Interview with Houston Howard, Transmedia Instructor at The Los Angeles Film School

Odds are you have heard or read the term “transmedia” in the past few years. Also, odds are you didn’t fully know what it meant…or what you thought it meant was probably inaccurate. Still, transmedia storytelling is becoming more and more prominent in the entertainment industry, especially as the audience is increasingly made up of people raised consuming content on their phones and laptops instead of on television or in theaters.

Transmedia is starting to reach academia as well. Schools are starting to offer transmedia courses and even degrees. The Los Angeles Film School in Hollywood currently offers two courses in Transmedia. Houston Howard is the Lead Instructor for Transmedia Design at the Los Angeles Film School and specifically teaches the Transmedia Storytelling course. He has spearheaded transmedia instruction at the school and elsewhere.

As I acquainted myself with Houston and his courses, I realized my initial skepticism towards transmedia and its instruction was driven by a lack of understanding. I sat down with him for The Script Lab to dispel misconceptions and educate everyone a little better on what Transmedia is.

Houston Howard, Transmedia Instructor at The Los Angeles Film School

What is your professional background and what drew you to transmedia?

I graduated from law school in Virginia and I’m studying entertainment law in law school. And so that ended up being a pretty natural transition into producing and writing on the other side of the transaction. But my first interaction with transmedia was as a fan as a kid. Growing up in the mid to late 80s, I was in this era of the big franchises that started coming out like Transformers, G.I. Joe and Star Wars. I was a big reader and I distinctly remember my mom bringing me home a novelization of the original Star Wars trilogy. It was the same story that was in the movies.

Then one day my mom brought me a book that was called Tales of the Bounty Hunters. In The Empire Strikes Back there’s a scene where Darth Vader is talking to eight bounty hunters and he tells them to go find Han Solo. Boba Fett is the only one who does and you never see the rest of them ever again. This book was a short story anthology and told the stories of each of the other hunters and their adventures. To me, as a nine-year-old, I remember it being so exciting because it was new Star Wars stuff. It was crazy to me to have new Star Wars stuff that wasn’t a movie but there it was. This went with the movie in a really cool way. That was my first.

There was a film school in the same university where I went to law school. I made a lot of friends in in the film program and I wrote and produced a thirty-minute film while I was in law school. In the film, the main character hardly speaks throughout the entire thing. He’s this very internally brooding guy and we can never really get in his head. While I was making the film, I also had an original song produced and the songwriter was a producer on the film. I wanted the songwriter to write a song to get from this main character what you never get from the movie. And I started thinking it would be cool that the song could go with the film and then we could shoot a music video using the same sets as the film. So either before or after we shot a scene, we would bring in the songwriter to shoot him playing guitar and then shoot the scene so they both looked the same and they could both develop that way.

One of the concepts of the film is finding out halfway through that a female character is actually a demon. The main guy thinks they are partners, but really she’s invisible the whole time. So we started thinking in the shots of the songwriter playing guitar, if nobody reacts to him, maybe he’s a demon as well. We started putting the actors from the films in the shots and we started thinking of shooting the scene from a different angle than we shot the same scene in the film so we could reveal new information with the angle. By the end, the music video, the song lyrics, and the film would all fit together as one big puzzle. It drove the director of the film crazy and it actually didn’t work out super well because we didn’t have the practice, but that was my first experience.

So the first exploration wasn’t born out of a marketing or platform perspective but just from storytelling?

That’s exactly what it was: we have an insular character…how can we get inside his head without destroying the style of the film?

Also interesting that you were into transmedia before you even knew what transmedia was. I don’t think anyone was using the term when you were a nine-year-old. When did you first start hearing the term being used?

Back around 2007-ish, the Producers Guild of America ratified a transmedia producer credit. One of the trades, The Hollywood Reporter or Variety or something like that, ran an article on it which explained what it was. I remember reading “transmedia” like wow that’s a word? That’s the sort of stories I’ve been doing, the sort of stuff I think about and the sort of stuff I’ve liked as a fan. Now there’s a word for it! When I saw that, it really gave me this sort of clear path to actually do this as a profession.

Did you have a desire to teach or work in more straightforward filmmaking before that, though?

Sure. I mean, it’s fun to be on set and shoot a movie, but the more I immersed myself in transmedia projects both as a fan and as a practitioner, the more reverting back to a traditional model frustrated me. I like to extend the story in a valuable way to see where that character goes when they’re offscreen, or what’s in her purse, who’s that guy in the background. I want to know things like, what’s in the briefcase in Pulp Fiction? Or storytelling like you see in The Matrix, where you have all these opportunities. These are all the things that I couldn’t make my mind shut off.

