Never Underestimate The Benefit of a Juicy Delusion of Grandeur

Meme_S2E1_1When I was 22 years old I moved to NYC to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up and one day as I was wandering down those busy streets the answer came to me in a flash: I was going to make movies.

I saw the whole thing in my head. My first film was going to be a comedy about a daughter who outs her closet writer mother. Goldie Hawn would play the mother, Meg Ryan would play the crazy Aunt, Alfre Woodard would play the mom’s best friend, Jack Nicholson would play her mom’s unrequited lover and I would play the daughter.

Never mind that I had never written a script in my life, nor had any contacts in the entertainment business, nor any experience Producing, I had passion and creativity on my side and I was going to go ahead and write this script, and then co-produce it with whichever studio picked it up (so that I could still have some control creatively) and cast myself. I gave myself about a 2 year time frame.

Go ahead and laugh. Seriously, have a hearty laugh because this, my friends, is a delusion of epic proportions. A 22 year old unknown back in 1992, with literally zero experience in anything and not a single connection in the business thinks she is going to get Hollywood to produce her largely all female comedy and that they are going to happily let her co-produce it with them and cast it, giving herself one of the starring roles? It’s hilarious! But at the time, I really believed it and I am so glad I did.

See here’s the thing, that delusion was my rocket fuel. It was my carrot keeping me running around the track. I would never have spent the nearly countless hours I have spent over the last 20 years disciplining myself to hone my writing skills and complete scripts if it hadn’t been for the hope that delusion would become real. I would never have gone after and landed all the jobs I did if I hadn’t thought I needed those experiences in order to service that delusion and I am certain I never would have been able to shield myself from all the well meaning dream doubters along the way if it hadn’t been for the warm embrace of that delusion. I would have given up long ago.

My lovely little delusion served me quite well. As the years went by and pure dreaming slowly got replaced by actual skills and real connections that initial delusion slowly changed, morphed, in fact I became completely aware that it was a delusion, I just didn’t care. It had lead me down a path I wanted to be on. I created more of them.

Eventually the delusions no longer served me, in fact they started to get in the way. They became the thing in the way of realizing that my dreams are no longer “dreams” but simply my here and now and that if I didn’t start seeing it in that context, and speaking of it in that context, and being in the very real moments that were happening to me right here in the now, then I was going to unintentionally push them away. This leads me to…

Industry Tip #8

Allow yourself to dream big audacious dreams, but don’t let it stand in the way of you realizing and fully participating in the successes you already have.

And without further ado I will share the final Episode of our very first season of Feathers and Toast. The one where our lovely Tallulah first develops her own delusions of grandeur. She saves a life and now thinks this cooking show might just be her mission in life, that she’s meant to “Save The World One Sandwich at a Time” (Apparently Mhairi, who created that storyline, appreciates the power of a juicy delusion as well)

What delusions have served you well?

The Infamous Pad Thai Episode: A Creative Turning Point

Meme_S1E5_5I know I’ve been yammering on about the business side of things for a while now, but when I re-watched what will be our video for the day today (which just happens to be the one Mhairi and I lovingly refer to as “The Infamous Pad Thai episode”) I realized its time to get back to talking about the creative.

The Pad Thai episode was yet another creative turning point for us for multiple reasons.

First, there was the obvious turning point in storyline. I think if anyone still had any doubts about whether this was an actual web cooking show or not, this episode killed that and showed that we were up to much more as this episode gave a more overt glimpse into the deeper narrative we were eventually going to tell.

Second, this episode showed me what an incredible actress I was working with and that the sky was going to be the limit in what we could do with this show. It sounds silly now, but prior to seeing this footage I had never actually seen Mhairi in action. I am a Second City trained yes-and-er, so when she told me what she wanted to do with this show I just said yes, and then assumed she had the acting chops to pull it off, but up till then I hadn’t seen any proof. I just trusted that she was in fact “Classically trained”.

We had discussed prior to shooting that we wanted Tallulah to have an emotional arc for the season and what that arc would be, but when we sat down to look at the footage I realized she had pulled it off in a much bigger way than I was expecting. She had yes anded me. 🙂

Allow me to explain…

For me there are 2 types of comedy: there’s the kind where the character knows they are funny, where they often keep it light, sometimes even ham for the camera and we, the audience, laugh with them and then there’s the kind where the character is actually quite serious, deeply invested in their circumstances and we, the audience get to laugh at them.

