Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Wizard World New Orleans 2014: The Cons of being Self-Employed

So, here's an unpleasant truth about art: if you want to make any money with it, you have to work.

Like real work - all nighters, hard labor, and marketing.

I'm lucky that I know where to market my cooky webseries, The Adv. of Keith Flippen, and that is at sci-fi cons. It's great. I get to go to big nerd events and talk about something I love with other people who may be interested.

Let's face it. Keith Flippen isn't everyone's cup of tea. But, it is a very specific cup of tea, and I can work with that.

Wizard World NOLA won't be the first Con I've worked. Or second. Or even the first Con with Keith Flippen. But, Wizard World NOLA will be the biggest, and perhaps, most important to the series.

But working a Con isn't all fun in games. In fact, it's quite tiring. You spend a solid day, with no breaks, talking, promoting, informing, meeting, and socializing with every person you can. Now, we're going to be selling, which is another can of worms. There will be taxes to pay, and books to keep, and deal making. Not only do I have to be filmmaker and fan, but I have to be a business lady.

First and foremost, I'm hoping to achieve exposure. We have reached the end of our limited network, and it's time to expand. Videos can't go viral without views. This is a great opportunity to bring Keith Flippen to a larger local audience. And a larger audience will only benefit the show long term.

My second goal, is to try to bring in some much needed capital by selling merch. The awesome guest speakers at Web Weekend said web series make money in three different ways: advertisement (only happens with high numbers), sponsorship (again, a high number investment), or merchandise. We firmly fall into the merchandise category. While ad revenue and sponsorship may be something available to use down the road, we're really going to make money off selling stuff.

Creating merch is a whole other aspect of a working filmmaker that people don't consider. I had to figure out the cost of printing DVDs and Blu-Rays. Figure out what the hell we could reasonably sell. What would sell. And what we could afford to make. Find money for shirts, shot glasses, and stickers. (All these things costs money, on top of the money we spend securing a table, electrics, and passes at the con.) I had to figure out how much we need to sell to break even, how much to sell to to make money, and how much money before we cry.

This is another reasons Cons are such a great fit for us. It's gives us an avenue to sell our merch.

Why do we need to make money?

The Adv. of Keith Flippen cost roughly $10,000 to make. Without paying anyone. And not counting merchandise. Or any marketing. To continue, we're need find a way to support it. Yes, we are planning on using grant money. And yes, if it looks feasible, we will do another Kickstarter campaign. However, I do not have unrealistic expectations for how much money we can raise though those two avenues. And according to my calculations, I'll only be able to raise half the cost of season 2.

This does not mean the end of Keith Flippen. But, things like Wizard World hold the key to our success. So, if you're coming to Wizard World, stop buy our booth. Say hi. Tweet about seeing us, and buy something. Support the Adventure!

Friday, January 31, 2014

Bronies: The Perfect Look at Unexpected and Unaccepted Subculture

So, I watched the documentary Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fan of My Little Pony. It's a good flick. There's nothing groundbreaking in it. Yet, maybe I'm wrong. It's a film that's goal is to demystify a subculture that is discriminated against. And I realized, that it brings to light so many issues that I have problems with in our society.

I have watched My Little Ponies: Friendship is Magic. At least, everything available on Netflix. I wouldn't call myself a Brony, but, I enjoyed it. It's a surprisingly solid show. I'd been intrigued by the design, and then the rumors about how good it is, which lead me to sitting down and powering through it. It left me pleasantly surprised. The show is all around excellent. The animation is unique and quite good. The voice acting is spot on. But, it's the writing that carries it. It's very well written, and not just for a kid show. In fact, it's the "kid show" moral lessons that can often hold it back. Even so, the morals are often well worked into the episode so they don't come across as preachy.

In the end, a combination of excellent marketability and good TV makes MLP a runaway success. It's not surprising to me that it would develop a fandom. The backlash against the fandom isn't really that surprising, either. Fandoms have been criticized for years, be it anime or Superman or Star Trek. Though, many, more mainstream, fandoms have become accepted, it seems that the haters have moved onto this one. But, this fandom is pretty unique to a younger generation, and in the age of "bullying," it makes sense that the fans would want to defend themselves. (Also, I can see why John de Lanzi would rally to its cause.)

One of the most interesting things about Bronies is it shows fan culture in a positive light. Whenever I would tease a friend or describe someone as a Brony, I never intended it in a negative way. To me, a Brony is a lighthearted person who was proud to wear a Rainbow Dash hoodie, and was generally above average in intelligence, and probably in his early to mid twenties. My kind of people. I never once though of a Brony being a pedophile, or a creepy guy living in his mom's basement.

