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.

Script Breakdown and Film Scheduling

Script breakdown and film scheduling is essential for any serious filmmaker.

Let me share the following, fictional yet typical filmmaking email.

(I get these types of questions every couple weeks.)

Hi Jason –

I wrote this really awesome movie about space travel, time travel, the end of the world and I’m really looking to get it produced. The problem is, I don’t know how much it will cost. Can you tell me how much it will cost me to produce? Thanks!

To some, this type of email might seem a little silly.

script breakdown

I mean, how the heck can anybody take a movie concept out of thin air and decide how much the movie would cost to produce?

Truth be told, there are many factors to consider.

You have to find out if the filmmaker is planning to utilize CG or actual, physical sets. Will the filmmaker cast his next door neighbor or Will Smith? Will this movie be shot on film? On HD Video? Or some crazy mix of 3D?

And those questions only begin to scratch the surface. You still need to think about payroll services, production tax incentives, worker’s compensation… It’s enough to make your head explode. And all of these variables – every single one – influences the budget of any movie.

So these questions, plus about a gazillion other questions need to be answered before you can even think about creating a budget, writing a business plan or seeking investors to get the money. And the bigger question is this:

How do YOU decide how much your movie will cost to produce.

The starting point is taking time to complete your script breakdown and schedule your film.

Script Breakdown and Film Scheduling

Don’t get overwhelmed. You can do it.

And let us be totally frank for a moment…

As a filmmaker, there will come a time in your life when making a feature film becomes a driving, burning desire!

Making your first feature is the rite of passage into the world of professional filmmaking.

Assuming you’ve become comfortable making short movies, then making your first feature will be just another step in an exciting career.

I am  assuming you’ve written, or you control the rights to a fantastic script that you would like to produce. So you next need to figure out just how much your movie will cost.

Script Breakdown

Your script breakdown begins with having a screenplay you are happy with.

Once the script is locked, any modification you make to the story or schedule, no matter how minor or major, will subsequently impact the budget.

My producer friend Forrest Murray always says the script, schedule and budget are the same document. You’ll need all three to make a movie… But in the process, if you change one document, you’re actually changing all three.

This is why your script breakdown is essential. Without it, you will have no idea what your movie will cost.

Action Steps: Script Breakdown and Film Scheduling

I wanted to share a few tips on how to complete your movie script breakdown. Performing this task and then completing a film production schedule is necessary before you determine your budget.

Here are some some steps to help you break down your script.

1. Number Each Scene

Once you lock your screenplay, you should then go through the script and number each scene. You do this by placing a number next to each slug line. What is a slug line? It’s the little line that explains where each scene takes place.

It looks like this in the script:

INT. JASON’S OFFICE – DAY

Once you number each scene, you will want to actually measure the scene. Since screenplays are usually printed on paper eight inches tall, every scene is measured in 8th’s of the page.

You will go through each scene and measure the length.

The reason for this measurement has to do with the length of your movie.

For example, if we assume that each page written in proper screenplay format – Then we can also assume that each page equals at least one minute in screen time.

So if we come upon this scene:

INT. DINER – NIGHT

And let’s say this Diner scene measures 4/8th (or half the page) then you can guesstimate that the scene will be roughly 30 seconds long in screen time.

2. Highlight Each Element

In addition to knowing final screen time, this information will help you determine how long it will take to actually shoot the scene (and also which cast, crew, props and equipment is needed to shoot the scene), which will influence your schedule.

…And your schedule influences your budget. Again, your script, schedule and budget are related!

Speaking of elements, you will want to go through the script and highlight each element, for each scene. Some common elements include locations, characters, props, make up, wardrobe, picture vehicles and special FX…

All of these elements cost money.

You’re “breaking the elements out” so you can eventually put the elements in your budget.

