Three of the best avenues online that I've found to learn about filmmaking:
1) In the AV Club's Scenic Routes, Mike D’Angelo looks at key scenes, explaining how they work and what they mean.
2) Every Frame a Painting is dedicated to the analysis of film form. "My name is Tony Zhou. I am a filmmaker and freelance editor based in San Francisco. I make video essays that run from 3 to 9 minutes. Each one focuses on one filmmaker or one aspect of film form. So far I've tackled topics as diverse as Akira Kurosawa's use of movement, Satoshi Kon's unique editing style, and how movies depict texting and the internet."
3) The Story of Film: An Odyssey on Netflix. Award-winning film-maker Mark Cousins' documentary about the history of film, presented in 15 one-hour chapters.
Funny story about China and filmmaking:
In 2007, I was traveling in Tibet and walked into a small teahouse in the middle of nowhere. The proprietor didn't speak Mandarin and neither did any of the patrons, so I ordered by gesturing.
Jaws was on TV, horribly subtitled in big white Chinese characters and dubbed in Mandarin. Everyone was watching. So I stuck around and watched, too.
Here's the crazy thing: the TV sucked, the image was obscured, the patrons couldn't understand the dialogue. And yet they were still scared of the shark. Tibet is a high-altitude desert, nowhere near the ocean. But man, there was one lady freaking out that the shark was going to eat Brody's kid.
I didn't think much of it at the time, but honestly, that viewing of Jaws is one of the most memorable experiences of my life. To this day, I refer to the "Tibet Test" when I think about filmmaking. Is this movie still comprehensible after bad dubbing, shitty subtitles, a crappy TV, and an audience who doesn't understand the context?
Jaws is a masterpiece of visual storytelling, and I can prove it because I saw some Tibetans scared of the shark.
I think this is a huge problem in filmmaking today too: the myth of the perfect first feature.
I am going to (at some point) make a video essay called "Everybody Used to Suck" comprised entirely of footage from everyone's earliest directorial work.
Scorsese's first feature was actually called Bring On the Dancing Girls and it bombed so bad at NYFF that he didn't do anything for a few years, before repurposing it into Who's That Knocking. Tarantino never finished his first feature, My Best Friend's Birthday. Kubrick hated Fear and Desire so much he destroyed every copy. The list goes on and on, but the myth of the "first feature" is exactly that: a myth. Everybody used to suck, it's just that everybody also hides their earliest work from the public.
Honestly, the #1 thing I look for when I'm watching a movie is the feeling that there's a human being on the other side talking to me.
Like, it can be the crappiest, most poorly made film in the world, but if it feels like a human being desperately trying to tell me something, I stick around and watch.
Editing ah my scourge.
1) Try editing standing up. I cut like this. Walter Murch cuts like this. We're gonna start a club. You may not end up doing it, but you'd be surprised how different your body feels. Just remember that you need to take care of your body because editing is very stationary. Even if you end up sitting, take breaks.
2) Always sleep 8 hours. Nobody edits well on lack of sleep, and it is a stupid belief in this industry that editors want to lose rest. No, we don't.
3) Trust your emotional instincts. If you watch a piece of footage and it gives you an emotional reaction (whether a laugh, a feeling of disgust, happiness), save that clip and mark it down.
4) Get to the rough edit as quickly as possible. The assembly is always brutal. Get to rough so that you have something passable to show people.
5) Show it to people. Do not trust what they tell you to change. People are extremely good at feeling when something is wrong, but not always at articulating it. Your best guide is to watch their reaction during the film. Wherever you see attention flag, or a laugh, mark it down. If they write up their notes afterwards, you can read em, but never trust those notes more than their actual reactions while watching.
6) Editing is largely mental and mostly about patience. Basically, there's you and there's the footage, and you're going to wrestle. You will eventually come out on top, but the footage will not make it easy for you. Subdue it. Kill it. Drink its blood. Mentally, of course.
7) Every once in a while, test yourself by doing a speed edit. Basically, knock out something in 8 hours. You will fly on instinct and get to the end and realize that hey, your instincts aren't half bad. Now go back and overthink everything.
1815: "My happiness is to be near you. Incessantly I live over in my memory your caresses, your tears, your affectionate solicitude. The charms of you kindle continually a burning and a glowing flame in my heart. I thought that I loved you months ago, but since my separation from you I feel that I love you a thousand fold more. Each day since I knew you, have I adored you more and more."
"This week on It's Not You, It's Us our guest is Matt Ruby! We learn what it means to be 'thirsty,' why it may be to your advantage to have a poor sense of smell, & discuss why we may attract what we are attracted to. Also, Matt helps us break down some break up guidelines and we find out there may be another reason to see your gynecologist, plus an all new Love Machine segment with Andy. Get to it..."
Deep dive on Comedy Central and how it's "in the middle of a creative renaissance — and a business-model crisis." Interesting bit: This discussion about how comics who are good at getting laughs still need help with narrative and character development.
