The Debmar model and Charlie Sheen's potential millions

Charlie Sheen stands to make hundreds of millions from a new development deal, as reported in THR, but I am more intrigued in the Debmar model which forms the basis of Charlie Sheen's deal.  Money quotes:
"The plan is to follow a variation on the "10-90" path pioneered by Debmar-Mercury co-presidents Mort Marcus and Ira Bernstein, who originated the model for Tyler Perry's TV projects, including House of Payne and Meet the Browns. They will produce six to 12 episodes with Sheen for a test run on a cable network, station group or even a digital service like Netflix. If those airings meet a certain ratings threshold, as many as 90 more episodes would quickly be ordered and produced." (my italics)
"The Debmar model is predicated on very little upfront money for talent willing to bet on themselves.  While the company does pay the traditional costs of renting a studio and producing a show, costs are amortized over 100 or so episodes."
"With only a handful of hit sitcoms on the syndication market, a comedy with a proven star could be alluring to such cable networks as FX, Comedy Central, Spike TV or USA, all of which are likely to at least consider the project. (TBS and TNT, sister companies of Men producer Warner Bros. Television, are not interested.) Although Sheen's show is unlikely to equal the mega-success of Men, if it lures even half of the 15 million-or-so viewers he generated on CBS, his share could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars by the second or third sales cycle."
"Not that anything is a slam-dunk. Any network buyer would need to pay a premium to insure Sheen, and there's no guarantee his off-set problems won't resurface. Plus, it's still an open question whether viewers want to see him outside of the Men confines. Consider the cautionary tale of Suzanne Somers, who tried a syndicated show as her vehicle to return to TV years after quitting Three's Company in a salary dispute. Her late-'80s sitcom She's the Sheriff bombed, and her career never recovered."
"Still, the Debmar model convinced Jon Feltheimer, CEO of parent Lionsgate, to try to get into business with Sheen. When he bumped into Alice in Wonderland producer Joe Roth during lunch at a Los Angeles restaurant, Feltheimer pitched the idea of a Sheen sitcom to Roth, who produced five of the actor's movies, including the hits Major League and Young Guns"
I am convinced this will become more and more common as the studios demand that stars take more of the upfront risks to reap the great rewards.  No more stars running to the bank on a flop.  Can't help but think that's a good thing for everyone involved. 


The Polish Bros. and their money-making NO-Budget film

This week, a movie made it onto the iTunes Top 100 charts with no budget whatsoever--that's right, it was literally made for $0. The Polish Brothers' For Lovers Only is a black-and-white, French New Wave inspired romance shot in 12 days with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II. It stars Michael Polish and Castle's Stana Katic and was shot and directed by Mark Polish--otherwise known as the film's entire crew.

for lovers only... from Polish Brothers on Vimeo.

from an interview with the Polish Brothers by Steve Pond for the Wrap:

On their stealth mode: "It looked like I was just shooting a married couple, or a couple getting married," Michael said. "So we were able to go into a church, and people would stay out of our way, because they'd think I was shooting stills."

On the budget: "The film had no artificial lighting – because, said Michael, locations like French churches were made for natural light. The one exception: a nightclub scene was lit by Michael's iPhone.  The brothers said that their hotels and some meals were comped; they shot and edited with equipment they already owned; and they don't consider the few grand worth of meals, taxis and the like to be part of an actual budget. "There was not one dime that came out of our pocket specifically for this movie -- besides the food we ate, but we had to eat, anyway," Michael said.  In the end, Michael and Mark even had to make up some names for the film's title sequence, which they wanted to stretch out to a reasonable length in order to fit the score that had been written by their friend Kubilay Uner.  They even got the film classified as an experimental film by the Screen Actors Guild, which meant they didn't have to pay Katic, who shared an agent with Mark and brought her own wardrobe. 

On distributing and marketing the film: ""I said, 'OK, I'm gonna tweet it.' Then I called Stana and told her to tweet it – and that's when it took off."  Katic's rabid Twitter and Facebook followings spread the word – and when Mark Polish found that the film was drawing almost 1,000 tweets an hour, he made up posters using the Twitter raves in place of critics' quotes. Those posters themselves went viral on Twitter and Tumblr, and helped prompt a healthy iTunes presale.  "They'd put 26 reviews up on iTunes before the movie was even out," said Mark. "The fans who'd already seen it were going around like a swarm of bees attacking IMDb, Facebook, Twitter … . It's a very passionate crowd, and they felt like they’d discovered it."  It wasn't even supposed to be officially released until Tuesday, but the volume of pre-orders prompted iTunes to make it available early."

My assessment as filmmakers consider modeling their projects after "for lovers only": It's important to note that film did cost money, just that it was not considered much, hence, to the Polish Bros. a couple thousands on transportation and food is "not much." However, to YOU it might be.  They also had their own professional equipment and came up with a vision that was doable with an experienced one-member crew and on-location. Is your project really like that?  Finally, and most important, both the Polish Bros. and the star of the film have a HUGE twitter and facebook following; that in itself is a HUGE resource that ensures the film will be seen, bought and discussed.  Maybe the most important lesson here is that YOU need to generate a huge following yourself, as well as, CAST YOUR FILM WITH ACTORS/ACTRESSES WHO HAVE A HUGE FOLLOWING ON TWITTER AND FACEBOOK.  

