Bri Castellini: Exactly How Much My Award-Winning Web Series Cost Me To Produce – @brisworld

by Bri Castellini

Filmmaking is expensive. Even the cheapest, easiest production in the world is riddled with costs for things you can never truly anticipate until you’re actually on set, and it only gets harder when you’re on your own. I’m one of the idiots trying to make and release content without the support or funds from a production company or a cable network. Hi, my name is Bri Castellini, and I’m an independent filmmaker with over $80,000 in student debt.

Since 2015, I have produced two seasons of my award-winning web series Brains, two spin-off “extended universe” projects (a mini-series and a short film) from that series, a short film, and several other web series and film projects that were written by friends and collaborators. As expected, this productivity did not come cheap.

Today, I want to talk about the first season of Brains, my first film project, and take you through where the minimal amounts of money I had for my no-budget show went. At the time of production, I was an assistant manager at a coffee shop in TriBeCa, making $14 an hour, while also in my first year of graduate school.

IndieGoGo

In the green column of the budget, I had only one source of funds — the IndieGoGo campaign we ran between filming the pilot and the nine other episodes of that season. According to the campaign itself, we raised $1,015 of the arbitrary $3,000 goal we set. In actuality, we’d made $923.65, after Paypal and IndieGoGo took their fees. Pro tip: the fees on IndieGoGo are lower if you reach your goal. Had I known this at the time, I would have donated the remaining amount before time was up, since it was all coming straight back to me anyways. At some point during production, my grandfather sent me $100 as a gift, so I added that to the IndieGoGo funds, making our working budget $1,023.65, i.e. definitely not enough money.

IndieGoGo Perks

Because I’d never run a crowdfunding campaign before, I made the most amateur of mistakes: I didn’t calculate the costs of the actual perks before setting their prices on the campaign. For instance, we charged $35 for the “official poster” perk and made about $200 dollars from it, but we actually spent $392.95 printing and shipping those posters, which is a pretty dramatic net loss. Not an ideal situation.

Transportation

$312.41. This is where most of our money went that first season. Because we’re in New York City, no cast or crew had a car, meaning that we relied entirely on taxis and public transportation to get us to and from set. It got complicated when we had to drag giant props and other materials to and from our apartments, and because filming is exhausting, we’d treat ourselves to a cab ride after a hard day instead of braving the subway with five giant bags of props and lighting equipment. I also had to shell out some cash when a key cast or crew member forgot about our shoot and we needed them on set as soon as possible. Season two, after learning all this the hard way, we only spent $41.20 on transportation.

Props

Brains is an apocalypse show, so we also spent a chunk of change on props. $261.66 to be exact, which covered fake guns, a fake machete, handcuffs, lab coats, binoculars, and outfits for all our zombies, among many other things. This couldn’t be avoided, but during season two, we spent almost nothing on those items, because we already owned them. In this case, and this case only, being a pack rat really paid off.

New actor

There were several months between filming the pilot and the rest of the season, and in that time, the actor playing the main love interest, who was also my roommate, dropped out for lots of very dramatic reasons. Because this character was vital to the story, and because we’d already cast every other guy we knew in other parts on the show, we had to shell out $91.70 to woo a new actor. First, $19.95 for a Backstage.com account to post a casting notice, then $24.95 for listing the casting notice. After we got some responses, we needed a professional-looking space for in-person auditions, which ended up costing $46.80. The actor we eventually chose was absolutely worth the unexpected charges, and I want to cast him in everything ever moving forward, but finding him cost us time and almost 1/9 of our total budget.

Mistakes

When I was going over my budget spreadsheet after the season, I organized some of the charges into a category labeled “charges that fucked us without being that helpful.” The $165.65 total included a prop gun that looked too fake to use, a set of mics that weren’t compatible with the rest of our equipment, adapters for those mics that still didn’t make them work, PayPal fees from getting the IndieGoGo money into my account, and another set of prop guns that got delivered to the wrong address, and thus we didn’t actually get to use in the show. You can’t plan for every mistake, but you can do more work beforehand to lessen their impact. Had we researched those mics more fully, for example, we never would have ordered them or the adapters in the first place. Same for the too-fake fake gun.

