How to make a web series in two months

…I did it once, I can do it again, right? Ugh. The script is going over well so far with the people who read it last night and today. I feel like I’m ready to start casting. But what a pain that was, and yet how lucky I was to have an apartment centrally located in the city of Columbus. I’m going to have to try to convince my work friend (Aryeh, the one who asked me to do this in the first place) to let me cast at his house or something, or else go to a coffeeshop. But coffeeshops can be so unpredictable; it might be loud and crowded, or it could be a slow night. We’ll see. I don’t want to have to hold more than two nights’ worth of auditions.

I kind of have someone from my improv circle in mind for the role of the candidate, but I don’t know if he actually does acting or enjoys it. I think I will maybe reach out to him. I also thought another one of those guys would be great for my comic relief-type character, Dennis, but I don’t think I know him well enough to ask him to do it.

I need to make a list of the equipment I wish I’d had when I made “Paper Cuts,” as well as a list of crew positions. It would be nice if I had a monitor on set so I could watch what was being filmed, and let a director of photography do the actual camera work. I used to think that was kind of a lame, hands-off approach for a director, but now I know it’s more important to see what’s really going on in the frame than to just get to be the person holding the camera. Plum St. Productions definitely taught me that. I’d also love to have some actual lighting equipment and someone who can ensure good sound quality. I’m not sure how many of these things are feasible, but I know they’d all lead to a better final product.

I learned from making “Beacon Alley” that if you keep everyone on task, you can get a surprising amount of material shot in a day. I would like to set up a production schedule once I’ve finalized the script, but I don’t see why casting can’t take place now. The characters aren’t going to be changing.

As I always did before, I’ll be randomly listing necessary venues / materials and relying on the kindness of readers, friends and family for assistance or suggestions. Our biggest need now is a venue to film most of our scenes, which take place in a campaign office. It has a main room and two smaller rooms off of it, one to the left and one to the right. It’s the room where the majority of the script takes place, and I have no idea if it exists.

I might post a list of characters on here soon. I like the characters I wrote, and I feel good about them. I really hope this project actually happens and my work friend isn’t just bored this week and will forget about it by Monday. I suppose even if he is, I can still go ahead and make it.

Contest entries sent; bring back some money

I’ve made some headway on the screenwriting front in a few different ways. I entered a couple contests, wrote a lot over the weekend and have found some allies in my writers’ group who seem to want me to succeed. That feeling makes a difference.

First off, I entered “Paper Cuts” in the Nxt Stage Film Festival in the web series category. I shipped off a DVD yesterday along with my entry fee, a completed entry form and a postcard they’ll send me to let me know they’ve received it. I don’t see much info on when the festival is or when I’ll hear if I’m accepted or not. That makes me feel a little anxious about the contest’s legitimacy and all, so this could end up being more of a valuable lesson than a career changer. We’ll see.

I also entered the Sixth Borough Screenplay treatment contest I mentioned earlier this month. I elected to receive early feedback, with the option of re-submitting to the contest after making any changes. The winner of that contest will be announced Aug. 15. That was the contest that recommended I register my concept with the WGA, which I did; now I can write more freely about my screenplay, because I have documentation of creative ownership. Or something. If someone took my idea, I could legally use my registration with the WGA as evidence in my favor in a court of law. This will not happen, but it’s a load off any writer’s mind, I’m sure.

This past Sunday, I added several pages to the screenplay itself while sitting at the Lennox Cup O’ Joe with Eileen, who is right in the thick of completing her masters’ thesis paper. We sat there for a few hours, each writing, only looking up to ask occasional questions and moving only to order still more coffee. This might not sound like the best quality time, but you don’t know Eileen and me. I did take a break for a moment to crowd source on Facebook and ask my friends to name one of my characters. I got more than a dozen suggestions for female names, one of which I ended up using. I’m hanging on to the rest.

Finally, I went back to my writers’ group at Kafe Kerouac on Monday night. Even though I made some changes to my treatment, I didn’t bring the revised version. I should have though, because it turned out some new people showed up, including SNP’s own Donovan Campbell! It’s a small city, you guys. The people who were there last week asked about my progress and I promised to bring my outline next time.

