Leesa Dean: Adventures of a Web Series Newbie

nighttime_marqueeChapter 57 – Connections
by Leesa Dean

Last Friday evening I attended at movie/Q&A at the Tribeca Film Festival. It was a kinda of cool experience.

Initially, I was a little skeptical. The director, Charlie McDowell, is the son of noted actor Malcolm McDowell (Clockwork Orange!!!) and Mary Steenburgen (Melvin and Howard!!!). Ted Danson (yes, that Ted Danson) is his step-dad. The film was produced by indie/mumblecore biggies The Duplass Brothers and stars Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men). Did I mention he’s dating Rooney Mara?

With a pedigree like that, I instantly wanted to hate Charlie (ya know, Hollywood kid with tons of connections skates right in). But I couldn’t. Just because he has those connections doesn’t mean he’s without talent. And he’d be an idiot not to use what he’s got.

This guy went to AFI, did a short before (that I really like) and after reading a few of his interviews, found he really knows his stuff. Yes, I’m certain the star power of his family helped grease the wheels, but while I don’t know him, he really appears to take filmmaking very very seriously. So, I wish him well and think good things will happen for him based on his ability, not his heritage. He already got a distribution deal for the film I saw (which also was at Sundance), The One I Love.

The truth is, though, it is much much harder to get anyone to notice you unless you either have killer connections or were born into killer connections. If you have a film/tv show/web series that stars or is produced by a star or known big time producer, you’ll instantly get press and an audience.

I’m trying to build that way with all of the projects I’m working on by attaching star power (or relative star power) to shows I’m working on. Or attempting to. It’s a tough road to go down. There’s an enormous amount of competition. You REALLY have to be on your game to be taken seriously. And it’s nearly impossible to get meetings. But I’m hoping it’ll pay off in the long run.

The great Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes may have put it best: “When you think you got bread, it’s always a stone. Nobody loves nobody for yourself alone.”

Leesa Dean: Adventures of a Web Series Newbie

just-say-noChapter 54 – Navigating Hollywood 101: Just Say No
by Leesa Dean

Last week, a print issue of The Hollywood Reporter showed up in my mailbox. I didn’t subscribe, yet somehow got on the list. That’s right. For FREE!! The comedy gods are either smiling at or mocking me.

The first article I noticed really hit home.  It was about the nearly universal way Hollywood executives reject pitches (or you, for that matter).  Versus saying “no” or the old school standby, “Wow. This is great!  We really really love it.  Unfortunately, we’re not doing, uh, anything that involves writing this year”, instead, they just POOF! vanish into thin air.  That’s right.  You never hear from them.  Possibly ever again.  You know, kinda like, “He said (sob), he was going out for a pack of cigarettes and I NEVER HEARD FROM HIM AGAIN.”  Only worse, cause it’s your career.  Or, in some cases, “career”.

This applies to phone calls, emails, texts and, most notably, flinging yourself into someone’s office and begging (i.e. pitching.)

The article said that most execs don’t want to burn any bridges so their logic is, if I don’t reject you, I can always hire you sometime in the future (translation: after everyone else on planet earth realizes you’re bankable). They even interviewed a therapist, Philip Pierce, who said, “Saying no without saying no is an avoidance technique that ultimately results in increased negative emotions.”  Gee, ya THINK?!

Well, I’m a pro at being rejected.  I’ve been rejected so many times, I lost count a long time ago. But you know what?  I’ve also had quite a few successes.  Rejection is part of the gig.  Bottom line: in order to get to that yes, you have to go through a million no’s (you know, the word that can not be uttered).  And most people can handle it.  Most people don’t lose sleep over it.  At worst, it merits a couple of swigs of a good stiff drink (and, possibly, sobbing into a hanky).

It’s far far worse, and yeah, even a little humiliating to not get any response.  It makes something that shouldn’t be personal, well, a little personal.  Like you don’t even rate a quick email or call back…to tell you you suck.

I learned a long time ago to give people a couple of weeks. If I don’t hear anything by then, it’s time to move on cause that’s when the metaphorical expiration date happens. The one that says: Don’t call us.  We’ll call you.  And by “call” we mean “you’ll never hear from us again.”

So Dear Hollywood Execs, next time you feel like consciously uncalling, do the humane thing and Just Say No.

Leesa Dean: Adventures of a Web Series Newbie

stomp

Chapter 52: Miley Cyrus Stomped My Face
by Leesa Dean

So first, Kai and I postponed, or rather I did. We were supposed to meet to discuss the networking project but I’ve just been too swamped in post.
And when I say “post” I mean, not only the usual (editing, keying, color correcting, etc) but also animating. Part of the TOP SECRET PROJECT involves not only animation but a little live action footage, integrated in an unusual way and it’s been kicking my BEHIND. Definitely the most challenging thing I’ve ever done.

I’m hoping I’ll be finished with this phase of it by early next week. Kai and I will be meeting then, in any case.

Meanwhile, there’s been a bunch of stuff going on in the web community. For starters, and you probably heard this, Disney purchased Maker for $500 million clams. Which is…while not unexpected, a little disturbing. And not for the usual reasons. (Animators call Disney “Mouse-chwitz” where they’re known to say, “If you don’t come into work Saturday, don’t even THINK about coming into work Sunday.”)

