Leave Them Laughing

I wasn’t always a writer — and until college, it was never my intent. Oh, sure, I’d attempt to scribble entire novels on tiny notepads to mimic my brother’s writing prowess, but I never actually considered myself a writer.

In college, I sort of fell into it (a story for another blog) and started doing more and more of it to surprising success.

In college is also where I met Carla Zilbersmith — my drama teacher. Carla was the kind of mentor that either helped you along or bashed you in the face over and over again until you either gave up or screamed at her and did it anyway (I was the latter… though there was never screaming, just quiet fuming, and man, did I learn a lot from it). But she was my mentor and the first person that really validated my writing. Before then, I never considered myself a writer, but she did everything she could to push me that way. In short, if it wasn’t for Carla, I would’ve never had the success I’ve had (you can read more about this in an old posting on the Break a Leg site).

She was also a damn good acting and improv teacher so, you can thank (or blame?) my AMAZING acting in Break a Leg partly on her.

Anyway, here’s my point. Carla was diagnosed with the incurable Lou Gherig’s Disease (ALS) a few years ago — which, according to Carla, sucks, because she’s always hated baseball.

Have I mentioned Carla’s hilarious and has the blackest humor ever? I’m not the only one that thinks so, as documentary director John Zaritsky — an Academy Award winning director, I may add — has shot a feature doc with Carla called, “Leave Them Laughing.”

The film is amazing, Carla’s amazing and I want to do everything I can to support her and the production. And I implore you, dear readers, to do the same. A talented artist and a true artist, Carla is one of the most inspiring people I’ve met — she doesn’t try to be inspiring (she tries to be more offensive) but, she pulls it off anyway.

So, watch it, love it, and support it and her.

You can see more on the website: http://www.leavethemlaughingfilm.com

You can follow all the news about Carla and the film there as well as donate money to the film and to helping find a curse for one of the most awful diseases out there (second only to GINGIVITIS!).

I linked it before but, read Carla’s fantastic blog here: http://carlamuses.blogspot.com


Twitter Video #1: Twatif?

Hello, dearest readers.

I’ve mentioned in passing that we’ve been filming a few videos for a company called Zemoga that poke fun at Twitter.

Well, without further ado — one of the videos!

UPDATE: The video has been reposted all over (including in the Huffington Post!) and has topped 30,000 views. Woo! Glad everyone likes it!


King Me, Joss Whedon

So, it’s official — Dr. Horrible Sing-Along Blog is going to have a sequel. The story on the fan site goes as follows:

There will be a second Dr. Horrible Sing-Along Blog, Joss Whedon said in a Thursday conference call with reporters to promote Dollhouse. The main question, he says, is whether he does it “on a shoe string again” or goes bigger budget and “invites other people into the process.” Either way, he promises that it won’t affect the storyline.

Great news! Now internet shows are successful! Right? I mean, if Joss Whedon can do it, surely anyone can?

Okay, so maybe not. But, I have an egomaniacal idea for Joss Whedon and I think you should all help me out with it:

The Guild was doing well before Joss Whedon, but after Dr. Horrible, Felicia Day became the unofficial Queen of the Web Series. So, here’s my proposition…

Joss, I haven’t acted in a Hollywood TV show, so I need some help. Break a Leg was one of the original internet series and, well, it’s like, really funny and I’m almost positive that if you took a second out of shooting Dollhouse and watched it, you’d probably love the hell out of it. Probably.  Joss. Are you listening? I really think you’d be quite into it.

So, I’m asking you to use your significant powers and once again reach your hand into the messy drawer that is online entertainment world and pull me out (because I’m adorable), and cast me (king me.).

Because, see, Joss (Joss, pay attention!) — you’ve sort of made yourself a God in this space. You’re the successful one, you have the power to pick your Jesus and, frankly, I’m a Jew and I’ve put at least two computer tables together by myself (get it? Carpenter? Expect that kind of wit on set, Joss).

