Caught In The Storm

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It is crucial to stay focused and centered in the middle of a storm of work raining down on you.  It’s exciting to get multiple calls and offers in a short period of time but don’t underestimate the emotional toll it can take and the stress that comes with it.  Things can move quite quickly when you are in the flow and it’s easy to get thrown off track.

It is very common to be juggling multiple project and wearing many hats in this industry.  Many of us bounce around from being talent to background and from crew to creators.  When I feel overwhelmed by multiple projects coming in at once I have no choice but to get super organized to insure each project gets enough attention so none of them fall short.

First I tackle one project at a time and make a list of all the steps I need to take to execute the job from start to completion – be it prepping for an audition, breathing life into a new role, revising a script, launching a book, producing a play or shooting a film.  Some projects are short term, a few days, and some span over years.  Once each project has a list of steps, I transfer the different steps onto a timeline making sure all the steps for each project can be executed in order to make the deadline/insure the project’s completion.

Each time a new project comes in, I immediately write out the execution steps and transfer it onto a timeline, I refer to this timeline daily as a guide of what I need to work on each day and constantly update it.   This timeline also makes it clear to see where I have openings to take new work on and where there is too much overlap – if a project doesn’t fit into the timeline, I don’t have the time to take it on; this way I can always stay a few steps ahead.

For more information about how to STOP WAITING + START CREATING please visit www.MakeYourOwnBreak.com

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Getting Ready for Rain

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You’ve gone months without a call from anyone, finally after stewing for weeks and weeks frustrated, questioning why you decided to choose this path the phone rings… 1) you have an audition 2) they finally read your script 3) you have been working in production for years and finally you have a shot to Produce or Direct!  A few hours/days go by and now you have 3 auditions in a week span;  a producer has decided to take on your web series and just as you begin pre=production the short you sent a friend 3 years ago was chosen for their next production; and as soon as one production decides to give you a shot, 2 others friends do as well.

This is not an uncommon scenario in the entertainment industry.  One can go weeks, months even years with no work,  people aren’t even interested in seeing or reading their work…then all of a sudden one call comes in and the flood gates open…

When actors audition regularly 3 in a week can be usual, but if they’ve gone through a dry spell and then get three in a week it can throw off their game.  This is why it is important as performers that we are always flexing our muscle either in a class or reading with fellow actors on a regular basis, there is no room for getting rusty cause when the calls start coming there is no time to get “in shape”.

Have a game plan for your scripts.  Simply completing a script isn’t enough flush them out.  Make the extra effort to devise a budget, or a few depending on how much funding you can raise (the current production I am working on we did 3 budgets “the dream”, “the realistic”, and “the bare bones”).  Until you figure out you’re budget it’s hard to move forward logically in any direction, because every decision you make has a $ attached to it.  Even if you are not a producer learn how to look at a script from their perspective, anticipate what they will ask and have the answer before the meeting.

When taking on your first productions as a producer or director it is important to pace yourself.  Production work takes a lot of prep, stamina and organization is key.   Taking charge of a production as Producer or Director uses more brain power than you expect and drains you in ways you never thought possible.  Although it’s exciting to get the offers you might not want to take on too many productions back to back until you can gauge your recovery time.

Building momentum takes years of work and when it comes we want to be in a position to take full advantage of ALL the opportunities…that is why it is all about Preparation.  The more prepared we are the better chance we have of catching the wave and riding it to success.  You never know when or where an opportunity is going to present itself, for me most often it’s just about the time I’ve written off the possibility.

Personally Fall of 2014 has been a real rainy season.  A pilot I did 7 years ago finally went to production “The Nighbors”, my poetry book “AURAL SEX: Naughty Notes for Lovers” is getting published (I couldn’t get interest in the book in 2009 so based my solo show “Year of the Slut” on the poetry in 2009)…and just as I align with a producer for my new short film I get a call from NY, a friend wants to shoot a different short I wrote  when I was living there over 10 years ago.  All this in a matter of 2 months just as I started a new position as Performing Arts Director at an Elementary School.  It’s been a lot.  But thanks to my experience as a producer I am ready, I’m used to juggling. I had a slow summer after the Hollywood Fringe Festival, so I wrote my entire school curriculum (every lesson plan for the year).  The producer in me wanted to finish the big picture as I do when I take on a production – I schedule through completion.  I had no idea how busy the fall would be but my preparation was my saving grace…

Don’t waste time waiting, keep working and keep learning, it may take 10 years but when opportunities come they come fast and with friends,  so do something everyday to get yourself prepared for rain!

