Laura Conway on Web Series: Whatever You Do, Don’t Be An Asshole

EDITOR’S NOTE: Ah, the second chapter in Laura’s series on the making of her very, very, very popular – over 3 million views – interweb series hit.


MAKING A BUDGET AND FINDING CASH FOR YOUR WEB SERIES
by Laura Conway

The first thing I do is accept that I won’t make back a single penny of what I’m going to spend and be OK with that. Then I find some cash.

One way to find financing is by telling as many people as you can about the project. Network like crazy. You will find people who want to help you. Unless you’re an asshole and nobody likes you. The road of life is lined with bridges.

For the first episode, the advantage in finding donors is that you’ve never asked anyone for money for a “film” project before. The disadvantage is that you’ve never done a “film” project before. So finding big investors is unlikely, but do you really want a big investor for your first attempt anyway? If it comes out badly, you’re screwed for next time.

For The Vamps Next Door, I personally asked my friends and family for donations. Even my elderly aunt, who didn’t get it, and my uncle, who I hadn’t seen in years. Since I’m not an asshole, they both happily contributed. My parents felt sorry for me and a little guilty too, so they contributed the most. LOL. Tragedy plus time equals more cash for my comedy. My friends contributed small amounts and I used my own money for the rest. (I tried IndieGoGo once and it was a total waste of time.)

Having blown every budget I’ve ever made, I think it’s best to figure out how much money there is to spend first, and then make the budget fit into that amount. I’ve found that for about $1500 I can make a decent, nothing fancy episode like this one in 1 day. https://youtu.be/RUP7aBu7laE Keep costs in mind when you’re writing the script. It’s hard, but if you’ve got no cash, the script shouldn’t have expensive props and wardrobe that you don’t already own and no expensive locations. Sometimes actors have their own props and wardrobe and if you’re not an asshole, they might be willing to share.

For a Vamps production, I do almost everything myself (for free): props, wardrobe, production schedule, call sheets, camera operator, production design, and editing… the advantage is there’s a lot to learn (fun!) and the disadvantage is there’s a lot to learn (oh no!), and it shows, especially in the earlier episodes.

The following items are not DIY and should always be part of the budget: (More on assembling a crew later.)

1. Sound Recording – the fastest way to screw up your episode is with bad audio. In the LA area, there are professional audio people looking for side work in between their high paying gigs. I find them on mandy.com. I budget $200 / day.
2. Make up person – I budget $200 / day.
3. Performers: Sure, actors are used to working low budget shows for free or for “deferred payment” (more on deferred and SAG later) but I always budget something to pay them. Actors bring my characters to life and I feel they deserve to get paid. I budget $100/day or more if I can afford it.
4. Insurance: Do you feel lucky? When I’ve got 2 actresses running down the street with real medieval weapons and nobody dies, I do feel lucky.

I almost always get insurance even though I’ve never had to use it.

I invested $900 in a Canon DSLR and I learned how to use it. Vamps Next Door co-creator, Phil Ramuno, the director, also has his own cameras, so I don’t need to budget for that.

Locations can really blow the budget, but if you’ve got well developed characters you can drop them into any setting, so try INT. HOUSE. A house is the easiest location to find for free.

If you can shoot in your own house, that’s the best way to avoid the stress and expense of damaging someone else’s house. For Season 1 of Vamps, one of the actors got his parents to volunteer their house for free. When someone does that, it means they probably never had a film crew in their house before. They will be anxious, unhappy and tend to kick you out before you’re done. And if it’s a friend, she could turn into an ex-friend. Sad, right? Now I always shoot Vamps in my house.

Another possibly free setting is an office if that lends itself to your story. On Vamps Season 1, we got an office location for free from an actress in exchange for giving her a small part in an upcoming episode. Bartering. It works. Of course, we had to shoot from 10pm til 2am, but like my dad always says, there ain’t no free lunch.

Hard Way Lesson #2: More is not always better. If you take a look at this episode from my former web series, AGELESS, you will immediately notice its production value is much higher than The Vamps Next Door. https://youtu.be/HbFrydRAlro Yup, I went crazy, spent too much money and it looks better than it needs to for a web series. I should have made AGELESS for way less money, but the extras I got were an actual cinematographer, an actual production designer, an entire camera crew, fancy equipment and professional coloring. And I have to admit, shooting on ice was pretty cool. But what made it worth it was the education I got about the different parts of a real production.