Gifted comedians might excel at creating tone and finding novel laughs, but they often need a hand reconciling these skills with the mechanical and structural demands of a traditional series...“We had never written anything” for television, Abbi Jacobson said, “so Comedy Central needed someone there with us in the writers’ room.” She added, “They wanted us to focus more on the characters’ drives, and to learn how to work within the structure of act breaks.”
Jokes land most satisfyingly when they’re supported by narrative and emotional undergirding, Alterman says...Jargowsky, characterizing Comedy Central’s priorities and proclivities from the producer’s end, explained that “when I go to pitch them on a workplace comedy, they’ll ask really specific questions, like, What is the characters’ relationship to their work? Are they successful? Why do they hang out with each other?” There’s good reason for this, he said: “When you pitch a movie, you’re telling a story, but when you pitch a TV show, you’re kind of describing a game like chess, where the characters are the pieces. Let’s have a rook that moves this way and a bishop who moves that way — but what if a knight showed up? You’re creating this interlocked network of gears that you can wind up and, if you’ve done it right, you have a comedic perpetual-motion machine.”
And punching up, punching down! Once again, these terms were not created by humorous people. Activists are activists. They are great and a big part of American society. Humorists and activists don’t very often meld. Humorists and activists have two very different mentalities. Activists are very sincere, very positive. That’s how activists should be. Humorists are supposed to look at everything and see the bullshit in all sides. This is my opinion. We are not supposed to see 100 percent right and wrong. Everything is middle ground. Everything is hypocrisy in all people and all situations.
And you hear Metzger on WTF? Good stuff. He has an interesting exchange with Maron (around 15:30in) about how people who talk about “punching up” are actually condescending.
Jokes, to me, there's no moral component whatsoever. It's merely funny and that's its own force. I know for a fact that something that's absolutely not funny and terribly wrong can be the most hysterical thing in the world in the right context. That's just a fact.
So people who don't get funny, there's a lot of people who feel punching up and punching down comedy and all that shit. It's a very telling thing to say. You hear that "punching down comedy." That's the most elitist [thing], that's saying, "There's a caste system and I'm on top of it and I will not deign to punch downward at the people lower than me." You think people are lower than you and you think that makes you more moral than me? I thought we were all equal so I'm punching straight ahead. But it turns out that I'm supposed to buy into that I'm on top of someone.
My reaction to the recent discussions around offended audiences...
Comedians: I'm annoyed at uptight crowds too. I get it. But my .02: You're not entitled to get laughs on your jokes. No one's banning you from saying stuff. They're just not laughing. If that bugs you, start performing in front of different crowds. If you want to be edgy and offensive, don't perform for liberal twenty-year-olds. This idea that every audience needs to dig your set is a weird comedy-centric thing. A punk band doesn't get mad when an opera crowd doesn't enjoy their music. They play a dive bar instead of an opera house. The internet is turning us into a bunch of niche cultures and insisting on a one-size-fits-all approach to comedy seems antiquated. I love Dave Attell. I listen to NPR all the time. But Dave Attell probably shouldn't perform at an NPR fundraiser. That doesn't mean anyone is wrong. It's ok for us to enjoy different things.
Joe Derosa had some smart tweets about all this...
Also, the "it's a free speech issue" and "people shouldn't get fired" comments seem a bit hysterical. No one's passing laws against these jokes and it seems pretty rare that anyone's actually lost a job due to Twitter outrage. There are drama queens on both sides here.
Minority groups: A lot of minority groups are making great strides lately. That's awesome. If you buy that punching up/down does matter: Part of the deal of gaining a more powerful position in society is that people are entitled to make fun of you more. You gain power, you become a legit target for comedy. If legit comedians wanna try to make good natured jokes about your group, it's a sign that y'all are coming up. Gaining power but claiming immunity from mockery doesn't add up. You can't have it both ways. If I'm gonna have to say L.G.B.T.Q. instead of gay, you may have to deal with some jokes about that being too many syllables.
People on either side who get outraged: Here's how the internet works...
1) You think something is terrible.
2) You blog/tweet/whatever about it.
3) People click on it.
4) Clicks means ad revenues for the publisher.
5) So they publish more like it.
6) Voila, the internet gets more terrible.
By publicly hating on something, you are ensuring it will happen more often. Congrats!
this entire Jenner thing is so ridic. it’s all self-promotion by Jenner and rubbernecking by the rest of us in the disguise of “transgender awareness.” carnival sideshow turned into faux political cause. the ultimate Kardashian checkmate...until one of them commits suicide to promote their final project. now if you'll excuse me, i'm gonna go watch "Network" again.
Run your online dating profile photos past someone of the opposite gender. Because dudes, no girl wants to see your "look at this fish I caught" photo. And ladies, no guy wants to peep your "look at me with a fake mustache" shot. Either of those is basically just screaming, "I don't understand the opposite sex!"
