Here are our Chili's Spots, Chili's Spots, Chili's Spots

Hey, all!

So, remember the laundromat/lesbian story? It happened for the videos below. The amazing Blip.tv got us a job filming three short “spots” for Chili’s announcing their new contest and poking fun at their famous song.

The videos are below… kind of. The Chili’s advertisement that starts it isn’t ours — watch that, then watch until around the 15th second of the video and you’ll see a Chili’s advertisement — click it, and you can see all three videos.

A pie for anyone who can name all the Break a Leg characters in it…

Enjoy:

P.S. I’m having some issues with some comments getting spammed — so if your comment disappeared, I apologize! Trying to fix it. Thanks!


No, You're Not A Writer

writerYou know what makes a good writer? Learning to write really, really good.

Nowadays, it seems like everybody’s a writer. Seriously. The guy who opened my bank account is writing a film script and I’m not even living in LA (I imagine it’s a hard-hitting drama about why I should get overdraft protection). The old joke that in Los Angeles everyone has a screenplay is now globally true — with the freedom of the Internet, anyone can do anything. And do it badly.

When did writing a script become as easy as scrambling eggs? When did crafting a story become the least important aspect of crafting a story?

Over the last couple of months, I’ve raved about the low-quality of online entertainment. Well, I’m going to point a quivering, judgmental finger at writing as one of the core problems.

Quick story:

For two years I worked as a screenplay reader. I must have read over 200 scripts — I can name 4 that were good. I believe it was two sci-fi films, one horror and one comedy (written by Simona Antonova — at 16, she out-wrote the hundreds of scripts I’ve read over the years. That, ladies and gentlemen, is talent). 4 scripts. Out of 200.

What’s my point? My point is that just because we have the freedom to create, doesn’t mean we get a pass on learning how to actually do it. It’s how San Francisco thinks that good theater is transsexuals talking about transexuality and good art is bad art because expression is expression and who are you to hate my expression, despite its significant inexpressiveness?

It’s an insult to people who dedicate their lives perfecting a craft. To people who, at the sake of just about everything, go into a career where, potentially, they will never, ever succeed. It’s an insult to artists.

So, here’s what I suggest. If you’re starting a new project, be it a film, a TV show, a web series, whatever — you have to do one of the three things below:

Thing 1 — figure out if you’re a writer and if you’re worth a damn.

I’ve published three plays that have been performed all over the world, I’ve written for a small network, I’ve created a fairly successful web series that has had amazing reviews in huge publications and I’ve survived (barely) as a freelance writer for a few years now. And yet, when people ask me what I do, I hesitate before I tell them. Why? Because Sorkin is a writer, because Woody Allen is a writer, because Shakespeare was a writer, and that’s not a club I necessarily see myself drinking tea with.

What I’m saying is, you know you’re a writer when you realize what it takes to be one. You know you’re a writer when after the 17th draft of something, you love it, and then a week later you hate it and start rewrites again. You know you’re a writer when you spend way too much time making sure a sentence has the exact amount of words to achieve maximum poignancy/comedy and then, a month later, re-read it and hate not just the sentence but the whole script.

Okay, maybe it’s a sign of being a neurotic writer — but you get my point. You’re a writer when your everything — your focus, your drive, your desire — is to write.

And even then — it’s a long path to being able to nod your head resolutely and say, “Yep, I’m a writer.”

Thing 2 — if you’re not a writer, find a writer.

If you realized you’re the only one who enjoys your scripts — find someone who’s better. Judge them from their scripts, their resume, their drive and then judge them again. As much as I dislike the impenetrable wall that is the agent’s office, I get it — there are so many awful writers who talk loudly and carry a tiny stick that you have to protect yourself from the countless amount of awful that throws itself your way.

So, find a good writer, hammer out a good script and you’re halfway there.

Thing 3 – if you’re not a writer, and can’t find someone to write for you, learn to do it.

It’s not easy, but it’s something — if you have a knack for it — you can learn. Read as many screenwriting books as you can. Don’t take it all verbatim, but learn structure, learn how stories are put together and for the love of God, learn how to properly format a script.

Making a Good Script Great by Linda Seger is one of my favorite books on the matter, it’s an easy read and explains everything very simply.

Read other screenplays — professional ones — and see how they do things. You can read many of these for free online.

