"Do we need more breakaway bottles," art director Carlos Osorio asks between takes on the set of "Real Rob."
"No, they are very expensive," barks back the show's star, comedian Rob Schneider.
Schneider is kidding about the bottles, but he is watching every dime being spent on "Real Rob" — and for good reason. He's footing the bill for the hourlong comedy, not some big network or studio. When the windshield of the Tesla that Schneider rented for a scene was accidentally shattered during filming, he was the one who shelled out $3,000 to fix it.
Schneider is not only financing "Real Rob" but also doing it with no guarantee of a return on his investment. The show, which he describes as an exaggerated version of his real life, hasn't been sold or even pitched to a network or streaming service such as Amazon, Hulu and Netflix.
"I read the scripts, and they're just a scream."
- Charles Edelstein, a former managing director at Credit Suisse and friend of Rob Schneider who invested in the comedian's new sitcom "Real Rob."
It is not unusual in Hollywood for a writer to try to sell a spec script, an industry phrase for an unsolicited screenplay. But Schneider is taking that concept to a new extreme.
He's making a television show on spec, producing eight episodes out of pocket and then hoping to sell the finished product.
When Schneider first pitched the idea to his agency, the response, he said, was less than enthusiastic and the word "crazy" may have been used.
"I strongly advised him against this. It is absolutely a risk," said Schneider's agent, Brett Norensberg of the Gersh Agency. "The No. 1 rule is never use your own money."
Schneider said his advisors initially tried to persuade him to just make a "sizzle reel," a handful of clips that would give potential buyers a taste of the show.
That held little interest for Schneider. He also resisted suggestions that he use the crowd-funding website Kickstarter to help finance the show and ease the burden on himself.
"My fans are already paying for this," he said, referring to the money he's made as an actor and comedian.
Schneider, 50, first rose to fame as a cast member on "Saturday Night Live" in the early 1990s. He subsequently found big-screen success with a series of sophomoric comedies, including "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo" and "The Animal." He also frequently appears in his former "Saturday Night Live" cast mate Adam Sandler's movies and has a lucrative career as a stand-up.
Television has proved more challenging for Schneider. He has starred on two short-lived comedies: NBC's "Men Behaving Badly" in the late 1990s and "Rob," which aired on CBS in 2012.
Comedian Rob Schneider directs a scene from his self-financed sitcom "Real Rob" at Los Angeles Film School in Hollywood. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Schneider was credited as creator and co-executive producer on "Rob," but he was still frustrated by the lack of creative freedom. Schneider decided he'd be better off taking the controls rather than put himself through the grinder again, which he said is akin to expecting a gourmet meal from a fast-food chain.
"Complaining about the writing on a sitcom is like complaining about the culinary experience at Carl's Jr.," he said. "I am no longer restrained by network approval or network money. It just has to be good."
Schneider is part of a growing trend among artists to cut out the middleman. Comedians including Louis C.K. have found financial success streaming their work online without the backing of a big media platform.
Schneider co-created "Real Rob" with his wife, Patricia Azarcoya Schneider, who also plays herself on the show. Comedian Jamie Lissow co-stars as Schneider's hapless personal assistant and whipping boy. In the show, which is filmed with a single camera as a pseudo documentary or mockumentary, Schneider has to deal with a much-younger wife who enjoys mocking him and a stalker who turns out to be a better personal assistant than his real assistant.
"Real Rob" has also given Schneider an outlet to exorcise some old demons.
In one story line, he finally lands a TV gig but is horrified when network executives take his idea for a family sitcom and set in a apocalyptic nightmare complete with zombies and vampires. It is a thinly veiled jab at his experience at CBS with "Rob." There is even a network chief named Hal Moonshirt who is referred to as God by his underlings. CBS is headed by Les Moonves, who is held in similar reverence by his staff.
There are no fancy trailers or lavish craft service spreads on the set of "Real Rob." Most of the talent, including Schneider, are waiving their salaries. "Saturday Night Live" pals Norm MacDonald and David Spade agreed to make free cameos. Most of the interiors were shot at Full Sail University in Florida, which specializes in media and entertainment and from which much of the crew graduated.
Exteriors were shot primarily in Los Angeles, and some interiors were filmed at the Los Angeles Film School in Hollywood. Schneider, who is also directing every episode, declined to say how much he is spending on the show beyond "seven figures." "Not every actor could obviously afford this, and frankly it's pushing me to my limits," he said.
Schneider isn't totally alone in financing "Real Rob." He sold small pieces of the show to Charles Edelstein, a former managing director at Credit Suisse. Edelstein and Schneider met at one of the comedian's stand-up shows two decades ago and have been friends since.