Food

That first season we were pretty inconsistent about feeding people on set because we genuinely forgot that was a thing you had to do, but even so, we spent $221.23. Sometimes we’d send someone to a nearby fast food chain to pick up actual meals, sometimes we’d just buy water bottles and snacks to have on hand, and at the end of the season, I bought three giant watermelons. Fun fact: hitting a watermelon with a machete and a baseball bat sounds like hitting a human, which we recorded to layer onto the zombie “kills” we’d already filmed.

Advertising

Because we were a group of nobodies, no one cared that we’d just spent the better part of our summer laboring over a web series. So each week a new episode went live, I spent a little money on Facebook ads to promote them, to varying levels of success. In total, for the first season, I spent $167.86 on Facebook ads.

Film Festivals

This cost is one that still sends me reeling. I actually don’t have the actual total amount I’ve spent on film festival submissions, because after a while, it got too depressing to keep track. The number in my spreadsheet, $120.74, is only accurate as of November 2015, but since then, I’ve probably spent twice that, because the only way to raise your show’s profile is to get accepted into film festivals, and the only way to get accepted into film festivals is to spend a bunch of money submitting your show to them for the possibility of selection.

As of November 2015, I was $948 over budget. Since then, taking into account my being over $1500 in the red from season 2 and the exorbitant film festival costs I’m still accruing, it’s safe to say that from a financial perspective, producing a web series is more expensive than setting your money on fire. In the future, my best case scenario is breaking even. And I still wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.


Bri Castellini is an indie filmmaker and Community Liaison at Stareable, our favorite web series hub. Read her blog! Watch Bri’s award-winning web series, BrainsHERE! Oh, and she wants you to know this:

John Ostrander: The Digital Dog Ate My Homework. Honest.

by John Ostrander

When doing my writing lectures/classes, near the start I always ask who in the class would consider themselves to be storytellers. A few raise their hands and then I tell everyone to raise their hands.

We’re all storytellers. We all use story in our daily lives. They’re the atoms of our social interactions. The example I give is if you’re a student and you’re late with your homework assignment you should have a good reason why. Make it a good story. “My dog ate my homework” no longer qualifies – if it ever did. In fact, given how much everything is done on computer these days, it would have to be “My digital dog ate my homework.” It’s not any more compelling than the old version, but it might be considered moderately clever.

Deadlines remain a factor long after you leave school and nowhere is that truer than in comics. In his editorial capacity, my good friend Mike Gold once warned me I had moved past deadline and was approaching the funeral line. He also once rang the doorbell of a truant artist (he happened to be in the artist’s home town on other business). Editors showing up on your doorstep can be unnerving.

In my earliest days as a pro writer, I did everything on typewriter (first manual and then electric; rumors that I chiseled them on stone tablets are just mean). I didn’t have a computer until later and, even when I did, some companies (including DC) were not equipped to receive them electronically. So that meant printing them up on my dot-matrix printer and then rushing them off to FedEx for overnight delivery.

Unless you called in your package by a certain time, usually much earlier than you had the work done, you had to take the package to the nearest FedEx office. If you didn’t hit the office by closing time (usually around 6 PM), you had to make the Midnight Run to the main FedEx office out by the largest airport around. More than once, Kim was the driver while I finished collating the pages, stuffing them in the envelope, and addressing the delivery slip. Let me tell you, Speed Racer had nothing on Kim. She’d run stoplights and take stop signs as suggestions to be ignored. Often, we’d meet other local freelancers also making the death defying Midnight Run. It almost got to be a club.

It was something of a step up when I could fax the script in; that could be done at any time. It still wasn’t completely convenient. These days it’s all done electronically. For instance, this column will never see paper.  As soon as it’s finished, it’s a rush to Hotmail and then to the hallowed halls of ComicMix. It doesn’t have quite the same romance as the Midnight FedEx Run but, on the other hand, there’s a lesser chance of a traffic fatality. And fewer chances for an alibi although the possibility that my steam-powered computer (a.k.a. the digital dog) ate my column is potentially truer than the classic excuse.

