Annotator’s Note: On September 29th, 2013, I will be leaving the United States to move to Switzerland for two months to produce and direct 20 new episodes of “Break-ups: La Série” -- a French and German language adaptation of my first web series, “Break-ups: The Series” -- for Radio Télévision Suisse. This marks the first time in my life I will be paid to make funny-type videos. This article was commissioned as a reflection on what I’ve learned in the five years I spent trying to get paid to do what I love.
Jared Larson has been one of my very best friends and closest confidants from the moment I started making film-type-videos. I asked him to draft up a list of 11 things I’ve learned because he knows me much better than I know myself, and I would get way too dramatic and up my own asshole if I wrote a list like this all alone. (You will still see some of that creeping into my annotations, which were requested by The Steamroller to add a conversational flow to the article.)
If you have any specific questions about filmmaking or being a self-important dickface, please email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Get a good amount of sleep.
Just a regular amount, really. Did you ever play Oregon trail, and then switch your pace to Strenuous and your meal portions to meager? You rarely make it to Oregon this way. A doctor finally made fun of Ted and forced him to rethink his sleeping schedule. Let's see if it sticks.
Note: That same doctor gave me a prescription for Ritalin, which I took in graduate school. Being able to take that drug again instead of just self-medicating my ADD with buckets of coffee has led to the elimination of caffeine from my diet, and I’ve kept my promise to sleep at least 7 hours a day (with a few exceptions).
2. Your next paycheck doesn't have to come from your dream job.
Work at a shitty job, or do other things you don't want to do. You'll meet people, and see things and have life experiences that are real. If you are constantly putting pressure on yourself to earn your next dollar from some faceless blob of an entertainment business, that's a bad idea. Again with the Oregon Trail thing. Don't work at a bad job forever, though. I guess this is about doing things in moderation.
Note: My favorite story about Michael Patrick O'Brien is that he worked at Disney Discovery Center or some crazy ass place downtown as a joke he was playing on himself. The only thing I would add is that if you can, by all means position yourself to be able to exploit the resources your company can offer. In my case that meant working in production so I could borrow tripods, cameras, and knowledge. For you it might mean space, time, or other resources to make your stuff.
3. Write, Right?
Write a bunch! Improv is the best, and keep doing it forever, because it's fun, and so is Softball! Remember what Mick Napier says about improv: "this is the least important thing you'll ever do in your life." It's magic, but nobody believes in magic, so you have to use the cold hard facts of writing to get something creative going when you are trying to ford the Snake River of getting a meeting with some person from IFC to pitch stuff about how you're trying to make an Oregon Trail TV series.
Note: This is very true. No amount of tape, it seems, can replace the need for piles of big fat steamy writing. Break-ups: The Series was a completely improvised project, but in order to sell it abroad, I had to write 20 new episodes up front. Same thing with my other series Shrink. I would say at this point Tim Baltz and I have probably generated over 150 pages of development materials for that series. You just have to do it. Collaborating with one of the most brilliant improvisers of our generation or chasing the possibility of moving to a country made of chocolate is a great way to stay motivated. Find the people, ideas, and places you want to explore and none of it will ever feel like work. That is a lie -- work will always feel like work, but loving the ideas and collaborators you have will certainly make it worth your while.
4. Meet People
and treat them nice.
They might be great people, you might help them out, they might give you their HBO GO password, and if you're hanging out, and available and people know you are good to work with, things will happen and people will want you involved in their projects. Be that person!
Note: This is probably the most important thing. And I’m flattered that Jared thinks I’ve actually learned it. When I first started in Chicago, I focused a lot on doing improv “right” and doing art “right.” As a result, I was a huge dickhole to a lot of amazing people who were just having a lot of fun getting better at improv. It was only through their compassion and understanding of my very obvious insecurities that I was able to finally turn that asshole-steamship around and gain the forgiveness of so many wonderful people (looking at you Shark City). Be nice. Have fun. Or as POB once said, “Love your ideas and love your friends’ ideas.”