Honestly, Joss, I think it’d be entirely wrong for you to completely fill out the cast with Hollywood actors. They’ve got the work, and Felicia Day is dead (in Dr. Horrible, I think she’s still alive in real life) — I think I’m the rightful heir. Hell, I’ve even got a Felicia Day wig.

Can I sing? Well, not really. But, you know, I’ll figure it out and you’ll get the added bonus of being an incredibly cool guy whose casting web hopefuls into your web dynasty and elevating the importance of internet TV.

So, in short — Joss Whedon, cast me in Dr. Horrible, Part 2. I promise to impress you.

Okay?

Okay.

Just don’t cast those Burg guys — I hear they eat babies.

Here’s my email: yuribaranovsky@gmail.com

Friends, fans, enemies — feel free to bombard Joss with links to this blog.

Thank you for your time,

Yuri “Felicia Day” Baranovsky


Filming Notes: Green Horizons in Murder City

Sorry for the long delay in posting — this has been the busiest week in a long time for us and I’m delightfully surprised that we survived it.

Aside from submitting all of our materials to the mysterious network (done!), finishing up the Twitter videos (almost done!) and writing a draft of the Temp Life script (draft 1 done!), we also had another job this week.

We are taking photos and shooting a promo video for a company called Green Horizon — they create “on-demand, self-sustaining housing solutions.” In other words, they make these amazingly ingenious housing units that fold up to fit on a truck and then automatically unfold to be a house. It’s for situations like, say, Katrina, where you need quick housing immediately. They run on solar panels, batteries, have water, electricity, I think even cell and possibly internet service.

Also, each unit comes with someone naked (anyone, your choice). It’s really pretty amazing.

Anyway, we were filming in their factory last night in Stockton, CA. Stockton, by the way, is what I fondly call “Murder City.” It’s 2 hours outside of San Francisco but takes even longer because of traffic on the Bay Bridge and because of all the dead bodies that block the road on the way there.

We had to go to Murder City — the Port of Murder City, to be precise — to a location, I swear to God, is called: “Rough & Ready Island.”

Yes, we also apparently film gay porn (come, spam bots, come!)

The shoot was in a warehouse at the port where one of these units are held. We set up a bunch of lights, chatted with the good folks who created the thing, and put Justin, our camera guy, up a forklift 30 feet above ground.

Oh that’s right.

So, here’s how dedicated we (Justin) are to getting a shot. We needed to get high up above the unit, and we ask them if we can climb up something to do that.

“Well, we’ve got forklifts.”

“Can we get on a forklift?”

“Sure.”

So, one of the women drives a forklift up, and Justin gets on each individual metal bar, holds on tight, and they lift him, high, high up in the air (footage forthcoming) as we joke around him falling to his death.

“You guys have insurance, right?”

“Uh-huh, yeah, tons of it.”

So, anyway. Justin’s in the hospital… No, that’s not true. Though, at one point his head did almost meet the very heavy factory lights.

It was fun. It’s interesting to work with people in an entirely different field. The housing is ingenious and everyone there was very bright and interesting. Also, their soap had rocks in it. Or something. It was to scrub the dirty factory off your strong factory worker fingers but to our weak filmmaker hands, it only felt like hurt.

At the end of the shoot, while driving back, we got to really see an example of the beauty that is Stockton — as six gangbangers (drabbed in all red and everything) were getting a firm talking-to by the police.

Oh, Murder City, how I love thee.

Filmmaker Notes:

I’ve decided to add these to each of these production blogs for any of you curious as to our set up. We used a D90 still camera to take high-res photos and we actually shot video with it. The video quality is damn near amazing, so, I suggest looking into these babies.

We also had our HVX200 (what we shot Break a Leg on). We rented 2, 2,000 watt ARRI lights and placed them around the unit, making sure the lighting was even and pretty and all, and then we got some standard shots. Footage of us panning across the thing, footage of it unfolding, and folding and, of course, footage from 30 feet above it while Justin dangled from his life.