A lighthearted person, who is proud to wear a graphic tee of their favorite kids' show, who's smart, and happy describes just about any fan boy or girl. Fandom is about a group of people sharing their love and joy for a single artistic project, be that a book, movie, TV show, or video game. It's an accepting culture, that embraces everyone's differences, because everyone involved in a little bit different too. And there should be no shame in that. We don't shame someone who listens to the Beatles all the time. Or goes to the movie and is a basement critic. Why should we shame someone who goes on to create fan work? Or makes new friends because of a common interest?

Most conventions are happy places full of oddballs who all share in the joy of being oddballs together. And that's what I love about it. Even if I'm not really a fangirl myself. It's a great film to watch for someone who's never been to an Con, and to help understand what goes on there better. And that's what I enjoyed about Bronies.

But Bronies is more than showing a fun and loving community. It goes through a list of reasons why we shouldn't be so against the subculture. And their list falls in line with certain ideals I have.

The first is the idea that children's things are less. So, a lot of backlash comes from the fact that this is a children's show. It's marketed to young girls. Not to the family. Nope, straight up kids. The show wasn't designed to please parents and children alike, like many successful animated films. It's a show with nothing but kids in mind. But, the show doesn't talk down to kids. Nor, does it create sub-par work because of its demographic. Yet, as a society, we somehow think that because it's target audience is youth, it's less important, less valuable, less influential than something for adults.

I HATE this antiquated, Victorian, bullshitty line of thinking. It boils down to the belief that children are lesser than adults. Children are humans too! And last time I checked, they can feel all the emotions an adult can, if not more because they haven't been jaded. Our first feelings are our strongest, otherwise, we would all forget our first love or the first time we lost someone dear. Children are observant and smart and capable of drawing conclusions about the world around them. Dumbing down content for children is stupid. And the assumption that all things are dumbed down so that "kids" can understand them is equally stupid.

Look at children's literature. We have complex and compelling stories for all ages. The Giver, The Hunger Games, The Fault in Our Stars, etc. Children's films work the same way. Look at Up, Finding Nemo, or really any Pixar film. You can't tell me that's not just as complex and compelling at most movies aimed just to adults. This prejudice against children's things exists in all art forms, and frankly I'm sick of it. What we enjoy as youth has just as much impact on our adult lives, if not more, than what we enjoy as adults. Come one, I bet you can remember your favorite show as a kid better and with more fondness than your favorite show from five years ago.

But back to the Bronies doc.

Not only are Bronies "weird" for liking children's things, but it's particularly bad because they're men interested in Girl things. Excuse me? I think that may be the most chauvinistic, back ass comment about the subculture so far! Because the content is feminine, because it features primarily female characters dealing with problems often associated as "womens problems," it's not acceptable for men to watch this. Bullshit. This is just something where feminism dies a little. And don't pretend that the animosity towards Bronies isn't a gender roles thing.

The popularity could come from the fact that the show has just the right mix of adventure and empathy. The documentary even goes into what the show excels at. And those things are genderless. (Though Bronies never comes out and says this, it is implied.) The fact that there are well rounded female characters in almost all roles doesn't mean that only girls can like them. A good character is a good character regardless of sex. (It just happens that there are less female good characters.) Just like children, women are human. We all have the same feelings, regardless of gender.

Yet, nay-sayers complain that MLP can't be a good show, or a show worthy of devotion because it's a LITTLE GIRLS' SHOW. Throughout the doc, the show is repeated described as a show for young girls, little girls. Not children. GIRLS. And that somehow makes it worse. If it were a pirate show geared towards young boys, I guarantee there wouldn't be as much backlash. But it's not. Society views a show aimed at girls to be even less than a show geared at boys. And that is repulsive.

In fact, I think the majority of the backlash against the community comes from the gender issue. It's the unexpected "male" community. It's the fact that grown men are watching, though there are many women who enjoy the show, that seems to be more accepted. The boy issues doesn't particularly surprise me since most fandoms are predominately male. Though, when you read about the Brony subculture, they seem to dance around it.

To me, this just means that there is a generation of young men growing up not viewing women as different, just as human, or pony, and that is something we should be happier about. (And not to forget the Pegasisters, girls who can enjoy unconventional, well rounded female characters.)

