It’s a time where the idea of celebrity is so close you can practically snort it. A time where going “viral,” traditionally meaning something caused by a virus, is something we all strive for. It’s a time where we, as artists, are constantly told that we need to brand ourselves, that with the web, with YouTube, with Facebook, with Twitter, we’ve been given doorways we’ve never had before and we should sing and dance and claw and scream and adorable kitten our way through them before they close.
Because, like a brand, we all have something to offer.
And if we don’t, then we have to learn to peddle our lack of talent like masters.
On one hand, it’s amazing. If the entertainment business was a house, it’d be the White House, and any time anyone new tried to get in, they’d get shot by snipers. With the web and digital entertainment, however, the whole thing is slowly beginning to change and, if you’re talented, there are more and more ways to sneak in and meet the figurative President (hi, PRISM!).
On the other hand, the title of “artist” is being passed out like a flyer for prostitutes in Vegas. The idea of artistry is getting lost in the eternal race to get famous and it’s half the reason why digital media is still struggling to be legitimate and why Los Angeles is filled with droves of fame-hungry zombie douche monsters.
I recently spoke to an actor friend of mine who said a very, very smart thing out of his mouth — he said that actors he encountered in Los Angeles seem to be solely focused on success and fame, rather than on getting better at their craft. I’ve noticed that in not just actors, but filmmakers and artists alike. Hell, I notice it in me. It’s as if, in our orgiastic excitement over the freedom and potential of the web, we forgot what it meant to actually work at being good at something.
I encounter a lot of this mentality when I speak to people developing new digital series. It’s always a rush to shoot, a rush to get the cast, to meet the arbitrary shooting date they set for themselves that handcuffs them in doing the things they need to do – like writing a script that’s not just good enough to be on the web but that’s fantastic.
I am guilty of this kind of thinking as well. Instead of constantly writing to develop my skill like I used to do, I’ve started to write only when there’s potential for compensation. That’s not the way to get better. The real artists I look up to all write constantly, often daily. I try to do the same but – as you can see, it’s taken me a year to update this blog, so… it’s a work in progress.
The thing is, if we call ourselves artists, we’ve got a lot to live up to. Leonardo Da Vinci was an artist. Paganini was an artist. Shakespeare was an artist. Can we be as good as them? Probably not. But rather than spend every moment figuring out how to get famous, we should strive toward the heights that the masters achieved, no matter how lofty.
Yes, I badly want to write feature films and TV shows and digital series that star Kevin Spacey. Yes, I want desperately for people to know my work, watch my work, and love my work. But before I do, I have to earn that honor. I have to earn the title of artist – otherwise, like a miner in the gold rush, I’m just another person blindly rushing toward the Internet in hopes of fame and fortune, and frankly, we have enough of those already.
Now excuse me, I’m going to go and write something for free.
So… I had a busy week and didn’t do any fun facts — which is why you may have noticed a significant lack of fun in your life.
But I’m back now.
Fun is back and you get two for the price of one!
1. The Flour Explosion was originally written a little differently in the script. Originally, it was supposed to be red paint — the idea being that everyone looked like they were bloody and hilarious. However, shooting 8-12 pages a day for 25 days made our amazing production manager, Hillary Bergmann, have a mild panic attack. Please, she implored, think of something that doesn’t require us to throw paint all over a rented office.
Thank God for our Phoenix. Jeremy Phoenix, more specifically, our AD. Who walked by during the conversation and said, “Hey, how about you use flour?” To which our minds exploded.
So that’s how that happened.
2. When Derek asks Aaron about the guy setting up the cameras, the camera guy is not only played by our very own production coordinator, Brett Sims, he’s also wearing a shirt that says “CAG.” This is a reference to Break a Leg, where “CAG” stood for Child Actor’s Guild, a union that lived in the sewers and was generally… creepy.
3. Derek’s boyfriend is played by Drew Baldwin — who, as you probably know, runs a site called Tubefilter. He’s also an actor — and a good one at that! Him, Wilson and Julie Warner are very fun in this scene. Recursive cuisine, by the way? My brother’s genius creation. I can’t wait for it to become a real thing.
4. The rickshaw scene was originally written to be a horse-drawn carriage — but we realized that would be way too expensive. I think the rickshaw is far funnier though.
5. One of my favorite lines in the episode is Olivia yelling at Bryn, “See?! This is why I hate robots!”
6. Doesn’t that last shot look like it’s from some old Hitchcock film or something? I can’t put my finger on it. Anyone recognize it? Justin just thought of it kind of on the go, but it triggers a memory I can’t quite identify..
1. I love making Dustin play guitar poorly in scenes. Him sing-improvising always makes me laugh. Second fun fact: he’s actually a classically-trained guitarist in real life.
2. You can tell I’m younger because I’m not wearing glasses and my hair is on my forehead. Age really changed Aaron…This scene was really fun to shoot. We shot at San Francisco State University, who were kind enough to give us a classroom and hallway to use for free. I love these kind of walk-and-talk scenes because you literally can’t mess up. It feels like theater and it’s just really enjoyable. Also? Watch for the extra who Michael Jackson-spins after bumping Rachel. I don’t know why he does this.
