August 27, 2015 § Leave a comment
When I joined the New York Neo-Futurists (NYNF) in 2006, one of the most joyful aspects of the experience was being able to recommend the show (Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind) without hesitation. Up ’till then, I’d done a bunch of plays here and there in NYC, but they often suffered one way or another from being off-off-Broadway productions (lack of time, lack of money, etc.)*. But the Neo’s were different. They had figured out how to make those limitations work for them and it felt so good to be so proud of something I was a part of.
I feel the same way about Gemma & The Bear. Like Too Much Light . . . , Gemma & The Bear (GATB) is actually for something of a niche audience and I don’t actually think that either is for everyone; certainly neither is perfect. I do think both are, in turns, innovative, delightful and well-made and I am uniquely unabashed in my promotion of GATB as I was with Too Much Light . . . .
So, it has been a bit of a frustrating surprise to grapple, these last couple of months, with just how difficult marketing a (micro-budget) web series can be. I recently watched a popular vlog that argues that the internet creates a meritocracy in which “if the video you’re making is interesting to anyone . . . all you have to be concerned with is making something that someone else wants to watch.” This was more or less my assumption going in to Gemma & The Bear, but here in the episode-release-and-marketing phase, where the measure of marketing success – views on YouTube – seems to have been equated with the quality of the content (at least as far as generating press, industry attention, etc.) and where spending money to boost posts seems like the only way to be seen at all, that argument about meritocracy feels a bit false . . . or at least naive.
I’ve been naive all my life. Also: impatient.
The other night, at a birthday gathering for a neighbor, I had a conversation with some people I’d just met about the social norms of meeting new people (how meta). I was expressing my frustration with the apparent taboo of asking people what they do. They countered that “what are you up to?” or “what’s new?” or “how do you spend your time?” are completely acceptable alternatives. I’m not sure I agree but, in any case, those alternatives don’t address my real want which is to grab these new acquaintances by the lapels (maybe just figuratively) and say something like “who are you?! what’s your story?! tell me everything!!” I don’t want to be coy, making small talk and teasing out the information slowly; I want the story up front! (Looking back, my entire first date with my husband was just me interrogating him the entire night including important questions like “what are your three favorite sounds?” I guess his tolerance was an early good sign?)
Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind wasn’t an overnight success; the company has gone through tremendous growing pains and, while they’ve come incredibly far, they’re still working hard to grow and improve. And, of course, that’s the story almost everywhere.
So maybe it isn’t that the meritocracy of the internet is false (although marketing dollars certainly play a role, albeit a complicated one), maybe it’s about staying the course so we can find our audience . . . or they can find us.
I really wish they’d hurry up about it, though.
*To be very clear: I think off-off-Broadway is great and of tremendous value. All artists need a place to practice, experiment and grow and for theater artists in NYC, OOB is often it. Furthermore, over the past decade, I’ve seen the OOB community as a whole grow and improve the quality of its work. So, no dig at OOB. I love it, in fact.
July 22, 2015 § Leave a comment
Zach Braff and his brother Adam Braff made a great movie.
IMDB says: “A struggling actor, father and husband finds himself at a major crossroad, which forces him to examine his life, his family and his career.” That’s about right, but it doesn’t really do it justice.
Wish I Was Here tackles so many family dynamics in a way that feels more truthful for all of its complexity and nuance. The many different relationships, in the hands of a lesser writer, might easily bog the story down, but here the buoy and illuminate the film from within. The effect is emotional complexity portrayed with complete clarity. The writing is excellent.
The performances are excellent across the board, with a particularly impressive turn by Kate Hudson (who I’d come to think of as more of a star than a serious actor and who proves me WAY wrong; she knocks it out of the park.)
The directing is excellent and all the more impressive knowing that Zach Braff was directing a film in which he was also starring. The film feels thoughtful, emotional, heavy at times – but appropriately so – but never labored or over-wrought. I can’t imagine describing the film as “effortless” given the subject-matter, but overall the film has a beautiful ease and flow to it.
If you google it, you’ll see that Wish I Was Here got plenty of “meh” reviews. Rotten Tomatoes says “Critics Consensus: There’s no denying Wish I Was Here is heartfelt, but it covers narrative ground that’s already been well trod” but I respectfully disagree. Or rather, I agree that we’ve seen these elements before, but I disagree with a poor review. I think Wish I Was Here covers that ground better than most and with a fresh new alchemy born of the particular given circumstances of the characters, and the ways they come together.
The film is moody and thoughtful and funny . . . a little quirky here and there. It was self-funded on Kickstarter (raising over 3.1 million dollars) – a controversial move at the time. As someone who has made her own show with the help of crowd-funding, I have mixed feelings about projects of that scale/scope on the same platform as my 10K web series. At the same time, I highly doubt that Wish I Was Here could have been as special and specific as it is had it been processed through a movie studio. And I’m inspired to see people doing just what I’m doing but on a much grander, higher-up-the-food-chain level. Hopefully in a few years – a few projects – I’ll be higher up the chain too.