Watch TV shows, movies — anything that you love. Aaron Sorkin doesn’t know it yet but he’s my mentor. So is Woody Allen, and Neil Simon, and David Ives, and countless, countless others.

Write, write, write, write, write, write, write and when you’re done, keep writing, writing, writing, writing. If you want to truly be good at something, it has to become your life.

And that’s about it.

Every film, every show, every video has its own world and while the director, actor, cinematographer and editor help craft it, its God is the writer and the absolute last thing anyone wants to be is a lousy God.

Now go write something.

…and feel free to ask me any questions right here on my blog.


Production Blog: Militant Lesbians and Haightred

Here’s a very, very important lesson in film: don’t pick a location where local militant lesbians do their laundry.

I’m honestly surprised this isn’t taught in film class.

We were filming this weekend and one of the locations called for a laundromat. The laundromat we chose was in the Castro — it was bright yellow and just damn pretty. The problem with laundromats is that, a. there’s no obvious workers in most of them, b. we didn’t really feel like calling the owner because it’s a simple shoot and that’s just how we roll.

We set up shop at the laundromat, set up our camera inside one of the machines and even shot the beginning of the scene.

I’m not sure what did it. Maybe it was one of us saying, “excuse me” to the local clothes-washing lesbian. Maybe it’s because we were standing near the machine where her clothes were and when we asked if we were in her way, she muttered it was fine (but secretly called us something racist). Or maybe, maybe it was Dustin (Mint, in Break a Leg) taking off his shirt and putting on a bra (FOR THE SCENE, FOR THE SCENE!) that got the lesbians all hot and angry but…

Here’s how the conversation went, generally:

Lesbian: (yelling angrily) “I’m sorry, but do you guys have a permit or something because I know the owner and you need to leave!”

Justin: (calmly) “We don’t have a permit, no, but –”

Lesbian: (angrily) “Uhhuh, yeah, yeah, you don’t fucking have one. You’re in our way, okay?! You need to LEAVE!”

Justin: (calmly) “Sure. We’ll pack up –”

Lesbian: (one eye popping out in hatred) “Yeeah, yeah, okay, sure. Sure. You need to GO!”

Justin: (calmly) “You can stop repeating that, we’re going –”

Lesbian: (head cracking open from sheer fury) “Yeah, yeah right, yeah — that’s it! I’m calling him! I’m calling the owner!”

Yuri: “…we’re leaving. I think you need to relax and sleep with a man (I didn’t say the last part, but it would’ve been HILARIOUS [I apologize to all non-angry lesbians, but come, it’d be funny, right?]).”

Then they burned. They burned with the fires of a thousand suns. They burned with the hatred of angry, middle-aged San Franciscans who tell everyone they know how much they love and support art but only go watch transsexual theater because it’s right, and appropriate and really, really bad.

But I digress.

They fumed. As we put away our stuff (and thanking them kindly for being so nice: “YEAH. YEAH YOU’RE WELCOME” [oh god, the hatred]) and headed to another location. A location where hippies (and tourists) still roam, where San Francisco became San Francisco, and where nobody gives a damn if you film in the corner of their favorite laundromat.

We went to the Haight.

We got the scene.

And it was good.

So remember: always hippies, never militant lesbians.


Twatif? - The Bar, The Following

Hey, guys!

I’ve fallen behind on posting the Twatif videos we made, but there are two new ones up and I figure that today, today you deserve something that isn’t an angry rant about the state of the web series.

Instead, we’ll make fun of Twitter and Facebook.

Enjoy! Tell me what you think and pass it on, boys and girls!

and…

You get 5 virtual cookies for any Break a Leg actor you can name!


Dear FOX, NBC, CBS, ABC, HBO, FX, Showtime, IFC, TBS and the Rest

Pioneers? Or just amazingly good looking people? You decide.
Pioneers? Or just amazingly good looking people? You decide.

Sometimes, the true pioneers aren’t the creators but the people in power who decide to take a chance.

Sometimes, someone decides to roll the dice — and these aren’t regular dice, they’re special, fate-changing golden dice  — and do something against the norm. They do it because they like the high risk, high return investment. They do it because the word “no” is the coal that fuels their internal, “I told you so” fire. They do it because like Antonio Banderas in a Robert Rodriguez film, they’re so badass that they snort risk for breakfast.