3. Alexis Ohanian and Rachel Sklar were great, weren’t they? I think they’re hilarious and really add to the scenes.
4. Matilda is played by Lillie Morrisson. Aside from being a great actress, I’ve known Lillie since I was in 7th grade. I acted with her in the first play I ever did — Aladdin (I played Aladdin and she played the… Sultana? Because apparently that’s a thing.) We then acted together all through high school. This was the first time we acted together since, and it was a blast. She really steals this episode.
5. Episode 2, 4, 5, 6 and 7 are primarily written by Vlad. Whereas Episode 1, 3, 8, 9, 10 are primarily written by me. That said, we still edit each other’s work quite a bit, but, there you have it.
6. In the fight scene, Aaron has a Thailand picture above his bed. That picture is in the C3D office in Season 1, and appears again all over the place in Season 2. We quietly like to pretend everyone in the Leap Year world owns that picture. It was taken by Justin Morrison, our DP, and is actually a really fantastic photo.
7. There’s a very subtle joke that I’m going to point out now: Jack is chewing gum, and so is Matilda. Before he kisses her, he spits out his gum. After a moment of kissing, he pulls out a piece of gum (Matilda’s) out of his mouth. And then you all laugh, uproariously.
8. I’m pretty sure Rachel (Lisa) was actually mad at me because Aaron kissed Bryn. I think when a scene like that gets a visceral reaction from even the actors involved, it’s a pretty good scene.
1. Josh Malina is ridiculously cool. He’s really relaxed and calm while working, and will periodically turn on to be a wit-machine, making everyone laugh. The poor guy had a tough first day, started very early, and had a full 12 hour shoot. He never complained and nailed each take — it was a joy to direct him and an acting clinic to watch him act.
2. This is the best acting that I’ve seen Daniela DiIorio (Olivia) do. We’ve worked together since, literally, college, and she killed it. I think she’s incredibly charming and natural, and her chemistry with Josh is fantastic. The two seemed to act as if they’d been working together for years — it was really strange. Are you watching, Aaron Sorkin? Daniela (and Josh..) needs a part on Newsroom! Also, I love how she says, “You’ve got the wrong Sam, Sam” — a delivery which makes me, for some reason, of Alison Janney.
3. The scene with Josh and I walking through the office is a walk-and-talk. Something Aaron Sorkin constantly employs and is known for (two actors walking and talking with no cuts for an entire scene). When I found out Josh was going to do Leap Year, I told Vlad that I had to write a scene where I walk and talk with him (we’re huge Sorkin fans) — which is where that scene came from. It’s a bit satirical of Sorkin, a not-so-subtle nod to him, and a complete abuse of my power as the co-writer/co-director/actor. But, screw it, I got to do a walk and talk with Josh Malina.
4. Josh nailed his monologue basically always. Whereas, my one line to him in the scene where he tears Jack and I apart, would just not stick in my head. I even think Dash, our editor, had to cut it together from two different takes. I like to call that “terrible acting.”
5. In the bar scene with Josh, he has viral marketing materials up on a board. If you look closely, you’ll see his examples include Break a Leg, and another project we did, for 7-11 — the 7-11 Road Trip Rally.
6. The article that Olivia reads in bed is “written by” Chase Cougar, who was a character in Break a Leg, and who was played by our Director of Photography and one of the co-founders of the company, Justin Morrison.
7. Our steadicam operator was also our key grip and is named Brent Johnson. Brent is still in his early 20s and is just ridiculously talented. He’s going to take over the world shortly.
8. Remember that Whiskey Castle Music Box? We shot that scene with Josh before we shot the scene with Jack and Aaron in the bar. When Josh played with it, we thought it was hilarious, but weren’t sure people were going to understand it, so we wrote in the Whiskey Castle Music box bit and a beautiful joke was born.
9. Josh shot for 3 days and will be back in.. 3 more episodes, I believe. The very last scene he shot was the kissing scene with Daniela in the car (we left him the best for last).
10. You’d think directing actors like Josh Malina, Eliza Dushku and Emma Caulfield would be hard or intimidating, but it’s surprisingly easy. First of all, they raise the quality of our acting immediately. Secondly, they can take the smallest note and change their performance on a dime. Finally, they seem to never complain. It’s something I value very much in an actor — when you’re going into the 10th hour, and the crew is dead tired and you’re trying to keep morale up, it really helps when your actors, especially the celebrities, are cracking jokes and just being lovely people. It infuses energy into the production and it’s something we should all learn from.
That’s it for now! This is one of my favorite episodes, so definitely watch and love and, as I keep saying, please comment on Hulu! It really helps.
1. Emma Caulfield was great. Quirky, hilarious and a perfectionist. Those huge monologues in the bar are a pain to memorize but she worked hard to get those down and fretted every time it wasn’t just right. I really admire that in an actor and very much appreciated it, considering she was in-between shooting two other big projects. It was also, as an actor, really fun to be in a scene with her — she gives a lot and it’s very fun to play and find that rhythm with her.
She’s been jockeying on Twitter to have a Smiley spin-off. What do you guys think?
2. The roof where Smiley stands is actually the roof of the C3D office. It ended up being a really versatile location — all the street scenes with Smiley are also on that giant, street-looking roof. It was a great controlled environment and allowed us not to have to run all over the city with the limited time we had with Emma.
