Sunday, 31 July 2016

The Shining Star of Losers Everywhere

In 2003, Japan was plunged into economic darkness, and its people needed a ray of hope. They found one in Haru Urara, a racehorse with a pink Hello Kitty mask and a career-long losing streak.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

How to Make Page 1 of Your Script Kick Ass

Screenwriting is hard enough without having screenplay readers totally ignore your script from the get go. And yet that's just what happens when page one of your script completely turns off a reader who can get your script read by decision-makers...and possibly turbo-charge your screenwriting career.

In this video, former screenplay reader Michael Rogan of shares his insider tips for ensuring you catch the eye of a reader from the very first page of your script.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Don't Underestimate the Screenwriter

Gone Girl uses classic screenwriting techniques to tell its twisty, modern noir story. This video examines three of the techniques used by screenwriter Gillian Flynn to see how and why they work so well.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Aaron Sorkin's Screenwriting MasterClass | Official Trailer

Wow. These days it seems like everyone is wanting to teach screenwriting, as opposed to practising the art.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Book review: Screenwriting Tricks of the Trade

I remember reading Screenwriting Tricks of the Trade by William Froug for the first time years ago, and quoting part of it at a screenwriter's meeting. It was the first book I'd come across which explicitly highlighted the failures of the Three-Act Theory, and I was delighted. Rereading it now, I'm more impressed than ever. 

William Froug is an Emmy award-winning American television writer and producer. Shows he worked on include: The Twilight Zone, Gilligan's Island, Bewitched, The Dick Powell Show, Charlie's Angels, and The New Twilight Zone.

He has also written numerous books on screenwriting, including Screenwriting Tricks of the Trade, Zen and the Art of Screenwriting (I and II), The Screenwriter Looks at the Screenwriter and How I Escaped from Gilligan's Island.

