The $33 Million Elephant

    This is the 2nd in a series of posts I’m doing to let people know how and why I’m doing things the way I am. This one’s called “The $33 Million Elephant.” It’s a bit of a tome but there are some disruptive innovations within!
    This morning I posted on Twitter and sent out to my email list a Q&A. It wasn’t you asking and me answering. It was the reverse.
    I have just over 1.7k Twitter followers and an email list of just under 600 people. The question I asked you all is: “Have you supported Intelligent Design, either by funding it or sharing it? Why?”
   I want to know what’s working and what’s not. Data flows both ways and people who succeed adapt to new data. That’s what this is. This is me adapting.
    The answers I got back were something I’d heard a lot, even before I launched the campaign. “$33 million is a lot. It’s too much for crowdfunding. You don’t have the audience for it. You need famous people to be a part of your campaign and even then, it’s unlikely.”
    In case those words of wisdom weren’t enough, here’s some more stats: when www.SciFiandSpies.com raises the $33 million goal, it will be the most raised for any kind of crowdfund in history, on any platform, for anything. It will be 5x the most raised for a movie/show (MST3K reboot), and 1.5x the most raised for anything (Exploding Kittens).
    Why am I ignoring all this good wisdom from really smart people, some of whom are in the filmmaking industry, from the Independent film world!? Even my own experience has taught me that crowdfunding for movies is mostly dead.

    Here are my reasons, and I’ll expound each one:
1. I believe that information should be democratized, which means everyone, everywhere should have equal access to nearly all information, for free.
2. I want to tell a story that Hollywood currently doesn’t have room for.
3. I don’t like sexism or racism in Hollywood and the only way to change the system is from without, making it clear to Hollywood that shows promoting equality are better investments.
4. The structure of the production requires it be funded entirely upfront, which means no pilots, no tiered funding, no multiple campaigns.

 

[If you like short stuff, this is where to stop, because I’m doing a deep-dive on each of those points.]

Reason 1:
    For freedom to have any meaning, we need access to high quality information, otherwise we won’t know what to do with our freedom. But, the world is really big and complex. No one anywhere knows all human knowledge. Specialists are required to do anything great. Revolutionary geniuses exist, but they require the infrastructure of said specialists working alongside them to make their dreams possible.
    Good art (Hollywood calls this premium content) allows us to take those big ideas and shrink them down in the form of metaphor. Once they’re smaller, we can then understand and talk about the world in a meaningful way. And, for the sake of freedom, the walls between the poor and the rich should not exist, otherwise the poor remain helplessly ignorant, without the necessary knowledge or skills to change their situation or the world!
    Believing in freedom and equality means nothing if it’s not accompanied by action. For that reason, after a brief theatrical run, I’m giving www.SciFiandSpies.com away for free, on YouTube. No investor will touch that distribution model. They won’t have an unlimited stream of money, and investors are only interested in capital return. I have to take the entire budget to the you.

 

Reason 2:
    Hollywood likes formulas. Studio executives are no longer creatives. They’re businessmen. They don’t recognize good stories or good storytelling, nor the cultural necessity for that. They think movies are cogs in a money-printing machine, nothing more. They don’t know what works or why. They only know that something worked in the past and it might work again in the future. That’s why we’re seeing franchise movies, reboots, and movies based on games or theme park rides.
    Decades ago, struggling networks had to make names for themselves so they took risks and we’ve gotten some of the best shows in history. But, even now, we see those days fading. As Game of Thrones draws to a close (I really like GoT) HBO isn’t staying creative. They’re making GoT spin-offs. That’s the sign of a creative vacuum.
    I enjoy Star Wars, but not a single movie since the new episodes have come out have been nearly as good as Empire or A New Hope. I loved Iron Man, but each new Marvel movie seems to have accepted good enough as good enough. They’re entertaining, but rarely emotionally or politically  provocative. And they can’t be. They wouldn’t screen in China if they were. They’re great as ways to forget our problems for a few hours, but they don’t help us solve our problems, which is the job of Art.
    I will not work in that kind of system. Emily Best told me that movies aren’t commodities. And she’s right. Art is more valuable than money. Art has the capacity to let us dream bigger and hope for more and better. And when it’s really great, it gives us the tools to do reach those reams! Hollywood isn’t interested in revolution. It’s interested in status-quo. I’m not. I want humanity to be the best we can be. That mean freedom for all, enabling all, on an equal and level platform.

