Selling the Sizzle

The above is the sizzle reel for a new SF show called Slingers produced by sleepydog. Looks interesting, no? Lovely sexy Rat Pack vibe, a nice look-and-feel, enough obvious pros to feel comfortable with the people behind it, and enough meat on the bones for me to think it has legs.

OK, going a bit biological on the metaphor at the end there.

I’ve not heard the term sizzle reel before, but it’s a great phrase. Something to make you salivate, to look forward to the main event.

Problems with a sizzle reel? If it’s released too early market anticipation (ie us wanting to watch it) might drop off. In which case when it does come out then it’ll be “Slingers? Old news. Didn’t we see that last year?”

So there needs to be a careful drip-feed of information after one of these comes out. Not too little, so that we still know it’s a go project. Not too much, so that we feel like we’ve seen it all already. Look to Doctor Who over the last few years to see how good management of information can really help a show.

You can find more detail about Slingers on writer Mike Sizemore’s blog, including some yummy-looking concept art, and promises of more goodies to come. So it looks like that’s been thought of too.

They’re looking to shoot the full pilot (90 minutes) in 2010.

And I’m already hungry.

Girl Number 9

I didn’t want to blog about these episodes until I’d seen them and could truthfully say “Yes, I recommend this.”

Yes, I recommend this.

Girl Number 9 is an original drama made for the web by Television’s James Moran and Dan Turner of Splendid infamy.

Each of the six episodes is about five minutes long (not exactly, though, and not all the same length – we don’t have to worry about hitting timeslots on the web), and shot using professional kit and crew with strong, well-known talent in the three lead roles.

(That would be Tracy-Ann Oberman, Joe Absolom, and Gareth David-Lloyd then.)

Over the last week, they’ve been releasing an episode a day onto the Internets, and you can watch all six episodes – at least until the end of November – online. After that, in order to view them we’re talking a nice shiny DVD with oodles of bonus material. And there may also be pay-to-watch online or sponsored viewings.

Shall we call it the Horrible Model? It has a certain ring to it, and this way of monetising new drama may well be something that we see more of over the next few years.

So, most importantly, what’s the series like?

Dark. Darker than you expect. And then a bit darker than that, too.

And also, very very good.

Watch all six episodes for free while you can at at

He Sells Sanctuary

Trade news today: Web series Sanctuary, created by Stargate alumnus Damian Kindler, has just been picked up for 13 episodes by SciFi.

I actually interviewed him about it a while back, so nice to see it’s all working out well.

This is the second web series within as many months that’s been acquired by a TV channel, the first being Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz’s Quarterlife. You may have heard of them before, too. They created thirtysomething.

Criswell predicts that this will not be the last web series picked up for TV.


noun (pl. sanctuaries) 1 a place of refuge or safety. 2 a nature reserve. 3 a place where injured or unwanted animals are cared for. 4 a holy place. 5 the part of the chancel of a church containing the high altar.

ORIGIN originally denoting a church or sacred place in which, by law, a fugitive was immune from arrest: from Latin sanctuarium, from sanctus ‘holy’.

And that’s all that the Compact OED has to say on the matter.

But more relevantly to this blog, it’s also the name of a new SF show.

And even more relevantly: It’s being premiered on the Internet, has been designed from the get-go to be experienced through more than one medium, and has some real (read experienced) talent behind and in front of the cameras.

So I got in contact with showrunner Damian Kindler and asked him what was going on.

What’s the story of the Sanctuary pilot? Tease us!
Sanctuary follows the exploits of Dr. Helen Magnus (Amanda Tapping), physician to beings with extraordinary powers, seeker of new life forms, and when the need arises, out-and-out monster hunter. In the first hour of the pilot, while tracking a young boy with strange and deadly abilities, Magnus encounters a young psychiatric resident named Will Zimmerman (Robin Dunne), whose talent and open-mindedness make him an attractive candidate for a protege. Soon enough Will is caught up in Magnus’ terrifying yet fascinating world — from which there is, of course, no turning back. We also meet Magnus’ headstrong yet valiant daughter, Ashley, who learns a terrible truth about her mother’s past.

The second hour of the pilot introduces a new trio of (possibly) supernatural guests to the Sanctuary as well as a challenge for Ashley in the wake of the events in hour one.