I genuinely love both (as for me comedy is like Chocolate, some kinds are better than others, but I pretty much like them all) but if I’m honest, as a lifelong fan of Writer/Directors like James L. Brooks, The Coen Brothers and Cameron Crowe, Nancy Meyers, the second kind of comedy is my all time favorite, which is why I was over the moon to discover, based on Mhairi’s layered and nuanced Improv performance, that this was the kind of comedy we were going to get to make.

The third turning point came in the form of another much needed confidence boost for me.

Editing this episode was difficult, and not because I didn’t have good material to work with, but because she had given me so much. I was staring down the face of 3 awesome takes I was attached to, each with different emotional aspects that I adored, each offering different story elements I thought were important. I found that I was wanting to use the very best parts of all of them, but since this was Improv rather than scripted material, it was not at all obvious how all these elements would line up seamlessly and to be honest I didn’t know if I could pull it off.

I found myself needing to draw from all my years of both writing and editing to perform the mental gymnastics needed to marry these takes together in a manner that looked like I had done nothing at all. And after a long series of “hang on a second, I know this is crazy but let’s try this” and “maybe if I put this chunk here, and that chunk there” I was overjoyed to discover that it had worked. That I had been able to pull it off. I surprised myself! Which lead to the quiet confidence of “I can do this” that you can only get to when you are first challenged and then rise to the challenge. And now…

Industry Tip #7
When shooting Improv performances always use at least 2 cameras. (Or at the very least shoot some close ups that can act as cut aways)

I would not have even had the option to grab the best of each take and make it look like it was seamless if I hadn’t had two different camera angles to draw from. Even with the 2 camera choices we still needed to employ the use of title cards on occasion to give it that seamless effect.

Without further ado, here is the Infamous Pad Thai Episode. The episode that saved Marge’s life. The episode where Tallulah gives us an example of the difference between being the eagle or the chicken. The episode where Tallulah was not actually making a Pad Thai. Hahaha. In fact, I think all of you should ask her about that story.

How To Be Your Own Marketing Department Pt 2

Meme_S2E4_1Network. Network. Network.

Once you’ve got your show up on Youtube, and your online presence clean, clear and beautiful, it is time to get out there and meet people because no matter how digitally dependent this world gets there is still no replacement for the connection that is made when you meet people in person.

In the early days, the places we would go to meet web industry people were Digital Hollywood (a 4 day conference, twice annually, which we highly recommend), and IAWTV events (an organization we are both currently members of). It was at these events that I discovered something wonderful about my partner Mhairi that I had not known, and that is that she can work a room with the best of them.

Although everyone who knows me refuses to believe it, I am actually quite shy, particularly in a room full of people I don’t know, and it has been my Achilles heal for years. I create lots of lots of content, but stumble when its time to sell it, out of a severe lack of confidence in my ability to express who I am and what I’ve got going on in any sort of compelling or concise way. When faced with this proposition, particularly in a room full of industry strangers, I usually just clam up and am reduced to a smile, a big one. I become perpetual smile girl, which is why it was like a miracle to discover that my compadre suffered from no such thing.

For me, watching Mhairi mingle at these events, was like watching Michael Jordan play basketball. I was in awe. How does she do that? She actually looks like she’s having fun (because she was). How is that even possible? She was meeting people right and left and all I had to do was stand there and laugh. And once the ice was broken, I had no trouble chiming in. This was a match made in heaven. Which brings me to…

Industry Tip #6
If you are not good at networking events, then bring somebody with you who is, but go! You have to go.

Entertainment is a team sport. There is no such thing as making it on your own. You need to know lots and lots of people (and I’m not just talking about the people at the top) you need a solid network of friends that extend into all aspects, all levels. Over time you will find that they will help you, and you will help them, but nobody can help anybody if you don’t know each other.

Find the organizations, workshops and/or events that relate to the field you want to be in and then do the work to get to know the people involved. Having a friend who is good at networking with you is a huge help, but if you must go it alone, then I will leave you with a tip I learned from the master herself; wear at least one little accessory (a hat, playful scarf, amazing necklace, cool pair of shoes) something that can be a talking point. People will use it as an icebreaker, “I love your hat,” and you can do the same finding something about them, anything you can genuinely comment on.

As I learned from Mhairi time and time again, this is not disingenuous, its just a conversation starter and you can’t get around needing a conversation starter, therefore a compliment is the perfect way to go.

