Monday, May 31, 2010

Guerrilla Marketing 101

This is a reprint of a very popular post from my now-defunct "eBay Movie Blog". The movie got finished but was never released. However, it was a great learning experience and I found lots of great info. I was in a meeting last week and someone asked who my press agent is - because they did a brilliant job on the movie. I answered that I'm my own press agent. Happy reading...

A lot of people have asked in the past week, how I managed to snag a half-page above-the-fold article in the Movie section of The Toronto Star. This is very expensive real estate, usually reserved for features on the latest Hollywood Studio offerings.

Here's the link for those who haven't seen it. Great coverage!

Do I have a cousin who works at The Star? No.
Did I bribe the reporter? C'mon! The guy just got back from a TV junket to L.A. What could I possibly offer that could compete with that?

So how did I do it? Simple. I made them want to run the story.
Listen up kids, 'cause here's how I did it...

First, the movie project was conceived to be "buzz worthy". I wanted people to talk about it.
The method of production, the content that I've chosen, the choice of narrator - everything right down to the title was designed from Day 1, to make people say, "What the Hell is this?" The idea of a guy making a movie from films found on eBay is akin to the guy who traded one red paperclip for a house in Saskatchewan. (Me? Personally, I'd rather have the paperclip.) It's a great 'people story' -- an underdog story. People (and especially news outlets) love underdog stories.

Getting in touch with the reporter was easy. In truth, it was Six Degrees of Seperation - I knew someone who knew him. But keep in mind that the media - and news especially - is a black hole that needs to be constantly fed. They're looking for a good story. There's a lot of crap out there, vying for their time - so if you can show the reporter that you're worth covering, you'll get the interview.

About that interview - What's that old Boy Scout motto? BE PREPARED. That means, make the reporter's job easier. The easier you make his job, the more he's going to like you - and the better coverage you'll get. I came to the first interview (there were two) armed with a fact sheet containing biographies (of myself, Fred and Glenn), some cool facts about the film and links to the blog and YouTube sites. This way, when the reporter wrote the story - or pitched it to his editor, he had all the facts on hand. I also gave him a CD containing about 25 good quality stills from the movie (plus the Fact Sheet in electronic format - make it easy for him, remember?).

Another thing about the fact sheet - I provided the information that I wanted him to have. You can't control what the reporter is going to write, but you can to a degree, steer him in that direction. I think the article was a huge success except that he didn't mention that we were working in High Def video and cutting on an Avid system. As it is, it implies that we're cutting the original 16mm footage in my basement - a little too 'low tech' for my taste. The info was in the fact sheet, but alas, the reporter didn't use it.

Now the sad fact is, usually a newspaper won't touch an article about an unfinished "Work in Progress" film with a ten-foot pole. Seriously, if it's not finished, why should anyone care? But because I have this blog (or website) and there are those videos on YouTube - they felt that there was enough interactive for people to click and see. Oh yeah - and the name didn't hurt either. Despite what my dear wife thinks, the name "PUBIC LICE: The Motion Picture" is actually working in my favor. (scratch-scratch Who'd have thought?)

So that's it. To recap - choose an interesting project. One that people will want to hear about. Make the reporter's job easy - provide him/her with facts, links and art. Guide the reporter to the story you would like told.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

From "Idea" to "Intellectual Property"

I met with a team of entertainment lawyers on Friday about some other projects. In the course of the conversation, my new web-show came up. It exists only as an idea + some props, scripts, an actress, some graphics, a musical tag and a YouTube channel.

The lawyers listened to my plan and felt that the project was quite marketable. As a matter of fact, they had some production companies in mind - whom they thought would be very interested in this exciting new Intellectual Property.

Isn't it funny how you leave your house with a 'pretty good' idea - and return with a marketable intellectual property - that actually has some value?

As I told the lady in the last post - you actually have to get off your butt and do something. Nobody is going to hand you a show.

We're shooting the first episode on June 19th - I'll keep you posted. Meanwhile I continue to write scripts and scrounge for props for this epic. The price so far?

Somewhere South of $200.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

"I'm Not Getting A Shot"

Okay - so I was in an online chat room the other day. Yes, I really should know better, but "oh, Dopey me", I wasted my time there anyway. To be honest, I forget what the discussion was about - but it quickly degenerated into the usual flame war.

