@BrisOwnWorld – ‘I’m in my head’

by Bri Castellini

I talk a big game about being an indie filmmaker, but the truth is, at this moment in time and space, I’m struggling with it. There are two reasons for this: Trump and knowing what the hell I’m doing. Let’s, as they say, explore!

REASON #1 I AM HAVING DIFFICULTIES STARTING NEW INDEPENDENT FILM PROJECTS: DONALD TRUMP

One of my favorite descriptions of the person (source?) currently in charge of this country is “screaming carrot demon.” Thank you, Samantha Bee. The country is in chaos. We thought it was bad that he was a nominee for the presidency, and now we’re really seeing what this baby-fisted garbage cheeto is willing to do with his newfound power, people are understandably afraid and enraged and compelled to action. In particular, artists and comedians.

This administration is crippling my creativity and my confidence in my work, but not for the reasons you’d think.

I am not an apolitical person. I have a lot of opinions and a lot of friends in underrepresented demographics and I am absolutely horrified by the state of the country I was taught to all but worship during my childhood. But I am not a particularly political writer, at least not up front.

I’ve tweeted about Brains seasons 5 and 6 being incredibly political, but that’s because they’re the fifth and sixth seasons of a show that started with a girl getting horny post apocalypse and shoving her camera in unwilling faces. I couldn’t have done a political first or second season of that show- it had to get there naturally.

The thing is, I’m not able to produce any more of Brains. It’s too expensive and time consuming at my current level, and that’s ok. But it means that I need a new project, and in this current climate, writing anything that starts out less political seems like a slap in the face to the millions of people attending marches every weekend and the millions more in literal mortal danger because of the diapered citrus baby’s fifteen thousand executive orders. If I, a person with incredible privilege in our current system, don’t write a show or a film that scathes and enrages this administration, then what’s the point? Why is my voice valid? Why don’t I care about anyone other than myself? God, how selfish this cis white girl is.

On one hand, I understand this is irrational, at least to a point. There’s an incredible value in creating art that isn’t about our current dumpster fire of a world, to give people a little bit of a reprieve. I know I need that reprieve myself. But it’s hard to detach myself from how selfish and inconsequential it feels to write something silly about a spaceship or an overly analytical female character struggling to navigate the complexities of “normal” human relationships while cracking jokes with her male best friend/roommate.

In conclusion, the diseased peach president of my country of origin is cramping my style and the effort to overcome the guilt of not attacking him directly with my art is actively impeding my efforts to make art at all.

REASON #2 I AM HAVING DIFFICULTIES STARTING NEW INDEPENDENT FILM PROJECTS: I KNOW TOO MUCH

All things considered, Brains should not have happened. It’s insane that we made it, insane-er that we made a second season, and insane² that we have two extended universe projects. And in all honesty, we only made it because I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I’d never been on a real set before. I didn’t know what the difference between an executive producer and a pooper scooper was. But in our ignorance, we plowed forward, and managed to do some pretty impressive things. That was then.

Now, I know too much. I know what a pain it is to location scout, and to ask friends to volunteer their time and talents and give up days off or picking up extra shifts to pay their exorbitant NYC rents. I know how much of an imposition asking for a multi-day commitment is, and how difficult it is to find music for traditionally filmed scenes and how useless found footage is for actors who want to use the scenes they pour their hearts and souls into for their reels.

I’ve written like 6 different web series pilots in the past few months, and I can’t commit to any of them. This one has too many locations, this one requires a cafe that I no longer have free access to, this one has too big of a cast, this one has too many props I don’t already own, etc etc etc on and on. Are these things I could overcome if I concentrated and plowed ahead? Of course. Does that knowledge matter when I’m trying to write? Not at all.

I’m in my head. In order to respect the time and effort of my wonderful and talented friends, I am attempting to write the cheapest possible web series that is still good and still something they’d want to work on that I can then show to my new web series community friends on Twitter to raise my indie film profile and eventually make a career out of all this free work I do because I “have dreams.” That’s a tall order. And it’s killing me.

I have no shortage of ideas. I know I can survive this industry, because it is the only thing I’ve ever done that completely fulfills me creatively. But some days and weeks and months it’s easier than others.

Also, like, fuck Donald Trump and Mike Pence and President Steve Bannon. Seriously.