Let me know if you have any questions.

I’ll have video of the shoot soon. I’m also going to start a whole How-To thing next week, so, stay tuned!


The Sky is Falling?

You want to know the frustrations of a filmmaker? Here we go.

Here’s my day today:

Meeting with agent. It went generally well but — if you’re not patient in this business, you’re probably going to stab yourself at some point. It took a few months for he and I to connect and we connected only for him to ask for a few script samples. I’m fine with it, I just — god, I hate the wait and I wish that my resume and experience spoke for themselves. I feel like they do, but… apparently not? If any agents are reading this, email me — I’m very funny.

-As I mentioned previously, we need to export, up-res and consolidate all of our videos unto one hard drive. To export, it takes like 4-5 hours — we have 67 videos. We’re using our friend’s work and his 10 computers to get them all ready (keep in mind, this has to be received in another country [HINT] by Tuesday) and today was the day we were gonna be done with them.

Here’s our little problem: One of the hard drives broke. No one can pick them up. Our friend who’s letting us use his work is leaving for the weekend (we need this mailed Saturday) and it’s increasingly hard for anyone with technical know-how (not me) to get to the office.

Why would the HD break? I don’t know. Why is everyone I know suddenly the busiest they’ve ever been? I’m not sure. But, that’s the luck of the filmmaker. Either you get lucky and snag a cowboy town, or your hard drives break for no real reason at the very moment you need them most. It’s like how printers will work for years… until your final is due — then, all of a sudden, there’s some kind of error you’ve never heard before and every Kinkos employee is on strike.

So, in about an hour, I’m going to head to San Rafael — an hour bus ride from my house — to try and grab the HD, as our friend is currently consolidating the vids all by himself (while also doing the work he actually has to do for his company). The idea is that it’ll all be done and none of the files will be corrupted or broken…

…except, if you’re a filmmaker, you’ll know that they’ll be both. And the building will be on fire. And the hard drive will be allergic to my Jewish fingers.

Fun day!

-New thing! I just found out we may have gotten a quick shooting gig for a company… except we’d have to do it this weekend — along with checking 60 continuity scripts, mailing the hard drive and finishing the Twitter videos.

Oh, one final note — it’s been officially announced, I’m going to be writing a few episodes for the show, TEMP LIFE — some more details here: http://news.tubefilter.tv/2009/09/10/spherion-backed-temp-life-re-staffs-for-new-season/

Okay, I’m not sure if this blog makes any sense or is well-written at all but that’s your update for today. I’ll let you know how it all goes sometime… soon.

In the meantime, wish me luck and hope that I survive this weekend!

Thanks, guys!


Of Agents, and Networks, and Pumpkins, and Things

Today’s blog is going to be a quick one — this is partly because I have almost no time to write and partly because Liz Shannon Miller is too busy carving Yuri-shaped pumpkins and then eating them (for their soul) rather than responding to my response on the web series business.

Or maybe she doesn’t want it to become an endless back and forth which never really gets solved because, really, there isn’t much of a solution, is there? Until I think of one. Which I will — but I’ll get into that later.

Right now, a quick rundown of the week:

-I have a meeting with an agent tomorrow. An agent at a big agency. I’ve been trying to get an agent for like, 3 years, and most of them don’t respond while others respond for a little while then, I imagine, get murdered or something because it’s the last I hear from them. Anyway, I have a phone meeting with an agent tomorrow and I need you all to cross your fingers and send me good wishes.

Except Liz, who I only ask to make a smaller pumpkin and title it, “Yuri’s agent” — and then eat both of us.

I might be very happy or very bummed out tomorrow — I’ll chronicle either one, ’cause that’s just the thing of this thing.

