Actors Rick Wells and Jennifer Shelton appear in the Web-only series “Johnny Dynamo,” which is being filmed in Franklin, Brentwood and Nashville. (Photo: Courtesy of LBD Productions )
FRANKLIN – It’s going to be a tough year for Johnny Dynamo — the fictitious, disgraced 1980s TV action star now living in Franklin.
His wife wants a divorce. He’s recently been in jail. And now he’s got gangsters and music executives dropping by the house to hatch nefarious schemes.
While the cameras recently rolled on the back patio of a Franklin home off Royal Oaks Boulevard, the actor Rick Wells (who plays a character named Robert Pierce Mitchell who, the story goes, once found fame and fortune playing Johnny Dyanmo in the 1980s before a publicity stunt backfired) looked to be in the throes of a crisis as the gangsters arrived.
“Why does it always have to be about money?” Wells said, delivering his line with emotion.
If Johnny Dynamo the character is in a bind, things are looking quite good for “Johnny Dynamo” the Web-only series about the further adventures of the titular character.
After its free, 10-episode inaugural season last year drew 7 million viewers, its producers at LBD Productions are now in the midst of shooting and editing the show’s second season. Locations in Franklin, Brentwood and Nashville are being used, and the entire second season will be available for free download in September.
The soon-to-be released second season could be just the start of big things for LBD.
While “Johnny Dynamo” is wrapping up its second season of production, producer-writer-director Joe Thomas said the company has two other Web-only series ready to launch and a feature film in the works. To top it off, Thomas said Yahoo.com and NetSoapsTV.com are interested in possibly acquiring “Johnny Dynamo” for distribution on their channels, but there’s no deal in place.
Thomas, who made his career shooting TV shows, music concerts and industrial videos, is optimistic that the company can make its own way, circumventing traditional TV distribution methods by releasing it all free and on the Web.
“We are basically our own content engine,” Thomas said. “If we get picked up by a network or a large Web distribution channel, that’s great. But if we don’t, the object would be to release all our shows at one time and build our own (channel).”
“Johnny Dynamo” is part of the growing trend of new, original shows that have found an audience via the Web or streaming. The success of streaming and online shows such as Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black” and “House of Cards” releasing entire seasons at once reveals the seismic shift in how Americans find and consume their entertainment.
A new study by the Interactive Advertising Bureau estimated that 1 one in 5 Americans totaling about 52 million people ages 18 and older watch original digital video each month. That’s up 15 percent, from about 45 million people, from a year before.
For the sake of the study, the bureau defined original digital video as shows made specifically for YouTube, Yahoo, Netflix and other online destinations.
The success of “Johnny Dynamo” hasn’t translated into money — at least not yet.
“We didn’t make any money in season one,” Thomas said.
Thomas concedes they hadn’t even planned a season. Instead, they shot one pilot episode and posted it online. It drew 600,000 views. The second episode drew enough to persuade Thomas to shoot an entire season of shows, released every two weeks on the website.
The show caught on, partly, Thomas suspects, because people thought there was really a show in the 1980s called “Johnny Dynamo.”
“We get emails all the time, ‘Where can I get the original ‘Johnny Dynamo’ TV series?’ ” Thomas said with a laugh.
As for income, Thomas says the show and other content they’re creating can keep bringing people to the website and the money will follow.
The cost of producing the new season is relatively cheap, about $300,000. That is more than the first season because Thomas and the LBD team needed more manpower to shoot the second season plus shoot all the other shows they’ve lined up.
“It’s difficult, but we’ve had to seriously build the crew up quite a bit,” said Ed Lamberg, director of photography and co-producer. “Last season was the experiment, and it kind of took off.”
The pace of shooting the show is a whirlwind, too, with multiple episodes being filmed out of order, which would then be reassembled in the editing room.
The new season takes a more dramatic shift than the first and introduces new characters, such as a hip-hop music mogul named Mo Lotto, played by character actor Tiny Lister. (Sharp-eyed movie fans will recognize Lister from his roles in the blockbusters “The Dark Knight” and “The Fifth Element.”)
“Johnny wears a wire, the DA gets bunch of nothing and everybody wins,” said Lister, cackling.
Between takes, Lister said he was intrigued by the chance to work in Nashville, work on a show being distributed only on the Web and the chance to play Mo Lotto.
“It’s doing something different instead of playing the heavy,” Lister said. “I’m playing a thinker.”
What’s ahead for Johnny Dynamo? Thomas could only say that things were going to get rough for everyone, especially Johnny.
“He’s going to go through hell,” Thomas said, offering another laugh.
Reach Kevin Walters at 615-771-5472 and on Twitter @thekevinwalters.
The story of ‘Johnny Dynamo’
Here’s the setup:Fictitious actor Robert Pierce Mitchell (real-life actor Rick Wells) was known as Johnny Dynamo. But his career sputtered after a failed publicity stunt ruined his credibility and his career. Mitchell has been living a quiet life with his family in Franklin until fame comes calling again.
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