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Pilot production costs

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Mary GerberPilot production costs
by on Nov 12, 2010 at 2:45:04 pm

Is it unrealistic to expect businesses to sponsor just the production of a pilot episode?

I've been approached about shooting a pilot for people in years past but when it comes to getting something monetary it just hasn't happened. I've done the percentage deal when a show is picked up but, unfortunately, that hasn't happened either.

I'm now in a position to produce my own pilot and I would like to be able to pay for some additional crew. Has anyone ever raised money to produce a pilot? If so, what incentive (s) were you able to come up with?

Thanks everyone!


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walter biscardiRe: Pilot production costs
by on Nov 12, 2010 at 3:18:02 pm

[Mary Gerber] "Is it unrealistic to expect businesses to sponsor just the production of a pilot episode?"

Yep, we were able to do just that with a recent pilot. It was a business themed show in exchange for the sponsorship of the pilot, we did a full interview of one of their prominent people which they put on their website.

So essentially they gave us the money to do the pilot and in return they got two or three videos to put up on their website. We also gave them some clips of the show that featured some of their elements.

Walter Biscardi, Jr.
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Mary GerberRe: Pilot production costs
by on Nov 12, 2010 at 3:20:24 pm

That is a great idea! Thank you!


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Mary GerberRe: Pilot production costs
by on Nov 12, 2010 at 3:24:22 pm

Great idea! Do you think the pilot should be produced in HD or is SD still okay these days?


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Mark SuszkoRe: Pilot production costs
by on Nov 12, 2010 at 4:53:47 pm

If you produce it in HD, you can always down-convert it to SD if later desired. Tech is making this question more and more moot over time, but I still like to consider what the actual content is, and if it is really helped by the nature of a higher rez and wider framing. My take is; not always. If a show is 99 percent extreme closeups of a talking head, for example, in an oral history project, then the wider framing doesn't give you anything "better" on that particular application, IMO.

If the programming is ephemeral, with a short lifespan, and will not stay relevant for years, again, the extra expense to make it HD may not give you any ROI. And SD gear is getting really cheap due to everybody moving towards HD, so more of the project becomes profit if your production costs are lower.

On the Gripping Hand, though, if these elements may someday be mixed into another HD program, and you can afford the costs over time, then the additional costs of HD make some sense. The cost difference between SD and HD was very different, even only a year ago. But that is rapidly changing now with better codecs and hardware. Am I moving away from my traditional outlook on these things? Let's say I'm willing to listen to reasoning on a case-by-case basis. If it is aesthetically "right", appropriate to the content and expected usage, and a sound business decision, I wouldn't fight it. The future is a moving target.


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Mary GerberRe: Pilot production costs
by on Nov 12, 2010 at 6:25:37 pm

You make a lot of good points. I'm ultimately thinking about what the network technical specs are if the pilot were to air along with the rest of the episodes. I am assuming the network would want HD.

Thank you!


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Mark RaudonisRe: Pilot production costs
by on Nov 13, 2010 at 10:45:36 pm

Mark,

I normally agree with most of what you say, but on this (SD vs HD) I think you're wrong. To start ANY project in SD (even your kid's birthday party YouTube video) is just plain wrong. HD is here to stay, and
there is NO GOOD REASON to originate a new project in SD. Period.

Mark



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Mark SuszkoRe: Pilot production costs
by on Nov 14, 2010 at 12:43:02 am

Maybe so, my esteemed colleague, but the market is taking the decision out of our hands, day by day, in that the number of new cameras shooting in SD is rapidly dwindling.

Having said that, I have to say, the universe of video applications is very wide, with room for many niches. I make 95 percent of my daily bread working in SD, for broadcast as well as non-broadcast, and I'm fairly certain in my little backwater corner of the swamp, it will remain so thru 2011. I just last week did a broadcast PSA mastered in HD, and the distribution thru the Chicago and statewide markets was.... betacamSP and FTP digitized from the BetaSP thru DG Fastchannel. I got no requests for the spot in HD. For the Chicago market. You know why?

Because change doesn't happen instantly and universally over complicated legacy systems. Lots of stations, and some networks, are a shiny chocolate coating of HD, over a chewy nugat center of legacy SD infrastructure. I am not one of the high-tech high-flyers of the COW; I don't get to work in high-end productions very often, and, where I am, just working in HD itself is considered "high end". I'm sure in your circles, Mark R., everything is shiny and Star-Trek looking, and that's great. The clients you have are the kind who pay big bucks for big results, and no question you deliver that.