 

Reason 3
    Hollywood likes to tell stories that make white men the heroes, where the United States is the reason for any of the good things in the world, and where women are sexualized to the point of having no other place in the world. I find that totally unacceptable. Further, I can’t participate in a system that not only actively maintains that kind of injustice, but actually perpetuates it!
    My Hollywood writer friends constantly tell me how studio executives (who they can’t ignore) tell them to sexualize women. If there’s a female protagonist, the executive will insist she be changed into a male, or a female version of a male (read: femme fatale). Within Hollywood women are not allowed to be fully human, with human characteristics beyond the shape of their bodies.
    Within Hollywood Black men must be criminals, or tribal. Anything inferior to a businessman or a judge or a president. Something primal, something less than human. Something not worthy of the full dignity of their humanity. This perpetuates racism.
    Within Hollywood Asian women (Indian (from India) women included) must be cogs in a machine, worker bees. They are chemists or doctors, scientists or pharmacists. They have no personality beyond their vocation. This is reductionist and perpetuates the belief that Asians aren’t fully human and worthy of the rights that humanity necessitates. It’s another kind of slavery.
    I cannot, I will not be a part of a system that does that to people. I have no choice but to work much harder outside the system and make another way. And if I’m successful at it, I’ll have paved the way for disenfranchised people to do the same. I want to hear their stories, from men like Donald Glover, women like Ava DuVernay, Lexi Alexander, and every other voice that has been systematically shut out from Hollywood.

Reason 4:
    The way movies and shows are made are very different. A movie starts with a script, which is the entirety of the movie. It’s all on the page, and “if it’s not on the page, it’s not on the stage.” This lends itself to an amazing narrative cohesion. A story is much stronger if the writer knows the end and the beginning and can weave the whole thing together like the mosaics of a Persian rug. There will be foreshadowing and allusion, there will be character development where every choice a character makes will change the outcome, and the choices always, inexorably lead to the ending. When it’s done well, the ending will seem both surprising and inevitable.
    Shows are very different. Shows start with a pilot. That script is written like a stand-alone movie with a cliffhanger. It will be tight, like a movie, with all the attributes I mentioned above. It will be between 25-50 pages long because that’s how long shows are (page = minute) And that’s where it stops.
    A writer won’t invest the time and energy to know the entire story beforehand. They can’t. They have to write other pilots because most pilot scripts don’t get made. And of the ones that do go to pilot, most don’t get picked up for a season.
    And this is where the show-making structure truly breaks down. Each show is bought on a season-by-season basis. The way the writers will write is as follows: they will be hired to write Season 1. They will gather, plot out the season, then break apart and write each episode, in order. As each episode comes in, it gets made. If the team has a new idea that doesn’t fit into what’s already made, it’s out, even if it would have radically improved the show.
    Season one must end in a way that is unresolved, in a way that leaves people wanting more. Here’s the thing about that: from the writers’ perspectives, they’ve intentionally written themselves into a corner from which they themselves don’t know how to escape. That’s where Season 1 ends.
    If it’s good enough, meaning, if enough people watch it, the network will order a Second Season. The writers will then reassemble and figure out how to get out of the corner. And so it goes, season to season. From an executive’s perspective, a good show can go on forever, long after it should have stopped (read: Big Bang Theory/Lost).
    From the audience’s perspective, it will seem like the characters constantly encounter random problems, which is pretty much how it is. There’s no long-term arc. There’s no reason why the characters encounter one problem after another, except that it’s necessary to keep the show going.
    When a character on a show dies, it’s because the actor either wants to leave, or is hard to work with. There are rare exceptions like Game of Thrones, where characters die all the time for no reason (because the world is harsh and dark and grow the hell up because Mommy’s dead already and Daddy’s not going to save you. No one is coming, except the winter zombies).
    There’s little to no narrative cohesion. There’s little to no foreshadowing. The character arcs are largely random, based on keeping the drama/suspense high.
    But, shows have a strength movies don’t. Character depth and development. Yes, the things that happen to characters will be largely random, but when it’s done well, the character will change, or more will be revealed about them. Larger stories are possible simply because shows have more time to tell stories than movies.