How does the budget of Sanctuary compare to a TV show? And how has that affected your storytelling?
The budget for Sanctuary is as high if not higher than most internationally-recognized sci fi TV series. It was produced by the same people who make SG-1 and Atlantis. Many of the same producers (myself, Martin Wood, John Smith, George Horie), most of the same crew. Only difference is we put together our own VFX team, as farming out the massive amount of 3-D modeling and rendering would have easily doubled our budget. The only effect on my story telling is that I now have a far bigger palette to work from, seeing as I can set scenes virtually anywhere. That’s the beauty of green screen. We can be in London in 1888 or on a trecherous island off Scotland or moving through a city that doesn’t exist. Anything is possible. That’s a lot of power. I intend to wield it recklessly, of course. ; )

What’s the business model? How are you planning to make your money back?
Sanctuary will employ a simple pay-per-download or subscription model. As a company, our costs are significantly lower than say Warner Bros or Sony Television (we don’t have massive soundstages or plush offices to fund) so we don’t need to sell many millions of downloads in order to be viable (although, hey, millions of downloads would be nice). There will be no advertising – at least not initially. We may explore some creative ad models with companies we like and find entertaining and seamless ways to integrate their products into the show. But nothing gauche or obvious or obtrusive.

You’ve chosen to film Sanctuary in tapeless HD. How has that affected the production pipeline?
It’s made it cheaper, faster and easier to shoot and post the show. We spend less time rendering and transferring media. And we get to see exactly how each shot will look in HD as we edit, composit and render scenes. Many companies were shocked we went this way. But it is the way the world is going and we’ve had no real complaints. The future is friendly!

Which media will Sanctuary be released in? Do you have any confirmed non-web sales yet?
Sanctuary will be available for download or streaming in multiple HD formats. We are exploring other, more traditional forms of distribution (TV and DVD) to be made available after we premiere on the ‘net. We realize there are many people out there with old computers, dial up connections, or who simply prefer to watch the show on TV or DVD. We want as many people as possible to enjoy the show. I know that sounds like hype, but I strongly believe Sanctuary is an accessible-enough series to warrant a wider audience beyond Web — while still giving our online fanbase the interactivity they want from new media.

A TV show structure is defined by the act breaks. Sanctuary is designed to air in multiple media – how has that affected your story structure?
The structure of Sanctuary is at its core a one hour per story format, edited in four roughly 15 min webisodes for online distribution — not too dissimilar to a four act TV episode, just a little bit longer overall. At some point in the future we may recut the webisodes into single TV hours (44mins). The online versions would of course have extra scenes and takes not available on TV. Plus gaming and other web-based sources of info on the show’s stories.

As a writer, what excites you most about the story of Sanctuary?
I just think it’s a cool story. It blends recognizable elements into a new form. It hopefully has the feel of a good graphic novel, but the visceral excitement of a great-looking video game. Sin City, 300, sections of Sith and Phantom Menace had elements, both visual and dramatic, that showed off the potential of what green screen can offer. We intend to take it to the next level.

As a writer, what excites you most about creating Sanctuary in this new format, rather than realising it as a TV show or film?
The use of virtual sets. The non-linear aspects of writing for online (flash gaming, web assets, etc). The freedom to create a show without the usual constraints of the Studio/Network paradigm. I think once people get over their technophobia, there will be many series done on green screen, and many series done mainly for the web. We’re just crazy enough to go first!

Sanctuary has been designed from the get-go for immersive viewer interactivity. What does that mean? How will this be different to an ordinary TV show?
Without giving away too much, the flash-based player application that is now live (just register on will be the basis for all sorts of interactivity while watching the show. Flash games, instant messaging, break out moments — all these will be implemented over the first season of the show. And a lot of what we do and why will depend greatly on feedback from our viewers. Which, if you think about it, is the coolest thing of all. A show that listens to its fans could be the biggest innovation we’re employing!

So there you have it. And as of yesterday, you can watch the trailer and title sequence for the series here.



Ooh, interesting.

Up here in the rooftops, one of the things we look out for is new financial models for TV shows. D2DVD for instance.

Which is why this caught my attention:

Damian Kindler has, among other things, co-exec produced Stargate for several years.

He’s now working on a new show of his own.

But not for distribution via your tellybox. Oh no.

This puppy’s coming out on the Internet. No DRM, subscription model, TV production values from someone who knows how it works.

