When The ‘Burg launched in 2006, it was a bit of an anachronism — a sitcom-like Web series amid a sea of dumb clips and periodic lonelygirl15 videos on YouTube.
The quirky send-up of hipster Williamsburg got a lot of buzz and press. But the show, which finished its second season last fall, probably won’t be coming back.
How’d that happen? When Thom Woodley and Kathleen Grace launched The ‘Burg, they self-funded it and shot it in their spare time. Actors and crew worked for free and Woodley and Grace spent about $300-$400 a 20-minute episode, mostly for web hosting, hard drives, food, beer and cab fares.
Then they got some money. Motorola (MOT) signed to sponsor a 9-episode run last spring, and the ‘Burg looked headed for the big time. And Woodley and Grace spent that way. Woodley and Grace formed an LLC, got insurance, and started paying the actors, writers, costume designers and editors for their time.
How much? A pittance by TV standards, but a fortune compared to their old budget. The Screen Actors Guild, for instance, wanted Woodley and Grace to pay each of four SAG members $800 a day. The producers were able to get that down to $200 a piece, but costs still ballooned — to $1000 a minute.
That was fine while Motorola was paying the bills, but when that ran out, the producers had an expensive show and no sponsors. Woodley estimates an additional 12 15-minute episodes, plus requisite Web shorts, would run about $250,000, if done on the cheap. “It would have been prohibitively expensive for every sponsor we would want,” Woodley says.
The good news: Woodley and Grace still have work. They’re now producing “The All For Nots“, a send-up of indie band life, and Michael Eisner is paying the bills, via his Vuguru production house. But the producers have learned some lessons. They’re only casting amateur actors, for instance. And neither are getting rich. It’s a full-time job for Grace, but even with Eisner involved Woodley, a creative exec at ad firm Euro RSCG, isn’t quitting his day job.
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