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Peter Rogers's Blog
Artist-in-Residence at Chez Firth

Thursday (9/1/11) 11:55am - ... wherein Peter makes plans regarding writing & production.

I've started writing a post about a 'bucket list' of projects I want to take on during my extended period of unemployment.  (This will follow up my "scheduling" post.)  The section about 'why I'm doing a bunch of writing projects' ballooned in size until I figured I should post it as its own thing.

I'm going to start this section with a couple of metaphors.

First one:  say you woke up one morning, stepped outside your front door, and you saw a 2011 Lamborghini Aventador parked in your driveway.  The key was in the door, with a note attached:  "drive this for as long as you like today".

Would you take the day off and go driving?  Yes, you would.

Second one:  most of my life, I've found that I get by fairly well on little sleep.  That said, I've only ever pulled one all-nighter for school, and I can only think of one other time I stayed awake for more than 24 hours (a trans-Pacific flight was involved [I can't sleep on planes]).

So when I got invited to do the 42-hour Improv Marathon, I leapt at the chance.  Any sensible person would say 'no' to staying up for nearly two days doing shows.  Me, I wanted to see what I was capable of.


Okay, first off, the car is about opportunity.

Here, now, in Austin, in 2011, with the connections that I've got, the respect that I've garnered, and the skills that I sort-of-middlingly have, I have an opportunity most people don't have:

I can write scripts and get them made.

I'm not talking crazy here.  No, I'm not one of the maybe dozen people in the world who can write a script and get it made as a Hollywood feature.  But half of my friends are actors, and half of *them* are wannabe filmmakers.

If I wrote an audiodrama, I could gather up my friends to act in it, take us to the Art Institute, and have one of the longform-audio classes record it there in their multimillion-dollar studio.  Alternately, I could get an interview/performance slot at KOOP, take the cast there, and perform it for some thirty-five thousand Austinites.  And I could hand a recording off to Andrew, who has been begging me to get him audio content that he can distribute.

Things would be dodgier if I wrote a short film, but I could still get it amateurishly produced.  There would be friends begging to act in it and begging to shoot it.  There *wouldn't* be friends begging to edit it, but that could be a task I take on myself.  There wouldn't be friends begging to rent and set up lighting rigs, either -- but the bottom line is, after some reasonable amount of effort, I could get a five-page script turned into a five-minute thing.  And the acting would actually be good.

Most people don't have this kind of infrastructure.  They don't know all this talent.  They aren't held in this kind of esteem.  For real screenwriters, the whole business is very different -- they write the script, and then take it around to people who could buy it and make it.  Most of them never see anything made.

So that's the Lambourghini in the metaphor.  I've got this infrastructure for producing content just sitting there, if I would only take the time to take advantage of it.  I've tried my damnedest to do that while employed.  Now I just want to take the day off and go driving, just because I can.


The other metaphor is more straightforward -- for "going without sleep", read "writing".

All the things I've done so far, writing-wise, have been brief and cursory.  The most protracted work I've done is to put in a few hours a day, every other day or so, for a brief, three-week period -- and honestly, doing that on top of a day job beat the shit out of me. 

(What?  Writing is hard.)

So I just want put my head down and write for a few hours every day for... a month? two months? six months?  I want to do that, and see what happens.  It may be that I don't have any good scripts in me.  It may be that I really don't have any decent ideas for stories.  It may be that I only have a little writing in me every day.  It may be that the things I come up with are just bilge.

But I want to *know*, y'know?  I don't want to go to my grave thinking I *might* have been able to tell some great stories if only I'd made a real effort at it, or like I *might* have fallen into a groove where I could turn out stories fairly regularly, if only I'd given it the time it deserved.

Right now I know that I can stay up for 42 hours fairly cogently.  I'd like to know if I can consistently write pages.


Note that neither of these metaphors assume that I'm any *good* as a screenwriter.[1]  Neither one assumes that I deserve success, or that I deserve to be able to make a living at this.  I'm not doing this because I am a great and wunnerful artist who might somehow get a "big break".  I'm not even assuming that I will, in the end, find all this writing to be that fun or that rewarding.

This is really about, once and for all, finding out what happens when I have an honest go at writing scripts and producing them.

--

What's funny to me is that I emphatically hit this conclusion every five years or so.  I basically posted this same plan in 2006.  And there's a similar rant from 2002, from before I had a blog.

The difference is, every time I make that post, I have more money socked away, more artistic resources to draw on, and less satisfaction with my job.


_____
[1] Mind you, I'm not a horrid screenwriter.  I think I'm far better than average, but keep in mind that the average level of skill among screenwriters is just harrowingly bad.  The typical writer on a run-of-the-mill "fat guy, hot wife" sitcom is better than 99.99% of the wannabes out there.

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From:racingpenguins
Date:Thursday (9/1/11) 6:17pm
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So, question regarding the whole elective unemployment thing - are you going to have health insurance? Accidents and unexpected illness do happen, and they can bankrupt a person pretty immediately, so I hope you'll take some kind of precaution. My mom works for Blue Cross Blue Shield in AZ and expects medical costs to increase quite a bit as the healthcare law comes into effect (at least, for a good while).

Also, just another word of caution - if you were to decide that this break were not working out for you and that you needed to go back to work, bear in mind long breaks in employment tend to look bad to potential employers. There's all those stories in the news about companies avoiding those unfortunately caught up in the bad economy who have been unemployed a while.

I tend to be on the cautious/conservative side of these sorts of things, but that's because I've been in totally broke student mode for so long. I've also personally experienced (and observed) how difficult it's been for qualified people to get jobs these days, so some kind of work - consulting or something - that you can do in addition to your writing might be a good idea.