STOP WAITING + START CREATING = MAKE YOUR OWN BREAK

For more information about our classes and production consulting go to http://www.MakeYourOwnBreak.com

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Tommy Wiseau – Back On Set With a Mad Genius

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I first met Tommy Wiseau in 2007, my first month in Los Angeles.  I submitted to a casting notice in Backstage West and was called on a series of auditions at his studio, an unassuming building on Pico Blvd.  I ended up landing the role of Marianna in his new sitcom “The Neighbors”.  Back then I had never heard of Tommy or “The Room”.

Tommy’s approach is very different from anyone I’ve ever worked with before.  He is more concerned with process, rehearsals and trying to create something organic rather than banging out the scenes quickly to “make the day” or complete what was scheduled; Tommy doesn’t really concern himself with time, this is rare on scheduled shoot days due to financial restraints.

For the initial pilot of “The Neighbors” we rehearsed for a couple months 2-3 times per week (for no pay).  Many actors who were initially cast dropped out over the rehearsal process, feeling that it was a waste of time.  I was hungry and new to LA so I was happy to stick with the process while other actors who had been in town longer or had more experience gave up on the production.

After seven years of rumors, test shoots, and several more rounds of casting (even after shooting the pilot 7 years ago I still had to audition several times to make it into the new cast).  Tommy has started production again on “The Neighbors” sitcom, we began shooting Episode #1 of a 22 Episode Season last week.

Tommy Wiseau, to me, is a shy, sensitive, misunderstood, eccentric artist with a child-like optimism.  He is the ultimate example of someone who has against all odds “Made His Own Break” in the film industry on a global scale.   Despite what the industry and the critics had to say about him or his work – he and his movie “The Room” are a wild success.  Both Tommy and “The Room”  have reached cult hit status with a global fan base and monthly screens all over the world.  He has self-distributed the film through his website and the monthly screenings; he also sells “The Room” merchandise, bobble heads, t-shirts and his most recent endeavor Tommy Wiseau Briefs.  He single handedly built “The Room”, a bad indie film, into an empire and he himself has become a pop culture icon.

Many times as artists we bang our head against the wall trying to dictate to the industry how we want to be seen, what our project is supposed to be, etc.  Tommy set out to make a serious Film Noir love story – the critics and industry tore him apart…but did that stop him?   Many people would have shut down after that experience, moved out of town, quit the business and been sick about the financial loss (he funded the project out of pocket).  Not Tommy, he acknowledged how other people saw the film (as a disaster) and by embracing the negative feedback turned the film into a cult sensation and a huge financial win.  The level of success and notoriety he has achieved with his “worst film ever made” is truly where his brilliance lies.

I have been working with Tommy on and off for 7 years now; he is my friend and colleague, but he is also an inspiration to every independent filmmaker out there.  He has been able to market & distribute his film – on his own – and has continued to do so on a global scale for over a decade now.  If you haven’t heard of him or his film “The Room”…what are you waiting for?  There is lots to learn from this Mad Genius.

For more information about how to STOP WAITING + START CREATING please visit www.MakeYourOwnBreak.com

 

 

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Location, Location, Location

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When shooting a film there are many factors to take into consideration when looking for shoot locations.   Whether you are shooting interiors or exteriors here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing a location for your film shoot:

1) POWER – Does the venue have enough power for you to run all your lights and equipment?  Many locations that will let you shoot your project will insist you bring your own power (generator).  If you are allowed to use their power check it out first to make sure you are aware of what their system can handle so you don’t have a blow out while shooting.

