The video update below is the 200th one I've done; so we take a little look back.
I touched on it a little bit in the last update, but I've just kept thinking about how 4 years of doing weekly vlogs has changed my life. Not just the quality of the show or my relationship with the internet, both of which have profoundly changed, but my whole life. The same goes for writing these weekly blog posts. I uploaded the first video update on February 14th, 2010 and the first weekly blogpost went up on MyNexTV.com on September 10th, 2010. My first posts were little novellas where I spilled my theories on low-to-no budget web series construction. Some of those notions have changed and been improved upon in the subsequent three and a half years, and production of five more episodes, but I think they still work as a little blueprint for someone who's interested in starting out down the web series route.
Perhaps the two biggest additions to that small arsenal of suggestions would be about casting.
One: Ask to be informed of medical conditions of brand new cast members. We had a guest star go all wonky halfway through one of his two nights on the show. He was just stumble'y and out of it enough that it seemed like he was drugged up. He would mostly respond to direction, but just be a little off. It seemed like he'd stepped away and dosed himself, it came on so fast. We rushed through the rest of shooting, some of which I actually had to maneuver him like a puppet, my hands just out of frame, guiding him to his marks as he semi-slurred his lines. In retrospect, I probably should have called off shooting, but I kept asking him if he was okay and he'd say “Yeah, no problem. I'm fine,” while the rest of us exchanged skeptical glances. Right after wrap I sat him in my car and drove him straight the to train station. I wanted to get him away from the rest of the cast and crew as soon as possible, I thought he was totally riding the Horse or something. I gave him this whole speech about professionalism and working on a set and everything. Found out later that the dude was having a diabetic bottom out. None of us knew he was diabetic. It was awful.
Two: Don't do casting sessions over Skype. You need to see how someone does in an unfamiliar room, in front of strangers, with the pressure of a camera rolling. My one episode of Skype castings brought me quite a few great actors and then one or two actors that probably wouldn't have been cast if I'd read them in a room. Lesson learned.
But mostly what the last four years of twice weekly uploads has brought me is a deeper understanding of storytelling and a new feeling of satisfaction with independent filmmaking. It forced me to think about filmmaking and the way we tell and consume stories at least twice a week. That's something I wasn't previously devoting conscious thought to. Sure, I'd think about the practicalities of production and how I wanted to tell the story of PoPS using a lifetime of subconscious indoctrination through consumption of A LOT of media, but I wasn't spending as much focused attention on the foundations of storytelling. That's improved my abilities as a creator immensely.
Just the act of sitting down and writing to a deadline every week has made it that much easier to just start writing when I'm in front of a keyboard. Less thinking about what I'm going to do, more just doing it. To be fair, that also has to do with it being a large part of my day-job as well. Gotta pack words into sentences and stack them into paragraphs if I wants to get paid. And I do.
It's also made me a lot more comfortable talking to other people with aspirations, asking people for help, and finishing what I start. Just the constant act of expressing myself and realizing that everybody else is trying to do their best too.
Most of all, it helped me stop waiting. My whole life I've been waiting for someone to open some door to the industry for me so I could make movies. Even the first five episodes of the show were about trying to knock on that door. Now, I'm much more satisfied in the small victory of being able to tell a lengthy original story with full creative control to a group of people dedicated to watching it. It took me a surprisingly long time to understand what a privilege that is. Listening to podcasts with folks in the Hollywood trenches has probably helped in that regard too. It showed that no matter the level, it's just going to be hard to get a vision onto the screen. More money, bigger canvas, bigger committee, less control. Watching movies from guys like Wes Anderson, Tarantino, the Coen Brothers, and Paul Thomas Anderson makes you forget that the studio system is primarily about telling stories that other people want told. Guys like Fincher and Spielberg sure make it look good though. I know I won't ever REALLY stop tapping at that industry door; looking for 310s, 818s, 323s to show up on my caller ID. But these last four years have really helped me stop waiting for the next thing and enjoy the fact that I'm getting to do this thing. It's been great.