But here’s why. It just amplifies the whole tween mentality that’s behind most of the biggest youtube hits. There are a ton of people out there (and creators) who don’t relate to material that targets tweens. And yes, I’m one of them. Where does that leave us? Even more marginalized.

If you’re an indie, as I am, it also makes it harder to get people to pay attention to what you’re doing. It feels like Miley Cyrus stomped on my face.

Hopefully all of that will change, though. I mean, there is a limit to how many videos about mascara you can watch, right? Right??! The network Kai is working to put together targets older people (millennials mostly) who like more sophisticated humor.

Meanwhile, today there was another notable piece of news: Maker also announced they’ll be distributing videos via the on demand platform Music Choice. Yes, music is a HUGE component of video views (just look at VEVO) but again, the same issue arises: Who is the target demo for this? You guessed it. Mainly tweens. Sigh. I guess it is a small world after all (pun intended).

Also, I wonder where that leaves a lot of the smaller channels on Maker (and on Blip which Maker owns). Part of their contract (for smaller channels) states that Maker (and I guess, now Disney) has the right to distribute content on ALL MEDIUMS in perpetuity. Which is fine if you’re doing a vlog.

But what if your brand has music videos or is a web series. Bigger names can negotiate their contracts with Maker. Smaller ones can’t.

A lot of food for thought.

Finally, I decided not to renew my membership in the IAWTV. Way way way back when I entered this arena–ok, last year–I joined. IAWTV was touted as the internet’s version of The Emmys. I was happy to be a part of the community and really thought it would help boost my brand.

Not so much. My $90 membership fee, essentially, let me join their Facebook group. A closed community. And what was posted there? Mostly people promoting their web series. A few links to web festivals (which are mostly a total waste of time and money) and helpful youtube news. All of which can be found in other arenas on FB and otherwise. Plus, nowadays, it’s kinda like a ghost town there. Not a huge amount of posts.

In all, certainly not worth it. But a lesson learned.

Yes. Things are definitely shifting in the online video world. I’m wondering where, though…

Leesa Dean: Adventures of a Web Series Newbie

postChapter 51 – Post Post Post
by Leesa Dean

Really busy week. My producing partner on the REALLY BIG PROJECT and I had our first post meeting after the Victor shoot and the footage looks great! I’ve been spending the past few days working between three programs to edit, key and start the huge job of compositing.

While I wrote/directed this segment, I’m doing something kind of unusual with it–or, at least, something I’ve never done before (not that that’s ever stopped me)–so it’s not only really really complicated, I’m, kind of, figuring it out as I go along. Something I’m used to by now.

We’re having another mid-process meeting next week (so I can get a second pair of really trained eyeballs on it) and then, hopefully, in a week or so it’ll be in the can.

It’s getting exciting/scary: we’re about a month away from actually thinking about next steps! A casualty: I’ve had to put writing the new Lele Show on hold, again, for at least a week or so till I bang this out.

Meanwhile, had a meeting with Kai Alexandre. I’ve written about Kai before. He’s a really dynamic person on the startup/MMN scene. He’s been building his own network from scratch and he always has a great perspective and great feedback. This is a guy, btw, who’s FB timeline has things status updates like, “Flying out on this private jet to a breakfast meeting in Boston but back in NYC in time for a 2pm.”

I wanted to pick his brain about promoting Season Two of the Lele Show. While I’m not writing it this week, I’m still thinking about it. A lot. And while I’m a long way off from launch, I learned the hard way last year that I need to start thinking about this stuff as soon as possible.

We met at a midtown diner for coffee and caught up. He gave me some interesting food for thought–unusual suggestions and then brought me up to date about what he’s been doing. In addition to building his MMN, he’s launching a few other things plus working with Reelio, another startup.

One of the things he’s launching has to do with networking for actors, directors, agents and producers. I’m a member of NYWIFT, had been on the programming committee (so still can pitch/produce panel ideas for them) and suggested that NYWIFT might get involved. He really liked the idea so we’re getting together soon to start tossing ideas around.

More on that next week…

Leesa Dean: Adventures of a Web Series Newbie

stagelightsChapter 44 – The Shoot, Part 2
by Leesa Dean

I’ll cut to the chase: It went well! Really well. I, of course, am talking about the shoot with the celeb for the TOP SECRET PROJECT.

This time around, I was the first the arrive. I made a point of getting there around 15, 20 minutes early in case the celeb arrived before I did, so the guy who owns the studio was still setting up when I got there. It actually gave us a chance to chat, which was kinda cool. The studio is small and the guy who runs it is a shooter/editor on the side. So it was interesting talking shop with him.

My producing partner, his friend who was helping us out as a grip and the A.D. arrived exactly at the same time. And the celeb and his girlfriend showed up about 5 minutes later.

After running the lines during a couple of tech rehearsals, we started shooting. And every take was great/useable. I like to shoot a lot to be on the safe side and to give us room to play while we’re in post, so that’s just what we did. But we were done in about an hour and a quarter. He was such a pro and so into it, everybody was just buzzed.