These days I stay in my budget, except when I’m props shopping and absolutely must have… not one, but TWO bloody, dead bodies. One was dismembered…

Stay tuned for the next chapter on working with directors.

Read Chapter 1 HERE


Laura Conway is the writer and producer of The Vamps Next Door web series, directed by Phil Ramuno. Subscribe to the Vamps’ YouTube channel to get notifications about new episodes.

Bri Castellini: How To Find Places To Film For Free or Cheap – @stareable

Just your typical grad school hallway – dressed to look like it went thru an apocalypse

 by Bri Castellini

You can have the most incredible, dedicated cast and crew in the world, the best equipment, and an Oscar-worthy script, but if you don’t have places to actually film, none of that matters. Luckily, it can be easier than you might realize to scrape together adequate locations to bring your concept to life.

First, a reminder from my column about pre-production, relating to the considerations you should keep in mind when scouting potential locations:

  • Have you seen the location during the time of day you will be filming? Scouting is so, so important, meaning that you take your director and, preferably, your sound person and DP, on a tour of the location to get everyone on the same page and to experience what a day of shooting might look like. Sometimes, a location is great, but there isn’t enough space for a tripod, or there’s a particularly loud exercise group nearby at the exact time you’d want to film your scenes.
  • How easy is this location to get to? How close to public transportation is it, or is there sufficient parking availability?
  • Is there ambient sound that will cause problems? This means everything from crowds to a refrigerator you can’t turn off, to traffic, to a construction site nearby.
  • Is there enough space for the camera and crew? Remember, there will be quite a few people behind the camera as well as in front of it, all of whom need to be hidden from view. Sometimes these problems can be addressed if you’re able to move the furniture around to accommodate, but if the space isn’t yours, ALWAYS ASK.
  • Where is the nearest bathroom? This is especially a concern for outdoor shoots.
  • Is there another area nearby you can use for “holding?” Holding is just an area, preferably away from where the actual filming is taking place, for cast and crew to hang out when they’re not needed. Even during breaks, try to take them away from set, otherwise, you risk production design or continuity.
  • Will this location be available again for reshoots or for multiple shooting days? You’ll frequently end up filming multiple days in a single location, so you need to make sure a location is available for as long as you actually need it.
  • How much control do you have over the space? Can you control lighting/rearrange furniture/put up posters and set decorations? Can you redirect traffic or tell people in other rooms to pipe down? Does one need licenses or other approval for outdoor scenes? Do they need to be prepared to lie to cops? The more control you have over the variables, the better a location is going to be. Otherwise, you better be good at improv.

Now, moving on:

Make a list

Before you start your scouting adventure, sit down with your principal production people, the people most involved in the planning and organizing of the shoot, and make a list of all the locations you already have available to you for free. This list will usually include:

  • Everyone’s apartments/houses (remember to clear shooting dates with roommates to avoid trapping people in or out of the house who aren’t involved in the project)
  • Everyone’s backyards (if you live somewhere where people have backyards)
  • School or university classrooms and exteriors
  • Nearby public parks or quiet streets

Then, start thinking a little more creatively- are you a regular at a local establishment, like a restaurant, bar, or cafe? Do you think you could sweet-talk the owners into letting you film there for a little while, perhaps in exchange for using their logo in the project? What about where you work- can you ask your boss if you can come in early or stay late in order to use the office, or an underused conference room, or the parking lot?

You should also ask friends and trusted cast members for use of their apartments. Don’t ask cast members you don’t know as well, because sometimes talent can see this as a mark of an unprofessional production. But if your BFF is one of your actors, no reason you can’t ask for a favor!

Next, make a second list of locations that may cost a little bit but still won’t break the bank. Many creators utilize AirBnB because you can often find a variety of places for small daily fees- just make sure you let the renters know that you’ll be filming.

Once you have this list, it becomes a lot easier to develop new projects, as well as start to match scenes in your script to potential filming locations.

Transfiguration

You’d be surprised how a little bit of furniture rearranging, creative production design, and a slightly different camera angle can turn one room into a variety of seemingly different locations. Especially when you’re short on cash, time, and resources, turning one location into several will make your job so much easier.