Also, here's some fun stuff. These are two fan-made collage videos celebrating character relationships in the show. One about the bromance between my character and Craig's character. Another about the romance between my character and my wife's character. That one's almost weirder because we're real-life married. I just love so much that this dude spent his own valuable time making fan videos for our show:
YouTube user SarubE005 is super cool for doing those.
Thanks for reading.
The video update below is a nice change of pace, a casual conversation talking about how much YouTubers talk about YouTube. It’s a lot of fun because everybody is talking about the shock that comes about 6-and-a-half minutes in. They loved it. It makes me giggle immensely.
As I was looking for a change of pace last week, I got a text from my buddy Craig—plays Donald on the show, has a legitimately successful YouTube channel as comedy-vlogger Wheezy Waiter. He was all-Hey, you want to blow off work early today and help me film an action movie for my channel?
Uhhhhhh…yeah. Action movies are the most fun to make. But I’m not really the kind of guy that can blow off work. Thankfully, my current job involves a lot of freedom of movement and individual time management, and I don’t want to take advantage of that. Having come from the punch-in/punch-out world of retail, having the ability to move freely and manage my own time is like finding a friggin’ Aladdin’s lamp. So, I want to respect the amount of time they’re paying me for and earn my check.
So, I was all—Can you just do a regular vlog today, and we’ll shoot that on Saturday.
And he was like—Sure.
I rarely shoot with other people. These days, if I’m on a set, it’s usually my set and we’re piecing together a carefully mapped out puzzle from my script and shot list. So it was just a breath of fresh air to get to work with Craig on one of his vlogs. The process is so incredibly different. He just makes things up as he goes. He has a series of story beats he wants to hit and then just starts filming a scene. Each shot has one specific purpose—something as simple as: In this one I need to get from the corner to the coffee maker—and then he just vamps for 10 or 20 seconds saying things that strike him as funny. He’ll grab the best stuff in the edit and there he goes. We were using rolling office chairs and skateboards as dollies, I was sliding the GoPro along the ground shooting 120 frames a second, we would get to a scene and just make it up, try to say some jokes. It was a lot of fun.
I knew his process was to make it up as he went, but I haven’t really done this kind of thing since high school. It felt a lot like shooting videos for Telecom, our high school’s TV production course.
I’ve gotten so locked into the idea that everybody’s time is so precious, I better have a script I like and a precise idea of what’s going to happen so we maximize our shooting time. That means everyone will give up less of their free time getting something we can definitely use. Craig gets folks together and says, “We’re going to shoot something and it’ll be funny.” And then he does it. It’s very loose, very free, and a lot of fun.
Maybe the biggest eye opener was when we were running out of daylight and he was like, “I don’t know, man. What are you doing tomorrow? We might have to shoot another day.” And it sounded like a big thing. A two day shoot. Then after we couldn’t shoot anymore we went to a sandwich shop for a coffee and his girlfriend Chyna met us there. When he told her we were going to be shooting another day she said, “Whoa! A two day shoot.” A little bit joking, but with enough sincerity that it hit me again. Craig’s projects are one-day shoots. He decides to shoot something, he shoots it in one day, and he puts it up. PoPS episode 8 is a 25-day shoot and the end date keeps getting further away as schedules refuse to line up. It’s just a completely different deal. Lots of fun though.
I’m going to do some effects for the Craig video, maybe this weekend, and I’ll embed it here on the blog once it’s released.
I’m still getting ready for my own one-night shoot on this 30-second horror movie. Of course, I can’t just let it be simple, I’m trying to assemble all the little pieces I need to make it happen. Props that need to be designed, and some fake flooring to facilitate an easy clean-up.
I’m still working on editing episode 8 too. No worries there. I’ll keep chipping it away at it. Just recharging my batteries with a couple fun little projects.
The video update below features me fanboy’ing over the prospect of horror master Wes Craven possibly watching the short that we made. Then I talk about how important it is to shotlist once you have a bunch of actors with wildly conflicting schedules.
