Ooohhkay. So, last week, I watched the Streamys while putting the finishing touches on my column. I got an email from one of the rockstar launch producers of Somebody’s Basement asking if I were watching and I wrote back that I would be, at 5pm, when the show went live. “Red carpet coverage NOW!” she wrote back. Oh, snap! (Yes, I said, “Oh, snap!”) Tuning in rightnow. After all, this is the Oscars of the Internet! (For those not familiar with the Streamys and IAWTV, according to the site for the International Academy of Web Television, IAWTV is “an independent non-profit organization whose membership is comprised of leaders in the field of web television, web video, and the digital entertainment industry. The principle [sic] mandate of the organization is to oversee the selection of nominees and winners for the annual Streamy Awards, which recognize outstanding achievement in episodic shows produced originally for broadband distribution.” OMG, they misspelled “principal” on their own freakin’ site. How could we not have known how bad the Streamys could be?)
My friend — Streamy nominee and Hollywood Happy Hour co-founder Kristyn Burtt — did a phenomenal job on the red carpet and I was giddy watching friends and colleagues march past the bank of mics, getting the proper praise that comes with doing award-nominated work, no matter on what type of screen the finished product premieres. This was all looking like a major upgrade since last year’s inaugural awards show. Deservedly so! The web-based content landscape has evolved quickly and exponentially. Surely, we could expect more inspiring moments like the rousing call to action that was Felicia Day’s acceptance speech last year.
Note: I’m actually not a huge fan of last year’s speech by Felicia Day. I thought she was perilously close to exhibiting “Bitter Actor Syndrome” in her bashing of casting directors who refused to cast her, when what I really wanted was more of the delightful exuberance about choosing to become a self-producing badass and all of the rewards that come with that empowering choice. Thankfully, in this year’s Streamys, we got to see what I suspect was a media-trained Felicia Day, presenting the speech I wanted to see last year. Grace-filled, humble, truly grateful for the fan worship and critical acclaim, and — although still coming from a root of not having found success in the mainstream — acutely aware of the opportunity that that sort of “rejection” really can be.
I eagerly watched the clock as the appointed hour for the start of the Streamys came and went. What’s up? Late start? Wow. That would never happen on a televised awards show. Well… I guess that’s the point. When we’re streaming, we get our content when it shows up, I s’pose. Don’t love it, but I’ll deal with it. Certainly, they’ll start this amazing shindig up any second now.
Then there was the startup. Audio-only content for a good long stretch at first. Host Paul Scheer’s mic was up and I could hear him rehearsing what would be his opening bit, something about his arm being tired — a punchline I got to hear him practice using at least seven different inflections ahead of time. A musical number (I’m being kind, calling it that) in which “casting agents” were bashed, per Felicia Day’s speech from the year before. Now, before I continue on about the Streamys, let me explain once and for all why casting directors seem to hate being called “casting agents” (because I know y’all get sick of us trying to correct you). Agents, in the state of California, are licensed, fingerprinted, bonded! They have legal standing to negotiate deals on their clients’ behalf. There is legal weight to the title of “agent” and no one working in casting has — nor wants — that tag. If you have some problem calling us casting directors, try “casting people” or “people who work in casting” or even “casters” (which is pretty bad, but better than the wholly inaccurate “casting agent” phrase). Okay? Thanks.
Anyway, the “casting agent” bashing in the song was a rough start to an already bumpy beginning, for me. I could hear Paul Scheer talking under everything (even the ads) because no one ever muted his mic. (About 90 minutes into the stream, I wondered if Paul’s mic being on might be a setup to an elaborate joke, the payoff which must be coming soon. Nope. I wondered how someone on that crew wasn’t keeping up with the Tweets that complained about this tech oversight and couldn’t simply tell Paul he’d have to mute his own mic each time he left stage. I asked Paul about it, later. He said, “I can’t believe my mic was on. Ha! They knew it was on for the preshow and then said they fixed it. Ridic.”) So, we started with tech problems and a swipe at the industry against which the Streamys hope to rebel (all while gaining mainstream acceptance for being so good in that rebellion). Fine.