Of course, all this could be avoided by simply buckling down and doing the work on-time but, hey, where’s the fun in that?


John Ostrander is one of LB’s favorite writers in any medium. Don’t forget to read his most excellent blog at ComicMix, where this piece first appeared. You can learn more about John and his masterworks HERE

John Ostrander: Holding Out For A Hero

by John Ostrander

Bill Maher, noted iconoclastic and increasingly misanthropic host of Real Time on HBO, announced about ten days ago that he was taking July off because, after six months of President Trump, he really needed it. I sympathize. Not before he took what I regard as some ill-informed and gratuitous swipes at comics, comic book movies, sci-fi/fantasy books, movies and TV and anything else I assume that he considers intellectually lowbrow.

Among his gripes that the stupid summer movies were increasingly infiltrating into fall, the time for more serious, adult movies. His biggest gripe is that they make us, the unwashed public, stupider because it makes us want a savior, someone who will descend from on high and rescue us instead of getting off our duffs and doing what needs to be done (i.e. deal with Trump) ourselves.

Except they’re not.

What bothers me about Maher’s criticisms is that he really doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I have severe doubts Mr. Maher has seen any of the superhero films, let alone read a comic book. It reminds me of the people who used to criticize Harry Potter films and books (which Maher also dislikes) as Satanic without ever having seen a film or read a word of the books. Somebody told them they were Satanic and that’s all they needed.

I can’t entirely blame Maher for thinking that films such as Man of Steel present the superhero as a godlike being descending to save the masses. The director, Zack Snyder, appeared to make the same mistake, presenting Supes in various Jesus like images. However, Superman is more like Moses than Jesus. Moses comes as a baby in a basket floating down the Nile to the Egyptian princess; baby Kal-El comes to Earth in a small rocket to the Kents in Kansas. Moses grows up as an Egyptian; Kal-El grows up as part of the Midwestern farming community.

However, Superman is neither. One of the key moments in the first Christopher Reeve Superman movie is the first time he takes off his glasses and opens his shirt to reveal the iconic S.

Not only does he become Superman: we become Superman.

That’s one of the big keys to the success of Superman over the decades. It’s part of the myth. Yes, we may seem meek and mild-mannered like Clark Kent but, if we took off our glasses and opened our shirts, people would see we were Superman.

It’s the same thing in the Wonder Woman movie, the first time Princess Diana shows up in the Wonder Woman regalia. [SPOILER ALERT!]It’s a great moment as she climbs out of the trench and starts determinedly to stride across No-Man’s Land. She deflects the murderous gunfire of the Germans. She has been outraged by the suffering of innocents and she’s going to do something about it. The Allied troops, inspired, join her and drive the Germans from the suffering village.

At that moment, Wonder Woman is us. Male and female, we identify with her. We become her. That’s the power, not only of the movies but of the story in general. We identify with that hero. They can inspire us to become our best selves.

That is what Bill Maher doesn’t get.

I don’t dislike Maher. He speaks up on topics and takes positions with which I agree – such as climate change. In doing that, he speaks for many people. It’s why I listen; to hear what I think and feel put into words. That’s why it’s frustrating to hear Maher denigrate the field in which I work and that so many worldwide really enjoy. The global revenues on these films are greater than the U.S. take. This suggests that the films speak to people outside our shores and, I suspect, for much the same reasons. It’s not simply the special effects; it’s how they make us feel.

It does make me question. If Maher is so blind on this, how much else is he blind about and that I ignore because they fall into my own prejudices and beliefs.

I hope Maher comes back from his time off refreshed and ready to do battle again. I don’t expect him to backtrack from his previous statements. I’d just like to see him leave comics alone.

Because, Bill, you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.