Wendy basically reads Us Weekly and the whole crowd boos or cheers like it's a church sermon. Now Wendy is telling the crowd she needs silence in the airport bathroom when she's trying to do her business. *wild applause* She can tell us that because we KNOW EACH OTHER. *more applause* Lesson: Do NOT ask for Wendy's autograph when she is on the toilet. Time for a commercial break... *dancing* Wendy audience is getting 50 Shades of Grey box set. *standing ovation* Guess what? Wendy loves chocolate! *nods all around* Also, she does NOT think Eva should get back together with Tony Parker. *crowd agrees* Now Wendy is giving advice to the crowd. An audience member found another girl sending her man photos! Red low cut v-neck top & red lipstick. *shocked gasps* And that's it. Now it's time for some show called The Real. I'm sad Wendy is over, but The Real also features an audience that is *dancing* so I'm pretty sure it's gonna be a good time.
Here are some photos of me onstage at the Country Music Hall of Fame. I sang Jolene along with Dolly...er, not really. The real deal: Last week, I gave a talk at the Marketing United conference in Nashville. I showed some of our Vooza videos, made some jokes, and then gave a legit presentation on how we work with advertisers at Vooza and how brands can make stuff that doesn't suck. Here's some of the crowd response on Twitter (and some related links at the end):
One of White’s mentors at Sundance was Dede Allen, who cut “Dog Day Afternoon” and “Bonnie and Clyde.” Allen instilled in White an unfussy approach. “You run into editors who say, ‘I can’t make that cut, the glass of water is in the wrong place in that take,’ ” White said. “But I’ll say: ‘Who cares? The performance is strongest in that cut!’ Why would you match the glass and take on that worse performance? ‘Matching is for sissies’ — that’s one of the things Dede would say all the time.” White argues that as audience members, we “look at actors’ eyes most of the time, so as long as they’re engaging, you’re going to be connected to that person, and whatever happens elsewhere in the frame is less important.”
That didn`t happen: Completely defying logic is bad, but something that is on and off the screen so fast that we can get away with it is OK. Example: Robert Stack in ``Airplane!`` yells to Lloyd Bridges, ``He can`t land; they`re on instruments!`` And of course we cut to the cockpit and four of the actors are playing musical instruments. Seconds later, in the next scene, the saxophone and clarinets have disappeared. If it`s done right, no one in the audience will ask where the instruments went.
We used that as a guiding rule during edit of this Vooza episode...
...At 1:20, Steve's gums get all bloody. In the next shot, they're all clean again. "That didn't happen."
Yesterday I spoke at The Next Web conference in Amsterdam in character as an idiot startup CEO (spinoff from our Vooza show). It was fun. The venue looked like a combination of a spaceship and Qbert. Video coming soon.
In the beginning, when you first start out trying to write fiction, the whole endeavor's about fun. You don't expect anybody else to read it. You're writing almost wholly to get yourself off. To enable your own fantasies and deviant logics and to escape or transform parts of yourself you don't like. And it works - and it's terrific fun. Then, if you have good luck and people seem to like what you do, and you actually start to get paid for it, and get to see your stuff professionally typeset and bound and blurbed and reviewed and even (once) being read on the a.m. subway by a pretty girl you don't even know it seems to make it even more fun. For a while. Then things start to get complicated and confusing, not to mention scary. Now you feel like you're writing for other people, or at least you hope so. You're no longer writing just to get yourself off, which - since any kind of masturbation is lonely and hollow - is probably good. But what replaces the onanistic motive? You've found you very much enjoy having your writing liked by people, and you find you're extremely keen to have people like the new stuff you're doing. The motive of pure personal starts to get supplanted by the motive of being liked, of having pretty people you don't know like you and admire you and think you're a good writer. Onanism gives way to attempted seduction, as a motive. Now, attempted seduction is hard work, and its fun is offset by a terrible fear of rejection. Whatever "ego" means, your ego has now gotten into the game. Or maybe "vanity" is a better word. Because you notice that a good deal of your writing has now become basically showing off, trying to get people to think you're good. This is understandable. You have a great deal of yourself on the line, writing - your vanity is at stake. You discover a tricky thing about fiction writing; a certain amount of vanity is necessary to be able to do it all, but any vanity above that certain amount is lethal...
At some point you find that 90% of the stuff you're writing is motivated and informed by an overwhelming need to be liked. This results in shitty fiction. And the shitty work must get fed to the wastebasket, less because of any sort of artistic integrity than simply because shitty work will cause you to be disliked. At this point in the evolution of writerly fun, the very thing that's always motivated you to write is now also what's motivating you to feed your writing to the wastebasket. This is a paradox and a kind of double-bind, and it can keep you stuck inside yourself for months or even years, during which period you wail and gnash and rue your bad luck and wonder bitterly where all the fun of the thing could have gone...