2) BATHROOMS – Are there bathrooms there?  Enough to accommodate the size of your crew?  Years ago when I was starting out I worked on a horror film, we shot in the middle of a field at night and there were no bathrooms at all.  You can’t expect people to work under those conditions.

3) PARKING – It should never cost anyone to work for you.  Make sure there is ample free parking within a few blocks of your location, make sure you check all street signs for parking restrictions (i.e. rush hour).   If parking must be further away, provide a shuttle to transport people from the parking area to the set.

4) SOUND – Make sure you know how to shut of the air, refrigerator or any other powered appliances that can interfere with shooting.

5) PERMITS- Although I would always recommend having a permit to shoot in a public location (park, street, beach, etc) many independent filmmakers are successful “stealing shots on the fly”.  There are many snags that can come up when shooting without a permit, a few weeks ago I was hired to work on a web series shoot, when we arrived at the outdoor location there was a legit film crew with permits and police escorts already there. The shoot was canceled and everyone was sent home, for continuity purposes they needed that exact spot they had already established in the scene.

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Showtime Anxiety

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After months of preparations, hard work, long hours and just the right amount of drama, it is showtime.  Whether you are shooting a film or mounting a live production the shoot or opening tends sneak up on you no matter how prepared you think you are for it, especially if it is your first production.

Just breathe.  You’ve got this.  You have your team, your cast, your production bible and your unrelenting drive to make your production happen.  It is ok to be nervous.

Some things will go wrong.  Be prepared for that.  People will arrive late, you might lose power during a take or a performance, someone will forget to bring something they need (a wardrobe piece, a prop, a piece of equipment).  The key is to just keep rolling with the punches no matter what, keep your cool.  Getting angry or frustrated won’t accomplish anything, just focus on how to move forward.

Showtime might be terribly nerve-wracking for the producer; for indie theatre chances are you barely had a full run-through with all the technical elements and have your fingers crossed it will all come together.  For a shoot you might be worried about the crew gelling and making your days because you are shooting a feature in 10 days for 10k.  However nervous or stressed out the procurer is, for the cast and crew showtime is when all the talent you have put together has their chance to make magic happen.

If you have any questions you would like addressed producing your own production please contact us at makeyourownbreak@gmail.com

STOP WAITING + START CREATING = MAKE YOUR OWN BREAK!

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It’s All On You

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Being a Producer is a daunting task, it takes commitment, stamina, determination, diplomacy, the ability to multitask and stick with it until completion.  More than half the film productions I have worked on in my 15 years as a performer have never been completed.  Sometimes it’s because of lack of funding, sometimes the project leader (director, producer or writer) gets a higher paying position on another production, sometimes it’s because they lose their excitement or interest  in the project once it is in the can and sometimes life simply gets in the way.

Most productions and producers are geared up for the race at hand…the shoot or the first workshop of a play; but most are not prepared for the marathon it takes to complete a production.  Post production takes months, sometimes years, including doing the festival circuit and shopping for distribution.  Second and third mountings of a play take years to develop as well, each mounting requires funds, a rehearsal period, an run of the production and many times you are working with a different cast each time and have to start from scratch every time you begin rehearsals (unless you have enough money to keep all the same actors on board and even if you do, they might get other work that is higher paying or gives them more exposure).

For the above reasons, many writers and performers don’t want to have a go at being a producer.  That is understandable, however, the writers and performers that do produce their own work open doors for themselves that their writer and actor friends are relying on other to open for them.   This is why I encourage ALL of the writers and performers I come in contact with to produce their own work and MAKE YOUR OWN BREAK!

It’s not easy when you first start producing, it’s not that much fun either.  It’s a lot of stress and responsibility and no one is going to keep you on track with deadlines or motivate you…it is all on you and comes down to sheer will and determination.  You will have to wear many hats in addition to producer and actor or writer –  sometimes you will have to be the graphic designer, web designer, publicist, production/stage manager, set designer, carpenter, wardrobe, make up, craft services, editor, etc…

In my ten years as a producer I have worn more hats that I have not wanted to, but it simply came down to the production happening vs not happening.  Sometimes you are not happy with the work you hired someone to do, sometimes the person hired doesn’t come through…Each time I have opted to do WHATEVER it took to get my production to the finish line.  That has included learning how to stumble through programs I didn’t know how to use to edit footage, design websites and logos.  Instead of getting frustrated about having to take on more than I wanted to (or even thought I could handle) I just did what I had to do and come through it with one more skill that I could bring with me to the next production.

