In a tough Hollywood market where it seems increasingly more difficult to get anything – TV, feature film, direct-to-DVD – produced, the Internet is turning out to be, for some, the best place to go. With a variety of new Internet channels cropping up, the quality of programming is improving and opportunity for more creative distribution is now more exciting than ever. Sony’s web channel, Crackle, is just one of those outlets. The site features old and new archived TV and films, mainly from Sony’s vast library, but also original web series content as well. Some of these episodic originals can also be viewed as feature length movies and have been released on DVD and television… Intrigued? So are we. Script sat down with Crackle executive Eric Berger to get the skinny on exactly what kind of writers he hopes to find to help him create the original content for this exciting new format.
SCRIPT: What is Crackle?
ERIC BERGER: We think of Crackle as a next-generation network. It’s how you create a network today for a group of people who are unplugging their cable box or getting their content from alternative methods. Like a traditional network, we have lots of movie and TV shows, but we also have original programming that defines our voice. Traditional movies and TV shows come from the Columbia, Tri-Star and Sony library. We have Snatch and Revolver, along with comedies such as Big Daddy and Bad Boys. We have the Jim Carrey movie Cable Guy up until the end of January. We also have had such films as Jerry Maguire and Men in Black. These are 90-120 minutes in length. On TV side, the library content is traditional half hour and one hour shows. In addition, we also have original content. Everything we do on the site is a very programmed experience. We write for each piece of video, and we tell you why it crackles. We have full length uncut movies on the site for free to the consumer. Occasionally, there will be short 15 second ad breaks, but you can stream as long as you like and watch as many as you like.
SCRIPT: Tell us more about your original content.
ERIC BERGER: The original series we’ve been distributing are about five to seven minutes each in length. But once you string one entire series together all the way, it typically adds up to about 90 minutes in content. That’s one feature length film. This is a strategy that we’ve been doing for some time. We’re trying to tell one 90-minute linear story but in separate pieces, almost like chapters in a DVD. Each of those episodes tells a piece of the story. In 13 to 15 episodes of five to seven minutes each, it will add up to the 90-minute story. We typically release either one episode each day or a couple each week.
SCRIPT: What kind of content are you looking for?
ERIC BERGER: We’re looking for something, first and foremost, that is interesting to our audience. We’re programming a network for men 18-34 years old. We’re programming for people who love and appreciate movies. The key genres that have tested well for this demo are action, sci-fi, horror, crime and comedy. We’ve had a lot of success with action thriller shows. For example, The Bannen Way and Angel of Death. There’s also a lot of comedy that’s being developed online. Some of the things that we’re looking for go beyond these short segments into other genres. You don’t see a lot of original programming on the web in the crime/thriller/action area. But we’re producing content like that. We’re also looking for content that’s extremely differentiated from other platforms. It has to be so unique and different that it looks right for the digital platform on Crackle. Check out Backwash, and you’ll see what I mean. It’s nuts. A crazy ride. There are some great guest appearances, Jon Hamm, Hank Azaria, Sarah Silverman and John Stamos. When you see it, you can see it makes sense for the digital. One of the other criteria we have is that the show must be produced for the economics that make sense for this medium. We’re not working with TV and movie budgets; we’re working with a lot less. That said, we’re trying to raise the bar through better production techniques. We compliment the scripts with great talent on the directing and acting side. We’ve had feature film directors direct our action comedies. For Backwash, the director was Danny Leiner who directed Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle and Dude, Where’s My Car?.
SCRIPT: How do you find original content?
ERIC BERGER: Backwash is written by Josh Malina. Josh is an actor from The West Wing and A Few Good Men, among many other projects. This was a passion project of his. He’d been writing and thinking about it for a number of years. We got with Josh, and thought it would make an excellent production for the web. It’s off the wall and hilarious. You don’t see this in a traditional format or in film. Other big productions have been The Bannen Way and Urban Wolf. Each are 90 minutes of content released episodically. The reason for the 90 minutes is two-fold. First, we edit the show in the episodic way. But then we also edit it for full-length DVD, to be distributed on TV in the US and internationally. We’ve created second windows for the content as well as taken advantage of traditional windows.
SCRIPT: What’s the biggest challenge to producing web content?
ERIC BERGER: I don’t want to say it’s more challenging than TV or film. We are separating ourselves from some of the content you see made for the Internet already. I don’t want to take away from that type of content, quick, fun, experimental shows you can find on YouTube. But we are just trying to bring more scripted story and a higher quality of production to the content we’re putting on our site. We want to say that the web is capable of creating high-end programming for this audience. We want to change the perception that this can be more than just “cats on a skateboard.” Some of the writers we’re working with are fresh, new writers. They don’t have to have long credits, but they have great ideas. They are writing to this format and to this business model. We’re also looking for people who are established in one medium but have a passion for another. Josh Malina is an example of that. He hadn’t done as much with projects that he’d written, but now he has a full show on the web. The same is true for Angel of Death. Ed Brubaker is a very established comic book writer, but hadn’t written a digital series. This was an option for him as well.
SCRIPT: Where else besides the Internet can fans find Crackle’s content?
ERIC BERGER: We make Crackle content available in many places, sort of like what Netflix does with its content. We have Crackle on Verizon, AT&T and Sprint. We have Android applications. We have versions of Crackle imbedded on YouTube and MySpace. We have versions of Crackle that work on Sony Bravia and the new Google TV. You can get it on a large screen. It’s all on demand and streamed.
SCRIPT: What’s your advice to aspiring screenwriters?
ERIC BERGER: For us, one of the things that we always say, whether it’s a six-minute or a 90-minute piece of content, the story and the characters truly matter. Just because it’s online doesn’t mean you can shortcut the traditional aspects of storytelling that are so critical. The characters, the pacing, the reveals… all of those things are as important for this medium as for any other medium. There are, however, some differences that we’ve discovered about short form episodes, too. The ability to write in these shorter story arcs is necessary. Instead of using the traditional three-act approach, the writer must understand that things need to happen in each of these episodes. On the comedy side, people are also a little bit more fickle on the web. You’ve got to get to the funny faster than you’d need to if you have more time and more pacing. We’re looking for very fresh and original material, something you don’t see in the traditional TV world.