http://Spidvid.com - We are back with another exciting Spidcast episode this month (listen in below and subscribe on iTunes) with a focus on collaborative filmmaking. For August's show we feature a big Hollywood actor/filmmaker and a web series creator, director, and actor. These two individuals are doing interesting things within the new media space, and it was our pleasure to have James Morrison and Richard Weigand on the show.
James Morrison is a filmmaker, playwright, poet, actor, singer/songwriter and yoga teacher, who was born in Utah and is a product of Alaska. James has been in some big Hollywood films and TV shows including, "24," "Catch Me If You Can," "Jar Head," "The One," and countless others.
Richard Weigand is a web series creator, writer, director, and actor. Richard's show, Curve Your Vampirism, is about a day in the life of a vampire.
Full Show Transcript Below
Michael: Hi. I’m Michael London and welcome to Spidcast, the future of collaborative video production brought to you by Spidvid.com. On this episode, we’re visiting with Richard Weigand, he’s an independent producer. He produces a very cool web show called “Curve your Vampirism”. We’ll hear more about that in a little bit. And he’s brought with him a very special guest. A very recognizable face if you watch episodic TV at all, especially the dramas all coming up just a moment on Spidcast.
So let’s jump right in. Richard, welcome to Spidcast.
Richard: Thank you very much. Thanks for having me, Michael.
Michael: So Richard, tell us a little bit about yourself, how you got into producing your own web series?
Richard: A couple of years ago, I started making small videos for the internet like my YouTube account and I’ve always wanted to do a kind of episodic, different kinds of things and wanted to branch my stories and create different kinds of characters and creating a web series allows me to put my ideas together and post it out there and get some feedback.
Michael: And how did you break in to the filmmaking world?
Richard: I’ve always kind of had this kind of creative mind of thinking—and I kind of perceive the whole world as one giant film; everything that I see and my mind creates the character and the dialogues and all that stuff comes by watching television and movies. I get an idea of how I piece (own songs) together and ever since I was real little, I’ve always wanted to do this and when I first got a camera, I was just able to film the different ideas that were in my head. That’s how it all came about.
Michael: After you get that idea and after you put it into motion, I’m going to guess the collaboration comes into play in a big way. Tell us about how collaboration has benefited your web series.
Richard: For this web series, in particular, I collaborated mostly with my sister, Rosella, just going back and forth (with any ideas we wake up with) for the show. We both are on the show. We’re both actors allowing her to take over some of the directing tasks of it. But outside of that, it was really an experience to get back in touch with friends through Facebook, to cast them in one of the parts in one of the episodes. The most interesting thing about this series is I got to collaborate with the UK composers. People all the way over there that are piecing our music together were really a true inspiration to beginning this series.
Michael: Collaboration is what’s it all about these days. What are some tips for some young filmmakers out there trying to get the most out of a limited or no budget situation?
Richard: Well, for one thing, having no budget has never stopped me from doing what I want to do and I’ve always felt the story as a character. And for something really important that I think that should be (dead) in what I film, you know, having no budget, having limited sets, using the same sets over and over again doesn’t take me out of my vision for what I’m doing. As long as I get it out there and I’m happy with the performances and the editing and everything, having no budgets or with limited budgets, doesn’t restrict me. I think I can actually hit that out with a little bit more creative ideas if I don’t have that much to play around with and that’s what really impresses me—not having big, a whole lot of financial support to pull off a big project or a small project. I think that people are really impressed with what I can do at the budget level that I’m at.
Michael: Excellent. Little or no budget, you get it done. But once you get it done, once you get that product finished and you get it on to the web, how do you get people there? How do you get noticed?
Richard: I used Facebook to get it out there with my friends and everything, but I can say that Twitter is the best way for this series to get out there because we started on Twitter, @curve_vampirism, to get our series out there. We started doing it before the show even started. We and my character Vladimir, he tweets to people and people tweet back to him and they’re kind of getting inside the world of “Curve your Vampirism”. And it’s getting people excited about it and it was really cool (when) somebody follows it and wants not only to follow the Twitter but follow the show and want more out of it and want to see more. That was really cool. But Twitter has been overall the best way for our show to be seen.
It’s also a really inspirational thing to get kind of a feedback instantly of they love Vlad or they love what he does and they want to see more. It inspires me to want to create more. It inspires me to want to take the whole world to a no (silly) level and then they’re part of it too…
Michael: Well, talking about characters. It’s a character that we know from a TV show we love. You brought a very special guest with you today. Why don’t you go ahead and introduce him?
Richard: Yes, I’d like to introduce you all to actor, filmmaker, musician, James Paige Morrison. Hi, James.
James: Hi, Richard. How are you, man?
Richard: Not too bad at all.
Richard: Not too bad. I’m excited that you decided to do this, which is really cool. Since this is an audio podcast and (put you) a face to the name, James Paige Morrison. Where we’re you seen lately?
James: Let’s see. I spent four years as Bill Buchanan on “24” on Fox. And on the big screen, let’s see, you would have seen me as the person who inspired Leonardo DiCaprio to become a pilot in “Catch Me If You Can”. I’m the captain who went to the hotel and he said I want to be that guy. Lots and lots of episodic television, well, for series, the “Space: Above and Beyond”. I was Col. McQueen on Fox for the sci-fi fan.
Richard: I’ll just leave you right into it because the reason why I chose to talk to you is because you’re not only an actor and a filmmaker and a musician, but you’ve also used parts of the social media like Facebook and Twitter to kind of get your ideas and your projects out there, so I’m wondering how has Twitter changed your life?
James: Well, I wouldn’t say that it has changed my life as much as it’s just given it another way to interact. I was listening to you talking about this. It reminds me of back when we used first started doing theater when I was a young actor in a smaller theater in LA and in the few places that I did in New York 30 years ago.
Any series really back before the internet, you would try to drum up word of mouth and that’s basically what we’re doing with Twitter. It’s just a word of mouth audience until it starts to catch on and if it doesn’t, it’s because we didn’t have the elements that were necessary for it to catch on. But you use any means possible to promote yourself as an artist and I think it’s just a great way to reach out and expand your audience.
Richard: There’s also a really cool thing to be able to talk to the fans and have them instantly give you feedback on if I saw you on a show the night before, they could tweet that to you and you say thank you or whatever. I think it’s a really big deal when they get response like that. It is inspirational to hear from them. You see the performance that you get to respond to your favorite actor or…
James: Yes, I think it means a lot to them. But it will also means a lot to the artist especially those of us who are sort of crossover artists who are multi-disciplinary, I guess. It also goes with who make music or who writes or direct as well as act. There’s constantly a way to keep people informed about if we can afford the 10 or $20,000 a month PR firm to do it for us. It’s also, like you say, a way to maintain contact with the very people we want to reach.
Richard: Do you ever get tired of hearing the same messages over and over again?
James: No, because it’s the feedback that you don’t get from working on television and film that you do get when you’re on stage. The applause never sounded the same and never feels the same when it’s that live feeling of the laugh that comes back to you from the dark. It’s never the same. It could be, I guess, you could say that it’s the same every night, but it’s not because it’s in the moment.
If you hear two people say the same thing, they’re really saying it from a very personal place, I think that’ the—I don’t know what’s the best example I can give about it—no, I don’t tire about it at all in answer to your question.
Richard: How long have you been tweeting?
James: Let’s see, I discovered Twitter when I was in Canada. It’ll be two years ago just last April, so just a little over two years. I was up there doing a benefit for the Canadian Cancer Society and I’d heard that Mary Lynn Rajskub, who played Chloe on “24”, was on it and Jon Cassar as well.
I just went on to check it out because I’ve heard of it because I guess it must’ve been five years now Twitter’s been around?
James: I just checked it out and what do you, wow, this is interesting. How did I not know this is here? I like to converse especially about current events and social issues and as you know from following me and from the things that I talk about on Twitter—
Richard: The documentary that you tweet about—
James: The documentary but also just what’s going on in the world. It affects us as human beings and if you’re connected as a human being and an artist, I think it’s should have an impact on what you create as an artist. Now, of course, it’s where I get all my news. I trust these sources on Twitter more than I trust certainly the mainstream media.
Richard: That’s the way that everybody’s look at the world. You’ve collaborated with filmmakers in both the television and the film world. I’m very interested in knowing that what would you say to those out there who use the Internet as their television and film world?
James: Well, I’m still beginning to understand all that. I’m sort of old-school. I still watch TV. I still go out to movie theaters and not quite as much now that I have a child but I like to go to live theater. I think we have to find balance. I think that’s what I would say is just like I read today on Twitter, as a matter of fact—I think it was the President who said this, “Don’t get all your information from one source and question the sources that you have.” If you’re getting all your information, if you’re using only one medium as a sort of a pitching post, untie and get out there and ride around a little bit. That’s the advice I would give.
Richard: It was Twitter how I found out that not only do you act and you have the documentary you’ve been producing, but you also are a songwriter and musician. For those out there who don’t know that you are a musician, what kind of music do you like to perform?
James: I guess it’s a folk rock. I was influenced by the 60’s bands like The Birds and Dylan, of course, and all the different groups that came out of Buffalo Springfield and those guys, that sort of sound that’s sort of cosmic-country-Gram Parsons-things. I was influenced by the Grateful Dead and those guys. And groups like Canned Heat, who’d come out of the Woodstock era. In fact, Larry Taylor, the bassist for Canned Heat, played on my album, “Son to the Boy”, which has been out for a little while and we’re just starting to tour to play live, to promote it. That was kind of cool to play with Larry. It’s that sort of thing.
Richard: Why did you choose the internet (to put your music in)?
James: Well, mostly because it’s just so immediate and the people are so connected to the digital download and also because I was self-produced, I’m not affiliated with a label. It seems the most cost-effective way is to just make it available before I can mass produce CDs, the physical CD and also it’s a little greener, I just didn't want to put all that plastic out there.
Richard: Your album that’s been in fact available in digital form as of this past December, how long were you working on it?
James: That story actually is kind of interesting. That week that we started and recorded the first two tracks, my son was diagnosed with a brain tumor, so that was put on hold for seven months and it took about a year-and-a-half actually all told to finish it up.
Richard: You’re talking before about who inspired you as a musician, who are some of your influences as an actor?
James: I was really influenced by films in the early 70’s like “Clockwork Orange” and the Scorsese movies of the mid 70’s when I was in New York and I saw “Taxi Driver”. At that point, I just said this is what I want to do.
Richard: You who played Bill Buchanan on “24”, working the set of a show like that or any big motion picture, how has that helped your own personal project?
James: By the time I got to “24” in the season 4 or halfway through season 4, they were just about where they had developed this finely tuned precision machine—and I say machine but a human machine—so that they knew exactly how to shoot it, how to do what they did so well and it was precision. It was a well-oiled and worked together really well and most of that, I think, as I looked at it now had to do with the way Jon Cassar worked and he brought a lot of his artistry to the creation of that.
I think now, in answer to your question, coming away from that, I just realized how efficiently and how it collaboratively it benefits everyone if you learn how to work together, if you involve everyone. If you don’t, decide who am I to this person now as Jack O’Brien, a stage director, says in our documentary “Showing Up.”
I think there’s too much about if we’re all just worker among workers and we’re equals in this collaborative process, without the power trips and without the secrets and whatever it is that flows downhill as they say. Then the collaborative effort becomes as you on “24”. It was tight. It was really tight and they told the story really efficiently. They shot it that way too.
Richard: I think “24” is one of the best shows on television and good to see over the years (they’re able to) come in all of the people that pieced that show together. It’s really remarkable how every year they have new people come in and I found it interesting with all the new people coming in. That was a really interesting experience to (put) all these kinds of people have come in all the time.
James: The other thing I noticed was when I left the show and I think probably everybody who was there for while have the same issue in their own way, I would go somewhere else and they’d be working in whatever way they work, which is going to be different, and my first inclination would be to say, you know, in “24”, we—I have to stop myself because of course you can’t. You’re a guest and you can't really tell them how best to work. You want to because they’re working inefficiently and you sort of feel a little bit superior, but then you have to, like you say, make it how it works best for you and you have to take whatever you have personal control over and apply the things that you learned without imposing that on somebody else. I think that’s where we get into trouble. We all bring those things where you got to “do it my way, my way or the highway”.