MY EPIPHANY
   In learning all this, from the amazing podcast Children of Tendu,I had an epiphany: What if the two models were combined? What if a show was written entirely up-front? What if it was produced as a single thing, not released until it was entirely finished? The first episode wouldn’t drop until everything was finished in post-production and ready for delivery.
    A lot of really interesting things begin to happen.
    The writing gets WAY better. The end is known at the beginning. The characters only encounter things that are critical to the story or their development. Nothing is random. Every aspect is intentional and designed (yes, I wove that in on purpose)!
    Production becomes more efficient. Any location can be returned to because from a Producer’s perspective, we don’t leave until every scene in that location has been shot, and we know what those will be because we know the entire story! All production moves go in a direction, which means they don’t need to be avoided but can be engineered as part of the machine!
    Everyone knows the dates and locations ahead of time. The actors will be locked in and all contracts negotiated up-front. The art department doesn’t have to worry about an actor going to a rave and dyeing their hair blue and needing a wig for the first few episodes of S2.
    And post-production costs drop through the floor! Editing is done non-linearly, as footage comes in. VFX can be done for less because it’s actually cheaper to spin-up a VFX company just for this project and then spin it back down when the project is finished!
    And what’s true for video is true for audio. The composer (www.SciFiandSpies.com will have 4) is hired for a fixed time, as is everyone else.
    Because everyone is going to be hired to make all 36 hours of Intelligent Design up-front, their contracts are for longer periods than a normal Hollywood movie or show. That means guaranteed income.
    Here’s what that looks like for Intelligent Design: Everyone, across the board, (except me, because my time commitment would put my rate way more than my fixed 10 percent), makes $250/day, for the duration of their contract, regardless of their position.
    $250 a day may not seem like a lot, but for the 18 months of production, it adds up to $136,875. That’s guaranteed income! Most of www.SciFiandSpies.com will be filmed outside the U.S., which means the key crew and cast won’t have any living expenses for the duration of the production. My wife and I will be getting rid of our apartment and most of our stuff and live wherever production is at the time.
    That’s more than a living wage.
    There have been a ton of studies into why people do what they do and it turns out we’re mostly not motivated by money. We want to feel like our time and effort matter. Other studies have found that money beyond a certain range (relative to culture) doesn’t make us any happier. That number in the U.S. is $73k. The $250 is based on that number.
    Here’s what’s even more amazing! The people who signed up with me so far to work on Intelligent Design aren’t interested in the money. It’s barely even a factor in their decision. They love the story so much they want to be a part of making it. And I’m not going to go into anymore detail about the story because Hollywood will try and steal it and mutilate into their golemic monster!
    That’s why I can’t do a tiered funding (read: multiple campaigns). That’s why I can’t make a pilot. The first show would cost $50 million in Hollywoodland. But, with the innovations mentioned above, made as a single thing, the price drops radically and a whole different kind of storytelling becomes possible, at radically smaller budgets!
    I believe the people who make the art should get paid for the art. So, everyone who works on www.SciFiandSpies.com gets a backend too. The rate is what’s known as day-of-days. Let’s say Jane works for 70 days, and the total number of days worked by everyone are 1,000 days. Jane would make 70/1000 of 90 percent of all profits, forever. If the theatrical release makes $1,000, Jane gets $63. If each movie makes $2 billion, like Avatar, that’s a total of $36 billion and Jane gets $2.268 billion.
     Everyone already made a living wage while making the show. If it does well, everyone gets rich. We don’t do it for money, but we need money to live.

CONCLUSION  That’s the $33 million elephant. That’s way www.SciFiandSpies.com is raising $33 million. That’s where the money will go and why. That’s why it can’t be done any other way, at least not for this project. And that’s only half of the innovation of this project. The other half is story!