John Ostrander is one of LB’s favorite writers in any medium. Don’t forget to read his most excellent blog at ComicMix, where this piece first appeared. You can learn more about John and his masterworks HERE

Ground-Breaking TV Writer Rita Lakin was “The Only Woman in the Room”

by Herbie J Pilato

With her new book, THE ONLY WOMAN IN THE ROOM: EPISODES IN MY LIFE AND CAREER AS A TELEVISION WRITER, Rita Lakin writes so well what she knows so well about.

A ground-breaking talent, Lakin was one of the first female writers who graced the behind-the-scenes of the small screen.  Her first TV script, “A Candle in the Window,” an episode of Dr. Kildare, executive produced by David Victor (Marcus Welby, M.D.), was a fine precursor of what was to come:

Featuring former film star Ruth Roman, “Candle” told of the devastating loss a nurse experiences when her husband dies after she served for years as his primary caregiver.  The episode also featured a young Ronny Howard, then also appearing as Opie on The Andy Griffith Show, as Rowman’s young son, and was directed by Sydney Pollack (as his first credit as well, years before Out of Africa, Tootsie  and Bobbie Deerfield, and countless other monumental gigs for both the big-screen and small).

As Lakin explains today, “It was my first assignment on TV. I was recently widowed and that’s why David Victor wanted me to write a story on that subject. Believe me, I knew a lot on that subject.”

Other TV assignments followed and were a diverse mix including segments of some of TV’s most beloved classics like The Invaders, Family Affair, The Mod Squad and The Rookies, Dynasty, and Nightingales, which Lakin created.  The varied episodes of these series allowed for Lakin’s prolific ability and unique perspective to shine, as it did with several well-known TV-movies, which helped to define the genre, such as Hey, I’m Alive (1975), starring Sally Struthers and Ed Asner isolated in the wilderness, and A Sensitive, Passionate Man (1977), starring Angie Dickinson and David Jansen (and based on the book my Barbara Mahoney)

Lakin writes about these and so much more in THE ONLY WOMAN IN THE ROOM.

As the press release for the book relays,Rita Lakin was a pioneer, a female scriptwriter in the early 1960s when Hollywood television was exclusively male.  For years, in creative meetings, she was literally the only woman in the room.  In this breezy but heartfelt remembrance, Lakin exposes us to a long-forgotten time when women were not considered worthy or welcome at the creative table.

Widowed with three young children, she talked herself into a secretarial job at Universal Studios in 1962, despite being unable to type or take dictation.  But with guts, skill, and humor she rose from secretary to free-lancer, to staff writer, to producer, to executive producer and show-runner, meeting hundreds of famous and infamous showbiz legends along the way during her long and unexpected career.  She introduced many women into the business and was a feminist before she even knew she was a feminist.

Unknown to the general public, she reached an audience of millions, week after week, year after year.  The relevance of her personal journey, charming yet occasionally shocking, will be an eye-opener to today’s readers who take for granted the abundance of female creative talent in today’s Hollywood.

A must-read, indeed, for any aspiring, novice or veteran television writer.

Learn more about Rita and get your own copy of The Only Woman in the Room HERE 


Herbie J Pilato is the Founder and Executive Director of The Classic TV Preservation Society, and the author of several classic TV companion books.  He is practically a founding father of TVWriter™ and is a Contributing Editor Emeritus. Learn more about Herbie J Pilato HERE.

Peggy Bechko: Better Character Creation

by Peggy Bechko

Thinking about characters? Or just thinking about your story?

Consider the films you’ve seen and the scripts you’ve read, novels too. Whether the story you present is character driven or action driven, the story centers on the characters.

It’s a simple truth many like to forget while they’re debating the virtues of character driven vs. action driven tales.

So, how to make characters better so actors can’t wait to play the parts or book editors can’t wait to have that novel with their publisher’s logo hit the shelf?

Well for one thing, there’s a weakness in film when it comes to female characters. I hear actresses gripe a lot that they don’t find many strong female roles and actually at times look for roles written for men in an attempt to flip them. Remember Ripley in Alien? Point made.