Wish I Was Here is available on Netflix and VOD. Check it out and let me know what you thought in the comments.
Enjoy this post? This blog? More good times (and a mailing list) at www.EevinHartsough.com
July 17, 2015 § Leave a comment
My kiddo – who is 3.25 years old – has loved stories pretty much forever. He loves to be read to and he loves to be told made-up stories. I noticed a while ago that, if we were making up a story for him, he had a pretty high tolerance for a story much longer than the average picture book.
We dipped our toe in with The Invention of Hugo Cabret which alternates a few pages of plain text with many pages of text-free illustration. Later, over the course of a couple of low-energy sick days, we plowed through Peter Pan. So we continued.
Mixing longer books in with the picture books kept me from getting really sick of reading and re-reading the same five-minute story over and over again. Longer stories have also been great as a way to enjoy some quiet time after a big day at camp or on the playground, and they keep us all entertained on longer car rides or the occasional flight. There’s also something nice about having more entertainment in a smaller, lighter volume given all the other stuff we’re inevitably schlepping around.
Early on, we had some hits and some misses. The Wizard of Oz was great . . . except for that scary chapter where she sends her pack of wolves to attack Dorothy and friends (yikes!). The Enormous Crocodile was a pretty big (if slightly intense) hit which got me excited for more Roald Dahl, but The Magic Finger which focuses on characters who hunt ducks introduced a slew of concepts we weren’t necessarily excited to discuss and Esio Trot was too much about spelling or romance (or both). James and the Giant Peach seemed like it would be a good idea, ’till I started to read it and realized that James’ parents are killed by an escaped rhino in the first two pages. Duh, mom.
But, with the help of the wonderful people at our favorite local book store, Bank Street Books, we’ve really hit our stride this Summer. These books all hit the sweet spot of being a great story, but with mostly accessible vocabulary for a younger kiddo, a picture on every page or two, and content that doesn’t venture too far beyond their years. And they’re fun to read as an adult.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. I’m a lifelong fan of Dahl, but most of his books are too edgy for our kiddo right now. Not so Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which we borrowed from the library and read all the way through at least four or five times before returning it a couple of weeks later.
My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett. This is a trilogy, although I happen to like the first book the best. Each is about 70 pages long with a picture on every other page or so. They are stories of a young, kindhearted and very independent little boy going on an adventure to find and rescue a captive baby dragon and the adventures that ensue.
Mercy Watson series by Kate DiCamillo. There are six books in the Mercy Watson series beginning with Mercy Watson to the Rescue, about the (mis)adventures of a toast-loving pig named Mercy, her owners Mr. & Mrs. Watson and their neighbors on Deckawoo Drive. All the books are lushly illustrated in full color by Chris Van Dusen. The books feel old-fashioned and wholesome though they are contemporary. The characters are a bunch of delightful oddballs.
Bink & Gollie by Kate Di Camillo & Alison McGhee. We discovered Bink & Gollie through the Mercy Watson books. There are currently three books in this series about a pair of best friends who love roller-skating, pancakes and each other most of all. These books feel a bit like the Elephant & Piggie books for the next age group up and they’re the shortest books on this list.
The Magic Treehouse by Mary Pope Osborne. This is a fun series because it involves time travel and magic. The first book in the series – Dinosaurs Before Dark – was an instant favorite. A word of caution, though, as other books in the series dip in and out of being little-kiddo appropriate. A book set during the Civil War, for example, (which I never should have agreed to read, so that’s on me) prompted a discussion of war in general, and an explanation of slavery – it was just a lot for a 3 year old. So these are recommended but not without some parental vetting.
The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner. Because the first book is about kids who are alone in the world, fending for themselves, we skipped it and went right on to Book Two: Surprise Island which is delightful old-fashioned. Four siblings are allowed a summer largely to themselves on their wealthy grandfather’s private island where they gather and prepare their own food, craft their own museum, and discover American Indian artifacts. These books are probably the biggest wild-card of the group and, like the Magic Treehouse books, should probably be vetted on an individual basis for appropriateness, but the kiddo and I are well into the Woodshed Mystery (#7) and having a great time with it.
What are you reading with the kiddos in your life this summer? Leave a comment!
July 8, 2015 § Leave a comment
It’s called Gemma & The Bear and we just released the first two episodes this past Monday.
It was over two years ago that it all began – sometime between giving birth to my son and my mom’s brain tumor being diagnosed. Kevin and I wanted to make something together and I thought it should be a web series. We’d done theater together, but I wasn’t doing theater at the moment because I had a tiny child to take care of. Something on-camera felt more manageable.
