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
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.
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
Today, Vlad (my brother) and I officially signed the contract to write what I’m going to loudly declare as the very first college textbook on writing for New Media. Now, I’m not 100% sure it’s the first textbook on the subject (though I honestly am fairly certain), but the first lesson in writing for New Media is that if you say something loudly, with conviction, especially on a blog, it’s always, always right.
But I digress!
Vlad and I — as well as the brilliant Marie Drennan (more on her in a second) will be writing the very first college textbook on Writing for New Media — tentatively titled, wait for it, SCRIPTWRITING FOR NEW MEDIA.
Creativity, thy name is us.
The book will be published by Holcomb Hathaway in, if all goes well, around a year and a half (which is 600 years in Internet — so many web shows will fall in that time, and many web shows will rise — but always, always the word “monetization” will be tossed around like a small, burning baby) — and will use Break a Leg and many of the other series out there to teach the various ways this medium is different than traditional media, the same as traditional media, and generally, how to write for the damn thing. (Note: that last sentence is not a good example of the writing quality of the book).
Meaning, I will probably be approaching many of you with questions and samples of your work, so stay tuned for that.
I have to give full credit to Marie Drennan for getting this book deal. Marie is a teacher at the San Francisco State University and is an avid fan of the medium. I met her at a NewTeeVee shindig like 15,000 years ago (3 years in Human time) and she was the only teacher then and since that I have seen attending panels and trying to figure out how to get her students caught up with the Future of Entertainment/The Downfall of Entertainment/The Nothing of Entertainment (it depends which panel you attend and which month).
Marie came to Vlad and I with the idea for this book, and while we offered input, she put together the proposal, sent it out and got the deal. Her passion for this is contagious and with her help, I think we can make this a really good, unique textbook that will continue pushing new media forward.
Which, by the way — if you have thoughts on the matter, if you think there are essential things we need to put into the book, feel free to comment or email me — I’d love to hear feedback from the community and I fully intend to use you guys and gals as a resource.
Oh, and yes, it will be written in our style, offer a ton of supplemental material and will be available as an E-book — because we’re hip like that.
I’m going to have a more pertinent blog about our trip to Singapore and what I hope can come out of the connections we’ve made here. It’s all very interesting and a good step in the right direction for our beloved genre.
That said, I’m tired, we’re about to leave the hotel to get some delicious Indian food, and I’m going to save that blog for later.
For now, however, I’m going to regale you with fun Singapore facts. Ready? Here we go.
1. They’re not as strict as people think they are — you CAN chew gum, you just can’t sell it. It’s weird, yes, and apparently it was banned when someone, 30 years ago, jammed the subway doors with them (I think that’s what I heard?) but, as the locals say, “It was never that big here so, no one cares.”
2. They really are strict. If you carry a gun on you, it’s life in prison. If you fire it, even if you miss, it’s death. Someone graffitti’d in the Subway recently, and was given 6 months in prison and 4 strokes of the cane. Drug trafficking is death. Drug possession is also death. Stealing is 7 years in prison. Everything else has fines worth thousands of dollars.
In other words, it really sucks being a criminal here. Or a gum salesman.
3. It’s really, really, REALLY western. The signs are all in English. TV is in English but dubbed into Chinese. The area where we’re staying — which is like, their main tourist/shopping district — is called Orchard Road and has every major designer store, as well as Starbucks (of course), California Pizza Kitchen, and just about any other western food.
It’s, as I said in my insanely witty Facebook update, only difference from San Francisco is trees and the fact that it has less Asian people.
4. The locals eat at places called Hawker Stands. Which are just little markets with rows of… hawkers. It’s really good, if not kind of intense. Justin and I ate fried stingray, chicken feet and other things people shouldn’t put in their mouth but do.
5. Their coffee is DELICIOUS. First of all, it’s basically espresso but in a full cup. Secondly, they call it Kopi and Kopi Si (or C, or See, or who knows) has condensed milk in it which, by the way, is like having liquid gold in your mouth (but in a good way, not in a, OH MY GOD I HAVE LIQUID GOLD IN MY MOUTH sort of way).
