All right. Here is the deal: I make a horrible producer and thus the Hearst Castle Ghost web comedy series has been floundering on the brink of destruction. I could explain how the holidays put things on hold for two months or my nearly month long fever, chills, dry cough, and shortness of breath a couple weeks after traveling overseas put a cork in progress or how the Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020 has put the entire world on standby. I could do that. Or I can just accept the fact that I suck as a producer.
Being a producer is about herding cats and I am allergic to cats. Dogs are okay. I prefer monitor lizards. You pick them up and place them down where you want them. They might hiss but they are there. Boom. Done. I digress, sorry. Being a producer. Yes. Not so much me.
Anyway, the end result is that we had to rethink the hows and whys for the Hearst Castle Ghost comedy series. Social distancing will continue to prevent a dozen actors from gathering in close quarters in front of a green screen for some time yet to come. And the masks really ruin the microphone pickup. So I got this idea: cartoon.
I mean why not? While I suck at drawing, I am a fair hand with Adobe Photoshop and my yearly Adobe Creative Cloud subscription gives me access to this lovely program called Adobe Character Animator. I work with voice actors quite frequently as part of my game development projects and they are easier to herd (much like the monitor lizards above). Plus, there are tutorials online for just about every skill I lack (except cat herding) and I am really good at following directions. So again I ask, why not?
I make no guarantees that this will work. It probably won’t. There is a lot to undertake: I have to rewrite some scripts, but I had to do that anyway. I have to learn Character Animator, but that seems like fun. I have to arrange for some voice actors, but I am already working with some great ones with my game development studio. And I have to convert Greg into a cartoon character version of the Hearst Castle Ghost.
Shortly after posting our non-update update this past Friday I received news that we have a location to film season one of Hearst Castle Ghost, thus we are jumping back into production mode. Unfortunately for me, this means I have to grow out the obnoxious goatee starting today (first non-shave day). The price we pay for art.
In additional news, I have a meeting today with a friend and actor to discuss casting call arrangements to fill in the various remaining positions and hopefully convince her to co-direct the season. Fingers crossed.
Of course, this means there is a whole list of things that have to get done in a very short period of time to start shooting season one. While things might get hectic and quite stressful over the coming weeks, I much prefer having to rush versus the snail’s pace we were trudging along at prior. I just need to remember to breathe. We got this.
I had sincerely hoped to have a major update on production by now (well, by several weeks ago actually) but that does not seem to be the case. Instead, you get a few micro updates along with an assurance that we are continuing forward with production as quickly as possible.
The hunt for a filming location continues quite slowly. I have exhausted the sources I could think of and now must turn to a real estate agent to find a location willing to perform a very short term lease (one month) at a reasonable rate. A secondary and much less attractive option will be renting a large hotel conference room and hoping for quiet during filming.
Greg has sent over final versions of the remaining scripts for season one as well as for post season one. I have yet to get off my ass to read said scripts and give them the stamp of continuity.
Once a location has been procured that we can use as a set and casting facility we will be announcing a casting call for additional credited speaking and non-speaking roles.
We are quickly approaching Adult Swim’s launch of Rick and Morty Season 4, at which time all production on Hearst Castle Ghost will stop for intermittent, but brief, periods of time, because we’ll be watching Rick and Morty.
There you have it. Moving forward at a snail’s pace, but still moving forward.
WARNING: The Hearst Castle Ghost may be offensive to some people. There’s no denying that and, in some cases, it seems to be our goal. Just watch the Ghost’s Apology Video over on YouTube as an example. I’d be lying if I said that whole skit wasn’t written to piss on a few people’s cornflakes. It is insensitive, insincere, sexually suggestive, and uses foul language. And that’s just a preseason teaser video – imagine an entire season. Fuck!
Boom! There it is. What was once the epitome of foul language for a television show, a word that still elicits shivers of contempt in the moral few, and the central theme of this post. The f-bomb. But what makes it foul (or graphic) language? And why should I, or anyone else, care?
