The Disconnect by Chris Weigl

I was talking to an old friend of mine the other day.  We hadn’t really talked since he graduated about a year and a half ago and it was great to catch up and connect even though we’re in two different industries now (he runs the social media platform for a start-up out in San Francisco while I still live in the world of Academia.)  What was strange about this conversation was our shared fascination with the idea of Influencers dinners (influencers dinners were started by Jon Levy as a way for people to bond regardless of their jobs or backgrounds.)  Neither of us are very social.  I abhor the conventional party where I’m forced to listen to stories about people’s jobs and how little things have changed in their lives.  Inevitably, when someone asks about me and what I’m doing I go into business mode and start talking about how excited I am about whatever project we’re doing.  That’s the disconnect.  Most people don’t enjoy their jobs, but what I do is more than a job and I believe more than a business; it’s a purpose.

I work seven days a week.  I used to think that I didn’t need any off time, but then I got realistic.  I take a few hours off during the day to play with my dogs and maybe watch an hour or so of Netflix, but then my mind wanders back to the list of tasks that I’ve created for the week.  I am my own boss, so I set my own goals and arrange my own tasks, which is good because when I work for someone else I’m a terrible employee.  Having an open schedule where I can arrange my day how I see fit allows me to work on all the little things I want to improve without having someone breathing down my neck about everything.  It also forces me to do the things that I don’t want to do, but I get to do them on my terms, which I’ve found makes the process a little easier.  Sometimes I spend an entire day editing a video, other days I get some writing done and when I’m really lucky I can go through my tasks and knock them out in the order of influence they’ll have in my life.  That’s a great feeling right there.

One of the reasons that I reached out to this old friend was because I had a problem that I couldn’t solve.  It wasn’t a little problem.  I had a revelation of sorts, but I didn’t quite know what to do with it.  I laid out my problem.  I don’t like TVs.  I think they’re big, bulky and don’t serve the kind of purpose that something else could if it were introduced into the TV market.  My company is devoted to creating commercial-free TV and finding a path towards new, original and sustainable programming for the future.  I know it sounds a lot like Netflix or Hulu, but this is where I realized we could make our mark; Netflix and Hulu have crappy deals with networks and production companies that allow the producer not the viewer to choose what programming they have access to.  Netflix has close to 150 million subscribers and they haven’t figured out a way to leverage deals so that the consumer can decide what they want to watch.  That’s just absurd and what makes it absurd is the TV.

A quick course in TV history: the TV was developed by Filo T. Farnsworth in the 1930’s and sold by RCA in the 1940’s.  Farnsworth’s system for producing images relied on a scanning system.  He looked out at a cornfield and noticed how everything lined up in rows and thought that doing the same thing on a screen could turn radio into a visual medium and sure enough he was right.  Our problem today is that we operate largely on that same system.  We still get our stations from signals sent out by networks like the National Broadcasting Company (which was started by RCA to supply content to their newly minted TV.)  Granted, some of us still have cable and that’s unfortunate, but the rest of us rely on streaming services.  This made me ask the question: why are we using streaming services on TVs?  Why hasn’t someone come up with a better way?  TVs are big, bulky and don’t serve any other purpose than to deliver subpar content laden with ridiculous commercials to an audience that’s growing older and dying off.  Someone needs to find a mechanism other than a computer or phone that allows people to utilize streaming media, but also serves other functional purposes.

Around 2000, Gateway computers (remember them?) bet big on a new idea that seemed like it could revolutionize the marketplace.  They wanted to take the computer and use it to replace the television.  Gateway invested heavily in new technology for monitors, much of the same technology that led to the development of widescreen HDTVs.  The problem was that people didn’t buy into the concept of a computer replacing their TVs.  There were a number of reasons for this, but the big one was that there was no Netflix or comparable service that could deliver a catalog of programming to this device.  My question for my friend was: how could we create something that allowed you to watch streaming content pretty much on demand while remaining plugged into social media?  Tablets could be the answer if someone comes up with a foldable one that can expand out to around 42.”  The problem that I face as a consumer and ultimately this is the quagmire that I’m trying to make my way through right now is how can I watch my streaming content, my sports, check my Facebook and Twitter feeds and potentially do gaming too eventually.  That’s a big, loaded question that has a lot of obstacles laden in its premise.  Of course, I’m assuming here that such a device could be made, manufactured and sold at a reasonable price.  I’m also operating under the assumption that everyone would be willing to ditch their TVs which is anything but a foregone conclusion.  What I want people to think about though was his response to my question.  He said that we need to change the way we watch and process visual and textual images.

“Remember the opening of the Brady Bunch?”  He asked.  “There are nine boxes and eight of them are filled with the heads of members of the family.  That’s the kind of thing you’ll need to do if you want to do this and you’ll have to maintain everyone’s attention on one thing at the same time essentially making it all one interface.”

“What a fascinating answer,” I wrote back.

“No,” he said.  “What’s going to be interesting is how this thing is developed by companies and sold to consumers because that’s where people always wind up getting screwed.”

Another great response on his part which begs the question for our readers: how do we avoid getting screwed?

