We live in a very strange time.
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.
by Yuri Baranovsky
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.
That said, Rachel, stop hating me.
I’m back for more fun facts!
Here’s the ep:
And here’s the fun:
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.
Hope you enjoyed!
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.
Okay, here we go.
1. NO TIME FOR ANYTHING ELSE EVER
You’re going to want to do everything, but will have time for nothing. You know that blog you promised to write, the one that breaks down every step of, say, a web show production? Yeah, even though you promised, you won’t have time to do it. You’re going to lose friends. People are going to get mad at you. Relationships will crumble. The eighth time canceling a date for a project no longer comes off as mysterious and artsy, it’s just plain ol’ annoying.
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 alone while 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?
I don’t know. What do you think?
So Many Questions Brand
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.
I started creating content for the Internet roughly six years ago — in Internet time, that means I’m a grizzled veteran, wounded from the many cuts of a completely bi-polar medium.
I’ve seen web shows live and die, I’ve seen the “next big thing” turn into the next “absolutely nothing,” I’ve watched as creators struggled for years and then suddenly struck gold. I’ve seen our budding little world gain media coverage and I’ve seen it grow at an unimaginable rate. I’ve lived through every theory, every analytic, every douchebag with a blog predict the future of the genre with absolute certainty and then get proven wrong a couple of months later. I’ve seen my own company grow at dramatic rates and I’ve eaten food bought by the penny that was earned by making a web show — a concept that seemed like happy magic unicorn land only a couple of years ago.
In short, I’ve seen a lot.
And I think the 3rd Streamy Awards are the most important thing for the web series since ever.
For those of you who haven’t heard the news: the Streamy Awards are back, and now they have a new partner: Dick Clark Productions. Which, if you don’t know them, is a small, Ma and Pa production company that produced tiny little award shows like the Golden Globes. The production company and the guys behind the Streamys hope the partnership will not only help the show reach a much, much bigger audience (with a potential TV deal, which I believe DCP is looking for) but also add legitimacy to a genre begging for it.
And the latter point is really the most important point. As far as we’ve come as a genre, we still have far to go. One of the main issues with getting a mainstream audience to watch web series is that the mainstream audience doesn’t trust web series.
You know when you tell someone that you make shows or movies, and that someone isn’t really privy to the business and isn’t really aware of your life, and their response to you saying that is something like: “Oh, I’d love to see your little show!” ..and they say it with that annoying lilt that implies you’re just adorable for owning a camera. That’s the kind of thing that’s hurting us. That’s the kind of thing that’s more prevalent than we realize, and that’s the kind of thing we need to desperately fight.
Right now, there are, in my humble opinion, several ways to fight it:
1. Much better web shows that can compete with TV, if not necessarily with production values than writing, story,acting, etc.
2. Longer episodes (that’s another long bloggy rant that’s a-comin’).
3. Celebrities in the series.
4. An award show that’s worth a damn.
#4 might seem a little shallow. I know, I know, let the work speak for itself, etc. etc., sure. But this really help in two ways.
The first thing (I really like lists, don’t I?) is that it firmly suggests that the things made by independent creators are good enough to be nominated alongside professionals. Vlad and I were nominated as best writers and lost to Joss Whedon (I’m okay with that) and Mark Gantt and Jesse Warren won like every award last year (I was shocked that Mark won best supporting actress), and sure, the Bannen Way was funded by Sony, but these guys hustled and made this show with blood and sweat. They’re indie creators and they competed against pros and won. That’s important. It gets people to trust us. It stops people from thinking we’re making home movies and legitimizes our work.
The second thing is, without a doubt, shallow. But I think it’s kind of important.
Hollywood brings with it an intoxicating glamour. A lot of that was built on the shoulders of people like Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Audrey Hepburn, and so on, but it’s there and people love it. There’s a reason there’s six hundred celebrity gossip magazines. People, for whatever reason, eat it up like delicious cake. As a genre, I feel we’ve followed a similar trajectory to television. Our silent films were the sketch-ey, short YouTube videos. Our talkies were the first few web shows that gave our genre life. Our color talkies are our scripted, funded web shows. I think our next step is to enter the public consciousness, to become part of pop culture, to, for lack of a better word, glamorous.
We all believe what we’re doing is the future of entertainment, surely there’s gotta be some glitz to that. We’ve got to get our own Hepburn’s and Sinatra’s, we’ve got to have parties that matter and award shows that the whole world wants to watch. Why? Because we’re in the business of entertainment and fame, and hate it or love it, we need it to keep succeeding and growing.
