on Mar 31, 2013
Mike McCafferty posted some good advice for submissions in this thread: http://www.channel101.com/therapy/21
Apr 02, 2013 at 11:10am
I forgot one quick directing note that I've always found really useful. It sounds counterintuitive, but never tell an actor that they can't do something or that you don't like what you're doing. A lot of actors will shut down and/or be less likely to try new ideas that might be great for the role. You're the director, you know the performance you want. Get what you want through notes, tiptoe around the subject ("That was great, let's try one this way"), and never cut during a take. At least, it's always worked for me. If you keep your actors loose and confident, you're more likely to get great material from them. And once I have what I want performance-wise, I always ask if the actors want to do a take where they can do whatever they want. I've gotten great stuff out of those takes.
Apr 01, 2013 at 6:24pm
I'll add to this:
-everyone is right, this is more important than anything. Get the best sound on the day of.
-Get a good sound effects library. Use it liberally.
-I get all my music from Audio Network, got access to it from NYTVF. I've found everything I need thus far.
-From my minimal acting experience, I find being comfortable is the key to a good performance. So as a director, I always laugh after every take and tell them they are great. Also, I like to have a really small crew, the less people the more comfortable the actors are. I don't really think you can change a performance from bad to good on set. So I just try to cast good people and let them do their thing, the only acting notes I give are telling them to do it with different emotions. If you have actors who can improv, let them do a few free takes. Although I don't really know anything about directing so these are just my thoughts.
-Learn how to do it. It's super easy and fun.
-Generally, quicker is better.
-Have different people look at your cut and listen to them. If someone tells you something isn't working or isn't funny, they aren't lying. Try to figure why it didn't work for them. And if a joke isn't working for many people, cut it.
-Make something you'd like to see. Make something you love, not what you think other people will love or will go viral.
-The best advice for writing a pilot is from Rob Schrab, he said somewhere that you should write the pilot and then write the second episode. And the second episode is the pilot. You don't have to actually do this, but follow the spirit of it. Start with the premise already established, don't spend the whole first episode getting to it. For instance, in Actress, Kate is an actress, we didn't spend the whole first episode learning why she wants to be an actress.
-Writing is what I want to do professionally, so I spend a lot of time on my scripts. I do a billion drafts and get a lot of feedback. I don't shoot until I think the script is really good. Other 101 shows operate differently, more of a loose feel. It depends on what you are going for. But I think the best shows have really good writing. Car Jumper is good because he jumps between cars but also the scripts are really good and tight. Same with Ikea Heights. I don't know if other people really struggle with writing like I do, but I spend forever on my scripts.
-Just have fun, chances are nothing magical will happen with your pilot. Spielberg isn't going to see it and hire you to make Schindler's List II. Dan Harmon won't hire you based on your amazing pilot. It won't go viral. Just make something you'll be proud of.
-Everyone is doing you a favor. Always remember this and act accordingly.
- I don't do that many takes. Spend your time getting more angles and inserts and stuff. This will help in the editing.
-Learn how to do more stuff so you don't have to ask for favors. I learned how to edit and do special effects just so I could get my stuff made with the minimal amount of favors possible.
About special FX:
- They are not that hard to learn how to do if you have some time.
- Everything I do, I learned from video co-pilot. Even a basic knowledge really helps in the editing. You can manufacture establishing shots. You can stitch together two different takes.
Apr 01, 2013 at 11:01am
Can I ask a question? Where do people get the music to score their shows!? I have a couple of sources like Creative Commons websites and some site I got access to through the NYTVF, but I usually spend HOURS combing through them trying to find what I'm looking for, and a lot of the time I never find it and wind up compromising...
Apr 01, 2013 at 10:22am
Tell your entire story in one episode. It doesn't matter if it's episode 1 or episode 11.
Clap Party 2 was a good lesson in this. I'm sure it wasn't the only reason we got cancelled, but I have a strong feeling it was because there were continuing characters and plot lines established in Episode 1, that were confusing to people who hadn't seen it. And even though I didn't really think it at the time, our ending didn't wrap things up well enough to go out on a question mark/teaser. Moments of confusion can be funny/useful, but not if they leave the viewer in the dust.