The smart thing to say, I think, is that the way out of this bind is to work your way somehow back to your original motivation — fun. And, if you can find your way back to fun, you will find that the hideously unfortunate double-bind of the late vain period turns out really to have been good luck for you. Because the fun you work back to has been transfigured by the extreme unpleasantness of vanity and fear, an unpleasantness you’re now so anxious to avoid that the fun you rediscover is a way fuller and more large-hearted kind of fun. It has something to do with Work as Play. Or with the discovery that disciplined fun is more than impulsive or hedonistic fun. Or with figuring out that not all paradoxes have to be paralyzing. Under fun’s new administration, writing fiction becomes a way to go deep inside yourself and illuminate precisely the stuff you don’t want to see or let anyone else see, and this stuff usually turns out (paradoxically) to be precisely the stuff all writers and readers everywhere share and respond to, feel. Fiction becomes a weird way to countenance yourself and to tell the truth instead of being a way to escape yourself or present yourself in a way you figure you will be maximally likable. This process is complicated and confusing and scary, and also hard work, but it turns out to be the best fun there is...
The fact that you can now sustain the fun of writing only by confronting the very same unfun parts of yourself you’d first used writing to avoid or disguise is another paradox, but this one isn’t any kind of bind at all. What it is is a gift, a kind of miracle, and compared to it the rewards of strangers’ affection is as dust, lint.
Ah, the old conundrum: Wanting to be liked ➜ shitty work ➜ not being liked
This line stuck out to me: "Under fun’s new administration, writing fiction becomes a way to go deep inside yourself and illuminate precisely the stuff you don’t want to see or let anyone else see, and this stuff usually turns out (paradoxically) to be precisely the stuff all writers and readers everywhere share and respond to, feel."
Reminds me of something Howard Stern has said (paraphrasing): "The thing that you least want to talk about is the thing they most want to hear."
Some cool excerpts from Michael Azerrad's book "Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991."
Corporate rock was about living large; indie was about living realistically and being proud of it. Indie bands didn’t need million-dollar promotional budgets and multiple costume changes. All they needed was to believe in themselves and for a few other people to believe in them, too. You didn’t need some big corporation to fund you, or even verify that you were any good. It was about viewing as a virtue what most saw as a limitation.
The Minutemen called it “jamming econo.“ And not only could you jam econo with your rock group — you could jam econo on your job, in your buying habits, in your whole way of living. You could take this particular approach to music and apply it to just about anything else you wanted to. You could be beholden only to yourself and the values and people you respected. You could take charge of your own existence. Or as the Minutemen put it in a song, “Our band could be your life.”
Great quote here too:
“I must create a system or be enslaved by another man’s.”
Our cast at Vooza (along with some other great comics) just made a weird/funny video of tech geeks taking over a plane for Turkish Airlines. Includes ping pong table, fixie bike, selfie stick, and lots of self-important "we're changing the world" BS!
I think Matt Ruby is a brilliant mind, a superb creator of comedy, and a great guy. He's the man behind Vooza, a start-up tech company that satirizes start-up tech companies. He also runs Sandpaper Suit, a comedy blog that, in ways large and small, changed my life. We had a conversation that speaks for itself. I think you should follow him on Twitter @mattruby and watch/buy/pay attention to everything he does.
Comedian Matt Ruby pays a visit to the Spit Take Comedy lair to discuss his transition from the music world to the comedy world, as well as to fill George in on what it was like to grow up with two parents who had opposing lifestyles. Also, in a new installment of "Topical Topics." both Matt and George rip the Grammys a new one.
Punishing a bunch of drunk Okie teenagers or a senile old rich dude for using the n-word makes us feel good but it's really just a form of tolerance theater unless we examine the deeper, more insidious forms of racism in our country (i.e. the unequal enforcement of the war on drugs and the for-profit prison system).
We watch that SAE bus video over and over and we gloat about how much better we are than those idiots but none of that does anything to address the real problems outlined in "The New Jim Crow" book or "The House I Live In" documentary. The high-horse response to this stuff reeks of "I'm one of the good ones because I cried during that John Legend song at the Oscars!" It's just a distraction, not a solution.
Anyway, what I'd really like to see is a video of drunk black teenagers on a bus singing songs from Oklahoma. "The Surrey with the Fringe on Top" please!
Interviews: Jarvis Cocker. He's the frontman from Pulp and a funny lyricist (e.g. he starts a song with "I am not Jesus though I have the same initials. I am the man who stays home and does the dishes.") Here he talks about finding your creative voice and the power of being specific.
I’ve never thought, “Oh, I’ve got to write songs about normal people or real life.” When people set out to write a song aimed at the common man—I mean, I don’t even believe that that person exists—that’s when you get really horrible, preachy, vague, waffly songs. I hate those songs. If you want to be a creative person, the big thing is to locate your own creative voice, which can be quite difficult. When I went to art college, I would read books about famous artists of years gone by and think, “Oh, well, if I went and lived in Marrakech and ate only oatmeal and bananas for a year, I’d become really artistic,” as if there’s some kind of recipe. But instead of looking off into the distance, try and concentrate on your immediate surroundings and you will find that you already have a unique take on the world. It’s just that you might not recognize it. The key to locating it is by being specific and writing about the details of situations, because a detail proves that you were actually there and lends authenticity to what you’re writing. And the weird thing is that, by being more specific, it opens things up and makes it universal.
