Hey folks, let me introduce you to Devolve. This is a web series I became involved with last summer and helped shoot in late January, 2015. I know, EVERYONE is making a web series! It’s a crowded landscape and the last thing you need is ANOTHER “How-To” article on how YOU TOO can join the tens of thousands now making a web series! That’s not the endeavor here.
So why should you care about this web series?
From Day 1 at SCRIPT GODS I’ve talked about proactivity. About not letting the bastards tell you no. Who are the bastards? They’re the folks manning the front gate of the Hollywood Hotel—that gated community of cosmococcic beauty. It’s the agent’s assistant at Jagoff Productions who sent you a form rejection to the query letter you spent a week writing; or the rejection from the Script Pipedream screenwriting contest without a single reason given (should have paid extra for reader notes!), the promise of “industry connections”, and don’t forget to send that $40 check with the script. It’s the bored “boutique” agency Junior rep yawning at your Pitchfest pitch no matter how many hours you practice; or bullshit producers pushing for free rewrites; or screenwriting consultants with fabulous websites and non-existent IMBD profiles who make promises, taking your hope and time and $$$$$$$$ without getting you one centimeter closer to actually getting your movie MADE. It’s the L.A. thang.
It’s time to get your movie made. How do you go about doing that without contacts or an agent or lots of money?
You stir the pot. You make something else. You put it out there and pray that you have even an ounce of talent.
You spend low money and make a web series. You try to find 30,000 subscribers or more and monetize the thing to the best of your ability. The cliched “going viral” takes a hell of a lot of work but so what? You’re making something. You’re not waiting any more. You’re done with that. You’re fucking taking it–NOW.
So, I’ll be giving you a ground up look at what it took to make this happen. The time table for release is still in flux, but I’m guessing Summer, 2015. When it’s ready, you’ll be the first to know.
Meanwhile, here’s how we put it together.
Maybe you’ll do the same.
About a year ago in March I gave a seminar at Chicago Filmmakers called the Screenwriting Sampler. This was a marathon, five-hour session. The lectures can be at Screenwriting University and other places. So, at that lecture was Dan Arthurs. Dan is a Chicago guy who braved ten below winds to listen to–Christ help him–five hours of me talking about screenwriting. Something must have clicked because within the month I heard from him and his partner, David Schwartz. Dan was writing a web series called Devolve. They wanted me involved. Write–direct–produce. And they could actually pay me a little something. Well, bless my mercenary soul, attention achieved!
Dan was wrapping up the first draft, which would consist of several episodes. The page count was still being defined but the price on this was set. While I won’t get into producer specifics, let’s just say the goal was to keep the project under $10,000 total. Without a locked script it was hard to get a firm grasp on what it would cost, so we concentrated on nailing the script down. The original story was this: A group of Right-wing twenty-somethings stumble upon a Stoner God and decide to document him changing a man into an Ape (thus, Devolving him). Things go wrong and our Stoner God turns him not into an ape, but Rick Perry. Complications ensue.
This was in May and the script was a work in progress. I met with the guys in New York. I loved the idea of the Stoner God but wanted to move away from the politics (short shelf life, hard to pull off) and wanted to move it toward our twenty-somethings being just out of Film School. The early draft was also set in a verdant field, placing God under a sort of Malick-esque Tree Of Life. I remind the guys that this was already May. Shooting in Chicago (as was the plan) we had until end of October to reasonably ask a crew to spend 12 hours outdoors. David wondered about alternatives and yes, even though Pixar warns about never taking the first solution, the first thing that came to my mind was an arboretum. God could squat in a greenhouse. The guys liked it. If we couldn’t nail down the script and pre-production in time, we could go the arboretum route, shooting it into November or early December if necessary.