Don't assume your audience knows anything about your show. I'm not 100% sure, but I think that Car Jumper more or less has someone say on screen "Hey Car Jumper, you jump from one car to another to save the day. Let's go!" in every episode. This isn't exciting as a creator, but it's important for the audience.
No 'to be continued'. No cliffhanger endings.
Try to stay away from "previously on" or "next time on". Unless it's used as a joke. But make sure the show works without it.
Apr 01, 2013 at 9:31am
As far as directing goes:
If you're not making Stranger Than Paradise, then make sure every shot tells it's own story. No passive shots unless it's passive for a very good reason. Is this shot about a guy going from A to B? okay good. wait, do we need to show him going from A to B? Why not just start at the first interesting thing of the next scene? Oh it's a reference to this movie you like? Why would anyone care about that? How can we make this beat funnier? What is the best way to show our character is nervous? What's the funniest way? What lens will make this shot funny? What happens if I cant the angle? Will that be funny?
Obviously not everything has to be about whether or not it's funny, but you should question yourself until you have asked every possible question that you yourself can answer.
Will you always have answers? No. Will your instincts always be right? No way. Can you possible be absolutely certain of how each tile of your mosaic be painted? Maybe if you're Kubrick. The good news is that you are merely the eye of a hurricane of folks who are very possibly smart and talented. They are there to help you answer those questions.
Apr 01, 2013 at 4:24am
Also, SOUND is very powerful thing. (see: Reiter, Kyle) If a film is like a Taco Bell taco, the sound is the fucking shell. You need that shit to keep it together. And good creative sound design is like a fucking DORITOS LOCOS TACOS NACHO CHEESE SHELL.
Please, use your sound to create a mood. Find the perfect score. Build your show around the score I don't care. Make me feel something with your sound and I'll be very grateful. Be lazy with your sound design and I'll be very disappointed.
Apr 01, 2013 at 3:59am
Some general things that tend to work that aren't mandatory by any means:
1) Strong lead character. Look at all the shows that are in primetime. At any given time, 4 or 5 of them are named after an iconic lead character. People will want to keep watching the show if they know get to see more from this great character. Shows that tend to flounder are ones that are too tied into their silly premise without a solid protagonist. (There are exceptions, see: Sex Teenagers)
Okay Ariel, but what makes a great lead character? Ask McCafferty why Oh, Shit! took off but The Beautiful Adventurer didn't. He probably won't have an answer for you, but I'm sure he'll say something really clever and interesting.
One thing you can do is just give them one fucking interesting thing. It's 5 minutes. He jumps from one car to another car? that's all he does? good character. He likes canned beer? what else does he like? nothing? good character. here's one you could use free of charge: uhh, he can talk to snails. Cast a good actor that people WANT TO LOOK AT to play snail talker and that's 8 episodes.
2) Clear, unique-but well-known reference point. In 101, you got 5 minutes. Not a lot of time to CREATE A WORLD that everyone will want to be a part of. But hey, if you got a nice reference point you're working with, you can get a lot of people playing along with the rules of your universe real fast.
3) do your whole episode in one shot.
Apr 01, 2013 at 3:39am
Yeah, this is a pretty definitive guide to the basics. My only additions are backing up some already great points:
- 1 script page = 1 minute. Always. ALWAYS. Not "well not if..." Not "but it won't if I..." ALWAYS. I've written too many eight page scripts that I thought I could squeeze into a five minute show. You can find those shows under 'Rejectee Therapy' or 'Failed Pilots'
- On a related note, your show will (or should) have credits, music, establishing shots, dialogue beats, etc. Take that time into account when you're writing.
- Don't make a show that you think the audience will like. Make a show that YOU like. The most successful Channel 101 creators are the ones who do things that make them happy, that turn them on. If you're enthusiastic, the audience is enthusiastic. The only thing that turns people off more than a bad show is a show that's obviously trying to pander to them.