For instance, Kate Hackett @HackettKate , creator and star of Classic Alice, used a single AirBnB location for most of her episodes, even though the characters were allegedly in a variety of different bedrooms, apartments, and even houses. Similarly, Jules Pigott @threeminutesfast , creator of Like, As It Is (based on Shakespeare’s “As You Like It”), Twelfth Grade (or Whatever) (based on Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night”), The Uncanny Upshurs, and The Emma Agenda (based on Jane Austen’s “Emma”), has used her bedroom at her parent’s house for every single one of her shows, rearranging furniture and adding different production design elements to mask this. She also uses other rooms in the same house to fake dorm hallways, dorm kitchens, and other interior locations.

Sometimes, though, it’s as simple as turning the camera around, pretending one half of the location is a bedroom and the other half is a living room. As long as you stay along a 180-degree axis, the audience is never the wiser.

Get Guerilla With It

 

When you’re shooting in public, you’re supposed to pay for insurance and for permission. This is “non-negotiable” and it’s “extremely irresponsible” to skip this step, even if your project is funded entirely on passion and dreams.

Stareable and myself are by no means liable if you get in trouble, and we take no responsibility for how you choose to proceed, but here are some tips if you, in fact, choose to skip this step.

As long as you’re careful, out of the way, and not blocking traffic, crowds, or other activities, you can film basically anywhere. This comes with its own problems, of course: you’ll have less control over the area, there will be more sound issues, people will constantly be walking into or near your shots that you might not want, etc. But it’s not impossible, and you’ll probably get a lot of production value out of filming away from your bedroom.

Some rules of thumb:

  • Be careful where you use/ if you use a tripod. Some locations and cities have laws again “sticks on the ground” in terms of filming, meaning that if you’re holding the camera, you’re in the clear, but as soon as you put down the tripod, you’re technically breaking a law. If you’re far enough off the beaten path or away from foot and vehicle traffic, you’re usually fine, but it’s definitely something to research.
  • Pack as light as possible, because you’re trying to be discreet. You probably won’t need lighting equipment, and you might not even need a tripod and have a dedicated person to look after the bags somewhere nearby so you can run-it-and-gun-it.
  • Scout in advance, and try to take note of when the busiest times are so you can avoid them. For parks, try not to film on weekends, or if you have to, find the areas of the parks that are usually quieter and aren’t on the way to or from anywhere.
  • Get there early. Earlier than you would usually show up, since you aren’t scheduled to be there and have a bit more time flexibility, just in case. When filming the pilot for my show, thank god we arrived early, because a bike race was taking place exactly where we’d planned to film an apocalypse scene, and we had to do some quick re-scouting to ensure we’d still get our shots.
  • Be respectful. You’re using these areas for free, without permission, and other people have as much right to be there as you and your crew. If you need to ask someone to be quiet for a shot or to move their family reunion two feet to the left (yes, this actually happened), do it kindly and with the understanding that you might have to move or wait, not them.

Do you have any tips I missed or words of wisdom to impart? Let me know so we can continue spreading the love!

Don’t “Write What Sells”

Second-guessing buyers seldom gets anybody anywhere in the wonderful world of showbiz.

Not in books, TV, films, you name it.

Over the years it’s become clear here at TVWriter™ that the big TV writer-creator-producer successes are those who write what they want to see and are fortunate enough to discover that their sensibilities are in sync with both audiences and TV development executives.

And we at TVWriter™ have also discovered, often the hard way, that one of the definitions of a more “modest” success is that, “I did it my way and it came out pretty damn good, which makes me pretty damn proud.”

Now hunch yourself over that keyboard and let your creativity flow….

The video above comes from Microbudget Film Lab. Learn more about it HERE

Travis Richey has Good News for Us

Travis Richey, creator of The Inspector, one of our favorite TV series-within-a-TV series creations (You’ve seen the show on Community, kids, remember?), brings us up to date on the deliciousness of his world:

by Travis Richey

Slated ranks our film 99 out of 100

Greetings, Inspectators!

Well, this is exciting! Slated.com, the networking site for films and investors, has performed a script analysis and financial analysis on The Inspector Chronicles, and the results are AMAZING.  Our total project package score has risen to 55.7 (the highest score is 76.9), which puts us in the top 1% of ALL film projects on the site! Out of 5,516 projects listed on the site, only 20 have a higher total score, and we are the #2 Sci-Fi film on the entire site!