It takes time to develop that kind of ensemble feeling, so when you experience it, you want it to be an A in everything, but it can't be. It’s a very rare thing. It’s like finding that one true love in your life.
Richard: That’s the best thing about following you in Twitter and why everybody should follow at @JamesPMorrison on Twitter is I instantly get the impression of how well you work with the after and behind the scenes. You probably work just as much with the cast as well as the behind the scenes people and if I get to know them, I will too because I see it in your tweet. You always tweeted to some directors and good people who are out there that you no longer probably worked with but you still, thanks to Twitter, get to interact with them.
James: That goes back to when I was to when I was about 21 years old. I was in the circus. I was a circus clown and when I first got to the winter quarters in Hugo, Oklahoma, the performer sat on one side of the mess hall, the cafeteria and the workers, the hands, sat on the other side and they never interacted. So I got my plate, went over and sat with the hands just to say hello. I mean, these are the guys that in some cases your life depends on them for rigging. They’re the workers.
I was immediately reprimanded and ostracized and taken to task for mixing with the working staff. I just thought, man, first of all, what this built this country? This is the people that built this country. They build the shows that we watch and if you bring that work ethic to—it’s the work ethic I learned from my dad. He worked in a construction business. If you bring that work ethic to what you do, then we’re all in this together. You can’t fail.
Richard: And that's the impression people get when they log in you have over 5,000 people that basically listen to what you’re saying and they have the option to get your idea down there further. That’s why I find it truly inspirational not only reading your tweets but getting to know you kind of in a different light aside from on watching you on television. Getting into how you think inspires and I think it inspires a lot of people. My last kind of question is what advice would you give to aspiring actors and aspiring filmmakers out there?
James: When I was a young actor, I wanted to join Actors’ Equity, the union for stage actors. I went to the artistic director of an Alaskan organization and he sounds like 23 years old or something and I said, “I’d like to do this. Can you help me do this?” He said, “You really can't think of anything else you’d rather do?” It was that school of hard knocks sort of thing. I said, “No, I can't. I’m pretty sure I want to do this for a living.” And he said, “Okay, welcome to the ranks of the unemployable.”
It didn’t register then but what he was doing was showing me that there are going to be lots of people in the path in my journey through my life as an artist or as a man that are going to try to minimize my goal. If not giving me a hand up and certainly not a hand down, but there’s a way to encourage people that if someone says if this is what you love and this is what makes you feel good, then you have to do it because you’ll be unhappy if you don’t. It’s that simple really.
If what you’re doing make you happy, whether it’s accepted, how it’s received, all that stuff doesn’t matter. If you place qualifiers, good or bad before or after what you do, you’re going to minimize your effort, your contribution, your journey toward what you want to achieve and your pleasure in the moment. Be very sure and first of all, that’s what you want to do like the guy said to me. Can you think of anything else? But also just then just go, I’m not going to let anybody deter me from this. I’m not going to let them devalue me for whatever their personal agenda is. They’re unhappy in their own lives. They’re critics and that’s their job—to devalue, to feel like they can give something of value based on their word or their appraisal of it. Like Steven Spailis says in showing up, you have to take that into the room with you, that sense of value of your own personal value. That’s, I think, the most important thing I can say is get ready to stand up for yourself and what you’re putting out there. Just teach people how to treat you.
Richard: That is very inspirational. I’m always surprised by what you’re saying. I can’t thank you enough for—
James: Thanks. I appreciate that. It was a pleasure talking to you. I’m glad this worked out.
Michael: If I can jump in, James and Richard. What is next for James Morrison?
James: I just put together the first performance with almost all of the band that I’m putting together at the Hotel Café in Hollywood. We’ll be the musical guest with (some spoken word) artists. For a monthly thing, they do this. That’s sort of the world tour kickoff in Hollywood. Then we’ll have a CD released probably sometime in August or September with the full band and this is to promote the album, “Son to the Boy”, which is available on iTunes and CD Baby and Amazon and all of the other places digitally.
Michael: Excellent. If we’d like more information on what you’re up to, where do we get in touch?
James: If you’d like to find out more about this, I’m pretty good about keeping the website up-to-date. It’s JPMorrison.com then you can find out more about where we’re playing and what will be happening with “Showing Up”, the documentary. My wife and I just co-directed and co-produced up to the actors audition. We had a conversation with about 60 of our best working actors about what it means to them and ultimately ends up being more about just showing up for what you want to be and do in your life and we’re very happy with it.
Michael: Richard, thank you so much for brining James as your guest today.
Richard: You’re very welcome.
Michael: And when folks want to see your stuff, where do we see that?
Richard: Well, the web series that I currently produced, “Curve Your Vampirism”, you can watch at http://www.curveyourvampirism.blip.tv.
Michael: Richard, thanks for being with us today.
Richard: Thank you.
Michael: That’s it. Thanks for listening to the Spidcast Show. We appreciate your time and attention. You can now join the conversation at Spidcast.com or on our Spidcast Blog. And you can join our collaborative filmmaking community at Spidvid.com. Tune in next month for another entertaining and informative episode of Spidcast.# vimeo.com/33870843 Uploaded 564 Plays 0 Likes 0 Comments
http://Spidvid.com - We are back with another exciting Spidcast episode this month (listen in below and subscribe on iTunes) with a focus on collaborative filmmaking. For May's show we feature two filmmakers and actors who are both actively producing original web series. These two individuals are doing interesting things within the new media space, and it was our pleasure to have Cooper and Brendan on the show.
Cooper Harris is a talented actor and web series creator of the pilot RELAPSE (embedded below) which won the Top Audience Award at the recent Celebrate the Web competition. The RELAPSE web show has been rumored to be fully produced in the near future, which is exciting news to its already established fan base. Cooper discusses her show and Squatters, and how collaboration means everything when it comes to getting things accomplished.
Brendan Bradley is the creator and lead actor of break out hit, and award winning web series Squatters (episode 1 embedded below). Season 2 is in full development now, leaving viewers anxious for its release in the upcoming future. Brendan talks about appreciating team members, how he leveraged collaboration to create his entertaining show, and gives a sneak peak into Season 2 of Squatters.
Full Show Transcript Below
Michael: Hi. I’m Michael London and welcome to Spidcast, the future of collaborative video production brought to you by Spidvid.com. On this episode, we’re visiting with Brendan Bradley from New York City. He’s a writer, director, and creator. I bet you’ve seen some of his work and probably not known it. He has some interesting insights to share. And we’ll also visit with Cooper Harris. She’s an actress and producer of web content as well, including not one, not two, but three web series, plus some feature film work she tells us about as well.
First up is Brendan Bradley. Brendan, welcome to Spidcast.
Brendan: Hey, Michael. Thanks for having me. It’s great to be on the show. It really means a lot and it’s been great having “Squatters” actually on Spidvid. So for all the fans out there that has been watching the show, thank you so much for tuning in.
Michael: Tell us a bit about you and your story.
Brendan: I’m the creator of an online series called “Squatters”, which you can find on Spidvid and at Squatterstheseries.com. You can also see me in the recent “Video Game Reunion” on Comedy Central’s Atom.com, “Jeff and Robbie Fail History”, which is a “Subway” web series, and a new series called “The Game Room”.
Michael: And how did the collaboration benefit “Squatters”?
Brendan: Michael, film’s an incredibly collaborative medium because they’re just so many moving parts. There’s this great expression, “it takes a whole village to raise a child”, which I know is kind of cheesy but “Squatters” is my baby. But I couldn’t have begun the project without my incredible team that supported me every single step of the way.
I made “Squatters” because I wanted to have a calling card as an actor and a writer, but the further in the process I got, I realized there are editors like Scott Turner and costume designers like Jenny Green, and cinematographers like James Rhodimer, and composers like Morgan Pearse; all these people who also want to make a name for themselves in their own departments, in their own creativity, and so let them. Bringing a larger team and collaborating with them and letting everybody bring their vision to the project just helped everything rise up and raise the bar.
Especially in the web area, it is so tempting to just do everything to just do everything yourself and act like a one-man band, but I always try to surround myself with these many talented and intelligent people as I can and allow them to put their stamp on the project and then take credit for it. But seriously, I think that’s ultimately what helps “Squatters” stand out, is so many phenomenally talented people all bringing their vision and putting their stamp and having their own ownership over the project.
Michael: Great managers hire the right people and let them do their job. So tell us, Brendan, how did you attract the big names that you had in the first season?
Brendan: Over the years, I have actually been very blessed to work with some extremely talented actors who I have been lucky enough to stay friends with. There’s just nothing more satisfying than creating an opportunity to play with your friends or people that you respect. So most of the roles in “Squatters” were actually offered to people that I’d worked with before or I wanted to work with.
I met Erik Scott Smith who plays Alex Selkirk on a short film and we’ve become real life best friends, which really helped with that banter between Hank and Alex. Sandeep Parikh from “The Guild”, he actually hired me for my first commercial in Los Angeles and my first web series, the “Legend of Neil”. I really just returned the favor to him. But then there’s people like Christiann Castellanos, who plays Ramira or Matt Moy, who plays Hung, the delivery guy, who we actually held auditions in Los Angeles and New York and they had practically no credits on their resumes at the time and immediately after they shot “Squatters”, they really just started exploding, which makes me feel really good that I’m not the only one who noticed how talented they are.
To tall the actors out there, the advice I can take away with becoming involved especially in the web world, but even in the independent film world that I’ve experienced is, be reliable and fun to work with and just stay in touch and you will get hired again. But it’s all about cultivating those relationships.
Michael: An absolutely great lesson on networking as well. What did you learn from the first season that you’re applying to season two?
Brendan: God, we learned so much during the first season of “Squatters” that really just helped the show kind of evolve as we went. We shot off and on for over a year basically whenever I could save up enough money to continue shooting. And in that time, everything changed, with the web space changed, new media contract’s changed, the cameras that everybody was using changed. It’s such an exciting and fast-paced medium and I’ve really learned something new every single week.
The first thing I’m bringing to season two from the experience of season one is just to shoot everything all in one chunk with a set budget just to make it less stressful for my entire team—the cast, the crew and everybody. Just get everybody there for a month and do it right.
The other thing is people don’t necessarily find your show on the first day or the first episode. It’s something I’ve really learned that I’m trying to apply to future episodes is that the second season of “Squatters” will be a lot more self-contained and really push the boundaries of Alex squatting in that office and Hank really exploring New York City and really driving those two-story lines as far apart as we can.
Michael: What did you find was the best way to promote and get attention for the web series?
Brendan: I have to credit Felicia Day here who I worked on “Legend of Neil” and she said to tell a story that is true to you and make a show that you want to see and instead of trying to cater to what you think an audience wants. I personally love shows like “Psyche” and “Scrubs” and “Always Sunny in Philadelphia”, and “Squatters” is a hundred percent my sense of humor the way I like shows to look, the characters I invest in—all of it. I think that allows me to be totally honest with the audience. If you like what I like, you’re going to love “Squatters”. And if you don’t, no hard feelings. There’s a lot of other great shows out there.
We’ve had some support from sites that we uploaded to like Dailymotion and Blip and Stay Tuned TV. My entire PR strategy was allowing a hundred people in the cast and crew to just promote their work and feel proud of the final episodes because I really think that personal touch is what matters.
I get dozens of emails, Facebook invites, tweets, you name it, every single day and they’re all so vague. When a friend really reaches out to me and says, hey, I’m really proud of this, will you check it out? I will always take the time to watch and even comment or vote or whatever it is that can help that video and that creation. That’s been kind our key in promotion, as just being completely sincere about “we love the show”, “we’re proud of the show”, and we think the people who are like us and our friends and family will love it. It’s really helped us kind of find even a wider audience beyond our immediate circle.
Michael: Alright, Bradley, here’s the million-dollar question and of course, all pun intended, what are some tips to get the most out of a limited video project budget?
Brendan: I have to say be good to your people. I cannot stress it enough. I don’t think there’s a project in the world that couldn’t use more money or more time. The budget is always going to be limiting. If you treat your team well, they will work with you and they’ll bring their A-game every single time.
“Squatters” was burden. No one asked me to make that show. Everyday the people even showed up, paid or not paid, that was a favor to me and I really tried to honor that as much as possible by respecting what each department needed on the set and trying to give them a feeling of ownership over a piece of the project. I think that is ultimately the key to collaboration. You choose the people who bring out your best and want to bring their best to the work.