The answer is “intent.” A tiny little word that society en masse has seemed to have forgotten. Intent. Intent. Intent. Did you catch that word? Let me repeat it once more: intent. Probably one of the worst words to the special little snowflakes, because they don’t understand the concept. Intent makes things go from a world of black and white to a world full of grays; and not the poorly written fifty shades kind either. Gray is a very bad thing to a snowflake.
I will explain. You see the title of this post? Those are all words that represent the word “fucking” from a time when the television censors would quash a show into oblivion for dropping an f-bomb. Frelling comes from one of my favorite sci-fi television series, Farscape. Fricking comes from every kids’ cartoon ever written. Frakking comes from one of my least favorite sci-fi television series, Battlestar Galactica (the remake). All “made up” words with the same intent: to allow characters to say F-U-C-K-I-N-G without being censored and, more importantly, without offending anyone.
When Gigi Edgley said “Frell you” on Farscape or Katee Sackhoff said “Frakk off” on Battlestar Galactica we all knew they meant “fuck.” That was the intention of each of those words and you would need to be pretty damn naive to not know that. Yet the censors let it fly. And we as a society let it fly. And special little snowflakes didn’t have to melt into a puddle. And many years later the Syfy channel was brave enough to let Magicians say “fuck” because, in all honesty, the Syfy channel had been saying it all along.
Here’s the thing with words: each one of them can be extremely offensive – or not – based entirely on the intent surrounding the word. And it really is about time society stopped giving such power to a few chosen words while completely ignoring the intent. In much the same way that a surgeon cutting open a person to save their life is not considered an act of violence because of their intent, words should not be considered good or bad without taking into consideration how the word was used or why it was used that way.
Just using the word shit or ass or fuck should not tag a show as having “graphic language,” but rather the intention surrounding the words should be the determinant. No word is good or bad, black or white. A word does not instill love or hate. They are all shades of gray which require each one of us to use our own brains to figure out what end of the spectrum the intent falls into.
All that said… Yeah. The Hearst Castle Ghost is still pretty fucking offensive, with or without the f-bombs.
When we first started getting serious about producing the Hearst Castle Ghost video comedy series, we spent a lot of time doing research and attempting to learn from people who have paved the way before us. This entailed taking in information from every source possible such as watching YouTube videos, reading professional articles, reading blogs, talking to professionals, and attending seminars. To be honest, we are still spending a lot of time doing research and attempting to learn from people who have paved the way before us. A good chunk of Comic-Con International 2019 (and 2017-2018) was spent in panels related to creating indie movies and/or TV-series on shoestring budgets.
One of the things that many of these resources hammered in is the need to make use of what you already have access to. This could be anything from using cameras you already own, to using a friend who D.J.s as your sound engineer, to shooting at an old warehouse that your father owns. As a matter of fact, the last one on that list was brought up quite a bit – making use of the various locations that friends and family can provide for shooting your film or web-series.
In the case of the Hearst Castle Ghost, we do almost all recording in-front of a green-screen with the backdrop for each scene added in post, so the filming location might not seem like it should matter all that much. Quite unfortunately, it does.
Here’s my not-so-brief rundown on why our filming location matters quite a bit. The first reason is the audio recording portion of the filming. Several of the locations that we might have easy access to record a web-series at are located very close to an airport. A very busy airport. With lots of very loud airplanes flying directly overhead at random intervals. All those locations are out.
The second reason is the lighting requirements for properly chroma keying a video. The big problems here are shadows and dark faces (see me, aka Brad Guy, in our SDCC 2019 Bound video for an example of both). For the small teaser videos we have released, the lighting hasn’t been a huge issue because it is only one or two people on screen with limited movement. The more people, the more movement, the larger an area that is required, the more lights you need, the more angles you need to cover lighting on the backdrop (green screen), the higher the ceilings need to be. Effectively, for a normally scripted scene we need a 25’X25′ block with green screen on three of the sides going up 8′ to 10′. Which means downward facing lighting from above the 10′ mark. So, 15′ ceilings.