3. All of Emma’s scenes were shot over 2 days.
4. Aaron has a San Jose Sharks hockey stick on his desk. This is because I love the Sharks more than I love you, reader.
5. In the script, Glenn is supposed to juggle some debris. The laptop bit was all improv and hilarious, as Dustin Toshiyuki usually is. Dustin also does all of our sound, post and on-set (except for his scenes, obviously).
6. Bryn’s screensaver is the Matrix number code (seen in the scene with me, Wilson and Smiley) because she is Neo.
7. The music is great once again, and all done by Vlad and Monica. Seriously, if you ever need music, hire them, they can do everything.
8. Vlad and I wrestled with the style of this episode for a while. After the trauma of the break-in, we wanted our main characters to be outside of themselves and couldn’t quite figure out how to make it work. Finally, Vlad called and said, “I’m going to do something crazy…” and turned it into a noir thing. It not only hit that point, but also gave us room to lighten the mood a bit. Not to mention — what’s better than a noir in San Francisco?
9. The bar in the first episode and second episode is called Pe Yale (3131 Fillmore Street, San Francisco). It’s a fantastic place, and the owner is incredibly awesome. He let us use his bar for free, even though I’m sure we drove him nuts, and was just really kind and cool about the whole thing. Thank you, Kamran! Now go to his bar everyone.
10. Aaron and Lisa’s “son” is played by tiny, little Arya — who, in that one scene, out-acted me in everything.
11. Emma holding a picture of Eliza Dushku is the closest you’ll get to a Buffy reunion.
With the release of S2 of Leap Year, I figured I’d tell you a few ”behind-the-scenes” fun facts — because everyone loves facts, especially if they’re fun.
So, first, the episode:
Now, the facts:
1. Yes, Eliza Dushku was great to work with. She was fun, silly and seemed to enjoy being on set with us. During one of the evening shoots, she brought a pillow, just in case “we run long today…” Now, that may seem small, but you have no idea how nice it is to hear that coming out of an actor’s mouth. Especially someone of Eliza’s level. She seemed to relish playing June and really brought her A game — so, yes, she was great.
2. The intro is amazing, isn’t it? We wanted to update it for the new season – we felt like the song and style of last season’s intro just didn’t fit the feeling of this second season, which is much darker and grittier. It took (producer/editor) Dashiell Reinhardt around a week to put most of it together and if you watch it closely, you’ll see many of the crazy things that will be going down this season.
3. The song for the intro was written by my brother, Vlad Baranovsky. First he wrote one song, but I didn’t really think it worked, so I said, “Try something White Stripes-ey.” To which he said, “Okay.” And came back in half an hour with that stupidly awesome song. Vlad, by the way, does that continuously. When we did the 711 Road Trip series, he’d literally write us songs while we were on the go. “We need a song that sounds like Green Day in 20 minutes!” – “Done!”
4. Whiskey Castle Music Box. While shopping at Goodwill for random desk props and things, I found… the Whiskey Castle Music Box. It’s literally the most amazing thing ever made. We put it on Jack’s desk as decoration and in one of the later scenes that we shot, it was referenced by Josh Malina. I realized that, while funny, no one would understand what exactly that castle thing was, so I wrote that little exchange into the bar scene. The whole Catskills Jamboree bit? All made up while Drew and I were running our lines. It’s probably one of my favorite line deliveries in the entire world.
5. Break a Leg references: The song that plays on Jack’s phone is the intro song we used for our first series, Break a Leg. Another reference is Jack telling June he, “used to be a child actor” — which was his character on Break a Leg. Finally, when Jack says, “Aaron is going to be so mad at me…” it’s very similar to a line his character, Jimmy, says in regards to my character, David: “David is going to be so mad at us…”
6. Shira Lazar was great. She came in like a pro, had a bunch of fun with us and nailed her lines, I was very impressed. She was really fun to work with and damn, isn’t that a great studio?
7. The ”thugs” in the office are played by Dashiell and our key grip and grip. I think they signed up to shoot this project purely to get to break that office apart. Dash is the one to break that vase, you know why? Because he’s one of the owners of HLG Films, and we minded him getting glass in his eye less than the others… it’s a business expense.
8. The table being flipped was shot by attaching a go-pro cam unto that desk and flipping it. Our DP and co-director, Justin Morrison, deserves all the glory for that awesome, awesome shot.
9. The song that plays in the climax is called Lockbox, the song that plays in the final scene with Jack and I is called Outlaw’s Lament. Both are written and performed by Vlad, and we’ll hopefully be throwing them up on iTunes soon enough. My dad, Albert, plays solo guitar on some of them. And my sister-in-law sings, and plays with Vlad. Oh, and my mom, Diana, is the production accountant. Go family!
10. The scene with me walking through the office, talking to everyone, is one long take. Brent Johnson, our steadicam operator (and key grip, and guy who broke the office apart) is a rock star and is responsible for most of the cool tracking shots we have this season. And there are a good amount.
11. The giant letters telling people to have fun and work hard in the office were there when we rented the location. With everything that goes down this season, those words are the perfect ironic background to have.
