Category Archives: monetization

Rwanda Here We Come, Get Ready to Animate!

I am leaving today for Rwanda. My boys and I are teaching Rwandan kids how to create their own media channels. They are creating animations for awareness of the mountain gorillas in their country. We are going to help them animate their own stories about their most valuable natural resource and one of the main sources of income to this rebuilding nation…eco-tourism.

We’ll post our adventures as we find time to breath. We have quite an agenda and it is a very high honor to be trusted with teaching these fine people the art of visual persuasion.

More Later

The Eye, The Imagination, and Two Hundred Million bucks.

During the dot com boom, early on – like 1995, I met a gentleman who sold an online trading system to a large investment bank for $50M in stock. During the dot com boom, the stock ran up to about 200M before his non-compete contract finished, and he cashed out his 200M about a year before the bust. He created his own VC Fund and has been playing with it ever since. I think he was 32 at the time.

My interaction with this fellow was during a non-profit’s fund raising meeting. I was familiar enough with him to ask the following questions:

Me: Holy smokes, life is good.

He: It’s been quite a ride, actually.

Me: What have you learned?

He: What I’ve learned is that my assumptions from the start-up days are incorrect about how wealth would affect me.

Me: How so?

He: Well, when I was in a two-bedroom apartment and cramming out the code and getting everything built, I thought if I could just get 5 or 6 million in the bank, I could live off the interest at about 200,000 after taxes for the rest of my life. You know, set for life. Now that I have many multiples of that amount, I am seeing completely new vistas, new ways that money can be put to use. It turns out it’s not enough for the things I now want to do.

Me: So you could spend it all tomorrow?

He: No problem. Go get a copy of the Robb Report Magazine. These people market heavily to the super-affluent. Buy this island, buy this jet, buy this castle, etc. Their goal is to ignite your imagination.

Problem is, I know these people. They have the yachts, the jets, etc. One looks like a bumpkin to them. Even with 200 million. So I’m trying not to blow it all in one place.

Me: How do you spend your time.

He: I’m learning how to fly.

Me. A jet?

He: Eventually…

I left it there. In other words his point was that the eye is infinitely expandable to meet the income and spend it. Clearly he was not planning to live off the interest. He turned out, in the words of Nassim Nicholas Taleb to be an optimizer, not a satisfizer. Looking for the bigger, better deal. Not looking for ways to be satisfied with what he had. Taleb makes the case that optimizers are less happy with life. Satisfizers find equalibrium, care less about what others think, and use the cards dealt within an economy that does not over extend their resources. He also makes the case that they are better friends (satisfizers) because they are present and available to be friends without being distracted by optimizing their time with you so they can be off doing the empire tweaking.

I think I have no idea which I am. I’m satisfied with so much in life, yet I want to expand my influence.


My Descent into and Out of Reality Television Part 7

Thank goodness for a great attorney! Our attorney had once been general council to a major cable channel. He’d seen the insides of some of the most lucrative television shows of the 1990’s and now he was doing his own thing. He secured us all the finer points going in. Kill fees, merchandising, re-run legalese, back-end this, back-end that, upfront monies, and percentages in perpetuity, worlds without end.

For the IRON CHEF knock-off fashion thing, we did a slapped-together prototype as proof of concept for the food chain. Our one-sheet was now an 6-7 minute animated/live action treatment. Our sample prototype was all the rage amongst the office crowd at Viacom. In it, we had a 3-D mockup of the set with superimposed contestants, models, and animated photographs of celebrities judging. (I think in particular we used Dennis Miller, J-Lo, and Donna Karen as the panelists) We’d paid a visit to garment district fashion houses and watched how fashion designers work these days. We found it only took a handful, maybe four or five designers, to be designing patterns and cuts, which were then faxed or e-mailed to Vietnam, where the patterns and the materials we produced. They’d send back samples overnight. Just like the computer hardware or television animation industry. Design it here, give to asia to make, get it back and sell it. They gave us a quick rundown of the business model of the fashion industry. We talked a few designers about how hard it would be to design something and drape a model in a few hours. They were all for it. We invited them over to the VH1 insert stage where we shot them on green screen, draping fabric over each other, superimposed them on a 3-D backgrounds, and the did cut-out animations of commentary by Miller, Karen, and J-Lo whose line were provided by comedy writers.

This actually was a very funny pitch. We called it Fashion on the Fly. Later, peripheral staff on this show would go on to develop Project Runway, which we found out was in development simulataneous with Fashion on the Fly. It is a small world and word travels fast. Actually, Project Runway was a week imitation of Fashion on the Fly, that is until Donald Trump’s The Apprentice hit.

Until The Apprentice did huge opening numbers everything was cool. The IRON CHEF was a hip, cool idea to run with, but when The Apprentice came out of the gate, all bets were off.

Project Runway shut down to re-tool itself into an “apprentice” style format. We stuck with the IRON CHEF format.

Someone once said, “immitation is the sincerest form of television.” We saw this in action. Having a show under development gave us an inside peek at all the ideas coming in as Apprentice Knock-offs. Sylvester Stalone, on the day following Apprentices’ premiere, pitched his boxing reality show. Ralph Lauren was rumored to have a fashion apprentice, America’s Next Top Model was in, Martha Stewart made her pitch, Steven Spielberg was in with a director idea, and a whole host of others. Everybody and their dog started to do an Apprentice-like show with a celebrity judge that fires all but one of the contestants. Every celebrity that had any kind of specialty started showing the week after the Apprentice took 18 Million viewers with it’s opening. In one massive zap of zeitgeist zaniness, everybody realized that this was the future of television entertainment, and that was that. We watched bemusedly as this whole frenzy started and we fully expected to be asked to retool this as an Apprentice knock-off.

