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 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.

 

The 5 Immutable Laws of Successful Filmmaking

As an independent filmmaker, the prospect of putting together a project and creating something awesome out of an idea really gets us going. Serious indie filmmakers stop at noting until the movie is actually in the can – or these days – in your hard drive.

Still if you’ve been working to make movies for any length of time, you know there are days when you hit obstacles, sometimes so seemingly insurmountable that you just want to give up on your project.

Here are five tips to help keep you on the path to successful filmmaking.

Successful Filmmaking

The 5 Immutable Laws of Successful Filmmaking

  1. Remember Perspective – You’re not performing brain surgery. You’re attempting to make a movie. This is a fun business. This is a privilege.
  2. Facing Rejection – Always ask WHY? Sometimes your pitch is perfect, but your audience is wrong. Make sure you’re talking to people who are actually interested in your type of project.
  3. Break down BIG goals – Setting out to make your version of impossible, possible can be overwhelming. It is important to break all of your goals into smaller, more manageable tasks
  4. Missing Personal Deadlines – It happens. Sometimes people cry. I suggest you simply change your deadline.
  5. Your Peer Group – If you surround yourself with negative losers, you lose. Make it an ongoing habit to always surround yourself with winners.

If you like these bite sized filmmaking tips, you’ll love our Filmmaker Checklist.

5 Ways To Succeed As a Modern Filmmaker

The other day it occurred to me that I’ve been living in Los Angeles for nearly a decade.

Over the years I have learned a thing or two about Hollywood. I have also realized there are distinct differences between filmmakers who make a movie and the would-be filmmakers who do not.

Since most people in LA are involved in some aspect of the movie industry, most conversations revolve around some aspect of getting a movie made.

That said, what is surprising to me are the vast numbers of people I meet who report spending years searching for ways to hand their movie projects off to someone else – someone who will magically do all the “business stuff” and make a movie appear.

Sometimes I think filmmakers do things just because they believe it’s the way things HAVE to be done.

That doesn’t necessary make it right. And admittedly, I’m not always right. But how I conduct my movie business works for me. And if you’re reading this, I assume you’re looking for some perspective just a little left of center. So here we go.

http://www.filmmakingstuff.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/Succeed_as_A_Modern_Filmmaker.jpg

5 Ways To Succeed as A Modern Filmmaker

  1. Quit asking permission. It’s a waste of time.
  2. Create your own business plan and budget.
  3. Create the movie you can make this year, not next.
  4. Learn money. (Know the difference between cash flow and capital gains!)
  5. Similar to #1, quit making excuses. Grab a camera and push “record.”

As an added bonus – because I’ve been meeting a lot of actors lately – if you’re an actor, stop handing out headshots and start producing! Then cast yourself in your own projects.

If any of these filmmaking tips sound useful, feel free to download this filmmaker checklist.

How To Finance Movies With VOD Sales Projections

Do you know the most popular question filmmakers ask me?

I’ll give you a hint. It has to do with video on demand.

Ready. . .

Without too much variation, the most popular question is: “Can you provide some VOD sales projections?”

I understand the motive behind this question.

Believe me, I do.

You’re a filmmaker. You either made an awesome movie and you’re trying to use VOD sales projections to convince your partners that VOD is the way to go. Or you are in the process of making a movie and you need to convince your investors that VOD is awesome. In both scenarios, you’re trying to find proof that movies make money in VOD.

I get that. . . But. . .

Let’s make one thing clear. Asking for VOD sales projections is asking the wrong question!

If you dig around, examples of VOD Sales successes are out there. Check out what The Polish Brothers did. And if that’s not enough, Google the case study around Indie Game the movie.

But the truth is, one filmmaker’s past success does not guarantee that your movie will be successful.

Read that statement over and over again. And if you need a little more clarity, take a look at what the cat is saying here:

VOD Sales Projections

Realizing that VOD sales projections are BS is essential for your success. And I am going to explain how you can use your new found understanding for good, very soon…

But before I go there, let’s talk about why people invest in independent film.

Why Investors Invest In Indie Film

Independent movie investors invest because (aside from having an appetite for risk and an interest in the film business) most of these people want a return on their money. If you are doing things by the book, you probably created a marketing strategy as part of your business plan. This plan provides prospective investors an overview of how investment dollars will be budgeted, spent and hopefully recouped.

In the past, trying to convince investors movies were a good investment involved projecting returns based on speculative data. To guess how much money a movie may make, filmmakers would compare their project to other successful movies.

Creating indie movie comparables is complete BS.

The reason for this is simple.

Just because you make a low budget horror movie does not guarantee your movie will have the same success as Paranormal Activity.

In fact, Paranormal Activity is an outlier. It is not a fair comparison. And using breakout hits as examples, while ignoring the thousands of unsuccessful horror movies made each year, is short-sited at best and I dare say a little unethical.

Video On Demand Sales Projections

Given the birth of VOD distribution, as a filmmaker you now have the ability to access and enter into a non-discriminatory marketplace as soon as your movie is ready. And because many of these marketplaces exist online, much of your sales will come from internet traffic.

This is actually awesome news.

It means that you can boost your sales by using a very common marketing concept called…

[Seriously… Are you ready? You are about to receive the secret sauce of modern, indie movie marketing.]

More important than VOD Sales Projections is:

Conversion Rates

What is a conversion rate?

Conversion Rate Defined, According to Wikipedia:

Your conversion rate is the proportion of visits to a website who take action to go beyond a casual content view or website visit, as a result of subtle or direct requests from marketers, advertisers, and content creators.

Conversion_Rate

In other words, if you send one-hundred people to your movie website and two people buy your movie, your conversion rate is two percent. This is profound. This is life changing for indie filmmakers!

