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Comic-Con Bound

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!

Things I Have Learned – Part I

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.

A Soliloquy On Facial Hair

I am my father’s son.  I’ve heard it all my life, “You look just like your father.”  There has never been any denying that.  So, when I was 8 or 9 years old and my father had grown out a mustache, the image stuck with me.  A few years later when he had grown out a beard for a brief period of time, I recorded every detail to memory.  These were images of my future should I opt for facial hair; thus, they were important images for a child entering adolescence and eventual adulthood.  Images that let me know that I did not want facial hair.

I won’t go into the various analysis I made regarding the growing of hair on my face versus my various features, but we will say it is enough to know that it was not something I liked the look of on my person.  Or rather the potential look of.  And for forty years I had kept myself mostly clean shaven, with never a whisker making it past a day or two.  That is until a trip to Europe kept me unshaven for an extended period.

I had arrived in Stockholm SE by way of Amsterdam NL, on what was to be a two-month long trip across various European countries, only to discover that my bags had decided to remain in Amsterdam.  I can only imagine the discussion the various pieces of my luggage had in order to come to the decision to jump ship on a two-hour layover; I, however, cannot imagine that they did not know the second to last leg of the trip was two weeks in Amsterdam.  Surely, they understood that there was plenty to do and see in the beautiful city of Stockholm and that Amsterdam could wait?  Apparently not, for it took an entire week for my clothing and toiletries to arrive and I am convinced to this day that my possessions, to the one, had squinty red eyes upon their arrival in Stockholm.

But I digress.  Not wanting to purchase all new items, during the week of the missing luggage I made do with clothing borrowed from friends and the toiletries available from the hotel front desk.  Unfortunately for me the hotel did not have a razor or shaving cream available, thus I went the week without shaving.  When my luggage finally arrived in Stockholm, and for reasons I can only blame on a contact high brought about from my errant possessions, I decided to go the rest of the trip without shaving.  “Just let it grow,” was my motto.

A little over a month and a half later and I was on a return flight to the United States from Manchester UK.  To say I was anxious to remove the facial hair would be an understatement of magnitude along the lines of saying my eyes may have been a little pink during my time in Amsterdam.  I don’t think I made it an hour in my house before my face was once again completely clean shaven.

I did manage to learn a few things during that experiment.  The first is that – at the time – 98% of the gray hairs on my body were located on my face.  That number has since dwindled down to around 90% as random gray hairs continue to sprout up across my body where before there were none.  The second is that I absolutely hate having facial hair.  It itches.  It pokes and pricks my skin.  It feels unsanitary.  And, to be honest, I really do not like the look of it on my person.  I really am my father’s son.

I mention all of this because when it came to the discussions Greg and I had regarding the appearance of various characters, he decided that Brad Guy should have a goatee with soul patch.  Granted, I had decided that the Ghost would have a scraggly, unkept beard so there is a small sense of fairness there.  However, Greg has had facial hair in the form of a goatee for the past 20+ years.  Additionally, he had already grown out a scraggly, unkept beard for a commercial he was shooting for another company.

I, on the other hand, had to grow out this goatee for our initial promotional video footage.  Despite intending on going to Comic Con International as Brad Guy and thus a reason to just keep the goatee, I had to immediately shave it off (as well as all my body hair from ankles to earlobes) for a quick round of surgery the week after shooting.  I am now going through the horror of growing the goatee out once again; which I am convinced contains more grey hairs with each time I regrow it. 

I hate it and it is absolutely driving me nuts.  At this point I am determined to dress as Brad Guy for the first two days of SDCC2019 so that I might shave this infernal thing off before the weekend.  Which will be heaven. Until I return home and must start growing the blasted thing out again for filming episodes of Hearst Castle Ghost in August and September.

