Scott Manville: Thanks for sharing
your time, Nate. I'm excited to learn a bit
about the "digital Hollywood" that seems to
be opening up a whole new world for studios,
producers, and content creators.
Nate Barlow: Thank you, Scott.
It's my pleasure.
SM: How did you get your start in the
business, and what has the road been like
NB: Since I came into the industry
pretty cold, with only a couple of contacts
(and not close ones at that), I started off
working crew for free on student films just
to gain experience. Other than a couple
acting and filmmaking courses in college (my
degree is in computer engineering), my
entertainment education prior to the on-set
apprenticing was largely studying films and
reading books, so I needed as much hands-on
training as I could find. On those
productions I made many friends and we
transitioned to paying gigs together,
bringing each other along.
SM: Help me understand, when you're
developing projects, are you gearing them
specifically for the internet or other
digital devices and outlets, or do you focus
on traditional tv/film projects and if they
happen to have a life in new media, then
NB: I believe every project has
its natural format for which it is best
suited. That doesn't mean there aren't other
elements, intrinsic or correlated, that work
at least as well, if not better, in other
media. So I look at every concept with
a multi-media approach: filmed
entertainment, websites, games, graphic
novels, prose, you name it.
SM: Without breaking any confidences,
can you describe the types of projects
you're currently working on?
NB: At Automatic Pictures we have one
giant property entitled The Looking Glass
Wars, which started as a novel trilogy and
then expanded into graphic novels, MMOs,
other games, etc. Of course, movies
are being planned.
Automatic, I've been writing an adaptation
of a children's fantasy novel for Kerouac
Films and negotiating the sale of one of my
spec scripts. I'm also producing an
indie film and consulting on a couple other
SM: How many projects are you working
on at any given time?
NB: That constantly varies, but
let me see, that's six at the current
SM: Can you shed any light on how
the advertising models/strategies differ
between traditional and new media? Do
advertisers trust internet-based
NB: Most web advertising is
cost-per-click (CPC) and/or
cost-per-impression (CPM), a very different
model than the television/radio/print
advertising buys with which we are
accustomed. You're not paying for air
time, only those specific end users whom you
reach. And the rates per conversion
are very, very low. A small percentage
of ad campaigns are sponsorships, which more
closely mirror traditional patterns in that
the advertiser pays for X amount of time of
specific page placement. Such
campaigns, however, tend to be limited to
very large sites and/or very specific niches
in which a very specific product is marketed
to a very specific audience. When you
are limited to CPC and CPM, as many new
media productions are, you're returns are
very low unless you become a HUGE hit.
SM: From your experience and view,
how has the emergence of new media and the
internet as an outlet influenced decisions
during the development of projects? Is it
just another distribution channel, or is it
a direct influence on the types of shows
NB: It's definitely influenced
production on the low-budget end of things,
since it provides a distribution outlet for
those people who otherwise may not have had
one. Since those productions are often
made as labors of love or just to be
showcased, they have fared the best.
Many of the more highly budgeted productions
aimed primarily at new media (those with
serious venture capital or studios/networks
behind them) have been shuttered since they
have failed to be profitable, and the
corporations behind them are all about the
bottom line. The problem is, you can't
simply think of new media as a distribution
channel unless you are doing so solely as a
secondary outlet (ala Hulu) to
earn some extra money. Just as
television and DVD and film are all unique
markets with their own considerations, new
media has its own paradigms that must be
recognized and accounted for when producing
for it as your primary intended distribution
outlet if you have any hope of being
SM: What advice can you give to
concept creators and writers who want to
venture into new media?
NB: Design for the medium!
I think the reason why so many new media
projects don't find an audience is that
people try to work television or other
concepts into a new media format because
it's a readily available distribution
platform—perhaps the only one available for
the creators, or at least the only one the
can attain. Unfortunately, that
usually doesn't work. As I said
previously, everything has its natural
medium. Create with that in mind.
I believe that the
killer app for new media entertainment
properties (particularly filmed ones) is
still on the horizon. If one can
discover that new twist that truly separates
new media from film and television, the one
that defines the format, that person will be
set for life.
SM: What do you look for in a great
project? Are you specific in the types of
projects you take on, or is it, "I'll
know it when I see it?"
NB: I'm definitely an "I'll
know it when I see it" kind of person.
At the core it has to have a great concept.
There are plenty of horribly executed
scripts with brilliant ideas behind them.
Often, one needs to look beneath the surface.
SM: We all know that ideas get sold,
developed, written, and some produced.
Regarding the creation of any show, can you
describe the importance of Idea versus
NB: Idea is the concept; Execution
is how the Idea is brought to life.
Execution is worthless without Idea. At the
script stage, both are necessary, but a
great Idea even more so. Execution will
definitely help one sell a good Idea, but a
bad Idea with great Execution is still a bad
Idea, no matter how polished the appearance;
great Execution simply can't hide that fact.
That being the case, Idea is without a doubt
more critical; it can always be rewritten
once purchased. On the other hand, a
lot of executives and producers won't sit
through bad Execution to find a potentially
good Idea underneath (although some will),
hence Execution's importance.
Of course, when it
comes to the final product, Execution is
just as critical as Idea. No one will
watch a bad production just because the Idea
SM: For Writers at the TV Writers
Vault pitching projects, would you take on a
project that wasn't specifically geared for
new media, and develop it for digital
NB: If I felt there was some
element of the project that made sense for a
new media production, yes. But, as you
can probably guess from what I've already
said, I would never try to force a project
into a new media production just to make a
new media production.
SM: Thanks Nate! I look forward to
seeing more of your great work at Automatic
NB: Thank you! It’s been a
pleasure, and I hope to have more great news