The truism goes: “Those who can’t (insert creative skill)…(insert presumably less creative skill).” Like most sayings, it’s both simplistic, harsh and somewhat true. Those can’t or won’t: do/teach, paint/curate, film/critique. I blog and research about web series — most of them independent — but I have never tried to make one, or a piece of one…until this year!
For a number of years — since about 2007 — I’ve had the idea for a film/web series about two people who have been chatting online and decide one day to meet. The story follows their day, hour by hour, each “hour” an episode, from morning to night, as they face various social obstacles, causing multiple delays and stopping them from meeting up.
With little experience in film production when I had the idea, I put it off. Finally this semester — my last of coursework! — John Jackson persuaded me to think beyond my comfort zone, the research paper, to more creative endeavors. At first I decided simply to finish the script, but he suggested I try to film something as well. I’d done a bit of production by then — a short video for a friend’s New Haven art party and a short documentary on Arthur Kade — but fiction is a different animal. Still, I took a look at the first few scenes I’d written and realized I only needed two actors, the two leads, meaning a demo shoot was entirely feasible.
I obviously couldn’t shoot the entire film, which comprises 30+ episodes and more scenes, requiring probably more than a dozen actors and multiple locations, but I could at least get a sense of whether or not I could even shoot this on a low-budget.
More importantly I could find out what it’s like to shoot something with nothing, save Annenberg’s fancy cameras and sound equipment, guerilla-style, with no time for rehearsals, location-scouting, etc (hey, I had classes).
Turns out guerilla-filmmaking is — newsflash! — challenging, but also a lot of fun. Luckily, I had the help of an enormously talented actress, Jiwon Lee, who got the script only days before we shot. Jiwon is the real deal: a stand-up comic with a good amount of cred in New York, she’s funny, smart, strong, not to mention gorgeous with a great wardrobe (I saved on costumes!). If there’s any justice in this world, she’ll be enormously famous. Brett Bumgarner, who co-directed the Kade documentary with Heidi Khaled and me — gave up a few hours of his time to shoot a dialogue-free episode in my apartment. I used the standard approach to payment here: food (for Brett, dinner at Snackbar) and services (for Jiwon, videography services, plus I still owe
her a dinner). I also have to thank my Annenberg colleague Rocio Nunez, a filmmaker herself, who helped with sound and generally gave me advice to make sure I didn’t royally screw up. In the future, I’d also have the help of Derek McPhatter, who would compose an original score (since this will only be seen by 5’s of 10’s of people, I just used music from my own library. If you want aritsts/song titles, just email me).
Since I’ll always be a writer/academic I really have no pressure to turn this into anything profitable or marketable. This is just an open-ended pilot, like so many web series out there, without a certain future. Certainly, as a student of the web series market fully aware of branded entertainment and what makes a successful web series, I’ve thought about potential sponsorship and creative distribution models (releasing all 30+ episodes, “real time,” in one day), but I’m not an entrepreneur by nature or profession. And that’s okay.
Here are the first edits of the first three episodes. Generally I wanted to take the traditionally “indie’ aesthetic, oft-associated with digital neorealism, and make it more colorful, lively, somewhat excessive and connected to the way we live digital culture. There’s other cultural baggage here as well: it’s definitely on purpose, for instance, that the woman, Jordan, is active, professional and career-focused, up-and-out at 9AM, while Lee is domestic, arty and slow-to-rise.
Although, really, I just wanted to film something watchable. Please comment or email with suggestions and criticism! Actually, email criticism and use comments for plaudits!