Question: Why should filmmakers be enthusiastic about the internet marketing, nerd concept of conversion rates?

Answer: If you know your conversion rates, you can model and potentially project more accurate movie sales projections from day one.

But before you start noodling around to find your conversion rates, it helps to answer the following questions:

Modern MovieMaking Model

  1. Who Is Your Target Audience?
  2. How Large Is Your Target Audience?
  3. How Will You Reach Your Audience?
  4. What Is Your Marketing Strategy?
  5. How Many VOD Sales To Break Even?

While I won’t get into the actual mechanics of marketing and selling your movie here (My Action Guide How To Sell Your Movie provides you with an actual step-by-step plan for getting your movie seen and sold), I will simply note that a marketing plan must now be included with your business plan.

The Secret VOD Sales Projection Formula

When you create (or refine) your marketing plan, you must now include some marketing math.

Truth be told, math is a weak subject for me and I dare say, most of the filmmakers I know. But luckily there are many spreadsheet templates that allow you to test several conversion rate scenarios. You can use these scenarios as a guideline to ballpark the potential ROI for your movie.

Here is a basic website conversion rate calculator you can utilize: http://bit.ly/17TSCrt

Before you get overly excited (like I am) calculating your movie website conversion rate is only one metric to determine your movie’s potential for profitability. You still need to figure out how to price your movie. And at the same time, you will need to determine how much targeted internet traffic will cost you.

Generating Internet traffic is the result of executing four strategies. You can either get free traffic online, free traffic offline, paid traffic offline or paid traffic online.

For the sake of this example, I am going to incorporate pay per visit advertising. With pay per visit advertising, you simply pay for someone to visit your movie website.

One example of Pay Per Visit traffic is StumbleUpon. It’s a social bookmarking site that also allows you to pay for semi-targeted traffic. This works well if you have a movie with a dose of controversy and a strong hook.

And again, if you’d like more info on specific traffic generating strategies, check out my indie guide to distribution.

Ok. Here is our first example…

Let’s assume only 1% of the targeted folks who actually visit your website, buy. Then how many visits will you need to sell 100 units?

100 units = Our goal for this ad campaign.
$.05 = Amount you may pay advertiser per visit.
X = Number of Visitors Needed to buy 100 units if only 1% buy.

(X).01 = 100 units
EQUATES TO: X= 10,000
THEN 10,000($.05) = $500 paid for targeted traffic.

So in other words, if you were lucky enough to get a 1% return, you just paid $500 dollars in pay per visit advertising to sell 100 units of your movie. But let’s go one step further. Let’s assume you’re like me – and you hate order fulfillment and shipping. So you decide to let a company like Amazon’s Create Space or iTunes (or some other popular marketplace) handle your order.

Video On Demand For Rent (Electronic Sell Through)
100 units ($3) = $300 – 50% paid to marketplace = $150
minus $500 paid for advertising = -$350 NEGATIVE

In this VOD rental scenario, the Pay Per Visit Ad numbers don’t work, unless you like losing money.

Video On Demand For Download (Electronic Sell Through)
100 units ($10) = $1000 – 50% paid to marketplace = $500
minus $500 paid for advertising = BREAK EVEN

In this VOD download to own scenario, the numbers work a little bit better. Assuming you’re lucky enough to get 1% of your money returned, at least the advertising pays for itself. But unless you can increase your conversion rates, pay per visit advertising is going to be very difficult method for returning money to your investors.

Physical DVD Sales
100 units ($20) = $2000 – 50% paid to marketplace = $1000
minus $500 paid for advertising = $500 in profit.

Ah ha! If you’re fortunate enough to get 1% return on your pay per visit advertising, you can see how physical DVD’s (or units) sold at $20 dollars may offer a slight profit margin. In other words, in this scenario, for every $.50 cents you spend, you get $1 dollar back.

So let’s tackle the bigger problem. Let’s try to get a return on our 1Million dollar movie, selling physical DVD sales and using pay per visit advertising alone:

Movie Budget = 1 Million dollars
Physical DVD Sales using Pay Per Visit Advertising

$1,000,000 divided by $20 per unit = 50,000 Units

Since we will give 50% to the marketplace for all sales, we will need to project for double our budget.

100,000 units = Our goal for this ad campaign.
$.05 = Amount you may pay advertiser per visit.
X = Number of Visitors Needed to buy 100,000 units if only 1% buy.

(X).01 = 100,000 units
EQUATES TO: X= 10,000,000 (Yes, TEN MILLION people.)
THEN 10,000,000($.05) = $500,000 paid for targeted traffic.

100,000 units ($20) = $2,000,000 – 50% paid to marketplace = $1,000,000
minus $500,000 paid for advertising = $500,000 in profit.

So to break even, you would need to sell 100,000 units and make $2,000,000.

Some Sales Conclusions

Based on this scenario, as a filmmaker you will (obviously) need to expand your promotion beyond pay-per-visit advertising!

But importantly and most AWESOMELY, you can treat your movie business like any other small business. With VOD Sales projections, you can find the marketing formula that works for your movie and crunch your numbers until you find a scenario that brings you profits.

Create a plan that included your marketing costs in your budget.

While there are no guarantees in any business, having a plan for marketing, sales and distribution sure beats the old days when your only plan for ROI involved crossing your fingers in the hopes someone will offer you a profitable, traditional deal.

While these may not be the VOD Sales Projections you were looking for, hopefully you now realize the power of knowing your conversion rates.

Treating your movie business like any small business simply means you don’t have to ask permission. You can make your movie NOW! And your prospective investors might take notice…

Also, can you do me a favor? If you liked this filmmaking article, could you kindly retweet or share this article with your friends?