The short story is that it was not long before our project was green-lit. And by green lit, that means all systems go. They pulled the trigger, time to produce this thing. Let the entire world mimic Apprentice, we will now stand out as the one show who doesn’t want to be the next Apprentice. We were going to be the next IRON CHEF!! The irony is rich.

VH1 secured the producer from Rosie O’Donnell’s recently cancelled show. and we were off to the races.

How many voices do you have?

If you have begun your new channel, the whole world can get to your voice. Here’s someone who demonstrates a voice can get to the whole world, in english that is. I never knew where Kate Hepburn’s accent came from, until the last accent in this video. Transcontinental! Where do we sign up to speak with that kind of clarity.

My Decent into and out of Reality Television – Part 6

Television, and Hollywood for that matter, is run by accountants and lawyers. Oh some of them go by other names…agents, business managers, etc., but when all is said and done, big entertainment works like the contract you sign when you rent a car. You see the shiny red mustang convertible at Hertz. You plunk down your credit card. They ask you to sign the contract. You sign, eyes on the road ahead, mind on the hair blowing and the sun shining. You throw the contract in the glove compartment. Next time you think of that little piece of paper, if nothing of note happens while you drive, is when you turn the car back in.


If something does happen, like spilling ink on the seat, or cracking the window, or wrecking the transmission, or a slight fender bender. THEN! You’ve entered a new realm.

Pull out that contract NOW! First thing you notice is the quint-fold-out form. (yes five panels unfold from what looked like a simple flyer) This petite paper is actually a 20 page contract were it on regular legal paper. This simple car rental envelope, turns out to be an origamied contractual masterwork, distilled by 90 years of legal and actuarial minds from the best universities in the world. The entire case history of every car incident is assumed, right there in your finger tips. Incomprehensible legalese flows off the page like a heaving, beating, throbbing thesaurus with teeth. The smallness of the print, 3 point at most, strikes you as being too small for hope.

You get a sinking feeling which turns into a panicked urge to yelp, “someone should have explained this to me”! But you quell the yelp. You realize the utter impracticality of having had a lawyer come down to Hertz to apprise you of all possible scenarios the contract subsumes. You realize who is your daddy. Lawyers and accountants. You are simply inventory.

Hence the comparison to TV. Only instead of wrecked cars triggering legal action, in television it is “green-lit” shows. Every contract is written as if a show goes on to become American Idol. This makes sense. But you in fact do have to have an attorney come down and look at the Hertz contract the television channel unfolds. They want to drive your show. They want to OWN your show. They want the right to claim it is their show! And if they want, they’d like to warehouse your show. It costs ten thousand dollars to have a lawyer spell this out.

My partner and I have two green-lit shows. My partner, it turns out, doesn’t have 10k. This hertz.

He might be sleeping in the convertible mustang…

If NBC showed up to Broadcast your Little League Game…

Improv Everywhere just posted a dream “channel”. Your kid’s little league game.

My Descent Into and Out of Reality Television – Part 5

More on the creator of Room Raiders.

We’ll call him Mr. T. T was sent to the US by his British production company to establish a beach-head in reality television. He turned one sheet of paper into about 10 million dollars with Room Raiders.

He pitched RR to MTV. They loved it and developed it over a year. Three versions of a pilot. We went to the launch party. MTV loved it, the audience loved it, Graden loved it, all was well. They ended up making over 100 episodes.

Mr. T. was and is a class act. He was the best memory of my TV years. Some time before the RR launch, my partner found out about him, called up, set an appointment, and boom! there we were, in Mr. T’s office. We pitched him our bag of shows. He loved a few, enough to have us back to explore ideas numerous times. We would have great meetings where we brainstormed the most outrageous shows. He whittled his wit in London on Monty Python, Beyond the Fringe, Faulty Towers, and the other Brit TV as a kid. He is, I’m guessing about 57. Mind of a 23 year old. Quite an incongruous experience seeing his proper demeanor and hearing his out-of-this-world show ideas. (Mr. T has recently left Granada after successfully launching about half-dozen shows.)

It was quite a head-trip to know, if any one of our show ideas took root in our minds, we could nurture it into an actual television program. Thinking up reality television is quite silly, almost like an adult party game. No script. Just an idea that has to be able to hold water past one episode. If anyone with a great concept can get in front of a production company, boom! Oil! Ask Mark Burnett of Survivor fame. He was a nanny when he thought up Survivor.

I really enjoyed conceptualizing the future of television. Nevermind that I never watch reality TV. Not much TV at all really. But I love the interplay of ideas and the creative process. From this perspective, riffing with Mr. T. was nitrous oxide.

After many meetings, we would go on to develop a new show with Mr. T. taking the lead as we pitched it everywhere. Our new show was kind of an animated “celebrity blender”. A comical riff on pop-culture. What would happen if an episode of “24” was about Jack Bauer saving the world from Britney on the loose. What if Paris, Britney, and Lindsey did High School Musical 3 from a rehab facility, etc. You get the idea. After two pitches it was picked up by VH1. We now had two shows at Vh1. The Iron Chef Fashion thing, and now the celebrity blender thing. Now all that had to happen was to get it past legal. Get the legal ducks in order and we’d have two development deals. Not bad for two guys with overactive imaginations.

Legal…Don’t get me started. At least not today…