12. Yes, Eliza and Shira are fantastic in this episode. But I think our other actors really nail it. Drew, specifically, holds this episode together and really shines. He’s charming, funny and everything Jack should be. Very proud of our cast!
That’s it for now! Feel free to ask me any questions!
We all know being an artist isn’t easy. Sure, we have notoriously better sex, but the climb to what we consider success is not just steep but seemingly impossible. Often, our fears feel very isolating: most people around us have regular jobs, families and financial security — we just have the sex thing. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the fear and doubt of it all and it’s especially easy to feel like you’re the only one who’s going through it.
This is why I’m writing this blog thing, titled, appropriately: NINE PROBLEMS OF BEING AN ARTIST (in caps lock and everything) with my own solutions to each. Because this road, while paved by genius, is lined with failure and it’s nice to know you’ve got company.
The problem is it’s very hard to explain to people why you’re canceling on them for a project that, say, you’re not getting paid for. When we did our first web series, Break a Leg, it was four years of self-funded madness. We released episodes every week — but why? No one was making us. No one was paying us. It was just something we had to do for it to succeed — but how to explain self-made restrictions to people who have “real” jobs? It’s hard.
The thing is, if we want to succeed in a field filled with thousands (billions!) of highly competitive, often more talented people, we have to outwork them. And to outwork, we have to spend as much of our time on our art as we can. It’s not always fun, it hardly ever pays, but it’s the only way to get ahead of the people you’re behind. And sometimes, it kind of sucks.
SOLUTION: Give yourself some kind of regimented schedule – work a lot, but also give yourself scheduled breaks and times where being lazy is allowed. You can’t constantly be expending energy, you also need to go outside, see friends and just relax. Otherwise, your work will start to suffer too. That said, you still have to outwork the other guys, so, it’s all about finding a balance for yourself.
Crushing, hopeless doubt. Even when you’re doing well, even when you’re being paid well for your work, there’s that feeling that at any moment it can all fall through and everything will be over forever and ever and ever. It’s hard to get excited about anything because of the constant feeling that you’re tightrope walking along a very narrow “paying work” rope, and at any moment, someone will say, “Wait a minute – that dude’s a fraud!” and then you fall, fall, fall, down to the very pits of unemployment.
And when you’re not doing well, finding new work feels a little bit like taking full, running leaps into a brick wall. You know that behind that wall lies success and riches, and yet, it’s a pretty big wall and all you’ve got to break it down is your face. So you doubt. You see people around you working, climbing ladders, buying houses, cars, slaves, and you think — I’m going to make no money forever and one day they’ll buy me as a slave and that’ll be my life.
Or, you know, something like that.
SOLUTION: Remember why you dove into this in the first place. Sure, there’s no stability, but what’s the fun in stability? At the end of the day, you’re creating for a living (or trying) and that tops pretty much everything. So, chill the hell out and focus less on your doubt and more on the hope that if something didn’t work out, there’s an even better something along the way — and I mean that in the best, hippie-dippie-the-Universe-is-watching-out-for-you-man kind of way.
3. NEVER HAPPY WITH YOUR WORK
You’re happy when you do it, and then you look back on it and all you can see are its faults. It’s maddeningly maddening. The problem is that, as artists, we seek perfection in our vision but perfection is unreachable. You’re never going to have enough time or money or omnipotence.
We can’t create perfection, but we always strive for it — it’s a delightfully unhappy Catch-22.
SOLUTION: My mom once told me that I should never be truly happy with my work. That a real artist will celebrate a victory, but will see the problem with every new project and try to get better. It’s very valuable advice. Some artists think everything they make is perfect — they will not succeed. Treat your neurosis as a badge of honor — it’s how you get better, how you sharpen your craft and how you become the best at what you do. Or close to best. You can’t ever be the best. Or maybe you can. I don’t know. Try.
4. SOMEONE IS ALWAYS BETTER THAN YOU
No matter how hard you try, no matter how good you are, no matter how talented, unique, interesting, whatever, in your mind, there’s always going to be someone better than you. It might not be true. You might be a generational talent, a Michael Jackson or a Paul McCartney or a Spielberg or a whatever, but the nature of art dictates that even if you’re at the very top, chances are you got there by never being happy with your own work.
Most artists are incredibly competitive people — you have to be if you want to succeed — so this particular one can drive you crazy if you let it. I personally have a very strange and unreasonable competition with Joss Whedon. I love your work and think you’re brilliant, but like… let me write Avengers 2.
SOLUTION: Take a deep breath and accept a small measure of defeat — someone will always be better. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive to be the best. In fact, as long as it doesn’t drive you crazy, let it just drive you. Otherwise, it’ll lead to jealousy — and being bitter of your friends’ successes is just about the worst thing you could ever do.
5. YOU CAN’T JUST BE AN ARTIST
We all want to hide away in our basement suite and make hot, dirty art that no one ever sees. But if you want to succeed, you simply can’t. There are way too many people who are better than you, and there are even more people who might not have your skill but have more hustle. If you want to compete, you can’t do it from your basement.
Furthermore, in our time, the excuses to fail have been stripped away. Where there was one road to success, there are now hundreds — each incredibly difficult, but nonetheless there. That means that while at night we can be the creepy, artsy, basement-goblins making genius, in the day we need to be sharply-dressed businessmen, card-flashing social media gurus and oily-haired salesmen. And we have to be good at all these things.