So we began. We met and wrote and had a reading and got rid of everything we’d written and started again. Working on the project was always a joy; it was also my artistic life-line. Without the luxury of time I used to enjoy, it became important to focus on doing one thing well, and that was our show.
Late last summer – almost a year ago – we began our casting process (we paused so I could have back surgery), in the late fall we launched our Indiegogo campaign, and in December we finally – FINALLY – started filming.
We shot for seven non-consecutive days in December, January and February, going by location rather than chronology of the script. When our office location fell through the morning before the shoot, my brother came through with his office for us and we squeezed what we’d planned to film in three days into two. We made third graders stand outside on one of the coldest days of the year. We re-cast a major role at the last minute because our original actor was injured. We called in favors. We got it done.
I handled the craft services and, later, the payroll. I wouldn’t choose to take on those extra roles again, but it felt really good to support our cast and crew in a loving way through food, and later, to appreciate them by redistributing about 75% of what we’d raised to make the show in the form of checks to our artistic and technical collaborators.
I thought the hard part was over. And then I found myself a producer of a project in post-production.
But now it’s here! Gemma & The Bear. Kevin R. Free was my collaborator in all things – writing, acting and producing – and Matt Scott as director, editor and co-writer has provided invaluable additional vision and input. This has been one of the most rigorous and most rewarding artistic experiences of my life and while I learned a lot (and would do some things differently if I had to do them over) I am incredibly proud of what we’ve made.
We’re still working on episodes 3, 4, 5 and 6 – they’ll be out in August – but for now I hope you enjoy episodes 1 and 2.
Episode One: HE’S BAAAAAAAACK!!! – Gemma gets a big assignment at work and graduates from therapy, but a blast from the past threatens her security.
Episode Two: MEET THE BEAR – Gemma visits her dad, Hank, to try to get to the bottom of the Bear’s reappearance in her life.
This isn’t theater so I can’t see your faces; leave a comment!
June 18, 2015 § 1 Comment
How great would it be if the street musicians you see performing in the subway or in busy public areas let you sing with them live-karaoke-style?! (Answer: pretty great!)
Hear me out.
- It wouldn’t work for every musician. It has to be someone who does covers. And they’d have to be fine just playing and singing on their own; it couldn’t hinge on the event of karaoke.
- Live Karaoke is already a thing – a popular and very cool thing. I’ve done it. It was fun.
- The transit system (and the street) are venues where, for performers, engagement is already really low; people aren’t there to hear this band or musician. Defying expectations by engaging a member of the public – both for the person brought temporarily into the band and for casual observers – grabs attention and turns the energy way up by introducing an element of risk. The performance becomes a special event, not just background noise.
That’s all. I think it would be a MAGICAL development in street performing if, occasionally, a performance was built to accommodate (but not dependent upon) the participation of passersby. At the very least, I think some marketing campaign could co-opt this idea to good effect.
What’s your latest good idea? Leave a comment! The world need to know!!!
June 9, 2015 § Leave a comment
That’s my rap name.
Okay. Not really. BUT my rap video did just come out.
You’re saying “WHAT?!”
I know. It’s a little “off brand,” as they say.
Here’s the story: I wrote this rap to be performed live as one of thirty short plays in Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind which is an “ever-changing attempt to perform 30 plays in 60 minutes.” That was back in 2007. This particular plastic monkey had become a motif/recurring character in a number of Neo plays and this was my contribution to the clapping-monkey-play genre. The play was pretty popular amongst the Neos, we did it at Best of, brought it to gigs from time to time, etc. In 2011 we shot the footage for the video and our awesome director, Chris Stocksmith, who was filming it gratis for us, promptly got very busy with work and the video never got made. About two years ago the footage was recovered and only just recently was it finally edited together by the delightful and talented (fellow retired-Neo) Connor Kalista.
June 3, 2015 § Leave a comment
The weekend before last, my husband and I found ourselves in the rare position of having an evening to ourselves (the kiddo was asleep early) and enough time to watch an entire movie in one sitting. Hot Damn!
Some quick googling of “best date movies” led us to The One I Love staring Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass plus Ted Danson in a small supporting role. It’s currently streaming on Netflix which describes the movie this way:
Confronted with the potential end of their marriage, Ethan and Sophie take off for a weekend together, hoping to negotiate their future. When they reach their idyllic destination, however, the couple strolls into a bizarre new brand of trouble.
We really enjoyed it. I wrote before about another Mark Duplass movie, Safety Not Guaranteed, and what both of these movies have is a kind of eerie magical realism that works really beautifully.
Also, as a recent producer of video content (aka Gemma & The Bear) it was hard not to be impressed with how the movie really only has two actors in it – such a smart way to have room to focus on excellent acting (which The One I Love has in abundance) and great production values.
If you watch it – or if you’ve seen it – leave a comment and let me know what you thought!