“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.
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.
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.
And if it doesn’t work?
“At least it made me laugh,” Schneider said.