Bri Castellini is an award-winning filmmaker as well as the Community Liaison at Stareable, a hub for web series. Check out her award winning web series, Brains, and the rest of her stats on IMDB.

This article was first published on her very informative blog.

How writing for Mary Tyler Moore helped me make it after all

Quite a title, eh? This article in the Boston Globe Magazine certainly got our attention, and now that we’ve read it we’re recommending that you give it yours:

 

Found on Etsy

by Sybil Adelman Sage

In the early ’70s, single women spent dateless Saturday nights watching Mary, the first woman on television who felt real, like one of us. During one of those sessions with a friend, I surprised both of us by blurting out, “Why don’t we try writing an episode?” Secretaries in the entertainment industry, we knew script format. Because I was working for the comedy legend Carl Reiner, agents were always milling around my office, so I could get our script read.

I’d been with Carl for five years and would have stayed forever, except that the women’s movement had me thinking of something more. Though writing was my passion, it was preposterous to consider two 30-year-old women breaking into the male-dominated world of TV writers. But before my friend could argue, I rattled off a story line. We spent the next month eating dinners in taco joints, scribbling on a yellow pad, determined to finish a draft despite expectations as low as our dinner tabs.

After reading our script, Carl said: “It’s terrific. If I was producing Mary’s show, I’d buy it.” I was over the top excited until he added, “But I’m doing a series for Dick” (The New Dick Van Dyke Show with Hope Lange as Dick’s wife), “and none of my pencils has a point. I used to have sharp pencils.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked.

“You were writing. I didn’t want to interrupt you,” he explained. I hadn’t realized he’d seen me toying with our script at my desk. “Maybe use a pen,” I teased. Carl was easygoing and I felt sure he wouldn’t fire me, but I wanted him to be happy. I sharpened a box of pencils and even removed the dead people from his phone list.

When he suggested we come in Monday with ideas for Van Dyke, my excitement quickly morphed into anxiety. What if we disappointed him? An hour later, the anxiety turned to panic. An agent who’d read our spec script called to say a producer with a new series wanted to meet with us. Inexperienced and with my full-time job, I worried we couldn’t handle one assignment, let alone two.

Somehow we did. Everyone was happy except for CBS, which deemed the plot of our Dick Van Dyke episode too racy to air. Carl and Dick filmed it at their own expense, thinking the network would reconsider. When that didn’t happen, Carl walked off the show. The drama of it all got a lot of attention and job offers for us, including The Mary Tyler Moore Show, the one we most wanted, the one that spoke to and for us….

Read it all at the Boston Globe Magazine

@Stareable – “I’ve got to have contracts for my web series?! Oh nooo!”

So You Want To Make a Web Series – Step 6
by Bri Castellini

Filmmaking, especially at the indie level, is a largely unglamorous process. There are glamorous aspects, of course: hearing your words read aloud and performed by talented actors, the thrill of a well-composed shot that raises the value of the entire project, and your first film festival acceptance email. But this step in the process, focusing on cast and crew contracts, is not one of those. It is, however, one of the most important and vital things you will hate to do.

Stareable recently published a great article from an actual lawyer about all the legal considerations you should keep in mind when writing up contracts. For this column, I, a non-lawyer whose mother really wanted her to be a lawyer, will give you a pragmatic perspective based in experience, not legal expertise.

The first thing you need to know is that, regardless of whether you are paying people, you need a contract signed (and backed up in two places) from every member of your team, even if they only work a single day.

Not because your friends are going to take advantage of you or because people are basically rotten, but because you cannot expect other people to take your project as seriously as you do, especially without significant monetary compensation. As such, their thought process is different than yours, and you’re going to want to be as clear as possible about what is expected of them.

Every good web series or indie film contract should have at LEAST the following:

Clear and reasonable expectations and responsibilities

If they’re an actor, how many episodes are they acting in, how many shooting days will that require, and how long can you require them to be on set per shooting day? If they’re crew, same questions, plus how long will you need them on set before and after filming wraps? Are they expected to get there earlier than the actors and stay after the day is done to break down equipment?

Write down, in as specific wording as possible, everything they could conceivably be expected to do. It sounds inane, because it is, but these sorts of things will save your butt down the line if something goes wrong.

Furthermore, what about after principal filming is over? Is there flexibility if you need a reshoot, or if a day takes longer than expected and needs to be split up into two? How about ADR sessions, or additional dialog recording, for when you just need them to record a few lines of dialog later?