3. Determine Shooting Schedule

Once complete, you will want to figure out when you want to shoot your movie and how long you plan to shoot. You can determine this by choosing how many pages you want to shoot per day. For example, you may decide to shoot 5 days on and 2 days off, or 6 days on and 1 day off. Or maybe you want to shoot your movie over a few weekends.

Keep in mind that unions have rules on how you schedule your movie.

In addition to time constraints, you will want to consider momentum. Filming your indie film over a series of weekends may seem convenient. But doing so can actually diminish the creative flow and can make it tough on cast and crew holding jobs outside of the production. Sometimes it makes sense to just marathon your movie schedule.

Get your movie done so you can get it to market as soon as possible.

Many motion picture professionals make a living just breaking down, scheduling and budgeting movies.

This should tell you it’s a pretty complicated and creative area.

As a first time feature filmmaker, it would be great to partner with an seasoned 1st AD or Line Producer who could guide you through the process. But because a lot of filmmakers do not have money until they actually raise the money, hiring a UPM or 1st AD is out of the question.

So this leaves only one alternative. You must complete your own script breakdown and film scheduling. In my opinion, there are two components to this process. You will need a script breakdown education as well as script breakdown software.

Luckily there are quite a few resources to help you.

And in full disclosure: I believe in the efficacy of the resources I’m about to share. But I do have affiliate agreements with both providers. This means they pay me to promote.  So make sure you conduct your own due-diligence prior to making any purchases, both here and everywhere on earth.

Script BreakdownScript Breakdown and Film Scheduling Online Course for Indie Filmmakers:

This online course offered by Industry veteran Peter Marshall answers the ever important question.

“How do I know if this shooting schedule is realistic?”

A lot of new filmmakers go into production on a film and find out a few days into production that their production schedule was completely screwed up. In some cases, these unfortunate filmmakers find out that the schedule was totally unrealistic.

As a result, the cast and crew ended up with tons of overtime pay, a bad attitude and YOU ended up running out of time and budget.

The goal is to avoid these headaches.

Peter worked for over 25 years in the industry.  He know (better than most) that a properly designed shooting schedule is crucial for your budgeting process.

If you would like to find out more about Peter Marshall’s Script Breakdown and Film Scheduling course, click here.

Film Scheduling Software: LightSpeed eps.

One of the most exciting software programs to help you with your script breakdown is called LightSPEED eps.

In addition to being an awesome script breakdown and scheduling program, LightSPEED eps allows you to centralize your production information and provide secure access from your computer, wireless device, from anywhere in the world.

Watch this brief script breakdown video:

With this web-based production management software, you can provide your your production team with current information from anywhere in the world.

In practical terms, let’s say you are based in LA, but your First AD is based in NYC. You will now have the ability to oversee all aspects of your project. If something changes, you will be able to notify your staff of critical updates in real time!

After getting a face-to-face demo with the management team, I left the meeting convinced that LightSPEED represents the future of script breakdown and production management.

Because these guys are very indie filmmaker friendly, they have provided Filmmaking Stuff readers with a FREE trial for one user. If you would like to find out more about the LightSpeed EPS script breakdown and film scheduling software, click here.

Three Ways How To Become A Filmmaker

If you are wondering how to become a filmmaker, you’re not alone. Living in Hollywood, I am surrounded by people constantly trying to figure out “how to become a filmmaker.”

The problem is, many would-be filmmakers do not realize there is more than one way to become a filmmaker.

How To Become A Filmmaker

3 Ways How To Become A Filmmaker

Here are 3 ways how to become a filmmaker.

1. Employee Filmmaker (indie producer works at a production company): An employee filmmaker is someone who gets a job at a production company. The employee filmmaker shows up each day, on time. The employee filmmaker usually “starts at the bottom” and then works their way up. Many spend years working on on other people’s projects (OPP) and one day, if they are really lucky, they get permission to helm a movie.

