Catch up on Guy’s latest half hour comedy pilot & what it takes to create one yourself.
Q: Please describe your most recent project, the Family Style pilot.
A: "Family Style" is an independently financed and produced half hour comedy pilot staring Mary Lynn Rajskub ("24"), Jonathan Silverman ("Weekend at Bernie's"), Jaime Ray Newman ("Catch Me If You Can"), Jenny O'Hara ("Mystic River") and Michael Gross ("Family Ties"). It's currently being packaged by WME.
Q: What is your role in the project and how did it come to fruition?
A: I wrote the idea, produced and directed it. We had a single financial backer that read my original spec script and, after seeing some of my past work on www.guyshalem.com, called and said: what will it take to shoot this low budget in broadcast quality? I then called a line-producer friend of mine and asked him to put together a rough budget and within a week, we were a go. I wish projects were that easy to green light when I was working at FOX.
Q: Describe the new production model you discovered to help lower production costs.
A: The basic idea was to create a model where we would offer real equity to the above-the-line individuals in exchange for sweat-equity. The way the business is basically set up is that people get fairly large "up front" fees. We realized that in order for us to produce a $2 million pilot for $200k, then we needed to promise a small ownership stake to those who were compromising their quotes and investing their time in our project. Given how difficult the business is now overall and that the majority of the shows on the air are at least in some way owned by the networks that air them, we had to figure out a way to compete. Since we didn't have the exorbitant dollars to pay people their usual fees, we came up with this. It's more of a risk for all involved, but people are working, still earning a union salary and the upside is potentially much greater. People want to work first and foremost. So we just came up with a model where the risk/reward factor is more balanced and shared by all principally involved.
Q: What obstacles did you face during the production and how did you overcome?
A: A major obstacle was our ambitious schedule. We had to compress a 4-5 day schedule into two days. Although the two office scenes were shot in three hours on an additional day so technically, our pilot was shot in a little over two days. The thirty scenes shot at the house along with the exteriors were filmed in two days. In most cases I only had time for one take. Also working with SAG kids and having a teacher on set was a bit challenging because we had to constantly rearrange the schedule to accommodate union rules.
The biggest hurdle was instilling the new mindset of working faster and cheaper into every one of my partners, ranging from my financial backer to the actors, the crew, everyone really. I had to set the example, otherwise no one would have bothered. Had this been a "studio" shoot, I really think it would have turned chaotic. That's not to say my partners and I are the only ones that could possibly have done this, just that the mindset is much different when you are at a larger corporation. My attitude is "no job is too small---I'm willing to do whatever it takes to get it done, and I don't let my or any ego get in my way."
Q: What did you shoot on, and was there any special equipment or software used in production?
A: That's a question for my DP, Hishem Abed, but I think we used the Panasonic 900s, the same camera he and I used on Betty White's "Off Their Rockers" which was a project we did together earlier last year.
Q: Describe the hiring process: how did you solicit a team and crew your project? (What do you typically look for when building your team?)
A: I find that everything in Hollywood is about relationships which is why ProductionHUB is great resource because it helps people form new relationships with others in their area of expertise within the entertainment business. Everyone I reached out to wanted to work on "Family Style" because it was shot quickly with a high level of professionalism, and they were given the freedom to be creative. Unlike other major studio projects I've worked on in the past, we invited those interested in working on "Family Style" to be... well, part of "the family." Most were old friends who love working on a more collaborative set with a less corporate structure. To put it another way, in my kitchen, everyone is a chef, and that's appealing to a lot of creative folks. Having said that, I like people who are honest, don't play games and are fast thinkers.
Q: What's the next step? Are you hiring anyone, or looking for anybody to take it to next level?
A: We are in the hands of the Gods (and by Gods, I mean WME). We have a great agent, Richard Weitz, who heads the comedy section of the Television Department at WME. While there is debate about which agency is the "biggest," there is very little debate about what agency rules in television, as can be seen here: www.deadline.com
In the meantime, I'm always working on the next project, whether it is my own project or a great project that someone else might have. It can come from a producer, writer, director or production company and be a television, feature or Internet project. I'm also looking to meet entrepreneurial spirits looking to embrace this new model. One thing is very clear, which has broad consensus; the TV industry in particular is going through a serious transition and, because of that, there are many opportunities for pioneers who are interested in shaking up the old model and are open to new and creative ways of saving money and time.