Thursday, February 08, 2007

How To Succeed In Canadian Showbusiness

A recent comment on Ken Levine's blog had this perceptive insight into the current state of the entertainment business...

"I am convinced of two things:

One, that most people have a perception that entertainment is somehow magically manufactured for their pleasure. It doesn't occur to them that real, live human beings with talent create the stuff.

Two, the people who actually run the industry believe this is how their business should work, and they wait feverishly for the day when they can do business without having to use (or pay) these pesky 'content providers'."

Maybe it's just me, but I've noticed a profound change in network and studio execs recently. They're usually bubbly and excited, eager for a new challenge and to be inspired. But they're tense now and cautious. There's a visible inertia that comes from uncertainty.

Not that there aren't good reasons to be uncertain. Ongoing audience fragmentation and evolving delivery systems aside, decision makers north of the border are contending with labor strife, funding issues and the confusion that follows corporate mergers and market consolidation. Their American cousins are dealing with looming labor strife, similar consolidation that's reducing jobs and shelf space as well as a complete lack of hits from the current TV season.

If you want to see how that impacts creativity, take a look at the pilot offerings from the four majors and CW for 2007-08. Almost 70% are police procedurals.

Its also becoming clear how fully the distribution tail is now wagging the production dog. Nobody wants to do anything unless they "know" they'll make their money back.

An LA associate tells me that studios no longer consider the merits of a pitch or a script so much as its potential to translate into mobisodes, video games, ringtones and a catchy T-shirt. In that world, unless somebody thought "We'll always have Paris!" would sell tanktops and there was an opportunity to franchise "Rick's American Cafe" nationwide -- we'd never have seen "Casablanca".

Content may be King -- but Buzz has become God!

That's a tough reality for anybody whose primary skill is creating stories and believable characters not wearable dialogue like "I'm with Stupid!". It reduces the need for people who've spent years honing their craft in theatre school and makes you wonder why anyone need bother to learn shot making from Scorsese or Hitchcock for a two inch cellphone or ipod screen.

I think Mr. Levine's commenter is remarkably prescient. And I can offer you a Canadian Showbusiness success story as an example.

Two weeks ago, Jodi Behan was just another out-of-work Toronto actress. Today she's moving to Los Angeles to capitalize on her stardom as YouTube's "Bridezilla".

If you've missed "Bridezilla", it's a badly filmed 5 minute video that purports to be a bride-to-be losing it over a bad wedding day "do" and shearing off her hair. The clip caused a minor sensation on YouTube after a debate began over whether it was fake. As a result, it was viewed more than 2.4 Million times in its first week.

The clip was conceived by an ad exec who'd been brainstorming a campaign for styling products with his server at a local bistro and shot as a commercial test. There's little about it that's creative or unique including Ms. Behan's acting.

And yet, to date, she has received offers from high-powered agents, lucrative television and movie deals and an invitation to this year's Academy Awards.

She was flown to New York to work the media circuit and is now off to L.A. for television and movie gigs involving "big-name actors."

Now, I've been around long enough to know its not unusual to see acting jobs go to personal trainers and the mistresses of investors. I once had a studio head call in a panic after seeing dailies on an actor she'd hand-picked as the guest lead on a two-parter. The poor guy was utterly appalling. I asked what had made her choose him. Seems his head shot had made all the girls in the office damp. Nobody at the studio or network had bothered to look at a single second of film or even read him.

We practically killed ourselves writing him out of part two and as much as we could of the remaining shoot of part one. Later, we shot new scenes to further reduce his role to that of a minor player. Needless to say, both episodes of the series were not up to their usual standard.

I honestly don't know whether or not Ms. Behan has talent. For her sake, I hope she does, because "Bridezilla" is already seriously last week's news on YouTube. And for me her "success" exemplifies just how lost the development people really are.

Buzz may be calling the shots but it doesn't last. It might help you survive and appear to have succeeded today, but it leaves you with nothing to build on tomorrow and echoes even more hollowly the day after that. There may be a moment of mass awareness in "Bridezilla" -- but there's also no video game, no ringtone and no T-shirt.


Kelly J. Compeau said...

I work in public relations and promotions and the first thing on my mind when I hear about a new TV series or movie idea is "How can we/how will they translate this to the Web? Mobisodes? An interactive game? YouTube teasers and promos? How about a MySpace presence in addition to the official website? Who will tend to the Wikipedia page? How can we/will they use cell phones and ipods as part of the campaign? Can we sell T-shirts, mugs and calendars with snappy quips like 'Save the cheerleader, save the world' or 'Trust No One'."

While I completely respect the craft of screenwriting and understand how hard it is to produce a show on a budget, is it so wrong that I tend to view everything as a pitch and a ploy to market the show and increase its global appeal?


jimhenshaw said...

Hey Kelly,

Absolutely nothing wrong with expanding a show into as many markets as possible. But I think it's problematic when the process works in reverse -- and even scarier when the talent brought to the project isn't there because of "talent" but notoriety.

Backwards buzz tends to hurn both the audience, who may be expecting something similar to their YouTube or gaming experience -- and it often leads to warping the original material to fit the marketing plan.

synge said...

If you work in public relations, it's understandable that you would first think about how to market a show, using all the formats you mentioned. That's your job,and you're doing it. Right on.

But if the executives of broadcast outlets or producers or distributors are only judging material based on the same criteria, well, you're all doing the same job. And some of you are redundant.

Broadcast tv might be losing some viewers to new media. I suggest tht they're losing other viewers because they're not producing the quality of programming that viewers demand. Cable outlets like HBO figured that out a long time ago.

Kelly J. Compeau said...

Good points, both of you.