That’s what we need from you, network people. We need you to start snorting risk.

Look, I get you. I do. I understand that the way things have been done — and I’m speaking specifically about television —  have been done for a long while now and are proven to work.  I also understand that in a time when the economy is doing a tap dance on a rickety bridge over a river of very hungry sharks, it’s not exactly fun to try out new steps. I even have admitted publicly to absolutely loving many of the products you put out.

But here’s the thing — no matter how you cut it, TV isn’t doing great and, despite the ra-ra of the loud happy voices, the web series genre isn’t either.

Thing is, though, we — the web series people — have an advantage over you TV guys. Namely: we’re a large demographic, we’re ever evolving and we’re just getting started. My little-over-year old niece walks like a drunk holding two teddy bears in her hug-ready arms — but soon, she’ll be able to run and destroy just about everything in my brother’s house. That’s the web series. We fall over backwards more often than we’d like but give us a little bit more time and our stumbles will turn into running that’ll turn into the winning goal of our junior soccer league that… I’ve lost the metaphor.

My point is, we’re growing and we’ll do amazing things yet.

The problem with TV, however, is that you’re stuck in your ways and you refuse to change them. Right now, to get a show on TV, a writer needs to jump through hoop after hoop after hoop after hoop. You’ll hire “proven commodities” to run your shows even if those “proven commodities” aren’t talented. ‘Cause boy, those failed TV credits must surely mean they know something.

So you hire them because you’re afraid to take a risk and because, in the end, you’re one big college drama club — working, laughing and sleeping with one another all over Hollywood. Bringing anyone new is like tearing out teeth with your bare hands and it’s made you smash head first into the wall of the changing medium.

So, again — TV is hurting right now and the web series needs a helping hand to give it a boost up.

And here’s how we shake things up.

We need you, network people, to take a chance, take a chance, take a chance, chance, chance. Look, I am fully aware that most web show creators are terrible. I love my colleagues and I think there are plenty of shows that are good, but many of them — most of them — couldn’t hold a light up to a TV show in quality… you know it, we know it, and even people yelling angrily at me from their Tumblr accounts (see, Barrett Garise? I’m nothing if not loyal!) know it — and yet, the solution to both of our problem is you, network person.

Because, here’s the thing. Amongst the awful — and it’s not just web shows, every art has its large group of awful, otherwise it wouldn’t be art — amongst the awful there are brilliant people, talented people who could do fantastic things if you backed them. And I’m saying actually backed them, not, “here’s a few thousand dollars, let’s see if you can make this web show popular without us helping you at all” — I’m saying, actual support, budget, talent, art direction, whatever — back them, help them, create a show that’ll strike a chord with audiences (think It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and you’ll be endlessly rewarded.

See, as creators, we get interactivity. We get entertainment. We get technology. We get what audiences want. We have our metaphoric hand on the metaphoric pumping heart that bangs out the beat of the metaphoric pulse of society. We know what people want — we need the tools to give it to them.

Don’t treat us like lower class citizens. Don’t think we’re useless and don’t you dare ignore this little genre of ours. It’s growing, it’s getting bigger and we’re innovating the hell out of entertainment. So, give us your hand — not to pull us out of the water but to work with us. To help us so that we can help you.

You can save the web series and we can save TV.

I think it’s a fair deal.

My email is yuribaranovsky@gmail.com — let’s start there.

—-

Blog originally written for the Web Series Network — great source for web series-related news!


The Web Series is a Blooming Sunshine Flower of Love

Oh, people of the web, why must we fight?

I say, let’s fix the web series genre, you say it ain’t broke, I say prove it, and you say, no it is YOU who are bitter!

Barrett Garese — an ex-agent and full time welder  (I don’t know what he actually does now, but I’m pretty sure its welding) and a few employees at Blip.tv have waxed dismissive over my “Let’s Save The Web Series” blog of yestermonth.

I didn’t want to respond too actively or I’d start feeling like I was wildly dueling anyone who came my way. But, I figure the idea was to open up the debate about the industry. Luckily, my blog, to some extent, did — so I thank you all for your commitment to share your thoughts and I’ll lend a hand to row this little boat onward.