The problem is, the majority of us hates doing all that other stuff. First of all, it feels gross and mildly like prostitution. Secondly, we don’t want to do it. It’s not what we’re good at — if we wanted to be businessmen, we would have listened to our parents and gotten a real job being businessmen. Art is not business, it is creation and love and song and dance and new worlds and all those other things that other artists paint or film or rhyme about.
And yet, here I am, looking shamelessly for a pimp.
SOLUTION: My dad (I have good parents) once told me that doing something well means getting that talent, profession, whatever, to a place where it is art. Be it bartending, teaching, business or whatever — the very best are always the ones that bring their work to artistic heights. So embrace the things you hate to do, and learn to love them. If you can paint, learn to sell as well as you paint. If you make movies, know how to get those movies seen and funded. It’s not selling out; it’s taking charge of your own future and career. And in the end, any new talent, any new profession learned and new experience gotten can and will become an asset and inspiration in your own art.
6. NO SECURITY
The scariest thing about picking art as a profession is the very real chance that you will never, ever be successful at it. And even if you are successful, it could be brief and spark out as suddenly as it sparked in. It’s like playing Russian Roulette with an unemployment-loaded gun (and it’s got 2,000 chambers, and only one of them has the ‘success’ bullet), every day for the rest of your life.
Someone who wants to be a teacher will more than likely be a teacher. Someone who wants to be a mechanic will get a job as a mechanic. Someone who wants to make a living paint? Keep firing that gun.
SOLUTION: You picked it because you’re a crazy artist, so deal with it. It’s better to try and fail than to live your life doing something you regret. Live your life like it’s the only life you’ve got – unless you’re a cat or Christian or whatever.
I’d rather pursue what I love and fight through blood and tears to get it than to do a thing I do because it’s a thing I can do to survive, and live my life with regret. That’s an overly simplistic and optimistic solution but, welcome to art, check your reasoning at the door.
7. SUCCESS JUDGED BY OTHER, DUMBER PEOPLE
In art, our success is judged by the tastes and opinions of other people. Yes, you could love your book, but everyone has to love it for it to go anywhere but your mother’s bookcase. It’s a little different if you’re an accountant — you hardly ever need applause to be good at Quickbooks.
This can be the most maddening thing of all. Nevermind the challenge of getting people to actually watch the thing, but to like it? That’s a whole other beast. And you really have no idea what’ll hit and what won’t. It’s a game of chance and hope — some people have an instinct for it, some don’t, some just get lucky. Regardless of which one you are, the threat of putting in hours upon hours of work into a project only to have people hate it is, well, unpleasant. Unless you go for the fart joke. Oh, man, people love a good fart joke.
The worst, the absolute worst, is for a lot of us, it’s the one negative comment that drives us insane. For example, just today, a friend of mine jokingly or half-jokingly or seriously said, “Your tweets aren’t funny.” That’s a stupid thing to care about, right? I mean it’s Twitter. It’s a rehearsal ground for jokes. It’s a way for me to warm up my brain. It shouldn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. Why would it matter? Most people seem to like it. But one person didn’t. What if other people don’t and just haven’t told me? Like me everyone, like me!
Won’t you please, for the love of God, like me?!
SOLUTION: Listen, but not too much. Ignore it, but not too much. Don’t obsess and judge for yourself if the comments given are ones that you should value – oftentimes, even the most venomous negative comments have something you can take away from them. Don’t make therapy — that’s purely for you to enjoy – make art. Let your instincts guide you, let your creativity lead you, but don’t turn off your brain. Certainly let general opinion guide you, but not lead you. What I’m saying, with my fortune-cookie-like wisdom, is find a balance but always go with your gut.
What I’m also saying is, dammit, I’m funny.
8. IDEAS, LIKE BABIES, CAN EASILY BE STOLEN
You get excited about your story idea, or art piece, or script but you have to guard it like it’s the goddamn One Ring. You want to tell people your ideas, you want to hear their opinions, but what if they take them? What if they turn them into their own art project?! What if you die penniless and alonewhile they reap the rewards of your imagination?!
Aside from that, ideas seem to float around in some bizarre collective consciousness where, if you don’t hurry and produce yours, it’ll appear as a movie, or a book, or a whatever. In fact, 2 of the last 9 show pitches I’ve written have appeared, in their own form, on TV (Smash, Grimm, I hate you). Even when we released Break a Leg, NBC suddenly released Studio 60 and 30 Rock (all shows about making a show).
It’s really strange and frustrating and makes you feel like you have to guard your thoughts like some kind of a crazy person.
SOLUTION: I have two. #1: You’ll always have other ideas. If you don’t, then you shouldn’t be doing this. #2: Your ideas are your ideas because they’re your ideas. In other words, it’s not necessarily the idea that makes a piece of art great, it’s how the artist approaches it. Worry less about who is going to steal from you, and more about how you’re going to make it original.
But also, don’t make a habit of telling your ideas to everyone. You know… just in case.