-I’m going to be at the Twestival SF on Friday night — say hi if you’re there and you see me. I’ll be dressed like Justin Kan from JustinTV. Our production company, Happy Little Guillotine Films, is donating a 30-second promo for their silent auction. This makes me happy — it’s a bit of extra work and we’re already swamped, but the money goes to charity and I like helping people — especially kids. Though, the kids we help are required to wear Break a Leg shirts after we help them (good investment, right?)

-Speaking of Twitter — we’re almost done with our Twitter videos. They turned out quite fun. If the company is cool with it, I’ll make sure to post them here.

-I’m going to be writing a couple of scripts for a web series that isn’t of my own creation. It’s a good, quick gig and a good show, so — stay tuned for more news on that.

-I saved the best for last: we got the contract from the network! Woo! It’s signed and there aren’t any added clauses like they’ll own us (we did have to sacrifice our camera guy in their CEOs name, but, whatever), so, good! We now wait for all of our videos to export — which is taking 4-5 hours per video, for 67 videos total. Our friend, Sam Long — the best person in the whole universe — is letting us use his work’s ten computers to get it all ready.

The due date is September 15th — hopefully, we’ll have it all done and I can start announcing the news as early as this month!

Okay, I’m off to eat, play hockey, and look through 60 continuity scripts for errors.

I’ll write more soon.


Waxing Websodic: Everything's Fine, Nothing is Working

A couple of days ago I posted an article on my blog (a blogticle?) about the “death of the web series genre as we know it.”

There were some great comments and one, especially, caught my eye because, well, it was on the front page of NewTeeVee (I’m exaggerating, of course, they only have one page — but such is the curse of the blogticle) written by one Liz Shannon Miller.

I had my point, she had her counter-point, so now I have to have a counter-counter-point.

Let me start by quoting Liz’s premise:

To be blunt, it sounds like Baranovsky doesn’t get out much. If he did, he’d be in touch with the new generation of web series creators, who are playing with their cameras, trying new things and making new deals.

I’m on Twitter, I’m on Facebook, I’m on MySpace, and I even have Friendster. I might even possibly have a LiveJournal account somewhere. I take a daily stroll through the Internet and breathe that sweet, electronicky air. So, I’m pretty sure I get out. Or get out in the way Liz says I don’t.

Though, it is true that I haven’t left my house in forty-three weeks.

Liz is celebrating the idea of what web series, as a genre, offers. She’s celebrating that people are going out there and creating content — I think that’s phenomenal, but it’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about creating successful content — successful monetarily and artistically.
There are a whole lot of people in this business who are struggling right now. As an example: Two friends of mine are signed with CAA, did a show for WB and manage to get into meetings with big studios — I can vouch for their talent and wit, and I judge them not against other web shows but against top-notch professional talent.

Right now, they’re thinking about moving back to New York because they’re having trouble finding any work in LA. These are established creators with talent oozing out of their bloodshot, tired eyes. They have more connections than most people and I think they’d be hard-pressed to share Liz’s enthusiasm about the business.

Liz’s entire post is a prime example of everything I’ve had a problem with in my original blogticle (it sounds like candy, doesn’t it?):


Niche is good.
Is it? What about thinking of a way to cater to mainstream?  I’m glad that Mormons will have something to watch and there will always be niche creators for niche markets — that’s all well and good. But, I’m going to take a wild guess here and say that the majority of creators don’t want to be niche. I’m going to say that a lot of us are filmmakers who want our work to be seen not by large Mormon populations but by everyone.

The idea that the only way to succeed is by going to a small but loud market (i.e., the Guild and gamers) feels a lot like giving up to me.

You haven’t heard of it, so you don’t know what’s out there. Liz makes a point to name 10 indie web shows that she believes are great and that I haven’t heard of. Why haven’t I heard of them? Is it because I’m not a good enough web series detective or is it because it’s damn near impossible to wrap your brain around the millions of shows that are now out there? And more importantly — is it my problem, or is that the problem of the people covering the web series genre?
Drew Lanning wrote that this whole medium is one big circle jerk — I can’t help but agree. If those 10 quality indie shows are being watched only by hardcore web series fans, then they’re going to have a helluva time dropping that “indie” label.

