April 21, 2011

Anatomy of an Undead Idea: The Horror Ghetto

by Freddy J. Nager, Founder of Atomic Tango LLC + Part-Time Mad Media Scientist

I usually use this space to dissect other people’s projects, so for a change, I decided to eviscerate one of my own. Ladies and gentlemen: introducing the idea that went nowhere, “The Horror Ghetto”…

A few years ago I noticed that horror movies were scoring big at the box office, but unless they featured a celebrity or A-list director, many weren’t getting reviews — even if they opened at #1. In other words, when it came to horror flicks, “At the Movies” was out to lunch.

And that wasn’t fair to the millions of horror fans, or to twisted talent like my friend Jed Rowen, who has appeared in over 70 films, in the pages of The Atlantic Monthly, and on panels at horror and sci-fi conventions. Time to give Jed and other horror aficionados more spotlight. Or moonlight. Or something like that.

Rather than moan and groan like some dyspeptic ghoul, I decided, “Where there’s a void, there’s an opportunity.” After all, isn’t that what every marketing book from “Blue Ocean Strategy” to “Zag” tells us?

Hence, the idea of a TV show that reviews horror movies was spawned.

I pitched the idea to one of my filmmaker buddies, Dane Boedigheimer, who also loves horror flicks and occasionally produces a monster-infested YouTube vid. Since he specializes in humor and sight gags, we decided to throw in comedic skits and raw silliness. After all, others like Fangoria magazine have produced horror review shows, but they’re lethally serious. So like Dr. Frankenstein, we combined horror and humor into one stitched-up beast and yelled, “IT’S ALIIIIIIIIIVE!!!”

We called it “The Horror Ghetto,” which refers to that part of the industry where actors and directors go and are never heard from again.

The Harpettes

Ghoulfriends (from left): Alisha Nichols, Juliette Angeli and Meghan McCabe play the Harpettes in The Horror Ghetto.

To accompany Jed — and add a dose of hex appeal — we cast a Greek chorus of femme fatales called the Harpettes, played by Juliette Angeli, Meghan McCabe and Alisha Nichols. We then spent a few hours filming — hours that flew by because we were having too much fun — and Dane worked his editorial magic into a 2-minute trailer (also known as a “sizzle reel”).

Since we feared that others might steal our idea (we were that sold on the show’s genius), we didn’t share it on YouTube, Facebook or any other online medium. We decided to go straight for the prize.

So we set out to feed our baby to Hollywood…

…which didn’t bother tasting it much before spitting it out.

The first meeting was with a television production company famous for its live comedy series featuring video clips. Sounded perfect — yet the meeting lasted a little longer than our video

While friends who had seen our “Horror Ghetto” video had laughed or at least smiled, the production company guy did his best Bela Lugosi impersonation. He just stared, eyes showing not even a flicker of life. The ensuing conversation went something like this:

Him: “Who’s the audience for this?”
Me:
“Millions of horror fans, particularly young males, ages 13-29.”
Him:
“Hollywood’s not interested in young males.”

Yes, he really said that. I guess we should tell the makers of The Transformers series to stop filming. I responded that even if Hollywood isn’t interested, advertisers of everything from Axe body spray to Mountain Dew and horror films would be. His blank stare gave me the chills.

I handed him a marketing plan I had written to promote “The Horror Ghetto” using social media, a sponsor-friendly website, cross-promotions with potential commercial sponsors (Monster energy drink among them) and live events centered on fanboy conventions. The appendix included Jed’s Atlantic Monthly profile and an article from the L.A. Times about the popularity of horror films. He took a glance at the report cover and handed it back to me.

Him: “If this is such a good idea, why hasn’t anyone else done it yet?”
What I wanted to say:
“Because most Hollywood television producers haven’t had an original idea since the doctor held them upside down by the ankles and spanked them to get the amniotic fluid out of their lungs.”
What I did say:
“Actually, it’s similar to ‘Talk Soup’ and ‘Elvira’ and ‘SNL’ combined.”
Him:
(ignoring me) “What we’re looking for is proven properties. We’re currently developing American versions of several hit Japanese gameshows. If you have anything like that, call us.”

Ah, the notorious Hollywood cryptkee— I mean, gatekeepers. Since it had been years since I worked in television, I had forgotten about them. Like other gatekeepers worldwide (HR managers, admissions officers, script readers and loan officers), their primary job is to say “no.” It’s usually foolhardy to deal with them without arming yourself first with a killer track record or a high-powered connection. Indeed, as I usually advise job applicants concerning HR managers, the best bet is to avoid them altogether, and to go directly to a higher-up.

So after that meeting from the black lagoon, I decided to contact my industry connections: agents, producers, studio executives.

They were far friendlier and encouraging than dead-stare guy, but they also didn’t think the project “had legs.” So I realized I couldn’t blame him for not falling madly in lust with “The Horror Ghetto” and throwing suitcases filled with unmarked bills at our feet.

Some of my friends provided suggestions, like using better music (a great idea) or replacing Jed with a celebrity, which I absolutely refused to do — friendship matters to me, and the whole point was to bring light to the ghetto, not to mimic it with outsiders.

Clearly, even though television regularly spews such toxic dreck as “Bridalplasty” and “Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” it would take a lot more to sell a show than simply cooking up a 2-minute reel with hot girls and horror clips. And I should have known that. I’ve worked in L.A. for over 20 years, and I know that each of the hundreds of staff writers, actors and crew-members currently working on TV has three or four ideas in their back pocket — and they’re the ones already inside the gates.

So where do guys like me and Dane go with our mad creations? Where else, but that great democratizer on the Web: YouTube.

And that’s when Dane struck gold.

Daneboe

Dane Boedigheimer: from Horror Ghetto to bane of all unsuspecting fruit...

No, it wasn’t with “The Horror Ghetto.” As we discussed launching Ghetto into a web series, Dane’s video “The Annoying Orange” took off, scoring nearly 60 million views. Indeed, his entire “Annoying Orange” channel has attracted over half-a-billion views in just over a year.

So guess what’s happening next? That’s right: a TV deal. (Go, Daneboe!)

Now imagine if Dane had tried to pitch “The Annoying Orange” before it became a YouTube sensation: “So I got this idea for a talking orange whose friends get killed by a mysterious knife…”

Rather, he let his talent do the talking, and let the actual viewers decide.

Now, before you go rushing off with your camcorder and a piece of fruit, the odds of getting even a hit video on YouTube, not to mention a TV series based on one, are somewhere between slim and none.

And yet, in this age of hyper-competition, where we’re all competing with professionals across the ocean as well as amateurs across the street, those of us with creative ideas and ambitions need to lay the groundwork first — and I’m talking acres of nice, lush groundwork, redolent with the scent of money — before traipsing off to the gatekeepers. Whether your chosen venue is YouTube or Twitter or Japanese gameshows, gatekeepers want proven concepts first.

And that takes time.

With Dane fully caught up in the demands of producing “Annoying Orange,” and me getting more teaching and client work (i.e., stuff that actually pays), “The Horror Ghetto” was laid to rest. And there it lay interred in the dark forbidding depths of my backup drive for over a year, when it occurred to me the other day to go ahead and upload it to YouTube as an Atomic Tango production sample. You know, just for kicks… and the off chance that it could rise from the dead…

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Freddy is the Founder & Creative Strategist of Atomic Tango. He also teaches at the University of Southern California (go Trojans!), shoots pool somewhat adequately, and herds cats. Freddy received his BA from Harvard and his MBA from USC.

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