9. FAIL, FAIL, FAIL
You have to fail to succeed. And failing is miserable. A comedian has to tank to know what jokes work and what don’t, a writer has to hear his dialogue suck to write something good — it’s just the way of the thing and it’s stupid, and I hate it, and I want it to go away.
Failure is an essential part of life — and in art, failure is your goddamn lover. You date it, you take road trips with it, you sleep in its bed, you introduce it to your friends and your parents, and sometimes, when the condom breaks, you make little failure babies who continue failing in your name.
It’s that failure that terrifies even the most talented from pursuing their art. And why not? It’s just about the worst feeling in the world.
Other than delivering a failure baby.
SOLUTION: Fail. You just have to. The way to survive is to take a step back and ask yourself, okay, why did I fail? How? What can I change next time? How do I learn from this? It’s the simplest advice I can offer to not only artists but everyone. Failure isn’t scary, it’s necessary, we all do it — what’s scariest is being paralyzed by the fear of it. So dive in, love it, enjoy it, dance with it, learn from it, and eventually it’ll introduce you to its best friend, Success, and man, is she hot.
You may have noticed that a lot of the solutions have the same basic through line – “get over it,” “relax,” “chill out,” and so on. That’s because I think as artists, our neurosis tend to control us. And art is that sweaty, scabby area in life that appears to be the perfect breeding ground for that kind of thing.
The main thing we can do is to focus on the work – the rest is just distraction. You’ve picked this road and you may as well take whatever comes with it. It’s kind of like being on a plane: you’ve already boarded it, you’re already flying through the air, you can’t get out, you can’t turn back, so, the best you can do is swallow up your fear and enjoy the ride. If it crashes, well – at least you got to fly for a little while.
For those keeping very careful track of my life (mom, dad), you might know that Leap Year has received a second season. I’m going to blame not updating my blog to that, but it’s mostly that my blog is like a relationship I’ve gotten into that’s moving too fast: I put in a lot of work, then I get overwhelmed and try not to look at it while pretending everything is okay.
But I digress — I’m back, Leap Year is back, and this time around, I’m going to try really, really hard to take you through the process, from pre-production, to production (writing my blog during production? Good luck, me, I say, good luck), to post-production. I figure this will give you (mom, dad) some insight on what it takes to put together an online series.
I’ll keep these blogs short, so you don’t hate reading them and I don’t die writing them.
I’ll give you this chance to leave me any questions you might have about the process. I’d love to hear them and I’ll try to answer them as best I can. Remember, Leap Year is about people starting their own small business — it’s about how hard you have to work, to fight, to bleed for the thing you want to create. It’s very similar to not only my own production company (a small business), but to most of the people who read this blog. The goal, then, is to help and teach through my own experiences in this world.
So, again, question away, and stay tuned for my next blog, coming sooner than this one did, which will talk about the writing process for the show!
Thanks for reading, YuriBaranovskians (it’ll catch on)!
I recently had a conversation with a friend about defining our “brand.” The thought is both very wise and also makes me throw up a little in my face (I am the vomit brand!).
The reason for the vomit is that there’s this cult of personality thing that’s happening now. People are famous in their little group, people “brand” themselves on Twitter, Facebook, whatever, and in many cases, it feels both disingenuous and desperate. I am not a bottle of Pepsi, I am an artist (douchebag brand!) and my brand is good art (douchebag brand, deluxe size!).
In my case, my strong suit is, in my humble opinion, my writing. That said, I think Leap Year and Break a Leg are both very different — Break a Leg is silly, 30 Rock-esque, and Leap Year is drenched in delicious Sorkin-ey goodness. I love writing in both styles. Honestly, I’d love to write in many different genres — give me a super hero film, a zombie flick, a sci-fi movie — I’ll write them all, because I love writing. Do I have a specific style? I don’t know. When you watch Leap Year, can you tell it’s from the writers of Break a Leg? I’m not sure (self-doubt brand!).
My production company, Happy Little Guillotine Films, has made everything from 30 second spots, to full series. The series are significantly different from one another — we’ve done a full reality show for 7-11, we’ve done a hosted, sketch-ey show for 7-11, and we’ve done the other shows I named previously. Is our voice heard loudly in all of this work? I think so. But it’s hurt us in the past, too. Yes, on one hand people hire us because, I think we can do smart, funny comedy and we produce high quality content. But they’ve also not hired us because they think we’re unable to create anything else — and we can. Baby, we can make anything (Complete Confidence in My Ability Brand!)
Does a real artist need a brand? Did Neil Simon have a brand, or did he just write whatever he wanted and become Neil Simon? Is this something we, as writers, creators, whatevers, have to actively think about? Or should we just focus on making great things and make them as varied as possible. Is range really a bad thing? Does being spread out like an artsy prostitute hurt your ability to get hired if you’re more focused on a specific style?
As one of the Executive Board members for the ITV Festival (for whom I also originally wrote this blog, which you can see a duplicate of on their website), one of my responsibilities was to vote on the winners of specific categories. This year, I was one of the EBMs (what we call ourselves when we meet in our underground castle) to vote on this year’s comedies.
I don’t often get to watch a lot of web shows because, unfortunately, I just don’t have enough time between writing, working and meeting in underground castles, so watching 15 or so series in a row was interesting for me.
