In the summer of 2010, a well-regarded local video producer asked if I wanted to work on a web series with him. Familiar with the term, but not the form, we spent the better part of an afternoon watching Apple TV and talking about what “works” for web-based, episodic programming. For various reasons, the project never came into being. Oh, well. If you’ve worked in independent media circles for any length of time, it’s more surprising to see a project come into being than it is to see it fizzle.
A few months back, I met with two trusted folks at O’Connell’s. The place had meaning because I’m (to this point, more theoretically than actually) working on a book about O’Connell’s, to celebrate the pub’s 50th anniversary. I needed to talk so someone else about making sense of creative progress, as I’ve recently started getting bogged down in every phase of project creation, from prepping to execution. The advice gleaned at that meeting was that I should focus on the O’Connell’s book and not the web-based web series, now known in my head as Half Order Fried Rice. I agreed with the advice, then did the exact opposite of the plan. Good intentions didn’t carry the day vs. inspiration.
To get Half Order out of my head and into reality, I needed some major elements to come into being. Either a producer who could execute the video components, or a sudden uptick in even the most basic skills of web video on my own part. After annoyingly striking out on the former, I borrowed some money and bought a solid camera, then a MacBook Pro. And those things sat underutilized for another good while, until I figured out how to finally use the kid-and-elderly-friendly iMovie. When you’re psyched out, it’s sometimes hard to get past the first, big push needed to learn a new skill. And, for me, it wasn’t until artist Kevin Belford sat down with me one afternoon at Kaldi’s that the fog started to lift. In the span of a couple hours, I dumped down some video from old SD cards, cut together some clips and generally left feeling as if the project might actually happen. Which was important, because…
By this point, I’d already shaken the digital beggar’s cup on the Indiegogo corner stoop. Not sure how much money to ask for, I chose $1,001, figuring that the amount would give me enough to buy any additional, needed equipment, plus could spot me some cash for lunches and drinks for the cast, plus other unknown add-ons during the shooting process. Unlike Kickstarter, Indiegogo accepts any project, but with different pricing gradations; to get the full percentage, I needed to raise at least the $1,001 and the final push to that number didn’t really come until the literal last few hours, when the day prior’s $600 became, magically and exactly, $1,001. Everyone that kicked in to that fund is thanked on the site and in my brain, whether they potted $200 or $5, the range that came in. (And, in the interests of disclosure, one of the cooks at The Royale handed me a $5 bill, an old-fashioned twist on the whole process.)
With the Indiegogo cuts taken out, I had $931 in my bank account about two weeks after the campaign ended, monies that were already being spent on the show. Turns out that the SD cards I had been using were too slow; I had no idea that SD cards had speed capabilities, but this is the kind of thing you learn at the camera shop. So that was about $80. And the cabbage for the Food Trunks episode cost $17… cabbage for cabbage. The virtually-unseen rodents of the Mouse Racing episode were another $17. Various lunches for cast members nipped a few bucks here and there. And a cast/contributor party at the house ran a modest $49, for snacks and drinks. This wasn’t the no-budget production that many people claim, but it was pretty close.
Several of the actual shooting days will go down as my favorite moments of 2012, with people generously saying “yes” to a project that was mostly improvisational and with the bulk of the content in my head, as opposed to the page. But people kept agreeing and shoots came about at a crisp regularity. Virtually every shoot took place the day prior to posting, so there was a steady production schedule at work, even with actors falling out and with my forgetting to turn on the audio on a couple occasions. An early attempt to use a Flip camera was quickly abandoned when that camera proved unsteady and unreliable, forcing me to re-choose the better looking/sounding Canon.
And therin lies the whole point of the experience, as far as I’m concerned. Prior to this, my attempts to bring video into stories were mixed, at best. Here, for five weeks, I had to force myself to use a camera for both stills and video on a daily basis. And I had to cut the pieces together, into something marginally viewable. I’ll probably be more critical of my own technical work on the project as time goes by; already, I’ve gone back and added a few things that sit there as obvious glitches. More will get fixed with time. But the show, the experiment, is over for now.
Folks invested dollars in my personal education. And I invested enough hours to feel that an honest effort was given.
Intending to extend the show one additional episode, I ran into the wall. My primary actor, aged 13, got a free ticket to Six-Flags and headed to Eureka. Some added folks couldn’t make a shoot that day; maybe I’d burned out my talent pool completely. Actually, I did do that. But the scene I had in mind can be picked up later, for another project, which I now know is more than just a theoretical. It’s doable. What a good feeling.
There’s also a good feeling in watching this last piece. Starring the one-and-only Thad-Simon McRosenthal. A great way to end things, as it turned outz’ a loose idea and some inspired improv combined into a fun segment.
Thanks to those thankable.