“It’s like 8 pages long and messily written,” I warned them.

“That’s okay,” said Mike, the owner of the cafe. “I like discussing ideas more than I like correcting grammar.”

You kind of get that idea from talking to him, too. I also had a great conversation with two other members I hadn’t spoken to yet. One is an actor who gave me his card and wants me to send my outline directly since he’ll be absent next week. The other is a playwright who seems to be just the right mix of riotously witty and slightly jaded, ala Garth Bishop from SNP, and who is becoming reluctantly interested in writing for the screen as opposed to the stage. We are Columbus, Ohio’s own Algonquin Roundtable and I just fell right into it like a pig into a mud pit.

Last night I started working on an online portfolio, where I will be putting all the multimedia work I create. I wish SNP had saved the one and only video I did for them, because it would be most professional platform my videos have seen yet. But, alas. There’s only so long you can hang on to a video of four wailing infants and their bewildered, but ridiculously attractive, parents.

In the tradition I’ve maintained on The Sleeper Hit, here are the costs I’ve been met with in my pursuit of happiness (coffee consumed not included):

Nxt Stage entry fee, with postage: $31.22

Sixth Borough entry fee: $30 ($20 + $10 extra to get early feedback and the chance to re-submit)

WGA: $20 (standard non-member rate for any work)

I’d better not enter much else for a while. This stuff adds up quicker than I thought.

Blogging, for blog’s sake

Sooo, I’m writing this because I’ve been doing so well about posting every weeknight for the month of April. I didn’t plan it, it just kind of happened, but now that I am on a roll, I’ve got to keep it going.

Today was the first of a three day training on social media I am completing for my job. What we learned today about Twitter and its functions was really interesting, and good information to know both personally and professionally. Also, they gave EVERYONE a freaking FLIP CAM to borrow until Saturday. That has been fun. I am probably going to buy one. Good marketing strategy, Flip Cams. Well played.

Sometime next week I’ll have to do a long post reviewing all the books I’ve been reading. Also, tomorrow I’m picking up a copy of “Save The Cat,” a screenwriting book I keep reading and hearing about. I’ve been reading a lot of non-film related books so it will be nice to get into for a change. It seems like for a while there all I was reading were film books.

Eileen and I started “Veronica Mars” season three tonight. I’m being good and not watching the next episode without her. Also, I have the internet at the apartment again, after nearly three weeks without it. I will miss the late-night coffee shop blogging trips. Still, I might continue them, considering the neighbors’ bass hinders my brain from thought capabilities at times.

Did anyone see the second episode of “30 Rock” tonight? Hysterical. That show can get away with saying whatever it wants about NBC, can’t it?

Back to my book now. This blogging thing’s not as easy as it looks, you know. Okay, I’m lying. It is.

Not bad for a Monday

Meet Candy

Have I told you about Candy? She’s awesome. A force to be reckoned with, I met Candy last summer when I was filming my web series. She showed up to be an extra in the job fair episode, but she came back for a crucial role as the mother of one insane bridezilla in my favorite episode, “I Do, She Did.” We have been friends ever since.

She worked as a guidance counselor for a local college, only to be laid off when the economy went south. The irony! What does a laid off guidance counselor do? Start a new career. Candy used her vast knowledge to apply for every grant she could and is now going to school full time. She is taking classes I am extremely envious of, like cinematography, Screenwriting 101 and more. Tonight she took me out for a belated birthday dinner and we talked about what she’s been doing. She offered to share her class notes with me and I agreed to help her with a short she has to make by the end of the quarter. We have a good friendship, Candy and I, and we share a mutual love and respect for the movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”.

After dinner at Aladdin’s with Candy, I went to Kafe Kerouac because I read online about a writers group that meets there on Monday nights. I met Mike, the owner, and original member of said group, which has been meeting for at least six years. He told me they are all writing different things, and that once a month they all do a writing assignment together to bring to the next meeting. The example he showed me looked pretty intense; they were each challenged to come up with an idea for a TV show and map out every episode for a whole season. That’s something that would have taken me a lot longer than a week to do with that science fiction pilot idea I had a few months ago.

