Adventures In Digital Series Land – Chapter 110: Women, Self-Deprecation and Promotion or…Shooting Yourself In the Foot

•August 21, 2015 • 1 Comment

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Been working like a psycho, trying to bang out these mini-episodes and it’s been tough.  Wanna have 35 in the can before I return to final animation production on the new series—hopefully within 2 1/2 weeks. It’s a lot.

Meanwhile, in the midst of all of this, I spoke with a friend whose script recently made it into the first round of a prestigious competition.  She wrote about it on Facebook and when I congratulated her, she minimized the achievement. That mini act of self-deprecation stopped me in my tracks and I thought I’d write about it. Mostly cause it’s something I used to do all the time. Until recently.

Why? Three reasons:

1- I had some success at a pretty young age and was used to people’s jealous reactions. It’s normal. It’s part of show business. It’s hard to take. I thought if I trivialized the good things that were happening to me, it would minimize some of the personal backlash.  (Spoiler Alert: It Didn’t.)

2- I come from the kind of family where it’s mostly considered bad taste to crow about success.

3- I was kinda socialized to be that way as a woman. It’s a subtle thing, but I’ve learned that part of being successful is acting successful and if you’re female and act successful, you just might get called a bitch. Or arrogant. Sad, but true.

Ultimately, I learned the hard way, in business (and in life) it’s a fatal mistake to be self-deprecating. And trivializing an achievement is just that. If you tell people, “Yeah, I won a Pulitzer, buuuuttt, it’s really no biggie”, people will believe you. And treat you that way. Like you’re somehow not deserving of that accolade. I’m not suggesting bragging about achievements, but own them, deal with jealousy and ultimately people will treat you accordingly.

On a final, unrelated note, Will Keenan is leaving his post as President of Endemol Beyond USA. Will reached out to me two years ago when he was still at Maker, offering me a contract there. It not only meant a lot to me that he believed in Chilltown but we really hit it off. Sadly we couldn’t come to terms contractually so the deal with Maker was not be but have stayed in touch. He’s a great guy and has done so much for the digital community. He wrote on FB today that he already has new plans in the works and whatever they are I’m sure they’ll be spectacular.  I wish him well wherever he goes.

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Adventures In Digital Series Land – Chapter 108: FACEBOOK STEALING VIEWS?

•August 7, 2015 • 1 Comment

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Things kinda ground to a halt this past week and I was stumped by the new voiceovers I’m doing for the mini-series I’m putting together.

I had already pre-corded the episodes (35 for starters) and once I started lip-syncing, something just wasn’t working. I suspected it was the voiceover but really liked the tone I had used. But once it was coupled with animation, it lost the funny factor.  Which is a big problem for me.

So I called my production partner (who’s not involved with this particular project) because he tends to have that great type of objectivity and confirmed my worst fears: the voiceover had to go.  He made some broad suggestions. After experimenting for a number of days, I finally locked in the new one and am LOVING it. And, it’s funny.  Either that, or I’ve become delusional after all this work.

The good news: I’m wildly happy about the direction of this mini-series. The bad news: It’s going to take me longer than I expected to finish it. *sigh*

I do have the pilot in the can and one of the things I did this week was prep it for YouTube and Facebook (which have slightly different formatting requirements).  So it was pretty interesting/disturbing to read this article, which talks about a huge problem in the digital series world: stealing videos and posting them on Facebook. The article was written by YouTube star Hank Green, who’s also one of the co-founders of VidCon, which is huge. So it holds a lot of weight and is making waves.

According to article, of the 1,000 most popular Facebook videos, 725 were stolen re-uploads, responsible for around 17 billions views, just last quarter alone. In other words, you bust your butt creating a video, post it on YouTube, someone takes it and posts it on Facebook.  Why does that suck for you?  Because Facebook does not monetize videos.  If someone just embedded your YouTube on their Facebook page, it would be a non-issue cause you’d be getting paid.  And because of the way Facebook is set up, you probably will get more views there making Facebook richer and you…well, you know.