2. Freelance Filmmaker (indie producers hired on a per-project basis): As a freelancer, you get hired on a per-project basis. Then when the production wraps, you go back to your network, seeking your next job. Eventually, you find ways to move up and take on other jobs. Like an employee filmmaker, as a freelancer, you spend years working on other people’s projects (OPP). If you’re really lucky, you get your shot.

3. Entrepreneurial Filmmaker (indie producer creates his or her own projects and hires other people): In this scenario, your goal is to find a good screenplay, raise money and make your movie now! You don’t wait for anybody to give you permission. But unlike an employee or freelance filmmaker, if your project doesn’t get made, you don’t get paid!

To succeed, you will need cold calling courage and the ability to face rejection every day. Additionally, you will have to face ridicule. In finding out how to become a filmmaker, many people stuck in the employee and freelance ruts will hate you, say mean things about you – Ironically, these same people will call you for a job.

But the upside is great. Unlike the other paths, you can grab a camera and start putting together a production this year! While those other folks are still carrying cables, you’ll be making movies.

Filmmaker Action Pack

If you are a long term reader of filmmaking stuff, then chances are good that you radiate towards entrepreneurial filmmaking. Good for you. Half of Hollywood doesn’t get it yet. But as a modern moviemaker, if you’re still trying to figure out how to become a filmmaker, stop searching.

And if you are still waiting for someone to give you permission to make your movie, STOP IT.

Just grab a camera and capture something. . . Anything. . . Today!

In other words, you no longer have to ask permission to make your movie. And thanks to non-discriminatory distribution, you can now reach a global audience through VOD distribution. If you are ready to make a movie, check out these professional filmmaking tools.

How To Get Sh$$ Done Without Hollywood Agents

How To Get Sh$$ Done Without Hollywood Agents by Gregor Collins

Over the course of my 14 years in Los Angeles I’ve had six Hollywood Agents: four of them acting agents, two of them literary and acting managers. Out of all those Hollywood agents who have handled me at one time or another, guess how much paid acting-writing-producing work I’ve landed exclusively on my own devices? About 90%.

And the point of this piece is not to gloat. And I am not here to belittle Hollywood agents. Not by any stretch.

If you happen to be lucky enough to land one of those Hollywood agents who is connected, who genuinely appreciates you and your talents, and who will fight for you almost as much as you fight for yourself, then congratulations.

You’ve won the agent lottery and you should hold on to them for dear life.

But let’s put it this way – I haven’t had an agent in two years and it has been two of the most creatively productive years of my life.

Without Hollywood Agents Gregor Collins

Getting Sh$$ Done Without Hollywood Agents by Gregor Collins

Without Hollywood Agents

On the road to packaging the film adaptation of my book The Accidental Caregiver, I’m finding that putting the project together without Hollywood agents is even more appealing to people. I’m talking established “bigs” in the industry who have money and influence – that I’m the main guy on the front lines pushing my own product.

Passion is contagious.

When I published my book in August 2012 I made a decision. Instead of spending my time chasing literary and Hollywood agents that didn’t immediately see what I saw, I gave up the ghost, changed course, and started contacting book publishers myself. Instead of writing queries to reps I wrote queries to book houses and press.

The press, albeit mainly regional press, responded, and while I had that going for me (and all the while keeping up on social media and networking), I started garnering interest from a few mid-level publishers and one big publisher, who started to understand the potential.

But they weren’t saying yes.

Since I didn’t want to wait around to see if they would ever say yes, and knowing I had a good product for which I was willing to go to bat for to my dying grave, I self-published… And it was one of the best career decisions I ever made.

The book became a bestseller on Amazon within a month.

Within a year I had traveled around the world doing book signings, meeting high government officials, attending book fairs and trade shows, and doing radio and print interviews. Would I have accomplished all this with an agent?

Maybe, maybe not. But probably not. And while you can certainly do both – have an agent and also do things yourself. . . Having an agent just makes you more likely to sit back and take an extra sip of that coffee.

Not that there’s anything wrong with coffee.

