Following is an interview with Lukia Costello, co-owner (COO) of a female owned production/development company called The New Hotness. Costello’s partner is Buffalo re-pat Tilke Hill (CEO). The two have recently embarked upon the filming and release of the “Why I Murdered My Roommate” – six episodes of a dark comedy, multimedia series based in Buffalo. Both Costello and Hill went to great lengths to keep the full production of the series here in Buffalo, and have in turn become role models for other creatives in the film and video industry to consider this city as a fertile grounds when it comes to cost vs. reward.
“So many people don’t know about New York State’s tax credits,” said Costello. “It’s 30% for all productions, and in Western New York, if a production has a budget over $500,000, they get an additional 10% tax break! That’s an incredible advantage in terms of value versus spend.”
Furthering their investment in the Buffalo community, they recently stated that by producing the series in Buffalo, they have managed to not only keep costs down, but to retain creative control over a company that they feel will become a driving force in the local film industry… above and beyond the productions that roll into town.
“When a production comes to town, the impact on the local economy is great. But then they leave,” attested Hill. “We’re not leaving. The New Hotness will become an intrinsic part of the region’s fabric. We’ll be employing a diverse group of people over the long term.”
Where are your offices? The studios?
We exist virtually, as many start-ups before us have done. We conduct business in a very modern way, whether it’s from our home offices, multitasking at coffee bars, or meeting with potential investors at economic incubators…One of our favorite spots is Ashker’s on Elmwood.
One of our missions is to create mutually beneficial partnerships with local organizations and businesses—bringing positive attention to all that is blossoming in the city. Entities we have approached thus far are excited to be represented in a TV series. To date we are working on agreement details with Ashker’s Juice Bar, Dig, Gene McCarthy’s, Go Bike Buffalo, and Queen City Roller Derby.
In line with our mission to re-brand Buffalo, our “studio” is the landscape and locations of the city. In order to receive the NYS tax-incentive we also utilize one of the several local soundstages. Our pilot episode—filmed in April 2016—was told across locations including Knox Farm State Park, Dnipro Ukrainian Cultural Center, Pierce-Arrow Film Arts Center, Silo City and the Fillmore District during Dyngus Day.
This is exciting to have new accessible outlets to broadcast original films. At the same time, it opens doors to millions of production studios. What is the trick to getting a film picked up by the Over The Top (OTT) providers?
The main thing is to have superbly executed ideas, a pristine pitch and industry connections. You have to get your script, proof of concept (our pilot and transmedia elements) or finished product in front of buyers and decision-makers. The best way to meet these people is to attend industry conferences and markets, such as the American Film Market, Cannes, Produced By New York and Sundance.
We have been attending such events—the frameworks provide great opportunities to network, pitch and learn about industry trends. Building on that momentum, we’re taking our proof of concept to Cannes, France this April for the MIPTV (Marché International des Programmes de Télévision) market to connect with buyers ahead of completion and sale in the fall.
The incredible success of “over the top” providers (OTT) such as Netflix find traditional film, broadcast television and cable studios scrambling to get in the game.
It’s a great time for creators of all kinds. There is unprecedented demand for episodic series such as The New Hotness’ “Why I Murdered My Roommate,” as well as feature films. The incredible success of “over the top” providers (OTT) such as Netflix find traditional film, broadcast television and cable studios scrambling to get in the game.
Up until 2012, with the release of its first original series Lilyhammer, Netflix was primarily a re-broadcaster. Since then, Netflix has captured the market, redefined the entertainment industry and left the Hollywood establishment scrambling to compete. As new streaming outlets enter the market and media viewership becomes personalized across a variety of platforms (mobile phones, tablets, game consoles, etc.) via a TV-anywhere model, demand grows exponentially.
Series production, formerly the domain of major networks, due in part to its advertising revenue based model, was prohibitively expensive for independent creators. According to a recent Price Economics article, a half-hour comedy series pilot (one episode) such as ours, cost $2 million to produce; an hour length drama would cost $5M. Each year, networks such as ABC, CBS and NBC spend millions on original productions whose fate is then determined in May by advertiser interest. No advertiser commitments, no show and big revenue losses.
OTT content providers such as, Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu derive their revenues from subscription-based models that rely on original, sometimes daring, new content to hold and attract new subscribers.
OTT content providers such as, Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu derive their revenues from subscription-based models that rely on original, sometimes daring, new content to hold and attract new subscribers. This is where The New Hotness (TNH) comes in, breaking new ground in Buffalo, with its first, original, in-house production, “Why I Murdered My Roommate.”
The New Hotness is also unique in that we hold 20 completed feature film scripts in our studio bank in addition to our episodic trans-medial content. Many independent studios have ideas—we actually have the scripts ready to be produced.
If a series gets picked up, is that worth its weight in gold? Reputation-wise and/or financial-wise? Does this dictate the path of future series?