6. Just Shoot Me is on right now on TV. That’s how western it is.
7. It’s got a NIGHT SAFARI. WITH NIGHT ANIMALS. That like… live in the zoo but are free to — THERE’S AN EXHIBIT, hold on, let me catch my breath, there’s an exhibit where bats fly over you wildly. FREELY. They just, fly over you. And you get to try and catch them with a toothpick and throw them in a fryer. And if you do, you get to eat them!
Some of those things aren’t true, but some of them ARE and that’s AWESOME.
8. There’s a huge Indian population. They have a Little India and the food is delicious. Also, you can buy a lot of crap there — which we’re bringing back for our friends.
Crap for everyone!
9. This is my favorite thing in the entire world, so I’m going to save it for last… their icon is… the… wait for it… Merlion.
It’s a lion’s head… on a fish’s body. The Merlion. It… it’s a LION’S HEAD… on a FISH’S body. Is everyone imagining that properly? Because it’s the best thing in the entire world. I keep wondering if it has gills or if the reason the real Merlion is no longer around is because it was God’s worst creation and they all drowned almost immediately.
…I know I should post pictures of all of these things, and I will on Facebook but, you know, for now, use your imagination.
Okay, I love you all, I’m going to go catch, skin, fry and eat a merlion.
Goodbye (but in Mandarin).
Hey, all —
I’m packing up for Singapore (leaving tomorrow for a fun 19 hour flight that stops over in South Korea — where I will attempt, for that hour, to solve the conflict over there) so not much of a blog for today, however…
Miss Daisy Whitney, a prominent voice in this whole online deal did an interview with me at the LATV Festival about the 7-Eleven Road Trip and some of the international deals we’ve done of late.
Daisy, by the way, is one of the coolest people around and has impeccable tastes in scarves.
Video is here:
Daisy’s article is here:
and, if you’d like another place to read it, here:
Bon voyage! Or as they say in Singapore — Hey, you’re not allowed to chew gum here, to the caning facility with you!
I was doing a film shoot with Mr. Mark Gantt, recently — Mark, if you don’t know, is the producer, star, writer and I think assistant gaffer on The Bannen Way. The Bannen Way, if you don’t know, is a Sony-funded web series, feature film, action-drama-comedy, all-around good entertainment and, oh, now that I’m thinking about it, I’m pretty sure Mark was also a production assistant on Break a Leg, or something. I forget. I don’t talk to the crew.
Anyway, Mark, along with a few other Break a Leg actors (Alexis Boozer, Daniela DiIorio, Flynn Kelleher, Drew Lanning and myself) are all theoretically starring in a theoretic new series that is written by my brother Vlad and I and produced, as per usual, by him, me, Justin Morrison and Dashiell Reinhardt… you know, all of the same people who did Break a Leg and run Happy Little Guillotine Films.
Here’s my point. I’m talking to Mark about the web series community and I notice this odd feeling welling up inside of me. Part of it is attraction, because Mark looks like a rugged Tom Cruise after life really knocked him around, but the other part of it feels strangely like… bitterness.
Now, I’m not really sure where it comes from because I actually like everyone quite a bit in the community. Sure, I sometimes complain about them being guilty of over-pleasuring one another with their mouths, but I think there’s an amazing group of talented, innovative and unique entertainers who have been creating some fantastic stuff.
So, I wonder — why? Why the bitterness? And then I realized it.
When we started, online video was an in-between, a purgatory for filmmakers who hoped that a TV or film producer would accidentally stumble on their video while doing a sweeping search for porn, watch it, and then pay them millions to get it made. In other words, we all wanted to be the It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia guys and the Internet was one way to get noticed but not the place where our shows would actually… survive.
