Networking With Web Series Buyers – @stareable

Our favorite web series site, Stareable, scores again with this very informative column by Alex LeMay. Presented as a homage to the ever-present showbiz reality known as “No mater what your job title, you’re a salesperson!” >sigh<

by Alex LeMay

A lot of you ask me how you get in the room with buyers, so I’ve created a sort of checklist for you to follow. These are things I do every day and it has become a matter-of-course whenever I want to to get my work in front of a busy studio exec or acquisition & development person (the person in a studio who looks for and buys content)

So why reach out to these people? Yes, you want them to screen and buy your work, but it can’t just be that. People in Hollywood (short for the world of commercial media) who only form transactional relationships quickly get named ‘mooch” and before you know it, the phone goes silent and your inbox will only have spam emails for Russian nutritional supplements. Be sure you are bringing value to them and their studio. In many cases, it’s about developing relationships that make you better as a person by surrounding yourself with people who are great at what they do. These kinds of two-way relationships usually culminate in doing business together, but the best and most profitable relationships I have are about exchanging ideas. Money is a byproduct.

A couple things to note before you start your outreach. You are attempting to contact SUPER busy people who have email inboxes that are full of other people asking them for things. In addition, reaching out and immediately asking them to do something for you, especially asking them to look at your work, in the first email is a big no-no. Unless it is coupled with an offer to do something for them with no expectation of them reciprocating.

So, here we go. This is how I have met the head of Spotify, the Executive Producer on THE OFFICE, a bunch of execs at YouTube Red and Maker and so on. This requires that you do research and send out a ton of emails. Remember, it’s a numbers game.

  1. Everyone’s email is on the internet somewhere:: You’ll need to dig, but they’re out there, there is also a digital tool that will create every version of that person’s email in the most commonly used email address conventions, but you’re on your own there. I prefer the old fashion way. Also- look to your contacts. Can anyone you know make an intro?
  2. Know what distinguishes you from other creators: Successful people don’t have time to meet everyone so they tend to interact with interesting people. Know what you’re good at, know what you have to offer. What obstacles have you overcome that would be interesting to that person?
  3. Look to see if they have a blog or have written articles: Have they commented on blogs? This will let you know what they are interested in. Also, one of my favorite hacks to find out how they think is to check if they have a metafilter1 or newsvine account. These are social bookmarking sites that are popular with media people. They allow the user to bookmark news stories or links they find interesting (a gentler Reddit). This is a powerful tool to get inside their head. Mentioning these things in your intro email is a huge way to get in with them.
  4. Start a blog and ask to interview them: Now, don’t just start a blog to meet people. Try to add value to the world with what you write, but, this is such a non-threatening way to meet busy buyers. Do a Skype call, an email interview, or see if you can meet for coffee.
  5. Follow-up if you haven’t heard from them: These are busy people (did I mention that?), so don’t expect them to get back to you right away. Give it a couple weeks and then shoot them another email.

Here are a couple email scripts that should get you going….

Read it all at Stareable


Alex LeMay’s latest project, DARK JOEY. DARK JOEY is a collaboration between LeMay and writer Jim Uhls, who wrote the major motion picture, FIGHT CLUB, as well as his writing partner Ric Krause. This article was first published on Stareable’s Creator Community Blog, which any reasonable web series devotee would be visiting daily!

Troy DeVolld on TV Writer-Producer Career Stages

EDITOR’S NOTE: A few words from reality show honcho to the stars, Troy DeVolld, that if you read just right – you know, a little squint here, a slight raising of the chin there – will give you hope.

Or, as LB put it: “Spiritual Xanax! Just what the medicine man ordered!”


Career Stages
by Troy DeVolld

Fan:

All is magic

Anticipation (film school?)

The move / job / apt search

First gig:

Spend too much

First gig ends

Panic

Second gig:

More panic

Third gig :

Hey, this is working

The stripping of illusion

Fourth gig:

So this is the real business

Fifth gig:

The getting of the membership card

Fleeting sensation that this will last

First dry spell (90-120 days):

The fiscal bailout

Brief thought about doing another thing

The realization that nothing pays like this

Name excluded on a nomination

Gigs 6-20:

The dulling of the spirit

Listed on nomination no win

No friends outside of the business

First major car or home purchase

Marriage or pet acquisition

That one show

Despair/resignation to fate

Membership in peer group feels phony or unrewarding.