So, here we go, row, row, row:

Mr. Garese focused primarily on my “minor leagues” argument. I retracted it in my other blog: Waxing Websodic: Everything is Fine, Nothing is Working — but I’ll reiterate it again: you’re absolutely right, Barrett. That was a flawed argument and I take it back — web shouldn’t aim to be minor leagues, web should aim to be the highest quality possible.

Now that that’s settled, I have a request.

What I ask of you, nay, anyone who reads my blog and yells arguments loudly into this large, democratic space, is this — read and understand my actual points.

Which are:

1. The web series in its current inception is dying.

If it isn’t, then somebody please, please throw us a lifesaver because we’re drownin’ baby and our branded entertainment commercials ain’t paying the bills or massaging the creative arteries.

2. We have to throw around ideas to help evolve the genre. Is it evolving? Sort of, kind of, slowly, I guess. Will it continue to evolve? Of course. Is it failing miserably right now? Yes.

Absolutely. Yes. Yes. Yes. Listen to creators before parading our victories — we’re struggling and the pigtail-twirling-awe of online entertainment is hurting us. We need open dialogue and ideas to push us to the next step and force one another to do something amazing. Every time people plug their ears and shout “everything is fine!” it hurts us. If it was succeeding, we’d all be living off of it (by we I mean more than 10-15 people).

That said, Barrett, my favorite welding ex-agent, I feel like we’re repeating each other’s points.

Barrett says: “We’re still “filming radio” by making short TV shows and short films because no one’s yet developed the genres of web video which will stand apart from film and television, and define the medium in the coming decades.”  While my original post makes suggestions on how to move out of this “filming radio” stage (not in those exact words, of course, but out of its current inception) and asks for others to make their own suggestions on how to evolve the medium.

Okay, sure, I said it with more anger and less gentle fondling of the genre’s privates but still — it’s all there.

So, despite your month cool down hiatus on answering my original post, we are not so different, you and I, Barret. We are not so different at all.

Oh, and, while I’m row, row, rowing:

I appreciate the comments from Mike Hudack, Eric Mortenson and the other Blip.tv guys.  The word “visionary” shouldn’t be tossed around lightly, and if that’s the mantle they’ve given me, I’ll wear it to the very best of my mantle-wearing abilities. So, thank you guys. Really. I honestly think that Blip.tv is one of the only companies who is actually doing what I’m preaching.

I am not, however, bitter disappointed. Break a Leg has been amazing to us and our recent network deal should be, ideally, a huge help in our next project. That’s not it at all.

What I am is irritated at the, “everything is okay” mindset of this community. I think it’s backwards thinking, I think it’s masturbatory, and I think it slows down the evolution of this genre. We’re set in our ways because to each other, we’re just the neatest things ever — but the majority of web shows are still poorly written, acted and directed. The very best web show online completely pales in the face of any number of great TV shows — and if we want to be taken seriously, that can’t be true. Budget or no budget.

The reason for me writing the original article was to get people thinking. To get people to drop “everything is okay” and start thinking, “okay, how do we keep getting better?” It was a call to arms. A demand to break the status quo, a shout to call on artists to continue pushing this art’s boundaries instead of patting one another on the back and politely asking if they’d like another handjob.

Barrett leaves off saying that to save web video, I (though I assume he means we… or maybe he means me) need to create something that no one has ever experienced. You’ve got the right idea, Barrett. I couldn’t agree with you more –let’s stop saying everything is swell and let’s start thinking up some new, groundbreaking projects, hey?

Hell, that’s what we’re doing. In fact, we’re right in the middle of trying to scrounge up funding for a new show made with a new model that, we hope, will blow everyone’s mind.

Want to help?

Until then, let’s keep row, row, rowing.

We’re still “filming radio” by making short TV shows and short films because no one’s yet developed the genres of web video which will stand apart from film and television, and define the medium in the coming decades

Shut Up, TV is Fantastic

I have a pet peeve.

I know what you’re going to say, you’re going to say, you?! A pet peeve?! But you don’t even like pets! I know. I know. I know.

But I do. And it’s this — people who constantly talk about how bad TV is.

To hate TV has become hip. To talk about how awful it is has become a way to brag about ones intelligence — “I don’t watch TV, I’m far too smart for that.” And to badmouth TV is a way to champion things like, say, the glory of the web series.

And, like many things that become so hip that they roll over into rehashed, uneducated rhetoric, these opinions are all really, really wrong. You know how they teach you in school that an opinion can’t be wrong? Well, they’re wrong — and this opinion happens to be completely wrong also.