Every moment of Break a Leg was a fight. We were the David against the no-budget, full-time job, no-real-way-to-make-money-like-this Goliath, who is way worse than the Biblical Goliath in that he comes with more poverty. And as we started getting more and more press and more and more attention, and people like NBC and CBS started calling, we had this feeling of… maybe..? Maybe?! MAYBE?!
No one knew what to do with anyone online at that time. They still don’t. CBS Interactive called us because they wanted to fund a series for a very decent amount of money, and then in a week told us they didn’t, in fact, have that money (lost in their couch cushions or something). Other networks we talked to did a lot of, “Call us when you have something.” – “But we have a lot.” – “We have no money.” And for some bizarro reason, even though we were getting press in places like the Wall Street Journal and the LA Times, agents absolutely refused to acknowledge our existence (still do, in fact).
When Break a Leg ended, we were exhausted and a little jaded. Okay, a lot jaded. It took a good half a year to start up the optimism engines again, and then things started happening for us. This blog was a huge help (I know, I KNOW — I’ll write more in it!). Blip.tv was and is our main benefactor without whom we wouldn’t be anywhere. FOX Italy bought Break a Leg. And our branded entertainment campaigns started becoming bigger and bigger and culminated in the 7-Eleven Road Trip (again thanks to Blip.tv) — a new and different kind of branded entertainment beast.
In short, we’ve done well.
So, why the bitterness? Because, I now realize, somewhere in the corner of my brain, near the part that’s responsible for hitting on women, I still think — after all we’ve done, why aren’t we on TV? This is JUST the Internet.
(The reason it’s in that part of the brain, by the way, is because being on TV makes hitting on women way easier.)
And as I realized that, I also realized what our job is, now, as producers of this content. If I — someone whose career has been made by online entertainment — am still not used to the idea that this isn’t Purgatory but an actual place where entertainment can live, then people who have lived and breathed TV and Film — networks, agents, producers, ad agencies — surely can’t even fathom it.
So, what’s our job? Our job is to not pigeon-hole ourselves the way that people tend to pigeon-hole online content — i.e. only 5 minute videos work, only sketch comedy works, only catering to one loud niche audience works, etc. – but to see this as our playground and to try, desperately try, to show that not only can we, the new breed of entertainment, create fantastic, innovative content on-line (short form and long, experimental and just plain ol’ amazing), but we can also get that content to sell and make money.
Because, we’ve grown up, as a community — I was bitter of the way things were, but that’s not the way things are. We’re at a different stage of our evolution in entertainment, we can’t just be satisfied to make things and release them and say, hey, that was pretty good, right? We have to think like businessmen as well as artists, we have to show that not only can we make great stuff, we can also sell it.
And once we do that, that’s when we reach the next level. Where online entertainment truly competes with TV in every capacity.
As for me and my bitterness. We’ve resolved the conflict. It’s a simple thing to realize — my whole life I’ve hated doing what I was supposed to do in a particular path. I never wanted to write spec scripts, beg for an agent and then be someone’s writing assistant on a terrible show — I wanted to do it my way and this is what we’re doing. This is the genre in which we’re playing, where our successes and failures are solely dependent on our talent, hard-work, and ideas.
And you know what, bitterness? I’m starting to really like that.
(Okay, that’s it. More blogs to come — I swear, this time. I’ll be in Singapore all week next week and between the 18-hour flight and the fact that we’re doing a seminar on online entertainment and having dozens of meetings with producers/businesses in Singapore just has to be written about.)
A little while ago I wrote a post on patience. The idea was twofold — on one hand, I hate when people tell me to be patient and that, to succeed, waiting seems to be the key (by the way, patience does not equal inaction — you should be working daily on doing something that helps your career. Waiting patient on nothing doesn’t work quite as well). On the other hand, I must and am learning to enjoy the experience of trying to succeed because, as cheesy and irritatingly-8th-grade-English-Lit-poetry-paper as it sounds, it’s more about the journey and the adventure than actually getting there.
Except getting there would be pretty awesome too.