But something interesting came out of it. One of the people wrote (in part):

"I would like to have someone explain why there are so many people willing to show what they've done to "get there", but not explain the process of what it takes. Who helped you? Who did you submit to? How many times? Who did you create for? Could you show me how to get to where you're at too? Seriously, I've seen your credentials and I'm glad to see you've gotten to where you are. I haven't got enough time to do that kind of hustling anymore! Things cost money, and if I just want to survive I take whatever I can get. Sure, I could have pushed when I was fresh out of Sheridan back in '89 - '90 too, but now - I'm not getting a shot."

So, great humanitarian that I am - I directed the individual to this blog. But I know that A) they aren't going to read very much of it - and B) It's not what they're looking for.

Why? Because it takes work and perserverence. What is "perserverence"?
  • Perseverance is commitment, hard work, patience, endurance.
  • Perseverance is trying again and again (probably long after a sane person would have given up).
What that person really wanted was for me to give them a show. "Here ya go - Here's a whole career for you!" Sorry kids - life doesn't work that way. Well, for most people anyway - and especially not for me. But the point is - this business isn't easy for anyone.

I got an email this morning from a key player in my "BIG" project. Bottom Line:They aren't getting involved. They love the creative but the show isn't right for them at this time.

Fair enough - I can't argue with that. So what do I do? I picked myself up, dusted myself off and wait -- an email came in from someone I spoke with over a year ago. They weren't interested in the project than - but they are interested in the project NOW...

So as one door closes - another one opens. Funny how that happens...

Monday, May 17, 2010

Skinning A Cat

Last Thursday as I ate my breakfast, I had an idea for a show. I thought it was a good idea - Hell, it's a genius idea. I thought it up, didn't I? And so my next thought was, "Okay. What am I going to do with it?"

Do I pitch it to a broadcaster?
Do I pitch it to a production company?
Do I pitch it to a distributor?

Hmm... Here's a fresh new idea - hot out of the cranium... Why don't I do something completely 21st Century with it? Let's do an "experiment". I decided to release it on the internet.

The idea is "High Concept" so I won't reveal it here. But when my teenage daughter and her friends saw the prop, the immediate reaction was, "I want it!"

I registered the name and some notes with the WGA and claimed the domain name. My production is going to be available on a YouTube Channel. Crazy? Here's a quote from a 2008 New Yorker article sourced from Mark Mayerson's blog. (If you aren't reading Mayerson's blog, YOU SHOULD BE.):

Cory Williams, 27, a YouTube producer in California, agrees. Mr. Williams, known as smpfilms on YouTube, has been dreaming up online videos since 2005, and he said his big break came in September 2007 with a music video parody called “The Mean Kitty Song.” The video, which introduces Mr. Williams’ evil feline companion, has been viewed more than 15 million times. On a recent day, the video included an advertisement from Coca-Cola.

Mr. Williams, who counts about 180,000 subscribers to his videos, said he was earning $17,000 to $20,000 a month via YouTube. Half of the profits come from YouTube’s advertisements, and the other half come from sponsorships and product placements within his videos, a model that he has borrowed from traditional media.

On YouTube, it is evident that established media entities and the up-and-coming users are learning from each other. The amateur users are creating narrative arcs and once-a-week videos, enticing viewers to visit regularly. Some, like Mr. Williams, are also adding product-placement spots to their videos. Meanwhile, brand-name companies are embedding their videos on other sites, taking cues from users about online promotion. Mr. Walk calls it a subtle “cross-pollination” of ideas.

Still think I'm crazy? "Emily the Strange" started in 1991 as stickers given away at concerts to promote a line of clothing. 20 years later its a multimillion dollar brand with a feature film in the works.

One thing that I've learned over the years - whenever I go into my studio, I come out with something that's interesting. Will it be a success? Honestly, the odds are against it. But I never worry about what will happen if I fail - I'm only concerned about, what if I win?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Putting My Money Where My Mouth is

Since I'm always talking about what and what-not to do in the world of animation, TV and film, it's time for me to put up or shut up.
For those who've been wondering - here is a produced sample of my writing.
Hope you like it.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Questions From The Mail Bag...

I actually get a fair amount of mail as a result of the blog. And I'm happy to provide the odd bit of advice, but sometimes it gets really, really odd...

I like to hear from people and trade war stories. Its fun. Its exciting and it keeps you on your toes. But TV is a business and its a tough one. Here's a disclaimer - Reading this blog will not teach you everything you need to know about pitching shows. I was working in the business for 10 years before I did my first pitch.

A guy wrote saying that he'd studied my blog, had written a pitch bible and was ready to sell his show. Hey great! Good for you!

Except - there are a couple of things that I don't touch on - on purpose. A couple of missing key elements, without which - he's going to look really stupid in that pitch meeting. As in - you get one chance, and you've blown it, Charlie.