This is a book worth buying, reading and rereading. What follows are some selected quotes:
  • My method is simple. See movies, as many as possible, and take from each one the important lessons that each has to offer.
  • I never see a film without analyzing the story structure, the core conflict, the line of action and counter-action, the opening signal, the theme, the protagonist, the antagonist, and so on.
  • Some screenwriters will think about a story for years before committing it to paper.
  • If you can write one really terrific scene per day, you are doing very well, indeed. Sometimes a single scene will take several days to work out properly.
  • Don't place yourself on self-imposed deadlines.
  • The secret of success as a screenwriter is simple: Keep the seat of your pants to the seat of your chair.
  • Work out as many of the story problems that you can before you begin to write. Otherwise, you might very well fall into the writer's worst trap, writing in circles...
  • A dramatic story is any series of events having vivid, emotional, conflicting, striking interest or results.
  • It doesn't matter one bit how often your story has been told before; you must retell it better, with a fresh and different approach. If you can do that, your story will seem like the newest idea ever presented.
  • When you tell an old story in a new way, it becomes a new story.
  • Old stories never die, they often merely improve with the retelling.
  • Character is story and story is character; they are each by-products of the other.
  • I have found character to be the single best story-source for drama.
  • The most popular game in Hollywood is recycling. Hardly a meeting goes on without beginning or diverting into discussions of what qualities previous movies had that made them winners.
  • If you hope to participate in these professional story conferences, you'd damn well better be film literate.
  • In order to create viable art that will hold someone's attention, you must have dramatic tension. Which, in screenwriting, is created by a line of action and opposing forces.
  • Tension = Attention.
  • Great screenplays have a single line of action and equally powerful opposing forces. 
  • Your protagonist does not have to be likeable.
  • What you must create is a protagonist who is fascinating, compelling, interesting, and understandable. 
  • Scorsese is often called "America's greatest director" on the strength of a body of work in which all the characters in his movies are various degrees of wicked and miserable people. 
  • Watching villainy lets people vent their rage in a harmless way.
  • Unless the threat is deadly serious, it's a joke and your protagonist will be ridiculed.
  • Try to avoid static locations such as offices, hotel rooms, park benches— any place where you are apt to have two or more characters sitting around talking to each other.
  • If, on the other hand, the scene must be played in a room, make certain it has a strong emotional dynamic, that something important is being talked about, and that there is tension or conflict between the talkers.
  • What works best in scenes is what works best in stories—a strong element of surprise.
  • In building your scene, do not tell us where we have been or where we are going next.
  • Avoid entrances and exits.
  • Scenes will play and write better if each character in your scene has a single goal or purpose for this particular scene.
  • Every character must have an attitude to make the scene play.
  • Look for the subtext in every scene—what's really going on as opposed to what appears to be going on.
  • Creating new and fresh scenes is one of the most important aspects of becoming a successful screenwriter. For this reason, I have lost my infatuation with Syd Field's paradigm.
  • If you like formulas, buy Syd's book Screenplay. It will help some writers and hinder others.
  • I know Syd Field and respect him; we served on the Writers Guild Academic Liaison Committee together, and I think his contribution to understanding story structure is an important one. But, like all formulas, his tends to wear itself out with repeated use.
  • The great American movies usually defy formula writing.
  • I attended a seminar on "Film & Literature." One of the panelists remarked, surprisingly, that all movies are told in three acts, to which fellow-panelist screenwriter William Goldman remarked wryly, "Really, I didn't know that."
  • The reality is that there are no clearly defined "Acts" in screenplays. An "Act" is whatever you choose to say it is.
  • When you structure your movie, there is no one-size-fits-all.
  • Modern moviegoers are annoyed when you show or tell them something they have already figured out for themselves. Trust your audiences; they are not as dumb as the cynics would have you believe.
  • An outline might be helpful but most certainly is not necessary for all screenwriters. Again, no one-size-fits-all guideline applies.
  • The best way to tell your story is the way the story itself dictates. Do not try to contort it into a predetermined form.
  • The idea that all screenplays are written in three "acts" is nonsense. The truth is many screenplays use five acts, six acts, two acts, or any number of large, developmental story sections. 
  • Avoid rigidity, it is the death of creativity.
  • It is helpful to know your theme before you begin to write, though it is not absolutely necessary, but you had better know it before you finish the screenplay.
  • A theme is simply a proposition leading to a conclusion.
  • Some call the theme a premise or a thesis. It does not matter what you call it, but you cannot write an outstanding screenplay without knowing what it is about. 
  • Many screenwriters complete their screenplays without ever knowing what they're about. The result is, almost invariably, an empty and unsuccessful piece of work.
  • There is more than one theme in a good movie; there are often many minor themes running concurrently, but there is only one major theme.
  • Frank Pierson told an important story about the need to find the theme or "take" on your protagonist before you write your screenplay. Frank had accepted a contract to write what he later titled Dog Day Afternoon, but he simply could not figure out what his protagonist was all about. He finally decided (the Al Pacino character) was a man trying to make everybody happy in all circumstances. 
  • The theme of this excellent movie is, If you try to please all the people all the time, you are doomed to failure.
  • One minute per page is average playing time for a movie. However, this can vary as much as twenty or thirty minutes for a two hour film, depending on the pace of the director.
  • A story must be underway on page one; something is happening or about to happen.
  • You do not need to set up your protagonist; your protagonist must "set up" himself or herself by his or her behavior and by the circumstances in which we discover him or her. Nothing more needs to be said.
  • Actors can say more with an exchange of glances than all your wordiness can convey. Trust the actors. I do not mean you should trust them as writers—far from it. Trust them to deliver much more than you ever expected from their first performance. Like it or not, if you are determined to be a dramatist, actors will be your lifetime collaborators.
  • What your audience does not know but wants to know is an excellent device to hold their attention.
  • The way people actually talk to each other and movie dialogue have nothing in common. Your job as a dramatist is to create the illusion of real dialogue. It is easy only if you work very hard at it, edit yourself carefully, rewrite it endlessly, polish it, until the characters say only what must be said and nothing else.
  • Write what you truly believe in, what excites you, what you care about—the kind of movie you would pay money to see. That's the formula.

First posted:  1 October 2012

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Doodling Between The Headlines

A short film that captures the highlights of Euro 2016, by doodling between the headlines.

Monday, 25 July 2016

How to make a tennis ball

Benedict Redgrove was commissioned to make a film and shoot a set of images by ESPN, to show the manufacturing process of Wilson tennis balls for the US Open. He flew to the factory, shot the film and stills in one day then flew home.
It's an amazingly complex manufacture, requiring 24 different processes to make the final ball. It was hot, loud and the people who worked there, worked fast.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Magic of Mount Seymour

Mount Seymour looks down over the vibrant and pulsing city of Vancouver to the south, while the Coast Mountains stretch endlessly to the north. For three years, Nathan Starzynski returned on and off to shoot as much timelapse as possible.

This short film is the culmination of years of practice, countless pounds of equipment carried, many sleepless nights, and hundreds of hours of editing. Enjoy!

