start producing comparable goods for less and less money. You get an overwhelming supply of inexpensive product in the marketplace, which devalues the market as a whole. Couple this with the demise of traditional DVD distribution, and you can understand why it’s difficult land a killer payday.

Considering these unfavorable odds, why would any filmmaker risk millions on a budget when there are less opportunities to make the money back? This is our new paradox as filmmakers.

Producing product is not the problem. It is easy to make a backyard indie.

The real challenge is keeping budgets low enough to increase the odds of recouping, while at the same time creating movies that people actually want to see.

This seems obvious.

While there are no guarantees in this or any business, aside from making an awesome movie, here are three things you can do to increase your odds of success:

  1. Know your target audience.
  2. Have a plan for reaching your target audience.
  3. Cast actors who have a large social media following.

Having spent the last half-decade working in marketing and distribution, I can tell you that most filmmakers completely ignore these steps. Most never take time to sketch out a marketing, sales and distribution strategy for their movies. And as a result, most movies end up dying in digital obscurity.

Don’t do that.

Five Useful Filmmaking Tips (That You Can Do Today)

As a filmmaker, if you aren’t making movies, you are thinking about and planning for your next movie. But as you know, the challenge of actually making your movie can sometimes feel overwhelming.

So if it’s okay with you, I’d love to share some filmmaking tips so you can take action and make your movie now. Here are five filmmaking tips to get your movie made this year.

Five Useful Filmmaking Tips

Photo © bepsphoto / Dollar Photo Club

Five Useful Filmmaking Tips

1. Answer this question: One of the most important filmmaking tips is to ask yourself the correct questions. Seriously. One big reason you haven’t made a movie is because you’re still waiting for everything to be perfect. I have news. Nothing will ever be perfect. Better that you take action on the movie you can produce this year than wait around. Here’s the question:

Given the resources that you have right now, what is the movie that you can make this year?

2. Get your hands on a good screenplay: Without a great script nothing else matters. But when you’re shooting on a budget, you also need make sure your story falls into the resource parameters discussed in step one. If your screenplay does not fit the parameters, you either need to alter your story or get a new script.

If you need help coming up with some screenplay ideas, you might enjoy 101 Short Film Ideas or my Write Your Movie system.

3. Load your screenplay into the Lightspeed production management software. This is one of the best innovations, possibly ever. You load your screenplay and create a script breakdown. In addition to this, you can later use this software to manage your production. (Please note, I get paid to refer people to this site – so use your own due diligence.)

Convinced it will work for you? Sign up for FREE by going here.

4. Take your schedule and create a budget: After you break your screenplay into all the necessary elements, you will create a budget so you can assign a price tag to each element. If you find your budget is not inline with your cash limitations, you either need to raise more money or you need to repeat steps one through four.

5. Create a Crowdfunding Campaign: There are three reasons you would want to create a crowdfunding campaign. Firstly, a crowdfunding campaign allows you to test your movie concept before you actually make your movie. If successful, your concept may work in the marketplace. Secondly, crowdfunding allows you to test the reach of your social network and expand it. And finally, a successful crowdfunding campaign will give you some necessary cash.

Anyway, I hope these filmmaking tips help you get one step closer to your filmmaking goals. And if you’d like more stuff, you might want to grab a copy of my Filmmaker Action Pack.

Three Tips For Digital VOD Distribution

The other day, I found myself in a passionate debate regarding Digital VOD Distribution. We were talking about the importance of building your own audience.

Despite the fact that the entire world of movie distribution is shifting away from a physical product and people are now watching movies on their small devices – There are still some fuddy-duddies who believe we are still years away from Digital VOD Distribution.

These are the same “gurus” who believe that audience building is best left for the experts.

This is silly talk.

You’re a serious independent filmmaker.

You will stop at nothing until your vision is realized and you movie is made. So why would you go the distance without creating any sort of plan for reaching your audience?

“I just want to focus on making movies and let someone else market them.”

While I encourage you to focus on becoming the next filmmaking success, crossing your fingers for an audience to magically appear doesn’t work in Digital VOD Distribution.

Out of the thousands of films produced each year, most will not garner theatrical distribution. And with DVD on the decline, getting a deal for the vanishing video stores is rare… Even in foreign territories.

So I suggest you take a pragmatic approach to your movie making business.

I’m suggesting you start thinking like a digital marketer. And the first step towards becoming a marketing success is making sure you know your audience.