Michael: And can you give us a bit of a sneak peek into season two of “Squatters”?
Brendan: I would love to give you more than a sneak peek. The fun part about the internet is, like I said, it’s always evolving and we’re always kind of seeing what’s next. I’ve been involved with a lot of other projects over the past six months, but “Squatters” is still happening and still being worked on and I think at this point, all I can safe-fully say is we’re going to really try to keep going bigger, faster, and funnier. Really getting both Alex and Hank to fully explore those environments more like I was saying earlier. Let the love interest develop, get Alex really exploring the office and that environment, get Hank really exploring New York and a lot of other temporary housing solutions not just the comfortable pillow tops of a lot of ladies all over the city. And hey, drum roll please, maybe even resolve the bet. We’ll see how far we want to go with that.
The recent exposure like the Indie Intertube Awards and the Clicker Awards, we hoped that those will help us find financing or a sponsor that will really help us bring that next level of production to the show and to our fans. Fingers crossed everybody, for the Streamy Awards to hopefully get some love to my amazing team that just made the first season happen and really had supported me every step of the way.
In the meantime, I hope everyone will go check out episodes on Spidvid and Squatterstheseries.com. Make sure you let us know what you think and we’re also at @squattersseries on Twitter. Follow us and harass us and we just are so appreciative that people are out there watching. Thanks for having us on today.
Michael: You are so welcome and thank you, Brendan Bradley.
Michael: You know how challenging it is to produce quality videos without the help from others who have the skills and talent you need. Well, Spidvid let’s you find the individuals you need for your video production project so you can create the internet’s next big viral hit. Visit Spidvid.com. Click the signup link and reserve you spot within our collaborative video production community today.
Next up is actress and web producer, Cooper Harris. Cooper, welcome to Spidcast.
Cooper Harris: Absolutely my pleasure. I’m excited to be here.
Michael: Tell us about how you broke into the web series world?
Cooper Harris: I broke into web series world kind of on a fluke. I and my producing partner had done numerous online commercials basically and we sold in to companies like Post-it Notes, Kimberly-Clark, Krazy Glue, and from there, since we’re both actresses, it kind of made sense then to transition into scripted content. That was right as the whole web series thing was really breaking two years ago. That’s kind of how it happened.
Michael: Cooper, how has collaboration help with the web series pilot?
Cooper Harris: I think collaboration is key in any project or any thing, but especially for web series, especially if you have a lower budget because to try to do everything yourself, it never turns out as good as what we’d hope. So I think bringing out other people whose creative vision fit yours is a really good idea. That way, you can all just fill in the chinks that inevitably will come from not having as much money as you’d want. “Squatters” was created by Brendan Bradley and I jumped on board and we produced the whole thing together from start to finish. I remember the very first reading, it was a really exciting thing to be kind of just put together and then from there, a year and a half later, we have the show.
Michael: Do you have some tips that you can share to get the most of out of a limited budget project?
Cooper Harris: Favors. That favor thing. I really do think also time management and planning, they say you can't have the whole (league) trifecta production. You can have a lot of money, a lot of time and a lot of quality, but if you’re missing one, you have to make up for in the other department. We do not have a lot of money for “Relapse” the kind that we just did (which won) “Celebrate the Web”. We also do not have a lot of money for “Squatters” either. So it was really crucial that we really planned it all out kind of even to the minute and also collaborated with people who had exceptional vision and equipment.
Michael: Now, you’ve mentioned “Squatters”. Tell us a bit about that.
Cooper Harris: Yes, “Squatters” is a web series created by Brendan Bradley and produced by myself and executive produced by Frank Kramer, who came on at the end and was generous enough to give us some finishing funds. Another example of, at least, monetary collaboration. It was really great to have him.
It’s a story about two roommates in New York who made a bet to live without paying rent for a year. It’s really fun. It’s a comedy. Dailymotion picked us up. We are to date, I believe, their number one original comedy, which is really exciting. We have everybody in there from Ryan Sypek from “Wild Fire” to Sandeep Parikh of “The Guild” and “Legend of Neil”, Tony Janning, and of course, I’m in it as Julie, the female lead, and I play an up and coming—actually, she’s a lawyer and she is kind of the girl who’s always getting away from Hank.
Michael: What did you find was the best way to promote and get viewer attention to a web series?
Cooper Harris: First of all, you want to have a really kick-ass show. That’s just kind of the basics so that when people do watch, they feel excited and not like you’re wasting their time. At least for “Relapse”, “The Celebrate the Web” pilot we did later, we were able to get a lot of kind of big YouTube personalities and people with large Twitter followings, definitely influencers, to watch the show like it and then tweet about it, which got up a huge number of votes which was how “The Celebrate Web” competition worked.
I think that was really successful for us. But again, it all hinders on having a really good and intriguing product that you’re showing people. Definitely Twitter. Facebook’s great. I actually send around good, old-fashioned email chain to my mother and all my tradition fans and North Carolina. Definitely drawing on the families, the old friends from back home who get excited to seeing what you’re up to out in California.
Then we had amazing success with “Squatters” in terms of—Tubefilter was very generous on their coverage and took a keen interest. They actually kind of broke the original sneak peek of “Squatters”. They were the first publication to do anything on it. We had a lot of feedbacks from that. Definitely targeting the online web media places. It’s really good .New Teevee, of course, Tubefilter, all of those, they’re really good.
Michael: You just mentioned something exceptionally important, that is that it all falls back in the writing and a good product.
Cooper Harris: Yes, definitely. It’s really important that when you’re pushing something, it’d be good. That sounds so basic but if you’re going to (inaudible 00:15:15) you want to give them something back. You want to reward them for the six minutes they’re spending by great writing or release fun, maybe unexpected casting choices, stuff like that. People they’ve seen in other places. Humor is always good or that tension. You got to give back.
Cooper Harris: Cooper, it’s been a bit of a challenge to pin you down for this interview. I mean that in a good way because you’ve been so very busy. Tell us where do we see you next?
Cooper Harris: I have so many different things going on. It’s a hard thing to juggle in my mind. I have a really exciting show coming up called “Mighty Woman” and that will touchdown, if you’d like to say, because she’s a superhero, in a couple of months. Of course, I also have “Relapse” coming up which is “The Celebrate the Web” pilot, which is very exciting. It sounds like it’s going to be a show. We can't announce anything officially just yet, but that’s definitely in the works.
And a really fun, not on the web series field, but in traditional film, I have a romantic-comedy coming out called “Amy Alyson Fans”. It’s really fun because I think it’s one of the first films that really pays homage to the online phenomenon. It uses real YouTube video bloggers, like real YouTube stars in a film talking about this actress who is quickly rising to fame on the internet. It’s kind of a fun, blending, cross-platform project. I play the actress, Amy Alyson, so that should be really great. We’re screening at the (DCA) in two weeks.
Michael: Art imitating life there.
Cooper Harris: Exactly. It is kind of art imitating life.
Michael: And how about your web address? Where do we see you online?
Cooper Harris: Cooperharris.net.
Michael: Cooper Harris, thank you so much for being with us today.
Cooper Harris: Thank you so much and I really appreciate all that you guys are doing for the online video space.
Michael: Thank you for listening to our Spidcast show. We appreciate your time and attention. You can now join the conversation at Spidcast.com or on our Spidvid blog. And you can join our collaborative filmmaking community at Spidvid.com. Tune in next month for another entertaining and informative episode of Spidcast# vimeo.com/33870650 Uploaded 883 Plays 4 Likes 0 Comments
http://Spidvid.com - We are back with another exciting Spidcast episode this month (listen in below and subscribe on iTunes) with a focus on collaborative filmmaking. For July’s show we feature two filmmakers and actors who have both created original web series. These two individuals are doing interesting things within the new media space, and it was our pleasure to have Gavin Leighton and Mike Lawson (both featured below) on the show.
Gavin Leighton is a co-creator behind the web series Hitting the Fan, he also works in the creative and business aspects of acting, writing, music, producing, and collaborating.
Mike Lawson is also a co-creator of the Hitting the Fan web series, is behind Idiotscreen, and has appeared in a few feature films including "Friends With Money, Fast Track, and American Pie Presents Band Camp.
Full Show Transcript Below
Michael: Hi. I’m Michael London and welcome to Spidcast, the future of collaborative video production brought to you by Spidvid.com. On this episode, we’re visiting with Gavin Leighton and Mike Lawson, both actors living in Los Angeles and both now blazing their trail to non-traditional video production and delivery and worldwide collaboration as well. They have, in fact, worked together but also separately both with great success. I’m certain you’ll enjoy their similar but quite unique stories as well.
First up is Gavin Leighton. Gavin, welcome to Spidcast.
Gavin Leighton: Thank you. I’m really excited to be here and thank you for the opportunity to get to speak with others that are like-minded who want to do what they want to do.
Michael: Gavin, tell us a little bit about your story?
Gavin Leighton: I live in Los Angeles. I moved to Los Angeles about 7-and-a-half years ago. I moved out here specifically for acting, music and writing. During that time, I’ve worked some as an actor and booked things which have been exciting, but I’ve also have, most excitingly, been able to work on projects where I helped to create or I was just a part of the process with a group of friends and getting to wear lots of little hats on various projects over the course of time that I’ve been out here, which for me, have been really fulfilling. It’s a different experience that just booking something and moving on. You actually create something which is pretty exciting.
Michael: Well, it sounds great. Now, tell us a little bit about how you broke into the business.
Gavin Leighton: I’ve had the honor and the good fortune to work with some really great people out here in Los Angeles. I’ll name a few as I go along, but just name some, I’ve had the good fortune of working with Peter Atencio, working with Jen Ci, and Elisia Skye and these are all people that have made some really incredible video content and had gotten some attention with their work for numerous reasons specially with the quality of their work.
One of the things kind of most notably for me was I produced something called “Barackula: The Musical.” We did this several years ago, long time towards the end of ’07, long before it was cool to jump on the Barack Obama bandwagon and making videos about him. We created this 12 minutes—I call it a short political-horror-rock musical and basically Barack Obama fighting vampires at Harvard Law School. It’s totally fun and two musical numbers and dancing which I composed for, I helped produce, I also starred in.
That was kind of my first experience with collaborating with others in creating video content and it got a lot of attention. We were featured on CNN, Fox, MSNBC. We were discussed with VH1 and MTV. We’re in newspapers. It was really cool. We got a lot of great publicity and it was all kind of unintentional. We were not aiming to get that kind of publicity. It just kind of fell into our laps because we released it at the beginning of February of 2008 like around Super Tuesday, just for fun, and it just kind of took off from there for awhile which was cool.
Michael: Now, I’m going to guess on that production that you took advantage of collaboration?
Gavin Leighton: Absolutely. So, what had happened was, some friends of mine, Mike Lawson who I work with quite a bit, Brooke Shirey, Justin Sherman—they were just making a short film and they wanted to know if I wanted to produce it along with them. It was just really a story about Barack Obama being at Harvard and that’s all it kind of was. I like the idea of collaborating because you get to spend time with friends in a really special way, in a way that you get to do something that you love to do. You get to create something. But then somebody came up with the idea of making it a musical and that really got my attention. I was really on board from that point on and then they decided to make it a vampire musical.
We just had a great time. The four of us working very closely together and we created a great script and we made some really great music and the script and music and the idea that inspired and rolled others to kind of be a part of the project.
We kind of enlisted a guy named Mark Mannschreck who had a RED Camera and it was the first time that any of us got to use or even see a RED Camera in the beginning of ’08 when it was really just kind of coming out. This guy Mark allowed us to just use his camera. He was just being a part of it just because he enjoyed the idea of it and so he got himself inspired to be a part of it. That’s kind of how it happened.
And something very, very small an idea that we had that we didn’t have these big, high hopes for, it was just something we just wanted to do for fun, turned out to be something much bigger than any of us expected and I think that got me really into the idea of collaborating with others.
Michael: Well, you’ve certainly whetted my appetite. Where can we see that?
Gavin Leighton: Thank you. It’s Barackula.com. People tend to misspell it but it’s just like the President’s last name. It’s B-A-R-A-C-K-U-L-A. Like Dracula but Barackula. Just Baracula.com and you’ll be able to see how press and all that but you can also watch the full 12-minute video in HD on there. Again, everything there, just so the listeners can know, it looks really good, but we shot it I think for about 2,000 or less and a lot of it was just from favors that we got from friends. We got food donated to us. It was really just one of those things where we know the right people.