I’ve now adapted the book into a screenplay. I’m getting big meetings from it, mostly from good old-fashioned cold calling and friend referrals. I feel like George Clooney in Ocean’s 11—I’m slowly but surely amassing a team of eclectic creatives; there’s no greater feeling than handpicking people you trust who connect to your product as much as you.

Some of the recent activity I’ve created with the script sans representation:

  1. One of the biggest actresses in the world is reading it.
  2. One of the most respected indie film companies is considering the pitch.
  3. One of the most critically acclaimed cable networks is “interested.”
  4. Two directors: one up-and-coming and one established, who are both signed with reputable agencies, have read my screenplay and have expressed interest in directing it.

Through all of this, I intentionally avoided big Hollywood agents.

They rarely return calls (even ones who I was referred to by friends), and if they do most Hollywood agents only see dollar signs. And if it’s not the next Twilight or will make them a lot of money in a short amount of time they don’t see the worth in fighting for it.

It doesn’t matter how good it is.

So consequently I decided to bypass Hollywood agents and go right to the people who care more about good material than good money: directors, producers, casting directors, publicists and, very often, managers.

Start with IMDB-Pro. It’ll be the best $100 you’ll ever spend.

But it’s still tough. It NEVER gets easy no matter how “busy” or “important” you get.

Everything is always an uphill battle and takes twice as long. Typically people don’t think outside the box. They see directly in front of them and they don’t take risks. Routine is comfortable.

But if you keep after the right people, you’ll open a door.

Hollywood has changed. No longer is there only one door or one pearly gate that will creak open for the lucky few.

There are so many side doors in “new Hollywood” that with a little ingenuity and determination they will start swinging open and lead you to places you never thought possible.

If you’re brandishing good content and people are fond of you, there is literally nothing you can’t accomplish.

– –

Gregor is an actor, author, screenwriter and film and television producer living in Los Angeles, currently adapting his bestselling memoir The Accidental Caregiver into a feature film. He has other features in development, including an “assisted suicide comedy” he co-wrote and is set to star screen legend Cloris Leachman. He also teaches an online class on Udemy about how he’s used social media to successfully promote his projects, is the lead actor in the critically acclaimed indie feature Goodbye Promise, and writes for various publications including Cinema Editor Magazine.

Filmmaker Action Pack

Lessons Learned as a Director

Over the past four years, Jenn Page has directed four Independent feature films. Having worked with some of Hollywood’s top talent, she stopped by Filmmaking Stuff to share her lessons learned as a director.

As a director you are completely responsible for everything on your movie set, one way or another. Everything…

Of all that you deal with, the hardest part of being a director is not getting final cut of your baby. You have put in all the work to make the writer’s script the best it can be, you have hired the most talented cast possible (or even more likely you’ve been handed a cast that you didn’t pick and have had to work hard to make them brilliant), you’ve dealt with numerous fires on set and managed to get through without anyone dying.

Unless you are funding the movie, music video, TV show or web series yourself – Or if you have Ron Howard status, you are not getting final cut. Even if the paper says you are getting final cut, you are not.

Directing Lesson 1 – Know What You Want

Only shoot exactly what you want to be edited in to the movie. Don’t get the ‘just in-case’ shot or ‘since we have it here’ shot. Know exactly how you want the scene to be edited and only shoot that. And if you don’t know how to edit the scene, it is time to learn because you need to be editing on set, in your head.

That takes confidence in your work and decisions, but as a director you should be confident (even when you are wrong). If you have any say in the matter, surround yourself with talent (cast & crew) and listen to their advice, needs and opinions. But in the end it is YOUR name on the project so you have to take responsibility from minute one (and minute one is choosing the right script) and never stop taking responsibility.

