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.
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.
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.
I have been waking up the past few mornings to the glorious vocals of Andy Williams singing the title verse of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” in my head. Aside from Thanksgiving, I have never been one to celebrate holidays, so for me Comic-Con International really is the most wonderful time of the year. Half a week of gaming, celebrities, comics, toys, movies, panels, and cosplayers, all in a city filled with geeks (or as Greg calls them, “our people”). Just doesn’t get any better than that.
As a bonus this year, I get to slack off on my costuming and will be going dressed as Brad Guy from our upcoming web comedy series. But if you are here reading this then you probably already knew that part. What you might not know is that Greg has decided to embrace his calling as an obnoxious loud mouthed drunk and will be appearing at SDCC2019 as John Doe, aka The Hearst Castle Ghost!
I will admit I am a little nervous over the prospect for a couple of reasons. The first is the worry over Greg walking around the convention and San Diego in a bathrobe, t-shirt and boxer shorts. I’ve shared a hotel room with him and can say that no one should be subjected to that image in person. The second is the worry over the Ghost being exactly who he is: an offensive drunken drug-addled ’60s throwback yet loveable ghost. But these are “our people,” so what could possibly go wrong?
There may or may not be a video forthcoming in honor of Brad Guy and the Hearst Castle Ghost attending Comic-Con, so check back here and on our YouTube channel over the next few days. Once SDCC starts, keep an eye out wherever batshit crazy people congregate in or around the convention, because that is where you will likely find the Ghost hanging out. Have fun and we will see you there!
I had initially planned on naming this rant “Things I Have Learned,” but as we will be in production for season one in a few short weeks (August and September 2019), I am positive there will be more things I will have learned following that debacle and thus another post. My second thought was “Things I Have Learned Pre-Season One,” but that seems a bit long and could ultimate get incredibly long if the web series actually takes off and goes into multiple seasons. Can you imagine “Things I Have Learned Post Season Ten But Pre-Season Eleven?” It just would not do and can you really have 11 seasons about a drunken drug-addled ’60s throwback pseudo-racist and sexist yet loveable ghost? Pretty sure even one season is unrealistic with that as a premise!
Instead, we have Part I of what will be as many parts as the number of times I get frustrated and develop a list of things that need to be voiced out onto the Interwebs, regardless of whether anyone else agrees with or even wants to read them. Many of these things I knew about prior to starting the Hearst Castle Ghost web series project. Many of these things I will bring up repeatedly. Some of these things may get their own rant someday.
You might have experience with some of these things and agree with my point of view, in which case, “Good on ya.” You might learn something from my mistaken ideas or mishaps, in which case, “You are welcome.” You might disagree with some or all my points of view, in which case, “You are a moron not entitled to an opinion.” No matter which of these cases may apply, here is the list of some of the things I have learned in starting up the Hearst Castle Ghost Internet comedy:
Production Crews Are Necessary
Low budget does not mean without help. There are some things you can do by yourself, but when it comes to filming multiple actors you need a director present to keep things flowing. The same is true for the need of camera operators when you are filming multiple angles. At a minimum these two groups of people are a requirement for any media production with moving parts and you should not try to fill these roles alone. This is even more critical if you are in any of the scenes.
We shot the preproduction footage in Tennessee where Greg currently resides. As a result of the location I lost access to any and all support staff which I would normally call upon for a quick hand during an hour or two of shooting. Thus, all the production staff roles fell on my shoulders and we were forced to record plenty of extra takes as we had no external eyes ensuring things stayed in frame. Thankfully season one production will be occurring on my stomping grounds where I will have access to a host of professionals whom I can bribe with food (aka alcohol) for assistance.
Auto Anything Is Evil
We live in an era of technological marvels that continue to expand and improve daily. These things tend to make our lives easier and quite often will remove the guesswork for many tasks, as is the case of autofocus and auto-exposure on digital camera equipment. If you happen to be taking pictures or shooting videos of your cat doing the same exact thing that everyone else’s cat does, then this modern marvel is just perfect for you (I would also recommend leaving the lens cap on). If you are filming anything else, then these functions are no longer marvels but instead saboteurs out to destroy your time and efforts.
Do yourself a favor, turn off auto anything on your cameras and instead pay a friend some chocolate (liqueur) to keep an eye on the recording screen and occasionally adjust a level or two. Pretty certain a four-year-old would be more consistent than the digital cameras within anyone’s price range. Either that or be ready to hate your life in post-production. The choice is yours.
Last Minute Orders Are Never On Time
This is a given and one of the universal rules that apply to everything in life. This includes rush orders; we all know they aren’t a real thing but instead a check box that adds an idiot tax to any order. Don’t depend on anything being shipped to you to arrive on time and you will never find yourself spending 10X the original price for a quick replacement. Granted, if you want the original order to arrive tomorrow, simply purchase a non-returnable replacement at a brick and mortar store today.
Never Film Without Air Conditioning
Obviously, there are instances where you have no control over the temperature of a set, such as for outdoor shots. For everywhere else, make sure you have air conditioning available and that it can cool your set down to below freezing levels. Not only are costumes and makeup hot but lighting and electrical equipment generate a ton of heat and will quickly turn your 18 degree set into a 37+ degree oven before you can say, “Action.” And no one wants to see back sweat. Just saying.
Proper Lighting Is Key
You want to be able to control as many aspects of your filming as possible to improve your chances of success. Or at least a successful shoot. One of the easiest things to control is your set lighting. Given the choice between a god-like camera and some extra lights, you will want to choose the lights every time and twice on Sunday.
For Hearst Castle Ghost we shoot almost everything against a green screen background (chroma key), so this is vitally important. If you shoot live chroma key, you cannot survive without proper lighting. However, even for simple shots against a plain white background you are better off purchasing a camera that is a step or two down and spending the difference on lighting. You will thank yourself in the long run.
Adobe Premiere Needs A New UX Team
I’ve had this argument before, but Adobe Premiere needs a complete user interface/experience overhaul. I know all the counter arguments of, “It has always been this way and the professionals using it are used to it,” etc. To which I reply with an enthusiastic, “Bullshit.” I have yet to find a person who only, and I mean only, works in Adobe Premiere and, as such a person does not exist, there is no person in the known universe who is not used to using CTRL-Y to redo the last operation. So, piss off Premiere purists, you and your product’s UI are outdated and in need of some serious reworking, much like the first ten generations of airplanes that crashed 50+% of the time regardless of how use to the controls the pilots might have been.
It Is Easier To Herd Cats That You Don’t Mind Hurting
Working with people in general can be difficult and working with artistic ones is very much like the old metaphor of herding cats. Herding cats is always going to be a challenge, but it is much easier to do when you can give a cat a good shove with your foot to its hind quarters (aka a swift kick in the ass). On that same chord, there is no denying it is far easier to work with people whose relationship is a paid one rather than people who are your friends or family. That difference in difficulty is often based on your willingness to provide said swift kick in the ass.
Effectively, paid people are more likely to follow your instructions or carry out a task on time than those that are friends or family. With friends and family you run the risk of hurting the relationship by placing that same level of demand on them. Paid people you can fire. Friends and family you have to bury. See the differences? That is not to say that working with friends or family doesn’t have its benefits, but you need to be aware of the hurdles and assess your ability to put foot to hind quarter.