Downsizing

Unexpectedly awesome show

Restoration of faith in business

Decision to do some version of this forever

Realization that aw, yeah

Aw yeah

Death of ego

Simple pleasures / managed expectations

Membership in peer group is excuse to have fun at parties and meet nice people, also give back /

create opportunity for next gen

Good times

Limited recognition

More good times

Lame gig, but not internalized

Unexpected dry spell #2, but feeling great

Find a hobby or passion

Awesome gigs all in a row (or leave showbiz with no regrets)

Bliss

(This space reserved)


Troy DeVolld is a Larry Brody buddy, former senior story producer of Dancing with the Stars, and all-around true master of the reality TV genre. This article originally appeared on his Reality TV blog. And while you’re thinking about him, why not buy his book, Reality TV: An Insider’s Guide to TV’s Hottest Market?

David Perlis: WHO AM I?

Q. Which of these gents is the real David Perlis? A. In a very real albeit artistic way, we at TVWriter™ say “All of them.”

by David Perlis

This blog was never supposed to be about screenwriting.

Well, maybe a bit. Because I write screenplays. But when I first created davidperlis.com, my goal was to write wandering David Perlis thoughts, and post David Perlis photos, and talk about David Perlis art and ideas and experiences.

Instead, it somehow turned into a full-force commentary on dramatic structure in screenplays. And I think that explains to a great extent my anxieties and self-doubt and overall directionless feeling these days. By the way, I’ve been filled with anxiety and self-doubt and directionless these days.

Somewhere along the way, I decided I was going to be a screenwriter. Beyond that, I started defining myself as a screenwriter. What do you do? I’m a screenwriter. What do you do for fun? I write screenplays. Wanna go to a concert this weekend? Can’t, working on a screenplay. This blog seems to be pretty good evidence of how singly I started viewing myself.

So it’s no wonder I’m feeling lost and down all the time. I’ve defined myself as something that has hardly panned out at all. No work. No pay. No WGA card. I don’t really understand dramatic structure (I don’t believe anyone who says they do), and what’s more—my enthusiasm for writing has waned considerably! I mean, I love it yes, but these days I’m far more likely to stress over a scene doesn’t work than celebrate those that do. And if these things have just become a symbol of myself, then it’s no goddamn wonder that I’m in such a rickety place.

I’ll be thirty in a few months. The twenties are a great time to explore paths and opportunities and fail…but thirty! Those who are older than I are sure to say, “Pah! You never stop learning or failing or trying new paths!” Thanks guys. But I’d still like to get some stuff figured out. Lemme tell ya, when you leave a comfortable job with wonderful people making decent money with benefits to move to Los Angeles and live out of your car eating green beans from a can for six months, you kinda question if you made the good choice.

I wonder if this whole idea of defining yourself by your job is an “American” thing. Isn’t there some old saying about American’s live to work, and everyone else works to live? Is that the problem? Anyway, I’m going to stop saying I’m a screenwriter, because the first person I need to convince is myself. That’s a literal statement. I have convinced myself I’m on a track that is my only track. I’m going to start with this blog. I’m going to post my nightly musings, and talk about my swing dance classes, and rage against the political madness going on right now. I’ll post essays and paintings, and I’ll remind myself that I like doing lots of things.

I’m not going to stop screenwriting—in fact, as soon as I hit publish on this post, I’m going to open up Final Draft and work on another project that I’ve got cooking. But it’s got to be for me. Even as I write this, I know I haven’t convinced myself of a word I’ve said, but it will be here, just a click away, for me to come back to and read if I need a reminder. Maybe you all need reminders, too.

I’m going to hit publish now. I haven’t looked back over this posting at all to revise or edit. That makes me cringe. But it’s time to let go and get on with things. So let’s get on with it.

Not David Perlis but another talented guy who stopped doing his thing way too soon. In other words, David – nooooooooo!


David Perlis is a screenwriter and former People’s Pilot Finalist doing his best to break into the even Bigger Time. This post first appeared on his very helpful blog.

John Ostrander: Face Front, True Believers!

by John Ostrander

You may be wondering just what the heck is going on here with my face.

Alt. Explanation 1: You should see the other guy. Be-YOO-Ti-Full! Not a mark on him! It was a privilege to see him work!