The show left me pondering subcultures in general. Wondering about how society views fandoms, and how wrong that is. And at some point I'll have to look at the contrasting gender dynamics in fandoms (strong female characters, but women can't be "geeks"). In the end, it ended up being a very insightful hour and a half of my life, and a doc that I would tell all my friends to watch.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Crew of Women - Keith Flippen's Feminine Touch

So, here's an interesting fact about Keith Flippen. Nearly 53% of the crew consisted of women. It's something I'm tremendously proud of, but, not something that I think is recognized. Especially since the content of the show is very masculine.

There's me rocking a dress on set talking business with my AD, while one of my kick-ass girl art directors gets the set dressed.

The Ladies of Keith Flippen:

Writer, Director, Producer - Shannon Kitchens
Queen Calamitious/Fight Director - Shelly Johnson Rucker
Penelope - Rebeca Hollingsworth
Zombie "Latte" - Renee Suttles
Art Director, Associate Producer, Special Guest Star - Sarah Hutson
Associate Producer, Special Guest Star - Leigh Traverse
Guest Star - Lisa Smith
Camera Operator - Zylena Beck
Boom Operator/Post Sound - Jamie Doyle
Art Director/Make-Up - Ashley Osborne
Art Director - Colleen DiCosola
Costumes/Art Director - Hope Kitchens
Assistant Director/Art Director/Make-Up - Cheri Cerio
Make-Up - Julie Vader
Special Guest Make-Up - Danielle Huval
Production Assistant - Madison Hutson
Production Assistant - Madeline Trosclair
Production Assistant - Megan Ray\
Script Supervisor - Suzie Hudson
Assistant Editor - Selena Muhoberac
Episode 2 Choreographer - Caree Llawellyn

Twenty-one women worked on the production of this show. Women worked in every department, and were even department head and producers. The entire Art Department consisted of women.

And here we have girls working cameras and mics.

I'm sure having all these ladies on the set impacted the show, if only in a very subtle way.

Yes, I know there is a masculine tone to the show. However, it passes the Bechdel Test. Yes, there are two named women: Calamitious and Penelope (or Calamitious an Kaizoku). Yes, they have a conversation together (it's like the 2nd scene in the series). And it's not about a man. It's about Calamitous nefarious plan to capture the plot device, and how she needs Penelope to do this. This is again repeated in episode two with Kaizoku.

I'm okay with the masculine tones. Besides, gender identity is something I like to play with. Like, the masculine expectations of Victory and Keith (and their almost romantic partnership). I like keeping Penelope smart and sexy (because I am firmly convinced, she is actually the smartest character on the show). The Professor borders on effeminate and is a homosexual character. Queen Calamitious is as brutal as she is beautiful.

There's an interesting story behind Queen Calamitious. In the original concept, she was a he. I made the call to change the character to a female because I had an actress in mind for the part. My co-writers were surprised at first, but during the pilot, there was no time to really account for the gender swap. So, her dialogue stayed very masculine. At the time, I didn't really know this.

When we started drafting the first season, I found her character changing. There was something different about her, and I couldn't quite place it. Her voice just wasn't the same. She was, for a lack of a better word, girly. I brought it up with my writers. They didn't understand at first. So, when I asked how they came up with the original voice, and they answered, well, it was male. My response was, "Then write her like a man."

The thought of gender making that much of an impact on character is baffling to me. It reminded me of something George R.R. Martin said:

I made a very interesting, and deliberate, choice by visually sexualizing my villain. She's a very pretty girl, yet, she never uses her femininity to get what she wants. Instead, she forces it with masculine violence and will. Her minions cower before her. She never uses sex as a means to get what she wants, nor, really any other female stereotypes. She's not lying nor deceitful. She's not quite or submissive. She's not maternal nor girlfriend material. Really, the only stereotype I gave her was a sexy outfit. I wanted that dichotomy of visual femininity vs masculine actions. (And Shelly did an excellent job breathing in a regal air to the character, adding to her femininity, without using stereotypes.)

On the other hand, I worked very hard at pulling Penelope away from being a "girlfriend" troupe. And I'm lucky that Rebecca is such an amazing actress because I don't think I could have done that without her. Penelope is a sex object, that shows no interest in sex (unless its to her advantage). She constantly resists Victory's advances, and while "dumb blonde"-ish, she's an expert escape artist and a xenolinguistic. She also, is one of the best fighters in the series (I mean, come on, she's the only one who takes out any zombies during the final fight scene. She requires TWO zombies to take her down.)

Why am I bringing up all these gender roles and such for Keith Flippen? Probably because I am a woman in film. Because I get mad that my work gets written off because it's not about "girl issues."