The last month or so we’ve (and my “we’ve” I mean my production company: Happy Little Guillotine Films) been trying desperately to get a big, big gig. It’s — you know in movies when the lawyer talks about getting that “big account” — well, this was the big account. Our competition was absolutely ridiculous — networks and companies seventeen times our size (we counted). The job would be a month long excursion, with easily over a month of pre-production and it would have a budget that is roughly 10,000% of Break a Leg.
In other words, there was absolutely no way we were getting it. We’ve had a lot of things pop up like this – a lot of maybe’s — and this was just another thing we had already mentally geared up to lose. We had two things that gave us a little bit of hope: the first, we made a video demo for the company to show them what the end result of the project may look like — which, and I say this with all the humility I can muster, we absolutely, positively rocked.
By the way, to all you fledgling production companies out there — this is the way to do it. The only way we can compete against the big guys is by being more agile than them. Throwing together full-scale video proposals instead of pitch sheets go a long way in selling our services and talents. Bigger companies can’t do this because they can’t even think about doing a video without paying their brain 50,000 dollars for the suggestion.
The second thing we had going for us is Blip.tv. I have to write a post called, “Ode to Blip.tv” because they’re easily one of the best companies around. Blip.tv is pertinent to this community. Hell, Blip.tv is one of the reasons this community is even here. This deal was through Blip, who we’ve been working with very closely in the past few months. They have a fantastic reputation and brilliant salespeople and between Blip and our talents, we had to trust that we were at least somewhat in the running.
As it turns out, patience actually kind of works. As it turns out, all the no’s do, eventually, lead to a yes — because, dear friends, we got the motherfucking deal!
It’s still hard to believe because, we’re so very used to saying, “Sigh, at least we were close…” or, “Sigh… it’s the adventure that blahblahblahs….” it was hard (and amazingly fun) to get a hold of my crew and be able to actually say, “We got the deal.”
Is it what we want to do with our film careers? Not necessarily. We want to make shows and movies and while this will be a show, it’s not quite the style of show that we’re used to. But that doesn’t matter. We love the challenge of it, we love the potential of it, and we think we can hit it out of the park.
So, wherever any of you live, whatever you’re doing, you all have to take a shot of something delicious and strongly alcoholic to celebrate with us. Okay? Okay.
I do find it funny, though. Even with this big job and the promise of future jobs coming in to match its scale, there’s still a small chance that nothing will happen after this. That we’ll make the money, do the job, and never work in film again because no one will ever hire us again. Is it likely? No. Can it happen? Sure. It’s a very weird career we’ve all gotten ourselves into.
But I digress — there’s a lesson in here somewhere, for me, for you, for anyone, and it’s — you know all those cliches that people tell you? They’re cliches because they’re right. Be patient, work hard, enjoy the journey and, the most important one, love what you’re doing more than anything else. Love what you’re doing enough to torture yourself to succeed in it, love it when you’re miserably failing and love it when you finally get some kind of break, love it in the morning, and in the afternoon, love it in the evening and down beneath the moon, love it until you can’t imagine doing anything else and then, only then, will you maybe, just maybe, get to where you want to be.
Now back to editing!
My main mode of professional contact is email. Sure, social gatherings are important and nothing quite beats the intimacy of getting a cup of coffee and/or vodka with someone to win them over. But that’s a luxury few can afford in a world where most people are far too busy to waste time doing silly things like sitting and drinking something.
Which means that for communication, email is king.
I recently (yesterday) accidentally sent an email invitation to “See My Photos on Facebook!” to hundreds of people who had ever received or sent an email to me. And while I pondered how many penis-related mailing lists I accidentally signed myself up for with that action, I stumbled upon the thought of how important email really is. And not just email itself but the art of the email.
There are hundreds of books that try and teach you to be charming, hilarious, attractive and socially capable — but none (and I say that with the full power of no research at my back) talk about how to be all those things over email. See, the thing with email is that, unlike meeting someone in person, people can completely ignore your emails. “Hey, want to meet for lunch?” you ask someone — and, in six months, they respond, “Sorry, just got this. Nope.”