Of course, the Pitch Bibles that I write on commission are complete in every way - ready to pitch.

Another person wrote, asking who at "Broadcaster X" should he pitch his show?

If it were me, I'd call the senior person who I've known for 15 years - and who knows me and my work. If it was a client - and I knew the person and the project, I might be able to make the introduction. But I won't introduce strangers because - unless I've seen the project, I can't vouch for its professionalism.

What I'm trying to say is - before you send a note saying, "Hey Steve-Baby! I read your blog so I'm as smart as you. Watch out - 'cause I'm out there pitching shows!" (And yes, I do get mail like that.) All I can say is "lotsa luck" - and you're not as smart as you think you are.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The most WONDERFUL idea for a show...!

JUST A NOTE HERE. I'm not being bitter or mean to this lady. Its just that my vision of the afterlife does not include anything other than what I describe. Anything else that may or may not happen to me would be a huge shock to my system. Thank you. Carry on...

When word gets out that you create TV shows, people come to you with "interesting" ideas. Case in point. One day I was minding my own business when my phone rang...

SFX: Phone - Ring! Ring! Ring!

Hi. Steve speaking.

Hello. I have the most wonderful idea for a TV show that I'd like to share with you...

Sorry. I have to stop you right there. I legally can't listen to your idea, because it would open me up to civil liability. I could be sued for --

Oh, no no no! I don't want to make a show. I want to GIVE it to you, so that YOU can make it. I just want to see it get made.

(Note to self. This is always a bad sign.)

Well, I can't promise that I'd be able to do anything with it, even if I did like it.

So you don't want to even hear my idea...?

(not wanting to make Sweet Little Old Lady cry)
Okay. I'll listen to it. Sure. Go ahead.

(Brightening up immediately)
Its all about the WONDERFUL things that happen to you after you die!

(sound of crickets chirping)

Isn't that WONDERFUL???

Uh... Ma'am...? Did I hear you right? After I DIE? I mean seriously, after I die, I'm going to rot and be eaten by worms.

Oh, no! No! No! No! You seem like a nice man. I'm sure that there will be many exciting things in store for you!

Honestly - I'm counting on rotting and being eaten by worms. Anything else would be a real shock to my system. I think I'd prefer to rot and be eaten by worms. In fact - I'm counting on it...

And that - more or less, is how I learned of the most WONDERFUL idea for a show, ever! I pass it along, in case someone else wants to develop it.

Friday, May 7, 2010


A number of people have asked what submission form looks like. I found this online, posted by RUBICON ENTERTAINMENT in L.A. It's not evil. It's typical - what you'd expect to find from any broadcaster, distributor or production company...

IN ALL FAIRNESS TO THE PRODUCERS, BROADCASTER AND DISTRIBUTORS - There are whack-jobs out in TV land who will sue at the drop of a hat. I've had this happen to me. Some bat-shit-nutjob crawled out from under a rock a few years ago and claimed that he'd created Freaky Stories. He threatened to sue everyone; YTV, DECODE and myself. i pulled the proper documents out of the file, waved them at his lawyer and he crawled right back under his rock.

I have a friend who created a show - who was approached years later by someone who claimed that he'd stolen their idea. The guy never wrote it down, pitched it anywhere or told anyone about it. But he swore up and down that my friend had STOLEN his idea...

So yes. These forms are important for everyone's protection. But YOU have to be aware of what you're signing.

I'm using it without permission, but they've put it online for people to use in submitting shows. They're a perfectly legitimate company - producers of reality and infotainment shows for major outlets. I may contact them myself.

Rubicon Entertainment specializing in Producing Quality Television  Programming for Network, Cable, and Syndication

Please print out form and fax with your submission to . Thanks!


Dear Sir/Madam,
You have indicated that you wish to submit to RUBICON certain ideas, proposals, marketing or promotional plans, program formats, treatments or other material (the "Material"). By signing this letter in the space indicated below and returning it to us, you confirm that you have read the enclosed RUBICON policy concerning the acceptance of the material, for review, and you also accept the terms of this letter. The Material should be summarized on the attached Schedule A and resubmitted with this letter.