Women are frequently kept away from heavier workloads on sets, often confined to make-up and costumes. And while women did do those roles on my set, it was a regular site to see three girl running around with large flats and power tools. Girls moving lights. Girls with boom poles. Girls behind the camera. And no one thinking anything of it.

So, I am super proud of my set, and all the women and men who worked their butts off to make the show what it is. And I hope to continue to work on sets that don't find it strange to see so many girls doing a traditionally "man's" job.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Purge, and the Biggest Reason It Failed

Last night I watched The Purge. It's a 2013 horror movie of little note. The summary: In a future America, one night a year all crime is legal, allowing for a catharsis of violence, and a reduction in crime the remainder of the year. Upper middle class, suburban, white family, headed by Ethan Hawke, has made a comfortable living selling security, and on the night of the annual Purge, feel safe. Of course, they're not. The youngest child, a son, decides to help a random man on the street. This invites the group of masked killers to pursue the family for harboring their victim. The once impenetrable home security that Ethan Hawke so proudly sold, is breached and the family must fight for their lives.

The concept of The Purge is quite interesting. One day of sanctioned crime. Any crime it seems, yet the movie restricts itself to murder. This, of course, would be the most frightening aspect of the night to a upper middle class white family. I, on the other hand, immediately thought of several other crimes that could make an interesting story.

Which brings me to why this movie failed. As you can tell from my summary, I can't even remember the characters names. I call the MC, Ethan Hawke, because that's really the only way I can identify him. His character is completely lackluster, and the rest of his household is filled with upper middle class white troupes. Rebellious and horny teen daughter. Slightly smarter than average, but maybe not because he makes so many dumb moves, son. And a wife. Whose sole purpose is wife and mother. She does not exist outside those roles.

Now, you may be thinking that I'm about to come to the conclusion that it's the lack of characterization that makes this movie awful. And while that certainly didn't help it, I don't think that's it. In fact, I think it's the setting.

We know very little about the Purge from the movie. There is a little bit of exposition, in that it seems to screw the lower class because they cannot afford protection. Also emergency services will be offline during the 12 hours the event takes place. No hospitals, no fire department, no police. Yet, at the end of the movie, as the clock strikes the hour of the end, police sirens are heard in the background. The other bit of info we know is that Ethan Hawke's character is quite wealthy, and lives in a gated community. Which is probably quite secure and not really affected by the Purge as other areas of the country. Then we are forced to follow this family, that is not a reflection at all of the majority of American families, who are basically victimized for "good deeds." I can't even say because they're kind (they're not). The good deed doesn't come from anywhere other than a means to advance the plot. Because, if they never allowed the man in, then there would be no movie. They're victimized because the plot calls for it.

However, if we took a the concept of the Purge, and set it just about anywhere else, the story becomes much more interesting.

What is the Purge like in one of those lower class families that can't afford protection? Do they join in so that they are not slaughtered? Or do they booby trap their house?

Also, murder is actually a fairly rare crime. Thief is much higher. So by this logic, wouldn't just a middle class family, or even a lower middle class family be worse off? They make just enough money to have nice things, so they have items worth stealing, but not enough money to have high end security. Seems to me that they would be the most targeted economic tier.

How about in a hospital? Just because the ER is closed, doesn't mean everyone in the hospital is kicked out. You could have doctors and patients going on rampages. Or people desperately trying to get in to get helped. Or people trying to steal pharmaceuticals. That seems like a terrifying place to be during this event.

Then there's emergency services. The sirens hit the roads as soon as the Purge ends. This means, that the police and fire departments have people waiting so that they can be dispatched at the end of the Purge. And of course, reporting to work during the Purge is deadly, so they are probably there all night. Yet, another more interesting story.

Besides emergency services, there are other companies that probably require employees to stay overnight during the Purge. There is a live television feed throughout the event. This means there's a TV station with employees working through the night. What about what happens to them? To have to work the most dangerous night of the year? Is the pay like quadrupled and worth it? Is it a Deadliest Catch deal? Or are they forced to or lose their job?

There's also humanitarians. What about churches? Red Cross? People who devote their lives to helping the poor? Are they out roaming the streets? Offering help to the wounded? Providing protection? What hells do they face?

In the credits, there's a brief report that 200 people in Austin participated in the Purge all at once in town square or whatever. THAT is a more interesting setting than what we got!

