Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Some Words of Wisdom from Frank Zappa

Here is the late Frank Zappa on the decline of the music industry. I'm posting this because it parallels the creative development of TV and movies at the studio and broadcast level. This is Frank Zappa's take on William Goldman's "nobody knows anything":

One thing that did happen during the 60’s was that some music of an unusual or experimental nature did get recorded and did get released. Now look at who the executives were in those companies at those times – not hip young guys. These were cigar chomping old guys who looked at the product that came in and said, “I dunno. Who knows what it is? Record it. Stick it out. If it sells, all right!”

We were better off with those guys than we are now with the supposedly hip young executives who are making the decisions about what people should see and hear in the marketplace. The young guys are more conservative and more dangerous to the artform than the old guys with the cigars ever were.

And you know how these young guys got in there? The old guy with the cigar, one day goes – “Yeah, I took a chance. It went out and we sold a few million units. All right. I dunno. I dunno what it is. But we need to do more of them. I need some advice. Let’s get a hippy in here...” So they hire a hippy. They bring in the guy with long hair. Now, they’re not going to trust him to do anything except carry coffee and bring the mail in. It starts from there. He carried the coffee four times so they figured they could trust him. “Let’s give him a real job.” He becomes and A and R man (artists and repertoire) . From there, moving up and up and up... Next thing you know, he’s got his feet on the desk and he’s saying, “Well, we can’t take a chance on this – because its simply not what the kids want – and I know.”

And they’ve all got that attitude. And the day you get rid of that attitude and get back to “Who knows? Take a chance” – that entrepreneurial spirit. Even if you don’t like or understand what the record is that’s coming in the door, the person who’s in the Executive chair may not be the final arbiter of the taste of the entire population.

So what does that have to do with pitching shows? Simply that the internet and YouTube specifically have allowed all of us to be the "cigar chomping old guys". We have toe opportunity to say, "I don't know what it is. Record it." The truth is that 99.9999999% of the stuff on the internet is shit. That's a given. But there are the occasional gems that get discovered. Pitching a show at the best of times is a risky business (but the odds are much better than playing the lottery) - that said, why not take your concept directly to the audience? If it goes viral and its a success - you're in a much better negotiating position when the big boys come knocking at your door.


  1. I saw this video sometime ago and I thought it was great. I think the only problem though is that model is difficult to follow. Markets are heavily saturated. Productions are ran by committees, and people have become bored, impatient,and apathetic and ready to go on to the next fad.
    I wish we could go this route, but as one of my friends put it, "Musicians make the best music when they high off their asses".

  2. As a production model for a TV series - no, it doesn't work.

    But as a model for web shows... I think it works brilliantly. I was talking with a producer a few weeks ago. He has a Zombie-Themed Web Show in the works as well. We were comparing notes. I asked when he was going to shoot his show. He's waiting for word on his government grant.

    Okay. While he's been waiting for the experts to analyze his show: creatively, financially, etc. I've already got mine in the can - we're posting them this week and I'm already writing the next 10 episodes.

    I think that if you're just getting the concept out there, JUST DO IT is a damned good production model.