While I appreciated that there was the pretense of a full-on, fancy, produced-like-the-big-guys’-awards-shows show going on, I was nervous about where this was headed. Then the camera turned to the audience. Their faces were glowing. Such happy, happy people! Ah, yes. Remember why this is so important, Bon. This is a huge opportunity for the rest of the world (those who’ve not yet had a sip of the self-producing Kool-Aid) to finally get why we do this. This is a reward for all of the hours of creating, brainstorming, jamming, putting together ideas on a shoestring budget, putting paperwork through at SAG and Taft-Hartleying friends, and putting work out there instead of just clicking submit on a breakdown and waiting for the phone to ring.
This is an important night. Let the tech issues slide.
Oh, I only wish that were possible. Much has been written about the debacle that was the awards show, on a technical level. Probably the most insulting-to-the-community statement I found in reviews done by mainstream journalists came from a summary in The Hollywood Reporter, in which Karen Nicoletti said technical difficulties were “somewhat fitting for a ceremony that honors web series.” Really? If anything, people who make it their business to push the edge of what is technologically possible in the name of original content should have produced the cleanest, most technically badass awards show we’ve ever seen. There should’ve been backup plans and contingencies and security and standards. I would be so bold as to say there should’ve been a show outline, but I actually believe there was one. It’s just that no one whose overriding goal was “preserving the brand and contributing to the longevity of this faction of the industry” ever saw or approved that show outline, from what I could tell.
This was a small business without a business plan. This was a launch without a server fortified to handle viral traffic. This was a bunch of wannabe frat boys who finally got a moment in the spotlight, displaying to the “cool kids” who never let ’em sit at their table exactly why that has always been the social order.
Nominee Chance McClain wrote a blog post recounting the events of the night and leading up to that night, including the chance he was given to pay big bucks to have his clip included on the nominee DVD. WTF?!? For an awards show called Streamy we need nominee DVDs sent out like screeners for the Oscars? What bull! Yup. From his blog post: “Say what? Yeah. I got an email where they wanted us to pay up to over $1500 so that all of the members of the IAWTV could see our work.” Ouch. Well, the whole blog post is a heartbreaking read, and in it, Chance McClain even hinted at a conspiracy theory: “It was almost like some brass from TV and movie land decided to pay off some local scrub actors. ‘Here’s ten grand. What I need you to do is make the whole notion of web television into a joke. They want credibility? We’ll give them vulgarity! Remind ’em that the Internet is for porn and amateurs.’ I assure you, if that was the goal, bravo, ‘cuz it worked.”
In what could’ve been a tier jump for this new segment of our industry, the Streamys took us a huge step down. A tumble down. A face-plant pratfall down. And, as Michael Wayne, board of directors chair of the International Academy of Web Television said in his letter posted the day after the Streamys, “I hope you will judge us not by how hard we have fallen, but by how well we get up, dust ourselves off, and learn from our mistakes.”
Those mistakes included the above-referenced technical difficulties (which came to an un-ignorable head when a pre-taped video feature by The Fine Brothers crashed — unrecoverably — during playback), some of the most vulgar language and immature behavior I have ever experienced (and I am no prude, not by a longshot), and the “fail” no one is talking about: Complete corporate sell-out status.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I know we choose to pursue these careers in this industry with full awareness that, if stars align, we will be rewarded with ridiculous levels of commercial success. Believe me, when we were producing the Cricket Feet Showcase and looking for corporate backing in order to make it free for participants, I was the first one to say that we’d make it “Coca-Cola presents the Cricket Feet Showcase” or park a Buick on the stage and make every scene take place around that car, if one of those corporations would foot the bill for our awesome actors’ showcase experience. So, I’m not gonna hate on the Streamys for becoming more corporate in two years than Sundance became in a decade. But I am going to mention two things about that. One, it’s exactly the corporate bent to the experience of awards shows that disillusions a large portion of the population for whom the shows are produced. Two, we’re dealing with a segment of the industry that evolved specifically in an uprising against “the machine” of how traditional content was created, distributed, and rewarded for existing. Once you alienate these upstarts by going corporate, what do you have left?
It’d be like getting excited about MySpace in 2009. Good luck with that.
Luckily, in an open letter from the Streamy Awards’ exce producers, there was what could be interpreted as a slight nod toward this issue, which I’ve not seen addressed elsewhere: “We also realize that we failed to capture the unique spirit of the growing independent Web TV community, as we did last year at the first annual Streamy Awards.” On the flipside, my least favorite Streamy post, “Streamy Mythbusting,” which is defensive and useless. Seriously, guys, you got it wrong. Take all the bad press in — even the rumors — and keep apologizing while you strive to create a better show next time. Sure, some stuff went right. But so much went wrong that there’s a lot of love and momentum to earn back. Getting defensive does nothing to help with that.