What’s really shocking/disturbing about all of this is, Facebook launched their video platform with no system to protect independent rights holders. So it’s nearly impossible to know if your video has been ripped off and posted.  Unless it goes viral on Facebook and you happen to see it.  Currently, there no way to search for it. If you do happen to see a video that’s been free-booted, though, you can contact Facebook and they will take action, meaning take it down a couple of days after you let them know and it’s sucked up most of the views it’ll ever get (why share on YouTube when it’s so much easier to share on Facebook).

I’m really hoping that with more exposure, Facebook does something to change their algorithms and make them more independent creator friendly. Cause this blows.

Adventures In Digital Series Land – Chapter 107: RIP BLIP

•July 24, 2015 • Leave a Comment

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BLIP is being shuttered on August 15th.  I knew it was gonna happen ultimately, but still, am sad to see it go.

BLIP was one of the early platforms that showed and monetized web series.  Chilltown, my series, was on there and I received nearly 50,000 views on just one episode when they featured it on their front page for just one day.  And that amounted to cash.  Which was great. It wasn’t a huge amount, but way more than YouTube’s payout.

The people there also were actively very supportive of the series on their platform. They promoted my show on Google + and Twitter.  Which was really helpful and cool.

When Maker Studios purchased it in 2013, right in the middle of Chilltown’s run it didn’t affect things for me but I knew something was going to shift. At the time, they publicly stated (and sent letters to creators on BLIP) that they’d be dropping a lot of web series. I wasn’t dropped but a about seven months later, Disney bought Maker for $500 million and I was certain I’d be dropped.  Mostly cause I thought the cursing in my series just didn’t fit the Disney brand. Surprisingly, I wasn’t.  And even though I stopped adding content, I continued to receive some views.

So while my presence there wasn’t making me any money as of late, I still had really good feelings about BLIP.  So when I got a letter from Maker this week saying they’d be shutting it down, I went ahead and deleted all of my content there.

RIP BLIP. Onward and upward.  I’m glad to be a part of Frederator for the new series I’m doing.  This week, I completed the last of 60 mini-animations for the new show and while I still have a ways to go production-wise, I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel and it’s getting exciting!

Before I go, wanted to share this article by Sarah Ullman who has a cool blog/newsletter called The Jungle dedicated to YouTube news and analysis.  She breaks down VidCon, a VERY cool event that I wish I was attending this year.  Maybe next. If you’re going, let me know in the comments!

Adventures In Digital Series Land – Chapter 106: How Tennis Saved My Pitch Meeting

•July 10, 2015 • 3 Comments

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I am a tennis fanatic. Love to watch matches, love to play.  Did I mention I kinda suck at it? Ok, maybe not suck, but…I’m inexperienced.  Been playing for about five or six years (just working on my strokes) but only started playing games last year. And found out the hard way that playing games is dramatically different than just hitting a ball around.  Aside from strategy and learning different shots that are game-specific, there’s the pressure.  And it is insane. You’re dealing with ego (mostly your own: OMG, am I gonna fail?), stage-fright (OMG, everyone’s gonna see me fail!!!) and fear of failure (OMG everyone just saw me fail!!!)  But I really really really wanna get better and feel I have the potential to, ultimately, be a good player. So I’m sticking with it.

A week ago I found myself prepping for a pitch meeting. And the same fears I have with tennis were cropping up (yeah, the fear of failure thing). The worst thing you can do in a pitch meeting is have them see you sweat. I mean, who wants to buy something from someone who’s nervous about their project?

I’ve taken a ton of pitch meetings and normally don’t get nervous about them anymore because I’ve been told I’m “good in a room” but since I’ve been holed up a while writing/animating a bunch of new stuff, it somehow felt new.  And I had a butterflies.

I ended up doing a trick that a tennis buddy taught me: Walk the walk.  Meaning, act as if you’re totally confident. And ultimately, you will be.  I’ve started doing that while playing tennis and you know what? It works. I’m gaining confidence, feeling less pressure, not caring about failing and thinking I’m going to win. And I mostly am winning.