We’re in that community of making video content and by knowing others and by being a part of that group, they come in and they help you with the thinking that at some point, you’ll return the favor and it’s kind of like a family that produces these projects and we have. Barackula.com. I hope people go and check it out.
Michael: I’m sure they will as will I. Now, you mentioned limited budgets, tell us how to get the most from a limited or even sometimes a no-budget production?
Gavin Leighton: Sure. I’ll speak to it with some experience. Most recently, we’ve produced a new comedy series called “Hitting the Fan”. It’s very, very small budget. The first place to start when you want to create something like a web series or just a show or just a single thing, the first place to go is have that clear idea of what you want.
Before you start calling friends over, before you maybe even start writing, you really want to think what is it that I want to create? How can I do this cheaply? Who do I know that can help me on this? People sometimes think that when you hear the word resources, you think in financial terms, but in this kind of world, in this kind of arena, with making video content, your resources are the people around you. If you associate with people that make video content or know people that do, they have a great wealth of resources for you that you may not even be able to imagine. At least start sending out emails or making phone calls and starting from there to see what people can do.
We had asked a friend of ours that the sound—our friend, Josh Bissett, he joined us on “Hitting the Fan”. It was all just a favor to us. We didn’t pay him pretty much at all. He should’ve take more, but he did it simply because he’s a part of that group and at some point, I assumed that will help him with something as well. That’s one way to begin.
Michael: Okay so you got the project done and now you’ve posted it. How do you get people to find it?
Gavin Leighton: Okay, once you’re past the production aspects and you’re now on post-production, maybe editing or even past that, what do you do now? Once again, I would say, look around at the world around you. Follow the right people on things like Twitter. That’s certainly an amazing resource because if you follow the right people on Twitter, you can learn information that you really wouldn’t get unless you spend hours digging up online. These people are doing it for you already and you can do it and kind of live streaming in action.
Other ways to figure out how do you benefit others? Where does your content belong? For instance, you made a series, would a company like Netflix or Xbox, would they have any interest in having some original content? Is the quality of the audio and the video quality up to par with what they want if you’ve done some good planning on your end in pre-production and production? Maybe you have some really phenomenal quality of writing, of performances, video/audio. If you have all the four magic things all in place together, there’s a lot of places where you can go. Right now what we’re doing is we’ve shot two episodes of our show and we’re kind of on that same place, we’re reaching out to places where it might belong.
Another example, maybe check in with a website or a product or something—I’m just going to Target, I don’t know, for some reason, it comes to me. You contact Target and maybe for some reason, (pay) their own show on their website. Who knows the reason why, but they just might. Maybe your show has that original content that they’re looking for which they can also advertise on as well. All of the sudden, out of nowhere, you have some great financing that you never would’ve expected. It’s simply, once again, a matter of collaboration, but this time with a company.
Michael: Well, you’ve given us some wonderful insights into the whole process from idea to completion. What do you foresee now in the next say, five to ten years?
Gavin Leighton: It’s funny when that has had a hand in making video content. Now, people know that it’s an exciting time to be doing this because look at where things were five years ago? You never would’ve imagined the kind of advantage that we see with video equipment and all your equipment that we have access to now. Not only do we have access too, but also really cheaply. There was never anything like HD cameras. It would’ve cost a fortune five years ago, but right now, and there’s no excuse for anybody to not be able to make something that is worthy for a big screen, with lots of people watching it or worthy of having 10, 20,000, 30,000 people following it.
It’s just a really phenomenal, exciting time to be doing this because cameras are going to be getting better. Sound equipments are going to be getting better. They’re also going to get more affordable. Even this month, I think, final cutbacks with Apple (has got) software coming out, I believe, this month if I got that right. Even advances in just software can really take people’s production to a new level that they would not have imagined five years ago.
The exciting thing is in five years from now, it’s just going to be the same thing, but it’s going to be exponential. I see in five years now, everyone having cameras like the RED camera or better. Being able to make something that looks beautiful for under a thousand dollars or whatever it might be.
Once you have these resources available to you, the first place to begin is a good, proper planning. What do you want to write? What kind of script do you want? Get out there and speak. I suggest people to give their scripts to others and let them do a table read because technology can get better and you can have access to really phenomenal equipment that’ll make you look good. But you want to make sure that the content is good too. It’s all equal in form.
Michael: Well, there you make an excellent point. The accessibility, the ease of use, the quality of the equipment, but it still comes down to the writing.
Gavin Leighton: Absolutely. Every single time. Again, another example with our show right now, “Hitting the Fan”, we did a table read with a group of friends that we were not asking to help us. We just wanted to hear how it sounded out loud with me and Mike Lawson and Ron Fallica, kind of production he might have out here. And we liked having this table read but once people read the script, there are actors with great credit, people with great talent, people that their time is valuable. They said to us, how do we be a part of this? We just want to be a part of it. We’ll help any way that we can. This is a great script. It’s very funny. It starts with that. From that point forward, because we had a good product before the cameras are turned on, more resources became available to us and also for free. We got free location and things like that in nature.
Michael: Gavin, tell us a bit about how Spidvid has impacted collaboration and production for you?
Gavin Leighton: Absolutely, when I first learned about Spidvid, not too long ago, is impressed with the idea. It’s essentially just a place where people like myself and others, the same who’ll be listening to this, can really connect with others and it’s another great resource out there. That’s what it’s all about. You go online and you put out a video idea and before you know it, the world brings you something that you would not have expected yesterday. And now, all of the sudden, your project is jumping to new great heights which built the excitement and built the, I think, the production value as well.
I think it’s a great form for people to connect and learn things about themselves as video creators and also learn things about others and to produce even better content in the future. Jeremy’s is also just a pretty nice guy.
Michael: He is that indeed. If you could just wrap this up with a few easily digestible nuggets, what would they be?
Gavin Leighton: The four things that I think that are most valuable is that they’re your four pillars for a great project and that is great writing, great performances, great video, and great audio. If one of those pillars is missing, I feel like the foundation of what you’re trying to accomplish will fall apart if you’re trying to go for something grand. If you’re just wanting to make something just to make it and show friends on Facebook or YouTube or whatever, then you have a lot more freedom but if you’re trying to take it to a next level, you are getting financing or want to place it on a network, you really need to take under consideration, I think, these four very essential aspects to video creating.
Michael: Excellent. Now, Gavin, one more time, where do we see your stuff?
Gavin Leighton: You can see my new show, which I’m the star, the writer and composer of this as well, Hittingthefanshow.com. You can watch Barackula at Barackula.com and I can be emailed from any of these sites. The best one out is Gavin@hittingthefanshow.com.
Michael: Thank you so much, Gavin Leighton for joining us today.
Gavin Leighton: Michael, thank you so much. I appreciate it.
Michael: Next up is an actor, writer and editor of Idiotscreen.com. He’s Mike Lawson. So tell us a bit about yourself and what’s your story?
Mike Lawson: Well, I grew up in Dayton, Ohio, in a small town right outside of Dayton. I always knew that I wanted to be a part of films. I started making films when I was around four or five and my parents played different roles and I would direct them and write them and make remakes of movies that I really like, like “Red Dawn” and a movie called “Daryl”, which is a cheesy movie about a boy robot.
I write and I just continue to do that through my childhood and I moved out to L.A. like so many other people primarily to be an actor and a writer, but I really focused on writing first and (I was) in the acting first. I started working at casting offices just to intern and learn the other side and worked in script development in a couple of production companies also to learn that side. Slowly, I booked like kind of bit parts on TV shows and then the parts started to go a little bit bigger and did some independent films and started to write more and I started to produce my own stuff because I got tired of waiting around like so many people do.
I produced a couple of short films and web series and then I thought of the idea to kind of create my own site like a blog featuring interviews and panel discussions in our own content that my friends and I would do and have a hub for it. I created Idiotscreen.com and now it brings me to greater than right about now. That’s basically my story in a nutshell there.
Michael: So take us to the process from your idea to script to the finish product?
Mike Lawson: Well, my friends and I, we thought of an idea originally for like a half-hour comedy show and we wrote a pilot and we were like where do we take this? We didn’t have many connections with inside the big network studio system so we said let’s do this on our own. At that time, the people were, of course, creating their own content for the web, and we thought we can do this. We have the script and then we have to add the outline for the rest of the series. The show is called “Hitting the Fan” and we basically kind of pooled our friends together. We had a sound guy friend of ours that we said can we get work (cheaper too.)
We started creating the website just this WordPress site, found this WordPress theme and started learning that so you’d have the color scheme and then we just called all our friends and Facebooked them. Between the three of us, my friends Gavin and Ron, and we basically put in money we had into it, which was very little and created a test pilot shot on a HV20 camera this little mini DV camera.
We used China lanterns because they were super cheap. We used other kinds of light fixtures from Home Depot and when our sound guy couldn’t be there, we had the other actors kind of boom that first episode. We shot it and it took several months to edit it. We had a guy editing it, a friend of ours in New York. We were editing out here between our computers. Had a lot of bad luck as far as like computers crashing and there’s probably like five different computers that was on. Then we had a friend do the sound mix.
We created it. We had a screening and then we decided let’s do a second episode before we air anything. We went out and we put a little bit more money but not much but we have learned a lot from that from that first one way shot on the T2i Rebel and the Canon 70 DSLR HD cameras and we got our other friends involved and we used again, mostly China lanterns, not really any traditional film lights but we went out and we shot it and same thing, it was a lot quicker because we didn’t shoot as much footage. We improved a lot more that first one. We were a lot more efficient with our time and our schedule and the second episode and we kind of put it out there.
That’s kind of how that happened for that show, “Hitting the Fan”. And then another series that I did was a lot different. That panel show for Idiotscreen. Basically, I just contacted various people that I’d want to interview and schedule a day at a friend’s house and had the basic China lanterns and borrowed a couple of lights from friends and set up three cameras, two T2i Rebels and the one 70, had some friends come. We just shot interviews all day and then had another friend edit and put it out on the web and try to send it out to the influencers out there, the people that who’s opinion seem to matter, which I believe is everyone, but we send out to everyone and also those who have even more influence as far as views on their site whatever.
Michael: Now, through what you just said, there was a continuing thread—friends, friends, friends. Tell us about how friends and Spidcast and others have helped you?
Mike Lawson: Well, Spidvid and Facebook and them together are basically—for us, I can speak at least for how we do it. They need resources to find talent because like a lot of the people that I work with, I come mostly again from the acting background and at the time, I didn’t have a lot of friends that were—I have one sound guy friend, which was a blessing, but the other people, I didn’t have many DP friends or editor friends or grips.
In certain cases for acting’s sake, one of my friends are kind of playing the similar age to me, kind mid to late 20’s, but there’s not always, maybe like someone in their 40’s or a teenager. It was very helpful to find people who I didn’t have in my inner circle then and who wanted to do the same thing. Of course, by them helping us out, in turn, we owe them our help on their passion projects. It’s just a way to find people because very often, in our case, we didn’t have the funds and even so, even if we did, we would want to have a place to find them that we could trust, that we would have like obviously, if we have people who’ll vouch for other people in person and online, we can trust them more than if we just got a resume through Craigslist.
Seeing someone’s profile page and their example work all in one page, I think, is very helpful and on Spidvid and Facebook and Twitter in a completely different way, but for as far as connecting, Facebook, Spidvid and some of the other places out there are huge resource to filmmakers and they definitely were for us.
Michael: Well, you feel your collaborators have certainly helped to bring the future to reality. What do you now see in the near and distant future?
Mike Lawson: Well, I see it going on the direction that it is. It’s becoming, of course, more digital and that gatekeepers once were at these networks and studios. They, of course, fight on to it to keep their place but it’s slowly slipping away. If you think that when it comes to collaboration, there’s going to be more and more content and more and more avenues to watch it and it’s already happening the way everyone is watching on different devices, mobile and of course, on internet, on television and vice versa. We’re just going to see more of that.