Why does it frustrate you so much?

Because I’m a super story guy. I want to continue to extend the story. I never want the stories to end. I want them to just go on forever. And when you’re doing traditional entertainment, it’s too expensive and too difficult to do. But I’m also a fan and fans never want it to end. So how do you have your cake and eat it too? Do you stay traditional or find other ways to keep it going? And once I got an appetite for keeping things going, I found it way too difficult to shut that down.

You’re still a storyteller and a content producer, but can you even think in terms of a finite three-act structure?

When you’re approaching a film, it needs to have that clear three-act structure. If you don’t tell a good story, your movie is going to suck and nothing else will work off it. Your original story is the trunk of the tree. And if the tree has this rotting trunk at its core, then it’s also going to kill all the branches.

I still definitely think in the three-act structure because I do it for every component. There’s a three-act structure for the movie, then a three-act structure for the short story that goes with it, and a structure for the web series we’re going to do. So I actually probably think of the structure even more than traditional people because it’s part of this super system that all needs to have a structure to it.

So you’re saying each piece still has that kind of standalone structure but they’re compartmentalized into a significantly larger piece?

Think of it like a solar system. Every story is its own planet and some are bigger than others. Saturn is gigantic. Pluto is tiny. But they’re still planets with the same features, whether they’re gigantic or tiny.

What was the catalyst then of saying transmedia needs to be taught in a classroom?

For me, it was seeing people struggle with it in the industry. I was out here working with networks and studios and seeing such a lack of education where there needed to be. And it was one of two things. Either you had the old entrenched guard in Hollywood that didn’t know anything about anything other than how to make CBS legal dramas or you had these young guys coming into the industry with all of these creative ideas that were off the wall and threw traditional entertainment out the window. The young guys were trying to do really emergent stuff but were just failing left and right. So I found myself, when I was with the traditional people, I would teach them how to incorporate the emergent stuff around their traditional things. When I was with the young guys, I would teach them how to create something traditional as a part of all their emergent technology.

As a result, I found myself educating in the industry so much that I was doing workshops for the Producers Guild or the television academy or even individual companies. I was going into Disney Imagineering or the creative teams at Mattel and things like that. It was a natural thing to think, you know, if we can start teaching the people before they get into the industry, it’s going to be easier. We just had to start changing the mentality.

You saw a lack of knowledge and wanted to address a need, so where does one begin to create a curriculum or a pedagogy for transmedia? It still feels very new.

It feels new because we have new tools. But you can actually trace transmedia trends back thousands of years. I always say The Bible was the first transmedia project. Before it was translated into English, the only way you could get the entirety of it was through a combination of sermons, hymns, stained glass windows, or plays. You had to consume multiple pieces of media. Henry Wagner would have his libretto on little pieces of paper for the musical piece you had just heard.

And with the curriculum, I started approaching it by considering the obstacles I would find in the industry and how I had to sell it to those people. Doing that for so many years, I knew what the pain points were, what questions they always ask, and the sort of “why did this fail” of it. Understanding all those objections helped me frame it in a way where if the students could anticipate those objections, you’re going to have an easier entry into the marketplace.

Then I went and looked at twenty, thirty, forty years of projects, sort of forensically auditing the business structure and the greater structure of transmedia, with everything from Gulliver’s Travels to Star Wars to Harry Potter to Lost. And I saw they all shared common creative decisions and common business decisions. Both the successes and the failures. Then it became, do what Star Wars did. Here are the things Star Wars did. Then, here is what this one did. It was an epic failure. Don’t do those things.

You mentioned you knew what the objections always are. Do you have an example?

A lot of people say that it costs you money and doesn’t make you money. What they’re referring to is that there are different styles of transmedia. Some are meant to drive revenue but some are meant to drive audience engagement. It’s like a hammer and a screwdriver. A hammer isn’t better than a screwdriver. It depends on what your problem is. So most of the time, you’ll have a nail on the wall, and they’ll try to use a screwdriver then say it doesn’t work. So transmedia must suck, right? When it’s actually, you were trying to drive revenue when you should have been trying to drive engagement. Try this and now it will work.

Now everyone says this betrays the business plan because the plan is always to make money. But that means you’re only ported in one style. To overcome that objection, you have to make sure when you create a media project, you have a balance of revenue drivers and engagement drivers.

