Leap Year, S2, Ep4, Ep5 – Fun Facts

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!

Episode 4:

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..

Episode 5

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.

Go #TeamAaron.

Yuri out.


Leap Year, S2, Ep3 – Fun Facts

Here we are again!

First a lovely picture of the episode:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now the episode:

And now, fun facts!

1. Josh Malina is ridiculously cool. He’s really relaxed and calm while working, and will periodically turn on to be a wit-machine, making everyone laugh.  The poor guy had a tough first day, started very early, and had a full 12 hour shoot. He never complained and nailed each take — it was a joy to direct him and an acting clinic to watch him act.

2. This is the best acting that I’ve seen Daniela DiIorio (Olivia) do. We’ve worked together since, literally, college, and she killed it. I think she’s incredibly charming and natural, and her chemistry with Josh is fantastic. The two seemed to act as if they’d been working together for years — it was really strange. Are you watching, Aaron Sorkin? Daniela (and Josh..) needs a part on Newsroom! Also, I love how she says, “You’ve got the wrong Sam, Sam” — a delivery which makes me, for some reason, of Alison Janney.

3. The scene with Josh and I walking through the office is a walk-and-talk. Something Aaron Sorkin constantly employs and is known for (two actors walking and talking with no cuts for an entire scene). When I found out Josh was going to do Leap Year, I told Vlad that I had to write a scene where I walk and talk with him (we’re huge Sorkin fans) — which is where that scene came from. It’s a bit satirical of Sorkin, a not-so-subtle nod to him, and a complete abuse of my power as the co-writer/co-director/actor. But, screw it, I got to do a walk and talk with Josh Malina.

4. Josh nailed his monologue basically always. Whereas, my one line to him in the scene where he tears Jack and I apart, would just not stick in my head. I even think Dash, our editor, had to cut it together from two different takes. I like to call that “terrible acting.”

5. In the bar scene with Josh, he has viral marketing materials up on a board. If you look closely, you’ll see his examples include Break a Leg, and another project we did, for 7-11 — the 7-11 Road Trip Rally.

6. The article that Olivia reads in bed is “written by” Chase Cougar, who was a character in Break a Leg, and who was played by our Director of Photography and one of the co-founders of the company, Justin Morrison.

7. Our steadicam operator was also our key grip and is named Brent Johnson. Brent is still in his early 20s and is just ridiculously talented. He’s going to take over the world shortly.

8. Remember that Whiskey Castle Music Box? We shot that scene with Josh before we shot the scene with Jack and Aaron in the bar. When Josh played with it, we thought it was hilarious, but weren’t sure people were going to understand it, so we wrote in the Whiskey Castle Music box bit and a beautiful joke was born.

9. Josh shot for 3 days and will be back in.. 3 more episodes, I believe. The very last scene he shot was the kissing scene with Daniela in the car (we left him the best for last).

10. You’d think directing actors like Josh Malina, Eliza Dushku and Emma Caulfield would be hard or intimidating, but it’s surprisingly easy. First of all, they raise the quality of our acting immediately. Secondly, they can take the smallest note and change their performance on a dime. Finally, they seem to never complain. It’s something I value very much in an actor — when you’re going into the 10th hour, and the crew is dead tired and you’re trying to keep morale up, it really helps when your actors, especially the celebrities, are cracking jokes and just being lovely people. It infuses energy into the production and it’s something we should all learn from.

That’s it for now! This is one of my favorite episodes, so definitely watch and love and, as I keep saying, please comment on Hulu! It really helps.

Thanks!


Leap Year, S2, Ep2 – Fun Facts

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!


Leap Year, S2, Ep1 - Fun Facts

Hi all!

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!


9 Problems With Being an Artist

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.

2. DOUBT

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.

7SUCCESS 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.

 


Producing a Web Series: Building a Show From Page 1 to Final Cut

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)!