Some interesting Joe Rogan podcasts with Neal Brennan: #443, #131, and #114. In that last one, Brennan rants about how Hollywood seduces talented people into making crap.
It's funny. You do good work or personal work and then they'll go – like I always used to say to Chappelle and Mos Def after we'd do a sketch I'd be like, "Fellas, that was a great sketch. Hollywood called and they want you to play cops!" Hollywood calls and then you're upgraded into some shit that you didn't want in the first place but you're so [taken with] awards shows and shit like E! and Entertainment Tonight. It brainwashes you into thinking, "That Hollywood is valuable." And you just walk like a zombie toward Hollywood and go, "Where do I stand? Here?"
Today’s episode is an interview with Matt Ruby. Matt is a stand-up comedian who has a successful series on the web at Vooza.com. It’s a sketch comedy show lampooning the tech/startup/business world and I think it’s very funny because I work in a corporate sector of the technology world at my day job. You won’t need to be part of that world to enjoy today’s episode though as Matt and I talk about his starting in a band in the early 2000s and getting his start in stand-up comedy and how that all lead to his current project Vooza and then his latest project taking shots at the club scene.
Great interview with Dave Attell by Aisha Tyler. He talks about his first road gig with Sandler, bombing for years, day jobs, etc. Nice deep dive. (via MN)
A lot of new comics who have honed their set they think and they don't lock into the crowd. They don't read the crowd. I look at the crowd. I'll always go, "What's the crowd like?" And all these people are like, "Does it matter? You're just gonna do your set." Well, it matters to me because if I do a Klan joke and there's a guy out there who's a skinhead, I don't think he's gonna like it. Sometimes these jokes might help your set, sometimes they might save your life.
We live in the safest place in the safest time ever in the history of the planet. No one's ever had it this good. And yet our society is constantly afraid. We want to feel fear so badly that we invent things to be afraid of (see ISIS, Ebola, etc.). And the powers that be know fear is the last/best way to manipulate people.
We should look at who profits from this fear:
-the media ("tell us what to be scared of!")
-the pharmaceutical companies ("give me pills for my anxiety!")
-the military-industrial complex ("make weapons to scare the bad men!")
-the police ("have some of the extra military weapons to scare local bad men!")
-the people who are actually doing evil things and getting away with it ("I don't listen to Elizabeth Warren because hackers/school shootings/whatever!")
Just imagine trying to explain to someone who lived 100 years ago or earlier about how scared we are today. They'd let ya know that when it comes to danger, murder, disease, and the rest of it, modern day Americans have no idea just how good we've got it. We should be celebrating our lucky existence instead of incessantly cocooning ourselves in fear and negativity.
Same person last month: "I'm offended by that thing you wrote..."
Actually, the whole raison d'etre of Charlie Hebdo was to offend people and show that nothing is sacred. So if you've ever called something offensive, tasteless, obscene, or inappropriate, tu n'es pas Charlie.
Every "that crossed the line" zealot has a Prophet Mohammed. Your Prophet Mohammed may be 9/11, catcalling, AIDS, rape, gay rights, anti-Semitism, Asians, the n-word, the c-word, or the some-other-letter-word. But all that shit deserves to be made fun of too because, y'know, everything deserves that.
If you really want to show #JeSuisCharlie, let someone mock the thing you believe in most – for me, that's pretentious blog posts that hijack a tragedy in order to further one's own personal agenda while also showing off a superficial knowledge of French along the way. C'est la vie!
The Economics of Internet Comedy Videos (Splitsider) is a good look at making money off of videos. My experience with Vooza echoes this: "Branded content funds more than you think. YouTube revenue funds less than you think. Comedy studios, like everyone else, earn money so they can fund passion projects." If you've got any questions about similar stuff, feel free to shoot me an email about it or post a comment.
Those Sony hackers aren't actually going to pull off another 9/11. Breaking Bad fanboys aren't actually going to murder Skyler White. Despite his profile, that guy's profession is not actually "Standup Comedian." And no one is actually laughing at loud at his pun. That girl's photos are not actually "gorgeous." And using a hashtag does not actually make someone an activist. Most of our "Friends" on Facebook are actually strangers. No tweet is actually our "Favorite" because when you say everything is your favorite thing then nothing is your favorite thing. And if we're all so "connected," why do we all feel so damn lonely? We need to stop pretending this fantasy world is real life. It's catfish all the way down. OK, hope you "Like" this post!
My 2014 Capture Your Flag interview series is live. It's part of a series where I answer questions every year about my comedy activities. This year, there's lots of talk about Vooza and our process behind the show. There are 19 videos in all. For example:
“My research shows that charismatic leaders of any type in any culture tend to stretch their voice to the lower and higher limits during a public speech, which is the most important and risky context of communication for leadership,” he said.
These leaders adopted an entirely different tone when speaking to other high-ranking politicos or when the subject strayed from political topics. “They stretch their voice less when they speak to other leaders, keeping the vocal pitch very low. They stretch the voice limits even less when they speak about nonpolitical topics,” Dr. Signorello said.
Read that and instantly thought about Bill Burr going up high.