That’s all for today but as always I leave you with Episode 4 of Season 1 of Feathers and Toast where Tallulah goes to great lengths to teach you the complicated inner workings of how to make a PB&J sandwich and Miso soup from a bag while pandering to yet another demographic. How anyone ever saw this and thought we were serious about this being a cooking show still makes me laugh to this day. In fact, I’m laughing right now. Enjoy!

Also, just curious…what do you think we are hinting at with these Behind The Scenes bits? If you had to guess who do you think the Fed Ex guy is to Tallulah?

How To Be Your Own Marketing Department Pt 1

Meme_Jan_2There is nothing like having to handle all of your own marketing (as most independent content creators must do) to make you appreciate what it is that the studios and networks do. Effective marketing is such a massive undertaking that I’ve had to divide what needs to be done into two parts and even that will just be breezing across the surface, which is why I will say with all sincerity to our future network and/or studio, thank you! We appreciate you! And we are so thrilled that you will be taking over.

Part 1 – Creating your marketing collateral and online presence.

So as you know, Mhairi and I produced our first season of the show, edited it and then decided to self distribute on the web, but that was only a 1/3 of the work that still needed to be done. You can’t just slap your show up on youtube and call it a day “no darling” you’ve got to create a proper online presence that shows you mean business. You have to treat your show like what it really is, a small business, a start up, that needs cohesive branding across all platforms.

Thanks to the fact that I have been through this several times before with my other web shows (The Sex Trade, GG’s Java Joint,) and that Mhairi and I’s creative tastes are so cohesive, we breezed through it all rather quickly, but it can be a real stumbling block and test of creative partnerships, given how much there is to know and how many decisions there are to make, so I thought I’d try to help make it a little easier by sharing what I’ve learned with any of you who may be going through this process right now.

First things first, you have to have a logo (and this is probably one of the few things you shouldn’t try to do yourself, unless you are a graphic designer). The logo is going to be with you for a long time and needs to work on everything from the web, to print, to merchandise, and nobody understands the unique challenges of this better than the ones who were trained to know it. Luckily for us, Mhairi was friends with the lovely and talented Ted Meyer and he kindly created the perfect logo for us. Thank you Ted!!

The next bit of advice I will give you is to create a specific gmail address for the show and use that email address for every account you are going to create from this point forward. (There are many headache reducing reasons for this that I will be happy to get into if you ask, but the main reason is that Google owns everything, including Youtube and therefore they are going to make you create one anyway when you open up your youtube account so you might as well make it easy on yourself and use it across all your accounts.)

Next you have to have a website. Imdb requires it in order for them to consider you a legit show, but also its important to have a home base for your fans. Your website is the place where you can have your blog, share your episodes, and even set up an online store if you’re ambitious (which we are).

The good news is creating websites has gotten ridiculously easy thanks to WordPress and the like. The real trick of it is taking the time to think about how you want your website to look first and what content you want to include, and then taking the time to search through the cajillions of templates out there, without settling, until you find the perfect one that matches your vision.

I’d be lying if I said the tech aspects of the set up weren’t a little challenging at first, depending on the template you choose, particularly if you’ve never attempted to create a website before, but it is not even sort of impossible, if I can do it, you can do it. I used the help of my good friend WordPress For Dummies. I followed it page for page and it was all I needed. Well, that and google. (for those that prefer video, you can use tutorials like this one here or search for one you prefer better.)

(***Also important point here – do not use for the purpose of promoting an original show. You are going to need to pay for your own domain name and hosting service, with a company like Hostgator or GoDaddy for e.g., and then use to purchase your templates. If you use, which is free, then they are paying for your hosting service which makes them essentially your partner. This is totally fine for a personal blog where you are not looking to make money, but not okay for an original IP)

Then of course you have to set up your Youtube Channel (for a basic tutorial click here) and customize your homepage, keeping in mind it should feature your best trailer and playlists leading your fans to what you most want them to see. (for a great tutorial on how to accomplish that click here)

Once your website and youtube channels are set up, then you’ve got to create what I like to call the social media package. There is no getting around the fact that you will need the big 3, a Facebook page, Twitter account & Instagram, and then, depending on the audience you want to reach, you may also want to consider creating an account on Pinterest, Tumblr, Vine, Snapchat and the list goes on and on. It gets me tired just thinking about it. 🙂

But the one thing that every single one of these sites you are creating have in common is that they are going to need consistent collateral material in the form of copy (loglines, synopisis, bios) and artwork/promotional photos in the form of banners/profile pics etc or in order to look good, so this brings me to my tip for the day…

Industry Tip #5
Always take Still Photographs while you are in Production, of both your characters in action and your crew Behind The Scenes, as you will need these across all your various promotional platforms.