Why hasn’t NewTeeVee, Tubefilter or Tilzy created a, say, Top 20 web series list? It can be changed monthly — and if a show–even with only two viewers–is shot, acted and written better than the Guild, then it should be on top. It shouldn’t be about numbers or what’s popular, but quality. Quality as compared to TV, not to “Fred.” It’s a simple idea, but at least it gives us a cohesive place to look for top shows. It also gives smaller shows something to work for (getting on the list).

I’m a creator — I badly need your help. I need people like you, journalists who know this business, to help me reach people who aren’t on the circle jerk email list.

Web Series shouldn’t aim to be the minor leagues of TV. You know, I fully agree. That was a false argument on my part and went against my main premise — that I want web series to match TV in quality and not give passes to people who don’t at least try. So, you’re absolutely right.

That said, I think it’s insulting to say…

Everything is Fine. It really, really isn’t. Your examples just prove that it isn’t. I’m not saying no one succeeds — but the people you list mostly either, A. succeeded a long time ago when the genre was new and the pickin’s were slim, or B. built a brand over a wealth of time and only now managed to push through (Dan Harmon, CollegeHumor, etc).

Were you aware that, currently, to get an advertiser to advertise on your show, you generally have to either, A. have a celebrity, or B. be established and popular? A ain’t easy and B is the hardest it has ever been.

Companies are tired of losing money, see? No one wants to invest in anything that isn’t proven to succeed — and we just aren’t succeeding. Yet.

It’s frustrating for creators to hear those covering the genre wax heroic on how everything is going great and we’re just getting started. If you admit that the 10 shows you listed will not find a large audience, how can you call that success? How can you possibly use that as defense that nothing needs changing? Do you understand what these creators go through to make these shows? Do you understand that that sentence you wrote is the absolute last thing they want to hear… especially from someone who is supposed to be championing them?

In the end, we’re all on the same team — I just think that the team needs to change its strategy or it’s going to keep losing. Yes, we win a few games here and there, but there ain’t no way we’re bringing home a trophy.

Every great artist needs to be pushed down and criticized. Every genre needs failure to succeed. Every medium needs to grow and get better instead of ignore the problems and keep blindly moving ahead. We need to push one another, demand change, expect nothing less than a large, mainstream following for every high-quality show.

Right now, it’s impossible. So, how do we change that?


Let's Save the Web Series

The web series genre, as we know it, is dying.

There, I said it.

I know that The Guild just got an article written about it in the Wall Street Journal and I know I just announced that Break a Leg got a network deal — but, as a whole, the web series genre is laying in its hospital bed and watching its life ebb quietly away. It lays there and it remembers what once was — it remembers the fetal kicking of The Burg, it remembers the crowning head of Break a Leg, and it remembers the bursting forth of LonelyGirl15 out of its vagina.

And now it stares listlessly into space as the nurses give it a periodic injection of The Guild, Season 3 or a short-lived, celebrity-laden web series that prolongs its life by just a few more months.

The web series is dying, but I’m hopeful.

Do you know why I’m hopeful?

Because I’ve periodically, in articles, blogs and to drunk people around me, muttered bitterly about the fact that the genre just isn’t working. We as a community have often celebrated the wrong successes (oh, wow, “Fred” the high-pitched talking 16 year old got a network deal?! There is a chance for high-quality content to succeed after all! Write more about it, NewTeeVee! Everyone must know of his genius!) and stopped short of fostering the talent that could’ve pushed us forward.