Saturday, 23 July 2016


Tribute to all the people of Nice. Because Nice is, and will remain, Nissa la Bella.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Seven things you (probably) didn't know about 'Goodfellas'

For the aficionado, here are seven lesser-known facts about Goodfellas.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Miles Holbeck - The Member

Elections seem to stimulate creativity. Jungle make TV shows. Miles Holbeck - The Member documents one man's dream.
Miles Holbeck is an independent politician who just wants to make Australia right again. Join him as he campaigns for a better future for all of us.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Interview with Patricia Hetherington

Patricia Hetherington is a New Zealand producer who has been involved in filmmaking since 2005.  
    She moved to London earlier this year, where she now works as an Assistant Registrar at Hult International Business School. In her spare time she likes to tango, attend filmmaking seminars, or work on films. In the short time she has been in London, she has worked on four U.K. films, in roles ranging from production runner to camera operator to director of photography. Oh, and, for exercise, she does bellydancing.
    It's not every day you have a bellydancer drop by your blog and say nice things about it, so when that happened, I took the opportunity to ask her some questions.

*  Where were you born, and where did you grow up?

I'm from Wellington, New Zealand, born and raised. My mother was English; my father, Kiwi. Both were storytellers. My sister and I grew up hearing about my mother's life travelling the world (her family lived in Kenya for a few years). My Dad could hold court with his tales.

* Can you tell me about your film studies?  Did you go to Film School?

Alex Funke
I'm passionate about film, so my plan was always to go to university and study it. My undergraduate degrees were in Film Theory and Music Composition at Victoria University of Wellington. I was drawn back to study after working, completing an Honours degree in Film part-time. One of my courses was Film Production with Alex Funke. It was competitive to get in. I didn't think I had the necessary experience. Working on my portfolio for the application, I realised that the little film projects I had been doing here and there over the previous 5 years was actually good experience.
Going to Film School has some benefits, as does getting on as many sets as you can. or just making your own films. I think Film School can be more beneficial if you have theory behind you, and have already worked on building up your networks. So I haven’t ruled it out for Masters study. But at the moment I’m making films... which is the best education there is.

*  When did you first take an interest in storytelling?

I grew up with storytelling. But when I was about 15, I realised that I had stories I wanted to tell, and that I wanted to be a filmmaker. Well, a director. A screenwriter. That evolved into being a filmmaker.  

*  Who was the teacher who has had the biggest influence on you?

I’m going to rock the boat over here, and pick three! (Rebel!)
  • Alex Funke, for all of his filmmaking knowledge and enthusiasm. You ask him a question, and he replies with, "Let's try it."
  • Harriet Margolis, for her support, and for introducing me to Feminism in Film. 
  • John Psathas. His passion for music and wealth of knowledge just come across in his composition lectures. May we all have the same passion.

*  You’ve been involved, in various capacities, in the making of about two dozen films. Which is your favourite and why?

I'd say Harmless, because it was the first film that I wrote, directed, produced, edited, and finished. I learnt so much in making that film. I loved it when I'd finished it. Looking at it in retrospect, there are things I would change. But the experience of making your first film is unparalleled. 

*  How has Peter Jackson and The Lord Of The Rings influenced the lives of low-level filmmakers in New Zealand?

The good thing about having such a large production is that it employs and trains up a large number of filmmakers. It’s an investment into the local industry. Those filmmakers can take their experience and make work on smaller projects in the lull between films. A lot of filmmakers were trying to get work on The Hobbit.
    There is a boom and bust effect though. Internationally, large studios make films where the workforce is inexperienced (but enthusiastic) and cheap. The workforce gets trained, charges more, then costs increase. The studios move production to the next country that has an inexperienced workforce and is cheap, where the first country has a large unemployed film industry. There was a huge backlash against Actors Equity when people thought their negotiations were driving the Hollywood studio to move The Hobbit to another country. The government stepped in, overturned a court ruling and offered the studio tremendous tax breaks to keep production here.
    I’m not sure when the bust will happen, but I think the fact that Peter Jackson is still making large movies and has made moves to help and protect the Kiwi Film Industry is a good sign. And we’re doing well as long as we keep making Kiwi films on our own terms.

*  You moved to London at the start of 2012. What led to that decision?

A few factors. There was a boy... 

Mainly I’m here for career development. There are a great many opportunities here. Almost too many! I've only been here four months, and I've already been to a Producing Masterclass, Q+As at the London Film School, the Rushes New Filmmakers Market at BAFTA... I swear there is a film festival every other weekend. There's so much to do!

*  What was the first major difference you noticed about the UK?

People are allegedly not as friendly. If you're on the tube, you avoid eye contact. None of this striking-up-a-conversation nonsense. It's that stiff upper lip. I say allegedly

*  I took a quick look at the map of your London location. Does it feel a bit like living on a UK Monopoly board?

