The Fixer – Indie in the Making

fixerTwitter is an awesome thing indeed. Not only did I make my way to Dreamloom through Twitter, I also made the acquaintance of Jon F. Merz, a published sci-fi author, of such titles as “The Fixer” and “Parallax”, his latest thriller. What popped out at me about Jon was his endeavor to push his vampire chronicles to the small screen as an Indie production. With all my favorite shows (at the time) dropping like flies, I was interested in the process of what he hoped to accomplish, especially considering the fact Jon is aiming for production standard quality versus a more typical Indie, budget on a shoestring-type affair.

What sets The Fixer apart from other Vampire stories is that rather than being ‘undead’, vampires are a separately evolving species, secretly co-existing with humans for thousands of years. Lawson, the main character of the show, is a  cynical, jaded, anti-hero”. His job is to protect civilization from rogue vampires who threaten the status quo.

I had the chance to interview Jon about the process and what he’s come up against as he’s tried to create and market his Indie production.

Most Indie budgets are small and usually shot subpar to production standards. What motivates you to create The Fixer with production quality standards?

From the start, our intention at New Ronin is to produce a “real” television series that can be brought into networks ready-to-go.  That means that we need to replicate the production standards, union agreements, etc. in
order to sell to that networks.  They’re obviously obligated to use productions that comply with industry standards.  Imagine if we showed up and said, “hey, buy our stuff, it’s ready to go, but by the way, we didn’t use union people or adhere to the same production standards.” They’d laugh us out the door.  At best, they want to reshoot the entire
thing.  Our goal is to walk in, hand them the episodes, and say, “Have fun.”

What do you think is the biggest roadblock to getting the financing  needed to produce an Indie series with the vision you have?

Our location is one hurdle we’ve had to overcome.  If we were in California, we’d be able to find plenty of wealthy people who have made money investing in the entertainment industry.  But we wanted to find people locally (since The Fixer is based in New England) who would invest.  That’s tough.  People in New England don’t make their money
from movies or TV, so they need to be educated on the potential that exists for excellent returns.  Each pitch meeting we’ve gone to has involved, on some level, a very elementary breakdown of how movies and TV shows make their money.

Have you considered shooting lower quality to build audience  following to  attract the bigger dollars you need to do the things you really want, sort of like a vanity press for the web? What stops you from doing this?

 We’ve shot some very basic footage that enabled us to present our ideas better to potential investors.  It was sort of an idea of saying, “this is what we’ve accomplished with no money – imagine how good it will look when we have your money backing us.”  Everyone involved on The Fixer  from the start has come on-board for the simple love of the
project.  Vampires have been done to death in so many ways, but they’re all the same in that they’re undead.  But The Fixer  isn’t like that. Living, evolving vampires are something new, and combined with the espionage angle, it’s a fresh look at the mythos that has people really excited.

 What program length are you looking at when creating The Fixer?

Our four sales channels focus on domestic broadcast rights, international broadcast rights, DVD,
and digital downloads.  As such, each episode will be approximately 44 minutes long to accommodate commercials, etc. that the networks will need to position in order to earn money.  That said, we are definitely investigating web outlets and digital downloads as an important component of our overall sales structure. 

What’s the biggest lesson to date you’ve learned through the entire process of bringing The Fixer to the web? What are your biggest fears?

One of the biggest things we’ve had to overcome is the inordinate amount of people who swear up-and-down they want to get involved.  They love the project, they want to sink some money into it, they really love it, they’re telling all of their friends about it, etc. etc.  Then when we put the paperwork in front of them, they balk and we never hear from
them again.  People talk a great game, but when it comes time to committing, they bail.  It’s rather a sad commentary on our society, I think.  People are conditioned into accepted norms and paths through their lives and they lose that courage to try something new or to take a chance.

As for my biggest fears, I suppose it’s what any creator fears most:  that the public won’t gobble it up and ask for more, more, more!  What  helps is that The Fixer is part of a multimedia/multiplatform  entertainment vehicle.  The Lawson Vampire novels are coming back into print along with the long-awaited 5th book and three more besides.  We’ve got a great web-based video game debuting over the summer.  And much more to boot.  The goal is to extend the production across a wide swath of market segments, hopefully getting more and more of an audience.  Only time will tell if we’re successful.  But I think we will be.  Very much so.

So, essentially then, you are looking to have the product in hand and get networks to buy what you’ve already produced? What sort of hurdle do you expect/have you planned for in getting networks to buy into it? Do you have a network picked out? A dream network?

Yes, that’s it exactly.  It’s obviously a bit different from how shows are normally produced here in the US, but we feel the time is coming when this will be more the norm.  There’s no reason why independent production houses can’t create television shows of comparable or better quality than networks.  This already happens with indie films, so why not TV? 

Our sales team is comprised of veterans who know how to get us into the networks.  But even our worst-case scenarios have a built-in profit model.  As far as hurdles go, this entire process has been one big hurdle.  There is always opposition to anything that threatens the status quo.  Our job is to show those who oppose us how this can work out for them from every angle.  Once they see that, the reception should warm.

As far as a dream network, I like what is being shown on FX.  They push the envelope and their shows reflect that.  Rescue Me is one of the best-written shows on TV.  Sons of Anarchy is a lot of fun.  Who knows, The Fixer might be a good fit for it.