Alt. Explanation 2: I leaped out of the second floor of the burning house, the kitten cradled in my arms and I landed on my face.

Alt. Explanation 3: Don’t piss off Mary. Which I may have just done. (Just Joking, Dear!)

Alt. Explanation 4: My face got nibbled by piranha. (Don’t ask.)

Alt. Explanation 5: I had some minor growths on my face that my doctor wanted to be checked out and so the skin doctor nicked them off and sent them to the lab. Probably not cancer but we’ll know for sure in about two weeks.

So… which one sounds like the true explanation? That’s right – the boring one. #5. However unlikely the other four sound, they are potentially the more entertaining stories, true or not.

You see, I am a professional liar. It’s how I make my living. I make up stories and try to make them seem/feel real so that other people buy them. Companies pay me to do this.

The lies I tell (okay, the “fictions”) are in service to the truth or to a truth. They have to feel true, feel real, to the reader at least for the duration of the experience. Hey, Jesus did it. He spoke to them (the crowds) in parables and without parables, he did not speak to them. Matthew 13:34. You can look it up. The events in the parables never happened; they’re lies – in service to truths Jesus was trying to teach. It’s the same in all religions.

I include “non-fiction” in this. The authors aren’t telling the whole truth – they focus on certain events, emphasizing these, de-emphasizing those, depending on the narrative they’re telling. They are after the (a) truth and we need those liars who can take the mountain of events and find context and meaning – truth – in them.

That’s the big difference between artists and (shall we say) certain government spokespersons – the artist is after the truth and the spokesperson is trying to sell something. That’s a whole different kind of lie. It is, as often as not, intended to obscure or confuse what is true while the artist is trying to get at some form of the truth, to reveal it. Intent is everything.

The intent of four of the five explanations for the photograph of my face is to amuse you and entertain myself. Those of you who know me and Mary know she would never hit me except once with a plastic whiffle bat.

That’s a good story, a fun lie, but for another time.


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

How ‘The Larry Sanders Show’ Changed TV Writing Forever

by B. O’Malley

We’re writers for television and film. So let’s start off with a completely inappropriate cosmological metaphor:

If I Love Lucy was the “primordial big bang” of television comedies—spontaneously birthing into existence all we know and love about television’s situation comedy format, and causing the formation of galaxies such as The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, All in The Family, Cheers, and every other interstellar mass of wonder that comprise television’s brights and best sitcoms—

If we can use that clunky metaphor, with your permission…

… then HBO’s The Larry Sanders Show (1992-1998) was nothing less than that “big bang’s” greatest aftershock; one that we’re still feeling today as we scroll endlessly through our seemingly limitless streaming and cable choices.

So what was The Larry Sanders Show? Here’s the skinny:

It was a sitcom about a fake network talk show, but mixed in real celebrity guests who played themselves. That’s it in a nutshell.

Garry Shandling played “Larry Sanders,” an ego-soaked talk show host a la Carson, Arsenio, and Letterman. His foils were his Ed-McMahon-esque sidekick Hank Kingsley Jr. — a loaf of simultaneous self-love and self-loathing played by Jeffrey Tambor—and his bulldog producer/charmer/svengali, Artie, played by Rip Torn.

The show only ran for 6 seasons, but the ripple it left behind continues to reverberate as its tone, its format, its style, even its attitude, continue to influence the writers we love and the shows we watch today.

In what ways? Here are the two big ones:

Larry Sanders proved it was okay for mainstream sitcoms to make us squirm

The core mission of any good clown can be distilled down to one essential phrase: “Look at me. I’m a goofball.”

As an example: in I Love Lucy, Lucy regularly finds herself knee-deep in goofball and slapstick (as only Lucy could do) from stuffing chocolate into her mouth to keep up with the candy on the conveyor belt to getting stoned on Vitameatavegamin while hawking it on a commercial shoot. You’ve seen the reruns. They’re like Beatles songs. You know them all by heart.

Lucy’s clown is never dumb, but the comedy happens because her character—her version of the clown—quintessentially earnest. She’s trying to do good, even if she gets herself into a lot of crazy tangles. So we root for her.

Larry Sanders’ clown, on the other hand, is very difficult for anyone to root for. But that’s by design.