Jenn Page Camera

Directing Lesson 2 – Be Diplomatic On Set

It is harsh when you can’t choose your team and you get an argumentative personality on set. It really halts production to have to constantly explain your reasoning to your DP or Producers. It also kills your morale and passion for the film. As soon as you start trying to please the producer (or DP) to keep the peace, you get stuck with a mishmash of ideas that are half yours and half someone else’s and not strong in any voice.

You will always end up with a boring movie if there is no clear point of view.

Directing Lesson 3 – Radiate Optimism

Maybe you’ve hit day 12 with 6 more days to go, and you would rather tell the producer to stick the camera where the sun doesn’t shine while you go find the jelly donuts than continue to feel disrespected. You are not the first director to decide that you want to quit now and show them how much they needed you. However, the one steady truth remains: your name will be on the film or tarnished by giving up, so you can’t. You have to be the one person on set who stays positive, motivated, and keeps marching through no matter how ridiculous the set becomes.

In future articles I will dig deeper into the director/producer and director/DP relationships, but the bottom line is no matter what is happening on set, you need to be the one making the choices. So even when your DP insists on a closeup but you know you don’t want one in that moment then you have to trust your gut and move on. If you film that closeup to make him happy, I guarantee the producers will want to use that shot when it’s time to edit. Don’t even give them the opportunity.

Directing Lesson 4 – Go Easy On Coverage

When we are first starting out as directors we often think coverage means shooting anything and everything we can in a scene. Master, medium, medium closeup, closeup, extreme close up, try from this angle, maybe put the camera over here and shoot from this angle… The list could go on and on. You don’t need all that. Stop wasting precious time on set. When you mentally edit the film as you are going you know exactly what you need to make the scene be impactful.

Many of you think that you have done this in advance with your storyboards, but even if you have had the rare luxury of a storyboard artist on your film you will rarely have the luxury of time to shoot everything as you planned it. Until you are making big studio films where you get to work on one scene all day, you are in the land of independent features where your storyboards, shot lists, and any thoughts of how the day will go are thrown out the window.

Jenn Page - Blocking The Shot

There is never enough time. Never. Being able to edit while you shoot will actually give you much lost time back.

Directing Lesson 5 – Get The Performance

The digital age has created an “It’s not film” mentality. However, we should always shoot like we are shooting film. Make specific choices and don’t waste resources shooting too much. Okay, okay, I am the first person to say “just keep rolling” when on set, but not because I am not sure about what I want, quite the opposite. I keep rolling so my actors can keep working without the break in momentum. When an actor is in the zone, calling cut can actually be detrimental.

Letting the camera roll long enough to get the performance is still editing. You know you are close to getting the performance you need from them so you keep letting them move through it until the scene is nailed. Now that you have the performance and angle you need, you can move on. There’s no need to get anything else, no matter how much the DP might really want another take for himself. You got what you need, move on.

Directing Lesson 6 – Remember Good Collaborators

I have worked with some of the most giving, talented, open-minded, collaborative, hard-working people on the planet. Producers, DP’s, writers, gaffers, grips, sound mixers, actors, and beyond. I have people that I just adore and will take with me to the top of the mountain. Those are the people you want to have around you on every set, even if you can only get one in, having that person there to back your decisions or just be a lunch buddy, will help make you a better (more relaxed) director.

Jenn Page with Corey Feldman

If you are lucky enough to find a DP that you work well with and they are also an editor, then you are really in for a treat! The two of you will move through shots like they are warm butter. I rarely have to deal with anyone who isn’t a team player, but it does happen. It will happen to you at some point, and when anything is wrong or off in the finished film, I promise all eyes, fingers, and toes are pointed at you.

– – –
Jenn Page has been lucky enough to direct 4 Independent feature films in the past two years, working with some of Hollywood’s top talent. The mission of her production company Luminave Films, is to create great projects for women to star in, produce, direct, and even crew on. Since it’s inception she has directed, written, and or produced nearly a 100 projects including web series, music videos, and award-winning profit-generating short films for, by, and starring women. Click here to find out more about Jenn Page.