Well, this is what happens when I get busy: I forget anniversaries. A couple of years ago, I went through a pile of mail I’d plopped on my desk and found a nice Happy Anniversary card from my mom, which included a check and instructions to use the money to take that lovely wife of mine out for a fancy anniversary dinner.
Gulp … the card had arrived exactly on time, meaning I was opening it late in the afternoon on the day of our anniversary. I hadn’t so much as picked up a card for Chareva, much less ordered flowers or bought a present. I stood there with a growing sense of dread, expecting her to walk into my home office any second and spring a card on me, perhaps while wearing something revealing. Announcing that I needed to run a quick errand at that point would be a dead giveaway. Thank goodness we established a no-divorce rule before walking down the aisle all those years ago.
After hiding the card and the check in a desk drawer, I ambled into Chareva’s office, acting all casual and such, and said, “So, Honey … I was thinking maybe we’d go out for a nice dinner for our anniversary. Do you have any place special in mind?”
“Oh my god, it’s our anniversary? Today? I totally forgot.”
I was tempted to feign being hurt and bank that for some future thoughtless-husband emergency, but a near-total lack of gamesmanship is one of the reasons we’re happily married. Plus I was afraid she might ask to see the card I bought her. So I confessed. We were both busy and we’d both forgotten.
I’ve been swamped lately trying to finish up a big programming project in addition to working full-time, which is why I’ve gone a week between posts now and then. It’s also why I forgot my fifth blogiversary last week.
Yup, my first Fat Head post was on March 20, 2009 – five years ago. Hard to believe, but if I’m tempted to dismiss the calendar and convince myself it’s only been a couple of years, all I have to do is compare then-and-now pictures of my kids – because I haven’t aged a bit, of course.
Here’s a picture of Sara from a recent post about our overabundance of eggs:
And here she is five years ago, posing for a mock magazine cover Chareva whipped up in Photoshop to accompany a post about Parents Magazine and their lousy dietary advice:
Good grief. Better not blink, or I’ll open my eyes and find her heading off to college … or suing me for uncompensated modeling work.
Anyway, it’s been quite a ride. I had no intention of starting a blog at first. When I put Fat Head in the can after two years of working on it while also working as a contractor at Disney, I was burnt out. Writing, researching, rewriting, rewriting again, flying around to conduct interviews, watching footage over and over, more rewriting, editing well into the wee hours for weeks on end, then finding out I had to buy a Mac and edit the whole thing together all over again in Final Cut Pro because the post-production houses in Los Angeles couldn’t read my Premiere Pro files. That led to stint of working three days around the clock with no sleep and two quick showers. I lost count of how many times I had to sit through the whole film during audio and video post. I would wake up in the middle of the night and realize I’d been dreaming about the film – often about something going very, very wrong with the film.
But hey, what’s a little emotional strain when you can toss financial strain on top of it?
Shooting and editing didn’t cost all that much – my biggest expense had been paying our animator — but I started dealing with major sticker shock once we signed with a distributor and I found myself scrambling to meet all of their technical and legal requirements. Producer’s liability insurance alone cost more than $7,000 to cover a worldwide market. Post-production fees ran several times that. Master tapes were hundreds of dollars each, and the distributor wanted a whole slew of them in different formats. When I went through my financial records later, I realized I’d ended up investing nearly $100,000 from start to finish. I wondered if it would turn out to be the biggest financial mistake of my life.
It nearly was. As I’ve recounted before, our first two distributors turned out to be incompetent or just plain crooked. The U.S. DVD distributor told me Fat Head was their biggest seller – hooray! – then went bankrupt owing me two years’ worth of DVD royalties. They’d been using the proceeds from their biggest seller! to float their operation before giving up and declaring bankruptcy. The foreign distributor sold Fat Head to several TV markets around the world, then claimed they’d lost money in the process. They sent me quarterly reports showing large and mysterious losses piling up, with no explanation of how exactly they were losing all that money on a film they were no longer attempting to sell.