What I don’t think is going to change too much or I hope not is the medium itself. I’m a huge fan of collaboration. I think that that’s an incredibly important thing, but I also think that having a specific vision, it was the one creator or a couple creators and of course listening to input is very important but what I hope that it doesn’t change is that personally, I’m not a big fan of interactive content. When I’m watching a story or reading a book, I want the writer or director to take me into certain place. I don’t think that’s going to change except for a couple of gimmicks here and there, but where will change and get better, I think. There’s more and more sites and keeps growing. We can find more people and we can monetize the content online.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt has that hitRECord site which I believe just sold a first book from someone coming up with an idea of that site and they have a book deal, I believe, I just saw. I could be wrong. We’ll see more and more of that where the gatekeepers are going away and the gatekeepers are just you and me and everyone else who are have an internet account. That’s just going to continue to grow and get better. Unlike where the actual storytelling itself despite a couple of gimmicks and niches here and there, I hope that doesn’t change too much because I think there’s something to be said for classic storytelling. Pushing boundaries is one thing but that’s basically kind of what I feel about.
Michael: Mike, you’ve mentioned the phrase “gatekeepers” several times and is it that a wonderful thing that the process of those “gatekeepers” that their influence has changed.
Mike Lawson: Yes, it’s a great thing. It doesn’t cost as much to create something now that you used to. The gatekeepers are not as important they once were. We now have the ability to go out there and create what we want to create at a cheaper rate. That’s inspiring. You can also use that with the cost going down and more content out there, it’s harder to monetize, but I believe that the ones that really stand out—the films, short films, the web series, whatever it may be—the ones that are truly great will find a home and will make money and we’re going to make some money on their next one. I think that the good ones will eventually be found.
Michael: Now that we’ve had a chance to visit with you Mike and folks have gotten to know you, I’m sure they’re going to want to see your stuff. Where do we go find some of your work?
Mike Lawson: You can go to Idiotscreen.com or Hittingthefanshow.com and you can watch the panel shows and interviews that we’ve done and also the original series “Hitting the Fan” and then we’ve got a feature film called “The Deadbeat”. We’ll be shooting later this fall and there’ll be more information about that as well. Idiotscreen.com and Hittingthefanshow.com as well.
Michael: Excellent. And do you have a parting shot for all listeners?
Mike Lawson: No, I mean, other than I guess the typical, just set a due date and go out and do something, I think you’ll find it be the best thing. As Seth Goden says, “Ship it.” Just go out there and ship something out into the world and then keep and go out and ship something else and constantly we’ll better each time, but the important thing is to “ship it”.
Michael: Mike Lawson, thank you so much for taking the time to visit today.
Mike Lawson: Thank you, Michael. I appreciate it.
Michael: Thanks for listening to our Spidcast show. We appreciate your time and attention. You can now join the conversation at Spidcast.com or on our Spidvid blog. And you can join our collaborative filmmaking community at Spidvid.com. Tune in next month for another entertaining and informative episode of Spidcast.# vimeo.com/33870750 Uploaded 706 Plays 0 Likes 1 Comment
http://Spidvid.com - We are back with our best Spidcast episode to date this month (listen in below and subscribe on iTunes) with a focus on storytelling and passion. September's Spidcast features the incredible John Gray, who's the creator of TV show "Ghost Whisperer" along with the amazingly talented Melissa Jo Peltier who's the co-executive producer of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding."
John Gray is a writer, director, producer, who is the creator and one of the executive producers of the CBS television series Ghost Whisperer starring Jennifer Love Hewitt. He has also written and directed many high profile movies for television, such as the remake of the 1976 film Helter Skelter, Martin and Lewis, The Hunley, The Day Lincoln Was Shot, among others. He has written and directed feature films as well.
Melissa Jo Peltier is a two-time Emmy Award-winning writer, director and producer. Melissa wrote and directed the primetime documentary special, Scared Silent: Exposing and Ending Child Abuse, hosted by Oprah Winfrey. She's also a Peabody & Humanitas Film & TV Writer/Producer/Director & NYT Best Selling Book Author. And she's Producer of the indie film White Irish Drinkers.
Full Show Transcript Below
Michael: Hi. I’m Michael London and welcome to Spidcast, the future of collaborative video production brought to you by Spidvid.com. On this episode, we’re visiting with John Gray and Melissa Jo Peltier. You’ve recently seen John’s work as a producer on the TV series “Ghost Whisperer” and in TV movies such as “Helter Skelter”, “Martin and Lewis” and a lot more. Melissa’s credits include executive producer with the “Dog Whisperer” and co-executive producer on “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”. They collaborated together on John’s semi-autobiographical film “ White Irish Drinkers”. I’m certain you’ll enjoy their similar but quite unique stories as well.
First up is John Gray. John, welcome to Spidcast.
John: Well, thanks for having me.
Michael: Tell us a bit about your story?
John: Well, I was very, very luck to know, at a young age, that this is what I want to do. I used to think I wanted to be an actor when I was very young kid because I thought the actors kind of did a role and then it started to dawn on me as I made films with my uncle’s Super 8 camera and got more involved with what it takes to actually put a little movie together and tell a story, I realized that there was a sort of presence, another brain that was behind the camera that pretty holds the stuff together. And I gave up the idea of being an actor which I think is good news for the world and really got committed to writing and directing and they both came to be one thing to me.
I was very young when I made that commitment. I was also very lucky because I was so young and because I grew in Brooklyn and knew no one in the film business or the television business; no connections whatsoever. I had no idea how hard it was. I really did have no idea how impossible trying to break it to the business. I just kind of went on my way just thinking this is was what I’m going to do with my life and I’m going to make it happen.
It took about 12 years, I guess, before I can actually start making a living at it but I was just really persistent and always try to make movies on my own, always trying to do a lot by yourself and writing all the time and it opened to me that I got an opportunity to direct some educational films in Washington, DC that were dramatic films but they were for classroom use and it was great experience.
To make the very long story short, there’s the script I had written that got me signed by an agent in LA, and that’s what started my career, in earnest, I was then able to really make a living just writing and openly to directing and I got started in television. My first film was actually an independent feature and I started doing TV movies which I really enjoy because I was able to do really, I felt, really interesting stories. It really had some great material to work with. That’s sort of the really telescoped “Reader’s Digest” version of how I got started.
Michael: John, you touched on something just a moment ago. If you had known just how difficult this business can be, would you have taken the same career path?
John: You know, that’s a great question. That’s a really great question and that’s something that I often think about. One of the reasons why I think I’m so lucky that I didn’t know. Because maybe if someone sat me down and say, okay, you’re 18, (you’re going to reach to) 30, by the time you can actually make a living doing this.
I don’t know maybe don’t want to do that. I don’t know. I’d like to think that I was committed enough to not care, but in my mind I was going to be a (success) tomorrow. I’m going to get this next thing done tomorrow. That’s how the attitude had a little…so I never sat down and went, “Wow, this is taking a really long time. Should I give up?” The more obstacles I found, the more determined I got to do it. It’s really important here you’ll be desperate too because you’ll realize I didn’t think I was suited for anything else in life really than to be a filmmaker. That was really what I felt I was here to do. That’s a good question. I’m glad I didn’t have to answer it for real.
Michael: Tell us a bit about how creating content for television differs from content for the film world?
John: I think the big difference is that if you’re for TV, of course, for broadcast television, you’re trying to get that big here wide audience but at the same time, at least in terms of movies, not so much series but in terms of movies, the subject matter you can tackle is so much more interesting that what you can usually do in the feature world. I made movies about the first Civil War submarine. I did a movie about the partnership between Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. I did a movie about Lincoln assassination.
I was able to indulge a lot of my own personal fascinations by making movies about them for television which, in the feature world, you’re probably never going to get those movies made unless you have some mega star casting. That’s why always love working in television movies particularly. I did a lot of movies for TNT and for CBS. At that time, there are not very many made now, but at that time, it was easier to get to do something little bit different and really kind of interesting and each movie I did was vastly different from the other.
In the feature world, I found it difficult to try to anticipate what’s commercial and what isn't. As a writer, I’m more attracted to sort of character-driven material. That’s very difficult to do in the feature world. I knew I’ve made a few features and I hope to make more features but mostly I’ve tried to stay in that indie sort of sensibility where you just sort of make new what they’ll consider small movies but to me are very big movies about relationships and people and humanity and how we all deal with each other.
Michael: Hey, John, I’d like to hear about your most recent film, “White Irish Drinkers”. Take us through that.
John: It was a script I had written about 10 years ago that I really, really wanted to make. One of the character piece, it was a very goody kind of violent look at growing up in Brooklyn. I could never get money raised to actually get it financed as a feature. For those 10 years, I just kept revisiting it and trying to figure how I can get this made.
A lot of people read the script in the business and liked the script and in fact, it got me a lot of work like writing work, but no one really wanted to make it. It even just felt like, you know, the character that’s small…so what happened during those 10 years then, really three things, I guess, one is that the technology changed so drastically in those 10 years. And then also, I was lucky enough to get a successful television series on CBS that lasted for five years so I had some more financial resources that I’ve never had before. The only thing was that I married Melissa, who’s a really brilliant producer and she kind of convinced me to not give up on this movie and so we have sort of teamed up. I realized that I could probably spend about $600,000 and make this movie digitally and call in on favors in people I’ve worked with for the past 20 years and that’s really how that came about.
We shot it for $600,000. We shot it in 17 days, all in Brooklyn. We have a wonderful cast Stephen Lang, Karen Allen and Peter Riegert and then some really exciting young actors Nick Thurston, Geoff Wigdor, Leslie Murphy, people I think that are going to be huge in the years to come. It is a wonderful experience. It was great making a movie just as what we wanted to make it. There was no studio. There was no network. It was just us.
The movie was released. We got a small release. We were out at about 25 cities. But that in itself is a miracle these days because the climate that the independent films in. It’s on DVD now and Blu-Ray and Netflix and iTunes and it’ll be on Showtime in the fall. It was a great experience. We got the movie out there and it was something I’m dying to do again.
Michael: And we do hope that you get that opportunity again. As you said, “Ghost Whisperer” allowed you the financing to make that film. Take us a little bit of the story of “Ghost Whisperer”?
John: It was really interesting because I’ve never done a series before. In fact, I’ve never even pursued a series. This opportunity just came to me because the executive I work with in CBS had wanted me to meet this woman who the “Ghost Whisperer” was based on. When I met this woman, I realized there was a way to maybe really do a series that for me to be really interesting in this was (meld) horror with emotional character-driven stories. That’s kind of how I pitched it and probably most people who get involved in the series is that they never believe they’re going to go and I wrote the pilot and I figured that that’ll be the end of that and then they said well, let’s shoot it. I thought, well, okay, I’ve never directed a pilot. I’ll see what that’s like and I’m sure that’s as far as it’ll go.
We made the pilot and they said, okay, why don’t you do 13 of them? I was like, “Oh no, I have to do this 13 more times. I don’t know if I could do it”. And they openly gave us a full season pick up and openly we went to do five years. I loved a lot of it. I wrote many, many episodes, directed many, many episodes and that was really fun because it was so fast. You get an idea for a show and then two months later, it’s on the air.
In that respect, it was very (heady) and we loved the cast and the crew’s really like family to me. That part was really great. The part that I enjoyed less was the kind of a show on her aspect of it where the first two seasons where it was really kind of dealing with more administrative things and creative things. Of course, writing, I guess were the biggest creative job but it was dealing with the network and dealing with the studio and dealing with agents and dealing with physical production and things that a producer does and things that I’d never aspire to do. I just consider myself a writer-director and that’s really what I wanted to do.
In that third season, we brought in P.K. Simmons to be the real show runner so that I could sort of step back and pursue other things but also keep writing and directing for this series and that was a wonderful change for me and that’s what openly allowed to write some of the pilots and also to get “White Irish Drinkers” off the ground.
Michael: So you have gotten one of your dream projects off the ground, you’ve had it made, you’ve had it distributed, but John, if you were a 20-something, just trying to break in to the business, what is the career path you would take? What advice do you have for the young filmmaker looking to get in?
John: I think the really advantage that young people starting out today have is again, the digital possibilities of cinema. When I wanted to make a movie, I had to do what I do it either in Super 8 or the Kid or 16mm. It was a huge expense but I mean, now, you see people making movies on their iPhones. To me, that’s really exciting and that’s what I really advice and I always advice everyone to do is get out there and make movies. Learn. Learn how to tell stories to the camera. Learn to how to work with actors.
