Now that I have two complete seasons of Brains online, a short film about to be sent off to festivals, two spin offs of Brains (that I wrote/ co-wrote and helped produce), and my friend Chris’s web series Relativity (that I produced, among other things), I feel confident in calling myself an “indie filmmaker/producer.” As such, I thought I would impart some things I’ve learned in reaching this new level of broke artist, both tangible and intangible.
If you can do it yourself, do it, but also sometimes it’s ok to delegate.
Only delegate after having more than one conversation with someone about what said delegation entails. You cannot expect someone you’ve just met to do things the way you want them to, because you just met them and how are they supposed to know all of your insane rules??
Good audio is worth taking time on/throwing money at
Good audio is the hardest thing to attain with no time or money, but it is more important than almost anything else
Ask for help, even when you don’t think you need it
Be prepared to do everything yourself, but try not to
Always have food available
Bonus lesson: people really like fruit snacks
Write within your means, but remember that your means can expand the more people you meet
Latch on to talented people, continuously thank them for their help, and praise them incessantly so they’ll be inclined to help out again in the future
Be nice to everyone. Not only should you do this anyways because common decency, but also because the indie film world is small AF and you can’t afford to burn bridges
Don’t start production before you’re ready- a healthy and thorough pre production process will make everything better and smoother at every step.
Sometimes you’re going to have to start production before you’re ready.
Communication is more important than anything, even audio.
Don’t fight on set.
Fight after set, then make an effort to fix the problem. It’s not about winning, it’s about effectively solving issues and finishing the project.
Press releases are super important. They are also a bitch to write.
Reaching out to press is super important too, and it’s the most awkward thing in the world.
Create a project-specific, production company-specific, or otherwise seemingly third party email address with which to reach out to press with. This way you don’t have to send emails like “Hi my name is Bri Castellini- please write about me and my show. I am amazing and you should promote me”
Learn to say “ok- how?” instead of “we can’t do that/that won’t work.” I’m bad at this but I’m working on it.
Schedule people as far in advance as possible, then periodically remind them about it.
Mid 2016, a crazy idea came about. I was slogging through Brains season 2 production and already feeling the bottomless depression over likely not getting a season 3 when it occurred to me that the Brains universe was pretty big. I mean, it was a worldwide apocalypse- Alison’s campus isn’t all that’s left in terms of survivors, in terms of people whose lives have been forever altered. And then I chatted with filmmaker friends and family and then it was official: we were gonna do some extended universe spin off projects because I couldn’t let it go yet. Continue reading “Brains EU: A reflection”→
Last year, I tried something new with my New Years Resolutions. Instead of a handful of intangible goals that would make me a better/better looking person, I tried to focus on longer-term creative goals. Not only are these tangible and easier to measure, but they give me direction rather than platitudes. Also, feeling creatively fulfilled and productive in turn makes me happier. Lo and behold, it worked! For the first time in my entire life, I completed all 10 of my New Years Resolutions! What a heartening feeling! Now, it’s time to do that again.
Resolutions: 2017 Edition
Produce 2 new projects to completion. Last year, I not only made a second season of my web series, but also a short film and two spin offs of my web series that I either wrote or co-wrote. That was awesome. Since I want to lean into the whole “independent filmmaker” identity, producing 2 new projects fits right in.
Finish writing Brains. So Brains, my web series I reference above, is a story that spans 6 seasons, though I will likely only get to film the two we’ve already put out. However, because I’m a bit obsessive the same way the character Alison is, I’ve already written seasons 3, 4, and half of 5 at the time of writing these resolutions. Writing a season and a half of Brains in 2017 is not only the next logical step to get it out of my system, but it’s a far cry from impossible based on my past productivity in this realm.
Post a blog twice a month and a personal YouTube video once a month. In 2016, I posted 13 blogs- just over 1 a month, but 2 of those posts were thank you posts for the cast and crew of my two main creative projects and 3 were new years resolution related. That’s pathetic for an alleged writer. Also in 2016, I posted 6 YouTube videos to my personal channel. One video per 2 months. To be fair, a lot of my video making efforts were reallocated to Brains, a YouTube channel where I uploaded 34 videos, 20 of which were the episodes of the show itself that took several months to shoot and edit. HOWEVER. Making YouTube videos of my own keeps my editing and filmmaking skills sharp with little effort actually expended. There’s no excuse. This is a very low bar to clear. Good god.
Write 2 new original pilots- one drama, one comedy. As much as I truly do enjoy independent filmmaking, at the moment there is negative money in it. And I DID go to grad school for TV writing, so in order to stay viable for whatever opportunities come my way, I need to write more traditional scripts to submit to fellowships and contests and whatnot.