Things I Beg Web Series Creators To Please Do and/or Not Do

As one of the Executive Board members for the ITV Festival (for whom I also originally wrote this blog, which you can see a duplicate of on their website), one of my responsibilities was to vote on the winners of specific categories. This year, I was one of the EBMs (what we call ourselves when we meet in our underground castle) to vote on this year’s comedies.

I don’t often get to watch a lot of web shows because, unfortunately, I just don’t have enough time between writing, working and meeting in underground castles, so watching 15 or so series in a row was interesting for me.

First of all, there was a lot of good stuff.

Second of all, there was a lot of not-so-good stuff.

The main thing that I noticed is that many creators tend to make the same mistakes. Mistakes we’ve made (and still try hard not to make!) over the many years, and mistakes that, I think, when fixed, really help raise the overall quality of the production.

So, without further ado, my blog titled: Things I Beg Web Series Creators To Please Do and/or Not Do

I’m not great with titles.

Here we go.

1. Please stop… the city montage transitions. This is not a necessary element to your series. We don’t need to see cars driving by and people walking on the street. We especially don’t need to see this 8 times in a 7 minute show. The street montage has been done to death by television for far too long and, if you’ll notice, most series don’t do it anymore. It’s a tired technique and feels slightly off-putting in a new genre. Yes, sometimes it helps a transition, but mostly, it makes your show feel like Dharma and Greg. Stop it, please.

 

2. Please stop… the drum roll to a scene. You know that moment when a song finishes and the drummer is like, “I’m going to finish up with a groovy beat, man?” And then you put that drum into your show, usually after a particularly enthralling street montage, and then as the drums hit and end, you cut into the action? Stop doing that. It makes your show feel like a 90s sitcoms. I should not feel like I’m watching Saved by the Bell when I’m watching a show in a genre often referred to as “new media.”

 

 

3. Please… audition your writers. Audition your writers like you theoretically audition your actors or hire your crew. If you’ve never written before and think, “I have a fantastic idea. I’m going to write a full series because ANYONE can write!” then you’re setting yourself up for potential disaster. Or, at least, a bad series.

Writing is tremendously undervalued in entertainment. I’m not sure how that happened, considering our art was built around brilliant writers (for what is theater, and of course, film, without Woody Allen, Neil Simon, Mel Brooks, Tony Kushner, Shakespeare and others) but at some point, everyone decided that writing is easy and hey, they’d love to show you the screenplay they just wrote that’s in the trunk of their car and is formatted in Wordpad.

Writing is a craft. Writers take years to perfect it and “perfect it” is a strong word, because I think good writers never stop learning to write. Just like most people who make a show don’t say, “And I will be the director of photography!” when they have no idea how to turn on a camera (yes, I know, some do, but they are wrong), someone who has never written shouldn’t decide he’s going to write an entire series.

As a producer and creator of a series, you should love your show, respect it, and find a voice that can bring it to its maximum potential.

 

4. Please… get a sound guy. Or a microphone. Or just put a lot of time into your sound. This was our problem when we started Break a Leg, and it’s a major issue in many of the series I saw. The problem with bad sound is that it can completely ruin all the other good elements – acting seems worse, writing seems worse, cinematography seems worse, so on and so forth. I completely understand restrictions, but be aware of those restrictions when you’re shooting. If you don’t have a great mic, don’t shoot outside, don’t shoot in echo-ey buildings, find places that optimize your sound. It really goes a long way into strengthening the look and feel of a show.

 

5. Please… get a funny editor. If you’re doing comedy, you need a funny writer, you need funny actors, and, equally as important (and sometimes more important) you need a funny editor. Many-a joke is not only fixed but made in the editing booth. An editor editing comedy must have impeccable timing, they must know how long to wait for each beat, they must know when to cut out to a wide because it’s funnier, and, most importantly, they need to know what’s not funny so they can chop it out of there.

Having a funny editor is almost as important as having a funny writer – so when you’re hiring one, make sure you see their comedy reel.  A slam-bam-sexy-reel might be pretty, but it doesn’t mean he can make you laugh.