So, how to create good, strong characters for male or female leads? Think of them as individuals first, then man or woman after. These are real, live people you’re creating. They have a past before they hit the screen or pages of a novel and they have a future once the story is told. Their past has shaped who they are now and how they’re going to react within the parameters of the story you’re telling.

And when the story is ended you need to leave the audience/reader with the sense that the character, male or female, is continuing on to something more – walking back into his or her life. The characters you create MUST exist outside of the story world (script or novel) of your creation.

Some writers create biographies for their characters. Some write bits and pieces in the voice of their characters, whatever works to nail down the fact that this is a real person, not a paper cut-out.

Remember, when creating characters, people are people. At times they’re serious, other times they’re funny. They win and they lose. They do dumb things, smart things, pointless things. They’re people.

Even if you’re writing a drama, the characters won’t be serious all the time; there’ll be moments of levity. A comedy? They’re not going to be funny all the time.

Avoid stereotypes. That’s a generalization I know, but think about it. Certain types of scripts lend themselves to certain characteristics, perhaps certain genders. But, generally the writer should be able to flip dialog between genders (unless you’re writing a full out Romance and plainly the heroine would be operating on a specific plain.) But, in the case of Ripley, that part was written for a guy and it was filled by Sigorney Weaver. Food for thought, no?

Here’s the thing. You, the writer, are creating real people. They must have their own motivations, dreams and more born out of their past experiences. Don’t create mindless macho men and bimbos with nothing on their minds but marriage and babies. Mostly neither one of those ring true. There’s no depth and I’m guessing the writer never paused to create a life for that character other than the small frame of time they spend on the written page.

It’s up to the writer to create something original, something unique, not the old, tired “troubled past” so many like to fall back on.

Want an example? Well, I’m not going to give you one. Figure it out for yourself.

And one last thing. Are you introducing characters with physical descriptions? Well, darn it stop. Doesn’t matter if we’re talking novel or script. With a script you’re writing very tightly and you’re using precious lines to describe someone with jet black hair; like that matters onscreen?

Novel? How about some punch. How about introducing with some kind of action whether actual movement or something going on in somebody’s head. The physical description can be tucked in later in bits and pieces.

Who the character is, is much more important than what she or he looks like. Only exception is if appearance is important to the story, you know, like Tyrian the dwarf in Game of Thrones or if a character is black or Latino or… whatever.

The lesson? Dig deep, your characters are real people with real problems and real desires. Let your readers and your audience see them that way.


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.

John Ostrander: ’42’

by John Ostrander

I prefer watching movies on the big screen first, as big a screen as I can get. That said, I don’t always get to see them first in the movie theater. Any number of films that have become my faves I saw first on the small screen. Sometimes there’s a good reason for this; sometimes there’s no particular reason.

42 was one of those films.

It starred Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson who was the black baseball player who first integrated Major League Baseball with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. (You may know Boseman better as the Black Panther in MCU films.) It also stars Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey, the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers who hired Robinson. (Ford you know from… well, you know Harrison Ford.) It was written and directed by Brian Helgeland, who also wrote and directed A Knight’s Tale.

As with all biopics, the question can be fairly asked – how true is it? How close to the actual facts? From what I can tell from my research, it’s pretty close. It condenses some events and combines several people into one at times, but my understanding is that it does a fair job with history as it was lived.

That’s all I ask of a biopic. Historical fiction of any stripe is not the same as history. I know from experience; I wrote my historical Western comic, The Kents (DC) and I tried to get the facts right as often as I could but I was, first and foremost, telling a story and narrative demands always took precedence.

The best example of this that I know is Shakespeare’s Richard III. The play depicts him as a humpbacked villain and many people accept this version and that he killed the poor Little Princes in the Tower of London. Not true. Richard was deposed and killed by Henry Tudor who then became Henry VII and who had much better reasons for wanting those princes dead. His son became Henry VIII and his grand-daughter became Queen Elizabeth I, who was Queen in Shakespeare’s time. Not politic to suggest her grandfather was a monster.