You will need square photos for Instagram, profile photos for potential postcards and/or movie posters (Imdb, Festivals), and you will need landscape photos for Facebook, Youtube and Twitter banners. Also, when you take your photos, make sure you leave some empty space on either the right or the left hand side in order to add show titles and laurels to what will eventually become your banners. Trust me you will kick yourself later if you don’t have these.

I spent hours creating banners to fit all the various platforms (because they all have different size requirements) but of course now there are free apps that can help you do it in half the time. To check out one of them click here (And if you need a referral, our Stills Photographer is the amazing Katie Nolan. Much more to come on her in future blogs. We love you Katie!)

So that’s it for today. I leave you with Episode 3 of Season 1 of Feathers & Toast, the sensual tomato salad, where Tallulah utters what might be one of my favorite lines I’ve ever heard her say to Diego. He accuses her of saying something that might be a bit racist, to which she replies “Alright darling, I don’t know who made you the UN Police or whatever.” What is your favorite line from this episode? Would love to hear.

Disclaimer: I guess I should mention that all the companies & tutorials I mentioned above were based on my own personal experience and use. We are not affiliated with them in any way, nor have we received any sponsorship.

How To Avoid Becoming “Click” Obsessed

Meme_S1E2_1Yeah I got nothing on this one. Still trying to figure it out myself. 😉 I’m kidding. I have a few tips to share, but first I’ve got to make a few confessions.

I would love to say that Mhairi and I simply put up our freshly minted episodes online for all to enjoy and didn’t proceed to obsess, waiting for every like, share, comment and retweet to come in, like a dog waits for his bone, but that would be a lie. A big one. At least for me.

I spent endless hours clicking refresh to see how many people had watched. Who was liking our posts? Were they enjoying it? I even analyzed the stats to see how many of my Florida people were watching and for how long (by the numbers it looked like probably just my parents – yes I am watching you Florida people – ha!)

I guess the thing is when you create something you love, it becomes like your little baby and you just want everybody to look at it and love it too. Then when you add to that fact the very real pressure of knowing that if you don’t get those clicks and subscriptions up the industry folks will never consider investing in you, and you have a real pressure cooker of need my friends, one known all too well by all our fellow content creator friends.

You really don’t want to force your friends and family into watching and essentially doing your PR work for you, but at the same time you have this nagging truth breathing down your neck, and that is that in this new digital age of entertainment you really need them to. So you spend hours testing out ways to get people to click, trying to be endlessly fun, creative and clever, without being annoying (tricky dance), all in the hopes of that coveted experience of going viral (yes my friends, in 2015 going viral is a good thing).

When I say you can go down the rabbit hole, I mean you can go down the rabbit hole. It starts with a Facebook post here and then a Tweet there, and then, oh crap I forgot to post to Instagram, then, do I really have to create a Google + account too? Fine, what banner am I going to put up? Oh crap, now I need to put the google + link on my blog. The Blog!! Wait, who unsubscribed? Do the blog numbers really matter, or just youtube’s? Maybe I should just direct everyone to our Facebook page, oh but wait..the algorythms. Ahhhhhh!!!!

I spent months like this. I became a hermit and didn’t even know it because I was so busy being “social”. There were many days when I never even got out of my jammies because I had “so much to do” but at the end of the day I wasn’t even sure if I was accomplishing anything other than making myself depressed. The needle really hadn’t moved that much and this was no way to live.

Luckily salvation came through a realization of what actually does get results (which were witnessed first hand through watching my lovely partner Mhairi’s steady efforts and subsequent successes) and its an annoying little truth somewhat akin to the whole “if you want to lose weight, eat less and exercise more” thing that nobody wants to hear, but I’m going to share with you anyway, now…

Industry Tip #4

The best way to promote your show through social media is to be generous, be authentic and to make peace with the fact that its going to be a long haul.

Unless you are already wildly famous, a good, solid and engaged social media following doesn’t happen over night, it just doesn’t, and trying to rush it is only going to stress you out. So if you don’t want to go insane like me, you should just accept that fact right from the start, and then create a plan and work the plan. (meaning set a social media schedule of how many hours you’re gonna work on it each day/and also set a “I will not even look at my phone, I promise” schedule so that you can maintain sanity & keep your friends through the marathon that has become your social media life)

And then while you are on social media you should treat yourself like a guest who just showed up late to the party (because that party has been raging on long before you). Don’t just expect to pop in and start telling all your stories. You have to find out who is in the room first, say hello, listen to their stories for awhile and then you can share some of yours. (This is especially true of twitter, but if you think about it it makes perfect sense.)

