Thursday, December 29, 2011

Joe Webb on "Books" - from pilot to webseries

Yesterday we talked to director Tyler Gillett about his work on the webseries Books.  Writer Joe Webb was also kind enough to answer a few of my questions about the project.

Are more episodes planned?

We hope so; but, probably not in the current webisode format. The scope of Books is so damn big, and the execution was so complex, that it's hard to justify the cost per episode without better distribution. So, realistically, if we're gonna have a life after this, it'll be as a half-hour show - but that's not at all out of the realm of possibility. The current plan is to shop the project to Hulu, smaller cable outlets like IFC, and potentially even a few Canadian networks (Fremantle's had success there before) in the spring of 2012, and to shoot for deficit financing in the 150-200 range per ep for six episodes. If that happens, we've got a Season One story arc ready to rock.

From the start, did you shoot this as a half-hour pilot or as a web-series? 

A little of both, which made writing the script a painstakingly long process. The awesome part about digital production is that it's like the Wild West, and if you're aggressive and ambitious, you can make something that looks like, I don't know, Shameless, with a low-five figure budget if you don't have to pay people to work. So we decided early on that our primary goal was to make a Showtime-like pilot, that we could then take out and sell (and it would hopefully be a product that would also, indirectly, sell ourselves).

But...we also had a responsibility to Fremantle to try to make it playable as a web-series, since they kicked in some money for the rights to distribute it via their small internet TV portal. To what extent we succeeded I'm still not sure. We feel like it plays great in sequence, and we've pieced it back together into it's full pilot form for sales purposes and a few big TV festivals in 2012; but I don't think a random viewer could stumble upon one of the middle chapters in the web format and have much idea what's going on.

You mentioned Fremantle covered some of the costs.  How did you fund the whole thing? 

At the end of the day, we ended up splitting the cost about 50/50 with FremantleMedia. So like 3 seconds of one Ford advertisement from American Idol were devoted to paying half our production budget. The other half came from months of Tyler shooting extra NatGeo stuff at his day rate and me teaching kids how to get into business school.

Do you have any future projects on the horizon? 

We just talked about getting the whole team back together to shoot something logistically simpler this spring while we figure out the future of Books (it'll be My Dinner with Andre, featuring Josh Beren and Peter Douglas), but we're also both working on other things. This fall, Tyler directed a horror-anthology that got into Sundance and a cool new digital show with Chad, Matt, & Baron Davis. I'm pitching in early January on a couple features and have 2 TV projects in development for the 2012 pitch season.

That being said, there's that old business adage about it being 10 times easier to keep an existing client than to attract a new one; and, somehow, I think that applies as a parallel to Books. So much of the groundwork has already been laid on the show, and I've spent so much of the last year living it day in and day out, that if I got the opportunity to continue working on it, I'd jump at it, even if the money proved barely enough to cover the monthly bills.

1 comment:

  1. "you can make something that looks like, I don't know, Shameless, with a low-five figure budget if you don't have to pay people to work."

    Amazing the things you can do when you have sponsors, financial partners, an audience and a fanbase yet you STILL don't pay people for labor!!

    Any budget in a 5 figure and above range should account for cast and crew getting SOMETHING.