A few weeks back, I asked for email from those of you who have successfully produced your own work. Wow! As you can see by the title of this week’s column, we’re looking at a multi-parter, here. At first, I was going to pull apart the submissions and do a step-by-step guide with tips from a dozen or so different self-producing actors about each major turn in the road. But then it hit me that there aren’t “major turns in the road” that are identical, producer to producer. Each actor/producer who shared tales and tips with me had a unique experience with maybe a few similarities, but not so much that a step-by-step how-to guide was going to easily emerge.
I also realized that several of the essays — and some are full articles, really — were just really well-written and filled with style and smarts and substance. Why take that stuff apart, just to fit into a single column? So, I decided to create a multi-parter on Self-Producing and this is part one. Be ready for some mind-blowing ideas, stories, tips, and bits of inspiration woven throughout. And come back next week (and the next) for LOADS more!
From Shanna Micko
Since I’ve been in the throes of that the last several months with my web series, I thought I would offer some advice based on what I’ve learned (which is SO much) from this experience.
- Make sure that the project and the character you play reinforce your type and your marketing plan.
- Consider teaming up with people who can compensate for your weaknesses. If you’re not a writer, find someone out there who is skilled at that. If you don’t have the technical skills, find someone who knows about directing. This creates more professional work than if you team up with your buddy just because he or she is also excited about producing a project. This town is full of up-and-coming writers and directors, so go out and find them.
- Don’t let lack of money scare you. You can create a quality project on the cheap if you’re creative about it. Not to mention if the writing is sharp and you have a skilled director, chances are your work will be better than most out there that is being independently produced for the Internet.
- Finally, follow through with putting your work out there. Learn how to create an audience for your work. Just because you put up your video on YouTube doesn’t mean it will take off. Sometimes it takes footwork on your part to create buzz. If you don’t know how to do this, reach out to those who have done it before and see if you can take them to coffee and pick their brains.
From Dylan Ramsey
It started for me back in Toronto Canada. I graduated from AADA: NY in ’02 and began acting in ’03. That’s when I started doing a whole slew of shorts and training before getting into the “real professional” world. Via Canadian Actor website, I read a lot of actors complaining about lack of work and my passion for the arts was immense. So I met Jake Ross, a young filmmaker. He cast me in a short. We got a long real well. The short was very low budget — one handy cam — but it turned out decent.
Since we both had great drive, he wanted to shoot a nonunion feature film Blind Eyes, and I wanted to help. So from beginning to end, we did our poor-man’s pre-production, casting, went to production, and then post. Everything was done on our home computers, and we just guerrilla shot the entire project — no permits — and used friends’ locations. I never got to see the final product, as it was done in ’05 when I moved to LA. My friends attended the public screening in Toronto, and for a first try, it was horrible. 🙂
Then in ’04 I worked on another nonunion feature film, Visual Purple, and this time I was brought on board as simply the lead. Once it got completed, the brothers (two people who did the entire work: direct, shoot, produce, cast, score, all of it) were having a hard time getting it into festivals, or even any sort of distribution. I took a look at it in ’07 and really liked what they came up with. So I said, “Let me give this a shot.” We worked out a fair contract and I was named exec producer. I got it into a festival (Big Bear), so that put us on the map. I’ve since sent it out to several distribution companies and I am still hustling to get it picked up. I did have them chop out ten minutes from the film, and ideally I would like to cut ten minutes more. That quest is ongoing.
I then shot a union short, Metal Gear: Fubar, in ’05 here with a filmmaker named Joey Harris. We got along well and he wanted help to produce his next film. This time, I wanted to just helm the project as a producer and let other actors worry about the characters. In ’06 we produced (start to finish) the union short film Face of the Enemy and it turned out well. We’ve had it run around a couple of festivals and moved on. Next project with Joey was a union short for the WGA strike, Negotiations. We placed near the top but didn’t win. It came out really well. On this project, Joey and I both acted. He primarily directed and I produced. However during his short scenes, I directed, and it turned out quiet well.
Back in ’06 I also met a writer named Anthony Bruce, who’s written two amazing scripts. Redefining Norma, a gay coming of age autobiographical story based on his life, similar to Studio 54, and his second script, Murder at Random, based on a true story about four kids that randomly slaughtered an entire family in the late ’70s in a small town. Both are amazingly written. So in ’06 we tried to get Redefining Normal put together, but after a couple of months and headway with press, I was able to get the Indiana Film Commission to give us so many free opportunities. One of the other so-called producers was one of those Hollywood hacks. He got me fired and severed all ties with Tony. I went back into the full swing of acting. In the beginning of ’08, Tony finally realized that the other individual was nothing more than a wannabe, so he removed himself and fixed his personal life. A lot was lost and a lot of friendships were destroyed. He reconnected with me and another great individual, Ryan Dillon. So the three of us set aside Redefining Norma and decided that the more commercially appealing Murder at Random was our project of focus this time around. Our journey began again. We decided we could raise the money ourselves.