“Why I Murdered My Roommate,” (WIMMR) a multi-season half-hour episodic series (similar to a television show), is TNH’s in-house digital transmedia production. It is very valuable for several reasons—for both our company, and for our partners in the City of Buffalo.
In the event of a WIMMR Season 01 purchase, there is a likelihood of a second season order. With that, the pressures of the start-up experience fall away. In terms of further production, financing is secured and previous admin, press, marketing and distribution tasks fall to others, leaving creators to their favorite task: creation.
It also leaves more time to continue our various missions: 1. Showcase the “cool factor” of Buffalo. 2. Building on all the great work the Buffalo Film Commission and Mayor Byron Brown have done to establish our city as a TV/film production hub. 3. Diversity and inclusion: Develop, finance and produce commercial streaming content with an eye toward inclusion of underrepresented voices, beginning with women.
Do independent entertainment companies such as TNH have to compete against the OTT providers, since they are now creating their own content?
Our series is created for streaming media at a time when new providers, geared toward general and niche audiences, are coming online regularly. No matter what the means of distribution (broadcast, cable, web), every original show has its own audience.
The beauty of the OTT model and the web itself is that people are free to carve out their own entertainment spaces, based on their interests.
I’m not necessarily interested in the same shows as the next person. The beauty of the OTT model and the web itself is that people are free to carve out their own entertainment spaces, based on their interests.
Subscription- and transaction-based providers such as Netflix and Vimeo are free from broadcast and cable TV’s co-dependent relationship with advertisers. Content themes, pov, dialogue, and representation are all open to creators.
That being said, each OTT opportunity has its own challenges with audience development. In that regard, WIMMR is well placed, with a core demographic of comedy nerds, millennials, cGen X, Gen Y, social progressives, boomers, etc. Our transmedia elements (comic book, video game, online storylines and content) offer additional points of entry to our primary content (series). Both our theme and script strategy play off of current, positive and profitable trends in TV/film with regard to both women in film and the inclusion of underrepresented voices.
Who are the players at TNH?
Tilke Hill is chief executive officer of The New Hotness, Inc. and Lukia Costello is chief operations officer. We employ several writers as well as a publicist. When production continues for “Why I Murdered My Roommate,” TNH will employ over 70 people throughout the length of the project.
With one series under the belt, does it get easier?
Everything gets easier with experience. The first season has been written with production slated for Summer 2016. We’re prepared with the expected five-season story arc, however, based on popularity, it could be extended past the proven five season mark.
As mentioned earlier we have what is referred to as a “proof of concept.” For us that includes a half-hour episode, comic book, video game, and several character performances across social media. We are currently in pre-production for a June/July film schedule in which the entire first season will be shot.
We are currently building partnerships and raising capital to execute the best branding opportunity Buffalo has seen in a long time.
What will TNH use the funds received from investors for?
With our proof of concept completed in early fall of 2015, and a goal of completing the six remaining episodes of Season 01 this coming summer, we’ve moved into the funding phase. Capital raised will be used to hire cast, crew and staff to take us from pre-production planning through distribution and sale.
We’re really excited about our summer production schedule for “Why I Murdered My Roommate” Season 01; we are working with some really fun themes and locations. It’s going to be a blast, in terms of location, community building and job creation.
How does one figure out what the next series will be?
As we extend our mission out into the creative field, we’ll be keeping our eye out for other exceptional scripts to develop along with our in-house productions. Our mission is to help other creators by sharing our experience and expertise in navigating the industry. We won’t be able to produce every project that comes in but we will be encouraging in terms of feedback and suggestions—especially to those who have what it takes.
Is there a content formula for financial success?
There’s no secret. Elements you’d expect, like high production quality, understanding of the business side of the industry, the ability to network and pitch, combined with content that speaks to an audience that reflects the diversity of our society, are all key.
Thanks to studies such as UCLA’s “2015 Diversity Report” and The Ms. Factor: The Power of Female Driven Content, a compilation of studies and statistics published by the Producers Guild of America / Women’s Impact Network and Women and Hollywood, industry decision-makers are acknowledging that there are huge profits to be made via inclusive storytelling.
Content created by women, featuring complex female characters and plot lines, have a marketability factor with an appeal that extends to all genders.
Content created by women, featuring complex female characters and plot lines, have a marketability factor with an appeal that extends to all genders. According to a 2015 Ralph J. Bunche Study, both broadcast and cable scripted shows with casts that reflect the nation’s racial diversity excel in ratings.
Females 18 and older watch more content than men (191:34 hours of video versus 174.51 each month). With smart phones topping 70% penetration and tablets inching toward the 50% mark, the growth in digital consumption will only increase. According to the Ms. Factor Toolkit, the Hunger Games franchise grossed over $311 million combined in their opening weekends, with a close to 50/50 spread across genders, showing that female audiences and protagonist have become highly profitable catalysts in entertainment revenue successes.