It doesn’t matter how much funding you have or how many people are on your team, when you are the producer every aspect of the production is all on you.

STOP WAITING + START CREATING = MAKE YOUR OWN BREAK!

For more information about how to produce your own work got to http://www.MakeYourOwnBreak.com or email us at makeyourownbreak@gmail.com

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Contracts

 

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When working on low budget or independent productions sometimes the need for contractual agreements is over looked.  Any time you hire someone to be part of you team for a production, it is a good idea to have both parties sign a written agreement outlining the job responsibilities, expectations of the employer, hours/days the service is required, turn around time (deadline for work completed) and compensation.  You can put as many or as little details in the agreement as you deem necessary.  The more specific you are the more clear your expectations are of your cast and crew.

It is standard for actors and anyone appearing on camera to sign release forms and for crew members to sign deal memos.

When writers and performers come together to produce the division of responsibility and ownership of the project is not clear.  It is a good idea to have a long talk before you decide to partner with a friend or colleague on a production.  Make sure it is clear what each person’s strengths and weaknesses are…that is usually a good way to figure out who should take on what.  There are many responsibilities that are less “fun” than others but need attention, patience and commitment.  Make sure you divide responsibilities equally and meet regularly to check in with each other.

Talking to a lawyer is always a good idea when embarking on any production, especially if intellectual property is concerned.  The laws vary from state to state and it is important to have the correct documentation to protect yourself and your work.

 

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Crunch Time

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like to call the week before a play opens or a film begins shooting “crunch time”.  No matter how much time you have given yourself for rehearsals, to prep for a production or how prepared you think you are, this is a stressful week with lots to juggle…and for some reason there never seems to be enough hours in the day to get is all done.

For a theatre production this is probably the first time you get a chance to work in the space/theatre you will be performing in.  Certain adjustments need to be made to accommodate the new space and sometimes the cast is a little thrown and forget some of the lines and direction they were solid on the rehearsal prior.  This is typical and why the term “Bad Dress, Good Show” makes sense.

For film during this time you are finalizing details with casting minor roles/extras, rentals, permits, scheduling, gathering props and wardrobe etc.  to make sure everything is ready to go for the duration of the production prior to the first shoot day.

The most important thing to remember during crunch week is Don’t Panic!  Emotions are usually running high and sometimes you are even second guessing the idea of why you wanted to produce your project in the first place.  Don’t worry, we all tend to feel that way at some point especially if you are new to producing.

Having detailed lists of prop, wardrobe, scene, character and location breakdowns are a life saver.  This is where your Production Bible becomes your most important tool to keep it all together.  I also like to write additional lists of task that need to be accomplished for each department and check them off as I go.  I try to break to big picture down into many smaller and manageable pieces so it’s not so overwhelming.

During Crunch Week I try to get lots of rest (but it’s not always realistic) , productions are a marathon and will take everything you’ve got…and them some.  I don’t always remember to eat when I am busy so I have to keep reminding myself to so I have the energy to get things done.  I also force myself to go for a 20 minute walk each day to clear my head and release some stress.

What are some things that you do in order to help get through Crunch Week?  I would love to hear how other deal with the stress and the pressure.

If you have any production questions you would like addressed, please email them to us at makeyourownbreak@gmail.com

www.MakeYourOwnBreak.com

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Weekly Inventory

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When in the throws of a production it is easy to get caught up in certain details while other aspects get lost in the shuffle.  This is where the “Production Bible” can be a life saver, keeping all the tasks and departments organized.  In addition to my Bible I also like to do a weekly “Inventory” meeting with my team (writer, producer, director and other key team members) to make sure we are all on the same page.  I start these meeting very early on in pre-production and continue them until the project is complete (not just done shooting or the first mounting of a performance; productions usually go on long after the shoot is over or the first workshop is performed).

