Confessions Of A First Time Web Series Producer: Part 1

Photos: Bo McGee/CTOB

I fell in love with a filmmaker and I fell in love with film making, in that order. 

Prologue: Not long after I met Maria, she invited me to be a "grip" on the set of her ambitious first feature film, Women & Cigarettes. I've always fancied myself a jack-of-all-trades in the arts, but I'd never been on a film set. Plus I thought I had a pretty good chance at hooking up with her, so I signed up to spend a Saturday as her "Grip". My instinct said it was a win/win.

I loved every second on the set. It was chaotic, erratic, at times tedious, and dense with creativity and competence. It was the primordial ooze of art. And at the end of the day, an awesome little movie crawled out. And I was right about Maria, I totally hooked up with her. 

A couple of years later, I asked her to marry me. We make movies together. Win/win. 

The Birth of The Push Hard Inn

Maria comes home to the little apartment we share on Nob Hill. The carpets are dirty, but we love it.

She tells me a story about a friend of hers who was sleeping with a girl he'd just met, and the chick started singing Adele while she was riding him. From there, Maria launches right into a story about a time she got locked out of her old apartment in Hayes Valley.  While she was trying to get in she took note of the "PUSH HARD" sticker above the doorbell-- common on the iron gates of clunky old victorians all around the city. She ordered a pizza, and wondered what her roommates were up to.

At this point, I realize that she is telling me about a script. This is a moment that is common in our relationship. We are both creators, and we use one another as a sounding board. Once an idea is formed–no matter how hair-brained or half-baked– Maria is the first person I tell, and vice versa. Sometimes I realize that it's not ready, and I tuck it away under my pillow to cook awhile longer. Sometimes, we just need a little help in the kitchen.

Some creative instinct in my fiancee selected these two elements– stories, anecdotes, bits, moments in time– and put them together. So we start adding more elements. More stories, more characters. More ingredients, more heat. 

A story begins to unfold. Eventually it becomes a story not just about the girl on the steps, but of her roommates who are dawdling around inside. They are bombastic composites of characters and anecdotes from our shared life. 

One of us calls out "Web-series"...

Maria was born and raised in Bolivia and I grew up in Massachusetts. We both came to 'Frisco on a whim and went native quickly. Along the way, we'd each hoarded a thousand stories and adventures and wild characters that-- as we sat discussing them-- demanded to be written. We're huge fans of High Maintenance and we'd been looking for a new project. We'd batted around the idea of a web-series a few times but never landed on a project. What if we could make millennial Friends? We wonder aloud.

The co-writing process is challenging.

It's the first time we've written collaboratively. We've each been a part of one another's artistic process countless times, but we've never mutually set forth on creating a solitary work. So we set aside an evening for a bottle of wine and a writing date.

At first, we can't even agree on where to sit– in the kitchen or the living room. We debate how to transcribe the process; order in which we should generate ideas; and the confines we should place upon the process. Tension lumbers into the room. The process is fruitless.

We proceed, stubbornly. Starts and stops.  Less rules, more jokes. A brief walk in the night air, and another glass of wine. We reinstate some rules. Eventually, we write. At first, just quotes and snippets, then it falls into a structure and we fall into a groove. When we're in the groove, life is groovy. We give each other room to create, play off of each others thoughts, and ride the momentum of the conversation. 

We laugh and play while we write, but we always hold ourselves accountable for more words on the page. 

After a few weeks and a half-dozen writing sessions, The Push Hard Inn becomes a fully conceptualized web-series.  We have four finished scripts and we're going into pre-production. And this, I would soon learn, makes me a producer.  

 We shot this shortly after Miley Cyrus appeared on the VMA's and salaciously wagged her tongue at America. Craig hadn't seen it yet I guess.

We shot this shortly after Miley Cyrus appeared on the VMA's and salaciously wagged her tongue at America. Craig hadn't seen it yet I guess.

Which, it turns out, is a dope job.

I've never produced a film before, but my day job is in Operations/Management. I figure it's a fundamentally similar effort. I often describe my professional role as being the hand that turns the crank that makes the machine work. When the machine is working properly, all of the individual cogs and gears can function smoothly and the machine can do it's job. Crank steadily, keep the gears oiled, and watch out for inbound monkey wrenches. That's Op's.

I've turned that crank for two summer camps, a 900 acre redwood forrest/resort center, and (presently) a psychiatric treatment facility. How hard could a film set be? Whether you are trying to run a county fair or an international airport, the job is fundamentally the same:

  1. Set an objective.
  2. Inventory your assets and liabilities. 
  3. Identify and prioritize variables/obstacles; neutralize them to the best of your ability. 
  4. Identify the most immediate action step to move closer to the objective; take action.
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 until objective is met.

Step 1 is easy: our objective is to produce a web-series. 

Step 2: Maria is our greatest asset. My girlfriend is a doer, a closer, a winner, and a bad ass. At this point, she has directed and produced a half dozen shorts and one feature film. Those are all great traits to have in a co-producer, so I follow her lead. My greatest liability is that I've never produced a short film. It's a huge liability, too. But it is neutralized by the power of true love.

In pre-production, Maria (doer/closer/winner/bad ass/keeper) puts together an amazing team on both sides of the camera.

Andrew Callaway–a talented young DP– agrees to shoot the series. We field sound, lighting, an assistant director, and a script supervisor from Scary Cow, a film-making co-op which we participate in. We hold auditions for actors, and our team comes together.

We put it all together on a shoe-string budget. Wardrobe comes from our closet, catering comes from our kitchen. We decide to shoot in the the old Hayes Valley Victorian that inspired the whole thing. We pay her former roommates with beer to let us shoot around them. It's indy film-making at it's finest.

Everybody comes with their own purpose, their own passions, their own tools, and their own art, but they all come to work on the same art piece. 

There are a few routine challenges in shooting, but it all goes surprisingly smoothly. 

Most of the shoot is outdoors, and people love a film set. They want to stop and check it out. Sometimes they get in the way, or they're loud, or they're otherwise obnoxious. For the most part, they're perfectly pleasant and just want a selfie in front of a movie set. 

I learned that as a producer, you mostly just have to let people do what they are good at. You have to get a good script to a good director so that they can find a good cinematographer to shoot good performers. And if you want them to look and sound good, you've got to get good lighting and sound people. And if you get all of those things and have a good editor to clip it all together, you're going to get a really good piece of film.

And we did:

This is my favorite episode of the Push Hard Inn as an objet d'art. It's a charming little story with great performances. Upon sharing it with the world, we felt it could have used a few more punch lines and a faster pace. We let it run a bit longer than we were expecting; a webisode should come in under 4 minutes and the first episode of PHI is pushing 6. In the evolutionary timeline of the shortfilm to the webseries, this is a gorilla. But she has a bow in her hair and she's so pretty and I love her.

Next time..

Could it really be this easy?

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