The true pioneers — the leaders of this “web content movement,” if we can call it that before we’re looking back on the true start and stop of it — won’t wait to see if the Streamys get it right next year (which we all predict they will. I mean, it’s their only chance to preserve their place in the industry). They won’t wait to see if the biggest names being honored even show up to enjoy that this is important to our industry. (Yeah, I’m shooting a sideways glance at you, Galifianakis.) They won’t spend time in meetings figuring out how to fix a raunchy show that was an insult to hard-working web-content providers, producers, and performers worldwide. They won’t be disheartened by disaster; they will use their, “Hey! We’ve got a barn and some bales of hay for an audience to sit on! Let’s put on a show,” spirit to do it right. And fast.
Case in point, the folks behind Celebrate the Web put together an event (live at ACME, live streamed, and archived for watching now) celebrating the winners of the Streamy Awards. Celebrating them correctly. With just a few days’ prep. With no debilitating technical difficulties. With no base obscenity. And with no major sponsorship that obscured the point of this whole self-producing thing: With just a camera and an idea, you can reach your audience. You no longer have to wait for a producer to believe you’re bankable. You no longer have to test at network and impress the suits to get eyeballs. You just have to create your content and put it online. Your audience will find you. And the buyers will follow.
I love what Derek Housman, IAWTV member, said in his blog: “I humbly ask the viewers, the community, the sponsors, and the rest of the academy to forgive. We are young and inexperienced, perhaps naïve that we could pull off something of the magnitude that was planned. Let’s look forward to the future of the industry together, help us grow and learn from our mistakes, and make the next year a better and brighter year. We’ve only just begun our work.” But that’s the problem. There were folks involved in this production that are not young and inexperienced. And even young and inexperienced people know to hire professionals to produce a major awards show. There was a way to do this that was different enough to still be edgy and groundbreaking — like this faction of the industry is — but while maintaining any sort of control over what the viewing public and audience in the theatre would be exposed to.
When I watched Greg Benson’s video recap of the night (promoted at Twitter with the awesome line, “The best thing that can be said about my new video is that it’s three hours shorter than the Streamy Awards”), I was really appalled. I knew the show was bad. I watched every single minute of it. So, I knew. And then I watched “LisaNova and Chris Hardwick Get Molested” and remembered how angry I was when we were at this point in the show. As if the unplanned attack weren’t bad enough, Chris’ rant actually seemed to make it worse. I’ve seen blog posts in which people who were in attendance describe the night as a spiral of bad. Yes. A train so far off course there was no recovery. At what point does a responsible party take the stage and say, “Hey, let’s stop. From here on out, we’re cancelling the bits, placing security at the edge of the stage, and doing a somber announcement of nominees followed by the opening of the envelope”? A leader — someone who was paid to call the shots at the awards show — should’ve taken control and just stopped the madness. It would’ve been the most respectful choice for the audience, the attendees, the nominees, and the winners.
But that didn’t happen. I’m thrilled that Celebrate the Web did happen, though, and if it took the debacle that was the 2010 Streamys to make that happen, I’m glad. Because it reminded me why self-producing, creating content for the Internet, and building our community is so damn important.
The whole reason people love doing this is because it levels the playing field. It gives actors who aren’t getting into the room otherwise a chance to star in things. We get to create our next hit way easier than anyone even gets audience to be considered to do a show at the network level. We don’t have to wait to be asked into the writers’ room; we’re creating our own. And that is powerful stuff. Perhaps it’s because it’s powerful stuff that I found the Streamys to be so insulting and Celebrate the Web so inspiring. I’m excited about the brainstorming going on about best shows and people to honor in 2011 (whether it’s an honoring by Streamys or by some “Independent Spirit”-style awards show to come between now and then). I’m thrilled that there are so many positives to take away from this experience we shared a week ago, and that there are ways to celebrate the self-producers out there, every single day!
I hope the experience of the 2010 Streamys is something from which the IAWTV can recover, sure. But more than that, I hope the self-producing, leading-edge, forward-thinking content creators out there are not feeling disrespected and limited, but instead challenged and inspired to find validation in the doing of the good work. This community is far more powerful than some bad awards show. Let’s prove that through our next steps together. Ready? Keep creating!
Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/001175.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.