- I don't generally like to discourage people from making shows, but if you're planning to make a show about two twenty-something roommates who talk to each other in one room for five minutes - don't make it. Add a third character. Add a werewolf. Make one of them a time-traveling Vietnam veteran. Add something. We all live real life. Show us something we've never seen before.
- This horse has been beaten to death, but people still do it, so it bears repeating: You can color correct bad footage. You can cut around bad acting. You can add kick-ass music to dead spots. You CAN NOT fix bad audio. Crap in, crap out. Every time.
- If you're new to Channel 101 and you want someone to be in your show - ask them! Don't be intimidated. I'm a marginal actor at best, but I played the lead in a lot of my shows because I was too scared to ask someone better to do it. No one acts in (or edits or shoots or directs) Channel 101 shows because of their ego. They do it because they love to do it. Introduce yourself. Get involved.
- A great way to get involved: volunteer. To quote Paul Isakson: say yes! Say yes to being a dead body. Say yes to holding a boom mic. There's no better feeling than having someone come up to you at a screening to say "If you ever need help with anything, please let me know." People will take you up on that offer - and when you need help, more often than not, those same people will be there for you.
- Don't overthink it! If you come up with an idea, make it as soon as possible. Write a draft, make sure you're telling the story as efficiently as you can, and shoot that sucker. Will it crash and burn? Maybe. But maybe it's a #1 show. The only way you'll find out is to make it and submit it. I know, it's hard. I still haven't figured it out. But there are 10,000 reasons not to make a show. I've had shows that absolutely died in front of 300 people. Shows that came in last place. But I've never once regretted making a show. The only thing I've ever regretted is not making one.
- The #1 rule? Have fun! Nothing is more fun than making a Channel 101 show. Nothing. There are no rules, no executives, no censorship. Just you and the audience. Make the show you want to make. Then do it again. And again. And again.
Apr 01, 2013 at 2:20am
This long-winded post isn't about a specific rejected pilot I've made (though I may make a pilot called "Advice"). I think it'd be good to expound some wisdom for people who are thinking of making a pilot or looking for general nuts-and-bolts tips on putting together a shoot.
GENERAL PRODUCTION ADVICE
▪ Keep your cast and crew happy and they'll want to give you good footage. Remember: they're doing you a favor. Even if your show is rejected then at least everyone will have had a good time making it and will want to work with you again. Buy them drinks the next time you go out. Help them out on their shoots. Build up karma and goodwill!
▪ Spend money on craft services and lunch. You'll have leftover junk food for when you have all-night editing sessions!
▪ Unless it's an ambitious shoot with multiple exciting locations, try to shoot everything in a day.
▪ Scenes with people talking always take longer than you expect.
▪ In fact, almost ALL shoots take longer than you expect. I usually add two hours onto my expected shooting times (for other people's productions, too).
▪ Send out an email with individual call times, wardrobe directions, location address(es), the PDF of the script, and (maybe) the estimated wrap time.
▪ The colors black and white tend to look bad/boring/stark on screen (unless, of course, you're making something in black and white). That's why mainstream movies and TV shows rarely have characters wear black and white. Choose wardrobe and locations with color. Get out of your ugly white-walled apartment! Or at least put some stuff there to dress the shot up.
▪ Use lights! Diffuse the light and make it more even. Stark shadows can be a cool stylistic choice, but usually just look weird and super-unnatural. Bounce light off the ceiling or use some scrim if you can.
▪ If you're shooting outside then try to use a bounce board. It'll help, especially if the light is harsh. Shoot on overcast days if you can.
▪ If you're shooting on a DSLR camera then PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD STABILIZE IT. Use a tripod or a shoulder mount. Handheld looks great and lively, but DSLR cameras are so small and light that they shake like crazy, especially on the big screen.
▪ Don't use on-board audio. At the very least use a camera-mounted microphone.