Another really common objection is that making all of these traditional things takes too long, because all these things like film, TV, books are all ported in traditional platforms. They’re all long and expensive and the creators need to move faster. But if you go to them with a bunch of smaller, quicker engagement things without those traditional platforms, it’s not going to make sense either. That’s why you want to balance it with revenue and engagement. That way you’re spending money but you’re still making money and have the smaller stuff to drive the gaze of the audience while the next big thing is being produced.

You’re starting to touch on my biggest apprehension to transmedia which is taking a film student, who is likely buried under a mountain of loans, eating ramen, living the starving artist lifestyle, immediately trying to make a massive multi-platform project that requires a big budget.

Definitely one of the most common objections. I was actually speaking at a US-China Entertainment Summit in downtown LA and Barry Morrow, who won an Oscar as the screenwriter of Rain Man, was there for the question and answer period. He asked me this exact same question. He said “I’m shooting an independent film right now and everything you’re saying sounds great, but it’s making me dizzy because I don’t have that kind of budget.” He had that same concern that this is just something the studios can do. But I told him the same thing that I’m going to tell you, that I think it is even more necessary for low-budget creators to be able to utilize the transmedia strategy. They don’t have the built-in PSA that the studios have to make people aware. They need to figure out different ways to engage their audience in their stories and promote their content.

So say you’re making an independent film and, sure you don’t have the money for a video game to go with it. But we have so many tools at our disposal that we can figure out how to handle this. So many people only think in terms of movies. Financing and making a movie is very, very difficult. But there are thousands of different ways to tell the story. You can self-publish a book one hundred percent for free. You can produce music for next to nothing. You have a website like Fiverr. Fiverr is an amazing resource to drop a few dollars to have somebody create something really neat. Maybe it’s a one-panel comic that you do once a week. There are so many inexpensive ways.

And for me, I look at Star Wars, Harry Potter, Hunger Games and extract the principles that support those franchises and figure out how to apply to low-budget or even no-budget projects. Because the law of gravity works the same whether you’re huge or small. Consider the end of Inception. Leonardo DiCaprio spins the top. If it falls, he’s in reality. If it doesn’t, he’s in a dream. But the film cuts out before you find out the answer. Even though that film was almost ten years ago, you could come out with an app today, call it “Cobb’s Top.” And all it was is you opening the app and either seeing the top fall or that it didn’t fall. Sure, I would probably pay a dollar for it. And if I would, there are probably a million people who would. And that’s how easy it is to make a million dollars. And what does it cost to make an app? That didn’t require a feature film budget. And it could be a website or a Facebook post. It doesn’t take a big budget to drive people to it if you hook them with the story in the first place.

Do you have an example of a project that was initially low-budget that utilized that? While I agree about Inception, it had a budget of over $100 million and grossed close to a billion dollars. So yes, an app is cheap, but it’s on the heels of a nine-figure movie.

The Blair Witch Project is probably the best case study for that low-budget strategy. I think they shot that for $30,000 and managed to completely take over the country for two weeks with all the ancillary material on the website. The fake missing person ads and everything.

Kevin Smith is also a great example too. He shot Clerks for 20-30 grand on a credit card and did all this quirky weird stuff that’s not really mainstream. But he was able to utilize the transmedia strategy to create this whole View Askew Universe. He had multiple movies set in the same world but he also had comic books that continued the story; he was able to fund independently for cheap. He ended up doing animation on his website that later got picked up for TV. He kept doing all this stuff himself because he found his weird stories weren’t always what studios or networks wanted to invest in. He found different ways to tell the stories he wanted to tell. They’re supposed to be making Clerks 3 right now and he’s thinking about doing it as a stage play. He’s working with a theater company in L.A. and New Jersey. And a stage play doesn’t require a huge budget, certainly not from an independent filmmaker’s perspective. And all he wants is for his stories to be told. When someone throws up a roadblock, he just finds these other paths.

You even see it as a way around spending those millions of dollars.

I had a friend who wrote a TV pilot and for years she could never get it picked up. I read it and thought it was really cool, so I tried to help her with a new strategy. So we had this really interesting plan where she had a mobile game design and a few other things while still trying to sell the TV series. From that, though, she ended up going to book publishers and actually got a book deal from it first. She wrote the first book and they ended up giving her a seven-book deal. And once she got that, she looped back around and got the TV pilot picked up contingent on that book deal. She literally gave herself the option to pursue whichever struck oil first.