P.S. The experimental film agreement does not mean Katic does not get paid; now that the film is making money, she will get paid.  It only means that they did not have to pay her before or during the making of the film.  The agreements have clauses that ensure the actors get paid IF the film makes money. USE THE SAG AGREEMENTS, DON'T FEAR THEM.


Seven Must-Do Steps To Get All That Crowdfunding Money... and Then Some

In this new era of filmmaking, crowdfunding has surely been a blessing for filmmakers.  It is a blessing for two important reasons; it allows filmmakers to make films and videos that they would have been unable to make before and, more importantly, it helps filmmakers find an audience of loyal fans for their films and videos.  However, crowdfunding is not easy and the sad truth is that very few film and video projects on kickstarter and indiegogo get fully funded.  However, if you follow the following steps, your project can be one of those few.
  1. A Stellar Story. It all starts with the story or concept.  Create a project with an interesting and engaging subject or theme and a touch (or a ton of) of artistry and design.  It should also have enough commercial potential to attract an audience.  Although you will not know how much of an audience you can attract until you reach your goal, there are some things you can do to better your odds of gaining funds and attention from a large audience; casting an actor/actress with a large following (i.e. a famous celebrity or an actor with a 40-50k twitter following) in your picture, adapting a published novel or graphic novel as a source and producing a genre project like horror, etc.
  2. Know Your Needs. Before kicking off the crowdfunding campaign, you must decide whether you need the full amount or if raising just a portion will be enough to at least get some of your project started.  Knowing that will help you determine whether you should use Kickstarter (where you need to raise the full amount to keep the money) or Indiegogo (where you keep whatever you raise).  
  3. Excessive Use of Social Media. Spread the message about your campaign through Facebook and Twitter, tirelessly. You need to update your funders and potential funders constantly with proven, as well as, innovative techniques.
    1. Exciting Rewards. Give your contributors generous rewards that shows you really appreciate their contribution.  Although the main reason people are giving money is because they believe in your project, the amount of money will  be determined by their income (which you can't control) and what reward or perks they get (which you can control).  The more creative, generous, unique and intriguing each reward is up the scale of contributions, the better chance you have of gaining more funds.  One last thing... make sure that at least one of your rewards can promote  your project to the outside world once your contributor receives them (ex. Project T-shirt).
    2. Do Your Homework.  Research crowdfunding campaigns for about 2 months before starting your own.  During this research phase:
      1. Look for projects similar to yours and track 4-6 projects that are just starting out.  You will want to study each crowdfunding site page (how it's written; the design; the uniqueness; the rewards; etc.) and note them. Your end goal is to see which ones reach their fundraising goal and which ones do not.  
      2. Once you have finished following the completed projects, create a criteria list for the successful projects.  This criteria list will be like your template for what you will use for your project.  You can choose what your criteria list is composed of but, at a minimum, your criteria list should assess for the following:
        1. Did the project have a purposeful and enticing presentation?  Was it well written, showing a clear vision, a demonstration of capability? Did the campaign have good photos, illustrations and videos on display?
        2. Did the contribution rewards list truly reward things of clear value?
        3. Did the project manager deliver dedicated and constant updates?
      3. Study the successful projects (i.e. completed or exceeded their goal) and the ones that failed.  Use them all as models for your project, based on your criteria list, of what to do and not do.
    3. Short Fundraising Period.  Keep your fundraising period short, preferably, no more than 60 days. An intriguing and enticing project that has a realistic chance of getting made should be able to raise all or almost all of the funds it needs within 30 days.  Within 30 days, it is easy to determine the viability of a project and whether or not the project stands a good chance of meeting the goal.  Thus, you do not need a long fundraising period.  If anything, the lengthy period will only serve to highlight the problems or lack of interest in your project. Nothing looks worse for a crowdfunding project than the one where you are trying to raise $5000 in 120 days and by Day 51 all you have is $760.  A project like that looks extremely helpless and will most likely turn off any potential contributors.
    4. Show your Best Video and Graphics.  The first signs a potential contributor will have about your capability to, not only complete the project, but make it a visually stunning and unique project are the video, illustrations and photos that you put on your campaign page.  Show your best stuff. Nothing makes a potential contributor leave a project page faster than a substandard, poorly shot and uncreative video.  Aim for high quality production values and be as creative with your campaign video, illustrations and photos as you would with the project you are raising funds for.
    Never rush through the planning phase of your crowdfunding campaign.  Do your homework, think outside-the-box and prepare to track what you are doing (You have a production diary, anyway, right?).  Then DO IT!  All the planning will be for naught if you don't give it a go.


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