▪ A good crew size, I think, is 3 or 4 people. A director, a camera operator, a sound person, and maybe somebody to help with grip/lighting/etc. duties (i.e. bounce-boarding). Get the least amount of people necessary. If you throw more people in than you need then you'll get diminishing returns.
▪ Get inserts. Get reaction shots. Get establishing shots.
▪ Print out enough sides (half-page scripts) for all your actors. Don't expect them to memorize every word.
▪ Makeup is good. Get your guy-actors to wear makeup, too. It covers up acne and razor burn. Shiny people look sweaty and gross on camera.
▪ Stay hydrated. Sleep the night before. Eat a light lunch. Wear comfortable shoes.
I don't want to give too much writing advice, HOWEVER:
▪ Make your show shorter rather than longer. Less than five pages is good. Your show won't be better if you just have your actors "talk faster!" or if you edit it super-tight to compensate. I keep trying that and it doesn't work.
▪ Get to the story within the first minute. We don't need that much time to figure out who a character is and what they need to do.
▪ If you're gonna parody something, do it in an affectionate way rather than a cynical way. (See Gumbel, Gardening Warz)
▪ Reality TV parodies tend not to play well, from what I've heard.
▪ Go to YouTube and search for these: "interns webseries" "roommates webseries" "roomies webseries" "actors living together webseries" "dating is hard webseries"
DIRECTING ADVICE (not my field of expertise)
▪ The script probably isn't perfect. Be open to suggestions and changes and inspiration on set. It's better to get a natural performance than a word-for-word reading.
▪ Don't give your actors line readings unless they're cool with it. It's a weird rule, but it makes total sense. Acting is weird and really hard.
▪ Don't overshoot the performances. Especially in the wide shots. You're not Stanley Kubrick.
ACTING ADVICE (again, not my field of expertise)
▪ Bring wardrobe options.
▪ Be hair and makeup ready. Bring a makeup kit if you can.
▪ Memorize your lines? I don't know. There's probably at least one book about acting at the library. You should read that.
▪ Your video is too long. I know this without even seeing it!
▪ Dialogue is the most important part of the sound mix (duh). Never bury dialogue under the music. Err on the side of making the dialogue too loud and music too quiet.
▪ Get clean audio. Don't let people talk over each other during their singles. This makes dialogue editing much easier.
▪ Take breaks. Get some sleep.
▪ This application ---> http://macfreedom.com/
▪ Editing all night? Use f.lux and save your eyeballs ---> http://stereopsis.com/flux/ (disable it when you're color correcting)
▪ Get opinions from other people. Other people are the ones who are going to be watching your video.
OTHER WEIRD ADVICE
▪ If your scene involves guns and knives and yelling about guns and stabbing, then be careful. Tell your neighbors that you're going to do it. Hide the fake weapons until you're ready to use them in the shot. Wait until it's the actor's close-up before they start yelling death threats. Spencer Strauss and I almost got in some serious trouble for this. Mike Rose had the bomb squad raid his Fagney and Gaycey shoot.
▪ If you're stealing location shots (in Los Angeles, especially) then have a back-up plan for your shoot. Talk to Dave Seger about Ikea Heights and Car-Jumper. Be unflinchingly polite to anybody who stops you. They might be cool and let you finish. If not, then there are plenty of other Ikeas to shoot in.
▪ If you get rejected then find out why. Ask the primetime panel what worked and what didn't. They may not look you in the eye while they do it, but they'll give it to you straight. Use this Rejectee Therapy forum.
▪ Everybody worth their salt in prime-time has been rejected a few times. It builds character!
▪ Remember: people want to help. People like saying "yes."
▪ Help. Say "yes."
Make something. It's easier than you think! And Channel 101 needs more submissions!
The Acceptable TV tutorials are a fantastic crash-course in DV shooting (if they're still available):
The original 101 tutorials:
Watch/read those. And take my advice with a fistful of salt.
Any other 101ers want to chip in and post some show-making advice? Anything I've written that you violently disagree with? Anybody with 101 acting/directing advice? Any good links?
Apr 01, 2013 at 1:06am
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