Will you be filming promotional videos with them, to hype up the season? Do they need to be involved in your crowdfunding campaign, and if so, what level of involvement is needed? Does one of the perks involve work on their part, are they in the initial pitch video, or do they need to be in a fundraising live-stream?

All of these questions and contingencies need to get decided, otherwise they have free reign to say “it’s not in my contract, so I’m not doing it.” They probably won’t, but you never know, and that’s the point of a contract. It’s preventative.

Compensation

If you can pay your cast and crew, this is where you outline exactly how much, as well as if it’s a flat fee, if it’s based on how many shooting days they’re participating in, or some other equation. You can also opt to “defer” payment, meaning that your cast and crew agree to wait for payment until the production makes x in profits from the project, at which time they’ll receive a pre-agreed-upon rate.

More than likely, though, you’re broke because you’re self-producing a web series and we’re all broke. At least you’re in good company! In this case, even deferring payment might not be an option, but you still need to offer something. Sometimes the compensation for work will be as simple as craft services (on-set food) and IMDb credit, but you still need to outline that. “For the work agreed upon in the previous section, you will receive x by [date]”

Usage

Once the web series is completed, where does it go? Are you considering approaching distributors or are you uploading directly to YouTube? Are you submitting to film festivals and live screenings?

Make sure you have an agreement up-front about where you’re allowed to post episodes and if you, the creator and producer, have total authority over the final product and where it ends up. If you end up making a distribution deal, it’s going to be helpful to have signed contracts from your actors giving you the legal authority to sign over the rights to the show and to their performances or work in it.

Social media

We’ll talk about this more once we get to the column about promotion, but it’s worth noting early on that even actors with their faces all over your project will be bad at posting about the show to social media.

You’re making a web series and your audience is 100% online, so the more people posting about it, the more likely it is to get seen. As such, I recommend having a clause in the contract about how frequently cast and crew are expected to post about the show or about new episodes, and to which platforms.

Once again, you can’t expect anyone else, even your lead actors, to take your show as seriously as you do. Sometimes you’re going to have to lay it out for them, especially once the show’s been out of production for a while and they’ve moved on to other projects. There’s a completely understandable promotional fatigue that sets in as you go, which you might even run into yourself, so having set expectations from the very beginning will be incredibly helpful.

And another thing:

Never written a contract before? No problem! Just Google “film contract” and mash up a couple that you find until you’ve got something you’re happy with. The most important thing is that it clearly lays out everything involving expectations, responsibilities, and compensation, so that everyone comes away from the project happy and fulfilled.

Now that you’ve conquered the legalese of contracts, we can finally move into actual pre-production, where we’ll discuss scheduling, having a plan B for everything, and the indescribable beauty of color coding.


Bri Castellini is an award-winning filmmaker as well as the Community Liaison at Stareable, a hub for web series. Check out www.stareable.com to find and read reviews of thousands of web series, all in one place. For more great articles about the craft of web series, visit the Stareable blog.

Writing Memes to Make You Laugh and Cry

They’re everywhere, right? All those encouraging words about what it is to be a writer? TVWriter™ frequent visitor Gloria E recently found three that struck her, and us, as presenting the entire range of the writing game –  hope and pragmatism and (to this TVWriter™ minion) a very disappointing type of despair:

 

 

 

 

Oh, almost forgot. For this minion, the first meme is what I want to believe, the second is the crafty lesson I know I need, and the third…well, it expresses my greatest fear – that I’ll make it as a writer and discover that I’m still stuck in the most mundane of ordinary lives.

In other words, “Yikes!”

 

Peggy Bechko’s World of Free Resources for Writers & Readers

by Peggy Bechko

I admit, usually I try to pry writers off the net, off the computer, except for a good word processor or scriptwriting program. You know, a blank screen and all that. Get the juices flowing and for God’s sakes write something!

Well, yeah, that’s good – most of the time. I’m not backing off. BUT, and it’s a big but, there are times when we writers just need to read. Maybe we need to do some research. Maybe we just need to relax. Maybe we just have a curiosity that could lead to a story.

Whatever the reason, the plain fact is writers must read. A lot.

Another fact is, writers frequently are broke. Certainly at least the ones who are just beginning, or doing it in their spare time until such time as they can make a living writing.

