Josh Weinberg’s first job out of college was on the set of Queen of the south, a crime drama televised on USA Network. The Lower Merion High School graduate aspired to be a producer or screenwriter, but he quickly learned that making TV shows isn’t always glamorous.
As a production assistant, he handled pay stubs, tax forms, and nondisclosure agreements for the show’s extras, the backstory actors who don’t have linebacks. A boss gave him hundreds of pages and a few highlighters. The task was “miserable,” he said.
“You think you’re doing a TV show. You think it’s going to be fun and sexy, ”Weinberg said. “You do paperwork. “
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But the hours spent filling out forms – and filling them out again when it messed up – inspired a business idea. In 2018, he launched Run a Better Set, or RABS, a Philadelphia-based software company that helps studios manage and integrate background players.
The company’s app has been used on approximately 250 films and shows, including by studios producing Easttown mare, king richard, and Succession. The software gained popularity during the pandemic, which prompted studios to perform administrative tasks digitally.
“I envisioned a solution and set out to build it,” said Weinberg, 28, of Fairmount. “I saw the inefficiency.”
A movie or show can hire hundreds of extras one day and hundreds more the next, depending on the scene. Productions traditionally integrated, logged hours, and named extras on paper, a tedious process that generated thousands of pages. The system was filled with compliance issues. Documents may be illegible or incorrectly completed. The extras sometimes lost their “vouchers” or the contracts and timesheets they took home.
“The process was arduous,” said Jason Loftus, casting director and partner at Philadelphia-based Heery-Loftus Casting, who has used RABS in shows such as Jostle, Servant, and Easttown mare. “It would take [assistant directors] one hour, two hours so that everyone is disconnected at the end of the day. And that’s after a long day of filming.
With the RABS app, productions send extras a web link to fill in the information in advance. Production assistants check forms before extras arrive, log their times, and disconnect them with a phone or tablet. The app allows accountants to see how extras affect budgets in real time. RABS also creates casting databases and private software applications for clients.
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“The big areas where studios save money is that you get all of these extras sooner,” Weinberg said. “You save them time and effort. And you do it in a precise manner, which reduces the risk of job-related grievance issues.
The pandemic has hit movie studios by suspending productions and shutting down cinemas. But it gave RABS a boost as demand for digital and “contactless” services increased. The company previously served one or two productions per month, but last year as many as 71 movies or shows were simultaneously using the app, Weinberg said. Its goal is to cross the 100 mark by 2022. Customers include Netflix, Warner Bros. and NBCUniversal, which is owned by Philadelphia-based Comcast, Weinberg said.
“Josh’s timing was perfect,” said Grant Wilfley, owner of Grant Wilfley Casting in New York City and who has used RABS on shows such as the Wonderful Mrs. Maisel, Succession, and Billion. “When COVID hit, the last thing people wanted to do was hand out paper vouchers. “
RABS charges studios a flat weekly rate – typically hundreds of dollars – plus a few dollars per extra, Weinberg said. Studios that use RABS for multiple shows can get a discounted rate, he added. Weinberg declined to share the company’s revenue figures. The company has four full-time and four part-time employees, including engineers and customer support staff.
Weinberg, who studied philosophy and political science at Tulane University, lacked the technical knowledge to make his idea a reality. He initially sought partnerships with software engineers, but pacts quickly deteriorated. One took $ 1,000 from Weinberg and disappeared, he said. Others would not accept the stakes he offered.
Eventually, he spent money from a deceased cousin’s inheritance to pay a team of engineers to build the app. Weinberg now owns 100% of the company and the software product. Leading RABS is his only job.
Although many of the clients are based in Los Angeles, he decided to keep the business in Philadelphia. He noted that he and his staff can work remotely and that his clients shoot shows all over the country, making where he is based irrelevant. Plus, he loves Philadelphia. “Philly is just my home,” he said.
There is still room to grow the business, but ultimately Weinberg sees RABS as a niche service for large studios. For example, it doesn’t sell software to student films or small independent productions, which have few extras and smaller budgets.
“It’s the caliber of production that interests me,” he said of the big studios. “I like stuff that is supposed to be of the highest caliber, that is award winning. This is what I think is rewarding to work on.