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July 06 2006

More on Firefly and the Long Tail. MIT professor Henry Jenkins discusses the economics of direct to DVD, VideoIpod and series continuation using Firefly as his study model. It's a follow-up piece to a previous entry.

We looked at his previous entry about Firefly/Serenity a while back so I added that link to your subject line. first topic post, and I remembered the previous thread, but couldn't find it...nothing like being a quasi newbie!
"I am sure Whedon wasn't offered any options forward other than the movie and I am certain under those circumstances, he was better off going with the movie."

I'm glad he added that this time; the last column seemed to focus on Whedon as going with the greedy option, as opposed to the only one he had available.
"I am sure Whedon wasn't offered any options forward other than the movie and I am certain under those circumstances, he was better off going with the movie."

I'm glad he added that this time; the last column seemed to focus on Whedon as going with the greedy option, as opposed to the only one he had available.

Yeah, I think that might have been one of my criticisms last time out as well.
I think it is really interesting that these kinds of discussions about direct-to-dvd is starting to pop up here and there. The more it gets discussed, the bigger the chance it might actually happen.

And I firmly believe that it will happen, the question is only when. Not necessarily with Firefly, but wouldn't it be shiny if it was Firefly that pioneered this, and proved the impossible can be done!
Doin' The ImpossibleImprobable: Part Deux.
Garim, Your're right I think Firefly would be the perfect pioneer to do something so -as gossi put it-Impossible Improbable. Noone but the fans thought the movie was a possiblity either. Remember? Now we've got charity screenings, shindigs, etc; not just in the US, but internationally. D2DVD or i-tunes is not so far-fetched and idea.
How come start up costs are completely ignored in this model? Where are they going to get the initial $10Million for the sets and soundstages that studios provide?
Not to mention how they're going to pay the actors. The 1 million it took each episode was on top of the cost for paying actors, extras, and guest stars, not to mention staff.
Okay, two things I found in this article that annoyed me.

First, he spelt Colbert's name wrong. Not a big deal, but when you have typos in the first sentence of an article, it doesn't leave a good feeling.

Second, "Would it have worked? We will never know." Why exactly will we "never know"? Other then his last sentence, the majority of the article made it seem like there was a chance that it could work.

But, I will give him credit for apologizing about insulting Whedon in the last article.
Yeah, this model can work but I think that starting off with a high-budget sci-fi show was not feasible. In my comment on his last article, I ragged on him for being unrealistic about the money necessary to get this model off the ground. He essentially theorized that since there was a loyal group of fans who loved Joss and the show, they would be willing to pre-pay X amount of dollars for more episodes to be shot and be delivered to them some day in the future.

I do think Joss has enough of a name and pull with loyal fans to get this model working. But he'll need to be backed by big money/deep pockets willing to take this venture with him AND start with a show idea that's not as expensive as Firefly. Like with the WB and Buffy:tVS, it'd be fascinating to see what Joss could do with this new media. For one thing: no time limit on his creativity. He could write and direct much more of it than with a traditional network show, be free of network-imposed creativity, cast whomever he liked, etc. But he'd be constrained by budget and the whimsy of fans. The last is a major cost of doing business by subscription, and perhaps could be as cruel an artistic factor as doing business with traditional TV networks.
Something I just thought of, although others may have mentioned it already: what about the DVD sales? The impressive DVD sales are what led to the movie (if I'm not mistaken), and it was the DVDs that made Serenity money. If you buy the episodes, and have them saved on your computer, why would you buy the DVDs? I probably wouldn't. And if you really wanted DVDs, you could just burn them yourself. With this model, for quite a while, it seems like Joss would only be breaking even; and now he's eliminating the possibility of making money by selling DVDs. Especially in a fandom when DVD sales were so important, why would he want to practically guarrantee that no one would buy DVDs again?
I like the idea of a sort of a-la-carte television/movie menu. I dont know if the infrastructure is in place yet to make this feasible. Just about everyone has a television but not everyone has a computer.(Strange but true.)
When it happens it will be very quickly.
I have to agree with the majority of posts here -- this kind of thing might work someday very soon, but sci-fi is too expensive a place to start, and finally it was a good thing for Mr. Jenkins (who is not good at spelling names!) to apologize to Joss. That is all. :-)
This is an interesting discussion and even though I'd tend to agree with the author that we will never know if this would have worked for Firefly it definitely is something to consider for future genre shows.

I like the idea of advance subscription for shows because it does provide a direct link between what the audience are willing to pay for and which shows we get, no more whining on networks, cable channels or studios, if enough people show up with money in hand a show gets made, if not it's gone.
Post pilots for free on YouTube and similar sites to give people a taste of the shows they could get, then ask them to pay for them.