So Shakespeare’s play in not valid as history but what he was doing was painting a portrait of evil. Since Elizabeth had no heir, he was also showing what sort of person you did not want on the throne or in any seat of power. (koff!Trump! koff!) That is what’s important and part of the reason Richard III remains so powerful. And 42 is far more accurate than Richard III.

Late in the movie, Branch Rickey tells Robinson about a little white boy he saw playing baseball in a sandlot. “And do you know what he was doing?” Rickey asks his first baseman. “He was pretending he was you.” That was the importance of the film as well; if we have any humanity, we identify with Jackie Robinson.

Movies and television in the past few decades has done this time and again; asked us to identify with people who are different races than we are, different genders, different sexual orientations, different background, different economic and sociological make-ups. Comics do it as well. The characters may not look like us but they feel like us because, underneath, they are us and we are them. The exterior differences are not what matter; it’s the heart and soul that matters and there we are one. That’s the basic truth of story, of art – we are one.

That’s not to say the exterior details don’t matter; 42 makes that plain. But the movie also makes us see how petty those details are.

Every time I come across the movie on one of the stations, I tell myself I’m only going to watch a few scenes and then, before I know it, I’ve watched it through to the end. Again. It just pulls me in.

For that amount of time, I am 42.


John Ostrander is one of LB’s favorite writers in any medium. Don’t forget to read his most excellent blog at ComicMix, where this piece first appeared. You can learn more about John and his masterworks HERE

Dennis O’Neil: A Last Word on Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman Gives Peace a Chance
by Dennis O’Neil

Of arms and the man I sing • Virgil

If high-flyin’ kick-ass jelly is your pleasure, sir or madam, and you haven’t yet seen Wonder Woman, well, skedaddle. Plenty of action there and you can still see it on the big screen, the way god – Zeus? – intended it to be seen. The USA Today movie maven wrote that during the last battle, the CGI seams were showing. Maybe, but I didn’t see them.

But there’s more to the film than excellent mayhem, seamless or otherwise. Melded into the reinvented mythology that constitutes a lot of WW’s backstory is an advocacy for peace. It doesn’t take much screen time and it’s played gently – this isn’t the kind of story that grabs you by the lapels, shakes you and snarls listen to me! But the message is there and it’s one that seldom encountered in mega-entertainments. War is not glorious. Violence is a last resort.

In the movie, WW’s sister warriors learn combat skills only to be able to protect themselves and their home from invasion. World War I is raging in Europe and we see enough of it to demonstrate that the Amazons’ fears are justified. WW is horrified at the carnage – the slaughter of innocents – and that’s why she gets involved. But we are given no reason to believe that she enjoys any of it.

I don’t know if WW’s pacific sentiments are registering with the popcorn crowd.

It’s not an easy sell, this peace stuff, not in a country whose president crows that we must win more wars if America is to be great. (The president adds “again” to the end of the previous sentence, but I’d rather not do that.) Not that we must strive to end the monstrous cruelty that’s war by deploying troops if absolutely necessary and recalling them as soon as possible. No, our Mr. T wants to win more wars which presumably requires starting newwars.

Let’s be fair. War and its glorification is as old as civilization (older if you count the skirmishes that must have occurred among hunter-gatherers.) It’s that ole debbil evolution again. Our ancestors developed an aptitude for savagery because that enabled them to deal with the perils of their world and, incidentally, allowed their descendants to become big cheeses. (Take a bow, you and I.) And much of our earliest narrative art deals with soldiers: you know – Odysseus, Achilles, Aeneas. That crowd.

So here we are and that which enabled us to survive now threatens to destroy us. And judging by the news media, nobody seems interested in even acknowledging the existence of options other than creating shiny new hells for our children to enjoy. Maybe someone will think of a way to make peace seem as desirable as war.

Meanwhile, we’ve got Wonder Woman.


Dennis O’Neil is one of the top writer-editors in comics, having guided the careers of just about every superhero the world has ever heard of. He’s also a damn fine writer of TV. LB still remembers that time he and Denny collaborated on a series created for the BBC, without ever knowing they were doing so. Or knowing each other either. Ah, the magic of TV! This post was first published in Denny’s column at ComicMix.