The third, fourth, and fifth reasons are the actors. The primary part of this, or item three, is the set needs to be air conditioned. Shooting with all these lights gets hot, so our 25’x25’x15′ green screen area needs to be kept cool to keep our actors and film crew from becoming drenched with sweat.
Item four is that not every actor and/or extra is in every scene. You try to schedule the filming so that most people have scenes back to back and aren’t stuck waiting around all day, but that is not always possible. You need a place for these people to wait off set, where they can run lines without being picked up by the on set microphones. And you need a place to feed all these people. And restrooms are a must.
Item five is travel distance for your actors to the filming location(s). In the case of a low budget web-series, like ours, the actors and extras are getting paid only in food and possibly scene credits. There is little incentive for an actor to go out of their way to get to a filming location.
We had an offer to use a friend’s warehouse in Tennessee – which happens to be where we have shot the preseason episodes – but it lacks A/C and is in Tennessee. It breaks two of our five requirements. Portable A/C units are a possibility, but then we break the first requirement: a quiet set.
When we started all this, we had access to a different friend’s nearly empty warehouse – completely air conditioned with an attached office space and conveniently located in Florida near two out of three of the actors playing major characters (the Ghost would need to walk his ass from Tennessee). Kismet, being the bitch it is, decided to completely fill up this warehouse with pallets of crap, effectively eliminating it from the running by removing that 25’x25’x15′ area.
I personally would have never imagined that finding a location to shoot a green screen video series would be that difficult, but there you have it. In looking back at the lectures and panels and videos we watched to help us make a better low budget web-series, there was never a mention of finding alternate locations when the universe throws a wrench in your plans and you no longer have access to someplace provided by a friend or family member.
That’s the bad news. But we are looking for a new location and hoping to be able to get back on schedule soon. As of this moment, we are still planning for a November 2019 release for the show, it will just steal most of my editing time in post. The good news is that I get to postpone growing out that fucking goatee for a bit longer.
In the meantime, today is my Birthday, so go out and celebrate.
Despite the title including the word “comedy,” I will forewarn you that it is a bit more serious than my usual fare and is one of those “Things I Have Learned” kind of posts. As it is a very specific topic that entails a bit more than just what I have learned in the creation process for the Hearst Castle Ghost web-series, I have opted for a separate entry all on its own. As with most things, it is best to start with the basics and move forward. In this case it is the screenwriting software.
Over the years the various dramatic industries have developed a standardized method for writing and formatting a script. Whether the script you are writing is for theatre, television, the big screen, or even a simple web comedy series, there is an industry standard in place for how your script should look and behave. While I am not going to even attempt to explain all the dos and don’ts for writing a script, I am going to tell you to use a screenwriting software package to do it. I am also going to tell you to read the various formatting instructions and other such articles that the screenwriting software package has available.
There are plenty of screenwriting software packages out there, several of which are free. If you are willing to pay for one and can afford it, Final Draft is pretty much the industry standard and what we use on Hearst Castle Ghost. To be completely honest, the software is a bit clunky and in need of a UI overhaul, but despite that it works and works well. Ultimately, the reason we chose Final Draft is because of the number of articles on their website detailing everything script writing from A-Z. As they were kind enough to effectively put together what amounts to a free online course in screenwriting, we decided supporting them with a couple of software purchases was the least we could do.
On the subject of standards comes the major part of this blog post: uniformity of story, aka continuity. There are two parts of this that we deal with in writing our web comedy series, the first being what I call canon.
For Hearst Castle Ghost there are a few things which we consider facts and are not open to debate or interpretation. That John Doe, aka the Ghost, is a deceased vagabond is canon. No matter what actor we put in the role of the Ghost, that fact is not going to change as it is the very basis of the video series. Brad’s life before becoming a docent is canon, the premise for the first three seasons revolves around slowly revealing that past life. If we changed these things, we change the show’s foundation and it is no longer the Hearst Castle Ghost, but instead some other random show.