So, this go round I’m going to share with you some sites where the book downloads are free. And they’re not just fiction downloads, though some of those can be very good as well.

Nope, these sites include things like reference books, papers, maybe magazine, text books, that fiction I mentioned and some even provide links to more sites with more free e-books.

Yes, there’s a lot of ‘junk’ out there, but if you pay attention and are selective it’s possible to find gems without spending too much time doing it.

So read, my brothers and sister of the page, read!

In no particular order of preferen:

Free e-books.net – i.e. Free Ebooks for Life!
https://www.free-ebooks.net/

There’s a sign up requirement but it’s free and you can either fill out their form or sign up through Facebook. They offer quite a ‘library’ from fiction, non-fiction, academic texts and audio books. I’ve poked around here more than once. This one is very well organized and pretty easy to browse categories and are presented in list form.

Get Free EBooks
http://www.getfreeebooks.com/

It’s not quite a straight-forward to navigate as the first one above, but it certainly isn’t difficult either. They offer an assortment of fiction, nonfiction, etc. And be advised, some turn up as ‘no good’ (as in you can’t download it and that’s their message) and I’ve spotted a couple that were done in a video format as in text that displays on a screen via YouTube. Still, again, worth a quick swing through if you’re looking for something to read.

ManyBooks.net 
http://manybooks.net/

It’s pretty easy to navigate and offers a wide variety. There are classics to download as well if that’s your thing. Many are also available in a number of languages – just click “languages: on the site navigation bar to get a list.

The Online Books Page
http://digital.library.upenn.edu/books/

The site is pretty bare bones, but it’s interesting. You can search the site in a variety of ways and what I find fascinating is they frequently come up with very old texts that have been put online for free access. These can generate some fun story ideas. They draw from many sources.

For example, there was a pamphlet available lately from the US Library of Medicine digital collection titled – “Man and woman their own doctor, or, a salve for every sore: being a book full of rare receipts for the most dangerous distempers incident to the bodies of men, women, and children : and very fit to be in all families, in this crasie, sickly, and bad times : gathered out of the library of that famous traveller, Docter Ponteous ; and now published for the good, and benefit of all people whatsoever” published in London in 1676.”

Really.

The Bottom Line:

When you feel the need to read. These can be pretty good resources. I’d recommend using a bit of free time to explore these free sites and trim the time needed to find what you need at a later date.

Hope the sites are helpful for explorer-readers everywhere. Enjoy!


Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. Learn more about her sensational career HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page and her terrific blog.

What I’ve Learned as an Indie Producer

by Bri Castellini

Now that I have two complete seasons of Brains online, a short film about to be sent off to festivals, two spin offs of Brains (that I wrote/ co-wrote and helped produce), and my friend Chris’s web series Relativity (that I produced, among other things), I feel confident in calling myself an “indie filmmaker/producer.” As such, I thought I would impart some things I’ve learned in reaching this new level of broke artist, both tangible and intangible.

    1. If you can do it yourself, do it, but also sometimes it’s ok to delegate.
    2. Only delegate after having more than one conversation with someone about what said delegation entails. You cannot expect someone you’ve just met to do things the way you want them to, because you just met them and how are they supposed to know all of your insane rules??
    3. Good audio is worth taking time on/throwing money at
    4. Good audio is the hardest thing to attain with no time or money, but it is more important than almost anything else
    5. Ask for help, even when you don’t think you need it
    6. Be prepared to do everything yourself, but try not to
    7. Always have food available
      1. Bonus lesson: people really like fruit snacks
    8. Write within your means, but remember that your means can expand the more people you meet
    9. Latch on to talented people, continuously thank them for their help, and praise them incessantly so they’ll be inclined to help out again in the future
    10. Be nice to everyone. Not only should you do this anyways because common decency, but also because the indie film world is small AF and you can’t afford to burn bridges
    11. Don’t start production before you’re ready- a healthy and thorough pre production process will make everything better and smoother at every step.
    12. Sometimes you’re going to have to start production before you’re ready.
    13. Communication is more important than anything, even audio.
    14. Don’t fight on set.
    15. Fight after set, then make an effort to fix the problem. It’s not about winning, it’s about effectively solving issues and finishing the project.
    16. Press releases are super important. They are also a bitch to write.
    17. Reaching out to press is super important too, and it’s the most awkward thing in the world.
    18. Create a project-specific, production company-specific, or otherwise seemingly third party email address with which to reach out to press with. This way you don’t have to send emails like “Hi my name is Bri Castellini- please write about me and my show. I am amazing and you should promote me”
    19. Learn to say “ok- how?” instead of “we can’t do that/that won’t work.” I’m bad at this but I’m working on it.
    20. Schedule people as far in advance as possible, then periodically remind them about it.
    21. Have a plan B for everything, from locations to cast/crew. As Kate Hackett once told me on Twitter, “anyone can be written out.”
    22. Don’t tell people you didn’t sleep before coming to set until after you wrap for the day.
    23. Learn how to do your makeup so it doesn’t look like you didn’t sleep before coming to set.
    24. Love what you do
    25. Only say yes to things you actually want to do/make
    26. Fake it ’til you make it, because no one actually knows what they’re doing so you may as well throw your hat into the ring.