I read From Real to Reel to get an idea of all the actual details I was missing out. And fighting old bad habits, we assembled a team and realized that we needed some stronger experience. I work at a bar in Beverly Hills and came across the head of a production company who I was able to pitch the project to over a drink. He liked it. We’re both Canadian; that helped. And for the next six months we worked with them. It was all pro-bono. The production company’s contact for us was the producer’s assistant. He was green. Collectively they decided we needed to restructure the script. So, I threw on my writer’s hat and helped Tony draft a new version with their structure. What an endeavor! It worked out. We now have two great versions of the script. We delivered everything that was asked of us. So when push came to shove, the green assistant was tapped out of his resources. So he let us go, and we’re here in ’09 on our own and ready to try it again. Perseverance is key. So we’re moving forward. We now have two great versions.
On a more personal note. Since new media is the wave of the future and my background is strong in web design and computer science, I started writing a web series. A high-end agent friend of mine loved my first episode and asked me to draft ten more. So, I’ve made it to episode five now and am wrapping that up this year, alongside all my acting endeavors, in order to create a vehicle for me, or sell it and introduce myself as a writer into the business.
Whew! In between all that I was working on a couple of TV shows, movies, and whatever whatnot. And now throw in my new training schedule of Jean-Louis Rodrigue and Kristof Konrad’s Alexander Technique and advanced scene study with Lisa Robertson. It’s a long haul, a long run, and the journey of hard work always pays off.
From Bruno Ly
I can’t find the words to describe the excitement as well as the anxiety and stress of doing your own work. It is like running your own company and you learn more in a few days or weeks than you ever will waiting for Tony Scott to spot you at the local deli. You have to be a Special Forces soldier, meaning that you have very little resources and time (’cause I have a job too!) to do quality work.
Trust me, you want something better than average, for once it is out there it is out there on YouTube.
The most challenging aspect in doing your own work is selling the projects to your actors who are going participate in your little adventure. In the process you realize that acting really is a business. I am grateful for the experienced I have acquired. Doing your own work is like playing college football and getting ready for the draft. I want to be drafted in the first round.
From Feodor Chin
God knows, I learned a lot! A little over a year ago in November 2007, I sat down with a very good actress friend of mine at The House of Pies to discuss the state of my career. Or rather, my lack of one. After graduating UCLA, I had returned home to San Francisco and spent four years acting and working, getting my AFTRA, Equity, and SAG cards before returning to LA. That was about seven years ago and while I’ve worked fairly consistently in theatre, independent and student films, and voiceover, television and studio film roles have been few and far between. In fact, auditions for such roles are pretty rare for me. Which brings us to The House of Pies, where I had come primarily to lament my woeful state of affairs. But over the next few hours, and a slice of blueberry à la mode, my friend challenged me to quit bitching and moaning and instead do something about it.
We discussed shooting some comedy sketches to throw up on YouTube. But then (and I suppose this seems rather foolhardy in retrospect) I thought, “If I’m gonna do something, I might as well go all the way with it.” So I decided that I would write a television pilot. I figured that a half-hour pilot would be more manageable financially and logistically than a feature. My criteria for writing the pilot were:
- I wanted to make a show that I would watch. So I made a list of the TV shows that I love. Chiefly, there’s Ricky Gervais’ Extras and Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. I wanted the show to be something like those.
- I wanted to work with my friends and people whose talents I admired and respected. As such, all of the major roles were written specifically for the actors who played them.
So I went home and started writing. And about a week later had a 30-page script and a vehicle for myself and my friends. So after registering the script with WGA, I set out to assemble my team. I first called up a friend who had just finished producing an independent feature and she drew up a preliminary budget for me. Then I called up a director that I had worked with on a short. I knew that I didn’t want to direct the project because I’ve never directed anything before and I didn’t want anyone accusing me of doing a “vanity” project. (I mean, sure, I’d be the writer, executive producer, and star, but, hey, at least I didn’t direct it too!) Then after looking over the budget, I did what any reasonable person in my situation would do: I swallowed my pride and called my mother. In the end, a majority of the funding came from family and good friends as well as whatever I was bringing in from my day jobs and acting gigs.
With the core production team in place, we assembled the actors and had a table read in December. My producer friend told me that I would need at least six months for pre-production but I was just itching to go. (Our pre-pro period ended up being about three months.) The table read went well and another filmmaker friend suggested that for a pilot presentation it might be helpful to have more than just the pilot episode. So over the holidays I wrote ten more pages of additional scenes that could be cut together into a “season teaser,” which would hopefully give people an idea of what they might expect from the show.
We hit a rough patch early on and for various reasons I lost my original producer/production manager. But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as the producer for an independent film that I had acted in a few years ago was available and I hired him immediately. I’ve discovered that on any project, the three most important people are: the director, the producer/production manager, and the director of photography. My director got a DP that he had worked with before and he, in turn, secured the majority of the crew and the equipment. My production manager got the rest of the crew and handled all the paperwork including insurance, permits, etc.