There are three big elements to the package score.

One, the team score.  This takes into account all the great talent (cast and crew) we have attached to the movie. This score will go higher as we attach even more recognizable names to the project.

Second, the script score.  Slated had our script “covered” by three readers, and their notes are combined to give us a script score.  This score will also improve as we integrate the notes we find constructive and perform another polish this fall!

And finally, the financial score, which is a projection of how much a film is likely to make, based on all available data. It is intended to estimate for investors the likelihood of financial success for a project.

Our financial analysis from Slated came back at an astounding 9 out of 100 points, and our revenue as the project stands now is projected at more than 12 times our budget!

Besides just being incredible, it now gives us some bragging rights, and we can go to potential investors with the confidence that an impartial 3rd party thinks this movie will make them some money!

Now the challenge is to find more investors!  We have a contract in place with an excellent Return On Investment offer.  We have some people we’ve already talked to, and we’re reaching out to new potential investors via our Slated.com profile. Check it out!

We’re currently seeking minimum investments of $10,000, and if we got 20 of those, the movie would be funded!  So if anyone knows someone that might be interested…

Also, we still have all of our fantastic name talent attached, but we still have several roles to cast, including the female lead!  Now that we’ve got some money in the bank it becomes a little easier to go to talent and pitch the movie to them.  Plus, with new talent comes new opportunities for announcements that the industry trades might be interested in.  It’s all strategical at this point 🙂

Thank you for your continued support. Without our fans maintaining interest throughout this entire process, we might not have the fortitude to do it ourselves!

~Travis


A good place to go for more about LB fave writer-director-producer-actor Travis Richey is HERE

Cartoon: ‘Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass’

Our favorite artist/philosopher, Grant Snider, demonstrates how he is every bit as much of a poet at Walt Whiman:

EPSON MFP image

More of Grant Snider’s sensitive perception at Incidental Comics, HERE

Buy Grant’s wonderful new book HERE

Only 2 – Count ’em, 2 – Weeks Left to Enter the People’s Pilot 2017 Writing Contest

Over $20,000 in prizes & entry bonuses!

FREE FEEDBACK! 

FREE STORYTELLING PATTERNS E-BOOK!

SPECIAL BONUS AWARD – All Entries Eligible!

NEW! We Want Your Web Series Pilots – See ‘Enter’ Page for Details!

TVWriter™’s PEOPLE’S PILOT has been kickstarting the careers of fine new TV writers since the year 2000 – the dawn of the 21st Century. Enter PEOPLE’S PILOT 2017 and create your dream future!

Winners, Finalists, & Semi-Finalists of TVWriter™’s past contests are on, or recently have been on, the staffs of the following shows:

LETHAL WEAPON
WESTWORLD
MOM
NARCOS
TIME AFTER TIME
GREY’S ANATOMY
THE LEFTOVERS
BASTARD EXECUTIONER
ANIMAL PRACTICE
KILLER WOMEN
NTSF:SD:SUV
GIRLFRIENDS
FILTHY PREPPY TEENS
MELROSE PLACE

SNEAKY PETE
CHICAGO PD

CHICAGO FIRE
PERSON OF INTEREST
THE WALKING DEAD
RIZZOLI AND ISLES
COLONY
ONCE UPON A TIME
THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES
SMALLVILLE
ROME
PRIVATE PRACTICE
SNOWFALL

Plus various TV movies & other one-offs!

You’ve got from now until the very last minute (11:59 PM) of November 1, 2017 to pay the entry fee of $50 (with some discounts still available) and upload your pilot script for your own original series, of any length and in any genre, intended for electronic media – broadcast TV, cable or satellite TV, the internet, you name it.

Find out more about our prizes, rules, and all aspects of PEOPLE’S PILOT 2017 HERE

And if you have any questions, send ’em HERE

Batman VS Elmer Fudd

Sure, the comic book’s cool, but we want to see this as a TV series:

Voices and scanning by a dude you may have heard of: Neal Adams, who may in fact be the absolute Batman artist supreme. Thanks, Neal!

The images you’re seeing and the words they’re saying were drawn by Byron Vaughns and written by Tom King.

Everything we all need to know about (and created by) Neal Adams is HERE

And HERE