Archive for July, 2015
I’ve been listening to a lot of the Scriptnotes podcast recently. One episode a week just wasn’t cutting it anymore, so I had to subscribe to their app and get access to all of the old episodes. As someone seemingly forever trapped in a fascination orbit around the work of writer/director Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko), I, of course, listened to his episode first. He talked about scope creep, a phenomenon his work suffers from wherein the scope of a project continues to grow and get more unwieldy the longer he works on it. The effects of scope creep are obvious in Southland Tales and The Box. Southland Tales became practically unintelligible as a stand-alone picture, and The Box gets derailed by unnecessarily exploring the mind-boggling mechanisms used by the shadow organization pulling the strings. Kelly just seems to get intrigued by tangential aspects of the story he’s telling and wants to pull them all in until it’s completely unwieldy and the audience’s investment gets smothered underneath the weight of so much extraneous stuff.
I’ve experienced scope creep over the course of PoPS, as well. Obviously. There were certain plot devices and ideas I wanted to explore at the outset, but other things came into play as we went on. Some of them were direct results of feedback I was getting from the audience. In episode 7, a lot of people were really excited to see the girls up and fighting. Other members of the audience brought my attention to the ways in which the fight scenes were lacking. So the main plot of episode 8 became about proving we could do better fight scenes. The whole damn episode is called Fight. I mean, Eliza had mild whiplash for a few days after shooting her fight scenes we got so specific about the head snapping involved in taking a punch.
Originally, the entirety of PoPS was supposed to happen in 10 10-minute episodes. Episode 8 was 61 friggin minutes long. That’s technically a feature by most film festival standards. I just got more interested in the characters and how they were coping with these powers and with each other. And the more characters we got, the more I wanted to flesh out each of them. Give them more storylines. See how they handle different scenarios.
Most of my scope creep comes down to making sure things feel justified. In order to make crazy things happen, you sometimes have to spend time moving people and circumstances into place. The crazier the payoff, the more time it takes to set up justifiably.
Sometimes you realize that the characters have to take time processing the aftermath of some of these things. We’ve devoted many minutes of screen time to characters discussing things we’ve already seen to try and process them like actual people do. That’s kind of counter intuitive in screenwriting. “We’ve already seen that! Why are they still talking about it?!” But those are some of my favorite scenes.
I think scope creep is justifiable if it’s more about keeping characters grounded rather than trying to make a world larger and more complicated.
Thanks for reading.
Maybe it’s weird to talk about online engagement when my blogging has been so spotty over the last few weeks. We’ve just been traveling around so much lately that I’ve been using my blogging time to catch up on work and actually accomplish the things instead of setting aside the time to reflect on and blog about the things.
Two weeks ago, I put up that Letters to July video. It’s the most fun I’ve had putting something together in awhile. First of all, I’ve just been dying to shoot something in the anamorphic style 2.35 aspect ratio. I don’t know if that sounds ridiculous or not, it’s just the truth, and seeing my final footage all 2.35 cropped made me so happy. Plus, playing in a tone I don’t typically employ was a nice break as well.
But when I talk about engagement, this is the sort of thing I’m talking about. YouTube communities do different types of themed videos all the time. Many times they revolve around a certain YouTubers temporary creative crises and then everybody weighs in with their own thoughts on the platform, but sometimes everyone makes a video about charities, or everyone talks about a list of 5 particular things, or everybody gives a tour of their room. Just a fun thing to do.
I think Letters to July is a particularly addictive formula. It’s quiet and lovely; everyone loves distilling their lives into a series of nicely rendered images, just look at Instagram; and it has a very particular timeframe. You can do one anytime in July. Since it’s annual, it’s also a nice way to check in every year and see how you’ve changed and where you now are.
But engaging in these kinds of community-oriented videos is exactly what I’m talking about when I tell people how to connect with online communities. Whenever people ask me how to become involved in online communities they basically want to hear THE TRICK that will get people to WATCH THEIR THING. But this is all part of that. I actually follow other people in the online communities and engage with them when they draw me in. Other people within those communities recognize that I have a common interest with them and they might check out my channel based on our mutual interests. It’s probably a very small part of how we got our audience, but I think it’s pivotal. The problem is it has to be genuine. You have to have an active interest in the content and the community in which you are engaging, because it’s pretty easy to spot a vlogging phony. So, it’s a commitment. If you dive in though, and you actually start becoming a part of these communities and comments conversations, it’ll probably stop feel mercenary and promotional relatively soon. Because it’s just participating in an excellent and ongoing conversation with some really great folks. Over and over.
