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.
August 20, 2015 § Leave a comment
Do you listen to On The Media? It’s really good. Before I had a kid I listened religiously to the broadcast; these days I keep up with the show via their weekly podcast. Listening the other day it kind of reminded me of a non-satirical version of The Daily show: smart, nuanced analysis of the media from the past week.
Along with reading the NY Times on my phone instead of looking at Facebook, listening to On The Media always feels like I did something good for myself AND I always like it better than the alternative. It’s like choosing the healthier breakfast option that’s ALSO more delicious. Anyway . . .
I have not been able to stop thinking about last week’s episode. It’s a great episode – they start with Trump, they end with David Foster Wallace (well, David Lipsky who did the interview with DFW that became the book and then the movie) but in the middle, almost hidden, is the thing over which I am obsessing: Bob Garfield’s interview with Charles A. Allen, Deputy General Counsel for International Affairs at the Department of Defense, about their recently released Law of War Manual’s problematic implications for journalists.
WAIT! COME BACK! I know that last sentence was full of wonky/nerdy/soporific words but that’s not the point. THE POINT is that Bob Garfield, in that interview, does the hardest thing: he keeps asking questions – pointed, challenging questions – without becoming either aggressive or apologetic – and, at the end, holding Charles Allen to account, he asks when they can speak again to follow up on their conversation. WHO DOES THAT?! IT WAS AMAZING!!
Listening to Bob Garfield conduct that interview made me feel so many things: it made me feel safer than I’ve felt in a long time, like someone smart is watching out for what’s fair and right in this country; it made me feel SO impressed with his skill as an interviewer; it made me wish he could be my tough-conversations-mentor (aka Dad?).
There has been more in the media lately about how women undermine themselves and are undermined by others in conversation. There’s Mansplaining, 10 Simple Words Every Girl Should Learn (side note: “Girl?” really? Not “Woman?”), and Amy Schumer’s amazing “I’m Sorry” sketch. I think that’s all great and valuable. Being effective and powerful as a woman in conversation (not to mention negotiation), having been socialized in the standard U.S.A.-way, is something I think about and struggle with. However, I think Bob Garfield’s example pertains beyond gender divisions; I know plenty of guys who don’t know how to “disagree without being disagreeable.” I guess I just think that, in this particular way, Bob Garfield is a great role model and most of us could stand to learn a thing or twelve from his example.
August 6, 2015 § Leave a comment
I read this article recently about Facebook and video.
It talks about how Facebook’s algorithm strongly favors “native” video (that’s video uploaded directly to Facebook, not a link to video on a separate site like YouTube) and how that’s resulted in videos being ripped off of YouTube and posted by other folks in such a way that robs the original creators of both credit and income. It also talks about how Facebook counts views and what that means for online content. Spoiler alert: it’s not great news.
As a creator, it’s frustrating because being a “little guy” was already tough and this makes it all tougher. As an individual Facebook user and YouTube viewer, I’m not excited about what content may be dropped from my feed because of the algorithm. Sure I’m not psyched about “overly promotional” content in my feed (Facebook’s purported reason for the change), but I also don’t want to miss out on cool, independent content because the creators don’t have a big budget to advertise on Facebook.
On the one hand: Facebook is free, so what right do we have to complain? On the other hand: Facebook has become so culturally central that it isn’t exactly optional any more.
If you’re on Facebook and/or you ever look at videos on YouTube, it’s worth a read.
The video content itself may remain unchanged, but the extent to which content is pushed or buried and credited or not credited has an impact on viewers (you. me. us.) as well as the creators. We are savvier consumers of media when we understand these machinations.
July 30, 2015 § Leave a comment
Previously, my kiddo went through a phase where he told kid-style jokes which he mostly learned from a library book about Fozzie Bear (whence he also learned to punctuate his jokes by saying “wokka wokka”) and popsicle sticks.
Currently, he has moved into a phase in which he makes up his own jokes. For instance THIS.
So here is my idea: an open mic night for toddlers! (and their parents!)
I imagine it would happen on, say, a Sunday around 5PM – early enough for the kids (aka “the talent”) not to be melting down because its too close to bed time, but still late enough for the adults to enjoy a cocktail in a socially-acceptable way. The venue could be pretty much anywhere, though it would be imperative that adults be allowed to bring in kid snacks.
The kids could go up and tell jokes and stories and do impressions. I feel like it would be all kinds of good practice for them in terms of public speaking, being a good audience member, empathy, delayed gratification . . . And while non-parents would think it was a horror show (and they wouldn’t be wrong), parents would find it totally entertaining (and maybe a good way to make other parent-friends?).
This would NOT ever be an opportunity for scouts to come find child stars of the future. It would be purely for the entertainment and gratification of kids and their parents. And while I’m sure much of the time it would be a mess, I’m also sure that it would yield Andy Kaufman-worthy moments of avant garde comedy GENIUS!
What’s your best kid joke? Post it in the comments!
July 28, 2015 § Leave a comment
A long time ago, my dad said something to me like: what sets the successful people apart is that they DO their ideas, they don’t just have them. That’s a terrible paraphrase, but I’ve thought often about his point: we all have ideas about things we want to do, things someone should do, something it would be really cool to have in the world, but we usually stop there; it takes a lot more effort and commitment to keep going.
The Awesome Foundation has the potential to make the leap from having the idea to doing it just a bit easier. I read about them in the NY Times last week. A group of ten Trustees each put in $100/month and then award a $1000 grant each month to help fund an awesome project. And it can be anything.
I was even more excited, when I visited their website, to discover that there are currently 80 chapters in 18 countries! It’s not just a NY thing! And the projects that have been funded already are really cool – it’s inspiring just to go poking around their website.
I don’t know what I may apply for a grant to do or make or accomplish, but next time I have a great idea, it’s encouraging to know that the Awesome Foundation is out there to help make awesome ideas happen.
What would you request a grant for?
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!