This was fun. Interview that's both in character and out about Vooza. Viva split personality! "On this episode, I interview both Matthew Stillman, the CEO of the fictitious Vooza and Matt Ruby, the standup comedian and tech startup veteran behind Vooza and we try to get to the bottom of all this. This episode might not make you rich, but it will make you laugh."
When Frank Rich asked Chris Rock about how he develops his comedy, he replied, “I’ve always said, ‘okay, what’s the angle no one’s talking about? And what if the thing that everybody’s talking about is wrong?’” Rich asked for an example. Rock responded: “Bullying.” Couple other intriguing clips:
I know that it’s Miller who first introduced you to Robin Williams. What did you make of his tragic end?
Comedians kill themselves. Talk to 100 comedians this week, everybody knows somebody who killed themselves. I mean, we always say ignorance is bliss. Well, if so, what’s the opposite? Some form of misery. Being a comedian, 80 percent of the job is just you notice shit, which is a trait of schizophrenics too. You notice things people don’t notice.
When you’re looking for subjects, do you go with your gut?
You keep notes. You look for the recurring. What’s not going away? Boy, this police-brutality thing—it seems to be lingering. What’s going to happen here? You don’t even have the joke, you just say, “Okay, what’s the new angle that makes me not sound like a preacher?” Forget being a comedian, just act like a reporter. What’s the question that hasn’t been asked? How come white kids don’t get shot? Have you ever watched television and seen some white kid get shot by accident?
And out of that comes comedy.
Comes humor. You laughed right away. I just asked a question that no one had ever asked.
A Vooza fan wrote in with questions about the show. Here are my answers.
How many people do you have working at Vooza?
I am the only full time person working on Vooza. (There's actually a parent company called Fort Pelican since we'll be coming out with other shows in the future.) There are about 8 or so members of the cast although that shifts with new people coming on (recent additions: Data Analyst and Support Rep) and others fading out, usually because of actor unavailability (moving to LA, being on the road, etc.) We shoot with a relatively small crew: a director (Jesse Scaturro has directed most of the episodes), a DP, a sound guy, and a makeup artist. I showrun or executive produce or whatever you want to call "standing next to the director and making suggestions every once in a while and making sure lunch is ordered."
Does every employee where all the hats - does everyone write, act, or direct the shorts?
Some of the actors also help write scripts but I do most of the writing. We only have one director. Otherwise, everyone mostly stays in their lane.
Are your shorts written or do you have an idea behind them and allow the actors to improvise and play within the scenes?
Questions from a Vooza fan about how we do the show..
How did you come to start Vooza?
I had worked in the tech world for 10 years (employee #1 at a company called 37signals, best known for creating Basecamp). Along the way, I began doing standup comedy. I was doing shows at night and working during the day and thought there might be a way to combine these things in a fresh way. It also was a Wild West kinda time for online video (still is I think) and seemed like there could be a neat opportunity there. So Vooza was created as an experiment and when it took off out of the gate, we sought out advertisers and tried to turn it into a real business. Now I like to tell people that we are a real startup about a fake startup. Or another line that I use: We're just like a real startup, except we actually make money.
As I mentioned before my friends and I have been writing, acting, and directing some shorts ourselves and I am curious to how you transitioned yours into advertising.
I wanted to make this sustainable so that meant money had to be coming in and advertising seemed like a natural way to do that. I think one of the strengths we had was having a niche audience – people in the tech world. That gave us a natural way in with advertisers who make products for that world. We're not working with Honda, Snickers, or Walmart. We're working with Ustream, Insightly, New Relic, Mailchimp, and companies like that. The people at these places watch/like Vooza – which helps sell what we're doing – and their products are targeted at our audience (entrepreneurs, designers, programmers, etc.) so it's a nice little ecosystem. The Deck ad network (http://decknetwork.net/) was something that inspired this attitude of making something for a certain group of web folks and then selling ads to the kind of companies that want to reach that audience. As for selling ads, we started off approaching brands that we thought would be a good fit. Now, most of our advertisers are fans who come to us. Btw, we also make custom videos for companies who like our videos but want something specific that might not work as a Vooza video.
Where do you get inspiration from? I have watched all your videos and am curious to how you create the idea. Does a company like LinkedIn hire you to create the video you made or was that original? What about "The Perfect Coffee Cup?" Is that advertising anything specific or just a short to illustrate your product?
I get inspiration from the madness of the tech world. Anywhere there are really pretentious people who lack self awareness is ripe for mocking and startups are filled with those types. I follow tech sites and stay in the loop on what's happening in that world and get most of my inspiration that way. When I keep hearing a term like "Big Data" and it seems like everyone knows they're supposed to talk about it but don't have any idea what it actually means, that's when a lightbulb goes off and I think, "We should do an episode on that." The videos that you mentioned were not sponsored by anyone. We just made them because we wanted to. I'd say 1 out of 5 episodes wind up being sponsored ones.
I am afraid I could ask you a million questions regarding Vooza- how it came to be? how you run the company now? What equipment you use to shoot and edit the videos?