Having fanboy’ed over the prospect of Wes Craven possibly watching …Jack in the last update, you can imagine my feelings when he released his top picks for the contest and we were on it. Not only that. He added personal comments and thoughts for each video on his list. I’d gotten an email from Studio 360 saying that we were on the list and as soon as I saw that he was commenting on everyone’s video I forced myself not to jump ahead to see what he said about us. I wanted to get a feel for what he was saying about everybody else and the tone of his comments, so that his commentary on …Jack would have a context among our competition. On each entry he would talk about what made it stand out, the good aspects, and what could be improved. When I got to us, I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t have asked for anything better:
“...Jack — by Jake in Chicago, IllinoisIt combined a tight narrative with excellent technical elements of action, camera movement, lighting and acting. Even the special EFX shot of the eye was well done and strong. My suspicion was that whoever made this was either professional, or should be.” –Wes Craven
Can you… Is that… From the guy who… Well, you can just imagine how loudly I sang along to the music on my drive home from work. Some might say I’m overreacting, but that is genuinely the greatest praise I’ve ever gotten from an industry insider, and I’ve been waiting for anything like it for 33 years. Okay, I guess I didn’t want to make movies on the day I was born, but I’ve been waiting for it for at least 23 years.
I wasn’t just spouting flattery in the update. Wes Craven is legitimately one of my favorite directors. Ever since I saw Scream in the movie theater in ’96. It was the first slasher movie I’d ever seen and it lit a fire under my love of horror movies that I’ve carried ever since. It was afterward that I got into his Nightmare stuff and I only recently saw the original Last House on the Left, which was flat-out crazy. Red Eyewas awesome too. So, someone that I’ve looked up to for years watched something that I made, gave it a great review, and finished by saying that I should have a shot sitting at the grownups table. I went home, did some work on the episode, and kicked back watchingScream 4, my second favorite in the series. It was just one of the best days.
What a week, you guys. Just the best.
Here’s a link to Craven’s finalist picks: http://www.studio360.org/story/wes-cravens-favorite-scary-short-films-top-10/
The video update below chronicles a few sections of our journey while making ...Jack. Specifically, the first wound test and a couple of snippets from when we were shooting. Plus a look at what Jack's box looked like before Carlyn made it grotesque and amazing.
Now, the title of this post doesn't mean you have to do what Jean-Claude Van Damme did and join the Time Enforcement Agency in 2004, when time travel finally becomes possible. Although, if given the opportunity, I'd recommend joining the force. What else do you have to live for? You've already lost Mia Sara. Put all that anger, regret, and karate into the job and stop some time crimes.
What it does mean is that in order to accomplish anything as an independent content creator, you have to police your own time. There are a thousand things you should be doing instead of working on a web show for which you are only compensated in creative freedom. Things I will do this week in addition to working on PoPS: Go to my job every day, get to the gym, call my sister for her birthday, go to my friend's birthday party one night, spend an entire evening going out to dinner for my day job (restaurant review), celebrate my wife's birthday one night, and go to a museum exhibit. Sure, this week has an uncommonly high percentage of celebrating birthdays, but those weeks happen, man. Not to mention the fact that I need to spend a portion of my evenings rewatching season 3 of Veronica Mars because the movie's coming out in a week. A week! It's all happening.Unfortunately, our show is never going to get done if I don't sit in that chair in front of the computer and make it happen.
So how do you force yourself to spend time on it in the midst of a busy life. The sad thing is, there's really no trick to it. If all you can do is put an hour into it, get in the chair and put in that hour. My only suggestion is to do it before doing anything fun for the evening. If you think—Oh, I'll just watch an episode of something and then do my hour of work, guess what? You probably won't be working. It's far harder to stop having fun and work than it is to reward yourself with fun after putting in your work time.
No matter how busy you are, you've gotta force yourself to find the hours to get the show put together. It's a little harder when your footage had to be shot ridiculously out of sequence to accommodate cast schedules and you have to spend a lot of time picking through footage to find all the pieces of one scene from different shoot days. I should have kept a better production log this time for easy allocation of material months after shooting it, but it's usually not this complicated a web.
Oh. And here's our little horror short: ...Jack (30 Seconds of Terror)