The filmmakers have money, time, and reputations invested in Ghostbreakers. They need for it to succeed. Meanwhile, several other deals are hanging by their fingernails.

Horn has connected another script with a financing company, which promised to put up $2 million if Horn and his co-producers could come up with $125,000 to hire the actors. They scrambled, dug up the money, and have been waiting more than a month for the financiers to send the paperwork to secure the deal.

“That’s what I deal with,” Horn said. “And there is nothing saying this project cannot literally go to shit tomorrow.”


Other deals ebb, flow, die, and –– when Jupiter aligns with Mars and everyone holds their tongues just right –– come to fruition.

“There is a trotline of stuff like this,” he said.

Horn, left, and Wilbanks collaborate in “the Dream Drain.” A portrait of Greco hangs behind Wilbanks.
Horn, left, and Wilbanks collaborate in “the Dream Drain.” A portrait of Greco hangs behind Wilbanks.

Think of a line stretched out across a stream with film and TV projects dangling alluringly from it, all waiting to be gobbled up by big fish with deep pockets. Occasionally Horn draws a paycheck. Debts get whittled down. Then he’s back to scrambling for the  next deal.

Hollywood magic on the silver screen often begins as a germ of an idea in a creative person’s mind, someone like Horn, Wilbanks, or Huckabee, all Texas filmmakers who happen to be sitting in that Cleburne office on a recent afternoon talking about –– what else? –– filmmaking and how the public’s growing acceptance of internet entertainment is changing their industry.

The move away from watching movies in theaters, then away from renting them at Blockbuster, and now toward downloading them from the internet, has caught the eye of the Federal Communications Commission. A proposed rule change could tilt the landscape in favor of independent moviemakers.

In the future, consumers could click on apps and pay for individual programs rather than giving a cable company $100 or more a month and allowing it to determine which channels and shows the viewers get to choose from. Whether that means spending more or less money on TV remains to be seen.

What appears certain is that the trend will create demand for original content –– TV shows, movies, commercials, shorts. Entertainment pieces that debut on the web and prove popular there might then be picked up in big distribution deals, to put a show on network or cable TV or a film into theaters.

“I’m excited at the prospect of being in on this first step when it legitimizes,” Wilbanks said. “Somebody will have the first show to go from the web to broadcast TV.”

The trio hope Ghostbreakers is that show. Then again, they had similar hopes for Carried Away.

Huckabee isn’t homeless, but he’s broke after spending his life savings and then some –– more than $250,000 in all –– to finance Carried Away, a movie that’s earned several awards but only $3,000 since its release in 2009. He couldn’t find a mainstream distributor for his movie, which meant difficulties getting into theaters and selling tickets. Vanguard Cinema agreed to distribute it digitally and placed the movie with Netflix and other online outlets, but without a big-name star, few people bought it. Huckabee is now focusing on promoting Ghostbreakers.

The cast of Ghostbreakers includes Joey Greco (left) and Horn (second from right).
The cast of Ghostbreakers includes Joey Greco (left) and Horn (second from right).

The Cleburne office, which Wilbanks has dubbed “The Dream Drain,” resembles a college dorm room. An obligatory “No Trespassing” sign hangs on a wall. Computer cables and speaker wires stretch willy-nilly across the floor. Several large whiteboards are scattered around with ideas and reminders scribbled on them.

Horn fools around on his laptop while sitting on a couch that might have been confiscated by Parisian police during a cathouse raid in the 1970s. Wilbanks sits at the only desk, running his hands through tousled, thinning hair while staring intently at another computer screen. Huckabee, reclining in a cushioned chair, is discussing the emerging trend that they all imagine will make their professional lives easier in the coming years.

“There was once a theory that people would only watch three minutes of a video on the internet,” he said. “Now, since they’ve been trained to watch TV series on the internet, and they binge on Netflix, that truism has been blown up.”

Translation: He thinks people are ready for freelance TV shows that would be shown first on the web.

Tech heads predict that Apple will release its newest incarnation of Apple brand television next year, after the public has had time to get used to this new idea. Currently, Apple TV and similar devices — about the size of a coaster — plug into your TV and create a hybrid of computer and traditional TV, with the screen showing apps representing programs and channels to choose from. But their usefulness is limited by a lack of content that viewers can’t already get elsewhere.

“What Apple and the others have really needed is deals with all the TV networks to pipe in their channels directly,” Nilay Patel wrote in the Oct. 28 edition of The Verge, an online magazine that tracks the connections among technology, science, art, and culture. “But it’s never been able to get them — many TV networks are owned by cable companies, and no cable company wants to give up control of that primary interface, where it can bombard you with ads and movie rentals and other crap that makes money while chewing at the fabric of your soul.”

Patel predicts that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposed rule change, which would force networks to sell their programs to any company that wants to deliver them to the public, could bust up the cable monopolies. Currently, internet TV providers have had trouble getting licensed to show the programs they want.

“That means Apple could set up an internet TV service and get all the channels it needs to actually replace your cable box — not just a handful of streaming deals like it has now, but a full-on TV package,” Patel said.

It’s similar to the evolution that saw Netflix and Redbox come to dominate video rentals through online services, effectively killing video stores like Blockbuster.

Wheeler blogs about telecom-munications issues. Last week he wrote that his proposal would lead to more customized programming.

“Consumers have long complained about how their cable service forces them to buy channels they never watch,” he wrote. “Today the FCC takes the first step to open access to cable programs as well as local television. The result should be to give consumers more alternatives … so they can buy the programs they want.”

The three North Texas filmmakers have content –– all were involved in creating 22 episodes of Ghostbreakers. They rounded up almost $1 million in financing and produced the episodes on speculation after numerous broadcast syndication reps expressed interest in licensing the series once it was completed.

Now the episodes are in the can, and the money’s all gone. Reps who were so gung-ho about the show have been slow to follow through with deals, for reasons ranging from industry politics to junior executives’ fear of pulling the trigger to conflicts with other shows. For instance, bigwigs at the channel that airs the popular Ghost Hunters hesitated to add a show that parodies one of its moneymaking programs.

Internet TV is expected to help find a way around those roadblocks, and filmmakers with shows ready to air are poised to take advantage of a new outlet for content.

But for now, Horn and gang are trying to sell the show in the traditional manner. If they fail, they will have blown a bankroll, disappointed financiers, and made it more difficult to get the next project funded. It’s common for indie filmmakers to create low-budget shorts and web series to watch on the internet, but few are creating high-budget episodic shows of 20 minutes in length and designed to be shown in 30-minute segments with commercials, just like on traditional TV.

“What’s so fascinating is that people who had no experience in TV did this thing that is super-complicated, something that usually takes 100 people who’ve been living in Hollywood for 20 years to do,” Huckabee said. “People make web series all the time, but these guys made an actual TV series without a prior distribution agreement. It would be like somebody saying, ‘I’m going to build an airplane,’ and they’ve never even been to airplane school.”