First of all, there was a lot of good stuff.
Second of all, there was a lot of not-so-good stuff.
The main thing that I noticed is that many creators tend to make the same mistakes. Mistakes we’ve made (and still try hard not to make!) over the many years, and mistakes that, I think, when fixed, really help raise the overall quality of the production.
So, without further ado, my blog titled: Things I Beg Web Series Creators To Please Do and/or Not Do
I’m not great with titles.
Here we go.
1. Please stop… the city montage transitions. This is not a necessary element to your series. We don’t need to see cars driving by and people walking on the street. We especially don’t need to see this 8 times in a 7 minute show. The street montage has been done to death by television for far too long and, if you’ll notice, most series don’t do it anymore. It’s a tired technique and feels slightly off-putting in a new genre. Yes, sometimes it helps a transition, but mostly, it makes your show feel like Dharma and Greg. Stop it, please.
2. Please stop… the drum roll to a scene. You know that moment when a song finishes and the drummer is like, “I’m going to finish up with a groovy beat, man?” And then you put that drum into your show, usually after a particularly enthralling street montage, and then as the drums hit and end, you cut into the action? Stop doing that. It makes your show feel like a 90s sitcoms. I should not feel like I’m watching Saved by the Bell when I’m watching a show in a genre often referred to as “new media.”
3. Please… audition your writers. Audition your writers like you theoretically audition your actors or hire your crew. If you’ve never written before and think, “I have a fantastic idea. I’m going to write a full series because ANYONE can write!” then you’re setting yourself up for potential disaster. Or, at least, a bad series.
Writing is tremendously undervalued in entertainment. I’m not sure how that happened, considering our art was built around brilliant writers (for what is theater, and of course, film, without Woody Allen, Neil Simon, Mel Brooks, Tony Kushner, Shakespeare and others) but at some point, everyone decided that writing is easy and hey, they’d love to show you the screenplay they just wrote that’s in the trunk of their car and is formatted in Wordpad.
Writing is a craft. Writers take years to perfect it and “perfect it” is a strong word, because I think good writers never stop learning to write. Just like most people who make a show don’t say, “And I will be the director of photography!” when they have no idea how to turn on a camera (yes, I know, some do, but they are wrong), someone who has never written shouldn’t decide he’s going to write an entire series.
As a producer and creator of a series, you should love your show, respect it, and find a voice that can bring it to its maximum potential.
4. Please… get a sound guy. Or a microphone. Or just put a lot of time into your sound. This was our problem when we started Break a Leg, and it’s a major issue in many of the series I saw. The problem with bad sound is that it can completely ruin all the other good elements – acting seems worse, writing seems worse, cinematography seems worse, so on and so forth. I completely understand restrictions, but be aware of those restrictions when you’re shooting. If you don’t have a great mic, don’t shoot outside, don’t shoot in echo-ey buildings, find places that optimize your sound. It really goes a long way into strengthening the look and feel of a show.
5. Please… get a funny editor. If you’re doing comedy, you need a funny writer, you need funny actors, and, equally as important (and sometimes more important) you need a funny editor. Many-a joke is not only fixed but made in the editing booth. An editor editing comedy must have impeccable timing, they must know how long to wait for each beat, they must know when to cut out to a wide because it’s funnier, and, most importantly, they need to know what’s not funny so they can chop it out of there.
Having a funny editor is almost as important as having a funny writer – so when you’re hiring one, make sure you see their comedy reel. A slam-bam-sexy-reel might be pretty, but it doesn’t mean he can make you laugh.
6. Please stop… with the long opening intro. I get you want to introduce all of your actors. I think that’s great. I’m a huge proponent of giving everyone due credit. But, can you do it quickly? Unless you’ve got big name actors that will make us go, “ooh, really?” your intro should quickly explain the story in 15-30 seconds (less, less, less is the mantra) and go on to the far more important part of your story – which… is your story.
7. Please, for the love of all that is good in this world, cut. Writers, cut your scenes, editors, cut them too. Web shows already have the unfortunate problem of being forced to be short (for some strange reason), it doesn’t help when you have a 6 minute scene in a 7 minute episode that takes place in the same location.
In a screenplay, a scene should be no longer than 3-5 pages. Sometimes, sometimes you can push it to 7, if it’s climactic or you’re Quentin Tarantino and think that every scene should be 25 minutes long and then everyone should die at the end.
A screenplay, though, is 90-120 pages long. A web show is, at its best, 10 pages long. Create movement, create a sense of story, don’t stick us into one location and make the same joke over and over again.
A very wise man once told me to know when to kill my babies. I’m pretty sure he was talking about my dialogue and not my future babies, and its good advice.
Much like a good joke, a good comedic scene is told fast, hits hard, and moves on before you can stop smiling.
…and those are the things that I noticed. By all means, don’t feel like you have to listen to me – in the end, I’m another douchebag making stuff and while we’ve had success, it doesn’t mean that you have to listen to anything I say. But I have been doing this for a good while now and, having made all of these mistakes myself, I feel like I have at least some kind of advice to offer.
But again, I’m still some guy on the Internet.
What’s more important is that the work is ever growing and ever getting better, and I applaud every single person who picked up a camera and took the step to make something.