"I read the scripts, and they're just a scream," Edelstein said. "Obviously entertainment is a risky investment, this was driven from a guy I believe in and want to help."
Also investing is Bill Heavener, chief executive of Full Sail University. Like Edelstein, Heavener says his investment is "more of a friend thing."
Production on "Real Rob" should be complete in October. Schneider's team at Gersh will shop it to cable networks and streaming services because some of the language would probably make "Real Rob" a no-go for broadcast television.
"I think there is a lot of opportunity," said Gersh's Roy Ashton, who anticipates interest from FX, AMC, Starz, Hulu and Netflix. "It is actually some of his best acting work." One advantage to shooting eight episodes as opposed to just a pilot is that Schneider will be able to try to sell "Real Rob" abroad, where there is a strong appetite for American content. Schneider said he has already made preliminary calls to countries that bought reruns of the CBS series "Rob" and "pre-sale estimates look good."
Schneider is confident "Real Rob" will find a home. His agents are also coming around on the project, which they say shows the comedian in a different light.
"It's not so much about making a return on his investment. It's presenting himself as he'd like to be seen by his audience," Norensberg said.
Tags: Big Deals TV, Jamie Lissow, Patricia Azarcoya Schneider, Real Rob, Rob Schneider
Rob Schneider is returning to series television, this time on his own terms. In a endeavor he hopes “shakes up Hollywood”, the actor-comedian is self-financing and starring in an eight-episode independently produced comedy series he co-wrote with his wife, Mexican writer-producer Patricia Azarcoya Schneider, who will co-star on the show, and his friend, comedian Jamie Lissow. “I want to do my own Fawlty Towers,” said Rob Schneider, referring to the popular British sitcom, which John Cleese co-wrote and starred in with his then-wife Connie Booth. Like his 2012 comedy Rob on CBS, where his wife was played by a professional actress, the new show will be loosely based on Schneider’s life. But the similarities end there. Rob, which is the subject of a joke in the pilot of the new series, was a traditional multi-camera, multi-generational sitcom about a guy, his Mexican wife and his in-laws. As the title of the new series, Real Rob, indicates, it is a more honest portrayal of “an exaggerated version of my life,” Schneider said. “I’m not afraid to expose aspects of my life; this is close to the bone.” The single-schneiderscamera, documentary-style half-hour is edgier, geared to cable networks. It centers on Rob, playing a version of himself, his Mexican wife Patricia, also playing herself, Rob’s incompetent assistant whom he cannot fire because he is his friend, and Rob’s personal stalker. The narrative is punctuated by Schneider doing stand-up bits in the vein of FX’s Louie and the early years of Seinfeld. The Schneiders and Lissow have written all eight scripts. Casting of the remaining roles is underway with filming slated to begin March 3 in Los Angeles (exteriors) and Florida’s Full Sail University studio facilities (interiors).
As an independent production, Real Rob is being made for less than a network show by keeping costs down. “The biggest expense on Rob was Rob Schneider, and we managed to cut that cost down to zero,” quipped Schneider, who is not getting paid for his services. To mount a series production without the backing of a studio, the Schneiders have relied on help from friends. Schneider is footing most of the bill as “the majority shareholder on the show” — “I’m putting my money where my mouth is,” he said — but he also has silent financial partners. Also helping out are veteran casting director and former Disney head of casting Marcia Ross, who is doing the casting, and Mexican cinematographer Carlos Hidalgo Valdes, who is behind the camera. Everyone is getting paid below their regular rate but “we will all share in success,” Schneider said. He’s already in discussions with potential international distributors and plans to take the series out to U.S. networks like FX, HBO and Showtime, plus Netflix, when production is completed, though he also is open to non-traditional online distribution.
After 25 years in the Hollywood system and two network sitcoms – Men Behaving Badly and Rob – why is Schneider taking an independent route with Real Rob? For starters, he is not fond of pilot season and the pressures of always thinking about advertisers and living and dying by ratings and lead-in retention. As for creative interference, “I always felt that I didn’t mind the notes from the networks and the studios though I didn’t always find them to be helpful,” he said. Schneinder’s name is on the show, and he wanted to be the one making the calls. “I feel like I’ve got a good handle on what’s funny,” he said. Schneider compares himself to fellow comedy actor Tyler Perry who, also disillusioned with the traditional network model, opted to take an independent path with what is now known as the 10-90, Debmar-Mercury or Tyler Perry model. “They’ll call this the Rob Schneider model,” Schneider said.
The Saturday Night Live alum hopes he is opening the door for others. “If I pull this off, other actors are going to realize that they can go around the networks and studios and get their shows out to the public,” he said. “This is an important step in artists controlling their own destiny.”