In general, we’ve treated one another as star performers in the Special Olympics — yay, you made a video! You’re so good! Instead of critically judging one another, we’ve set the bar so incredibly low that a show with a few marginal actors and one or two laughs is sheer genius. We also, as I wrote in my article from a year ago, celebrated the low-budget show — the show with non-actors, non-writers, non-filmmakers — as if we were talentless hippie San Francisco artists desperately hoping to be artists in our failure to do art (sorry, San Francisco hippies — you’re not all like that, but I live here, I’ve been to art shows and plays — it’s not pretty).

I’m hopeful because it seems to me that we’ve finally dropped the act and now just think that the whole damn genre is failing. But that’s okay. Bitterness passes and I desperately hope that it will open into a debate, an open forum where we can think of ideas to recreate prior successes and build something much bigger, much more potent than anything we had before.

That said — I’ve decided to start the discussion that will, because I’m eternally optimistic, change entertainment. Okay? Okay.

So, here are four of my own suggestions to remake the web series genre:

1. Let’s stop bashing TV and figure out a way to work with networks. The fact is, unless it’s a network-funded show, very few web shows can compete with TV shows, and I’m talking about in everything — writing, visuals, acting and so on. Network TV is hurting though, and aside from maybe the Colbert Report, none of them really know how to utilize the web to increase viewership. Not only that, but most of them refuse to even think outside the box to attempt new media-style marketing.

My solution? We need to get to a place where web shows are like the minor leagues to TV’s major leagues.

We need network people to step up and start working with prominent web creators and people in the space. People like Quincy Smith from CBS Interactive (who I hear is quitting the network… fantastic) have the power to, say, create a site that would specifically focus on finding the best of the best web shows and both shop them to networks while helping them gain a following.

People like Felicia Day, Kent Nichols, the Big Fantastic guys and hell, even me and my crew, can work together to create and help others create content that isn’t good for the web but just good.

2. Tilzy.tv, Tubefilter.tv and NewTeeVee.com should not only review shows and throw them into their ever-growing mammoth collection of web series but also focus on finding the cream of the crop. As journalists, it’s their job to find the little nuggets of gold — shows that perhaps no one is watching — and not only review them, but champion them. The Guild, Dr. Horrible, any show with a celebrity — these will always get constant write-ups. And I can’t complain, because that’s mostly the same thing with Break a Leg, the Burg, and the other bigger shows — but I have yet to see them really push a show I’ve never heard of to the mass public.

Tim Goodman of the SF Chronicle was a huge supporter of Arrested Development and one of the reasons that helped them continue production. Yes, it’s the SF Chronicle — but I know the guys at Tilzy, Tubefilter and NewTeeVee — all are extremely talented journalists and I think if they tried hard, they could really help propel shows forward.

3. The Streamys were a genius way to give the genre credibility. On this next go around, it has to get bigger, better, flashier. It has to feel professional. Every joke has to hit — Lisa Kudrow, while brilliant, should not out-perform every presenter by messing up on the teleprompter. It should be a show that not only YouTube-dwellers want to watch, but people who’ve never watched a web show in their life would want to watch. The Streamys have so much potential that if we all work together and nail it, it could be a huge help to the entire genre.

4. I’m fully embracing branded entertainment. What I don’t understand is how bigger companies haven’t picked out a high-quality show, funded a season and asked them to, say, create a few shorts that both advertise their show and the product. Then what you end up having is a running internet show and ready-to-air commercials that can have the whole, “See more at: www.blahblah.tv” slate at the end. $100,000 isn’t that much money for someone like Proctor & Gamble — but it can create them a full web series and a buncha TV commercials. It would also drive traffic to the site and market itself circularly.

How is this not happening yet? How many Burger King burgers does David Penn have to eat?

Right now, the web series is dying — and maybe, just maybe, we can replace some of its limbs with bionic body parts and help create a super hero.

These are just some of my ideas — they could all potentially be awful and bankrupt the entire world (who knows these days?!) — so, let’s hear yours and let’s fix this damn thing.