Nate Barlow | VP New Media
The Television Writers Vault is very pleased to have
Nate Barlow, Vice President of New Media at
Automatic Pictures, Inc., in a personal interview
with TVWritersVault.com's Scott Manville for our
continuing series of conversations with key Industry
Mr. Barlow oversees all New Media development and
projects in the digital domain for Automatic
Pictures, Inc., in addition to traditional project
developments as an independent Producer. He is an
executive member of the Television Writers Vault,
and shares with us his thoughts on digital
entertainment and the new Hollywood.
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 for you?
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
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 great?
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
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. Separate from 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 projects.
SM: How many projects are you working on at any
NB: That constantly varies, but let me see, that's
six at the current moment!
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 profitable
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
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 is great.
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 venues?
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
SM: Thanks Nate! I look forward to seeing more of
your great work at Automatic Pictures.
NB: Thank you! It’s been a pleasure, and I hope to
have more great news soon!