The second bit of uniformity in script writing that needs to be carefully crafted in each story is the actor’s interpretation of the character. You brought specific actors into your production for a reason and they each have their own method or style of portraying their character. As that style fleshes itself out, a good writer will include these changes in future scripts. An even better writer will do a read with each actor to incorporate changes up front to the initial scripts.
As writers we need to learn to not get butt hurt when an actor changes the lines we lovingly crafted. It doesn’t matter how funny a line might have been, if the actor doesn’t feel the connection with the line it will just come off dull. So be flexible, except when it comes to canon. In those cases – where a line change conflicts with the story’s canon – the actors must be a little flexible as well. Good actors will accept that.
When you are a solo writer for a show, keeping most of these things straight is relatively easy. Even if it is all jumbled around in your head, the continuity is there. When you are working with additional writers it becomes a lot more difficult. Note cards and the sharing of them become a must. A full write up of all things canon, including character motivations and backstory, is also required.
While it might be true that you do not want to include too much character direction for your actors, as it stifles their creativity and the talent they are bringing to your screenplay, the same is not true for writers. There is no such thing as too much information, too deep of a backstory, too many descriptions, or too in depth of a plot summary. And all those write-ups should continue to grow as the story does because it helps keep future stories on track and, yet, provides a way to keep it from getting dull.
The other side of the coin is that you, as a writer, must be willing to read and absorb the backstories and character biographies penned down by the story’s creators and other writers. You might have some brilliant ideas for expanding on someone else’s universe, but the creators and previous writers included physics for a reason. You need to respect that. After all, no fan has ever accepted “We changed writers” as an answer to why a story suddenly and completely changed directions (*cough* Star Trek Discovery *cough*). Just saying…
I’m just going to get this out of the way up front: video editing sucks. Don’t get me wrong, my body becomes a huge endorphin factory every time I playback a video segment which I had spent hours or days working on. That sense of completion and pride in the finished work is just amazing. But the task? The job? Well, that’s the part that sucks.
I’ve been working on a few different video segments based on our time at Comic-Con and, suffice it to say, there have been more than a handful of times where I have been yanking hair from my head. The sheer amount of time it takes to edit the video portion of some of these clips has had me promising the media gods all sorts of things, including human sacrifice. Ok, maybe it was computer equipment sacrifice. Or perhaps it was just me wanting to throw the computer across the room and smash it into a thousand pieces. It’s all the same thing.
Obviously, one part of the problem is my inexperience with video editing. It has never been my full-time job, so I have only ever really had to dabble in it.
A second problem is the footage I am working with. Yes, I recorded the video but as it was all live and unscripted, we really couldn’t do retakes. I got what I got.
The third, and most frustrating, problem is the tools that are out there for editing video footage on a computer. They suck. The vast majority of software packages are designed to edit videos of your child and/or cat (usually the same entity) doing something that every other child and/or cat does; or, if it is really special, impersonating a dog which, let’s be honest, every child and/or cat does. Slightly above those software packages in price and usability is Adobe Premiere.
If you have read my previous posts, or had the unlucky occasion to discuss the topic in person with me, you know my love-hate relationship with Adobe Premiere. It is the best software package on the market for the semi-professional video editor. It is the most frustrating software package on the market for the semi-professional video editor. I won’t dive into the wheres and whys at this juncture, but I did become exceptionally frustrated with using Premiere while editing one specific piece of footage for a Hearst Castle Ghost promotional video.
The video was supposed to be a sort of flashback to Brad’s vacation at SDCC2019, highlighting some of the things the Ghost did while in San Diego and how that turned Brad’s vacation into a stress factory. One of the segments involved the sign used to harass the “Jesus People” across the street from the convention center. Try as I might, I could not get Adobe Premiere to do what I wanted with this video. After many long hours of frustration with Premiere, I wound up exporting the frames as jpg files and manually edited each one inside Adobe Photoshop. Two minutes editing time for each frame. Thirty frames a second. It was a 13 second clip. Do the math.
After I finished up all of that and several other clips, I ran into audio problems with two of the larger, more important videos and had to scrap the whole thing. I am not ashamed to admit I cried.