Why are these settings more interesting? Because the setting already has intrinsic conflict. If you are committing a crime, that's a conflict. If you cannot protect yourself because of economic status, conflict. If you are trapped somewhere, conflict. If you're stuck in a well secured, upper middle class house, well, the conflict has to come to you. And it didn't feel natural.

Personally, I would set the story in an office building. With a small group of friends trying to commit embezzlement. They could turn against each other, and then they have to fight over anyone else who may be in the building. Security? Others seeking shelter? Others out for the wild ride? My husband votes for the same story, but set in a lower middle class home. Embezzling, while trying to stay alive and guard your home.

Why did The Purge choose the setting it did? I think it's laziness. It's easy to write about a bland, upper middle class family. I'm sure the writer was trying to make a statement on how no one is safe, and that even the rich can be targeted. A statement that the person selling security isn't even secure. A statement about how we can't trust our neighbors. Plus, it's easier. It's easier than thinking up traps. It's easier than coming up with dynamic and unique characters, challenged to do something more. It's easy to think that the Purge is all about murder instead of the plethora of crime that would actually be going on.

I would like the write The Purge 2. Use this quite interesting concept, and really take it somewhere. Now, does anyone know those producers?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

2013 - The Year of Keith Flippen

So, it has been a very long time since I posted. And that reason is simple: I made a Web Series.

For me, 2013 was the year of Keith Flippen. It literally took up my entire year.

In January, I remember wondering around Best Buy on the phone with one of my co-producers, discussing Kickstarter. I was at Best Buy because I think we'd gotten gift cards for Christmas. January was the month I began to take the project seriously. Our 48HFP was buzzing. Everyone involved wanted more. I knew that meant we had something on our hands.

February comes, and my co-producers and I put our heads together to build our Kickstarter campaign. We set a goal we thought we could make - $9,000. It was also the minimum we'd need to produce this beast. While our concept may be great, and our design very hockey, it still costs a chunk of money to produce anything of that scale. So we fretted, and tweaked, and come March, made it live.

The timing of our Kickstarter was deliberate. March and April was already packed with travel as we would be touring our Pilot at various festivals and Cons. Every weekend during the campaign, I was out busting my chops promoting, networking, and working. I had some amazing events, such as screening at The Chinese Theaters. And my birthday was smack in the middle, so I got some time to relax.

May meant pre-production. Finishing the scripts. Creating sets. Scheduling. All that stuff that comes before the camera rolls in order to things to be a smooth as possible. Of course, this wasn't without hiccups. Tempers ran high. Egos were hurt. People learned what they were made of. In the end, we had everything as ready as it could be for filming, more or less.

June and July was the main month of production. Four weeks, 23 hours a week, in the dead of Louisiana summer, in a warehouse with no AC, we filmed. And filmed. And filmed. We were pushed to extremes, and we had a great time.  And amazingly, stayed on schedule. We didn't have to schedule additional filming days, and we rarely ran over. It was pretty magical, and something I'm damned proud of.

August was a bit of a break, but then we threw ourselves into post-production. Editing, music, effects. A seemingly endless amount of work and footage to comb through.

October brought our release. Additionally, we got to participate in NOVAC's Web Weekend and receive critical feedback from industry leaders, and promote ourselves at CONtraflow all the in the same weekend. Then we went live.

November and December meant the intensity was up as the post team struggled to keep up with the workload. I failed my Nanowrimo, but kept on schedule. My parents visited me for Christmas so I could keep working. I spent the evening of the 30, sitting at our music guy's house waiting for the final score to export. Which at least meant that I got to enjoy ringing in the New Year since Jan 1, 2014 marked the season finale.

For the last year, when ever someone asked what I was doing, my answer would be, "Working on Keith Flippen." Every free moment was spent working on the project. I've even started answering the questions "How are you doing?" with "Keith Flippen" because it's been a state of being for me.

The Adventures of Keith Flippen runs a few minutes shy of an hour, which puts it at feature film length. Meaning, for around $12,000 and a lot of gumption, in a year's time, I made a feature. That is an amazing feat. Something that I am quite proud of.

And while 2013 has ended, the world of Keith Flippen has not. I'm busy working through DVD production, and trying to rally the teams for Wizard World New Orleans. 2013 may have been the year of Keith Flippen, but I'd like to see 2014 the year everyone can't stop talking about it.

I'm not sure what the future holds for my show, but it holds a lot of me. I know I can do amazing things. And this year, I plan to. I have so many ideas for new web series, new short films, new feature films, new crafts, new everything. I'm ready to push forward, and I hope, that this year can only expand upon everything I've already built.

For anyone interested, you can watch the entire season now!