The pressures of Columbia classes changed the dynamic come the summer months. I realized pretty quickly I would have to delegate some of my producer duties. It was a no-brainer to ask my Chat producing partner Boris Wexler to come in on this. #1, Boris is 20X the producer I’ll ever be. Good Reader, if you learn anything from this article, learn to delegate responsibility well. Boris would be lead producer, would find us a Line Producer, draw up the Scheduling and Budgeting documents essential for production. Oh, and one other thing. Fred Miller, ace DP who shot Chat, would come in at a discount. Boris pitched Fred who said sure, why not. Fred would bring the camera package and make a few calls for G&E crew. Things were starting to come together.
But the script was still a question mark. Dan and I passed the script back and forth trying to find a solution. Where did the politics fit in if they were going to be film students? What story were we trying to tell? And could we tell the story with the number of days and budget we had? We moved from a third draft to a fourth. We were into August now and the October shoot date was looking unlikely. Then, I had an idea.
I had a friend, Lizz Leiser, a short-form comedy writer working with her crew at Serious Theater Collective in New York. Maybe she could take the script to a better place. Here’s another life lesson, Good Reader: Collaboration can be a bitch. It’s how you react that counts. No panic here. Get the script to Lizz, let’s see what she can do with it.
- FALL– LIZZ TO THE RESCUE!
Obviously, by this time we had abandoned the Tree Of Life setting for God. Also the arboretum idea went by the wayside with calls to the handful of local Chicago places. Nobody was going to let a pack of 20 micro-budget web series TYPES take over their lush gardens for a 12 hour shoot. So, now what? Our simply astounding Line Producer, Jacquelyn Jamjoon, suggested her work warehouse space. It was vacant weekends and could be played as God’s lair, spooky empty. Set up a couple fake palm trees and some lounge chairs, God smoking from his WW2 gas mask–sounds good! Boris had a better idea though. He knew from previous shoots that Reggie’s Rock Club was micro-budget friendly. A quick call, a friendly price quoted, and we had our space.
The beauty of Reggies? It had an upstairs bar that could double for the bar scenes. If you’re producing a web series on the cheap, try to limit company moves. Now with Reggies, we wouldn’t have to move, everything could be shot there. Now, what about that script?
We had reached the point of no return. We had already abandoned the pre-Christmas production dates. If we didn’t nail down the script soon, it would be impossible even to shoot in January.
Lizz and her writing partner, Ricardo Delgado, sent back their first draft in early October. General rejoicing commenced! David and Dan loved her new take on the material. Lizz and Ricardo immediately took over the writing duties, polishing the first draft into a second and third. Meanwhile Jacquelyn and I got to work on casting. Through Breakdown Express we had well over 100 actors apply for the 7 roles. Because the script was still in flux it was unclear if we were going SAG or Non-SAG. Our goal was to just find the best actors possible. Dan joined us to help shoot the auditions and we put up the auditions on Vimeo for Boris and David to see. The beauty of working in Chicago on a comedy web series is the obscene amount of actors who rolled in with Improv training. We were literally up to our necks in funny people! The narrowing down of call backs would soon follow.
- WINTER- JOHN MOSSMAN TO THE RESCUE!
I had already given up my producer duties to Boris on budgeting and scheduling matters, and to Line Producer Jacquelyn J. on the day to day stuff. New teaching responsibilities now made it clear right I wouldn’t be able to follow up with my Director responsibilities either. What did I say was the key, Good Reader? Correct—knowing good people and delegating well! If I couldn’t see this through, who did I know in town who could? A handful of killer directing candidates were at the ready through Columbia College. I made a few calls and found out to our very great fortune that John Mossman was available. John is not just a long-time teacher at Columbia, he runs his own theater company (The Artistic Home) and is an actor himself! Always the fatal drawback for me, I never acted so it was hard to empathize with the acting process. I’m more sympathetic these days but in years past I’d gladly, like Samuel Beckett, just put my actors in urns, face them forward and direct them to READ MY FUCKING LINES! Nope, not really the guy you want trying to help people be funny. Dan and Dave interviewed Mossman and before I could say get in the fucking urn and read my fucking lines!–John Mossman became the director of Devolve. I was the only one at this point to know what an upgrade that was.
Devolve was going to happen!