If everyone is just talking and nobody is listening, then there are no conversations to be had, and therefore no genuine connections to be made. And if you don’t make genuine connections, there will be no engagement, so you will just be posting for no one.

And one last thing, you have to be authentic. People can smell a phony who is just supporting others in order to get attention a mile away, so if you’re not going to be authentic in your interest and support just don’t do it. The simple cheat to help yourself with this is to go ahead and find and follow all the people you would honestly be interested in listening to anyway. There are loads of amazing and interesting people sharing themselves on social media everyday, find the ones you like and create your online community by customizing your feeds using lists (If you don’t know how to do this, just ask, you’ll thank yourself.) This will set you up for a situation where you have endless info that you are quite happy to promote, share and talk about.

So that’s what I’ve got for today. And please let me know if there is a topic here I’ve touched on that you’d like me to go deeper with.

In the meantime, I will leave you with Episode 2 of Season 1 where Mhairi’s kitchen antics brought us treasured quotes like “Don’t just start punching your avocados” and “There’s really no point in learning to dice, just hack into it.”

It Starts With a Solid Idea and a Great Team

Meme season 1 ep 1 #4In the early days Mhairi and I were just two friends with similar dreams who met at a Women In Film breakfast and started a goal group for two. We would get together every Monday evening, discuss what we learned from the previous week, share our goals for the next and then wax philosophic about things like the importance of a performer not waiting around for someone else to give them that career-changing role and what success really means.

Both of us had had “success” in the past, with some impressive credits to prove it, but had not necessarily been happy in the process. Upon further exploration we realized that for us, the entire reason we were drawn to this business in the first place was because each of us had had moments in our past where we got the chance to feel what its like to be a part of an amazing creative community, to feel the incredible warmth, passion and intimacy that comes when you are working with a community of great artists who know how to put their egos aside and work together to create something better than they could have created on their own. We craved that feeling, so much so that we realized having it was our definition of success and we committed to each other that night that one way or another we were going to create it.

At the same time we were having these discussions, Mhairi met a man who would become our Feathers and Toast guardian angel, Gideon of Paramount. (haha – I couldn’t resist Gideon, just love the way that sounds) Anyway Gideon had come to see Mhairi’s stand up and afterwards suggested that maybe she choose one of her characters and build a show around it (as so many comedians have done before – Seinfeld, Ray Romano etc). Well this just sent Mhairi’s imagination a flying and later she shared with me an idea for a character she had percolating called Tallulah Grace.

Tallulah fancied herself the savior of the lonely cook, encouraging single women to dress up and play in the kitchen even if they were just cooking for themselves, especially if they were cooking for themselves, but what Tallulah would never want to admit to anyone was that she was that lonely cook.

I fell in love with Tallulah immediately and, me being me, suggested that Mhairi not just put together a pitch but rather that she go ahead and shoot something so that the powers that be could see her as that character.

We talked at length about what she could shoot that would show off the potential arc of this character but would still be cost effective and high quality and, as has been the case since the beginning of this project, help started jumping on board.

Before we knew it we had a Director (Mhairi’s very talented friend Barbara Stepansky), a Make up artist (Lygia Orta), a kitchen (mine) and a Cinematographer (my lovely husband Diego Torroija – who would inadvertently become “the Diego” even though he is truly a camera guy and not an actor) and the next thing you know the plan was put in place for what eventually would become the first season of the web series Feathers and Toast (although we did not know that at the time.)

Industry Tip #1
Do not wait for someone to come along and create the perfect opportunity for you to show your unique brand of talent or you may die waiting. If you have a story inside you that you are inspired to tell or a character you were born to play, then do what you have to do to make it a reality based on whatever resources you have at your disposal. If you don’t have much then keep your idea small for now, or shoot the piece of the idea you can afford and still do well. Enroll your friends, borrow equipment, make it happen. In this business if you want people to believe in your story or see you as a certain type of character you are going to have to show them, especially if its unique and original as those are ultimately the most memorable but initially the most difficult to sell.

Next post will talk about the importance of loving your editor, but in the meantime here’s a memory of the humble beginnings of Tallulah Grace.