And it worked for the pitch meeting. I walked in with my partner and killed it! Don’t know what’s going to happen (I’ve walked in a killed a ton a meetings and they still passed–it’s very rare when they don’t at this stage) but it was a relief to rise above my fears and knock it out the park. I feel like I’m really back in the game.

Walk the walk, people!

Adventures In Digital Series Land – Chapter 105: Does Size Matter?

•June 26, 2015 • 1 Comment

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Ah, the age-old question: Does size matter?  Maybe not, according to the IAB.  And yes, I’m talking about online content. Specifically, how long episodes should be. This is a REALLY important consideration when you’re putting together a digital series.

For the past few years, the going practice was to have each episode be between 2-5 minutes long. Anything longer: a death knell.  And I kinda learned that the hard way.

When I started, I had absolutely no idea how long to make my episodes so each one ended up being between about 6-8 minutes. Or longer! My thinking was, it makes sense for vlogs to be shorter, but I wanted to show off my work. I was still thinking with a tv/cable mindset vs. a YouTube one.

On YouTube you can gauge viewer retention and see where people drop off. In fact, that’s the biggest way YouTube rates your videos. Episodes that have longer retention (and yes, huge views) are more searchable on the site. But retention trumps views in the YouTube world.

It makes sense to have shorter episodes, solely to keep eyeballs on your show. And to bulid up a fanbase. I believe shorter episodes lend themselves more to being shared. For a small indie series, my first time around, I didn’t get huge drop-off but I’m convinced that if my episodes were shorter, they would have been more shareable.

And while these new statistics show that people are are willing to watch longer episodes on mobile, I still don’t think it’s a great idea.  Especially if you’re a beginner.

This week my production partner and I had a strategy session with someone at a a major network.  He reinforced the smaller is better concept for digital but even he admitted some of this stuff is very hard to predict.

Either way, for the new series, I’m making the episodes shorter than I did the first time around. They’re all less than 5 minutes.The good things come in small packages model. Aside from trying to have something be funny and engaging, I’m hoping for more shareability this time around.

Adventures In Digital Series Land – Chapter 104: This Week’s Pep Talk

•June 12, 2015 • 1 Comment

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So yes, things have been intense.  Struggling with this script (but inching forward).  Animating the new series. Working on two new shows with my producing partner. Thinking about the script for the short.  And, being gripped with anxiety (sometimes).

Why? While I love love love the creative process, when you’re smack dab in the middle of things, it’s very hard to see the big picture.  You know, the “where is this leading to” big picture?

Well, the big picture involves a long journey. That happens with baby steps.  Which is hard when you’re broke, trying to get heard (pick me! pick me! pick me!!) and attempting to evolve into creative dopeness. Cause the odds are usually not in your favor.  And yes, usually is also a codeword for “sometimes never.” Sigh.

For me, particularly because I already have a track record, from time to time I just get…frustrated. To paraphrase Mark Duplass, why hasn’t the cavalry come to get me?  Spoiler alert: They’re not coming.

But this interview with Courney Kemp Agboh came in RIGHT on time.  If you don’t know who she is, she’s the showrunner for Power, the hip-hop drama on Starz.  Dante Nero, one of the stars of my digital series Chilltown (and, hilarious stand-up), has been featured in it a few times.  It’s a tight show. Oh, did I mention it was just renewed for a third season!  Impressive.

Her interview was just the shot in the arm I needed this week.  Among the gems: “Greg Berlanti wrote ten pilots before he broke through.”  And this: “It’s like people only see the success part; they don’t see how much work goes into it.” Hello?  Welcome to my life!! Plus: “My job isn’t to make great women; my job is to make a great fucking show so that the next time a woman wants to run her own show, somebody says, ‘Yeah, she can probably do it because that other bitch did it.'”  Preach!!

If you, like me, have been out here churning out stuff and trying to write the best possible shows you can and feel like you’re just tredding water sometimes, it is DEFINITELY worth the read.