We hear the canard all the time as tv- and screenwriters: “Your main character has to be likable.” I’m going out on a limb and making a bold statement:

The reason we can call that “likable characters” thing a canard is because of characters like Larry Sanders.

From where I sit, without Larry Sanders’ overblown ego, we likely wouldn’t have had Ricky Gervais’s character David Brent in the BBC’s The Office.

And without David Brent, The Office likely would not have worked.

And if the BBC’s The Office didn’t work, we probably wouldn’t have had the NBC version of The Office, with its own lovable egotistical jerk Michael Scott, played by Steve Carell.

And without the success of that show, who knows if shows like Modern Family and Parks and Recreation would’ve been given a chance.

Larry Sanders, the character, makes us squirm at how much of a jerk he can be, as did David Brent, just a few years later on the BBC.

And now, speaking of Larrys, a different Larry is coming back to HBO after a bit of a hiatus:

Larry David, creator and star of Curb Your Enthusiasm. If we’re talking about egotistical, insensitive jerks playing the clown, Larry David’s fictionalized version of himself on the show is the legendary marble statue of David by Michelangelo.

And if Larry David is the Michelangelo’s David, then Larry Sanders was the original block of marble, the chisel, and the sweat. That is, I argue that a straight line can be traced from Larry Sanders’ egotistical, pampered clown to Larry David’s selfish, egotistical jerk clown.

Yes, it’s fair and accurate to say the character he plays on Curb is based on himself, and is the “freed from network tv’s constraints” version of the autobiographical jerk he brought to life as Jason Alexander’s George Costanza on Seinfeld in 1992.

And yes, Larry David is a brilliant writer and actor and the character he plays is nothing short of unmitigated genius.

But I argue that the character of Larry Sanders showed Larry David what was possible, in many ways, and David ran with it. And is running with it. And I’m addicted to Curb Your Enthusiasm and I love it.

Throwing out another example, for us fans of Louis CK:

Without Garry Shandling’s willingness to be unlikeable, would Louis CK’s FX show Louie have half as many cringeworthy moments?

I’d say it’s definitely possible. Louis CK is an extremely funny, extremely creative artist.

Without showing us it’s okay to cringe at a lead character, would Modern Family’s Phil Dunphy have as many cringey moments? It’s possible. Lots of good people on that show, (including my friend and fellow Roger Corman alumnus, editor Chris Miglio.)

Would Kenny Powers on Eastbound and Down be simultaneously so “punchworthy” and so enjoyable to watch at the same time? It’s possible.

Bottom line: The cringeworthy clown wasn’t invented by The Larry Sanders Show

And, similarly, the guitar solo wasn’t invented by Jimi Hendrix.

But like Hendrix’s explosive entry into the zeitgeist, Larry Sanders‘ paradigm-shifting happened at just the right moment where TV was about to make a big step away from years of traditional clowning and traditional “fast food” situation comedy.

Liberation from the traditional situation comedy format

After almost four decades of tv shows being locked into either film or video, or 3-camera and single-camera, The Larry Sanders Show blew everybody away by proving that a show’s format could be flexible.

While it’s hardly worth mentioning in today’s mixed-media jumble that a tv show would shoot on two different formats—video for the talk show portions to add to the verisimilitude and film for the behind-the-curtains lives of the people behind the show—it can’t be overstated how bold of a choice that was when The Larry Sanders Show did it 1992.

Beyond that was even more innovation, which I argue was even more important:

Fast-moving, handheld, documentary style filmmaking that grounded the show by giving it a sense of realism we hadn’t seen mixed within a traditional situation comedy previously.

And even better: the show didn’t try to signal where the laughs should come, a la any traditional sitcom.

As far as approaching overall pace and realism, the closest example I could cite might be M*A*S*H, but two key differences set M*A*S*H apart:

1) That legendary sitcom only rarely used handheld and moving cameras, and was 100% film, and

2) M*A*S*H had a laugh track.

By liberating the sitcom from format, I argue, perhaps a bit enthusiastically, I’ll admit, that Larry Sanders liberated the sitcom.

Again, I point The Office, or I can cite Flight of the Conchords, or even the show’s direct descendants in terms of style and tone: 30 Rock and Arrested Development.

Should Larry Sanders be credited with the creation and success of any of these shows, or any shows on network, cable, or streaming? Almost certainly not.