Digital VOD Distribution

Three Tips For Digital VOD Distribution

While digital VOD distribution is an exciting frontier, your desired target audience is scattered all over the internet. Reaching people interested in your work is your biggest challenge. How will you do this?

Before you make your movie, answer the following questions:

1. Why should someone care about your movie? – If you can’t tell me why I should watch your movie, you can rest assured I won’t. Time is more valuable than money. Once spent, it never gets replenished.

2. Who is your intended target audience? - Most filmmakers never give any thought to this question. Or if they do, they say “everybody.” Because everybody is nobody, that is very unrealistic.

3. How much does your marketing cost? – There are two ways to build an audience. You can spend a lot of time building your audience, or you can spend a lot of money building your audience. The choice is both. But you better plan accordingly.

sell your movieThis should go without saying – but I spend a lot of time looking for great movies. And the truth is, most movies are very poorly done, with no star talent or marketable hook. So please make a good movie.

If you want more help on how to market your movie, check out the indie producer’s guide to distribution.

5 Tips On Independent Film Financing

If you’re looking for independent film financing, take a number.

Every filmmaker on earth wants an easy solution for finding the money.

It’s a BIG challenge. (But you already know this!)

In the years since I started, social media and various crowdfunding platforms like Seed&Spark, Indiegogo and Kickstarter have emerged with the goal of accelerating the independent film financing process. And while these tools aim to make the process easier, you will still need to infuse your efforts with resilience, passion and a game plan.

And here’s the deal. . . Even guys like Tom Malloy (who’s raised over 25M to produce his own movies) would agree that there is no easy solution to independent film financing.

Any person who says there is a “done for you” solution that requires absolutely no work on your part is a fibber.

(Please note: With the proper strategy the independent film financing process can get a little easier. Especially when you create a game plan. But getting the money will still involve pitching and possible rejection.)

And before we start talking about independent film financing tips, let me provide a little context.

I don’t know about you – but when I was starting out, I knew nothing about independent film financing. I met with quite a few “producers” who were happy to drill me for information. They wanted to know what I knew. . .  But for some odd reason, they refused to share their film financing secrets with me.

That aspect of the process was a bit annoying.

But through the years I uncovered a fundamental truth about independent film financing. . . Ready?

Each indie film is a start up. And because start-ups usually depend upon raising money, the process of raising money is nothing new. This means most prospective investors are used to hearing business pitches.

Independent Film Financing

The traditional ways people raise money in the United States, aside from going to a bank and getting a loan (which I wouldn’t recommend as an independent film financing strategy),  usually works like this:

  1. Meet with an attorney and put together some complex paperwork (which includes a private placement memorandum) in-line with the Securities and Exchange Commission regulations.
  2. Creating relationships and meeting with prospective investors.
  3. Asking for money – and then getting the check!

While I distilled the whole independent film financing process down to the bare essentials, each step will involve considerable time and effort on your part. My suggestion here is to plan for more than a few months of heavy (and I mean HEAVY) grinding.

How much money do you need to raise? Do you need a few million to make it? Or can your project be made for much less?

This budget factor alone will highly influence your strategy. Just keep in mind – If you’ve worked really hard to eliminate costs in your budget, then it’s possible to make a fancy looking movie for much less than you think.

Risk Versus Reward

It’s not enough to have a movie project. What you need to constantly ask yourself is: “What’s in it for the investor?” In other words, given all the other investment opportunities like stocks, bonds, mutual funds and real estate – Why should your prospective investor dump their money into your project.

This comes down to risk versus reward. In the game of independent film financing, you will need to ethically convince your prospective investor that no other investment (at this time) offers the same benefits. How will you personally eliminate risks and increase the reward? (Each investor has a unique risk tolerance.)

5 Tips On Independent Film Financing

Lets take a look at some traditional action steps for independent film financing:

  1. Cultivate a legitimate friendships with rich and successful people.
  2. Get an attorney to write up something called a private placement memorandum.
  3. Figure out how you’ll spend the money (Hint, this is your movie budget!)
  4. Figure out how you’ll get the money back.
  5. Over a million and you may run into some trouble getting a return on your investment.

Independent Film FinancingNow again. Raising money is a super simple subject (just find rich people and ask for the money) – but the laws and rules and regulations mean that you’ll need to know a few things about protecting yourself and your business from liability.

If you’re looking for more independent film financing resources, you may want to check out the system I produced with Tom Malloy. Check out our film finance guide by going here.