5. Work well with others.
Continuing from the last thing, not every creative endeavor will be an all-star cast of folks that you hand-pick and have an unlimited budget controlled by you. Get involved in something and try to work with different personalities than your own. Bob Odenkirk said once that you should work with people who are better than you, and it will help elevate your own work ethic or it will challenge you.
Note: That was Bob Odenkirk’s advice to me when I asked him for general advice after a JFL thing years before I even picked up a camera. After that I think is when Jared and I started checking out cameras from SAIC and taping almost every 3033 & Middle Age Comeback show. Those were wonderful shows.
6. Nobody is going to discover you; You have to show them who you are.
There's some Nelson Mandela quote about how we're not afraid that we're not good enough, we're afraid of embracing how great we think we are. I don't know if it's true, but it's fun to think that way sometimes. Also, Wayne Gretzsky said "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take" so, put forth some effort and know that you have to be out in the game for people to take notice of you, and don't compare yourself to others or get upset when somebody else has success. Be happy, because isn't it great to be alive? Sometimes no, but once in a while, it is!
Note: Jared and I talked about that Mandela quote years ago. I just discovered it’s actually from a poem by Marianne Williamson he read at his inauguration. It’s really nice. You can find it here.
7. When one door opens, there is another hallway full of many doors.
Every time you are about to make money, or make some headway with a project, it will be put on hold, or it will be cancelled, or money will fall through. Don't be discouraged, it's like dating or something. In that it's hard not to take it so personally. Writers are so good at dealing with this. Or, they should be. They send out their novels or stories and try to find a home for them, and they get a lot of rejection, and with some luck, they get it published somewhere. I've always envied that writers send out their work and pay no fees for this (most of the time) but film festivals charge you all these fees to help them pay for the festival. Break-ups was invited to be in many film festivals and I had a lot of luck with that, because of my success with the videos online and at the Vimeo Awards. I think festivals can be helpful for feature films, and a lot of them are really fun.
Note: I would also add this great advice from my friend Sonya Masinovsky: If you aren’t actively working on your next project by the time that you are marketing, sending out, or trying to sell your current project, you will go insane because you have almost no control over that entire process. Producing work is the only thing no one can stop you from doing.
8. Watch things, read
things, go see and hear things.
Go see movies, rent them from the library (it's free, you assholes!) listen to music, read books, and find things that delight you and also things that make you furious, and figure out why you don't like them.
Note: I would highly recommend Jac Jemc’s novel My Only Wife. And the films In The Mood For Love (available on Netflix), Happiness, and Dogtooth (available on Netflix). Also, completely stop masturbating. It gives you insane dreams and tons more energy.
9. Ask people questions.
Everybody has these little hidden stories inside them: Your parents, relatives, bus people, friends, acquaintances. And if you say the right sequence of words, a great story will come out, or you'll find something out about somebody and then bring it back to yourself like we all do. Aren't people interesting?
Note: Another really fun thing to do is to put your earphones in at a restaurant or on the bus and just listen to people’s conversations. Katie Rich once had us do this in a workshop about five years ago. Bill Nye once said, “Every single person you’ve ever met knows something you don’t know.” Listen to them. They are characters.
10. Don't be upset
when somebody else can do a better Droopy dog voice than you.
You might be able to do Droopy Dog very well. But you will meet somebody, and their Droopy Dog will have more inflection in it, and more droop to it. And while for a moment you will feel vulnerable (use it for the STAGE!) It's okay, because maybe you'll admire the other person, and your Droopy Dog will get better, or it'll always be YOUR Droopy Dog.
11. Find your voice
Work through your influences, make them obvious, then try to hide them, and then keep trying things out, and doing things. Eventually while you're still not sure what you're doing, your voice will have emerged. And to everybody but you, it will be a wonderful moment and quite astounding to observe. You will still be in the trenches and trying to figure out what to do next. But relax, and do nothing for a day, and then do some other stuff.
Note: Read that paragraph again. Then read it again. I love Jared Larson so much. Don’t you?
Thanks for reading. Thanks to Matt Byrne & The Steamroller.
See you in November.
-Ted Tremper & Jared Larson