That’s what I always emphasize because I feel like what’s happening with young filmmakers today is that they’re so involved with the technical aspects of it which are really fascinating and limitless. But I think what we’re losing a little bit is people being interested in storytelling and in creating performances with an actor and collaborating with an actor.
A lot of times, you’ll see a director on the set these days and they just hide behind the monitor and they never talk to the actors. That’s an art, I think, we’re losing and so that’s something I always encourage young filmmakers to learn. I encourage them to read not just scripts but read the great novels, learn storytelling in the best possible way, see every movie you possible can, and take acting classes. Learn what it’s like to be an actor. It doesn’t matter if you suck as an actor, but you have to learn what actors go through. And be a friend to the actor. Don’t be afraid of actors. To me, those are the best things to do. It’s a scary atmosphere today as it always do because the business is contracted and if you’re movie’s been made and there isn't any longer that incredible reservoir of television movies where you can go cut your teeth and learn on. Now, I think, it’s just be who’s any young filmmaker to go out there and make your movie, make it as great as you can, learn from it, make another one, get it out in the internet, get it on YouTube, get it seen and just keep working that way. Just never rest. Just keep going.
Michael: Excellent advice, John for the young filmmakers. Now, as you said, you’ve seen in your lifetime the whole process of filmmaking change completely. Let’s go forward maybe to the year 2021, ten years from now. What do you see? What will filmmaking look like then?
John: It’s hard to guess because who knows what’s the next development is around the corner, but based on what I see now, I think everyone will be experiencing movies to their computers or certainly through the (ether). I think the idea of the DVDs, unfortunately, the hardware’s probably going to go away. I think that movies are going to get easier and easier to make, easier and easier to see, and I don’t know if that’s going to devalue them or if it’s going to make them more valuable. I’m not really sure how those all are going to shape out.
I think that we’ll probably look at it in the future. I believe that probably the only big studio movies that will get made in the future are big ten pole “Planet of the Apes” and gigantic event movies. I think the smaller movies like “The Help” and movies like that, I think we’re probably going to see more on demand or in delivery systems other that theaters because I just believe that it’s not going to be cost-effective in the future to make those movies and market them in theaters. I hope I’m wrong. I really do, but that’s kind of where I see it going.
Michael: Now, there you make an excellent point. The accessibility, the ease of use, the quality of equipment, but it still comes down to the writing. Am I right on that?
John: I think it does. I think, at the end of the day, the things that last, the thing that live on to people’s memories “The Godfathers”, the classic films, the Tennessee Williams’ movies…it’s all about the characters, the writing and the storytelling. The other part that’s great too, I’m the first guy on line to see the big effects movies. They just don’t go away. They will live on in the history of film.
Look at the movie, “Rocky”, couldn’t be a simpler film, done for I don’t know how much money, million bucks, maybe back in those days. People still reference “Rocky”, they still talk about it. They still it was just that movie about people. I think those are the kind of movies that live on and I would hope that there are more people that wanted to make those kinds of movies even though in the future, they may not be as widely distributed as the bigger effects movies but we need those movies and I think they’re starting to be eradicated a little bit by these big effects extravaganzas, which I think, I’m not down on those, I love them. I’m always there for them. But I just don’t want them to have to be all there is.
Michael: I am in agreement with you there, John. Tell us what is next from John Gray?
John: Well, right now, I’m in New Orleans. I’m directing a movie for TNT called “Hide”, which is a terrific thriller, which I did not write, but Janet Brownell wrote it based on a novel. Melissa and I are producing partners have another low-budgeted thriller called “Slander”, which is about hate speech that we’re trying to raise money for right now. We’re trying to do some casting attached. That’s another movie we’re hoping to make independently as a feature. I’ve written another TNT movie and basically just trying to stay busy and keep it all going.
Michael: Thank you, John Gray for joining us today on Spidcast.
Next up is writer/producer/director Melissa Jo Peltier. Melissa continues to produce the “Dog Whisperer” and co-executive produced “My Big, Fat Greek Wedding”. And as you’ve just heard, she is a frequent professional collaborator with our previous guest and is also married to John Gray. Welcome, Melissa.
Melissa: Thank you. I’m happy to be here.
Michael: Tell us about your story and how did you break into filmmaking?
Melissa: Well, my beginning in filmmaking was due to my father who is 90 and literally just retired from teaching. He was teaching at Harvard Institute for Learning in Retirement and he was at the time an audiovisual librarian but (by first-rated) filmmaker and he actually taught me how to edit films when I was 9. I made my first movie when I was 8 years old. I was doing plays when I was 4. He has basically taught me film theory before I knew what film theory was. I was bitten by the bug that young and I was just…the national storyteller.
The way I got into the business really was I went to Pomona College in Claremont, California, which I was a really wonderful school and I was an English major there but I was also in theater there. While I was a senior there, I got an internship on a documentary and that sort of sent me down the documentary path even though my goal has been to do drama. I got very addicted to doing documentaries. I got sort of caught up in the excitement of being a fly on the wall and being in people’s real lives and doing what I felt was making a difference because that’s how that social justice side of me show. That was my beginning and because our business was so varied and there’s no direct 1-2-3 path, you can take to do anything. I definitely geared from that over the years but that was definitely my start.
Michael: So you say that you learned to edit from your dad, you mean you we’re actually cutting film stock or digitally?
Melissa: No, it was a long time ago, there was no digital then. I was editing Super 8 film on little, teenie movie. I was with glue, cutting it with glue. I had small fingers so it actually made it even easier because I was only 9.
Michael: What a great experience.
Melissa: It really was. I think one of the things that I learned early off from my dad, but also my mother was a third generation English major and there was a lot of reading in my family. A lot of reading a lot of classic films and theater and I think just the building blocks of storytelling. One of the things that excited me about documentaries was I’ve never thought about how the building blocks of fictional storytelling can be used in telling real life stories. That was something that just thrilled me and took me off in that direction. And those are things I learned (mine) too.
Michael: Well, fiction or non-fiction, you’re still telling a story so it always comes back to the writing.
Melissa: I think so. One of the questions I know you wanted to ask me was advice to young filmmakers and want to be filmmakers and my main advice, I was thinking about this today is to learn storytelling and to learn it from the (great) tragedies, the real ones today to the most avant-garde methods of storytelling today and try to see the patterns because no matter what you can have the most original work in the world, you can be the most imaginative person in the world, but you still work hard about tradition and you will fall somewhere along that line even if you’re pioneering a whole new genre.
I just recently read an article about how there’s a lot of people who wanted to become writers who don’t think they should have to read and they don’t think they should have to read classic and there are…that way, but the truth is, you’re reinventing the wheel if doing that. Also I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t want to experience the pleasure of reading and singing classic songs. To me, that’s one of those natural highs of life.
I think learning the basics of storytelling is one of the most important things that any storyteller can do whether even if you’re a cameraman and you’re just going to shoot, you still want to learn storytelling, story (beads), how stories unfold and how it’s been done and the many, many different ways it’s been done over the years. Whether it’s a mini-story or reality TV or it’s an opera, it’s the same basic principles of storytelling and everything flows from there. I can't recommend enough to young filmmakers to really study great things in every possible film all the way back to the great plays.
Michael: Excellent advice, Melissa. Now, you recently were involved in a project with a fantastic story, “White Irish Drinkers”, tell us about that.
Melissa: “White Irish Drinkers” came about because my husband, John Gray had been doing the “Ghost Whisperer” series, which he created for a number of years and that went off the air and he had written a couple of pilots for network TV and he’s really an incredible writer and the pilots stopped to that point where they were in the running…it was between his pilot and another pilot and which then that happened twice in a row and it’s a good way to make a living. It definitely pays the bills but he was getting frustrated about not being able to tell his own stories.
So he pulled this script out of the drawer and he said, this is what I wanted to make for years. Is it any good? I don’t know and I read it and I just said “I think that this the most honest thing you’ve written and I think we should make it”. We actually decided to throw our money, well it was really John’s money he made from “Ghost Whisperer” and make it and call in whatever favors we could. Nobody works free on it but everybody worked pretty damn close.
To really get out there and make and for me, it was my first experience. I’ve actually been involved in independent films before but it was my first experience really getting down and dirty on the ground making an independent film. And I had two other producers with me, Paul Bernard and James Scura. Jim was more of the guy watching the budget. He was not on the set. Paul was actually doing the first assistant director. John was there also.
But really, between the two of us, we were putting out all the fires our film that’s smaller than a lot of fires but it taught me first of all, that all my TV experience, learning how to do down and dirty and fast, actually paid off because we were able to a feature film in 17 days and do it well.
I think the other think that it taught me in terms of filmmaking was it taught me about the honesty of a filmmaker’s voice and if you can stay connected to that how it really comes out in every aspect of the film, I believe John’s so connected to this film that it was infectious for the actors, the production and to all of us. Everyone up to the last possible minute was amazing, actors like Karen Allen and Stephen Lang were going out on their own with no money, nothing, just going out promoting this film because they believe in it so much.
I think that’s something that I kept with me about the strength of your commitment to a project can really be infectious. There’s part of me I do have to just do it for a living and film it in but when you’re passionate about something and you get the right people behind you, you can really make miracles.
Michael: Passion certainly is what draws many people into this business. What would you tell a young, passionate filmmaker about how to go about breaking into the biz?
Melissa: It’s such a different time when I started in the business because the technology has changed so much. I think that modern technology right now is very important. I think learning the building block is very important. I think being flexible is key. I think in owning what we want is important but there’s people out there who don’t know exactly what they’re going to do in this business are still going to find that by working. You don’t necessarily have to get an MSA to do that. You can get out there and get on the set and work and be a PA and work your way from bottom and see what you really connect with. That’s something that was true when I was starting and that’s true now.
You have to find something that will make you stand out if that’s the only the way you want to get in. knowing your craft better and once again, some of the basic rules of just being a good employee really apply in the business. There are a lot of people and I’ve had this experience because I have a company for 15 years and there’s a lot of people who come out of film school who are very bright and kind of big fish in a small pond and they’ll start out as somebody’s assistant and then they’ll three months later will say, when do I get a chance to produce. It doesn’t work like that. You still have to earn your way just like in any field.
It’s important to really work your butt off. Work hard. Have a great work ethic. Have a great attitude. Don’t expect your dreams to come true tomorrow. Keep dreaming them and keep working toward them but work hard and people will notice your hard work and your attitude, there’s no question. Still, even in our business, it’s not that common, by starting out. People will notice that.
Michael: So, what is next for Melissa Jo Peltier?
Melissa: Right now, I’m looking at a couple of writing projects my book projects, but I’m also working on a film with my husband, another independent film that we’re trying to raise money for. It’s being read by film actors right now and actor’s reps rather. We can’t name them right now but we’re hoping that we’re going to get a pretty important name to play this role. The name of the movie is “Slander” and it’s a small movie but it’s a really, really powerful story that John’s written.
We want to put our whole team together that we have on “White Irish Drinkers” again because that was such great experience for everybody who worked on it and this time, we had a little more money and maybe a few more days to shoot. Everyone who worked on the film was like us we just love the process of filmmaking. So it doesn’t matter that we don’t have (players) and all the perks that you might have on a network television show because actually, it’s more fun to have less money. Once you’ve actually worked with money, it’s sometimes a lot more fun to just do it the way that you did it when you were 9 years old.
Michael: Well, certainly things have changed since then including what we’re doing right now. Share with us your thought about Spidvid and what impact it has on future filmmakers.
Melissa: I think what’s exciting about it is that…and I like this about Twitter which was how I found Spidvid and I liked the fact that you can communicate with people who share your goals and also some of your values and your tastes who might be very far away from you and I think that that’s an important aspect of the organization that you have which is that people can reach out to others and they have a vision that nobody near them connect with their vision. They may just not connect, but somebody 2,000 miles away might absolutely connect and might be the piece of the puzzle that they need to get it finished. I think that’s a really nice thing about today’s technology.
We were isolated starting out when I began and I remember writing letters literally…typewriter and typing letters to producers trying to get meetings with them and it’s much more comfortable to reach out in other ways.
Networking is easier and I think that if you use it right and in a discerning manner, I think that’s a real advantage to the technology.
Michael: Speaking of networking, how can folks get in touch with you and learn more about you?