Despite that, I did end up learning a few new tricks in video editing and added some items to my “Things I Have Learned” list. I also wound up with one video that gave me that endorphin shot when I finished it. I was (am) so in love with this clip that I immediately shared it out to a ton of people (read: I sent it to my mom). Although the parent video has been scrapped, I have decided to share it out with the rest of the world as well.
I still have every intention of including this in one of the upcoming promotional videos, but it is too much fun not to share on its own. Trust me, hit play with volume on.
Anyway, I guess the point of this post is to say video editing is a lot more difficult and time consuming than most people believe. I have only had a small taste of what these people do, but I do know that a video editor can make or break a web series, television show, or movie just as much (or more) than the writers, actors, and directors who get all the huge title sequence credits. They are the unsung heroes of the entertainment industry who devote countless hours making everything look great long after everyone else has gone home. Productions are collaborations and we should never forget that.
There are a few things that I don’t have some natural talent for, maintaining a healthy cholesterol level is one of them. Sales is another. The good news is they have statin drugs for the cholesterol problem. The bad news is that I continue to suck at sales even after experimental drug use.
I understand the concept of sales well enough: I have something of some intrinsic value and I promote that something in order to persuade others to trade me something of equal or greater value for it. I also understand the seeming importance of sales in the real world; salespeople are consistently some of the highest paid individuals in almost every company out there. But for some reason I just can’t seem to do it.
Even self-promotion is something I am incapable of doing and that might seem odd for a narcissist, but you must remember that Narcissus didn’t go around telling people he was beautiful, he just was. His beauty sold itself. And while I wouldn’t fool myself into believe I am incredibly beautiful, I am incredibly talented and believe that talent should sell itself. As a matter of fact, I think everything should sell itself, or not, depending on the case.
Which I guess is my problem with sales and why I suck at it. Or rather that I don’t do sales. I do, however, write some funny ass shit. I also think I do a pretty good job of acting, directing, and video editing. Greg does a damn fine job of writing and acting. The cast and crew we have been surrounding ourselves with are all mind-blowingly awesome at their jobs. And to me, all of that talent should just sell itself. But that’s not the way the world works, is it?
So, here’s the deal… We will put together some amazingly funny and warped episodes of Hearst Castle Ghost in the coming months. We will dump each of those episodes to our YouTube channel for you to enjoy starting sometime in November 2019. And we will try to convey a small portion of that funny in a few promo videos between now and then. In exchange, if you think this comedy web-series is something you might enjoy (or if it is after series release and you know it is bust-a-gut, side-splittingly funny as all hell) subscribe to our YouTube channel and tell a few of your friends about us. Then send them here to read this so they can do the same thing. Because I don’t do sales.
We’ve been back from California and Comic-Con for a few days now; the suitcases have (mostly) been unpacked, the merchandise handed out or given away, the laundry has been washed, and life has been returning to some sense of normalcy. Except, and no one is quite sure how, apparently Greg has gone viral as the Hearst Castle Ghost via his sign making fun of the religious protestors outside the San Diego convention hall.
Let me stop, rewind, and start over at the beginning. Greg and I met up in Los Angeles, CA two weeks ago for Comic-Con International. The plan was (as it has always been) to see some sites, have some fun, and then make our way to San Diego for the convention. The moment we both landed in LA we promptly headed up the coast to San Simeon to visit the most haunted place on Earth, the Hearst Castle.
Now, I need to pause here a moment as well because if you have never been to visit Hearst Castle before you are (A) missing out and (B) not aware that they take a green screen photo of you before getting on the tour bus. This is important to note because Greg was wearing a dark green shirt and I had surgery three weeks prior. This combination might not seem like a big deal except in order to ensure Greg’s upper body didn’t disappear from the photo they made everything more yellow to offset the dark green shirt from the bright green backdrop, no problem unless your skin was very pale from surgery.