Edit The Toast, my screenplay. [alternate: write a new screenplay]The Toast is a screenplay based on the best short story I’ve ever written, which is at the moment not fantastically translated into screenplay format. It has a lot of potential, though, and like I said above, my written portfolio needs more variety than 6 seasons of a web series and two weird short films. I’ve given myself an alternate goal because I have another screenplay concept in mind, and screenplays are generally more difficult to write, so if I just do one or the other, it counts towards this.
Work on a set or production that I didn’t write.This was a good resolution last year, so I decided to carry it through. Part of being an independent (or non-independent, for that matter) filmmaker is broadening the community of similarly ambitious people who help each other make cool things.
Leave New York City at least twice. Ditto above. It’s easy when you’re broke and living in New York City to not feel like you can or need to leave, but oh god do you need to leave sometimes.
Make better choices when it comes to diet and exercise. I had to include SOMETHING diet/exercise related, since that is currently the thing I am the worst at when it comes to being a functional adult. It’s only going to get harder the older I get, so working on better habits now will make it better down the line.
Be less impatient with other people. I had to include some intangible resolutions. Being impatient is probably one of my more annoying character flaws because it’s almost entirely in my own head. Perhaps one way to curb this is simply having enough to do on my own without requiring the involvement of others that I may grow impatient with. Perhaps another way is to girl-the-eff-up and be conscious of my behavior. I work/think/live incredibly quickly because of my anxiety and my goals (see resolutions 1-6) but that’s not a fair thing to hold anyone else to, and honestly it’s not a fair thing to hold myself to. So I should probably be less impatient with everyone because it’s super unappealing and unhealthy.
Go to therapy. I have been putting off therapy since I finished it the first time midway through my senior year of high school (incidentally, I finished one week before my parents announced they were getting a divorce. Irony for the ages, let me tell you). I stubbornly held on to the concept that once you’ve been to therapy, you’re done. That’s, obviously, not how it works. And while I feel like I’ve made a lot of progress in terms of my self esteem and the way in which I handle relationships, my anxiety manifesting in increasingly unhealthy ways is a sign that maybe I still have some things to work out. Also, this is the last year I’ll be on my mom’s health insurance so I may as well make the most of it.
Obligatory comment question: Do YOU have any new years resolutions? What are they? Let’s keep each other on track!
“Last year I was not kind to myself, which manifested in emotional as well as physical ways. I discovered that my go-to response to extreme stress is not eating, which, despite my natural wish as a chubby girl to lose weight, is not a good thing. There was a three day period last summer when I didn’t eat a full meal for three days because of something that was going on, and that’s not ok. I need to eat on a healthy schedule, I need to eat healthier things ON that schedule, I need to pay attention to not overworking myself, and I need to give myself a break once in a while.”
This one wasn’t really a tangible resolution, but I think overall I did a lot better this year. Of course, I have a long way to go to live my healthiest life, both emotionally and physically. However, considering this resolution was a direct result of how shitty my 2015 was in a lot of ways, I’m giving myself a pass. I learned how to better manage having stressful people in my life, I learned how to better manage being a stressful and stressed out person, I ate more salads and tried to limit sweet things, and my body image has been pretty stable for the first time in a long time. My new mantra is “yep, that’s what I look like,” and it’s actually been kind of a revelation.
2. Film another season of a web series you write. -Complete
“Be that Brains season 2, or an entirely new show, I want another season of my writing on the web.”
Not only did we totally make 20 new episodes of Brains, we also made 2 spin offs (both either written or co-written by me), 2 Alison responses to said videos, AND I wrote and directed a short film that will hopefully also go up on the internet by this time next year! Trailer for the short film BELOW!
3. Find a full-time job you don’t hate, or at LEAST series of steady part time jobs that pay rent. -Complete
“In May, I will graduate from grad school, effectively ending my formal education forever. From May 2016 on, I am a full adult person. While obviously I’d love to immediately get a job in TV or in web production as soon as I receive my MFA, that’s not realistic. But I really hate job hunting, and I hate being in constant fear of not making rent. By next January, I will have a full time or a steady series of part time jobs that, at the very, very least, I don’t hate. Let’s hope that’s not too much to ask.”
Um, so… I got a job in web production. I’m an associate producer at MTV in their digital development department. Guess it was realistic after all. 🙂
4. Leave New York state at least twice. -Complete
“In 2015, I left New York exactly once, to go home for Christmas to Colorado. I love New York, and I love what I’ve managed to do since moving here, but sheesh, it wouldn’t kill me to do something else. Even if I only manage to go on a weekend trip to New Jersey or something, I don’t want this city to consume me the way it did in 2015.”
In May, I went to Boston for my baby brother’s college graduation:
In August, I went home to Colorado for my best friend’s wedding reception (congrats!!!):
And in December, I went home again, for the holidays!
5. Write a new draft of SLJ. -Complete
“My undergraduate senior thesis novel, The Secret Life of Jane, is one of my favorite pieces of writing I’ve ever made. It also needs a lot of work. I worked out a battle plan in 2015 for revision, so in 2016 I should put those to use and actually edit the stupid thing.”