 

6. Please stop… with the long opening intro.  I get you want to introduce all of your actors. I think that’s great. I’m a huge proponent of giving everyone due credit. But, can you do it quickly? Unless you’ve got big name actors that will make us go, “ooh, really?” your intro should quickly explain the story in 15-30 seconds (less, less, less is the mantra) and go on to the far more important part of your story – which… is your story.

 

7. Please, for the love of all that is good in this world, cut. Writers, cut your scenes, editors, cut them too. Web shows already have the unfortunate problem of being forced to be short (for some strange reason), it doesn’t help when you have a 6 minute scene in a 7 minute episode that takes place in the same location.

In a screenplay, a scene should be no longer than 3-5 pages. Sometimes, sometimes you can push it to 7, if it’s climactic or you’re Quentin Tarantino and think that every scene should be 25 minutes long and then everyone should die at the end.

A screenplay, though, is 90-120 pages long. A web show is, at its best, 10 pages long. Create movement, create a sense of story, don’t stick us into one location and make the same joke over and over again.

A very wise man once told me to know when to kill my babies. I’m pretty sure he was talking about my dialogue and not my future babies, and its good advice.

Much like a good joke, a good comedic scene is told fast, hits hard, and moves on before you can stop smiling.

—-

…and those are the things that I noticed. By all means, don’t feel like you have to listen to me – in the end, I’m another douchebag making stuff and while we’ve had success, it doesn’t mean that you have to listen to anything I say. But I have been doing this for a good while now and, having made all of these mistakes myself, I feel like I have at least some kind of advice to offer.

But again, I’m still some guy on the Internet.

What’s more important is that the work is ever growing and ever getting better, and I applaud every single person who picked up a camera and took the step to make something.

I very much applaud the effort; I think you should all be proud of yourselves. But I think you should be proud of yourselves for a minute or two, and then I think you should watch your project and say, “How do I make this better?” and do that, infinitely, until you’re dead or have gone insane.

Good luck and good job.


Leap Year, Episode 9 - Fun Facts!

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:

“I’m Mint.”

“Mint?”

“…like the ice cream.”

Or…

“…like the condition…”

Or..

“…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!

 


Leap Year, Episode 8 - Fun Facts!

I didn’t get a chance to do this for the other episodes, and maybe I’ll still, eventually, retroactively go back and do it, but for now I’ll try and do it for the final three.

First thing’s first, the episode:

And now, fun facts:

1. Julie and Drew have great chemistry and were visibly having a blast in their lawyer scenes. It was one of those scenes that, as you’re watching, you don’t want them to stop because you’re enjoying watching the thing too much. Julie was, as I mentioned in my previous blog, fantastic to work with. Very pro, very funny, and just fun to work with.
2. The lawyer’s name is Josiah Lanning. Josiah is a nod to Josiah Bartlett – the President in the West Wing, a series that inspires our writing heavily, especially in Leap Year. Lanning is, funny enough, Drew’s last name, which inspires us when we’re writing late at night and can’t think of a good last name for a character.

3. The photo over Drew’s shoulder, of a colorful Thailand street, is not only really, really cool, but was taken by our DP, Justin Morrison. It’s also hanging upstairs in the main character’s office (seen when Olivia is having her breakdown) – because, apparently, in the Leap Year world, that photo of Thailand is a must-have decoration.

4. The scene with Jack and Bryn is a location we used once before in Break a Leg. It is Chase Cougar’s house. Furthermore, there’s a jacket hanging behind Drew – this is the jacket he wore into “battle” in Break a Leg as Jimmy Scotch (watch the video of him not only sewing the jacket, but talking to Daniela (Olivia) in this completely insane Break a Leg, “Conversation”:  Hatman)

5. More than anything else in the world, our actors hated speed-talking through the video conferencing platform line. They all eventually got it, but not after they gave Vlad and I scornful looks.

