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Saturday, August 02, 2008

Reading for an August Weekend: Financing, Distribution, Red Envelope, and More on 'Dr. Horrible'

A few links for the weekend...

- The Christian Science Monitor writes about how the Web is being used to finance and distribute indie films, with quotes from yours truly, filmmakers Minna Zielonka-Packer and Lance Weiler, and IndieGoGo co-founder Slava Rubin.

- I was a little slow to come across the news that Netflix has shut down its Red Envelope division, which produced and distributed movies. That's too bad.

From Variety's coverage:

    One hurdle to continuing Red Envelope, execs said, was the notion of the company competing against the same studio suppliers it was negotiating with every day over DVDs and streamed content. The complications involved in acquiring, producing and distributing pics were an unnecessary headache for a company already battling a resurgent Blockbuster and the dizzying pace of technological change and consumer habit.

IndieGoGo has a bit more on their blog.

- Eric Kohn of Stream talked to the producer of 'Purple Violets,' the Ed Burns film released direct-to-iTunes last fall. While he doesn't share a lot of financial details, he does recommend that other filmmakers do similar experiments with distribution, and says the results were on the high end of their expectations.

- There's been a lot more written this week about Joss Whedon's 'Dr. Horrible' series, which I noticed is now available on, speckled with advertising. (That wasn't part of the original distribution plan, at least as it was announced.)

The New York Times, in a column called "The Web," compares it to what you'd find on TV:

    On that scale “Dr. Horrible” falls somewhere between an amusing trifle and a dramedy that won’t make it to the 13th episode. Mr. Whedon has clearly thought about how to develop and add layers to a story (even a goofy tale about a nebbishy villain with a freeze ray) within the short-attention-span context of the Web. But as diverting as it is, “Dr. Horrible” still looks both slight and overheated compared with any middling-to-good television series, and the jokes, both verbal and visual, feel tossed off and scattershot.

I think that's an unfair comparison... online, 'Dr. Horrible' stood out as something funny and worth spending 45 minutes with...which is quite unusual for Internet content. If we assume, at the high end, that 'Dr. Horrible' cost $250,000, it was still much cheaper to make than an hour of TV programming. (The New York Times says an hour of reality programming averages $700,000, and scripted dramas $1 million to $2 million.) And as a piece of Internet content, it could take advantage of links and sharing and embedding in a way that no TV show ever could.

This post from Kendall Whitehouse makes the case that Joss Whedon would do other indie content producers a great favor if he shared the financial details of the 'Dr. Horrible' experiment: how much did it cost to produce (and promote), and what is he earning from digital distribution (and eventually, DVDs)? I completely agree.

Kendall's post also got me thinking about an issue I've been harping on for almost three years now: why was it easy for 'Dr. Horrible' to get a prominent spot on iTunes, when most indie producers can't get iTunes to carry their content?

Finally, I wrote a blog post for Harvard Business Online making the case that Hollywood studios ought to be conducting more original content experiments, similar to 'Dr. Horrible,' with small-ish budgets.

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  • Thanks, good information !!

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    By Blogger Satya, at 3:16 PM  

  • You may be interested in this thread on Whedonesque.

    By Blogger Leflyman, at 12:02 AM  

  • Hey Scott,
    Great thoughts on Dr. Horrible--and I'm with you all the way. It definitely stood out from the rest of the web-content out there, and it sets a great standard for other independent filmmakers to raise the quality of their productions made for web.

    You mentioned $250k as a "high" estimate, and as far as production and post are concerned I think you're right. But I doubt that would cover the cost of talent. I'd guess Niel Patrick Harris alone may have earned that much.

    Sadly, apart from a witty script,and above average (for web) production, what made most of us give this show the time of day was because we were curious to see what Doogie Houser was up to...if that had been another equally talented, but unknown actor, I don't think the show would have gotten much press at all.

    By Blogger craigsanatomy, at 4:55 PM  

  • @Craig's Anatomy...

    I think Whedon's rabid (and I mean that in a good way) web based fan scene had as much to do with it as NPH, though NPH may have drawn in the Buffy agnostics. Both of them gave it the cache of a serious production, i.e if it had be NPH alone it would ahve llkoked like a faded start cashing in on his last bit of post Harry and Kumar kudos, and if Felicia Day or Nathan Filion had been the biggest names in it then it would have looked more like a hobby project than something serious.

    I do agree it stands out against most other web video content, if only for production value, but agree with the NYT writer than it felt slightly dashed off, from a script point of view. Given the tight budget it LOOKED great: the photography and design of the show were probably its strongest elements.

    By Blogger Dylan Pank, at 6:37 AM  

  • Uh Dylan NPH has a current sitcom hit "How I Met Your Mother". He is a far cry from a falling star.


    If you viewed the article that the 250k estimate came from you'd have learned the guess is NPH was paid a combination of scale and points so his initial pay would have been very low. He also kinda wanted to work with Joss...

    By Blogger Unknown, at 6:59 AM  

  • Hi!
    I know this isn't the right place to post this, but i couldn't find any e-mail of you guys,
    so i decided to post here. I was on the internet the other day when i found a list with the
    most surprising Hitchcock appearances in his movies, and i think you guys should take a look and...i don't know...
    maybe post it on your blog for discussion! :)
    Here's the link:
    Anyway...congrats for the blog!

    By Blogger Unknown, at 2:18 PM  

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