Complete! I actually finished this so early in the year that I legit forgot this was a resolution for 2016. Writing prose is weird. I will probably abandon it more completely next year.
6. Write 2 new short stories. -Complete
“I love my new life in screenwriting, and it’s definitely where I should be, but getting scripts out there is hard. You have to rely on a bunch of other people, and while when that works it’s amazing, it isn’t always possible. Short stories, on the other hand, can be sent off to lit mags and other publications as soon as you’re happy with them, and having publishing credits under your belt looks impressive no matter what industry you’re in. Plus, I miss prose a little.”
“Hotline” and “Instacouple” exist now. They’re not very good, because like I said above, writing prose is weird now. I’m glad I did this, as an exercise, but I’m definitely best suited for screenwriting.
7. Find a slam poetry venue and perform. -Complete
“Even if I only perform once the entire year, I miss being on stage rhyming about hipsters and optimus prime and the word “fuck.””
I never ended up going to an indoor, organized venue, but here’s a video of me doing poetry in Prospect Park, which still counts, I’ve decided, since the whole point was to perform poetry live. Chris, my handy dandy camera man(dy?), and I might try to do this again with slightly more planning.
8. Learn two new production skills. -Complete
“Summer 2015 was a crash course in filmmaking for me. I went from being merely a writer, actress, and vaguely-defined “producer” to a executive producing powerhouse, lead on-set sound person, head editor, camera operator, assistant director, production designer, [really bad] makeup person, as well as a bunch of other stuff. And it was hard and frustrating but I’m so glad I have those skills now, particularly in editing and producing. In 2016 I want to, either formally or again informally, learn two new skills. Right now, I have my eye on special effects makeup (which totally has nothing to do with the amazing-awesome Page, who did the special effects makeup on Brains season 1, moving to Seattle) and directing (if we get a Brains season 2, there’s already a plan to have me direct episode 8). But who knows! Maybe I’ll discover a deep-seated love for being a gaffer or a DP.”
Bruh, I learned so many production skills this year I’m just going to list them:
Directing (found footage AND traditional filmmaking!)
Editing for traditional filmmaking
Promotion (how to write a press release/how to ask places for reviews and interviews/ how to do interviews/how to insert yourself into Twitter communities to get views)
How to direct a composer for an original score
Color correction in Final Cut Pro (it’s not perfect yet, but it’s getting there)
How to cowrite a screenplay from concept to final draft
Didn’t end up learning much about SFX makeup since the excellent James Gold stepped in for Brains season 2, but that’s ok.
9. Stay in touch with people better. -Complete
“Be that Norman Steinberg after I graduate, my friends from home and from college, or my friend Rebecca who literally lives in New York but whom I barely ever see, I want to make sure that I don’t lost touch with the people who are important to me. I’m bad at this, so I could use some help, but this resolution is a promise that I’ll do my part.”
This is another non-tangible resolution, but I’ve been markedly better at emailing old professors, texting/FBing old friends, and setting up times to meet up with/hang out with people in New York. Specifically, I got back in more consistent touch with my friend Ellen from college via Snapchat even though I hate Snapchat. That feels like a win in and of itself.
10. Work on a set/production for something I didn’t write. – Complete
“Of course, it would be cool if I did this on a professional production and got paid, but if that’s out of the cards for 2016, I want to work on projects that aren’t mine so that I can learn about this industry from all angles and learn skills I might not otherwise learn.”
In addition to helping my pal David with a new video series he wants to do, I acted in a short film my friend Lauren was producing! They lost an actor at the last minute and within two hours I was on set, looking like this:
FINAL TALLY: 10/10 COMPLETE!!! That has literally NEVER happened before. Maybe it’s because I didn’t set a specific weight loss/nutrition goal (which is always what kills me in the tally), and maybe that’s kind of cheating, but WHO CARES! I COMPLETED ALL MY NEW YEARS RESOLUTIONS! THAT IS SOMETHING TO CELEBRATE!
Because I’m so approachable and obviously nurturing, people often turn to me for gift giving advice. Usually, it’s dudes needing advice for female acquaintances, like classmates, coworkers, and roommates. And usually, my advice is simple: get that bitch a scarf! Bitches love scarves! (It’s not misogyny because I am a lady, and also because I consider “bitch” to be a genderless slur) Continue reading “Get that B a Book!”→
Season 2 has concluded! I can’t believe it! Thank you SO MUCH to everyone who watched it, who supported it, who loved it, who hated it, and who helped me make it. The experience of watching my silly little show grow from a funny concept back in college to two full, wonderful seasons of a web series has been incomparable. And today I want to talk about my girl Alison, who has become my constant companion these past two years and who has helped me through more things than she could have ever known. Continue reading “On Alison”→