6. Episode 7 is written by Vlad, Episode 8 is written by me – we split the two therapist episodes. Can’t tell the style difference? Sometimes we can’t either.

7. Wilson (Derek) is afraid of heights and that balcony is as rickety as it looks. The fall is a good 8-9 stories on to the hard, ground floor of an almost comically dark, noir-like alley.  He was a trooper and powered through – though, if I had to guess, I’d say his character’s frustrations are motivated directly by his  personal desire ot not want to plummet to his death.

8. My favorite scene of Rachel’s (Lisa) is the one with her and Drew. It’s short, but it’s got that fast back and forth banter and they both nail every comedic beat. Also, I enjoy the comedic affect of Rachel being 3 feet tall and Drew being like, 18 feet tall.

9. Yes, we actually were Wii Bowling. And yes, I’m pretty sure I totally killed Rachel in it.

That’s it for now! Stay tuned for more next week!

 


Leap Year - Fun Facts

Okay, I did that thing.

You know that thing that people do online? Which is start a blog, write actively in it, then completely stop? I did that thing. But, I kind of have a good reason, aside for laziness (though that’s a strong one). The reason is that, since February, I’ve been working non-stop on LEAP YEAR.

And now, now I’m going to tell you all about it. See? Aren’t I good blogger now?

Sponsored by Hiscox Insurance, LEAP YEAR is a branded series about five people starting their own, individual start-ups. There’s also a contest. And there’s also a baby.

I was going to do a thing where I was going to write about every episode, but the fact is that I missed the first couple of weeks because we were busy, and then I was behind, so I kept pushing it forward, and now it’s too late to do my master plan. So… damn.

What I’ll do instead, though,  is tell you some fun facts that from the last 6 episodes and hope to spur you to go watch them, rewatch them, share them with your friends, and then to comment all over them like some kind of crazy person.

Here we go! In no particular order:

1. Craig Bierko was amazing to work with. Watching him rehearse was a joy. He tried to squeeze every ounce of juice out of every single line. As he was rehearsing, he’d ad-lib something, taste it, try it out, and if it was particularly tasty, ask me to have some. After that, I’m pretty sure that Vlad and I, as writers,  made a rule to always, always taste Craig Bierko’s cookies. And I mean that in every weird way that it sounds.

He nailed every line, every joke. It was like an acting clinic watching him perform. After he did the first take, we called cut and everyone stood there for a second, letting his genius sink in. That’s with a page of dialogue. It’s unfair how talented he is.

I only hope that our charm and Chinese food lured him into further projects.

2. The majority of Leap Year was shot in San Francisco. Why? Because at the time, most of our team was in SF, and because filming in San Francisco is amazingly cheaper. We don’t need permits as cops never really care or even ask why we’re filming. Also, most locations don’t charge — they’re just thrilled to be part of film.

To give it the NYC look, as that’s where it takes place, we took a week to shoot a few exteriors (and interiors) in New York City.

3. Drew Lanning (Jack), Alexis Boozer (Bryn), Daniela DiIorio (Olivia) and I have acted together for over 6 years. Our crew has worked together for roughly the same amount of time. Wilson Cleveland (Derek, EP, creator of the series and the main man behind this crazy thing) said it best when he said we operate more like a theater company than anything else. I love that. Only the web show world and being ridiculously famous (Judd Apatow) lets you do things like that.

Plus, they’re all really talented, so that’s a big plus.

4. My brother and co-writer Vlad wrote, performed and recorded all the music with his wife, Monica Baranovsky. You can check out their stuff at: http://www.vladandmonica.com — and yes, you CAN hire them! My brother is also Bryn’s creepy, staring date in the party scene at the end of Episode 1 (my brother’s creepy acting face is renowned) and Monica is the girl who comes up to Olivia and Jack in the sushi restaurant, asking them to rate the food.