There’s a blog here which act as combined insight and advertising for the show, the most interesting part so far of which is this statement of principles:

  1. Let the creative people be creative. The best people in the world to make interactive or linear entertainment are the artists who thrive creating it. Give them the tools they need and let them loose.
  2. Distribute directly to our audience. If we are going to self-produce, we can’t set up an entire distribution network, so the internet emerges as a natural medium to effectively provide content to our audience.
  3. Give viewers “TV on demand” – over the ‘net. You Tube has shown that we don’t need executives deciding what content you want. As an executive producer my job is to help you – the viewer – become the studio chiefs presiding over the show. You are now making decisions that will either make this project succeed or fail.
  4. Don’t use digital rights management to the detriment of the end user. There is nothing more frustrating than paying for digital data and not being able to burn it to a DVD or share it with a friend or play it on any damn device you want.
  5. Allow people to participate in the creative process. Copyright laws have not caught up with the enormous cultural revolution occurring due to shared creative development (call it mixing or mash ups) – and it is time for bigger productions like Sanctuary take a leadership role.

That’s five very interesting things right there.

I’ll be posting more on this as I discover it. In the meantime, check out the prodco’s corporate website.

And there’s some publicity photos / music / PR fluff at the official website. But it’s in flash, has music over everything, and generally sucks.

So, like the official websites for most old-school TV then.

More on this over the next few days.

EDIT: I appear to have completely imagined the website being built in flash. Brainrot, I fear.

Direct to DVD

It seems that Babylon 5 creator Joe Straczynski will be making some D2DVD stories set in the B5 Universe.

Aint It Cool and Jan report on the announcement at Comic-Con.

Interestingly, neither Variety or The Hollywood Reporter have picked up on this story at the time of posting.

Some interesting points:

1) I listed Straczynski in the second tier of showrunners, those who couldn’t greenlight a D2DVD show on their own. Obviously that judgement was wrong.

The original prediction was made before the announcement of his huge spec sale to Imagine. Still, a bit of a boo-boo on my part.

2) The franchise already exists. Unlike my speculative D2DVD series, we already have pent-up demand for this – and figures to back it up. Specifically half-a-billion dollars in DVD sales. (source: the AICN report)

3) The commission is for 3 half-hours. Three half-hours plus extra features fits rather neatly on one DVD. You could even think of this as being three-pilots-in-one. So they’ve gone for a vanilla-releases model to see if the market will hold up.

Good choice.

A lot of people will be watching the progress of this with interest.

If the financial model works out, we can expect to see a lot more D2DVD series. My prediction, though, is that the other studios will wait and see how this does financially before committing to any D2DVD content themselves.

D2DVD – Number Crunching

Based on the Arguments set out in the last post, we have a 13-episode D2DVD TV series created by a famous showrunner and pre-sold to one overseas territory.

Now let’s take a look at the business argument.

The RRP of a Firefly box-set (a 13-episode series) is $50 for 13 episodes plus commentaries, extras, etc. (source).

Retail rule-of-thumb is that the bricks-and-mortar stores get half of that, the rest goes to the production company. Let’s knock off another fiver for the cost of production. This means, then, that we have $20 per box-set to put into the production pool.

We’d have to sell 975,000 box-sets to break even if we’re bearing the full cost.

Not gonna happen. So let’s see if we can take that down a bit.

Doctor Who releases the new series on DVD within two months of an episode airing on a vanilla release – just the episodes, no extras. Four disks with either three or four episodes on it.

This way you can dip into the series, without having to shell out fifty bucks. It also has a creative corollary: We need at least one “big bang” episode every three episodes.

OK, so what’s a reasonable price point?

If the RRP was 15 bucks, we could expect to see maybe $7.50. 15 bucks will likely get discounted to 10, so the actual cost in-store or via Amazon is three or four episodes for ten bucks. That’s a nice price-point, psychologically.

It’s very difficult to get hold of sales figures for DVDs, unfortunately. Assuming this comment is correct and 200,000 is a respectable sales figure for a $50 box set, then I think a good working figure for our sales would be 100,000 per disk.

Multiply that out by the vanilla releases and we’ve got a nice round $3 million.

Assume another 100,000 for the box set. We get twenty-five on this, so that’s two and a half million.

We’re going to pre-sell the series, given that we have a star showrunner, to at least one foreign network for $300,000 per episode. That gets us an extra 3.9 million.


Pre-sales: $3.9m
Vanilla: $4m
Box: $2.5m

Gives us a grand total of $10.4m

So we’re ten-and-a-half million short of break-even.