I very much applaud the effort; I think you should all be proud of yourselves. But I think you should be proud of yourselves for a minute or two, and then I think you should watch your project and say, “How do I make this better?” and do that, infinitely, until you’re dead or have gone insane.
I think we’re here. I think it’s time. I think we’ve grown up, tuned in, changed perceptions and revolutionized. I think it’s time for us, as viewers and creators, to be able to watch and make a web series that’s longer than 7 minutes.
Here’s the thing.
I think the short-form content thing is a product of how this whole thing started, which is — before video hosting sites could support high-quality video and before people started watching actual television online. Then, it made sense. This was the YouTube stage, when we had to get people’s attention and get them used to watching actual entertainment on their computer, and so, we started them off with a small dose (sketch comedy, kittens), then, when they were hooked, slowly increased their hit (Break a Leg, The Burg, Same Has 7 Friends, We Need Girlfriends, The Guild, etc.), and now… well, we’re in the same place.
For the last three years.
While people are watching more TV online, while Hulu is gaining popularity with a mainstream audience, we continue to make videos as if our viewership is still watching them through grain-filled goggles, as if their connections still can’t support high-quality video, as if every sign wasn’t pointing to web TV growing at crazy rates.
But Yuri, you say, stats show that people stop watching at around the 5-7 minute mark. This drives me a little batty. First of all, correlation does not mean causation. That is, just because people stop watching at the 5 minute mark, doesn’t mean that the reason they stop watching at the 5 minute mark is because they only have patience for five minute content on the internet. It could be that they don’t really like the series. Hell, it could be that the series is just plain ol’ bad.
If I had to bet a ruble, I would say that TV has the exact same issue. I’m sure people tune out at the 5-7 minute mark when they’re not into a show. TV is just as ADD as the Internet — why is clicking to another tab easier than pressing “up” on your remote control? Why do we keep insisting that it’s harder to get into our “style” of entertainment? It isn’t. Hell, if anything, it’s a little easier.
The other thing is — the sample size isn’t big enough to make such strong, blanket statements as “no one watches long-form content” because, frankly, there aren’t that many great shows.
Oh, it’s gotten MUCH better. I once wrote a blog about the death of the web series, using, admittedly, hyperbole to suggest that we needed much higher-quality content if we were to compete against TV and if this thing was to survive and flourish. I arrogantly think I was proven right after Bannen Way and a few other shows popped up, showing us that we seriously had to raise our game to actually get funded. And we did. Web shows are getting significantly better.
But, like with all entertainment, there’s a lot of bad in the good. The problem with allowing everyone who has a camera to make a show means that the majority of those shows won’t be very good. That’s just the nature of the beast, and that’s fine. The main issue is that it pollutes the sample size and gets people to say strong, generic statements like, “Nobody watches web shows that are longer than 7 minutes.”
All that aside, I think the short length hurts the growth of our industry. I think regular viewers see a 7 minute series and think, “Eh, it’s just a web show.” There’s a negative connotation there and I think, honestly, a mainstream audience that’s used to watching longer content on television would find it easier to watch something of a similar length online. It’s habitual. They’re used to stories being told in those lengths. Yes, those are limits made by TV because of ads, etc., but you know what? We’re still growing, and if we can use some of the habits formed by TV to get viewers to start watching independent content, then great. We can start pushing them out of their comfort zones when they’re hooked on our worlds.
I recently did a poll on Facebook and asked: “Would you be more inclined to watch a high-quality, extremely well-shot, -scripted, and -acted web series if it was longer (22 mins)? Or shorter (7 mins)?”
The majority of respondents said 22 minutes. A few even added “60 minutes” as an option. Only 8 chose the shorter version. This isn’t proof of anything — I’m not suggesting I’m a statistician by any means — but it does suggest that the average, mainstream viewer (which most of my friends are — there’s hardly a web show watcher among them) is ready for longer content online.
They just need someone to make them something good online.
I think we’ve all done amazing things with the current length constraints. I think people are getting good at it and I think we’re squeezing every ounce of story, character, plot and all else out of those minutes. I think we can still do better. I think we’ve still got to keep raising our game. But I do think that we’re ready to take our shows to the next level.
So, here’s what I think we should do.
To those creators who are venturing forth to create their own series on their own buck — here’s a challenge for you. Make a 22 minute series. Start changing perceptions. We need trailblazers and it ain’t easy being one, but, well, we need you. I know it’s hard. But for the people who ask us how we’ve managed to survive and make money in this space for over 7 years — we started by making a relatively good 22 minute series. I’m just saying.
To those creators who have a proven track record and budgets — start pitching longer content. We’re trying — I’m not sure if it’s working yet, but eventually someone will take a risk. The more established creators do it, the more the people with money will start listening — we ARE the professionals here, right? We’re the ones who gave birth to this space, let’s keep maturing it.
To the brands, agencies, agents, networks and everyone else who has money and is looking to make a splash on the market — I know it’s scary and I know this isn’t exactly the best time for it but, won’t somebody, anybody take a risk?
Our quality is there, our talent is there, our drive is there, so let’s stop giving ourselves time constraints and continue pushing that envelope.
I think we’re ready… and I’ m the guy who said the web series is dying.