The following shall constitute our agreement with respect to the material:
  1. 1. In consideration of your agreement to the terms and conditions set forth below, RUBICON agrees to cause its appropriate employee having the duty of evaluating Material of the type now being submitted by you to review the material.
  2. 2. You acknowledge that there does not exist, a fiduciary relationship between you and RUBICON. You requested this opportunity to submit your Material to RUBICON and you make this submission voluntarily and on an unsolicited basis. You and RUBICON had not yet reached an agreement concerning the use of the Material and you realize that no obligation of any kind is assumed by, or may be implied against , RUBICON unless and until a formal written contract has been entered into between you and RUBICON, and then the obligation shall be only as is expressed in the formal written contract.
  3. 3. You declare that all of the important features of your Material, and the particular items submitted by you (e.g., script, outline, drawings, photographs, taped materials, etc.) are summarized on schedule A annexed to this letter, and you have disclosed no other features to RUBICON.

    You acknowledge that this release covers and governs any and all of the Material, whether first submitted to RUBICON contemporaneously with, or prior to, or following, the execution of this release, and applies also to any submission of the material made to RUBICON by another source, directly or indirectly, by or through you.
    You warrant that you are the sole and exclusive creator, author and owner of the Material, and that to your knowledge no one else has any right to the Material. You further warrant that no rights in the Materials have been previously granted to anyone nor has the Material otherwise been exploited in any way. You believe your Material and its features to be unique and novel.

    However, you cannot and will not assume or infer from the fact that RUBICON will accept your offer to submit your Materials to RUBICON, that RUBICON regards your Material, or any part thereof, as novel, valuable or usable. You recognize that other persons including RUBICON employees may have submitted to RUBICON or to others or made public, or may hereafter originate and submit or make public, similar or identical Material which RUBICON shall have the right to use, and you understand that you will not be entitled to any compensation because off RUBICON'S use of such other similar or identical material. Subject to the foregoing provisions, RUBICON will not make any use of any legally protectable portion of your material unless you and RUBICON have agreed in a writing signed by both parties concerning your compensation for such use, which compensation shall in no event be greater than the compensation normally paid by RUBICON for similar material from comparable sources.
  4. 4. Any controversy arising out of or in connection with this agreement, including without limitation any claim that RUBICON has used any legally protectable portion of your material in violation of the terms thereof, shall be goverened by the laws of the state of California, and the parties consent to the jurisdiction of the state and federal courts of California for the resolution of such matters. In the event of such controversy you agree that you shall assert such claims not later than six (6) months after the date on which you first learned (or reasonably should have been aware) of RUBICON's use or intended use of any portion of the material . You further agree that your rights and remedies , if any, shall be limited to an action at law , and without limitation of the foregoing, you expressly agree that you shall not seek to enjoin or restrain the production , exhibition, distribution, licensing, advertising, and /or promotion of any of RUBICON's programming , promotional or marketing plans, and/or any of the subsidiary rights in connection therewith.
  5. 5. You have retained a copy of this release and of your material , and you release RUBICON from liability for loss or damage to the material. You also acknowledge and agree that RUBICON is not obligated to return your material to you. RUBICON's review of your material constitutes RUBICON's acceptance of the terms and conditions set forth herein , and RUBICON shall have relied upon your agreement herein in considering your material for review. RUBICON agrees to use reasonable efforts to keep all the material confidential.
  6. 6. This Submission Release constitutes our entire understanding and agreement , and supersedes all prior understandings, whether written or oral. Any subsequent modification or waiver of this Submission Release must be in writing , signed by both of us. The invalidity of any provision hereof is not to affect the remaining provisions.
  7. 7. You are executing this release voluntarily, without coercion or undue influence from any source, and do so with complete understanding of all of its terms and effects, and every portion thereof.
  8. 8. As used in this release, the terms "you" and "you" includes and binds the undersigned and any and all legal representatives of the undersigned. As used in this release, the term "RUBICON" and "w" includes and inures to the benefit of RUBICON and their succesors, assigns, employees, officers, directors, licensees, and associated companies and individuals.
    (NOTE: write a summary of the material in the annexed schedule A.)

By: __________________________________
Print Name: __________________________________
Address: __________________________________
Date: __________________________________

NAME OF SUBMITTER: ___________________________________
FORM OF MATERIAL: ___________________________________
SYNOPSIS __________ SCRIPT __________ VIDEO CASSETTE- __________ DVD __________
TREATMENT __________ FILM __________OTHER _________________________
Brief summary of content: ____________________________________________________
Copyright information (if applicable) ___________________________________________

Blah, blah, blah... the deadly stuff is in red. That's where you sign away your life.
They can claim that they have something absolutely identical to it already in development.
Your only recourse is to have previously registered it with the WGA or WGC to establish
the date that you created your show.