This Time it's Different by Chris Weigl

I read a lot of criticism of Hollywood.  It’s my job to stay on top of that stuff.  After all this is my business.  We are in the entertainment industry and it is our job to entertain, but that’s not our only job.  Studios spend a ton of money to develop, produce and market films and other media to mass audiences.  Some do a good job.  There are about ten movies a year that are worth seeing and if you have a lot of friends who watch a ton of Netflix you can probably keep your Netflix queue full most of the time.  If you’re like most people though you have to weed through all the poor quality stuff to get to the stuff that’s worth watching.  I get asked a lot about why that stuff is even put out there.  It’s something that I refer to as polluting the market.  There are a lot of reasons that studios produce media that is not very good and sometimes they produce it because they don’t think it’s bad.  Most of the time however studios are either a part of or trying to perpetuate an idea known as the sunk cost fallacy.

The sunk cost fallacy basically says that you’re going to keep doing something because you’ve already invested too much time and effort into it to quit.  I see this a lot in life and I see it even more in business.  People don’t want to quit on bad ideas.  Say you’ve started watching something on Netflix and it wasn’t very good, but you’ve spent so much time watching it that you don’t want to turn it off.  This is the sunk cost fallacy at work.  Your time would be better spent simply by turning it off, but because we have an initial investment we don’t want to turn it off.  The same thing happens with studios and projects that once upon a time seemed like a great idea.  Take the latest Robin Hood movie for example.  The script for that film was the most expensive script ever sold (and it was a very good script.)  The film however, like most films mind you, went through multiple writers and directors, production companies and actors before Ridley Scott or Russell Crowe got involved.  Eventually, the script had gone through so many re-writes that it no longer bore any resemblance to the original script that was sold.  The film at that point simply should not have been made.  The studio however spent a great deal of money to acquire the script, the director and actors, so rather than cut their losses they invested even more money on a product that they knew was bad and they knew would fail and guess what?  It did.

These kinds of decisions obviously don’t make any sense to the outside observer, but this stuff happens all the time and it seems to happen the most often in places where people aren’t held accountable like Hollywood and Wall St.  Part of the issue is that studios are running a business that only makes sense to them.  Every year there’s a new theory as to what magic bullet is going to save Hollywood, but the fact of the matter is that Hollywood has adopted the music industry’s guiding principle in the 1990’s.  Before they know it films will be available on streaming services the day that they are set to release in theaters because going to the movies is no longer worth the cost.  What’s worse for theaters is the fact that the mediums in which people consume media is changing faster than they can adapt and let’s face it: wouldn’t we all rather watch a film with our friends in the comfort of our own homes than in a movie theater where you have to keep quiet and you can’t pause the movie to go to the bathroom?  It’s not even close.  The other day a friend of mine in another state watched a movie with me.  We texted each other as we watched it.  She lives in Louisiana, but because of a service like Netflix we’re able to stream the same film at the same time and comment to each other about it in real time.  This is the future of film.

We talk a lot here at LH Productions about the change that is hitting Hollywood.  What we don’t spend a lot of time doing is talking about how we’re going to change Hollywood.  That’s because we can’t change Hollywood.  Hollywood is like that grandparent you have that is convinced that computers are a fad and refuses to learn them.  It’s difficult for them to adjust therefore they simply don’t adjust.  This was the music industry’s response to iTunes and the outcome for the film industry will be largely the same.  There will be a new market however for new independent artists that pool their talents to create truly original and innovative entertainment and this is where we are carving our niche.  Someone is going to have to pay for all this new content that streaming services need and waiting until post-production to recoup your costs is simply a bad business strategy.  What we’re doing is creating high concept ideas and bringing the talent necessary to turn these ideas into realities together.  Everyone has value.  The challenge that we and every other production company out there faces is uniting the people with the vision and value to produce the content that people want to consume.

What makes us different is that we don’t believe in what’s known as Lowest Common Denominator television.  We refuse to dumb down our content.  You can and should compromise in life, but some things like core ideas and beliefs cannot be compromised if the structural integrity of the project is going to remain intact.  Yet this is what we see happen all the time in Hollywood.  Look at the Robin Hood movie.  There were good ideas there.  The script was fantastic, but then execs decided to get involved and pollute it with unnecessary and frankly bad ideas until the product was totally unrecognizable.  We believe in a world where anyone can create art.  We don’t want to dumb everyone down, we want to lift everyone up and the only way to do that is by creating the best content possible. 

Over the next few weeks and months we’ll be unveiling a series of How-to guides designed to help you become a part of the coming media revolution.  Do you want to write a script?  Great, I’ll tell you how.  Want to start creating media yourself?  That’s fantastic.  We’ll show you how to do it.  The revolution in media can go one of two ways.  It can be a top down revolution where those in power maintain the status quo or it can be a bottom up revolution where everyday people learn the skills necessary to produce high end material that can compete in a free market.  Will it be fair?  Of course not.  But the idea that you should be writing your script for a studio reader disgusts me.  You should be writing your script so that it is the best possible script it can be.  When you write with the sale at the front of your mind your artistic genius goes down the drain because your number one priority is no longer to write the best film you can it’s to sell your script to a studio who can destroy it.  That’s not how we believe the entertainment industry should work and we hope that you’ll join us in our fight to change the way content is created.