Yet The Larry Sanders Show proved a crucial, cosmological theory about the universe:

And that’s

1) that a sitcom’s format could be stretched, considerably,

and 2) that a sitcom’s central character could be a cringeworthy clown, and the show could still make a “big bang.”

That’s the theory, anyhow.


Brian O’Malley started his career working for legendary B-movie maverick Roger Corman in 1997 and has written and directed three feature films. Since 1999, Brian and his team of experienced script readers at Screenplay Readers have been providing expert and brutally honest script feedback to writers, agents, and filmmakers.

Kelly Jo Brick: The Write Path With SUPERNATURAL’S Davy Perez, Part 2

A series of interviews with hard-working writers – by another hard-working writer!

by Kelly Jo Brick

Aspiring writers often wonder how the pros got where they are. The truth is, everyone’s story is different, but there are some common elements: dedication, persistence, hard work and not giving up.

Persistence and positive attitude were major influences in the development of Davy Perez’s career in entertainment. Born and raised in East LA, Davy became involved with a sketch group and worked as a background actor before following his creative passions as a writer. Acceptance into multiple writing programs helped lead the way to him becoming a staff writer for the highly acclaimed TV show AMERICAN CRIME. He now writes for the CW series, SUPERNATURAL.

HOW DID YOU GET THE WRITING JOB ON AMERICAN CRIME?

One of the executives I met with who had a producing deal was Michael McDonald. I went in to his office for a general meeting and he was in pilot production of AMERICAN CRIME. We talked about the script and talked about my own upbringing and when I was a teenager and getting into trouble. They had a character on the show that was going to go through this arc. He was kind of like; you’re very close to the character in a lot of ways. He was also tickled by the fact that we knew each other, you used to get coffee and now you’re here and that’s fantastic. He said, “You should meet John Ridley, I think he’d really like your story.”

I met John and that’s how I got staffed on AMERICAN CRIME. For that to be the first show that I got to work on was a huge blessing, because we were trying to be socially conscious, and also the level of work that I was surrounded by, the people I was surrounded by, from the cast to the crew to writing. I was very humbled and am still humbled to be able to say this was the company I was part of. That job wasn’t just a job, it was the beginning of my career.

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR FIRST TIME STAFF WRITERS?

No one is looking at you to solve problems. No one is looking at you to point out the big hole in the season. No one is looking at you to pitch the perfect twist for the ultimate finale episode. They have so many levels above you that have been doing that and are being paid to figure those things out.

They have you there for a reason. What they want from you is your life experience and your willingness to contribute and a little bit of humility and positive energy. Someone to hang out with and has interesting contributions and can also let go when their contributions don’t work.

HOW DID YOU GET REPRESENTATION?

I got a manager through a friend. Stefano Agosto, who is now at AMC as an executive, was an assistant at Universal Cable Productions when I was an assistant. We were both dreaming of bigger and better things. We just bonded. At the time I was working for Noah Hawley. I had material and I had gotten into the Latino Writers Workshop and had met with a few managers. They read me, and either they were gun-shy or I just didn’t like them enough to sell myself. It just wasn’t working. He called me up and said, “Hey, a manager came to a meeting with my boss and asked me if I had been tracking any good writers. I said yeah, and I want to give him your script because I really like it.” I said yes, absolutely. That was totally cool with me.

I made a big writer faux pas. I didn’t have much material to back it up with. So I met with Steve Smith at Stagecoach Entertainment. He was like, you don’t have much material, but this was really good. He had some thoughts on where it could go and how to make it better. He gave me some notes. We talked about how I came up. Ultimately I had, and still have, the goal that I want to be a showrunner someday. I want to tell stories that aren’t being told and I want to hire people that don’t get hired. That’s the kind of person I want to be.

He liked the attitude, loved the personality. The one sample was cool. The other stuff he read and was like you can’t really use it because it was comedy. What I did was I took his notes and I turned a rewrite around, I think we met on a Tuesday and by Friday I had a rewrite. He was like, wow, you work really quickly. He read it over the weekend and on Monday he was like, “This is really good. You took my notes and added things I didn’t see, so we want to sign you.”

ADVICE ON TAKING STAFFING AND GENERAL MEETINGS.