For my weekly inventory meeting I insist on a face to face meeting as much as possible.  This serves  as an opportunity to check in with your team and see how they are doing in person.  Everyone has a chance to go over what they accomplished the past week and what they still need to tackle in the week(s) to come (securing location, reviewing artwork, going over casting choices, etc).  As the producer it is your responsibility to stay on top of your team, to be aware of what they need to accomplish and check up with them regarding progress.  This weekly meeting is an effective way to stay on top of everything without micro-managing.

When you sit down in a room face to face and break down the list of everything the production needs piece by piece the production becomes more manageable than when looking at the big picture.  I like to start these meeting with the big picture and break things down into manageable bites, then delegating the small pieces to different members of my team.  This is also a perfect place to brainstorm ideas for fundraising and marketing, locations, wardrobe, music etc…

If you don’t have a team yet, these weekly check-ins are still important.  Make the time to sit down with yourself and take a look at all the aspects of your production, make notes of what you have, what you need and what you need to do in the following week to stay on track.  Use this weekly meeting as a way to be accountable to yourself to ensure you stay on track with the production and stay committed to seeing it through.  Remember, this production is your baby and only you are responsible for its life and progress.

If you have a question or topic you would like addressed in this blog, please email us at makeyourownbreak@gmail.com and we will discuss it in a post.

For more info about what we do please visit http://www.MakeYourOwnBreak.com

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You’re Fired!

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This isn’t a pleasant topic, but it’s an important one to address.  Having produced over two dozen productions over the past decade I have had to use the words “You’re Fired” more than once.  I have never wanted to fire anyone, nor is it enjoyable, it’s usually a last resort solution that is necessary to the success of a production.

It doesn’t matter if the production consists of volunteers or if everyone is being paid above union scale, you want to hire a team of cast and crew who are committed and invested in the production, even more so if they are not getting paid.  A while back I offered an actor a role and he asked me “What’s in it for me?”.  He submitted to the casting notice, was fully aware of the scale of the production and the compensation – all the production had to offer was clear.  Regardless of his talent I immediately passed on working with him.  I went with someone a little less experienced but who wanted to be there because for that production I needed someone whose heart was in the project more than I needed that particular actor’s extra ounce of charisma.

Recently I ran into a problem with a website designer who missed a deadline with no notice.  I continued to give him the benefit of the doubt and he continued to miss 2 more deadlines and ultimately I had to do it myself.  I knew better than to keep him on when the first deadline was missed but had too much on my plate and wanted to believe this guy would come through.  He didn’t.  Due to my hesitancy to take proper action ultimately I am responsible for the consequences.

There are many different reasons to fire someone from your production, here are a few I have encountered;

Sometimes people are so eager to get the job they will exaggerate their skill set/experience and won’t know how to do their job properly which can set back the entire production.

Chemistry issues with the cast/crew, sometimes brilliance is packaged in a difficult personality, assess if the friction is worth their contribution.

Missing deadlines, if you are notified prior to the deadline you can give them the benefit of the doubt, if not, move on, they are wasting your time.

Frequently late, this indicates lack of commitment to the production.

Not prepared to work – lines not memorized, equipment forgotten, etc..

Doesn’t follow the rules/take direction – there is a certain code of conduct and usually each productions outlines any specific rules, if they don’t respect the rules, they don’t respect you.

Firing someone is never easy.  It is never a good idea to lose your temper and take things out on the other person.  Simply let them know that things are not working out and that you have to let them go.  You can simply list the reasons why but don’t attack their character.  If you want to give someone a chance to improve and give a warning, do it in a pleasant tone if you expect favorable results, let them know you want them to succeed and they will be more inclined to rise to the occasion.  If it is a lost cause, don’t take it out on them, take responsibility for making the wrong choice.

For more information about how to STOP WAITING + START CREATING and bring your film or play to life please visit us at www.MakeYourOwnBreak.com or email us at makeyourownbreak@gmail.com for more informations about our Production 101 Workshops for Film and for Theatre and our Production Consulting Services.

 

 

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