That’s the most exciting part of transmedia. It gives you all these different avenues to pursue. If I’m getting pushback in one area, I can pursue it in another and then leverage it. The reason so many film graduates are starving is because they are in a very long line of a competitive industry. And they think “this is the only line I can get in.”

It’s funny you mention that because I’ve worked on film crews with MFA grads and they are like robots, in both a good way and a bad way. They are so efficient and so ingrained in the process, but also to the point where deviating from what they’re taught creates a mutiny. A very “you’re supposed to do this and not supposed to do that” mindset. Is that something you’re aware of when you’re teaching? That you have to be willing to experiment and be open to seeing this in a different way? Maybe your film can be a short story or a video game?

I never approach anything anymore that I don’t have a larger plan for because it seems like a waste of time. You can write a great short story, but what is the short story market? But if the short story is part of a system of something bigger? I have to have that big tapestry in mind when I approach my short story and suddenly it’s a part of a growth plan. It separates it from all the other short stories. It has the potential to be a part of something very popular and now you have a short story that is valuable, which is rarely the case.

One of my students was recently shooting his final thesis project. He had a nice little short film idea but it’s like “what’s the play on this?” Like most students, he wanted to submit it to some festivals and hope to get exposure. That’s fine, but even if you get into some great festivals, no one is going to give you money for a short film. Unless you have an uncle who is a dentist or something, that investor is never going to see their money back on even the most successful short film. So the student and I laid out a plan to make the short film a part of a larger IP and he ended up raising $230,000 to shoot his thesis film. That’s because he told the investor if you can help me grow this thing, you’re going to be a part of all this bigger stuff that will come out later. You show the investors this opportunity to be a part of something bigger where they might actually get their money back.

Do you teach the skill of envisioning your story in multiple platforms at once? Like considering your indie film simultaneously as a novel or a stage play?

While I think that’s important, you don’t just necessarily take your script and convert it to a stage play. If you’ve got your script and you want it to be your movie but don’t have the budget, then leave it over here and a figure out a stage play that could potentially get some buzz and lead people back to your movie. Maybe your stage play does really well and you can raise the money to make your movie. Now they’re working together as part of a big story instead of being a mere duplication of each other.

Having them work together is usually preferable unless you discover your screenplay actually works better as a stage play, which sometimes happens. A lot of times you can’t raise the money for your movie is because it shouldn’t be a movie. Not every story works as a movie. Not every story works on the stage or as a video game. You have to understand how your story works and which medium makes sense.

I feel like networks make this mistake every single year in pilot season, confusing a movie for a television pilot. I think of Showtime’s Homeland, where you cannot possibly make that story interesting for fifty plus hours. It’s a ninety-minute movie. Tops.

That’s such a problem. If you and I make a movie where we’re arguing across a kitchen table over dinner, maybe that’s a great story. But if we put it on an IMAX screen in theaters, that’s an awful movie experience. But maybe we end up winning a Tony for it in the stage version? That’s why you have to understand which mediums support which stories.

There are so many times I’ll be reading a book and think this is an awful novel, but it would have been cool as something else. I don’t blame the story. It’s still a great story. They just put it in the wrong place. It’s unfair because I think a lot of times the story ends up getting blamed. It’s not the story’s fault it was mismatched. Because it’s a bad movie doesn’t mean it’s a bad story.

You’re starting to touch on an interesting aspect of transmedia where, until now, its academic existence has largely been theory, with very little practical application. Like you said, studying how companies have utilized it or analyzing a story in different platforms. By preempting those mistakes, are you starting to overcome that theory versus practice approach to transmedia?

You certainly have to understand the theoretical principles at play. At the same time, you have to figure out how to actually apply what you’re learning beyond just criticism. For the first ten years or so, transmedia was all theory. Most of it was coming from very highly intelligent people at places like MIT. While it’s great that they’re doing the intellectual heavy lifting, if you put any of these people in a writers room, they couldn’t do anything. On the reverse, you have highly creative people who know how to write you an Oscar-winning film, that if you tried to stretch them out a little bit to get some perspective, they’d freak out. Again, it comes down to having that balance. You need the one side to create those theories and then use that theory to stretch the brains of the actual practitioners.

At the end of the day, there are always very basic things you just have to understand. There are very obvious creative choices or practical business choices that will or won’t work. Your story won’t work if you do this creatively. You won’t raise money if you don’t do this right. As a teacher, it’s really figuring out the balance of the two to drive those creators.