Try to find something to talk about and bond over other than the reason why you’re there, but then never forget why you’re there. When I got staffed on AMERICAN CRIME, I met with John the week he won the Oscar for 12 YEARS A SLAVE. I was in the lobby and I kept saying, “Don’t talk about the Oscar. Don’t talk about the Oscar,” because the conversation will become tell me about what’s been the last year of your life and I will not get to talk about myself.

So I went in the room, I think I said something like congratulations on all your recent success. He said thank you. Then on his bookcase was a Raymond Chandler novel and I had just finished reading The Big Sleep. I said, “Oh, Raymond Chandler, I love Raymond Chandler. I just finished reading The Big Sleep.” He goes, “That’s my favorite book. I read it eight times.” Then we started talking about The Long Goodbye, which I had never read. So that was like fifteen minutes of just Raymond Chandler talk. Then he segued into tell me about yourself.

At that point I had read the script and so I was telling my life story, but I was touching on moments that I knew he could mine for this character, Tony. I went in there knowing that I’m going to pitch myself as the guy who can write Tony the character, but I’m not going to say that, I’m going to embody it. This character in the script, he gets arrested for getting into some juvenile delinquency and so I said, well I grew up in East LA and I’ve been in trouble with the law, but nothing serious, I was just kind of a delinquent. I wasn’t lying and I wasn’t putting on a show. I was being honest about a specific element of my life that applies to the story that he was trying to tell. I always have the attitude of what can I do for the showrunner, because it’s his or her vision. What can I do to bring it to life?

WHAT IS THE MOST COMMON QUESTION ASPIRING WRITERS ASK YOU? HOW DO YOU RESPOND TO THEM?

How do I get an agent/first writing job? The answer to that is complicated, because there is no one absolute method that works. That being said, there is one absolute method that will get you there eventually: hone your craft. Getting a job, and getting and agent or manager will happen if your work is undeniable. We can all always do better work. So anyone who believes they don’t have any further to grow and are ready “as is” are already selling themselves short. You may be at a level that is hirable, so that means it’s only a matter of time until that happens. If it doesn’t happen soon, then get better. Get so good that people will fight to represent and hire you. Then you are in the driver’s seat. The other side to working on your own material is to make lots of friends at all levels in the industry. The intern you supervise might someday be the next Shonda Rhimes or Vince Gilligan, why not get in on the ground floor? I’m not saying to live your life trying to use people, quite the opposite. Live your life trying to do good for others and eventually that good will you’ve shown in life will come around in some way.

WHAT OTHER ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR WRITERS IN THE EARLY STAGES OF THEIR CAREERS?

Don’t give up. If this job were easy, everyone would do it. The hardest part is staying committed to the craft. Many people start out willing to fail, to chase their dream and damn all else in pursuit of it. Accept that you will fail a fair amount of times, but above that, be willing to succeed. Be willing to do the hard work, to get past the tough times, to embrace success and what it will bring you. Chase success and enjoy the process of getting there. The journey towards your goals is what makes up the bulk of your life. It should be satisfying to you right now, at whatever stage you are at. Because once you get that first writing job, that’s only the beginning of a whole new set of struggles you will have to navigate. That’s when the work really starts.


Kelly Jo Brick is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. She’s a television and documentary writer and producer, as well as a winner of Scriptapalooza TV and a Sundance Fellow. Read more about her HERE.

Bri Castellini: Alison Sumner and the Unreliable Narrator – @BrisOwnWorld

by Bri Castellini

In celebration of Brains getting picked up by SeekaTV, I decided to do something totally unexpected and write about Brains on my blog! I contain multitudes. This is a blog about why, specifically, I’m bummed about not getting more seasons. Warning: spoilers, obviously, so if you haven’t watched Brains yet (or you’re due for a rewatch), why not give it a go, right now, on Seeka?

A few months ago, a Twitter…. friend?… of mine wrote a rather critical review of Brains entitled “Brains: Great Concept, Not Enough Character.” This blog isn’t exactly a response to that critique, because I’m above that (I’m not above that), but it will reference the critique occasionally because one of its major issues with my show (“not enough character”) is kind of the topic of this post. I have the utmost respect for Nick (the reviewer) and his opinion, but I also have to point out that in a lot of cases, the lack of characterization for characters other than Alison was kind of the point, particularly of the first two seasons.