Luckily, I’m a neurotic writer, email (there it goes again) fits my personality quite well. I have even arrogantly decided that, throughout the years, I’ve developed my email writing skills enough to declare myself a professional emailer.
Below is a list of tips that I have gone a long way in helping me further my career and, in the process, develop a few new friendships. So, without further ado, here we go…
Leave a Personality Hook
Emails should be professional, yes, but professionals get professional emails all the time. Hundreds of them. It’s dull and it means these people — who are, in fact, people and not corporate drones — have to be their boring, professional selves all day. Even in writing. Even in an art form. So, bring themselves out of themsselves — give them what I always (just thought of this) call, “the personality hook.”
Let’s say you’ve been introduced to someone who can theoretically help you. An agent, the head of a production company, someone you need in short. You send them a professional email, the body of which thanks them for their time, introduces you to them, and generally asks for whatever you were going to ask for. Here’s where the hook comes into play, are you ready? Are you taking notes? Are you rolling your eyes? Okay, good.
After your main paragraph, throw in one quick sentence that’s a very casual joke. It can be about the person who introduced you, it can be about… anything. Self-effacing, poking fun at the topic, whatever it is, just give them a little something. The key is that it should be a comment that begs for a response. An amusing question, perhaps, but it should lure them into biting.
They are the fish, you are the fisherman — what you’re doing is seeing what kind of bait they’re into.
The hope is this: once they read your email, they’ll not only respond to the body but make a joke back. Then, you’re in. What starts happening, if you’re good, funny and can pick up on their sense of humor, is that before you know it, your emails are less professional and more jokey. That seems backwards but it isn’t — people won’t help Random Guy Who Needs My Help as much as they’ll help Guy I Can Joke Around With.
I know this sounds absolutely ridiculous, mildly manipulative and kind of dumb, but in a world where we’re constantly answering emails, it’s how friendships are made. It’s how you can break someone out of their auto-response and get their personality involved.
Brevity is the Soul of Wit
You know who said that? God. No, that’s not true, it was Shakespeare — but it may as well have been God. Don’t expound. Don’t send a 30 page letter from the war. Just write what you need, keep it fast, keep it fun, keep it easy, and send it off. Trust me, you’ll be doing everyone a favor.
Don’t Write Like An Idiot
Remember all those lessons from school? Like how “u” actually has three letters in it? It’s time to use those. It doesn’t matter who you’re emailing, start getting in the habit of spelling correctly and using proper grammar. Sending a poorly written email to a higher-up is a lot like calling them a racial epitaph in person (it’s true), so take some time, proofread, and make sure you don’t write like an idiot.
This also helps for love letters, by the way. “I luv u” is all fine and dandy if you’re 14 and texting, but it’s no way to electronically please a lady.
Gmail, Gmail, Gmail
You know how getting to know someone is important? Gchat is just perfect for it. I love when I email someone I need to meet and they have Gmail. It’s the easiest thing to add them and, after some time, shoot them a quick comment on Gchat. If they bite, you start a conversation. You can really draw someone out, connect, and do the whole personality hook much quicker.
I loves me some Gmail.
Respond a Day Later
Sometimes, really busy people take an irritatingly long time to get back to you. Don’t rush in emailing them back — every email is a reminder to them that they have to get back to you. If you email them three reminders, you get really irritating. So, say they respond to you with, “We’ll get back to you in a couple of days!” Wait a day, maybe even two, and respond to them saying, “Great! Looking forward to it.” Or something in that vein. It’s a reminder camouflaged in a simple response.
Follow-Up, But Don’t Be a Douche
My “Don’t Be a Douch Rule” stretches out to not just email but every facet of life. Yes, follow-up after a week. Yes, check-in. No, don’t bother them. No, don’t expect a response. No, don’t be a douche about it. If they’re not responding, they’re not interested — give it a month, give it a couple of check-ins, if there’s nothing, well then, you don’t need them and they don’t need you.