You’re talking about a pretty common struggle of academia where you’re more likely trained to think like a theorist rather than a practitioner. I haven’t worked for a production company for a few years and I know the industry has completely changed since I’ve been there. Is it possible to still effectively contribute to a film school when losing that relevant work experience?

It’s one of the most frustrating things about film schools and really higher education in general: by the time these students graduate, their field is going to be completely different. The technology is going to change. The market is going to change. The circumstances will always change. So we’re preparing them for jobs that don’t even exist yet, or jobs that may or may not even exist by the time they graduate. We train them on a certain camera or a certain editing software that likely won’t be the standard by the time they’re actually working.

On the other hand, if you only focus on theory stuff, without giving them hands-on experience and practical skills, that’s not going to work either. Education as a whole needs to be a little different. It used to be about understanding how to think as opposed to learning information. There was this idea that if they could teach critical thinking, then whatever obstacles they encounter in the world, they’d be able to work through them. There was a shift in education at some point where it became more about the student needing to learn information. Now it’s about regurgitation and hitting these benchmarks.

How can I teach this way to rearrange your brain? With transmedia, if I approached it in a way that you’re going to have this movie or this web series, in a few years those things may not even exist. We might have to deal with holograms and things like that. But if you understand the critical thinking component of how to make stories, how to breathe life into the cross-platforms, how to get your story to move, how to bait an audience and understand the human psychology of it all, then you can apply to anything.

What do you imagine will be the next big game changer for transmedia storytelling?

I don’t think transmedia storytelling has ever really changed because, at the heart, it’s about understanding the psychology of people. Since even the caveman days, we have communicated with each other through stories and have always been eager for new stories. It has been part and parcel of the human experience forever and that is never going to change. The base principle of transmedia is how to create a story and lead people to and from it.

I’m a nerd with what I call neurosomatics and understand how the human brain responds to a story. A great story doesn’t really have any effect on you, it just hacks the brain. It’s fascinating to see chemically what happens to your brain when you engage with a story.  So if transmedia is just learning how to hack the human brain over and over and over and over and over again, it never really changes at all. The only thing that changes is the platforms, so you periodically have to learn the new toys.

The generation that’s growing up now is the multiplatform generation. They’re pushing the traditional stuff away. They’re not going to the theater as much, they’re not sitting down and watching television in a traditional way. They’re on digital platforms and they’re engaging with fifteen to twenty different platforms every single day. The biggest challenge might be the bigger demand because the people that grow up with this are going to demand it and expect it. We just have to wait for all the Baby Boomers to die out.

Teaching that younger generation, two or three full generations removed from your own, what sort of stories do you see your students wanting to tell?

It’s interesting because when they first come to my class they all want to make Star Wars. Not literally Star Wars but their own sort of Star Wars. It’s usually an epically big space fantasy with an evil dictator that almost always resembles Donald Trump.

I’ve typically worked more with short fiction pieces, but it’s essentially the same thing.

After that first instinct, though, you try to steer them to what it is they’re actually passionate about. That’s because the generational IPs are generational because they are born out of the passion of people that love what they are creating. So I’ll think, okay let them play in the sandbox of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings to understand the principles, but after enough time you have to ask the student what they are passionate about.

For instance, I’ll hear they’re passionate about homeless veterans; specifically the plight of homeless veterans in Los Angeles. Great! Let’s take that and figure out how to use the principles of Star Wars and apply that. That’s where I see the lightbulbs go off because they see the marriage of these really cool consumerism principles of big franchises and entertainment with the something they really love. When they can see the intersection between the two, that’s when they go and actually create stuff in really dynamic ways.

That’s interesting, because one of my biggest issues is, as I’m sure you found in the corporate application of this, is that there is a fine line between transmedia as a legitimate storytelling device and a ploy to cover up a weak story and/or be a marketing cash grab.

The difference there is if it holds value to the audience and what the audience always wants to know is: what’s the payoff? Say there’s a website where you can find out what’s in the briefcase in Pulp Fiction, I go there and all it is some sort of product placement, that doesn’t hold any value for the audience.

I think a lot of the problems in transmedia is that the marketing doesn’t have the right to come up with new story things. A marketing person can’t decide what’s in the briefcase in Pulp Fiction. What they’re doing is figuring out ways to trick people. What it does is make people think transmedia sucks because they end up with some sparkly thing that doesn’t do anything. That’s why you have to understand those principles from the beginning. It’s more “How do I tell my story?” not “How do I use this platform?”.