It was a strange, strange time for me emotionally. Once I decided to start blogging (with a push from Jimmy Moore), I started hearing from fans around the world. I received lots of emails and comments from people thanking me for making the film, telling me how it changed their lives, etc. (And I learned the meaning of words like “gobsmacked” from fans in New Zealand.) The blog readership grew quickly. There was quite a bit of buzz about Fat Head in cyberspace. I started getting requests for media interviews.
So I’d be lying in bed at night – probably after writing a check to pay interest on the part of the post-production costs I’d financed by borrowing – and thinking, “What the @#$%!! I’m hearing from people all over the world, there’s all this chatter about Fat Head on blogs and in internet forums, and I haven’t seen a dime. How the @#$% is that even possible?”
I was royally pissed off about not being paid for the film I’d spent so much time and effort and money producing, but the subject matter had become near and dear to my heart – especially as I saw my own health improve – so I figured if this turned out to be a non-paying but passionate hobby, so be it. I kept blogging.
After moving to Tennessee and eventually accepting that we’d never receive anything but excuses from our supposed distributors, we decided to start selling the DVD ourselves through the blog. I added a DVD purchase page, then took Chareva and the girls to Kentucky for a two-day vacation touring some caves. I came home to find I had $400 worth of orders to process – the first time Fat Head had actually put money in my bank account instead of draining it.
The big turnaround, of course, was because of Netflix. While still trying to figure out how the hell my supposed distributors were losing money with an apparently popular film, I sent a DVD to Gravitas, a digital distributor. The president of the company sent me a polite email telling he doesn’t take on first-time filmmakers with no track record. Nonetheless, I occasionally sent him links to positive reviews and media interviews that were available online. A year or so after I’d first sent him the DVD, he called and said I’d finally persuaded him to watch Fat Head, and he happened to like it. So he was willing to break his rule about first-time filmmakers, but only by putting Fat Head on Hulu to test the waters.
He called again a few weeks later.
“Are you aware that Fat Head is currently ranked number one in the documentary category on Hulu?”
“No, I don’t have any idea how to check Hulu rankings. Wow.”
“So I guess you’re also not aware it’s currently the third-most watched film in any category?”
“Uh … no.”
“I’m glad I broke my rule.”
He told me he was moving on to Netflix, which, based on the Hulu rankings, was offering a pretty good license fee for a two-year run. I figured our DVD sales would taper off once people could watch Fat Head for free on Netflix, but what the heck, the Netflix royalties would more than make up for the lost DVD sales.
So Fat Head started showing on Netflix and our DVD sales quintupled the next week. We still receive orders almost every day. Heh-heh-heh … turn out people see a film they like on Netflix or Amazon Instant Play or iTunes and then decide to go buy a copy. Go figure. I don’t know how many people watched Fat Head on Netflix, but more than 225,000 of them took the time to rate it.
I eventually got away from the crooked foreign distributor – who refused to relinquish the rights despite those mysterious losses – by creating the Director’s Cut version and signing the foreign distribution over to Gravitas – honest people who send a nice royalty check every quarter. (As the president of the company told me, film distributors are like trial lawyers – it’s that darned 90% who give the rest a bad name.) Mere years after throwing a combination premiere party / 50th birthday party in Burbank to celebrate putting Fat Head in the can, I finally knew it wasn’t going to be a financial loser.
The film itself took me on a financial and emotional roller-coaster ride for a few years. But the blog has never been anything but a positive for me – even when I hear from angry vegetrollians in the comments section. (Heck, that’s like shooting fish in a barrel.) I enjoy writing posts, but it’s the ongoing conversations in comments that make it fun. We have some very intelligent and well-informed participants here and in the Fat Head group on Facebook, and I learn more from them than they learn from me.
So five years (and one week) after my first blog post, I just want to say thanks. Sorry I forgot our anniversary, and I don’t have time to run out and buy a card, but I know you won’t hold it against me.
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