Last week I tweeted something about how the best part about being an artist is getting to work/ be friends with people you’re a fan of. I tweeted that because I had just seen the episode of Chicago PD my awesome friend Brandon Smalls was a suspect in, plus the play that my other awesome friend Marshall Taylor Thurman had put on with his new theater troupe, The Culprits. So last night, when I watched another awesome friend, Jean Perez, in a theater production at his college, I realized I had more to say.
I started thinking about how important and terrifying and awesome this whole fan of/friends with thing is when I reread Mindy Kaling’s excellent book, “Why Not Me?” I was rereading this excellent book because we were starting production on the second season of my web series, Brains, and the very first day of shooting involved two makeout scenes, and I felt very weird about it because it’s one thing to stage kiss/makeout, and another very different thing to stage kiss/makeout with a friend in a scene you wrote, playing parts you cast. Basically, I felt like a creep, but I remembered Mindy Kaling, who also writes and stars in her own show, had a chapter about stage kissing in her book and since she is my idol I figured that was a good place to go to feel better. It worked, I filmed a total of five kissing scenes for season 2 of Brains, and now we’re moving on.
“I’m very lucky. My favorite writer is someone I can call up on the phone whenever I feel like it. That’s because my favorite writer is my friend B. J. Novak.” -Mindy Kaling
I am also very lucky in this regard. I live with three of my favorite writers who all had a hand in shaping this stupid zombie show I fought to make, conned some of my favorite actors to perform words I wrote while caffeine-addled in a cafe across from my apartment, and bribed some of my favorite people to help do everything in between. And nothing makes me prouder than to watch them all do other awesome, incredible things, outside of Brains, because it means that more people will get to see how freaking talented they are.
This also makes me absolutely terrified.
The wonderful and scary thing about filmmaking is that you can’t do it alone.
It’s wonderful because you get to either work with friends, work with people you’re a fan of, become fans of your friends/people you work with, or some combination therein. Nothing is more satisfying than getting a bunch of talented, passionate people together and making something. It’s scary too, though, and not for entirely unselfish reasons.
Entertainment is a business of uncertainty, and while many of us like to believe that we’re in it entirely for the integrity of our art, we all also have bills to pay. Sometimes, you can’t offer your talents for free or for a couple bucks here or there, no matter how much you believe in a project, because utilities are due in two days and your landlord just raised your rent after you re-upped your already astronomical lease. Sometimes, opportunities will take you far away for a few months, or forever, and you can’t keep doing what you planned on/hoped to be doing.
I’m always a little bit scared when I start writing a new script, because what if I can never bring these characters that I’m investing so much in to life? What if I have to move to LA (an ever-growing possibility that fills me with ever-growing dread) in order to have a chance at my career? What if the actors I most want to work with can’t commit to another low/no-budget project, or won’t? What if I don’t get to work with the people I’ve come to be such a fan of ever again? I am not prepared to bid these people adieu, even knowing that I’ll surely meet other wonderful, talented people down the line.
Now that I have my MFA and an officially done with formal education forever, people keep asking me, “what’s next?” My answer is always “fame,” and it’s only a little bit of a joke. See, fame means money, or at least an energized audience to help me raise money, and it also means control. Right now, I have no control. The entity of Brains exists solely because of luck and persistence, not certainty or resources. Every day of shooting we were battling weather, random passerby, security, time, and the complicated net of cast and crew schedules. A day of shooting Brains cannot replace a day of work, it either replaces a day off or it results in a loss of income for everyone in attendance. This is not something anyone takes lightly, because New York City is expensive and we all have at least five other things, between school, jobs, and other projects, on our plates. This system is not sustainable, and we know that, and that’s terrifying, because the process of independent filmmaking is absolutely intoxicating.
The bottom line is this: I want to keep making things with these people I am a fan of who I also have the honor of calling my friends. I also don’t want to feel like I’m taking advantage of their talent when I can’t pay them or offer them high enough quality footage to use in reels and self promotion. Fame, in theory, would help with that. A rising tide lifts all ships, and it also means the gang gets to stay together to make more cool stuff that’s mutually beneficial in as many ways as possible. Artistically invigorating, has the ability to help pay our bills, helps us make more things/get more jobs in the future, etc etc. That’s the dream. That’s the goal.
The other bottom line is that even if Brains season 2 is the last thing I make with these people, or some of these people, I consider myself incredibly lucky to have gotten the opportunity to work with them at all. My art and my life are better for knowing these people, and I can’t wait to see what we all do next.