So that kinda makes you wonder then, when you do those, “What is LinkedIn?” kind of bit. Are these people just kind of ad-libbing, but they don’t really–?
Yeah, those are episodes where I don’t even tell them what they’re gonna be talking about. We just turn the camera on, and we ask them to explain, you know, skeuomorphic design or something like that, and just hear what answers come out. So that’s the fun thing about working with standups. They’re good improvisers and able to think on their feet. Most of the episodes we do have scripts, but I’d say it’s similar to maybe how Larry David films “Curb Your Enthusiasm” in that we know where the scene’s gonna start and where it’s gonna end, and there might be a couple words or bullet points we wanna hit, but we also wanna give people room to improvise or just make something up on the spot. Because a lot of times, that’s the freshest or funniest part of the episode.
How do you come up with the scripts or at least the gist for an episode?
Sure, I just have a huge notes file or database. Actually, there’s an app called Scrivener that I keep everything in. So there’s a list of 100 different topics that I think might be funny for episodes, whether it’s an article that I read in The Next Web, or TechCrunch, or some publication like that, or if it’s interviews that I see with David Karp where he has funny quotes or something that I think is funny, or anywhere else.
I read an article recently about the toothbrush test, which apparently is something that Google uses when they decide whether to acquire a company or not. The idea of Larry Page talking about the toothbrush test, as soon as I see that, like, “Okay, well, that’s gonna be a Vooza episode. We have to do something on this.” So then I have to learn what that actually means, and then be like, “Okay, how can we make this funny?” And then it’s me generating most of the ideas of the scene, and then I work with other cast members and writers to actually write the scripts.
So sometimes it’ll be me explaining, like, “Hey, here’s this silly thing that happens. How can we incorporate that into the show?” and just throwing out ideas. And again, the cast also definitely has a lot of input into what they think is funny, or even when we’re actually shooting, being like, “Hey, why don’t we try it this way?” or just improvising stuff on the spot. So I think a lot of times it’s just creating that framework of, “Hey, here’s the subject and the topic. Now feel free to play around with it and see where it goes.”...So much of the stuff I see at Tech Blogs or the interviews that I hear or read, I’m like, “Uh, this is almost comedy already.” A lot of times it’s just taking an actual quote from some startup CEO and just making it maybe 10% more absurd, the basis of what’s ridiculous about it. People in the tech world are saying ridiculous things all the time that are almost hilarious, saying it with a straight face, whereas we put a little wink on it to where I think people get the joke.
...So it is pretty loose. It isn’t big, scripted, formulaic, two-camera, “Lucy enters stage left,” and it’s pretty…
I view the script as something to fall back on. The script is a framework where it’s like, hey, “If we’re rushed, or we run out of time, or no one else has any other ideas, then yeah, let’s get that, and bang it out, and move on.” But also, part of what I think is fun about the show is that we have low overhead, we have a small crew, but that, to me, is an advantage in a lot of ways. If you look at a lot of these other sitcoms on major networks, they’ve got crews of dozens of people, and this huge lighting setup, and every second that they’re filming is costing them thousands of dollars. And that puts a ton of pressure, and makes you wanna move really fast, and makes you just bang stuff out, and gives you no room to deviate from the script at all. And I think you can sense that in a lot of those shows. They just have that sort of formulaic feel, whereas I kinda like working cheap, and with a loose crew, and a loose script. I feel like the more you get that playful environment and vibe going on the set and with the cast and crew, that comes out in the final product, that you can feel that it’s people having fun, and there’s something loose about the whole thing.
I’ve watched a couple Vooza episodes where I recall, it wasn’t laugh out loud, it was more of an empathy, sympathetic, like, “Yeah, they got it. I’m not gonna laugh.” It’s kinda like “Dilbert” where maybe it’s not laugh, because you kinda wanna cry a little bit.
No, it’s an interesting point, because I think that also speaks to, what’s your goal when you’re creating online video? I think it’s a little bit different. We still wanna be funny and have it be good, but I think there is, when you talk about that empathy factor, I think that’s also really an important part of why people share stuff. I remember being at 37signals (now Basecamp), and engineers were always sharing “Dilbert” cartoons with each other in our Campfire group chatroom, and I'd be like, “Huh, that’s interesting.” This isn’t always the funniest stuff, but people will be like, “Hey, you’re gonna get this.” I think there’s that, “I wanna share this, because they get this thing, and I get it, and I wanna share it with you, because you’ll get it,” and why people share stuff online I think is an interesting psychological factor.
But yeah, there’s definitely episodes where we’ll sometimes be like, “Okay, this one’s hilarious, and we’ll hit a broad audience.” And then there’s other ones where we’re like, “All right, this one might not be as laugh-out-loud funny, but I think engineers or marketing people are gonna be like, ‘Oh, yeah, I know that person, or, “I’ve heard that phrase, and God, I’m so glad someone’s making fun of this.”
Yeah, the “Hackathon” one, that was good.
