If you were a regular visiter to this site before now, then you are probably wondering what’s going on. Not only does everything look very different but there’s a lot missing. Over the last couple of years, we ran various workshops, competitions and projects, which generated a lot of interesting content, research and stories. At the same time, however, the site became bloated and overly complex. Many people were confused by the byzantine layout and rabbit holes of information. What began as an experiment grew into a mission, requiring more strategy and design. And to make matters worse, our increasing traffic attracted a lot of hackers who were determined to turn our server into a spam bot.
It was time for a reboot.
In the beginning, SEAM was born from frustration. I had been developing a portfolio of film projects for which I was securing funding but kept running into obstacles.
The first obstacle was the development process. Screenplay development is inherently a collaborative process, which can frustrate auteurs. As producers, studio executives, talent and other stakeholders get involved, they give notes in return for their commitment, which introduces many chefs to the kitchen. Writers who pitch a great idea are not always capable of going all the way to the finish line and if the process takes too long, then stakeholders lose interest, resulting in a carousel of characters dropping in and out of the project and leading to conflicting agendas and creative conflicts. All of this is aggrevated when there is a perception of moderate to high risk, since most development tends to be haphazard and opportunistic. With the exception of licensing a franchise or a successful slew of novels, most producers and studio executives wait for good ideas, pitches and script to fall into their laps. If they lose interest, then the project dies. With so many roads to development hell, it’s no wonder that so many screenplays are ultimately shelved or put into turnaround (which is another kind of slow death).
The next obstacle is getting money to fund the development in the first place. Few independent producers have the resources and scale to manage a porfolio of projects, unless they get regular financing from studios, in return for which they must give up most of their rights to the projects they develop. This prevents producers and writers from re-investing in themselves in order to create stable enterprises. In many ways, delivering a good script is a bit like putting together a team of entrepreneurs to launch a new business venture. Try to imagine how well it would go down in silicon valley if your angel investor said that you had to give up all your equity in advance! The fact is that very few producers and even fewer writers are given back-end participation or merchadising rights. Instead, they get profit participation from the box office at best. And Hollywood is notorious for its creative accounting practices, which can reduce the profits of a blockbuster to nil.
Even if initial investment is secured to produce an early draft of a screenplay, there will be many drafts to come. Increasingly, this must be done during pre-production, because all the stakeholders need a guarantee that the project is going ahead before they commit themselves. That means financing a film before really starting its development. This may sound absurd, because it is. But financiers and distributors aren’t fussed by this, because despite what they say to the contrary they are really only interesting in a few of things – who’s in it, what’s the genre and how much will it cost? I even heard one distributor tell me that they had a project where they didn’t care if the camera fell over and filmed the floor for an hour and a half, because it had all the right elements for them to pre-sell it for production financing plus profit. So, imagine – they didn’t care what was in the script, or even if the film itself turned out to be a turd, because they had already made their money before it began. In other words, nobody really cares about the script; they care more about the elements attached to it.
Actors and executives, however, will tell you that they long for that one special script. They can reel off a list of their favourite films and wish they’d been given a project like that. Unfortunately, if they were being honest with themselves, they’d realise that most of those films had a lot of trouble getting made, because many people passed on them (just like they would have). The truth is that a really good idea isn’t obvious, especially when it’s ahead of its time.
“Nobody knows anything…… Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess and, if you’re lucky, an educated one.” —William Golding, Adventures in the Screen Trade.
Cobbling together film financing in the absence of a studio can be a nightmare. Film financiers, regional funds and the like all come with strings attached. They all profess to know what the audience wants and, yet, as William Golding will attest, they don’t really know anything. Okay, that’s a bit hyperbolic but what’s really going on here is that a film is chasing the audience of tomorrow, whereas a distributor only knows what sold well yesterday. It’s a bit like driving a car while looking in the rearview mirror. The truth is, distributors have to create a new audience each and every time they release a picture. They mitigate risk by packaging the picture with the best elements they can get or by working on an existing franchise. Even so, a film launch still requires enormous advertising and marketing campaigns to create the audience, long after they have spent a fortune on delivering the picture. This is putting the cart before the horse. Consequently, distributors consider projects through the lens of marketing objectives. Problem is, those elements and franchises are in short supply, high competition, and expensive to obtain.
In short, I was dealing with a lot of systemic problems surrounding development and financing. Money was tight, talent was fickle and development was perilous. There had to be a better way.
The guiding light for me was working within the video game industry, which I did for several years. There, I saw many new business models and much experimentation, probably since they did not have a long history of fat margins and release windows. Even though film was facing the same crisis as the music industry, it chose to punish consumers and resist change. The video game industry, on the other hand, seemed to invent itself every couple of years.
I’ll save my takeaways from this experience for another post, otherwise we might be here on this page for a very, very long time. Suffice to say, it was the catalyst for SEAM. In short, the film industry is modelled on scarcity, whereas the video game industry is modelled on abundance, because the audience is plentiful and – unlike the film industry – they have a direct relationship with each and every member of their audience. The smart money, then, should follow the audience and it seems smarter still to build the audience before finishing the project, which was pretty much how the whole free-to-play model originally took off. Just as “fixing it in the script” is the least expensive time to make changes, so is building an audience before release.
The SEAM solution, then, to all the obstacles mentioned above is twofold: improve development and engage the audience. We created the “Story Design” methodology to improve efficiency in the development process and we are exploring ways to engage the audience from the get-go on our open-production platform. We have been experimenting and prototyping this approach now for several years.
To be honest, SEAM started off as something that I did in my spare time, while working on my day job in the motion picture industry. However, as time has passed, I have been greatly encouraged by the enthusiasm of our writers and producers, and by the increasing quality of their work. It is clear to me now that if we really are going to revolutionise the entertainment industry, then we can no longer treat SEAM as a hobby.
At the end of last year, I quit my day job to devote my full time to SEAM. Earlier this year, SEAM received seed funding to take things to the next level. As part of this effort, we are streamlining our business into several different enterprises and setting up secure servers to manage each of them.
Currently, we are building our new development platform, based on Story Design 2.0. It will be members only and by invitation only. However, we will be running competitions to attract new talent to join us, so stay tuned.
Our timeline is to complete the alpha platform by the beginning of next year and start recruiting shortly thereafter.
If you are interested in our progress and our mission, then please subscribe to our newsletter. We will dive a bit deeper in our newsletter than we might otherwise do on the site.
As always, I appreciate your support and look forward to working with you in future. Thank you so very much for taking the time to read this.