I will always look at certain streets and think of them as a colour. The Strand is red. Leicester Square is yellow. Bond Street is green. I'm doing an art project where I'm recording the ambient sound of a location, and linking it to photos. That way people can experience a location. A friend and I are extending the soundscape project to every street from the Monopoly board. We did Leicester Square last weekend. I'm uploading them to Vimeo, so keep an eye on

*  Tell us a bit about the neighbourhood where you live in London. 

I'm in a place called Seven Sisters, which is in South Tottenham in North London. It (apparently) doesn't have the best reputation, but it suits me. There are large communities of Jamaicans, Ugandans, and other Africans. It's easy to get to most places on the tube or to East London on the bus.

*  How do you fill in your average day in London

I work in the city. My lunchtimes are spent editing, reading scripts, or—heaven forbid—relaxing; I try to listen to film or music podcasts (I recommend John August, Q+As with Jeff Goldsmith, Filmspotting, and The Empire Podcast) whilst on the tube or at work; and then my evenings keep getting packed: dance classes, film screenings, Q+As, catching up with friends. I'm working on finishing some editing projects, and entered a script competition recently. 

*  Did you enjoy the Olympic Games? Or did they increase the hassle in getting about London?

Actually, the Olympics made getting around London (at least where I'm going) easier! It was brilliant. They did such a good job scaring people off the tube and away from the city/working from home/biking to work, that the tube is much less crowded and there are fewer delays. Also where I work is quiet, as it's the media hub. 

The Tube: so quiet, the Prime Minister uses it...
*  What’s happening with your short film The Lake?

It's been a long journey. At the same time as producing The Lake, I've managed to finish my film studies and produce four other short films. Currently we’re waiting on the final cut from the director. The composer is working on the music, I'm working on the sound design (in my spare time), and the director has been working on the colour grading. I managed to arrange a consultant colour grader to help him. We're working on getting it finished within the next two months.

*  You describe yourself as a “Filmmaker, Bellydancer, Composer, Administrator.” What led to the bellydancing?

Patricia shows how...
My aunt teaches. She was one of the first people to bring belly dance to New Zealand, having learnt it in Australia. I started having classes with her in 1999. I loved it, and kept doing it. I was teaching Beginners Classes in Wellington for a couple of years before I left. My career development here is also for my dancing; I've joined some classes here, and am getting involved with the scene. 

*  You’ve been involved in filmmaking in various capacities since 2005. Do you have a grand plan, or are you simply following opportunities as they arise?

There's an element of getting on as many film sets as I can, so I can network and meet people here. I haven't got the networks here that I had in Wellington, so it'll take me a little while to get back into producing. I love producing, because you have to know everything about filmmaking. I'm focussing on three areas: Production, Camera, and Sound. And I'm still doing small projects of my own.

What one book would you recommend to a young wannabe filmmaker in Adelaide
The role of the producer is shrouded in mystery for many filmmakers. Turman's book helped me realise that I am a producer.
    I'm currently reading 'Story' by Robert McKee. 
    I'm also trying to read 100 produced scripts: this was a recommendation at the Producers Masterclass. Read 100 produced scripts so you can recognise great writing, then read 100 unproduced scripts so you can recognise not-so-good writing (or not yet recognised great writing). The aim is to get to the point where you're bored reading scripts, so good writing pops out at you.

*  Name ten of your all-time favourite movies.


The following video was put together by Patricia at Leicester Square, London, in July 2012. It consists of a series of photos mixed with a recording of the ambient sound there. The aim is to transport the viewer where they can see the image and hear the soundscape. (It reminds me a little bit of the Francis Ford Coppola film, The Conversation.)
    Facebook    IMDb    Vimio    Website

First posted: 28 September 2012

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

A Place Near The Front

Here's a brilliant narration of events in the U.S. and France in the early part of the last century. It is an ad for a novelised version of William G. Herbert's father's life.
The coming-of-age story of a young Trinidadian who arrives at the shores of the U.S. in the early 1900s and journeys through the streets of Harlem to the trenches of World War One in search of his place in the promised land of America.    Twitter    Website    YouTube

Monday, 18 July 2016

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Girls Who Read

Here is Mark Grist's take on a delicate question.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Characteristics of the Standard Action Hero

This insultingly inappropriate list is provided by

Friday, 15 July 2016

England: A Beginner's Guide

England: A Beginner's Guide, is just what you need to prepare for a quick trip.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

The Evolution of Steven Spielberg

The Evolution of Steven Spielberg brings us a taste of his iconic movies spanning over fifty years of directing. 

We're gonna need a bigger boat.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

George Lucas - Advice

George Lucas gives an Academy talk. He explains how he got started, and the secret to a long, happy career.