He left and we broke down the set and spent the rest of the time yaking, talking cameras and backing the footage up to drives, laptops, etc.

It really was a different experience doing this shoot, now that I’m a bit more educated about the technical side of cameras. I can’t wait till I plunge into it fully and start shooting myself. Every day, I’ve been allocating about an hour to go to “film school”, meaning learning all this stuff from tutorials on the web. A lot cheaper than NYU Film School! It’s opening up a whole new world for me and is adding a whole other level of depth to not only directing, but producing. Frankly, in this digital age and the way things are going with tv/streaming, understanding it is necessary.

For people interested, we shot on two Canon EOS 7D’s (the same camera Lena Dunham used to shoot Tiny Furniture) tricked out with Magic Lantern, had full kino lights and used a boom and lav through a Tascam TD40 for sound.

If anybody had suggested I start doing this a few years ago, I wouldn’t have taken it too seriously. Now I now can’t imagine why I didn’t start learning it sooner.

Leesa Dean: Adventures of a Web Series Newbie

spinal-tapChapter 42 – That Stonehenge Moment
by Leesa Dean

Intense week! In a good way. Been on a roll writing Season Two of the Lele Show. Tweaking, making changes and I hope people like it. Not putting deadlines in the mix–I have too much on my plate. But, hopefully, will be done writing all the episodes in about a month or month and a half (there are 36 new eps and an ADDITIONAL 36 pieces of supplemental stuff that have to be written/shaped.)

Also working on a two brand new shows I’m really excited about. And one is live action. They’re still in the development stages so it’s quite a juggling act: finding the time each day to work on The Lele Show, each of the two new shows, production on the TOP SECRET PROJECT and the few freelance gigs I have (just got a call for a very very cool one but it’s too soon to talk fully about it.)

Speaking of production on the TOP SECRET PROJECT: gearing up for two shoots. And one is this Sunday. So busy tweaking the script, speaking with my producing partner and finalizing tech stuff and speaking with the guy who’s doing Camera 2.

In the midst of everything, I realized we needed a slate. The last shoot we did, we just used paper to differentiate takes (yes, this is straight-up guerilla filmmaking). And party cause it was late at night and party cause I was in a rush, I found one online for only $8 so bought it instantly. It arrived yesterday. In a moment straight out of This is Spinal Tap’s Stonehenge scene, I opened the package and…it’s only 3 by 5 inches (hence the $8 pricetag). It’s perfectly sized if you’re working on a shoot featuring cockroaches. We’re just gonna roll with it but there’s definitely gonna be a lot of squinting going on in post.  As my extremely accommodating producing partner said, “That’s why they make zoom.”

And finally, went to a really cool event last night: the Skillshare Social. It was a indie filmmaker mixer sponsored by Downtown Community TV, the place where I’ll be taking camera classes. The Social had people from Tribeca FilmWomen Make MoviesRooftop FilmsMaysles Doc Center and more. It was a great opportunity to meet staff and a lot of cool people.

Leesa Dean: Adventures of a Web Series Newbie

yearofyesChapter 41 – The Year of Yes?
by Leesa Dean

Hope everybody had a great New Years! I did, went to two great parties. Great food, great mix of people, just what I needed to start the year off right.

And in the middle of it all, guess what? We got a celeb to work on the show! Wow.

After about a month of trying, it worked so easily. Contacted his manager, he had seenChilltown, loved it and wanted to be involved. No, he’s not a huge household name, but he has enough of one to add some more credibility to the project (the BIG TOP SECRET PROJECT I’ve been mentioning here).

We actually had our first meeting yesterday, went over the script and have the studio booked. We’re shooting at the end of the month and I couldn’t be happier! Will this be the Year of Yes?

Also booked the studio we’re shooting in. We checked out a few, but they were, in general, too pricey for my (nearly non-existent) budget. After tons of googling, found a small place in Tribeca that’s perfect. It’s in an old school building which means, sharing the same floor are button manufacturers, small businesses doing God knows what, a small Private Eye office (!!!!!) and the studio.

I was ready to go with them on the basis of that alone. Luckily, they were filled to gills with equipment, monitors, cables, booms, everything we needed. The only catch? Occasionally, the pipes clang when steam is sent up, but we were there on a wickedly cold day, hung out for 45 minutes and didn’t hear anything. If it happens during the shoot, I’m just gonna find a way to work it into the script. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is guerilla filmmaking.

Doing all of this made me realize something: I need to bone up on cameras/lighting. As a director, my focus has always been animation. I know how to direct actors, how to set up shots, pacing. But now that I’m dipping my pinky toe in the live action waters, while I don’t want to be a DP, I do need to understand the technical aspects of it all better. Even if it’s just a better way to communicate with DP’s. I’m lucky that my producing partner is a really skilled cameraman. But to take it to the next level, I need to understand that stuff better. Plus, I think it’ll be fun.

So, in a few months, on top of everything else, I’m probably going to take a small course on cameras/lighting/shooting.

This year is gonna be SERIOUSLY interesting.