If it brings bigger budgets and, more importantly, bigger audiences, I’ll play. I’ll be Frank.
As it stands now, I think the Streamys have the best chance of raising our profiles both by showing the world we can compete with pros, but also by showing the world we’re not just kids with cameras, but beautiful, talented people who make amazing art. Shallow? A little. But if we weren’t, we wouldn’t be in make-up for an hour before we went on camera.
Yes, the Streamys were not good last year. Talking to those guys, they seem well aware that they made a mistake and are working hard on trying not to make it again. As I mentioned in the NewTeeVee article — they’re allowed a sophomore slump, and as prominent members of our world and, in general, extremely good and smart guys, we can give them another chance. God knows, we’ve all screwed up royally on things we’ve made — we can forgive them just like our viewers forgave us.
What I’m having trouble understanding is some of the extremely negative things coming out of some people’s mouths (or, I guess, fingers) about this. First of all, kudos to the Streamy guys for staying out of the mudslinging, I really applaud that. It’s classy and I hope they stick to it.
Secondly, really? This is a bad thing? Having a huge, television production company basically say: your genre is important, meaningful and can and will be on the same level as TV is bad…? Let’s not kid ourselves, here. As fun as circle jerking is, we need the world to get used to watching our shows, not the people in our community. The other festivals and award shows are great, but none of the same size or credibility as the Streamys. They have real potential to put us in the limelight, to say — hey, see those guys nominated? Yes, there are a lot of names you know from Film and Television — but those other nominees? They’re independent creators and they were good enough to compete with the likes of Paramount, NBC, whatever. That, that is an incredibly important thing to push the web show further.
For those of you who are saying this is going to be a celebrity love fest — there is that fear, yes. But frankly, if we want to be taken seriously, we should be able to compete with the big boys, right? So instead of being frightened and screaming about how unfair life is, we should grit our teeth, raise our game and loudly scream, bring it on, bitches.
To the Streamys guys: you know the stakes here. You’ve got a huge stage now, you’ve got a huge opportunity, in my opinion, to raise the profile of what we’re doing even higher. With Dick Clark Productions behind you, you can honestly be one of the best things that happened to this genre. But you have to nail it. That means: get some amazing writers on your staff. Writers who know this space, who live it, who breathe it, but who are writers. Not YouTubers, for the love of God, but actual, talented, TV-quality writers. Make every presenter hilarious. Show people that the web has talent. Nail this thing, and let’s hope it blows up the doors that are finally starting to inch open.
To the detractors: Criticism is good, it’ll push all involved to create something great. Jabs and insults are the weapons of idiots (see what I did there?) and none of you are idiots. Criticize, sure, but be helpful. Support. Let’s get our heads out of our asses and realize that anything that gives credibility to what we do helps all of us.
So, let’s applaud the effort of the Tubefilter guys and let’s hope and pray that they don’t just do better than last year, but that they absolutely kill it. Let’s hope beyond hope that not only does it give a bit more credibility to our genre, but that it’ll make people want to be a PART of our genre. That the new wave of actors and writers will come to Hollywood to be in web series. That little boys will dream of being me and little girls will dream of being Mark Gantt.
Let’s show the world how good we’ve gotten, how funny we are, how talented, how outrageously attractive. Let’s get all glitzed up, win some awards, and get a little further in taking over the world.
It’s that time again! Episode 9, “Kind of a Genius” is out and it guest stars one of my favorite people and improvisers, Mr. Dustin Toshiyuki as Glenn Cheeky.
Also, Guy Kawasaki himself guest stars.
What I’m saying is, it’s a really good episode.
So, without further ado, the video:
…and now, fun facts!
1. There are TWO references to Break a Leg in the first scene. The first one is a large wooden sign behind the armoire, that reads, “SWAMBLER CITY.” This is the name for an old abandoned cowboy town set that was used in the fake, in-world Break a Leg show, “Swamblers.” It’s also one of my favorite set pieces we’ve ever made.
The second reference is a little more blatant. Glenn Cheeky’s shirt reads, “Mint?” Dustin Toshiyuki’s character in Break a Leg was named, “Mint” with an ongoing joke of people questioning him every time he introduced himself. It went like this:
“…like the ice cream.”