I think that episode is an interesting one, because that was generated by a tweet, basically. So we have our @VoozaHQ is our Twitter feed where a couple of times a day we’re posting jokes about the tech world, and then it’s always that sometimes one of those will take off and get retweeted dozens, or hundreds of times, or something like that. And then I’ll be like, “Okay, well that’s clearly hitting some sort of nerve. How can we turn that into an episode?” So I think that’s been an interesting thing too, is sometimes the ideas being fed to us from the response on social media to one-liners that we throw out there.
It’s an interesting advertising model, and I’m just curious about how you came up with it, and how is it working?
Sure, so far so good. I like to tell people we’re just like a real startup, except we actually make money.
I’m like, “Vooza” the show actually makes money.
So from the outset, that was the goal, was to make money off it and to make this sustainable, and I think one inspiration was The Deck, which is an ad network that 37signals and Coudal Partners actually started years ago, which was sort of ads dedicated to what they called creative professionals, you know, designers, or filmmakers, or people who worked on the web in different ways, and then partnering with advertisers like Adobe, or people who make fonts, or things like that, to kind of make ads. “Hey, you can assemble this audience with this network of sites and have ads that are actually appealing to them and have it not be an obstacle, or an intrusion,” or like, “Hey, this is something from Toyota, or Snickers,” or something you don’t care about. Instead have it be like, “Hey, we’re the guys running this ad network. We’re picking all the sites and people who are making this content, and then we’re also finding advertisers who we actually like, and use their product, and think it’s a good fit.” And you can kind of create a whole ecosystem of people who are actually liking what they’re seeing, and it’s advertising, but it doesn’t feel like it’s bugging you. So I think that was interesting to me back when we did that years ago, and then I think you also had just the rise of native advertising and branded content, and that’s sort of taking over content media. Words, and articles, and things like that, you start seeing that more and more and wondering, “Hey, is there a way to do this in video?” And I think also, people sometimes are like, “Oh, this is a very innovative, futuristic way to do advertising,” which to me is kind of funny, because it’s also exactly the way advertising started on TV back in the 50s, or on radio where you’d have… Howard Stern, I’m a huge Howard Stern fan. I always used to stop his show, and do plugs, and I think it works in a couple ways. You got the actors or the people on the show talking about the products. That makes it feel much different than a typical commercial. It happens within an episode...A lot of the branded episodes we do, the product is mentioned within the episode. But we try to do it in a subtle enough way that’s not really annoying. Usually those episodes get to be longer. They’re three minutes instead of a minute-and-a-half. I think there’s a way to look at it, like, “Hey, this advertiser’s helping you get more content than you would otherwise.” And also, we’re working with people who, it’s right for our audience. It’s not just some random brand. It’s people like New Relic, Ustream, or MailChimp, or Insightly, people who, they’re making products that are for the people in our audience, and it’s kind of this mutual and beneficial thing. So the goal is to have it be advertising, but that’s not really obnoxious, and annoying, and in your face...So I think it’s just a new way of doing stuff. It’s interesting because the fact that we’re small and doing it on our own, it’s in some ways a weakness, but it’s also helped us find the right audience who we wanna work with and the right advertisers who wanna reach that audience.
Capitalism is our true religion. The Dow Jones is God. NASDAQ is Jesus. The mall is church. The Wall Street Journal is the Bible. “Open your holy book to Marketplace B16 and we’ll read the verse of Monsanto vs. the FDA.” And thus the evil becomes holy. And we all bow down and worship the golden calf/Charging Bull. The old miracle: turning water into wine. The new miracle: turning subprime mortgages into executive bonuses. Hallelujah.
Vaping is making pot smokers weirder. Weed used to be a communal thing. Fire was involved. We'd gather in a circle and have a shared experience. Now everyone's got their little glowing LED thingies and they're sneaking off into corners and doing it solo and it takes away the whole "we're in this together" vibe and that's a bummer. Look, if you wanna do drugs and be selfish and sneaky about it, there's already a perfect solution out there for you: Cocaine.
Just launched: We're asking fans of Vooza to help make the show sustainable by supporting Vooza via Patreon. (I know, sounds like something we'd joke about. But this is legit!)
Creating these videos isn't cheap (each shoot costs thousands of dollars to produce). By pledging, you'll be helping us pay the actors, writers, director, sound man, cinematographer, makeup artist, and editors. And you'll also help us rent cameras, lenses, and lights so the videos look great. With your help, we'll be able to produce even better content (including extended episodes) and keep the Vooza train a-rollin'.
For rewards, we're offering a bunch of exclusive content, special access to Vooza's team, a producer credit, and even the chance to appear in a video. There are pledge amounts for individuals (anything you can give is appreciated) and for companies. Click here for details. And thanks for your support!
In the interview we discuss the origins of Vooza, how the show was conceived then how they go about the creative process for the show. Ever wonder whether the cast is a bunch of developers and techies? Is Vooza a real startup (hint: kinda, yeah but not that kind)? Do the characters have names? How does Vooza generate revenue to keep the show going? Watch the interview and all those questions will at least be mentioned if not answered.