Melissa: Well, I’m on IMDb, so if they want to see everything that I’ve done, pretty much everything since IMDb started. I’m on Twitter @MelissaJPeltier. Whiteirishdrinkersthemovie.com is the website of our movie. My television production company is called MPH Entertainment. MPHent.com is out website. We’ve done a lot of non-fiction TV including the show “The Dog Whisperer” which we still do. That’s probably the best way.
Michael: Melissa Jo Peltier, thank you so much for taking the time to visit with us today.
Melissa: Thank you, Michael. I really appreciate talking to you.
Michael: That’s it. Thanks for listening to the Spidcast Show. We appreciate your time and attention. You can now join the conversation at Spidvid.com or on our Spidvid Blog. And you can join our collaborative filmmaking community at Spidvid.com. Tune in next month for another entertaining and informative episode of Spidcast.# vimeo.com/33870434 Uploaded 1,337 Plays 5 Likes 0 Comments
http://Spidvid.com - We are back with one of our best Spidcast (full transcript at http://Spidcast.com) episodes to date this month (listen in below and subscribe on iTunes) with a focus on web series, acting, getting lucky, and other interesting stuff. December's Spidcast features the incredible creator of the vampires vs zombies web series Suck and Moan, Joel Bryant, and the producer of hit web and TV show Goodnight Burbank, Hayden Black. They are our amazing guests for Spidcast 13, December 2011 which you can listen to below.
Hailing from Manchester, England, Hayden moved to the US in '97 because he wanted to better understand the culture that produced five different home shopping networks. Hayden once sang with early '90's new wave band The The The -- but they only lasted long enough to put out one single, the ill-fated "I'd Love It If You Loved Me". Shoving all those dreams into a bottle and burying it somewhere in the garden, Hayden eventually carved out a career in radio shipping news and has used that talent to catapult him to success here in Burbank at Channel 6. He loves Burbank and all nine of its restaurants. Gordon's divorced, enjoys golf, and quiet weekends avoiding LA traffic. Hayden is also the co-host of the hit web and TV show Goodnight Burbank.
Born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Joel Bryant graduated from Pepperdine University with a BA in Theatre and has lived in LA ever since. He's been lucky to work in many mediums including film ("The Heartbreak Kid," "Valkyrie," "Loaded," "Gone But Not Forgotten," among many others), TV (guest stars on "Monk," "Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior," "The Defenders," "Las Vegas," etc., a number of pilots such as "Hillers" with Henry Winkler and Tom Arnold and "Angry Guys") and New Media (Streamy-nominated for "After Judgment," "Life From the Inside," "The Temp Life," "Elevator" and is co-producer/"Mac" in the award-winning "Suck and Moan"). Among his numerous theatre highlights, he's been tapped by Neil LaBute to be in "Fat Pig" at the Belasco Theatre on Broadway in 2012. As well, he's garnered glowing reviews all over L.A. (Knightsbridge Theatre, Hudson Theatre, and Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities) and performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the Texas Shakespeare Festival and a variety of regional theatres throughout the Southwest, including the world premiere of "Terminal Cafe" with Neil Patrick Harris. Some of his favorite pieces include: "ART," "Moonlight & Magnolias," "A Midsummer Night's Dream," "The Woolgatherer," "Oleanna"). Trained in improv at The Groundlings, Joel is a co-founder and member of the award-winning comedy duo "Deven & Joel" with comedy partner/wife Deven Green, with whom he has entertained the troops overseas, performed at a series of maximum security prisons, played at colleges and clubs all over the U.S., and have headlined at many places including The Comedy Store, The Icehouse, the Venetian, the Riviera and Bally's in Las Vegas, Flappers in Burbank, all over L.A. and San Diego, a week of sold out shows at the San Francisco Fringe Festival and won the Best of the Fest at the International Hollywood Comedy Festival. Since starting stand-up comedy at the age of 16, he has performed in such places as The Comedy Store, The Icehouse, The Comedy Union, Laff's, The Queen Mary, and many clubs in between. Joel is also an accomplished dancer, writer and spoken word artist...and sometimes he even sleeps.
Full Transcript Below
Michael: Hi, I’m Michael London and welcome to Spidcast, the future collaborative video production brought to you by Spidvid.com. On this episode, we’re visiting with Joel Bryant, actor and producer of the web series “Suck and Moan”. He’s also an accomplished standup comic as part of the comedy duo of “Deven & Joel.” We’ll also visit with Hayden Black. He is the writer, producer and co-star of “Goodnight Burbank.” Now, Hayden’s story has a wonderful twist to it that you will not want to miss.
First up is Joel Bryant. Now, tell us a bit about your story?
Joel: Absolutely. I was originally born and raised in Albuquerque in New Mexico. Lived there until I was 18 and came out here for college; actually, started acting in Albuquerque when I was 11 years old. No need to get into the arts because it was because I saw a buddy’s picture on a billboard for a local bank and he did a local commercial and everybody was talking about it and I really thought he was really cool for doing that so I thought this acting thing sounds like a blast.
So, I started looking into acting. I went into some acting classes and as soon as I started getting acting classes, I just got hooked on it. The bug kicked in so I was roped into acting classes and then after that, I started standup when I was 16 years old. I told my mom to take me to a club and to try an open mic, did it and it was great to be the young kid in the club.
I started improv when I was 17 and all that culminated in winning Outstanding Acting Award of the New Mexico Theatre Festival, which kind of cemented the fact that maybe I’m doing the right thing. I went out to Pepperdine University in Malibu on a theatre scholarship and since then, have been living in Los Angeles doing what I do.
Michael: So, my question is then what is the 16-year-old comic’s point of view in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Joel: When he was a 16-year-old at a comedy club, it’s amazing because your voice is so unique. There’s obviously not a lot of 16-year-olds there, so you’re talking about how interesting like girls are and I wonder what sex is, I wonder what drinking is and you’re so innocent and you’re naïve and the people are really on board with you because they’ve all been through that and no one can really represent that voice except coming from a real naïve 16-year-old point of view.
And it was interesting because after college just like a few years off of standup, I got back into it in my late 20’s and I tried to revisit some of those jokes, it didn’t quite fly because when you’re in your late 20’s, you’ve had the drinks, you’ve had the girl, you’ve had all these life experiences. So, it was an interesting obstacle, an interesting mountain to re-climb getting back on stage again and finding out, okay, what is my voice now? Obviously, I can’t be the naïve 16-year-old. I have a driver’s license now and not in school anymore. I have bills to pay. So, that was an interesting thing but I love being the 16-year-old. It was fun to be the kid.
Michael: So, you leave Albuquerque for LA and take us through that journey.
Joel: The reason I came out here for college, I only looked at Los Angeles schools because I always wanted to come to Los Angeles. As soon as I was a kid, I wanted to be an actor. I was in love with the idea of what Los Angeles was and so we came out for a vacation and went to Hollywood and finally realized, it’s not really glamorous there but I was still in love with the idea of it.
And so I just looked at schools out here in Los Angeles. I looked at Pepperdine and a couple of other schools and I just kind of went to the school that would give me the theatre scholarship and the best deal and Pepperdine came through. The reason why I wanted is kind of dipped my toe into Los Angeles and kind of feel it out a little bit while I’m still getting some money from the government, from mom to kind of ease into it as opposed to packing everything in a car and just moving out here not knowing anything.
So, it was a nice introduction to be in college and kind of feel the city out and feel the industry out but then when I actually graduated, they didn’t teach you a lot of the business aspect. They taught you how to act in college and how to do Bertolt Brecht and the existential movement and all that sort of stuff and then when you leave, you have no idea what a headshot is or a resume is or how to network or anything.
So, it took me a number of years in trying to maintain jobs, trying to pay for college, trying to find out what theatre were or what it wasn’t, what was worth taking. So, it took me awhile to navigate the pitfalls of Los Angeles. I think a lot of other people, they got a strong programs or they have a good mentors when they get out and I was kind of on my own a little bit and trying to figure it all out.
So, I use my same black and white headshots from my first theatre gig in college and a resume I half wrote up on paper and pencil. So, it took me a few years to figure it out.
Michael: And Joel, what was your breakthrough moment?
Joel: Oh, the breakthrough. You know that’s an interesting question. It hasn’t really been necessarily a huge breakthrough. It’s been kind of a slow steady build, it’s like I’ve always been a very proactive person, someone who really hustles and finally, in like my late 20’s, all that work start to kind of culminating into consistent work.
One of my first breakthrough, I did a film called, “Life, Death in Mini-Golf” which I was guaranteed, I thought this is going to be a hit. This is going to be huge because the role is written for me. There was a budget. There were some actors who would actually have credits. Actually, Kristen Wiig from Saturday Night Live was actually in it way before Saturday Night Live and everything. So there were all these talented people and now, with the film, I was sure it’s going to be a huge hit so that made me quit my waiting table job. So, I was like, “I’m just going to quit waiting tables. I’m taking the leap of faith now.”
Obviously, that didn’t work out as a hit movie but it did give me the impetus to, “Okay, now, I don’t have a job. Now, I really have to start acting.” Between that and meeting my wife who just has a great business mind. She has the business acumen. She’s the one who taught me that acting isn’t all living in your cars and doing black box theatre and doing three lines and a TV show or doing some small stuff. It’s a business and meeting her and knowing that business is 90% of it and then there’s 10% fun and talent, all the other good stuff that you love about it but really to focus into the business sense. She was the one that really guided me along.
Michael: Well, that’s wonderful that you have a partner that understands and keeps the business in rolling.
Joel Bryant: Absolutely, it’s the best partnership because we get to not only do we have our own individual careers. She has a huge online career. I have an online career as well as traditional media but we also tour around as a comedy duo together so we get to literally tour the world. We went to the troops overseas and performed for them, at Canada, all over the place and it’s so much fun when you get to tour with your spouse/comedy partner as opposed to calling her from the road and saying, “Hey, Italy is great.” You’re experiencing this together, the good and the bad. We did a series of prison shows. I want to do this with my wife, you know what I mean? This is how to actually experience this.
That became the goal for me later on. It was always to win an Oscar by the time I was 24 years old. That was the goal coming out of the gates but the goal slowly merged into, I want to enjoy what I’m doing and have fun doing it and that’s once I started reaching that level, I could finally step back, look around and say, you know what? I kind of make my own schedule. I’m doing things I want to do. I’m doing it with people I want to do it with and I think that became the goal. That’s the place I’m at right now.
Michael: So, then tell us a bit about your web presence. Tell us about “Suck and Moan”.
Joel: “Suck and Moan” is a web series that in the later stages of release, we have two more episodes to release. It’s played a number of festivals and it’s done really well. Got a lot of good awards which really makes me proud and it got some nice notices and reviews across the board.
It was the brainchild of a friend of mine, Brendon Fong who came to me with the idea and he had shot and everything and I’d been in the new media market for a couple of years working at other projects. He said, “I had this project ‘Suck and Moan’.” And so what it is? “Well, it’s zombie or vampires trying to survive during a zombie apocalypse.” I said that’s kind of clever. It takes two big pop cultural horror icons and smashes them together in a very satirical way so it’s kind of “Shawn of the Dead” meets vampire clerks if you will because the vampires are mad because the zombies are eating all the humans and they’re also really loud at night and all this. They’re kind of ruining the peace that these vampires have established for themselves.
It’s very tongue and cheek and it’s very fun but I’ve been in thedia, I got nominated for a Streamy Award for “After Judgment.” I’ve done some other guest spots and that kind of got me in that world and I realized how much of a fun, proactive community it is and how amazing it is that you can just create a project with a friend of yours, have other friends come on board, talented people and kind of shoot all that and meld it all together and make your own project.
So, “Suck and Moan” suckandmoan.com and we just had our big screening of our big rap party/screening of the last two episodes to a packed house up in Burbanks. So, it’s kind of, we’ve put the nail in the coffin, not to use a really bad pun right now, put the nail in the coffin on season 1 and then we’ll see where it goes.
Michael: And Joel, what advice do you have for someone coming from Boise or Springfield of Albuquerque to LA?
Joel: Coming from Albuquerque, there’s been a lot of us actually. Neil Patrick Harris from Albuquerque, Freddie Prinze Jr. Albuquerque, all went to my same high school. The advice coming from a smaller town going to a bigger town is to do everything you can within your small town before you jump into the bigger market. It’s a lot easier to gain credits and experience, be a bigger fish in a small pond before you have to jump into being a smaller fish in the big ponds.