Food for thought!
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From:hujhax
Date:Saturday (9/10/11) 2:51pm
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Hi Lani!

Yes, I absolutely plan to have health insurance.  This factors into both my financial arrangements for the long vacation, and some of the errands I have to pick off beforehand.  I'll post about finances and errands before too long.

I do plan to take on some little freelance/consulting gigs while unemployed.  I talk a little bit about this in my latest post.  I do realize that, in any case, the gap will make me less employable.

(Thank you for looking out for me!  *feels warm fuzzies*)
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From:judovitch
Date:Thursday (9/1/11) 8:48pm
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Hey, whatever happened to Sketchville / Austinville? Did you post that at one point and I just missed it? Or is it still in limbo?
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From:hujhax
Date:Saturday (9/10/11) 2:51pm
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As I understand it, Amy got halfway through editing the webseries, and stopped.  If I wind up learning video editing, I'd like to take on the remaining episodes.
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From:la_directora
Date:Tuesday (9/13/11) 11:47am
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I actually have some thoughts about Sketchville, why it petered out, and some lessons to take away from it for future projects. I don't think it was JUST about "Amy stopped editing". :) I was definitely a big factor. But it was related to an overall thing of, "Very big project, large in scope, which required a level of attention span and commitment that is hard to get from people who aren't getting paid." :) I stopped editing largely because paid projects and professional obligations made the time I needed to commit to it harder and harder to find. That, plus the fact that there didn't seem to be any efforts underway to raise money meant I was pretty sure I'd continue to have to pay out of my own pocket for my travel expenses for future shoots, which was getting harder and harder to do. Similarly, I suspect if we'd scheduled another shoot weekend, we'd no longer have been able to count on Andrew as the producer, and we probably wouldn't get Adrian back as an AD, as both had moved into professional work that kept their attention by being paid work. :)

Going back to finish editing Sketchville is certainly one option. However, it bears keeping in mind that even if you (or I) finished editing every episode that was shot, you'd still have an incomplete project. And getting the necessary people in place to complete it would be virtually impossible.

My experience with independent productions like this is that sometimes there are ones that don't get finished, for various reasons. And when that happens, it's often more productive to take what you learned from it and use that in the next thing, rather than beating your head against a wall to get something finished that may never happen. What I took away from Sketchville is, "If the project I'm working on requires long-term commitment, I need to figure out some way of getting everyone paid SOMETHING to keep their attention." What I also learned was that if I was going to self-produce something very low budget where people COULDN'T get paid, I needed to keep it short and sweet - a short film, not a 20 episode season of a web series. Both web series projects that I'm working on now are ones where the producers raised money before starting a moment of production, and all of the key players involved are getting paid for their work. So they were able to keep people involved over a long period of time. The pay isn't much, and it certainly isn't industry rates. But it's enough to keep people invested. It's also both allowing them to produce at a level that makes people want to be involved because they know the work will reflect them well (say, for acting reels and the like), plus it shows that the producers believe in what they're doing enough to invest either their own money or the effort to find money, which makes others want to be involved in it, too.

So I recommend one of two routes: (1) Write and self-produce a short film, using the vast pool of talent you have available to you. Come up with something that can be completed in a short period of time, during which you can more easily keep everyone's attention, and it is less likely that people's professional standing will change during the process of making it. Or (2) If you really want to do something longer and more ambitious, raise money first and have a plan for keeping everyone whose attention you need for a long period of time paid something. Honestly, I recommend (1) over (2) for many reasons. :)

Get a project completed. Get something under your belt that says, "Look what I can do!" Then the longer, more ambitious projects become easier to do, because people are willing to help you find money for a more sure thing.

(And for the part I played in not knowing beforehand how difficult it would be to sustain something of the scope of "Sketchville" long enough to get it done, I apologize. If my world were to suddenly become filled with free time and lots of money, I would love to help get it finished. But I think it was an error in judgement on our parts to go about doing what we were trying to do in the way we tried to do it. And I hope the outcome is not regret or bad feelings, but that we can all walk away saying, a la South Park, "I learned something today...")
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From:hujhax
Date:Tuesday (9/13/11) 6:07pm
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Yup, what she said -- and to clarify, that's pretty much where I thought her head was at about the project.  There are lots of lessons to draw from it about how to keep a project tenable in scope.
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From:hujhax
Date:Tuesday (9/13/11) 6:08pm
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Further clarification:  I mis-spoke when I said, "I'd like to take on the remaining episodes."  I meant that I wanted to take the material that was already shot and finish editing it, knowing full well that it would be a half-finished project.  If nothing else, it would be good editing practice, and it would give me a nice sense of closure.
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From:la_directora
Date:Tuesday (9/13/11) 10:09pm
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A transfer of the footage to you could be done very easily. As could some guidance and advice on setting it up and doing some practice editing. :)
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From:hujhax
Date:Tuesday (9/13/11) 11:21pm
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~ w00t! ~
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From:shadyglenn
Date:Friday (9/2/11) 10:49am
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If you do the elective unemployment thing in order to write, you might be eligible for health insurance through NASE (the national association of the self-employed) or some other such organization. I have my health insurance through them, and it's not the greatest, but it's there. I can send you the organization's link if you want.

Also, I think it's fantastic that you're kicking around doing this.

The typical writer on a run-of-the-mill "fat guy, hot wife" sitcom is better than 99.99% of the wannabes out there.

I'd say that this is a window into the Slough of Despair, but years of reading comment sections on the web have jaded me to the point that I'm impressed when someone uses basic grammar, much less writes in a logical and organized way - so I can hardly say I'm surprised.
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From:hujhax
Date:Saturday (9/10/11) 2:51pm
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Thanks, Colin -- I could use the NASE info, as I need to start doing research on health insurance.
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