We spent most of January and February rehearsing, scouting locations, and getting ready for the shoot. We shot for ten days the last two weeks of March. And I’d have to say that it seemed like the shoot was blessed. It was very, very smooth. We made every day, on time, and at the end of every day, though we were tired, we all had smiles on our faces and were looking forward to doing it all over again the next morning. And I’d say it was completely because I had such a terrific cast and crew. It was just the right mix of professionals and hungry, young, up-and-comers that brought a magical energy to the whole project.
The production went so smoothly that I really was genuinely surprised when post-production turned out to be such an ordeal. I’ve learned that any film project has three stages of “life” to it, which are all of equal importance. You have your pre-production, your production, and your post. And if you slack off on any one of these stages you can potentially kill your baby. (There’s also a fourth stage, which I’m learning about now. And that’s marketing. Presenting your baby to the world and that’s a whole other can of worms that I won’t bore you with right now!) So post turned out to be a real trial. And in hindsight I think that it’s largely because we didn’t have an editor in place from the start. We wrapped at the end of March and for the next two months the footage sat untouched as we interviewed editor after editor trying to find the right person who would work for the kind of money we were able to give them. We finally settled on one and while I am pleased with the final product, I must admit that the process of getting there was not ideal. Basically we had an editor who — while enthusiastic about the project — really wasn’t able to give us her complete attention because, frankly, she had other editing jobs which were paying her a LOT more money than we were. I can’t begrudge someone making a living, but as I said, it made the process much more difficult, longer, and just not ideal. We also ran into some technical problems which were unforeseen and unavoidable — just bad luck — and there were times when it seemed like it was just never meant to be.
But eight months later we were picture locked and sitting in the studio for our final sound mix. And on December 8th — a little over a year after I sat down with my friend at The House of Pies — we had our first screening at The Silent Movie Theater on Fairfax. Was it a success? Well, we had a standing room only crowd that was laughing and applauding throughout. And yes, that felt good. But even if we hadn’t and even if this project never again sees the light of day, for me, it was a success in that I got to work and spend time with people I love and admire, creating something out of nothing. And for what seems like the first time in my career as an actor in LA, I took control of my own destiny and set out to create an opportunity for myself.
So that’s probably more than you ever wanted to know but I guess I just really want you to know just how proud I am of this project and of everyone involved. It was a real dream team and the final project looks and sounds beautiful and is filled with some truly fantastic performances from all of the actors. Filmmaking is absolutely a collaborative effort and I think that what I am most proud of is that although I may have set out to create a project for myself, I think in the end we wound up with something that was a real showcase for everyone involved. See for yourself!
Here’s the trailer.
Thanks for reading. If you made it this far, you are a real trooper!
From Tara Jayn
My name is Tara Jayn and I produce, write, direct, and do just about any other odd job that needs to be filled for a very small YouTube “show.” It’s been an interesting process as my working partner, Natalie Lynch, and I have figured out not only how to do it but what to do. The web audience is a little different from a traditional TV audience. You have about three minutes to tell a story, and cross your fingers that you didn’t lose them in the first five seconds.
I’m lucky that I am a girl but I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve been told I was ugly, or a dyke, or — worse — just plain not funny. But the most difficult thing so far is just the amount of time I myself have to put into just one video, the out-of-pocket cost that comes from basic things like a camera, and taking advice and critiques from people who are a few tiers above myself and quite possibly from the old school of thinking and don’t quite get web culture.
The best things about it has been how many people do enjoy our “show,” pester us for more episodes, and really the joy of just doing it for us. I have endless amounts of fun and creative satisfaction from producing my own work.
Watch any of my YouTube shorts here. My personal favorites are eTherapy and the Joining the Union series (it’s about a fictional struggle about raising the money to join SAG).
Back to Bon
So, I don’t want to overwhelm you guys with much more for this week. Truly, I have a treasure of emails from fabulous self-producing actors and I hope you’ll check back next week for more awesome stuff! I’m going to do a big ol’ summary in the last week of this series, but I want to close off this week by saying that your first step needs to be taking a step. So often, actors who want to self-produce or think they may want to self-produce will let inertia keep them from moving forward. They’ll stick with the habits of submitting and mailing and workshopping and hoping someone sees something somewhere and brings them in someday because that’s easier.
But it’s actually not that terrifying to take one little step. Don’t let your fear of “I’m not a writer” keep you from putting pen to paper. Open a Word doc. Start typing. Brainstorm with fellow creatives and come up with something! Don’t worry “what if it sucks.” It probably will! But get started. Get that first thing done so you can get your next thing done. I love Bruno’s idea of seeing it like the draft. Get ready to go first round, knowing that first round draft is not the same thing as your first pop on our radar. You don’t get drafted first round if you’ve been sitting on the bench for the past few years. And, yes, submitting, mailing, workshopping, and hoping is sitting on the bench compared to self-producing. Self-producing is empowering.
Finally, a reminder that I’ll be doing that free Q&A and book signing at the Studio City location of the Samuel French Bookshop on Monday, February 2nd, from 7pm to 9pm. Hope to see some readers of The Actors Voice there!
Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/000981.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.