Thanks for reading.
With the exception of larger family trips, Eliza and I tend to only plan vacations when we’ve gotten PoPS into festivals. That’s all well and good, but then a question of priorities arises. How much time do we spend at the festival and how much time do we spend exploring the new city in which we find ourselves?
When I was a little younger, I spent all my time at the festivals. Maybe it’s because several of them were close to home or in a less exploration-inspiring location like a small town in Ohio, but I found the experience often disappointing. Some of the people I ended up talking with were super cool, but many seemed overly impressed with themselves, were clearly not interested in anything the rest of us had to say on any subject—always glancing around the room, and constantly peppered the conversation with embellishments of what they were undertaking next.
Like I said, I’ve met some great people as well, and had many fantastic and exciting conversations with like-minded creators, but over the course of attending these events, the festivals started becoming more a catalyst for a great vacation and less a networking opportunity.
When we went to LA Webfest, I have so many great memories of hanging out all over LA: Driving down the PCH to an awesome bookstore in Malibu and a beachfront restaurant in Paradise Cove, going to the New Beverly movie theater for the first time, meeting our YouTube friends Joe and Tessa in person for the first time, driving the winding hills of Mulholland Drive while preposterously listening to opera, and walking the hidden staircases of the Hollywood Hills. I have one great memory of the festival itself, hanging out with Christopher Leone, a writer/director I really admire. Everything else we attended at the festival ended up being a little lackluster. Nobody seemed to care about the screenings, all of the functions were less about hanging out than about dressing up and pretending to be big shots, and the awards ceremony seemed to be geared way more toward getting the LA Webfest brand name out into the world than awarding actual quality or merit. It was a great trip, but more because of the time we spent away from the festival.
Similarly, when I attended the Streamy Awards, all of my favorite memories cluster outside of the time I spent at the organized events. Hanging out in Los Feliz with my friend Rob, rewriting my script in a coffee shop in Silver Lake, and reading a great book in the California sunshine.
Vidcon in Anaheim was a good time and we got to meet a lot of people who enjoy our show, but ask me about that trip and I’ll tell you about me and Lize walking around a little street in South Pasadena, eating gourmet grilled cheese, popping into yarn and video stores, and taking our picture in front of the Myers house from John Carpenter’s Halloween.
The first time I’ve felt conflicted about this philosophy is with our Austin Webfest trip. That fest was outstanding, and we did not get to spend enough time with it. Hold up! Does this mean I regret any of things I did while in Austin? Not even for a second. I had the greatest time. The tone of that city is awesome, the weather was great (I like it hot), and everything we did was really, really cool. Eliza did a bunch of Austin research before we went and we didn’t even get to hit half of the places she had on her list. So why the conflict?
Quite simply, the festival did everything right. Every time we did interact with the organized events, I had a great time. The festival hosts and other creators were outstanding and engaging, nothing but awesome conversation; and none of it felt like posturing. We were all just hanging out talking excitedly about making stuff, movies we like, and our processes. It was the best. The festival itself was in a doggone Alamo Drafthouse, making it the absolute pinnacle of our public screening experiences. I would have loved to spend many more hours there. Having gone to the fantastic opening night party I wish we could have gone to more of the “unofficial” parties they had every night, but I don’t regret checking out the bars and restaurants from Eliza’s list either, because they were all so cool. And the awards ceremony. Looking at the pictures, it looks like so much fun, and they did it the right way instead of the LA Webfest model. I wish we could have gone. But how do I pass up Jaws on the Water? For real? Just look again at the footage from that event toward the end of the last video update and tell me I could have done something differently. Have you met me?!
Anyway. Austin is a great town and Austin Webfest is now my festival to beat. What a great time.
On another note, that freelance job I did was a promotional video for Lake County, Illinois, and they finally have it up on YouTube. Between the YouTube views and the Facebook views they ended up over 70,000 views so far, so that’s great. They sent me another email this week saying how happy they are with it. Here it is if you want to check it out:
Thanks for reading, y’all.