Or, shoot an inexpensive pilot - put it online and generate your own audience and
THEN submit your show to producers and broadcasters. ESTABLISH YOUR OWNERSHIP!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A Couple of Words About Contracts

There's a post on about Hiam Saban, the man behind The Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. It contains a link to a New Yorker Article about Saban.

Saban made a fortune by collecting the music publishing rights to animated TV shows. Long story short - he provided composers with steady incomes in exchange for their publishing rights. The composers didn't know that in the long term, these rights were worth an awful lot of money.

Now the composers feel that they were ripped off - but the truth is, Saban knew the rules and they didn't. They signed contracts with him, without understanding what they were getting into.
Was Saban evil? Did he do anything wrong? No. He simply did his homework. This happens every day in every business.

Interesting that all the people posting on Cartoon Brew are against Saban. I wonder how many of them understand their own businesses? Animation Schools - or any "arts" school should provide business courses.

The point is - Contracts are legal and binding agreements. Know and understand what you are getting yourself into. If you don't know or understand the contract - find a lawyer who specializes in this. For entertainment properties, that would be an ENTERTAINMENT LAWYER or possibly one who specializes in Intellectual Property Law.

Don't get your family lawyer to do it for you. Its not their field of expertise. You'll be paying for them to learn something new - and probably won't receive the best legal representation. How do you find a good lawyer? Ask around.

ANOTHER THING - Contracts written on coffee shop napkins are legal and binding. I've heard from lawyers about many cases where the Judge rules - it is the intent of the agreement, not the stationary its written on, that must be judged. Be careful about those late-night brainstorming sessions with your friends. Be careful what you sign. It can be very costly later on.

These articles are important. If the links don't work above - cut and paste.

Beware of Helping Hands

One of the things I've encountered time and again as I pitch shows are people who want to help. Everybody loves show biz. Everybody wants "in" - to be a part of that Hollywood Glamour that just comes dripping off us.

A number of years ago while I was trying to get Freaky Stories up and running, I was introduced to a man, we'll call "Ted". Ted was a retired broadcast executive. He was very wealthy, very well connected and with his amazing career credentials - very impressive. He literally traveled the world, "helping" young producers get started.

Or so it seemed.

I'll be up front with you - Ted had the best of intentions. He wasn't out to hurt anyone. He'd sign you up - then try to put like-minded people together.

This is much like what a distributor does - except Ted didn't approach it like a business. It was a hobby for him. He also bought up rights to films and TV shows - but didn't know how to sell them - so they'd go stale on the shelf.

That's what happened to me. He'd call from all over the world, promising big things "next week" - but for a year, "next week" never arrived. Finally Ted and I parted company. But I kept an eye on him for a long time - none of his "big deals" ever materialized.

Ted didn't need to work. He did this to keep his hand in the game and stay relevant. That was his thing. For him, it was something to do.

From my point of view - I think its natural for newbie producers to look for "Angels" to help them out. Someone who will champion your project and move it forward. That's fine. That's an honest emotion/reaction. But the truth is, you have to keep your eye on your Angel - to make sure that they're REALLY doing what they say they do.

With Ted - while he didn't hurt me, he did waste my time. What I find these days is that everyone wants a piece of the action - but they're not willing to do anything to earn it. And believe me, there are a LOT of people out there who are making promises.

So how do you handle this? In any agreement, be it a letter, a contract or whatever - make sure that THEIR role in the project is clearly spelled out. They have to produce "A" in order to earn "B". And there has to be an EXPIRY DATE. If they don't 'produce' by a certain date - they're toast.

This will save you a lot of pain, suffering and hurt feelings later on - trust me.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

For The Future

Speaking on the Sheridan College "Industry Day" alumni panel, I was asked why I create and pitch shows? Why bother?

I answered that it was simply a matter of "that's what you do". You pick yourself up and keep going - what other choice is there?

But the question was answered every eloquently by Bruce Springsteen last night, on the Season 2 finale of "Elvis Costello's Spectacle" - when he spoke about his reason for writing songs: They're for the future.

That sums it all up. You create songs or TV shows or any type of art - for the future. You do this in the hopes that your efforts today will lead to a better future for you and your family tomorrow.

What's that old saying? Better to have loved and lost - than never to have loved at all? It's the same thing in show business. There are millions of people who say, "I could have, would have, should have..." but never do. Who's better off?

Creating/pitching shows are like playing the lottery - but with much better odds. In the year that I sold Freaky Stories to YTV, they had 500 pitches from independent producers - and bought 2. That's a 1 in 250 shot of having your dreams come true. Those are amazing odds.

With the internet and the multitude of channels looking for content, the odds are now even better than that.