Make your mistakes when the stakes are low. Screw up on stage in a small theatre in Albuquerque before you get cast in a huge equity show in LA and screw up there. I think that’s really the main key and then only come out when you’re ready to come out. I think people are going to want to rush coming out. Take your time. Ease into it. Find a good support system when you get out there when you got to LA or New York or Chicago. Don’t lose your head. I think the main thing is when you start actually working, don’t burn bridges and don’t be an A-hole. Show up early. Be fun to work with, do a good job and then leave a good impression behind.
Michael: Superb advice. So, what is next for Joel Bryant?
Joel: Next for Joel—looking for funding for season 2 of “Suck and Moan” and selling that. My wife and I are going to be hitting the road during December to do some holiday shows, comedy shows, private corporate stuff, which is always a nice Christmas bonus.
I also got just a couple of firm projects in the (hop) I’m making the film festival route right now doing two plays here in Los Angeles, one in February and one in March, balancing that out and actually, recently I cast in a broadway show so I’m going to be going out there hopefully, in April, I think. I got to look at the calendar. I like to keep busy, I told you.
Michael: Wonderful to hear. So, where can we keep up to date on your busy schedule?
Joel: You can always go to joelbryant.net. It’s also devengreen.com, same website, devenandjoel.com. It’s all the same website. We have all of our stuff up there. Her videos, my videos, our calendar, some fun stuffs there and Facebook, email, Twitter, all that stuffs on there and we love interacting with people so give a shout.
Michael: And how about a parting shout, Joel, a great nugget to take away?
Joel: The nugget to take away from this, from Joel Bryant, your free nugget of the day, if you will, I think, I actually closed—I was lucky enough to go teach in my alma mater at Pepperdine last year which was kind of a big honor to go talk to the kids and it sounds weird to say kids and the nugget I told them was, constantly redefine your success. I think you always have to do that. There is obviously some major goal that you want but you have to—I think your success should be very fluid. So, when I graduated college, I wanted that Oscar at 24, the Oscar didn’t come so I want to just work by 25. Work didn’t come at 25 so I just wanted to quit my day job by 27.
So, I think, keep realistic goals in mind but realize it’s very fluid and a lot is up to luck. So, you know what? Just have fun on the journey.
Michael: Thank you, Joel Bryant, for joining us today on Spidcast.
Joel: Thanks for having me.
Michael: Next up is writer, producer, actor, Hayden Black. Hayden, for the benefit of those listening who haven’t heard your name yet but they will, fill us in. Tell us a bit about your story.
Hayden: A little bit about me, Hayden Black. Well, I’m from England. I come from Manchester, I moved to Florida which is not fun but been in LA for a while and I do a few shows on the web one of which is going to television which is “Goodnight Burbank.” So, I guess, the first thing about me is I identify as a writer, first and foremost.
Michael: So, tell us a bit about the process you take as a writer and also how that role expanded and evolved.
Hayden: Well, the writing is something that I’ve always done since I was in high school and then it was 2006, I was taking a class, an improv class at Upright Citizens Brigade, UCB and somebody there mentioned that they had access to a green screen studio and we should shoot stuff for the web and for mobile and this is 2006.
So, all of us, myself included were basically like, “What’s that all about?” So, I did some research and saw what was coming and I went, wow. This looks amazing. Plus, it’s a great way of letting people producers and whatnot see your stuff. So, I wrote this pilot episode. We shot it a few days later and we kind of hit the ground running but it became so successful, we started to do more and that’s when I found myself not just as a writer any longer but as a producer.
And I hadn’t acted before and I was acting in it so there were just many new hats that I suddenly found myself wearing and because there was no pressure to do the most amazing work that a billion people are going to watch immediately. It allowed me the time to learn the craft better and to do more and that’s what we have over the years.
Michael: Now, you mentioned being involved in online content as far back as 2006 which makes you a bit of a pioneer but your web series has done something quite unique. Share that with us.
Hayden: Well, we started about just over a year ago 2010, I guess it was, took a meeting with Hulu and they suggested doing a half-hour version of “Goodnight Burbank.” Up until that point, we’ve done about 30 odd episodes and just again, learning, learning, learning. And then I went back to England, I haven’t back in years and met with a couple of networks over there and pitched them some ideas one of which was a British half hour version of Burbank and they were very interested in that but they asked the question which kind of threw me. “So, what does a half-hour version look like?”
And I realized, I don’t really know. I’d original had an idea for a half-hour show. I whittled it down to five minutes so it became “Goodnight Burbank” but that was so different to this original half-hour that I’d initially created back in 2005 that it was like starting all over again. So, I then spent two months just working on developing what a half-hour version of Burbank would look like.
And then I started casting it with a new cast. We got the amazing Laura Silverman. We got Dominic Monaghan. People like John Barrowman came on board, Miracle Laurie, Camden Toy, people from the world of Dollhouse and Buffy. It was just phenomenal how just things started filling up. I wrote all six scripts which became the first season and we shot them slowly because our resources were fairly limited because now, I was in a whole new world at this point. Now, I’m producing half-hour, at that time, we couldn’t technically say half hour television but I was producing a half hour show that I’d written.
And so again, big learning curve and when we finished, two things happened. One was a company called Zodiac, the third largest production company/distribution company in the world, they saw a rough cut of the first few episodes and snapped up the global TV distribution rights and then we premiered on Hulu, it was April 25th or this year 2011 and Mark Cuban was watching and he snapped up the show for US cable the next day.
Michael: Wow. That is an amazing story. Now, everybody who gets in this business wants fame or fortune or however they measured their own success and you have achieved that. I’d like for you to tell us how that feels.
Hayden: Like it’s surreal. It’s the first feeling. I mean, it’s funny you should ask this because when we’re doing it, when you’re in the middle of it, you believe in it and you’re constantly striving to make it better and better and better in case you get the chance to go to that next platform. And you pour your heart and soul into it and as does the rest of the cast and crew by the way, this is not a one-man operation.
And so you got all this energy and you’re pouring into it and you’re all hoping and then it happened and I think when it happens, it really made me realize—I do come up with sayings but I came up with an expression that day explaining to my mom what had just happened. I said there are a million reasons to say no to something and only one reason to say yes and that is that you can’t think of a million reasons to say no.
There’s so many—just because Mark was watching the show didn’t mean that he was going to then want to pick it up for his network. So, so many—it’s just unbelievably surreal that he did and making it even more astonishing was that he wanted it immediately.
Michael: So, what were your first thought when he said, “I want to sign this.”
Hayden: Well, I was doing at the time, because I produced this whole show while doing a full time freelance day job. So, it was two careers kind of going on at the same time and I was still at the day job when we premiered and I got the email the following morning and I was then at an open-plan cubicle office over at NBC and I had to contain myself. I don’t know how I did it but I’m sure people probably still heard me jumping up and down.
Michael: That is a wonderful story. Now, knowing what you know today about the whole process, what would you do differently?
Hayden: Well, I think that the only thing that—I’m really, really glad that I put in the time to develop a show, write the scripts, keep rewriting the scripts and then rewrite the scripts more and then to keep rewriting the scripts. That was so important to the process. It was amazing, some of the things I learned as I went like watching how the crew—excuse me, the cast, kind of started jelling and finding their own chemistry. If you watched the six episodes, you can see certainly by episode 3 the cast really starting to find their feet and really starting to come together.
I think some of the pitfalls that we wound up and it’s because we have such low resources, it wasn’t until after we’d shot some of the shows that we found some issues with either sound or we’d shot on P2 cards and I think there were two scenes overall that did not transfer. One we managed to re-shoot because it was very simple and the other, sadly, we couldn’t remount so we had to take the scene as is and edit it completely way down because I think we had one angle and because the other angle was lost and these are things, if I had known, I would have ensured somebody was watching every single P2 card as it was being downloaded on to a computer, stuff like that but just keeping a big eye over things production wise.
Michael: I would guess that each of us has at some point loss some P2 footage, I know I have, right. Now, tell us about how collaboration via places like Spidvid has helped it.
Hayden: Oh, boy, when we started the original, I spoke to a guy over a company called Live Video and they were very, very happy to give us use of their green screen office. Literally, it wasn’t even a green screen studio. That was a space outside their office that was painted green and they allowed us to use that in exchange for I was allowing them to put “Goodnight Burbank” on their platform which I did not have a problem with and I think the collaborative thing is taken every step further when you start producing. You’ve got actors who are bringing their game to the table and their choices of how they deliver the lines and what they can even possibly add.
You’ve also got the crew. You couldn’t do it without a fantastic crew pitching in and taking care of things and keeping an eye out for things that only they can see and certainly stuff I’m not going to see. So, it’s an entirely collaborative medium, entirely collaborative. You couldn’t do it by yourself. Like I said, I was working two jobs. I would come back from the one job, if I’d had a bad day, I had to literally leave that at the door because it’s all trickled down if I was in a bad mood, everybody else is going to be in a crappy mood too. And that would have been the height of unprofessionalism.
So I just really had to go that extra mile sometimes, not all the times, thank god, but sometimes you just don’t have a great day.
Michael: This is great advice for the young filmmakers. Thank you so much. I’d like to know now how you found an audience for “Goodnight Burbank.”
Hayden: Well, the original show in 2006, what happened was we got a couple of reviews and one of the websites apparently was being monitored by the guys over at iTunes who were looking for stuff themselves. They saw the review of “Goodnight, Burbank” again, this is back in 2006 and then put us, they went and watched the show and then put it on the front page.
So, we got very lucky. We were one of the first ones out then we were also one of the firsts to do really well. So, we could take advantage of that. This time around for the half hour version, we have an arrangement with Hulu wherein they give us some promotion and marketing and I think, it’s just so competitive these days with so many people uploading their stuff on a daily basis, it’s not hourly. Any bit of promotion and marketing can really help.
Michael: Well, it certainly can’t hurt. Hayden, where can people see your stuff?
Hayden: They could see “Goodnight Burbank” either at goodnightburbank.com or http://hulu.com/goodnight-burbank and they can follow the Twitter because I update the Twitter account with jokes taken from the news every single day and that’s @goodniteburbank, with the night spelled, N-I-T-E, in the Twitter account. N-I-G-H-T everywhere else and you can also follow me on Twitter @Haydenblack where I’m writing crazy crap all the time.
Michael: Yes, as you are but it is very entertaining crap. All right, Hayden, our time is short. You’ve had a degree of success. I was wondering if you could pay it forward just a bit. How about some free advice for someone just getting ready to dip their toe into producing web content?
Hayden: I would say, when you’re doing this, this is a fantastic form that’s open to us all. We can all now use the web as a means of distribution but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you should. It’s a great, to me, like when we started “Goodnight Burbank,” it wasn’t done in a sense of, “Oh, my god, let’s conquer the web. Let’s show the world how brilliant we are.” It was really done more out of a sense of let’s see what we can do and let’s see how we can learn and I see this, it’s a fantastic learning opportunity but I see a lot of people are so terribly impatient and they want everybody to look at what they’ve just done and oftentimes, it’s not there yet. They haven’t spent the time working out the scripts or casting it well or whatever.
And I think that we all have to do those things to learn from them but we shouldn’t be imploring everybody else to watch our mistakes. We should just be learning from them and that’s how we started “Goodnight Burbank.” We didn’t start out perfect. We’re still not perfect but just being patient and really realizing what this medium can truly bring to you. It’s a fantastic lesson, every time you do something and upload it, you’re learning and that’s how—Spielberg still I’m sure learns from every project he’s done and continues making even making better content.
Michael: Hayden, I got to tell you, stories like yours and series like yours is what keeps new filmmakers jumping in and making new and exciting content. We thank you for that. I’m so tickled for your success.
Hayden: Oh, thank you so much. I am too, still feel very surreal.
Michael: As well you should be. Thank you, Hayden Black, for joining us today on Spidcast.
Hayden: It’s my pleasure, Michael.
Michael: Thanks for listening to our Spidcast show. We appreciate your time and attention. You can now join the conversation at spidvid.com or at our Spidvid blog and you can join our collaborative filmmaking community at spidvid.com. Tune in next month for another entertaining and informative episode of Spidcast.# vimeo.com/33870062 Uploaded 2,123 Plays 4 Likes 0 Comments
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