Bri Castellini is an award-winning filmmaker as well as the Community Liaison at Stareable, a hub for web series. Check out her award winning web series, Brains, and the rest of her stats on IMDB.

This article was first published on her very informative blog.

Casting Your Web Series

by Bri Castellini

By now you’ve written a script, gathered a team of hopefully competent people behind the scenes, but now you need someone to film. That’s right — it’s time to open up your email to headshots from every hopeful performer in a fifty mile radius.

Because you’ve already made your script breakdown, you should know exactly how many characters you need to cast, so it’s time to write what’s called a “casting call.” You’ll pen a short paragraph about each character, describing their age, gender, ethnicity, and other important traits that will be helpful for actors to get a feel for the part.

Helpful traits to list: “funny, life of the party, brooding, quick-tempered, whip smart, confident, insecure.” Unhelpful traits: “hot but she doesn’t know it, hot but she knows it, just the girlfriend.”

Example casting call from Bri’s show, Brains

Facebook and other social media are a great start for blasting your casting call, but if you’re in a larger city like L.A. or New York, I suggest coughing up a few bucks for a listing on sites like Backstage or ActorsAccess.

These are sites specifically for casting, and will increase your odds of finding talent outside your personal network. They’re also set up to make it easier to sort submissions, instead of just getting a bunch of random Facebook comments and posts.

I’d suggest staying away from Craigslist. Not only does it make your production look less legitimate, but the only actors who actively use Craigslist for casting are looking for… more revealing roles, if you catch my meaning. (Hint: I mean porn)

I’m a fan of a three step casting process.

Step 1: Have actors that fit your specifications submit headshots and, if possible, acting reels, or a compilation of their previous acting roles. Not all actors, especially younger ones, will have a reel, and you shouldn’t disqualify someone for this, but seeing them in action will make it easier to narrow down the initial deluge of submissions.

Step 2: Ask your favorites to send in a video of themselves reading sides. Sides are just excerpts from your script that you think best define the role you’re casting for. This way you can hear potential actors reading lines they’ll potentially have to perform. Usually one scene is good enough — all you’re doing is trying to get a better idea of what kind of performers they are before you meet them in person.

Step 3: Narrow down submissions even further by scheduling in-person auditions. Don’t hold auditions at your house or apartment — people are crazy, and it also doesn’t set a professional tone, even for a no-budget web series. Larger cities will have empty studio spaces for rent on an hourly basis that are pretty cheap. Otherwise, consider asking local universities for an empty classroom or friends for an empty office where they work.

This third step is more complicated than it sounds, because you’re not just auditioning people to see if they can play your character. You’re also deciding if they as a human being are going to jive with your production.

As an example, when I was casting for my series, we had one auditioner who would have been perfect for the character, but he gave off a very creepy vibe, and since we were planning on shooting with very few people in very small locations, we just didn’t feel comfortable offering him the role.

It’s like interviewing a potential roommate, because filmmaking is a very intimate and arduous process, and if you can’t imagine spending twelve hours at a time hanging out with this person, even if they read the lines well, it’s not worth it.

Congratulations, your scrappy team is now complete! Next week we’ll talk about contracts, which are necessary even if you’re only paying people in IMDb credit and fruit snacks.


Bri Castellini is an award-winning filmmaker as well as the Community Liaison at Stareable, a hub for web series. Check out www.stareable.com to find and read reviews of thousands of web series, all in one place. For more great articles about the craft of web series, visit the Stareable blog.