TamaraC: The studios themselves are resorting to financial partners to spread the risk for the big budget blockbusters, wouldn't it be possible to see the initial 10 - 20 mill $ as a purely financial investment, risk capital not neccessarily studio capital.
A smart investor might want to invest in 5 or 10 shows, some of which will be flops but if one is the next 'Lost' they'll make a good return on their investment.

ormaybemidgets : With the fan interest in double and triple dipping I dont understand why you think the DVD's wont sell, for a good show all you need is to add some new 'previously unaired material' or commentary and you can sell the DVD's over and over again ( For Firefly it seems new packaging is enough to get people to buy ).

billz: As have been pointed out in many articles, the problem with sci-fi/fantasy or genre shows are indeed that they are expensive propositions which (usually) lacks mass market appeal and therefore gets no love from the big networks, IMHO sci-fi/fantasy shows are exactly the place to start ( expensive but with fans willing to pay for their obsessions).
That's interesting, jpr. I'm not sure if that "expensive proposition" is just too expensive, was my point. On that tip, I was reading an article on today's (it's like 2:30 in the morning here) opening of Pirates of the Caribbean, and this paragraph was kind of on this point:

[Disney spent] over $350 million to shoot "Dead Man's Chest" back-to-back with a second sequel, "At the End of the World,"

This is just kind of in response to the idea that you save a lot of money by shooting back-to-back, or doing a sequel or whatever. Even back-to-back, POTC movies are $175 million dollars each, yo! Of course, maybe that's for zillions of effects, big floaty pirate ships on the real ocean and so on, but it still sounds like genre movies are just so, so expensive!

I want more Serenifly as much as everyone else here. I just have to believe that if there were any way to work it out now, whether it was shadow puppets for money in a hat or pre-paid iTunes, that Joss would have definitely tried it himself. So, I just kind of can't really have total faith that methods other people suggest would really, truly, for reals-real be "the way" to raise the money for Serenity 2 -- today. Maybe in 3 or 5 years from now, by which time more people will subscribe to iTunes, and Gina's new series and Alan's new series will both be (probably) cancelled (sorry, guys, I'm just sayin', it's hard out there for a TV series, yo), and WW will already be out on DVD and Joss will be a bigger Hollywood giant, and Nathan and Summer will have been in more movies and be big(ger) stars, yeah, THEN I think these new methods will work! And, plus, if the last 2 things happen (WW hit/Nathan+Summer=superstars), then maybe even a movie will also be possible again. But I just can't put my hopes on some theory that "could make it happen right now." Except the Dark Horse comics, of course! ;-)

Of course -- I volunteer to be the first person to say "I was totally wrong!" if somebody really, truly, for reals-real puts enough money for Serenity 2 (the movie, the series, the podcasts, whatever) into Joss' hands before another 3 or 5 years passes. And I would be the happiest boy alive who ever had to admit to being wrong! ;-)
billz, IMO the consensus seems to be that the big blockbuster pricetags ala PoTC and SR squeeses all creativity out of the movies, no one dare to take any creative chances with that much money at stake, just greenlights 'safe' sequels, remakes and franchises.
New interesting movies have to be made with a fraction of those kinds of budgets if they are going to be made at all.

My earlier points was all about future genre TV shows though.
I definitely agree that the bigger the sequel, the lower the creativity. Serenity was great, and cost less than a fourth of the budget of Dead Men's Chest or Supes Returns, but of course the ticket sales were way, way, way less than a fourth, too (unfortunately). And I definitely agree that in the future, perhaps it would be possible to put up a website that says "here's the show I want to make, here's who's in it, download this PDF of the first 10 minutes of the pilot script and see how much you'll love it," or something like that to get people interested in starting to subscribe or preorder.

I misunderstood & thought that you were applying this to reviving Firefly, which I kind of think is what Jenkins is talking about. So, jpr, if you are talking about future genre TV, I first of all apologize, and second of all agree that your points sound very much more likely than I at first thought. Sorry, dude! :-)

ETA: Heh, forgot to /turn off italics. Time for sleep! ;-)

[ edited by billz on 2006-07-07 12:26 ]
billz, no apologies needed, the writer does indeed focus on Serenifly, for my own reasons I'd rather see how these ideas apply to future cancelled genre TV shows.
Being a pessimist, IMO the Serenifly ship have sailed, I just hope that when the next great show appears there are more options to continue it than there where last time around.

The main reason for my pessimism being the whole discussion around who owns what of the intellectual property and what it would take ($$$) to pry it away from the Kraken they have guarding them.

[ edited by jpr on 2006-07-07 14:11 ]
Dude, I couldn't agree more!

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