I’d seen Mike before at the cafe; I used to go there and wait for my laundry to dry. In fact, I once tried to get Mike’s permission to film the coffee shop scene from “Paper Cuts” at his place but I could never get a hold of him. It all worked out in the end though, and at one point tonight he did mention he’s allowed several film crews on the premises.

There’s four core members of the group, and then some people join for a while before moving on. Everyone brings a single copy of whatever they’d like feedback on (short stories, essays, poems, even plays) and everyone marks the same copy. “Saves paper,” Mike explained simply.

I enjoyed meeting several new people and hearing their ideas. I tried to give helpful comments in writing. I brought ten copies of my treatment and got some helpful remarks; even the questions they asked were beneficial because I saw I left some pretty important details out of my treatment. I might bring my outline next time. We’ll see.

The Kafe is the closest coffee shop to where I live, so you can’t beat that. I walked down with my laptop and worked on some stuff while I waited for the group to meet. I might even start going there instead of Cup O’ Joe…? I’m talking crazy here. Anyway. I’m already looking forward to next Monday night.

Screenplay Q & A

What went wrong, Lindsay?

Pam, a good family friend (and essentially honorary family member), posted a very good comment on my latest screenplay post. She had a couple questions about my screenplay and I realize I haven’t said a lot about it. Part of this is out of paranoia of my ideas being stolen and part of it is because I feel silly talking about the story when it’s still in its early stages. But, since she asked, and since I love nothing more than talking about it, here goes.

I keep referring to “Rush Week” as “‘Mean Girls’ goes to college,” which, a friend recently pointed out, is not helpful if you’ve never seen that movie. “Mean Girls,” written by Tina Fey, stars Lindsay Lohan before she was crazy. She plays a high school student who, until recently, was home schooled. She begins public school and, in spite of herself, ends up running around with the cool kids. Completely disgusted by their horrible personalities, she decides to exact revenge on the popular crowd on behalf of her real friends, a couple of misfits. My screenplay takes place in a college setting and centers around a college freshman who seeks to go undercover for the school newspaper and write about the five sororities on her campus. She writes mean things about them, they retaliate with mean spirited pranks, she guns for them even harder, she finds redemption and realizes she may have been wrong in her initial impressions of Greek life. It’s based on a real article I once wrote about the rush process at my college that pissed off about every sorority on campus, except instead of thinking I might have made a mistake, it took me a few years to realize I may have been a little too hard on everyone involved.

Q. Are you looking for a commercial “hit” or just seeing if there’s an audience for your message?

A. This is, in my mind, more commercial hit material than my masterpiece. I am really proud of what I’ve written, but I am also writing it while keeping in mind its mainstream potential. This is not an indie film script. I’m hoping to write my “Little Miss Sunshine” down the road after I have some more experience. As for a message, I like to think this is a story about journalistic ethics. But since most people couldn’t care less about ethical journalism, let’s say it’s about sorority girls and non-sorority girls learning to be nice to each other and not dumping pig blood on anyone at the prom. That sounds far more interesting.

Q. What’s your target audience? If you need to expand your world, you might want to think about who exactly you’d like to have read your script. Will your audience be your age? Your dad’s age? Tall? Married? Precocious? (Hannah [my ten-month-old niece] might be interested in eating your script).

A. My audience will likely be the 18-34 demographic – maybe college educated, maybe not. This is a PG-13 script, not R. A web site I read recommended I “interview” my major characters in order to get to know them better, and as a result, write them better. Make them seem more real to the reader. I am hoping to do this exercise very soon because I think it will help my dialogue flow a little easier.

So, thanks Pam, for asking some good questions. I am writing a lot this week, and it’s very encouraging to me to know that people are interested in how it’s going!

Screenwriting update

Work on “Rush Week” (tentative title of my first feature-length screenplay) continues slowly but surely. My draft is somehow spread out over several Google, Celtx and Word documents, and random lines of dialogue and partially written scenes are hastily typed in the “notes” section on my iPhone. It’s a mess. However, I’ve been frequently adding to and fleshing out the outline I wrote about last month and even sent it to another human being (gasp!) for comment.