It's an interesting journey. Have a listen.

First posted: 23 September 2012

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

How To Tell A Great Story

Chris Do shares five tips on how to tell a story. Storytelling secrets. How you can make your Vlog more interesting by understanding storytelling fundamentals.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Beautiful Movies

Filmmaking is a complicated alchemy of light, sound, camera movement. And while a great look is always the goal, sometimes everything comes together to create a work of sublime beauty.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

In Praise of Chairs

One of the great things about detailed production design is that it pays off in unexpected ways. So today Tony Zhou explores the weird possibilities of that most common of objects: the chair.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Weird Things That Only Exist In Japan

Yep, here are some weird things that only exist in Japan. Seriously.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

The Philosophy of Bill Murray

Here we explore Bill Murray's unique kind of comedy and his evolution from just another goofy guy to a comedy legend.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Interview with Yuri Baranovsky

One of the interesting things about social media is the way in which unlikely people link to one another. I stumbled across a wise and witty post by Yuri Baranovsky about three months ago (and ran a version of it on this blog). That was the first I'd heard of him, but it seems I was at the back of the queue. Not only had lots of people heard of him, they suddenly saw me in a new light when I mentioned him. Something to do with reflected glory...
    Then Yuri himself popped up in the Comments box and made some gracious points. So I asked him for an interview.

 *  You were born in Ukraine. Your family moved to the USA in 1988, when you were five. Where did you go to school, and where did you grow up?

In 1989, actually, but yes. We left as Jewish refugees—it was all very dramatic, we had an old soviet boat and we paddled across the ocean to get to San Francisco.
    I went to some kind of kindergarten in Kiev. I specifically remember stealing my brother’s toys and giving them to pretty girls in my class there. I knew, even at that age, that women judged me on the strength of my toy cars. That, and sitting with my arms crossed in front of me like a little child robot, is all I remember of my Russian education.
     I grew up mostly in San Francisco.

When did you first take an interest in films/stories?

It’s hard to say. I think Jews, as a culture, love telling stories—especially funny ones. Everyone in my family tells stories and I always loved listening.
    My mom put on full puppet productions for me and my brother, she also made up whole fairy tales that we would act out, saving princesses whilst riding on the back of our faithful steed: the large cover of a soviet-era sewing machine.
    My dad just tells stories constantly. We’ve heard them all, but still listen when he retells them, because he’s a great storyteller.
And finally, my brother—probably thanks to my parents—started writing when he was very young. He’d write little stories for me, I think about animals living on a farm (it was Orwellian, for sure), and as I got older, I’d try to mimic him. I was terrible at it.
    One of my strongest memories in regard to storytelling, though, is feeling a strong sense of loss when I realized I was too old to play with my toys. I could watch a movie with my parents, or read a book, and then, through my action figures, I could play in all of these different worlds. When I got older, I remember feeling kind of, like... well... what will replace that? How will I travel to these other places? How will I get to be an X-Man?
    Thankfully, I discovered acting and it went from there. Though, I still haven’t been a super hero...

What was your first paying job?

I was an accountant’s assistant for a small interior design company. I got that job because my mom was the accountant and, well, needed an assistant. It wasn’t bad, aside from the fact that some of the people working there were literally caricatures of fairytale villains. I learned a surprising amount of useful, adult-like skills for the future.

What was your first job in filmmaking?

I think all filmmakers make a lot of things before they can ever really call it a job.
    I would say my first paying job was, amazingly, as a head writer for a series called The Circuit on MOJO HD. It was for a small HD network, mostly known for a show called Three Sheets. The series was basically The Daily Show for tech news and it’s still on Hulu.

This wasn't part of the original deal, but here's the pilot of The Circuit, complete with the sleep-deprived monkeys.

I was already shooting Break a Leg (but not getting paid for it), and had acted in a feature film (without being paid for it), as well as shot my own (and lost money with it), but hadn’t actually officially been paid to do anything with film. Not yet.
    One of the producers happened to catch a featured, satirical article I wrote for Gizmodo—who I used to write for a little bit—and loved it. He offered me the job, and I said yes, before they could take it back.
    It was a really awesome experience; it taught me a whole lot about writing, running a team (albeit a small one) and just filmmaking in general.

What training or mentoring did you receive in your early days?

