Boomers: Gettin' 'er done
Updated: Jun 8, 2018
Dear Boomers Wix site fans,
Please forgive the long silence. I intended to post a humorous blog on this site at least once a week after we first created it. I guess I just didn’t realize that when you’re still producing Season 1 of a web series, most of your energy will necessarily go to getting the web series up and running.
First, you have to deal with the incredibly complicated logistics, made tougher by the fact that we don’t really pay anyone (at least not more than bus fare to and from the set) so we can’t really tell them they HAVE to show up for work on a given day. Instead we rely on other tactics, such as:
COERCION. (“If you take today off, we will probably have given away your plum job of holding the boom pole to someone else by the time you get back!”)
GUILT TRIPS. (“I wouldn’t ask for myself but your fellow actors will be inconvenienced. Oh, and our crew of struggling film students is dependent on the shoot to provide them with bagels in the morning and a mystery stew, salad and rolls at night. Without you they won’t eat at all, but don’t give it another thought. You just go to your paying job…” or “What do you mean you don’t do extra work?! You said you were my friend!”)
BRIBERY. (“Oh, btw, have you seen the revised script for today’s shoot? We gave you more lines! Actually, we gave you ALL the lines. Your character now has multiple personalities.”) It should be noted that bribery, on a shoot like ours, never involves money and the brilliant stroke of giving all the lines to one actor also serves as a money-saving device by lowering the head count we give to the no-budget-film caterer, who operates without a health department license out of her own kitchen.
And finally there is…
DEFERRED PAY. Or what’s known in cool industry parlance as “The back-end deal.” If you read Deadline Hollywood, it goes something like this: “M. Night Shyamalan’s new spec was picked up for high six figures against mid seven figures.” That means Mr. Shyamalan gets about $500,000 to hand over the script and another few million when it actually goes into production. He may also get “points,” which is a percentage of the box office receipts.
In the case of a web series, the scenario goes more like, “Hey, we can’t afford to pay you, but if we ever do make any money from this, you’ll get some. We promise.” Union actors actually have a contract specifying that any pennies that manage to find their way to us will be handed over directly to them without even passing through the production company bank account. Offering deferred pay to the crew is either A.) an indication how gullible and inexperienced your crew members are or B.) a joke.
But I digress. Let back to the logistics of producing a web series… On bigger productions, scheduling and budgeting are handled by smart, sophisticated computer programs like Movie Magic Film Scheduling and Budgeting Software. On our production it was mostly handled by my smart, sophisticated partner Sara Caldwell. (My selflessness astounds me.) It’s not that we couldn’t afford Movie Magic. We just felt that something of value had gotten lost in the in this cold, electronic era and that there are great rewards that come with the hands-on activities of combing through the script, writing things out in longhand, cutting and rearranging little strips of paper… Oh, okay. So we couldn’t afford Movie Magic.
Location scouting, ironically, was easier than it would have been on a big Hollywood production, as we were limited to locations we didn’t have to pay anyone to use (our homes), locations that are already permitted for filming (campuses of colleges with film departments) and other locations where we were unlikely to be seen by the police and asked to present a permit we didn’t possess (our homes again). The equipment was also simple to obtain. It was all low-end and either borrowed or stolen, as were the costumes, set dressings and props.
Principle photography (the amount of time you plan to shoot as opposed to the much greater amount of time you actually end up shooting) was limited to eight days. All films - great and small - concern themselves with coming in on schedule and within budget, but on other films the number of shooting days is determined by the number script pages one can reasonably expect to film in a day. A low-budget horror film, for example, might attempt to shoot 7-8 pages a day, while on big-budget feature, a producer might plan to shoot 21/2 to 3 pages. For Boomers, we threw all the normal calculations out the window and figured, “If we don’t have to pay for anything else, we can afford to feed the cast and crew (albeit poorly) for eight days.” And, hallelujah, we did it! Making that food last for eight days was like the miracles of Hanukkah and “the loaves and fishes” all rolled into one.
So, finally, we got all the episodes “in the can” as they say (these days digital files go onto tiny SD cards but “we got it on the card” just doesn’t sound as good). Then it was time for the tedious, arduous, often daunting and even frightening process of editing, sound editing, color correcting, sound mixing and marrying finalized sound tracks to picture tracks, better known as “post-production”.
Why “frightening” you ask? Well, one of my first film directing teachers likened making films to making jigsaw puzzles, only there is more logic that goes into the making of jigsaw puzzles and you are guaranteed a predictable result. Jigsaw puzzles are made by printing an entire picture and then cutting it into small pieces that will fit together perfectly. With films we use the opposite approach. We make hundreds - even thousands - of little individual pieces and then hope that somehow they will all fit together. The fact that they often do NOT explains why there is more to filming than “principle photography.” There are reshoots, pick-up shots, insert shots, ADR sessions (in which actors re-record all their lines because a neighbor refused to postpone mowing his lawn, a cell phone rang, a plane flew overhead, or most often because there’s some damned, rumbling noise underneath every other line of dialogue and no one can figure out where the hell it came from).
Besides reshooting and rerecording, there are other ways to pound those pesky little ill-fitting puzzle pieces together. You can sometimes reverse a shot to make it look as though you shot it from the correct angle in the first place. You can color correct a blue shirt to make it green so they audience won’t notice that the actor somehow magically changed shirts in the middle of a scene without ever moving from his chair. You can have a young, hungry-for-credits special effects artist paint drapes over open windows, so that the shots where the drapes were open match the ones where the drapes were closed and the audience, is never made aware, by the blackness outside the window, that a midday scene was actually shot at night. The technical term industry insiders use for this process of making sure all the pieces fit is “fixing it in post” and yes, Virginia, it can be done!
Now that you know a little about how web series are made, you might want to try watching one. I just happen to have one in mind: Boomers. If you’ve watched it already, watch it again. Just don’t watch it on the same device because it will look like we’re trying to pad the number of views we get on YouTube. If you watched on your laptop last time, try watching on your smart phone or tablet this time. That way we can pad the numbers without having it look like we did.