Afterworld Interview with Brent Friedman Part 2
Below is the second part of the interview with Brent Friedman, co-creator of Afterworld. Today, we discuss production, business, and the online video industry.
AYP: How far is your team in terms of production?
Brent: The first 40 episodes are finished. We are in various states for episodes 41-55. In terms of writing, we are in 90s.
AYP: The animation is very different than anything I’ve seen before. Could you describe how the animation works?
Brent: We sent a director with a HD camera on a mission to take over 20,000 still images to use in Afterworld. These images are then painted by our background artists, who make them look almost impressionistic. The trick is to superimpose a 3D figure on top of a 2D image/environment, and it makes everything look 3D, especially when adding lighting and shadow effects. We use a character animation program called “Poser,” which allows us to build many characters quickly and then… pose them like dolls. Because our style requires very little animation, we simply pose our characters against our stylized backgrounds and then move the camera to make the scenes feel alive.
AYP: Very interesting. Let’s discuss format now. Vuguru went with 90 seconds for Prom Queen episodes. How did you determine how long Afterworld episodes would be?
Brent: There was a combination of creative and business factors. We didn’t feel that 90 seconds was enough time to tell the story we wanted to tell. You can’t measure how short or long a good story is – time is irrelevant creatively. For instance, a lot of people didn’t want “Lord of the Rings” to ever end and that was nine hours! From a business perspective, though, we knew that mobile markets didn’t want anything longer than 3 minutes. I had heard that the optimal time was actually 2:47. That number was apparently part of a study that showed that people would have 100% memory retention of advertising imagery in content no longer than 2:47. Advertising agencies don’t like the quality of attention on TV, because it is a passive experience and a viewer’s memory retention may be as little as 10% when they try to recall a commercial that occurred at, say, the 12 minute mark.
AYP: You’ve done Hollywood films before. What do you like about the Internet medium or this particular project compared to your other projects like MK2, etc.?
Brent: After all those years writing for film and television, I started to get bored with the rigid, conventional formats, especially the one hour drama. This new, shortform format of is very challenging, but also very fun because I’m flexing new creative muscles, learning new storytelling techniques. Plus, with the internet, the path from production to audience response is comparatively instantaneous… something in film that can be excruciatingly slow.
AYP: The series has a comic-book feel to it, have you thought about expanding to comic books?
Brent: We plan to explore the possibility of developing “Afterworld” in film, television, novels, comics, videogames, you name it. Part of the business model is that we are incubating our IP online, globally. If the series catches on we have created a real value for the property that will generate natural demand to exploit the story in all mediums.
AYP: Let’s talk about the Internet for a moment. What are your thoughts on the future of online series and how filmmakers will adapt to this new medium?
Brent: The Internet is essentially a farm system (think baseball minor leagues). It’s a great place to introduce and grow an idea – to incubate it – for relatively little money and, given the new advertising opportunities on places like YouTube and MySpace, actually make back some of your investment, if not a profit. Of course, the real value here is to use the feedback of your fans to develop and refine the idea, which building a loyal audience that validates your IP. The reaction by filmmakers I’ve spoken to about this new medium is singularly: “Wow, how do I do this?” The appeal of not having to go through the studio “middleman” is incredibly appealing, not to mention the chance to own your own material. The online marketplace serves instant gratification and is becoming a brand new frontier for young Hollywood. I predict everyone is going to want to do this.
AYP: Building off that statement, one year from now, would a tiny production like Ask A Ninja been buried by 1) clutter, and 2) studios starting to pump marketing dollars into the web?
Brent: The Internet is so big that “Ask A Ninja” would still find an audience. But the difference may be that anything that makes a blip on the Internet radar will be immediately co-opted. Kind of like online bands. As soon as a fanbase is established, a studio will pick them up, sign them to a record deal. So the creators of a show like “Ask a Ninja” will eventually have to make a choice: “Do I want to make the show my way… or sell out?”
AYP: Who is your target segment for Afterworld? Either psychographically or demographics.
Brent: Tough question. So far the people who like “Afterworld” have not just been the 18-34 male demo we anticipated. We are seeing a good number of younger females and older men responding to the show. I guess my hope is that we appeal to the core, but also expand the demo to include people who don’t already see the internet as a viable medium for quality entertainment. If AW became “appointment viewing” and brought more new people to the web on a daily basis, that would be a real accomplishment.
AYP: What do you feel is the best way to distribute internet series in general? In specific, what will you do for Afterworld? (Revver, BC, Veoh, YouTube)?
Brent: In this regard, Afterworld is a grand experiment. We really don’t know what the best way to distribute a digital series is yet; again, we are currently exploring many options here in the U.S., while internationally Sony Digital will distribute globally on multiple platforms. So the simple answer is whichever way makes you your money back. But I think the real answer will come after we wrap Season One and can sit back to evaluate.
AYP: What about agreed relationships (e.g. BudTV)? Did you pitch the big 5 (MSN, Y!, AOL, Google, MySpace)
Brent: BudTV made a sort of pre-emptive bid for the show. The ol’ offer we couldn’t refuse. But that is only for an exclusive 10-day window. We are in talks now with the others you mentioned for a second exclusive window, sort of online syndication, if you will. The reason this is possible, of course, is that the Internet is a very big place. And what people are finding is that BudTV’s audience may only have a very small overlap with the viewership of MSN, AOL, etc. So just because something has “aired” on BudTV doesn’t mean it’s ruined for the core audience at YouTube or MySpace.
AYP: What do you feel is the best way to monetize internet series in general (pay, ad, pre, post, product placement)?
Brent: Another good question. But this is also part of the experiment. At the moment, we are not using any of those models per se. Sony may apply sponsorship, ads, PPV to the episodes overseas, but it will be done on a regional basis that we don’t control. Here in the U.S., BudTV only wanted exclusive branded content – they smartly asked for no prod placement or ads, which was one of the main reasons we made the deal. The real answer to this question, I believe, will reveal itself over the next couple years when a solid, reliable business model emerges. Right now it’s the Wild West. Just claim your stake, set up shop and hope you survive.
AYP: What do you feel is the best way to create PR and marketing (youtube limited clips, SEM, blogging, myspace profiles, etc)? Which of these tactics are you using for Afterworld?
Brent: We are trying everything because, again, there is no road map. Our singular goal, like TV broadcasters, is to just get people to sample the series and hope they get hooked. But it’s been very hard to message our show without a website to direct them to. In fact, it’s astonishing we’ve been able to get so much traction on YT with basically no PR or marketing. Unfortunately, you can’t rely on word-of-mouth. Once we have our website up this week we will be much more aggressive in marketing and/or advertising the show and the site. How we will do that exactly is still a matter of internal debate…
AYP: How big is your team and budget?
Brent: Since we’re in negotiations with several entities I shouldn’t discuss our budget. But we do have a team of about 15 animators and compositors, two editors, a crack production staff and four writers besides myself.
AYP: Anything else you want to add?
Brent: The digital media company producing Afterworld is called Electric Farm Entertainment. With my two partners, Stan Rogow and Jeff Sagansky, we are already developing several more shows in the same vein as Afterworld. Multi-platform, animated, genre series utilizing some version of our current business model. Which is a long way of saying, we are in this for the long haul… or at least until the money runs out.
AYP: Thanks, Brent. Good luck with your series. I’m sure Afterworld will be a resounding success.