5. The Leap Year office was an amazing location. We were thrilled to rent it. So thrilled, that we didn’t realize how echo-ey it was until after we got in there before shooting. What, did we politely ask ourselves, the hell were we going to do? Moving blankets! SO MANY MOVING BLANKETS! We hung up wires from one end to the other and covered the ceiling with moving blankets. Furthermore, Dustin Toshiyuki, our sound man extraordinaire, got covers for the lav mics that specifically kill echo. It was a lifesavior and we managed to still get great sound and use the great set. If you want to know what those covers are called, let me know, I’ll have Dustin tell you.

6. We were ravaged by the plague during shooting. First, Justin (DP, Producer, and “Chase Cougar” in Episode 3) got sick a week before shooting. He was okay after a couple of days. But then we started shooting and it hit Daniela — she got better after a day. Then Drew Lanning got it. Then Dustin and I got it simultaneously and we got a delightful three day fever. After that, it really became the plague. It became bronchitis in Hillary Bergmann, our production manager, it literally infected all of Alexis Boozer’s face, and it stole Wilson Cleveland’s voice. Mark Gantt came to shoot for three days and left with it, bringing it back to LA where it killed 17,000 people (just a guess).

It was Satan.

We had to keep shooting, of course, because well — the show must go on and we had a schedule to maintain. I have to applaud the resilience of the cast and crew because, man, we kept it going and everyone was still great. Looking back through my feverish haze, I’m amazed at how phenomenal everyone kept being while carrying the seed of Lucifer in their bodies.

7. Hiscox is one of the best clients we’ve ever worked with. They wanted a good show. That was our main direction. We want a good show. Through production, through post, they have never, ever done anything that would hurt the quality of the series. If every client was like this, and every brand this daring, we’d be seeing a lot more well-funded, high-quality web series. It’s very cool to see them take the… oh god, I have to do it, it’s happening… take the leap.

8. Yes, that’s Alexis playing both characters in episode 6. We didn’t realize how good of a job Sarah Ashton (make-up) and Daniela DiIorio (also the wardrobe stylist) did with Alexis when we shot the episode. Furthermore, Alexis had to go and be crazy good and the result is that a surprising amount of people don’t realize that’s Bryn talking to Bryn. Also, a lot of people actually think she has a crush on me. She’s a really good actress.

9. There are multiple Break a Leg references throughout the episodes. The most notable? Chase Cougar in Episode 3. Break a Leg, for people who don’t know, was our first project and what got us to where we are. We love that show more than we love puppies and kittens wrestling one another.

10. Julie Warner was great as well. A professional, and just a blast to work with. Hopefully she comes around again!

11. Due to some schedule changes, we lost the original office location in the scene with Julie (today’s episode), so we had to scramble to find another spot. The location we had was a basement in a Yoga studio and had pretty much nothing in there. We also had around 3 hours to make it look good. Realizing the small room had no real good walls and felt claustrophobic, we came up with the smartest thing we’ve ever come up with in our entire lives: that “window” behind Julie? It’s the door to the room. Add some curtains, some lights, and voila — the office came alive. It’s now one of my favorite locations. Out of restrictions, genius is borne. Someone said that, probably, right?

12. Editing is done by the great Dashiell Reinhardt — also one of the Producers. Also, the guy with the beautiful girl-ish hair-do in the bathroom scene in Episode 2. He also did the special effects, intro, etc. Justin, who I mentioned earlier, is responsible for the look of the series as our DP. They’re stupid good. It makes me angry.

Let me finish this gushy blog up with a final gushy comment. I’m very proud of this show — I’m most proud of the cast and crew who despite crazy weather conditions, long hours and evil flu’s managed to create a really great product. I love you all and other really nice things.

That’s it for now! If you guys have any questions about anything, feel free to ask and I’ll follow this blog up with another one! Tune in to today’s episode (Episode 7), “Corporate Cupid” guest starring Julie Warner.

Thanks all! Hope you enjoy! Watch the show on Hulu or on the website and for the love of God, comment and tell us what you think!

Oh, let’s make this easy for you — Episode 7!