I make issue of this because after seeing the resulting pictures Greg immediately dubbed me “Skeletor” (a name he used the rest of the trip) and purchased the pictures. He has since started up an Instagram account for Hearst Castle Ghost and I am certain that this photo will get scanned and uploaded by him at some point and time. It is not a very flattering picture, but what is a person to do?
We eventually made our way down to San Diego in time for Comic-Con. As promised, I dressed as Brad Guy on Thursday and Friday of the con. While no one knew who Brad Guy was or that there was an upcoming web comedy called Hearst Castle Ghost, I did get to meet a lot of people who had visited and loved Hearst Castle (many of whom thought I was an actual volunteer there). I, of course, used this terrific opportunity to educate people on the most haunted place on Earth.
Additionally, and as alluded to by our promo video, Greg made several appearances as John Doe, a.k.a. the Hearst Castle Ghost. We hit some panels, we had some fun, we shot some pictures, and all was good until Sunday – the last day of the convention. Greg, still dressed as the Ghost, pieced together a sign and decided to head down toward the convention. Camera in hand, I followed.
Greg setup shop in the main pedestrian thoroughfare across the street (and train tracks) from the San Diego Convention Center. His sign was made up with an erasable whiteboard that he decorated to advertise for HearstCastleGhost.com, which was great and he even had a nice friendly message on the board which he paraded around…
This might seem well and innocent enough; just a good bit of advertising for our website and web-series until you realize exactly where he happens to be standing…
Yes, those are the preachers that haunt Comic-Con International every year, telling all of us that we are going to hell for wearing t-shirts that have the names of fictional people on them (let the irony sink in as you look at the pic). And yes, all the way over to the far left of them is the Ghost holding his “I’m just here for the free cookies” sign. Despite his choice of location, his sign reflecting “true peace and love” caught the attention of several people in the crowd. As the police were setting up the barricade around the Christian protesters, one of the protestors saw Greg and his sign and informed the police officer, “He’s not with us.” Greg, not skipping a beat, and in perfect Hearst Castle Ghost vocals responded, “Hey, com’n buddy. We’re all brothers in Christ, aren’t we?”
All and all not too bad. Someone came by and gave him a fuzzy purple hat to wear, which was very nice. What was most amazing, and for reasons that they will probably later come to regret, the NBC Superstore stand workers took the Ghost over for photos and sent him away with a cookie.
How nice is that? Thus, all was well and right with the world, until he remembered his sign was an erasable whiteboard…
The Ghost changed the whiteboard from his love of cookies to one of true fear…
To one that made a few mothers passing by cringe and speak up against the Ghost and his sign…
Seriously, several mothers (I am assuming it was their own children they were dragging around and not just little-ones they kidnapped) had unkind words to say about the Santa sign. The hypocrite that stands out the most was the con-going mother with two children between the ages of 8 and 11 who complained that, “He needs to erase that sign, there are children present,” all the while a guy was on a megaphone shouting to her children that they were going to “burn in hell with the gays and child molesters” (his words, not mine) because they worshipped false idols. Yea… Piss off lady and get some perspective there.
Anyway, the sign eventually landed on the following message and remained that way for the next few hours until the “Jesus People” packed up and left.
Oh, the look of pride in that last picture as he holds his sign brazenly pointed at the religious preachers which reads, “Secretly Masturbates to Tentacle Porn.” Shortly after this last change was made, Greg became swamped by people telling him he was their hero, giving him high-fives and fist bumps, or asking to have their picture taken with him. He’s a celebrity Ghost afterall, so it was not that surprising. What was surprising is the number of women who wanted a picture with that sign pointed AT them. As Greg has said before, “these are our people.”
A good con was had, Greg got to make fun of people and almost gave himself heatstroke, and we packed up and left. Fast forward a few days later when, back home, I was telling someone about the con when she interrupts my story with, “Did you see that guy with the tentacle porn sign? He’s everywhere on social media.” Umm, yea. Apparently, Greg, as the Hearst Castle Ghost, has spread far and wide across the Interwebs, yet no one knows who he is. But now you do.