So in conclusion, I can’t see a method by which we could make broadcast-quality television and sell it direct to DVD. Unless the budget for the show could somehow be brought down to $750k/hour without any corresponding loss in quality.

Obviously all of these figures are guesstimates – if anyone has more accurate ones, I’d love to know.

Also, if the show is a success and racks up five series, it will go to syndication, which will change the outlook. But I can’t personally think of a production company that would be willing to take a $10.5m gamble like that.

I’d love for decent D2DVD episodic storytelling, but my first pass seems to indicate it ain’t gonna happen.

D2DVD – the series

The very clever Mr Bill Cunningham believes that the time is right for a D2DVD television series.

So, let’s take a look at some of the requirements needed for success.

Axiom One:
We want quality entertainment.

Axiom Two:
We are here to make a profit.

OK, what can we derive from that?

First things first. Quality entertainment.

Let’s define that as network-quality TV without the network problems, problems being defined as Stupid People With Notes, be they stars, execs, or sponsors.

So under that definition, we need network style money. Let’s estimate that to be $1.5 million dollars per 45-minute episode. (source).

Argument One:
The series consists of 13 episodes.

13, because that’s a half-season.

If this thing works out, and runs to more than one season, then part of the future income stream will come from selling broadcast rights in the future, both in the US and abroad.

13 episodes is a nice chunk – exactly 1/4 of a year. Three months of a “new” show every week. If you can last five seasons, that’s three months in syndication with a show every weekday before you have to repeat yourself.

13 episodes is also a handy size for a box-set – six episodes would be too short to feel that you’ve got your money’s worth, and 22 would be an extra 13.5 million dollars.

And more to the point, 13 is a number that a broadcaster is comfortable dealing with. (The alternatives would be 6 or 22.)

So 13 it is, for a total cost of 19.5m

Argument Two:
It’s a genre show

It needs to be a genre show, because we need to sell a huge number of DVDs in order to make a profit on network-quality entertainment. The best way of selling shows is to people who are rabid about new product. Which is genre fans. This is going to be the best way to build underground buzz, which you’re going to need to take this out of the gate on the first day.

Think of it as being like an opening weekend. You need huge in-store promotion and marketing from the retail giants to sell effectively. So you need to prove pent-up demand.

Argument Three:
It has an established showrunner.

This needs to be a showrunner whose name will sell the series to the public directly.

So you’d need someone of the stature of Joss Whedon. Or Dick Wolf. Or Chris Carter. Or Steven Bochco. Someone, in other words, who has already made it, and big, on Network Television.

Because the biggest sell of this particular operation is going to be that this series is just as good as if not better than what you can get on your TV already. And the only way of guaranteeing that is a top-tier showrunner.

This experiment has never been tried before, so it’s got to be someone whose name can actually sell the series to the general public.

In the second tier: Russell T Davies, Tim Minear, Marti Noxon, Jane Espenson, Manny Coto, Joe Straczynski. All good people and true, but they’ve not had the super breakout hits. I’d buy an original DVD series from any of them, but are they big enough for the mass market this would require?

Argument Four:
It’s an American show.

American through-and-through. The biggest television audience in the English-speaking world is in the US. Along with most of the talent we’ll need to make this thing. No ifs, no buts, it’s made out of LA or Vancouver, and set in the US.

Argument Five:
It’s not just for DVD.

You also sell abroad, for preference selling first broadcast rights in that territory in advance.

For example, CBC co-fund Doctor Who by buying rights to screen the series in advance. (I haven’t been able to source the exact figures, so if anyone knows what the are let me know). Given that you’re not getting a licencing fee that you’d receive from a traditional broadcaster, pre-sales will be important.

It may also be possible to offer individual episodes through iTunes.

Argument Six:
Each episode lasts 45 minutes

This allows TV sales through existing channels. An hour show, once you’ve added in space for the adverts, doesn’t fit neatly into a broadcast slot. A 45 minute show does.

So we’ve got 13 episodes from a top-notch showrunner at Broadcast TV quality for a grand total of 19.5 million dollars.


EDIT: Hello everyone from Whedonesque! There’s another post in this series in which I’ve crunched some numbers and reluctantly come to the conclusion that a broadcast-quality D2DVD series probably won’t make its money back. Though I’d very much like to be proved wrong on this.