One thing people are really excited about right now is VR. Fans want to experience the Avengers in VR, expecting some valuable piece of the puzzle. But it sucks because you only did it to have Samsung or someone pay a licensing fee. And that’s the fine line: asking yourself whether the audience is getting something from this or if you’re getting something from it. Storytelling becomes its most organic and authentic when it becomes the most valuable to its audience. If the motivation is having too much story for two hours, that’s organic, but not if your motivation is using something just to use it.

You started teaching this in a college setting two years ago. What has been the biggest surprise in terms of either successes or failures that you didn’t anticipate in implementing this curriculum?

The biggest surprise has been how far you can push these students. When I first started, my wife looked at the syllabus and told me I was crazy if I thought we could get through that. I even talked to the department head and it was a very “let’s see how it goes.” And every single month they continue to exceed the expectations. They like being pushed. I’ve realized that higher education doesn’t typically push people hard enough now. But it’s amazing how hard they can work and to see how far they can go.

I have noticed a difference in the way college students learn versus younger learners. With younger learners, you have that buy-in already, because they have to learn everything you tell them to get from one grade to the next grade and the next grade and so on. With college students, if they don’t think the information applies to them, they will lose interest.  They’re always parsing for the information that is applicable and relevant to them. How do you get them to see the relevancy of transmedia?

We always try to get them to buy in that very first class. An emotional, intellectual and creative buy-in. We spend two- and-a-half hours of a four-and-a-half hour class talking about the obstacles of the industry and what they are going to face out there. At that point, they’re usually freaking out, because they’re coming off getting accepted and orientation where they get this sales pitch that’s uplifting and runs through all these opportunities they’ll have. Then they come to us and we tell them what it’s really like. Hollywood has a very nice façade, but once you’re inside it, you see how fragile it really is. And when you expose the students to the honest reality of the odds they’re facing, they’re starting to contemplate their lives and the loans and everything. Like with the Marine Corps, you have to tear them down before you build them back up and, after that talk, we get them just to the point of regretting it.

When they come back, though, we have busted away all their preconceived notions of how they think things are and we can start showing them solutions to the problems. Before they didn’t even know what the problems were, but now they are starting to see how to overcome the problems and actually succeed. At the point you can see you got them, they can see that they’re getting in this long line of super-talented people. You’re welcome to get in this long and wait your turn if that’s the only thing you want. With transmedia, though, you can be in five lines at the same time. Now, instead of this difficult concept, we’re approaching them in a very common sense sort of way. And with that buy-in, you see that you can get them to work at this insane level.

We used to do these big showcases where students would show off their final projects. We would bring in transmedia figures around town and have the kids present to them in this like Comic Con type of panel.

We had a guest once who studied under Henry Jenkins at USC. Henry Jenkins is from MIT, we read his books in class, he’s considered the Yoda of transmedia. This guy came in with these very “I studied Henry Jenkins” snooty type of attitude and thought “I’ll teach these people a thing or two”. We start looking through the projects and listening to the students’ pitches and he just got very quiet. I see him get out his pad and start taking a bunch of notes. I told him the students put together the projects in two weeks and he could not believe it. He told me these students have learned more about transmedia than he did in three years.

How much of that is, and I was as guilty of this as anyone, that the culture of higher education has shifted more to students not showing up to really learn so much as showing up to have their opinions validated? If you don’t ever really challenge that mindset, they’re just going to retain the information that reinforces what they think and forget everything that disagrees with them.

That’s why we tear it down and start from scratch. One of the things I talk about is the independent investment and even the studio investment system. Now that we have Kickstarter, everyone thinks that Kickstarter is just going to save the day. But they don’t know that ninety-two percent of the films on Kickstarter get zero dollars. Not their goal. Zero dollars. The other eight percenter get funded for an average of $12,000. And, with the exception of Veronica Mars, not one film from Kickstarter has ever gotten distribution. On the heels of seven seasons of a TV show is the only way, so that’s very much an asterisk.

Then you start asking them if they think they can make a career doing $12,000 movies. You’re going to be a barista with that. Is that why you came to school? Do you want to call mom and tell her that’s what you’re doing? If you can make an awesome $12,000 movie, then I’m not going to stop you. But you need to help them see that and to step outside of that mindset. The lightbulb wasn’t invented by the continuous improvement of the candle.


Tom Dever writes for The Script Lab.

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