My environment looks more like a MIR-era Soviet space-station... that is, like the back of a 1958 Admiral TV set. With modern high-def elements slowly working their tendrils into that mix. Final Cut workstations next to Grass 100 switchers and Conrac monitors. DVD duplicators, a 200-mile private fiber line for real time broadcast relay, and a Ku uplink dish, recently converted to digital, next to 80's era Pinnacle Alladins and 30-year-old Tektronics vectorscopes. Primitive networking, and sneakernetting on hard drives, because a SAN is not in the budget. Less Star Trek Next Gen and more like Firefly. I think you get the picture. I'm not looking to make a "Queen For A Day" sob-story here; I'm happy enough where I am, having evolved along with the stuff. Having to make things work and work well for clients in this kind of environment presents its own creative challenges and rewards.

Where I am though, is not where you am... er, are. There are customers that do still use and like SD just fine. There are applications where the rez just isn't as important as the budget and the proper content. The bottom line is not being cool and shiny, it is meeting the customer's needs as cost-efficiently and effectively as you can, and advising them what you think is in their best near and long-term interests, while considering what their own limitations are.

You are arguing from the carpeted showroom at the Lexus dealership, and I'm down at the go-cart track. I would be nuts to advise your clients to do things my way, and you'd get shown the door by many of my clients for presenting unrealistic budgets. In their own ways, though, each kind of car is fun to drive. The go-cart may not go as fast as the Lexus, but with your keister just a half-inch off the track, 80 MPH can seem like 200.


Again, I'm not taking your comment personally, and not even arguing your point. My admiration for your success and expertise is undiminished by this modest disagreement. I'm trying to put the conversation in a different context.


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Mark RaudonisRe: Pilot production costs
by on Nov 14, 2010 at 7:02:49 pm

For the record, I drive a Prius... AND a Lexus! You see, I'm sympathetic to BOTH ends of the spectrum!

I would say the cost differential between HD and SD, especially if you're delivering FILE based and NOT tape based, has come down to an almost insignificant number. Therefore, there's little reason NOT to use HD. If cost is an object, get a consumer HD camera. You're still going to get a better image from a cheap, consumer HD camera than a decent SD pro camera. That's just physics, not economics.

mark



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grinner hesterRe: Pilot production costs
by on Nov 13, 2010 at 12:06:10 am

Selling a sponsorship is in no way any different than cold calling to strum up business. It's a matter of tenacity, explaining what it is you can do for them. That's the key. As long as you are explaining benefits to them, you'll never have to sell anything. Benefits to others sell themselves.



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Mary GerberRe: Pilot production costs
by on Nov 14, 2010 at 5:04:13 pm

Well said, I just have to face that this is going to be the most difficult part of this process. The content is a piece of cake.

I could get this series going on PBS with my existing programs on that network and the relationships built there. The only problem is the very tight FCC restrictions on sponsorship making it even more challenging to sell. The commercial network world is quite challenging for me but necessary for my career development. I do appreciate your insight.

Now my next quandary:

Given that I'll be footing the bill on the initial production of this myself (likely in SD because that is what I have to work with right now), to sell the series, should I produce a sizzler reel and the necessary marketing material or should I create the entire pilot? I can obviously shoot enough for the pilot but just edit the sizzler to start to save myself money (and sanity).

Thanks again and have a great Sunday!


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Mark RaudonisRe: Pilot production costs
by on Nov 14, 2010 at 7:04:01 pm

These days networks execs EXPECT you to walk in with a "sizzle reel". It's almost an unwritten rule.

Mark



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Mary GerberRe: Pilot production costs
by on Nov 14, 2010 at 7:40:36 pm

Sizzler reel it is then!

So have you been through the entire process of getting a program on the air (network/cable) and happy with the monetary results?

Thanks


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grinner hesterRe: Pilot production costs
by on Nov 16, 2010 at 3:06:13 pm

Because this is out of pocket and a pilot will be created once a deal is made, a sizzle reel, one sheet and bible are all that are required at this point.



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Ed BartlettRe: Pilot production costs
by on Jul 11, 2012 at 3:42:28 pm

Did you ever get the pilot funded by sponsors? Did it air?


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Mary GerberRe: Pilot production costs
by on Jul 11, 2012 at 3:50:33 pm

No, I put this project on hold. I was just getting so frustrated and I have a full time job with time consuming projects.

Why?


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