I also finally sat down and wrote a one-page treatment of the script. The day after I did that, I saw a treatment contest online being sponsored by Sixth Borough Screenplay, an organization I follow on Facebook and Twitter. The top prize is $1,000, some screenwriting software and a sit-down conversation with a Hollywood insider and author of “Mind Your Business: A Hollywood Literary Agent’s Guide To Your Writing Career.” Anyway, since I’ve already written the treatment I may as well enter. In the rules section they “highly recommend” you register your treatment with the Writers Guild of America, so that will be interesting. Here is the form to do so, and each registration is $20. You don’t have to be a member to register your work.

So, I know I didn’t reach my goal of completing a screenplay during the winter of 2009-2010. That sucks. But, I am not giving up on myself so easy. Yeah, I was cold and lazy and hibernating all winter, but now I’ve got loads of time on my hands and some motivation. I’m finishing this screenplay, dang it. And I know once it’s done I’ll have some eager readers, right? Ha. On that note, shoot me an e-mail if you are willing to look over my treatment. If it’s not interesting as a one-page read, it’s probably not going to be interesting as a 90-page screenplay, so I need some early guidance.

Thank you, Shadowbox

My sketch comedy workshop Saturday morning was the best $5 I have spent in a long time. Two writers from Shadowbox led a discussion on the process of writing sketch comedy: Stev Guyer and Jimmy Mak, two of the six writers with the organization. They were extremely helpful and accepting of all levels of experience among our group. We were encouraged to step up and take the reigns as the creative future of Columbus.

Sketch comedy isn’t as easy as it looks, first of all. They told us that a single sketch will undergo at least ten re-writes before it is ever given to a cast to rehearse for a show. And we’re not talking correcting typos re-writing; I mean start from scratch and try again. They said that can be a really difficult thing, to challenge yourself to think of something better than your initial joke. And even with that, jokes aren’t enough; your audience needs to care about your characters.

Basically, here is the process for writing a sketch:

Start with idea on paper. You might pick a theme, like love and relationships, or a “fish out of water” scenario. The example of this they gave is where you might take a stereotype (Italian gangster) and put it where it doesn’t belong (working in a daycare).

After you know the idea of your sketch, make an outline. Much like we did in composition class in college, map out your sketch on paper before you start writing the script. Write how you think it might end, because it’s very important you can conclude it well or else a fizzled ending is all the audience will remember. The close in sketch comedy as a genre tends to be really weak, they said, pointing to some of more hair brained SNL sketches that don’t seem to know where to go after a while.

Finally, and for a very long time, you re-write. The guys said there are around 8-10 sketches per show at Shadowbox; again, each is re-written at least ten times over the three month cycle they have to work in. Additionally, actors are allowed to improvise on your script, and it might even continue to be re-written based on audience response weeks into a show, like if they can tell a joke’s not working.

When you write with a group like they do, you need to be okay with not owning a sketch; it’s a group effort. Be willing to work as a group. I think that’s something I would have trouble with, if I’m really honest with myself.

Yesterday, after my second day of improv critique with our Annoyance improviser, I wrote an outline for my screenplay. I have six pages of work, broken down scene by scene. I fleshed it out a little more tonight after work, and I plan on doing more and more each day this week. Once I know that outline start to finish and feel ready, I am going to revisit the pages I wrote weeks and weeks ago. I am going to finish this screenplay if it kills me. Who wants to read 90 pages of a first time screenwriter? Anyone? Thanks to that workshop I have made more progress in three days than I have in the last three weeks. Maybe even months.

I am happy to say I re-read what I had written, and I at least still liked it. So it’s not like I have to start all over again, I can keep what I have so far.

I really wanted to ask if they like “30 Rock,” but it was too much of a cheeseball question.

Sketch comedy teaser

I plan on expanding on this very soon, but I have to share part of my experience from this morning. In my workshop, I asked Shadowbox Cabaret’s head writer if any of their six writers were women. “Not to put you on the spot,” I assured him.

“Yes, two are women,” he replied. “And they write our foulest, most offensive jokes. If you read in the Dispatch someone in a review saying, ‘I can’t believe they did that,’ one of them wrote it.”

More to come.