If I could use a metaphor to describe my career, thus far, I would say it’s less of a race with a specific target in sight, and more of me walking through different rooms at random and somehow constantly ending up in the right one.
    Does that make sense? I’ve had a lot of coffee and it has condensed milk in it. I’m a little shaky.
    What I’m saying is, my mentors came and went, and a lot of times were in the form of books or just... experience.
    I started as an actor, and so, I was taught by my drama teachers. I was incredibly lucky to have good ones throughout my life. In middle school, my drama teacher practically begged me to audition for Aladdin—and I did, and as a result got bitten by the acting bug.
    In high school, my drama teacher, aside from just being a great drama teacher in general, noticed that I really liked wordplay. Specifically, I fell in love with David Ives—I love his banter, I love how he uses words like music. His dialogue has a rhythm, a beat that enhances the humor, the drama, everything. It blew me away when I first did one of his plays.
    I ended up directing one of his shows (my first directing job!) in our high school one-act showcase, and at the end of it, my teacher gave me his book of plays as a gift.
    I read that thing a thousand times. And then I read Neil Simon. And then I read Tom Stoppard. And then I watched Monty Python. And then I read every playwright who juggled words the way those guys do and started trying to do the same.

Carla Zilbersmith
My biggest, non-family-related mentor was my college drama teacher, Carla Zilbersmith. I was still playing with the idea of being a writer, tentatively writing sketches and putting them up at my school (College of Marin). One of them, Eleven Variations on Friar John’s Failure, a Shakespeare-satire (always popular with the kids) got published and started being performed all over... the world, actually.
     At that time, Carla was really the first person to recognize me as a writer. She beat it into me, gave me scripts to read, things to look up, notes, notes, notes on everything I did. She was a hard-ass. She and I had a very tumultuous relationship in college, but if it wasn’t for her, I don’t think I’d get near to where I am now. And not just in writing, in producing, directing, everything—Carla was a huge influence. A very important mentor.
     Unfortunately, because no writer’s life would be complete without a good, tragic story about a brilliant mentor—Carla died a couple of years ago of Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Which, as she liked to say, sucked, because she always hated baseball.
     There’s a documentary about her fight with it, and it’s pretty damn amazing. She was hilarious, her comedy was so dark that you couldn’t help but laugh, even in the face—especially in the face
of tragedy. She was inspiring without meaning to be. She tattooed ‘Out Of Order’ on her feet, after ALS stopped them from working, and she had us shoot her post-mortem funeral video while she was still alive. She was brilliant and hilarious, and taught me a whole lot about writing, life, art, and on, and on.
     Sorry, the negative side of liking to tell stories is that I like to tell stories.
     Back to your original question—after Carla, my mentors were my own projects and the people who I worked with on those projects. I’ve never taken a writing class—and I’m not bragging, it’s something I really would like to do—but I’ve consumed books, screenplays, and films, and shows, to learn and better myself. And I’m definitely still learning and learning and learning.
     Man, I talk a lot.

That's okay.  You filmed the pilot of Break A Leg in 2006, a year before Italian Spiderman came out, which makes you a true pioneer of the web series business. To what extent did that experience shape your outlook and open up a career path for you?

From the pilot of Break a Leg (2006)
Break a Leg literally made my entire career. It was completely by accident that we released it when we did. We did it for a contest, lost the contest, gained a fanbase and thought, "Huh, let’s just make a few episodes for the hell of it and see what happens." And then it got popular and more popular and—it’s another room I accidentally stumbled into. We pioneered without meaning to. It’s like if Louis and Clark said, "Oh, I don’t know, let’s go West and see what happens...?"
    We worked our asses off on that show. We released content every week while filming thirty minute episodes on literally no budget at all. Nothing. No money. We bought food for the cast and begged them to not leave us. Our crew was our close friends who are now a major part of our production company and who loved the project as much as we did. We were ridiculously lucky to be surrounded by amazing, loyal and talented people.
    Break a Leg became a calling card. Somehow, it hit a nerve. People still recognize us for it, and that’s crazy, since it’s been six years now. All the projects after Break a Leg were a direct result of what we had accomplished with that show. It has a very special place in my heart. One day, we’ll make a second season. One day.

The early episodes of Break A Leg ran for about 30 minutes, which many people considered too long. These days there seems to be a tendency toward developing web series with longer episodes. How do you view this trend?

Once, a girl told me she didn’t watch anything “over 180 seconds.” Because, apparently, at that time, saying "minutes"’ was totally uncool. We got a lot of flak for it, but we fought it with tooth and nail. I’ve always fought it. I’ve blogged about it.
    I hate the seven minute time restriction. It’s silly. It’s a holdover from 2006 when videos were tiny, connections were slow and quality was awful.
    We’re watching HD shows on our computers with weird time restrictions on scripted series. That's completely useless. If it works at seven minutes, great. If it should be thirty minutes, make it thirty minutes, dammit.
    I hope the trend continues. In fact, we’re doing our best to continue it—Leap Year, Season 2, is significantly longer than the first season and, in my opinion, much stronger.
    In the end, though, it comes down to money. The bigger the budgets get, the more opportunity we have to make longer content. I’ll continue my web-show-length crusade until I get to make my own, seven-hour, Yuri Baranovsky Biopic web series. 