Chill The Mailing List out
If I emailed you, it doesn’t mean I want to forever be on your mailing list. Please leave me alone, you’re becoming comparable to the guy that keeps talking about my “love hammer.”
Don’t Invite 500 of Them to Your Facebook
It struck me that while I did it by accident, I can see people doing this purposefully. It’s probably not worth it. Partly because it’s really annoying, and partly because you probably don’t want anyone who can maybe hire you in the future to see the photos of you with that prostitute that your friends thought would be totally funny to tag you in.
Finally, Don’t Be A Douche
I’d like to reiterate this. Don’t make friends so that those friends can help you. Don’t email people and play nice until you get ahead — let’s not continue to make the entertainment business a place of faux relationships and backstabbery. Don’t be a douche and good things will happen, really.
That’s all for my email tips. Feel free to add your own to the comments! I’d love to hear your own tips and tricks!
I tried, I really, really tried to update regularly last week but — it’s been hectic and, well, I haven’t.
I’m in the middle of like three blogs that, personally, I think will just rock, so — those will be coming promptly, hopefully.
In the meantime, an update from all the daily going-ons of the web series creator. The wild musings, if you will.
Ready? Here we go:
-I just, purely by accident, invited 540 people from my Gmail to join my Facebook. I did this because Facebook suggested I invite my Gmail friends, and I was like — well, alright, Facebook! So I chose four out of the 540, clicked Send Invites and… well, I can only imagine Facebook said –– you know what, guy? There are 540 people who would KILL at the chance to look at some of your Facebook pictures. Add them too. Yes, even the guy who sent you the email with this subject line: “Your lovestick won’t get tired!”
Which is great, because frankly, I think it’s time me and LoveStick Guy played Farmville together.
UPDATE: Oh, I’m so happy. I think my Facebook invite also applied to what must have been a job email because I just received an email with the subject: “Check out my facebook pictures” and the email body says:
“Thank you for submitting your application. We will review it and get back to you if there are any next steps.
God I hope I get it.
-Our new show, Lovemakers, is getting closer and closer to becoming a reality. I think. We’ve teamed up with a real matchmaking company and we’ve gotten a brilliant Executive Producer who knows his way around the marketing world the way I know my way around sending 540 Facebook invites to my Gmail friends. We’ve got everything we need to make a great show except the money and I’m hoping that’s a hop and a step away.
The whole process has been a lot like gathering an army. If it works, I’ll detail how I did it, step by step, and tell you what I’ve learned. So far, I’ve learned that you’ve just got to try everything, talk to everyone, and have a good idea that people genuinely like. Then just target who you need and work your ass off to get them behind the project.
-We’ve shot around three-four pitches for various big brands while pitching as many to others. We’re at a wall that if we can push through, can make our production company a profitable enterprise. But it’s a damn heavy wall.
-We shot a Pilot for a completely different show — not Lovemakers, not Break a Leg — a new show. We envision it as a side project that can work as a constant branded entertainment commercial as well as a vehicle for what we think is a really fun little product. It stars me and Justin Morrison (Chase Cougar in Break a Leg) and as soon as we’re done with the final cut, I’ll go about trying to make sure you all get to see it.
-My brother and I may be in the midst of writing a textbook on Writing for a Web Series. Isn’t that bizarre and slightly terrifying? Imagine being taught by me… as I invite you to join my Facebook? It’s horrible. I apologize ahead of time.
-I’m going to write at least two more actual blogs this week that aren’t just talking about my life. This I swear. And I mean it this time. So, stay tuned.
Also, if you guys have any questions at all — about writing, about web show makin’, about… well, anything, really, feel free to ask and I’ll do my best to answer.
Okay? Okay. Stay tuned ’till tomorrow or Wednesday for the second blog of the week!