Before I go, I wanted to write about this really cool film series I attended this week.

It’s called the Iron Mule, run by comedian Victor Varnado and producer Jay Stern and its focus is comedic shorts. Since I’m working on a short, I thought it would be a good idea to see what’s out there. I went with my friend Janet who just completed a short and is in the process of submitting it to film festivals.

I thought it was cool mix.  I truly loved a few of them and wasn’t crazy about a couple, but, in general, I thought it was really well curated and a fun evening!  I’m hoping to go again soon. And, when my short is completed, submit.

Adventures In Digital Series Land – Chapter 103: The Not-So-Secret Showrunners/Writers World on Twitter and How It Saved My Script

•May 29, 2015 • 1 Comment

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I’ve been working like a psycho. So busy, in fact, I blew off going to last night’s YouTube NYC’s chat with Pixar people, which really looked great (plus, I had an edit session). Here’s what I’ve up to:

Deep into animating the new series.  At this point, I’m *hoping* I’ll be done in about 2-3 months. Working on three new projects with my production partner.  We both were super busy/caught up in the winter and now are back working with a vengeance. It feels great and productive and I’m loving the projects.

Finally, working working working on rewrite/reimagining of a project I originally thought would be a digital series.  Now I’m thinking of it as a 1/2 hour original pilot script and the Not-So-Secret Showrunners/Writers World on Twitter saved it. Let me me explain.

There are a lot of really good writers and experienced showrunners on twitter. And many of them dispense great writing/producing tips. You just have to know where to look.

Among my favorites are Jeffrey Lieber who wrote the original pilot for Lost and is the showrunner for NCIS.  He posts Showrunner Tips and they’re funny and true and great. And even if you’re a long way off from being a showrunner, they really give you a good understanding of what running a show is like.  He also gives good writing tips and opens up twitter to Q&A’s once in a while. Do them.  They’ll help you.

Another is ScriptMag, which is now posting tons of really useful articles on writing, producing and tips for becoming a staff writer in tv.

Another great source is My Tracking Board.  Endless tips, lists, deets on spec script sales.  It’s great. Plus, one of the guys who runs it took the time to answer some of my questions and even sent a sample pitch bible to me.

And finally, another fav: Scott Myers who runs Go Into The Story. GITS is affiliated with The Blacklist, the famous list in Hollywood of top scripts that haven’t (yet) been produced. As most people know, The Blacklist has also become a place to, possibly, get discovered. You upload a script, for a fee, and they vote on it.  Scripts with high marks get send out in newsletters and yes, many of the writers of these scripts have found big agents (UTA, CAA, WMA, etc.) and had their scripts bought or optioned as a result.

Scott Myers is a writer (http://screenwritingmasterclass.com/bios/scott-myers/) and GITS has tons and tons of script writing pointers.  Scott participated in #Scriptchat, something I’ve previously written about, a week ago and went into his 7 Character Description Keys.

The 7th key is: Switch Protagonists. I cannot tell you how helpful this is.  I was at a place with the script I’m working on (the 1/2 hour pilot) where I was banging my head against the wall, trying to make it fresh and interesting. I was incredibly frustrated and nearly at the point of no return: That’s right, I’d resorted to reading inspirational quotes on Facebook.  Yes, things were looking grim.

The show has three leads; one is the protagonist. And while I liked the other leads, something was missing and feeling a little formulaic. When I flipped it, i.e., switched protagonists and started analyzing them from a protagonist pov (with goals, journeys, etc.), those characters became so three-dimensional I literally hate to break away from the page to work on other projects. And this was just the trick I needed.

By using that tool to dig deeper, especially when you’re writing comedy which can be joke-centric, there’s a larger payoff. I now can’t wait to “visit” these characters every morning during my writing sessions.  Thanks, Scott Myers!

You can find all of this info by following and searching on GITS, Twitter and Script Mag and, of course, TV Writer.  If you have any favs you follow on twitter, please add them in the comments.