From the pilot of The Temp Life (2006)
In 2009/2010 you were a writer on the series The Temp Life, which was not something you originated or produced. Did you enjoy the relatively uncomplicated life of a writer compared to your usual burdens as an actor/writer/director/producer?

Yes! So, as I said, The Circuit was actually my first job in that vein. But, you know what? I absolutely love just being a writer, or just being an actor, or just being a director. Not to say I don’t love being a multi-hyphenate on my own projects. I’m a control freak, and when it’s my baby, I want to raise it.
    But, I love taking a break from our own projects and doing other people’s stuff. Just being an actor, for example, is amazing. I’m like... all I have to do is know my lines, put in a good performance, and I get free food and literally hours of downtime where I can read, or write, or work…? Really? It’s the best job in the world! I don’t even have to move a light!

In 2010 you produced Road Trip Rally, a ‘branded’ web series for the 7-Eleven store chain, involving a car race across America by two teams. What did you learn from that experience?

I learned that sinus infections are God’s personal punch in the face.
    No!  I learned that most of Middle America really doesn’t care for anyone who isn’t white.
    No, wait, better. I learned that in most clothing stores in Middle America, I am a children’s extra small.
    You know how some terrible parents teach their children to swim by throwing them into a pool and saying, Listen, I’m going to teach you an essential skill with the threat of death? The 7-11 Road Trip Rally was that for us.
    We learned an insane amount on Break a Leg, but at the end of the day, if we failed to release an episode on a Monday (we never did), or if a video was a bit off, or whatever, there was no real... we had no boss. We were our own bosses. And while we were tough on ourselves, there was no real stakes. No money to lose. No one relying on us, but us.

From the 7-Eleven Road Trip Rally (2010)
The 7-11 Road Trip Rally was a whole new beast for us. We knew we could do it, we knew it in our gut, but we had never really done anything like it. There were hundreds of thousands of dollars at stake. It was hard. Really hard. We had to shoot and release an episode daily. And that’s one episode for two teams, traveling cross-country. That meant our two editors would put together two different episodes a day, and then the West Coast editor would send it to our East Coast editor, and he’d make those two episodes into one, and we’d release that. While driving in an RV. For hours.
    Rinse and repeat for three weeks. 
    It didn’t help that during that trip, not only did my girlfriend (of seven years) and I break up, but Carla died. It was intense. It was trying to learn to swim, not just because you were drowning, but because someone kept trying to beat you with a stick while you struggled.
    But we did it. And we survived. And we did a damn good job. My team is, frankly, amazing. Our producer manager (Hillary Bergmannhire her, seriously) made that thing work, because she’s a genius. Justin Morrison (co-partner and DP) made that show look phenomenal. And Dashiell Reinhardt (co-partner and head editor) probably took off a few years of his life to make sure we released an episode daily. The amazing Daniela DiIorio and Dustin Toshiyuki have been part of our main crew/cast since we started and are key, key pieces to our production company. I like giving credit where credit is due, and they're due a lot. Then there's my brother, Vlad Baranovsky (another co-partner and co-writer, and musician). He would write us music literally as the episodes were being edited. “We need a country song in 30 minutes.” “Done.”
    The whole thing made us go from a little scrappy group, who wanted to be filmmakers, into a real production company. After that job, we felt like there was literally nothing we couldn’t pull off. 
    We still feel that way.

The cast of Leap Year
In 2011 you started another series called Leap Year, which deals with five friends co-founding a startup and competing for $500,000 in funding. The show is “presented” by Hiscox Small Business Insurance, which (I assume) means they have funded it to some degree. Did you first approach them with the idea, or the other way round? What benefits do they gain from the arrangement?

It’s entirely funded by them, yes. We were approached by Wilson Cleveland—who had hired me for Temp Life and his Suite 7 series—to ask if Vlad and I wanted to write the show. We said yes, and offered to shoot it as well. Hiscox liked our work (namely, our Lovemakers pitch) and agreed to let us shoot it.
    They gave us a very basic outline of what they wanted, and then Vlad and I made it into our baby.
    For Hiscox, they wanted a really well-written, engaging show that people wanted to watch. The idea is that the audience who watches Leap Year is the same audience who needs small business insurance, which is what Hiscox provides. If you notice, there are no actual mentions of Hiscox in the series. The branding comes around the videos, be it in Hulu ads that play during the show, or banners on the main site. As long as we’re engaging with their demographic, everybody wins.
    They’re a great brand to work with in general. They’ve given us almost complete freedom with the show and we’ve really been able to create something that we’re very, very proud of.

