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Rob Burnett Talks Entertainment and Technology: 8 Things You Need to Know

Indiewire By Srimathi Sridhar | Indiewire July 27, 2012 at 12:44PM

From being the CEO of Worldwide Pants to Executive Producer of “The Late Show with David Letterman,” to being the producer of the hit TV series, “Ed” and even discovering some of today’s well known comedians and actors (Ray Romano, Craig Ferguson, Justin Long, Ginnifer Goodwin), it’s almost impossible to be in the entertainment industry and not know who Rob Burnett is. His latest project, “We Made This Movie,” comes out September 20 via SnagFilms (Indiewire's parent company). The movie chronicles the attempt by a group of teens to make it big, and out, of their small town—a seemingly futile effort at first—until they realize in that process they capture something worth showing: their very own evolving lives. PandoDaily, a tech-savvy web publication, hosted its fireside chat this month in New York with Burnett, and Indiewire was lucky enough to sit in on the lively conversation. Held in Q&A style Thursday night with PandoDaily’s founder and editor-in-chief Sarah Lacy at the School of Visual Arts Theater, audiences were able to sit back and take in Burnett and Lacy discuss the roles of entertainment and technology in today’s society. Here are eight key points by Burnett to take away from the event: #1. Inexpensive is Feasible “I definitely think you can do it for less. You can do it extremely cheap these days if you want to. “Paranormal Activity,” I think, cost $15,000. It’s the single most profitable movie ever in terms of investment and return. So you can make things that are good enough for a theater. But even a million dollars, in the grand scheme, is a small number.”
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CBS Rob Burnett

From being the CEO of Worldwide Pants to Executive Producer of “The Late Show with David Letterman,” to being the producer of the hit TV series, “Ed” and even discovering some of today’s well known comedians and actors (Ray Romano, Craig Ferguson, Justin Long, Ginnifer Goodwin), it’s almost impossible to be in the entertainment industry and not know who Rob Burnett is.

His latest project, “We Made This Movie,” comes out September 20 via SnagFilms (Indiewire's parent company). The movie chronicles the attempt by a group of teens to make it big, and out, of their small town—a seemingly futile effort at first—until they realize in that process they capture something worth showing: their very own evolving lives.

PandoDaily, a tech-savvy web publication, hosted its fireside chat this month in New York with Burnett, and Indiewire was lucky enough to sit in on the lively conversation. Held in Q&A style Thursday night with PandoDaily’s founder and editor-in-chief Sarah Lacy at the School of Visual Arts Theater, audiences were able to sit back and take in Burnett and Lacy discuss the roles of entertainment and technology in today’s society.

Here are eight key points by Burnett to take away from the event:

#1. Inexpensive is Feasible

“I definitely think you can do it for less. You can do it extremely cheap these days if you want to. “Paranormal Activity,” I think, cost $15,000. It’s the single most profitable movie ever in terms of investment and return. So you can make things that are good enough for a theater. But even a million dollars, in the grand scheme, is a small number.”

#2. Don’t Forget the Product 

“One mistake people make with the web, or Hollywood makes with the web is, they think, ‘Ok, we have this amazing marketing, we’re going to go viral, we have all this stuff, we don’t really understand how to do it, but we’re going to do it.’ But ultimately, the product does matter tremendously.”

#3. Distribution is Key

“The thing that I think is more difficult, and where it gets tricky—everyone says, ‘the gates have come down, the gates have come down,’ and they have, but really, they’ve moved. It’s not so much that they’ve come down, it’s that they’ve moved. So now, anyone can make a movie, but now how do you get it out into the world? The distribution is still where the gate is."

#4. You Can't Have it All   

“Anyone that tells you that they don’t want that experience of seeing their movie on 3,000 screens is lying. That would be amazing, that would be amazing. But you give something up with that too. For me, I like to make stuff, that’s why I got into all of this. I like to write stuff, I like to direct stuff, I like making stuff. So 95 percent of the road of this thing is making stuff. And the making of this particular thing could not have been more joyous. There was no interference, there was no studio executive telling me to put a talking baby in this. So 95 percent of this has just been fantastic. Now comes this other part and it’s challenging. The promotion of this movie is, for me, unlike anything I’ve ever done." 

#5. Hollywood: Clueless But in Charge

“Hollywood does not know what they’re doing. There’s huge talent out there. And I’ve had some luck with it. My friend Jon Beckerman and I, when we were doing “Ed,” we discovered some pretty big people—Justin Long (“The Apple Guy”) that dated Drew Barrymore and Ginnifer Goodwin—she was living in Memphis and sent in a tape and we saw it and she became a huge thing.

"The web does create this democracy but it’s still hard. Hollywood still controls the distribution—they can advertise, they can put things up, they can force you to see things whereas with the web, it’s harder to do.”

#6. Tough Love for Talk Shows

“It’s a very challenging time for talk shows, without a doubt. And it’s largely due to the technology that exists. What's particularly difficult for talk shows—there’s been a few along the way—was syndicated programming. When you started to have sitcoms ("Friends," "Fraiser," "Raymond") on at 11 or 11:30 p.m., you now had actual comedy competition. There were other fun things you could watch at 11 in the night besides a talk show.

"Now, the biggest thing that’s affecting [talk shows] is the DVR. Because now people are programming their own primetime. I mean, we're now competing with "CSI"; it’s hard to compete with "CSI," you know what I mean? There’s a tremendous amount of talent out there right now (Fallon, Kimmel, Ferguson, Conan) but it’s very hard I think. I don’t know anyone going forward will ever have the mantle Dave and Johnny (Carson) had. It’s a difficult landscape for talk shows. Having said that, I don’t think they’ll ever go away because they’re extremely efficient programming.”

#7. A VOD culture

“The truth is, we make content. People have been telling stories forever and will continue to tell stories so how those get distributed will change a million different ways. My personal opinion, and I don’t know a lot about this, I think ultimately where this will head is that DVR, like all that digital video recording stuff, is transitional. I think that is not here for the long haul. TiVo, I love it, but TiVo won’t be around in ten years, I don’t think. They can’t.

"Where this is all going to head has to be all video online. It’s going to be you can watch whatever you want, when you want. And that does something really important because once we head there, and we’re headed there already (Hulu, Netflix), that enables the distributors to once again control content.”

…#8. Content Can’t Freeload

“You’ve got to realize, when you’re watching something VOD, Video on Demand, you can’t fast forward through all those commercials. It puts it all right back to them. So eventually, content has to cost money. That’s the one thing about the web I find interesting. You have to pay for content in some form, whether it’s watching an advertisement or downloading stuff, because otherwise the content can’t exist. At the end of the day, it’s content, it has to be paid for and distributed. That’s it.”

This article is related to: SnagFilms, Filmmaker Toolkit, Filmmaker Toolkit: Technology, Rob Burnett, We Made This Movie