“Most of the characters in Brains are, pardon the pun, lifeless zombies. Almost none of them seem to have much of a personality outside of their role in the story…”

So that’s… harsh, and also a little short-sighted, especially when he concedes just one paragraph later that

“To be fair, Allison is actually pretty great. Castellini has a natural charisma, and Allison benefits from by far the most screen time in the series. She’s one of the only character who feels remotely like a real person…”

Brains is told entirely from Alison’s perspective. Despite the fact that other characters have screen time (unlike, for example, Lizzie Bennet’s mother in The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, whose only characterization is seen via Lizzie’s reenactments), the in-world videos are filmed and edited by Alison, who has a very specific focus: herself, and her version of the motivations other characters have in relation to her story, which is about her. Even the episode in season 2 between Carl and Damian while Alison is out is about her, and considering that she still chose to edit and upload that video, it says a lot about her ego in these first two seasons. Alison believes that her interpretation of events puts her solidly in the right, and that everyone else’s reality is skewed. She is undeniably an incredibly unreliable narrator in this way, and her egotistical recording (and subsequent release) of events only serves to underline that.

The other characters in Brains in the first two seasons seem like they don’t have much personality outside their role in the story because Alison herself is casting them in those roles because of the way she films and edits her videos. Of course, they all work to break out of those molds in their own ways: Carl chooses to film moments where Alison isn’t present to give his side of the story, Greta refuses to play along with Alison’s pity party about their lost friendship, and Damian struggles with opening up to someone for the first time since he was turned into a zombie when all of that opening up is also happening on camera. But no matter what, for these first two seasons, Alison’s fingerprints are everywhere.

As teased by Season 2, Minisode 10, Season 3 would incorporate Sophie Bricker’s secret video diary taking the place of the minisodes in season 2. Essentially, in between Alison’s “main” videos, you would get Sophie’s take on the situation, since she’s very much aware of Alison’s videos but Alison is very much not aware of hers. You’d also get a story of a girl struggling to navigate her own death and reanimation, which is naturally very different from Alison’s boy drama. And Alison, reacting to Carl’s accusations at the end of season 2, begins to expand her perspective in season 3 as well. Her videos are still about her, of course, but with the help of her friends starts sending cameras off with people other than herself to get a fuller picture of events on campus, culminating in the season 3 finale where they’ve got three cameras set up to capture a massive battle taking place at the same time as final exams: one in an exam room, one in the food and rest area, and one passed off between students taking turns battling a horde of zombies.

Season 4, road trip season, would have also handed off the “minisodes” to people other than Alison, in this case recording events on campus as Alison and the main cast head off on their road trip. And even on the road trip, Alison and her new co-producer Sophie would have made a habit of handing off the camera any time they’re at a pit stop, regardless of whether or not Alison and Sophie are with said camera. Season 4 expands further Alison’s new ethos of capturing the whole of her apocalypse, not just her personal life, aided by Sophie’s sociology studies.

Season 5’s minisodes are less structured than the Sophie vlogs of season 3 and the on-campus check ins of season 4 as each episode shows the unique perspective of a different student or group of students entirely separate from Alison. Alison’s main videos also got a major makeover, now self-aware of how irresponsibly she used to treat the narrative and very focused on righting the previous wrongs.

Season 6 finds Alison’s videos at the center of national politics and revealing anything else would be WAY too spoiler-y, even for this post, but here’s the point:

Seasons 1 and 2 needed to be largely from Alison’s extremely unreliable perspective, because her character arc deals directly with her stubbornness and control-freak tendencies. This is a girl whose first impulse once the internet was put back up post-extinction-level-event was to film herself talking about a cute boy. I love Alison Sumner, but her ego is undeniably gigantic.

Eventually, by season 6, the videos aren’t so much about Alison as they are about the efforts of her immediate surroundings to put themselves back together after the horrors of the previous years as well as the normalization of human-passing zombies in this new, rebuilt society, but without the first two seasons of Alison-centric drama, I don’t think it would have been earned.

This is why, more than anything else, I wish we were able to film the rest of the seasons. Because two seasons is incomplete, for plot as well as character development, and that’s a shame.

So…. anyone want to send me a few thousand dollars to keep making Brains?


Bri Castellini is an indie filmmaker and Community Liaison at Stareable, our favorite web series hub. This article was originally published on Bri’s most excellent blog. Watch Bri’s award-winning web series, BrainsHERE!