Usedcarsalesman was impressed with the Will Farrell video, The Landlord, that came out on You Tube and other free web video venues the other day. In the modern vernacular, this video has become a “viral” hit and has had drawn millions of viewers.
Yes, to most people, watching this piece on-line was simply a new way to see a performer they like (Farrell), get some fresh laughs, and have something cute to message their friends about. Not a big deal for them. But to Hollywood, the Farrell short potentially indicated a seismic shift between the entertainment business and the web.
Sure, Farrell’s Landlord piece is not the first newsworthy venture Hollywood has made in to the world of broadband video. Last year, we saw the NBC TV pilot, Nobody's Watching canceled, but replayed on-line and now, like Frankenstein, brought back to life (in development) thanks to viewer interest on You Tube (Usedcarsalesman thinks it would not be surprising to see the majority of canceled pilot shows now air on the Web, their producers allowed to “appeal” their show to see if it finds traction with people in numbers which might merit its return to television.
We also saw the LonelyGirl15 videos on You Tube starting last year. These were notable for the views they drew and also notable for their deception: people were misled in to thinking that the woman was not an actress, but simply an unusually “magnetic” young woman using the web to express herself on camera. The details of how these Lonely Girl videos were produced are not abundantly clear, but it appears the renowned talent agency Creative Artists Agency had something to do with it. Ultimately, the creative talents behind the videos signed a contract to have the concept made in to a show (And, perhaps the viewer success of LonelyGirl indirectly made it the “mother” of the Will Farrell The Landlord short).
With the recent advent of the The Landlord, an unwritten rule in the entertainment industry appeared to get broken: Hollywood never gives away for free what people are willing to pay for. And The Landlord was a definite give-away. Farrell usually makes 20 million plus a picture and his films make big money: Blades of Glory still going strong in Theaters and probably this year’s top grossing comedy. He’s probably the hottest comedian currently on the scene. Why put something of his on-line where no revenue will be generated (And, neither was The Landlord a trailer for an upcoming film, a commercial, or even an advertiser sponsored piece on network television. This was short entertainment with no "strings" for viewers - no commercials to watch or skip around and no purchases to make)?
When you add the fact that SAG franchised Agency-signed talent don’t allow actors to perform without the agency’s say so, you start to see the “shift”: Ferrell likely got a formal go ahead from his agency to have the landlord short aired on-line in full recognition that no fees for his service would be involved. His agency concluded, “That was a funny piece Will did. Lets use the free video hosting sites and maybe generate some extra publicity for Will with it." The follow-on conclusion was: “Wow, this piece got a lot of attention from the public…it may be a safe bet to develop this 'Landlord concept in to a feature since the public appears overwhelmingly receptive, thus meaning it’s likely to make money at the box-office.”
Thus, with The Landlord, we may have inadvertently seen the birth of Hollywood use of the web as a way to gage the success or failure of film and TV concepts prior to their production. It may also signal a change in how film concepts are developed - Actors now quit waiting for parts and, in pro-active fashion, shoot their own shorts (with their agent's auspices) and air them on You Tube/Google Video to gage viewer interest rather than just waiting for suitable scripts to come their way.