Let me first say that I’m not, in fact, talking about reality shows. I think reality shows are fairly awful — though I think the talent competition ones are actually a blast and give people a platform to compete and be impressive in front of a large audience. So, hell, why not? They’re entertaining for all involved.

But, you know, that show about octoplets, and raising octoplets, and then cheating on your significant other because, frankly, after having octoplets, sleeping with her just seems like a moot point — that’s bad television.

But I’m not talking about that.

I’m talking about actual, narrative TV shows. Let me, off the top of my head, name some great television for you:

Glee, Californication, Rescue Me (though not so much this season), 30 Rock, The Office, House, Dexter, Entourage, Curb Your Enthusiasm, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Monk, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report… and that’s just what’s on TV now and that I’ve watched. Don’t get me started on Arrested Development, West Wing, Sopranos, Dead Like Me, Six Feet Under, Pushing Daisies, Battlestar Galactica and so on.

These shows are phenomenal. They’re intelligent, well-made, well-acted, sometimes hilarious, sometimes touching, sometimes (often) sheer brilliance. Watching a good TV show is like reading a good novel. I love movies, but there’s just something about committing yourself to a world, watching its characters change and grow and live that makes television a unique medium.

TV has changed dramatically over the years. Creators are experimenting, doing new things, and trying different styles — but it’s often ignored. Are there terrible shows? Of course there are. Are there a whole lot of brilliant ones also? You bet.

And, as far as the web series is concerned — we’d be lucky, as a medium, to have anything even close to the quality of some of TVs best shows. Not just visual quality but writing, acting and so on. Like I said before — there is no West Wing of the Internet and until anything we have comes even close to being as sharp as it or any of the shows I mentioned above, we cannot seriously claim to be the saviors of entertainment.

So, in short — shut up, TV is fantastic!


The Rape of the "Shoestring Budget"

I’m going to go ahead and make a rule for all of entertainment:

It is not a “shoestring budget” if you’ve ever said the following things on set:

-“Okay, let’s go ahead and move the crane over there.”

-“But how fast will our city-block set on Lot 23 be ready?”

-“I don’t know. How about we get Nathan Fillion?”

Where the hell are people buying their shoestrings?!

The term, “shoestring budget” has always elicited thoughts of, say, a boom pole made from a broom with the microphone poorly tied to it (ideally with shoestring). A shoestring budget has always made me think of… well, our own production:

So, where the hell are these celebrities buying their shoestrings?

There’s been a lot made of Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog and one of the main comments about it is, “wow, Joss Whedon made this on a shoestring budget!” A shoestring budget?!  A web show with a full city block set, a recording studio for their music and props that cost more than the entire run of Break a Leg is not made on a shoestring budget, unless they’re solid gold shoestrings that whisper the words of God directly into your feet.

You may say to me, but Yuri, and I’d say, yes? and you’d say, you’re just jealous!

Well, of course I am! I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to have money. Quite the opposite, I fully embrace a budget. A budget would, for example, buy me a new pair of pants or, say, let our almost-bankrupt-director-of-photography be able to afford a taco. It would also let me actually pay my actors instead of rewarding their amazing dedication and talent with bagel dogs and insults. Budgets are fantastic. I don’t think you’re a sell out if you get paid, I think — great job!

…but don’t tell me you made something on a shoestring budget.  I will accept, “It was made cheaper than bigger budget Hollywood films.” That makes sense to me. What doesn’t make sense to me are the constant success stories that come out of festivals and events that market these “little independent films” made on a “tiny shoestring budget” — and that star little actors like “Steve Carrell.”

Frankly, it’s mildly insulting and takes away credit from the actual independent filmmakers. The ones who really don’t have any money.  The ones who use ingenuity and sheer talent to create art with literally nothing.

You know how people say, “I made this from scratch?” That’s what a shoestring budget film is. It’s made from scratch and it tastes better than anything you’ve ever had.

I appreciate you, celebrities. I appreciate your work, I appreciate your movies and I’m a big fan of all of you (except you, octoplet family that everyone knows about except me) — I just want you to please stop taking away the only thing we independent filmmakers have: the ability to say, look — we did this, and no one helped us and it came out damn near magical.

And that, as they say, is a rant. Now, would you king me, already, Joss?