Andy Grove is a legend in Silicon Valley, but his influence on Hollywood is becoming increasingly obvious. The former Intel CEO shares an important lesson in his book High Output Management: to ensure good outputs, verify the quality of your inputs before you work on adding value to them. In other words, if your raw materials are not good then the finished product will not be good either. The way that Hollywood has applied this lesson sheds light on the state of the entertainment industry today.
In Hollywood, applying Grove’s advice means making sure a story is compelling before turning it into a movie. Feature films and short-run “prestige” series like Homecoming are high-budget–and therefore high-risk–productions. To reduce that risk, producers are increasingly turning to other forms of media as sources for their stories. The earlier Homecoming podcast was produced for a small fraction of the cost of the later Amazon TV series.
Other podcast adaptations include Lore by Aaron Mahnke (also purchased by Amazon) and Dirty John on Bravo. Even highly produced podcasts like Gimlet’s involve the work of around a dozen people. Compared to the “two guys talking” genre of podcasts this is a larger effort, but it is much less than the scores of individuals required to make a feature film.
And the model appears to be working–both Homecoming and Dirty John were nominated for Golden Globe awards (although neither won). As Matt Lieber, president of Gimlet Media, put it, “We created an I.P. [intellectual property] factory.” For a list of other podcasts that are being made into limited-run series, see this piece from Vulture and this one from The Verge (with a great quote from Justin McElroy at the end).
This path from draft to film is a well-traveled one for book authors, but even that route has changed in recent years. Both The Martian and 50 Shades of Grey were originally self-published ebooks before being purchased by print publishers and then made into big-budget films. What is notable about this process is how quickly it seems to be accelerating: for example, Nicole Kidman purchased the rights to a Liane Moriarty novel before it was released in print.
Studios are also looking inwards for opportunities to “upcycle” their content. Disney in particular is re-visiting its animated classics and turning them into live-action films. From a profit perspective, Cinderella, The Jungle Book, and Beauty and the Beast have all been very successful on this front. In 2019 alone Disney will place three more bets on this strategy: Dumbo, Aladdin, and The Lion King (which has long been popular in live-action form as a Broadway show).
What does this trend mean for creators? It suggests that if you have an idea for a story that you would like to see as a show or movie, your best bet is to validate its success in a low-budget form at first. Depending on your talents, a six-episode run of a fictional podcast is much easier to produce than even a self-published novel. From this perspective, the entertainment industry is more democratized now than it has ever been. Find your 1,000 true fans and go from there.