“…like the condition…”
“…like… the mint..?” (with a cut-away of the San Francisco Mint).
Just a little “thank you and keep watching our stuff” for our Break a Leg fans!
2. Glenn Cheeky is in part based on David Karp (founder of Tumblr) and in part on other very young, very successful business people. Dustin, of course, brought his own very unique and hilarious twist on it.
3. Bryn’s headphones have two skulls drawn on them. The drawings are done by one of the Producers and our editor, Dashiell Reinhardt, and is a little homage to one of my (and his) favorite games, Monkey Island. The skull vaguely looks like “Murray” the evil talking skull.
Furthermore, much of Bryn’s costume was made by Kristen Gallup of KrakenWhip Designs (www.etsy.com/shop/krakenwhip). Our wardrobe stylist, Daniela DiIorio found Kristen and she was great in giving Bryn’s goth look a much more unique, personal touch. All of the jewelry is Kristen’s too, my favorite necklace the one in this episode, which is a metal heart with a spike hanging next to it.
4. Dustin, Daniela and I have acted together since college. Dustin and I have been best friends since high school and the three of us performed in my very first one-act play, Courting 101 (now that it’s published, they’re even listed as “original cast” in the script book). I love acting with those two and I love writing for them — their timing is impeccable and even though we shot this well into the night, they still kept nailing every line.
5. The music in the second Glenn Cheeky scene is an old Finnish song called Ieva’s Polka.
This was a really popular Internet meme for a while and was also the intro song of Break a Leg. After Break a Leg got a bit bigger and we sold it to FOX Italy, we had our resident musicians (Vlad and Monica, as well as the great Hugo Martin and his crazy talented brother, Angus) recreate the song in their style.
So, this is the third Break a Leg reference in the episode. Why so many in this one? Because when you’ve got a genius improviser in Dustin Toshiyuki, who was one of the more beloved characters in Break a Leg, starring in this episode, you just have to throw in some extra references for the fans…
6. We knew that at some point, we were going to be filming with Guy Kawasaki. The thing we didn’t know was when. He is, after all, KIND of a busy guy.
We had finished shooting on, I think, a Tuesday, and got the call that Guy was available to film… on Wednesday. The thing is, the scene scheduled the next day (the one with Kim and Drew) had to be shot on Wednesday, as Kim was leaving to go back to LA (remember, we shot this in SF). Our challenge was: how do we get Guy into a scene with Jack and Scarlett, when the scene is actually supposed to take place in a park (or street – somewhere public).
I ran home after the shoot and re-wrote the scene to be what it is today. Credit our exhausted actors who had to re-memorize, and credit Guy for being absolutely amazing in letting us shoot at his house (which is beautiful and is littered with hockey pucks, which I love. There was also a train running behind it, and I’m going to just assume it was Guy’s personal train). Guy pretty much wore that smile during the entire shoot and was just obviously having a ton of fun filming with us.
The Jackie Chan line is Guy improvising, by the way, so once he’s done with this whole ruling the business world thing, he’s going to take over film.
7. The shot of the soccer ball flying over my shoulder and breaking the vase was an insert (shot a few days after the rest of the scene) and was not only my last scene, but also the last scene of the entire show.
8. I love the scene with Rachel and I in bed because I think it feels very… honest. Which is surprising, considering moments before Rachel said I wasn’t hip (and I politely reminded her that I did, in fact, know who Wale the Rapper was) which continues to hurt me, even now. My other favorite Rachel moment is the mysterious Minnesota accent that comes in on her last ‘adventure” line. Rachel is not, in fact, from Minnesota., but every single take had that accent, so we went with it because maybe RACHEL isn’t from Minnesota, but Lisa obviously is.
9. I really like the music in this episode. That’s it. Just sayin’.
10. Again, because we forgot to mention them in the credits like absolute jerks, I want to point out the fact that Ieva’s Polka (credits song and second scene with Glenn) was made by Vlad and Monica Baranovsky along with Hugo Martin and Angus Martin.
I remember watching when they recorded that, and it was a little magical seeing four incredibly talented musicians play like 10 different instruments to create their own version of an old Finnish song. Things like that make me love my job.
Hugo, by the way, has his own website where he makes a song a day. If you’re a web creator looking for some fantastic music, Hugo’s here for you.
That’s it! One more episode left! This is the time you guys should all start commenting and begging for Season 2!
Thanks for watching!