Leap Year is now entering a second series. How does this one differ from the first?

Oh, God, let me count the ways.
    It’s much longer—episodes are now around 15-20 minutes, as opposed to 7-9 like they were the first season. The show is much darker this time around. The length really lets us play with moments, emotions, pauses, silence, it really changes the show.
    Even the music is hipper, darker, grittier this season. We’re going to be releasing a soundtrack, as Vlad’s music is one of the biggest hits this time around.
    Finally, the celebrity guests! Oh, the celebrity guests! Eliza Dushku, Steven Weber, Craig Bierko, Josh Malina, Emma Caulfield, Julie Warner—it’s like a wild celebrity orgy of talent.

*  What are three things you wish someone had told you about film when you were starting out?

How many Jews there are in Hollywood. It’s weird. Did you know that Mila Kunis practically has the same background as me? We’re both refugees. Milachka, why aren’t we friends, yet?
    Seriously, this is really strong coffee. 

Mila Kunis, in Friends With Benefits. Born on August 14, 1983, in Chernivtsi, Ukraine.

You know, I don’t think any amount of telling can really prepare you for the experience of filmmaking. I think the two biggest things (I couldn’t think of a third one), are:

1. Don’t really listen to anybody. You can listen, you can learn, but don’t take anyone’s word as gospel. People will tell you that you can’t do this, you can’t do that, there’s only this way to do something, or that way, or no one is doing this anymore, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. It’s all wrong. The coolest thing about this world is that there are a million ways to succeed in it. Everyone should try and take their own road.

2. Keep working. Even when you’re failing, even when it seems like you’re at a dead end, keep throwing ideas at the wall, keep putting things together, never stop, something will happen, something will stick. It’s really a war of attrition, when your competitors die out and you’re still working, someone will notice. It’s also... and I feel like I should be saying this in front of a campfire while wearing a loose-fitting shirt and a feathered headband, but... when you’re working hard and putting yourself out there, the universe opens up and gives you opportunities. Man, I swear, it really works.

*  You have a book due for publication shortly. Tell us a little about that.

It’s a pop-up book about dinosaurs. Remember those? I loved them as a kid. I think it’s because, in Kiev, we didn’t have pop-up books. Or dinosaurs.
    It’s a college textbook that’s specifically for writing for new media. It’ll hopefully be out in a few months (due out January 2013). It’s written by Vlad Baranovsky, myself, and Marie Drennan, an indescribably awesome English teacher at San Francisco State University.
    The pop-up dinosaurs are in the “structure” chapter.

*  If you could recommend just one filmmaking advice book to a newcomer in Adelaide (apart from your own), what would that book be

I’m a writer first, so my favorite is Making a Good Script Great, by Linda Seger. Simple to read and understand, and really drives structure home. It’s great.

*  What are your ten favourite movies of all time?

Oh, no. I’m terrible at this. Can I preface this by saying I’m not like... Tarantino... in that I’ve watched every movie ever made. I’ve watched very few classic movies (I came to this country in ’89, for the love of God—and I had to learn how to speak English!), so my list is probably going to offend every real auteur ever.

But, here’s my best try:

1. Big Mama’s House (2000)
2. Austin Powers 3 (2002)—because the same joke, told over and over again, is always funny.
3. Pootie Tang (2001)
4. That terrible animated movie where the aliens destroy Earth because our people have a must-destroy-now-technology that, apparently, is to create another Earth. Oh, Titan A.E. (2000). God, that was dumb.
5. Anything that M. Night Shyamalan has a bit role in. My favorite one is Signs (2002), where he’s like, “I’m going to the lake. There’s water there. People say the aliens hate water. Have I said water enough? Because water.”

... Okay, some real ones off the top of my head—it’s hard to say they’re my favorite of all time, but, they are beloved:
God, this is really hard. I love so many movies.
Okay. Okay, I’m tapped out for now.

Break A Leg
David Penn just got his sitcom picked up. Unfortunately, David Penn's life is about to get canceled.
Here's Episode 1.

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________________________________________________________________________ Leap Year.
After being laid-off from their corporate day jobs, five newbie entrepreneurs compete to get their businesses off the ground when a mystery benefactor promises to invest $500,000 in one of their startups.
Here's Episode 1.

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First posted: 14 September 2012