I have no proof, but I am absolutely convinced that Greg’s arguments for Brad Guy to sport a goatee – no matter how logical his reasoning may have seemed – was strictly meant as a way of punishing me for some past wrong I perpetrated against him early on in my life.  Some grudge he has held firmly to for all these years which I likely forgot about moments after the occurrence.   I am my father’s son, but I am also apparently the target for my brother’s perverse sense of humor.  The things we do for art…

The Ghost Emblem

Making the decisions to proceed with creating a video web-series for the Hearst Castle Ghost and to attend Comic Con International 2019 as one of the main characters, Brad Guy, created a few additional projects for me.  One project that stood out for both decisions was that I needed a costume.  Not only for Brad Guy, the unofficial head of the tour guides for our fictional version of the Hearst Castle, but also for the other tour guides.

Being that this is a low budget production, lacking a team of costume designers and seamsters, it seemed prudent to keep the tour guide costume simple, using off the shelf garments where possible.  Luckily the series is based off a fictional version of a very real place complete with previously existing tour guides.  Even more luckily, I had managed to capture several images of the tour guides when Greg and I first visited the Hearst Castle.

If you were to take the time to search the Interwebs for images of Hearst Castle tour guides you might notice there are two main styles of uniforms depicted in these images.  Older images show tour guides in the standard California State Parks style ranger uniforms, which means khakis and fishing vests.  This makes sense, as the Hearst Castle was deeded to the state of California in January of 1958 and became part of the Department of Parks and Recreation.  At some point, and without knowing the internal politics involved, the uniform style changed over to that of a California museum docent.  I would hazard a guess that this change corresponded to Hearst Castle literature referring to the park as a museum as well.

I will admit some indecision as to the choice of uniform style for the web series, but we ultimately opted for the more up-to-date museum style.  I think this decision had more to do with wanting to use the word “docent” in a script or two than anything else.  Just comedy gold.

Regardless of the uniform style, one thing that remained static across all the uniforms worn at the Hearst Castle was inclusion of the California State Parks embroidered patch.  Or in the case of Brad Guy – for reasons that will be included as part of various episodes – the California State Parks Volunteer patch.

California State Parks Embroidered Patch   California State Parks Volunteer Embroidered Patch 

Being overzealous and wanting to get as much accomplished early-on for both filming the series and appearing at Comic Con, I promptly found the patches for sale online and ordered several quantities of each.  One item off my list quickly and easily.  Or so I thought.

A problem occurred to me sometime after the patches arrived but prior to attaching them to the various articles of clothing that encompass the docent uniforms.  For the sake of filming we are a satirical comedy and thus can impersonate California State Park officials with impunity.  For the sake of attending Comic Con International, held in San Diego California, I would be a random guy impersonating a California State Park official while in the state of California.  While I am certain our attorney could keep me out of prison, getting arrested or even harassed for appearing as a state employee would in no way benefit the show or my own personal enjoyment of SDCC2019.  Effectively, the patches go too far.

A new patch was necessary and as I was already attached to the idea of a slightly different patch for the volunteers (i.e. Brad Guy) I decided to base the fictional patches off the real-life ones.  A little design theft, some simple image editing, a dash of advanced Adobe Photoshop, and a smidgen of retweaks gave me the basic patch designs ready to be sent off to the embroiderer.

Hearst Castle Patch Artwork   Hearst Castle Volunteer Patch Artwork 

It was while I was in the process of designing the new patch artwork that I had started work on our Internet presence, namely a YouTube channel and this here website.  An emblem, or logo, was needed for both and what would make a better emblem than the patch I was already designing?  Back into Photoshop for a little additional tweaking, some consultation with Greg, some more advanced Adobe Photoshop features and a lot of how-to videos.  The end result?  The Hearst Castle Ghost emblem in all its glory.

There you have the story of the origination for the Hearst Castle Ghost logo.  I am considering this a work in process as there are several web and physical print media pieces that will utilize this logo, each having different RGB, CMYK, Pantone and thread index color requirements as well as rasterized resolutions versus vector artwork.  I have already had to create a second complete remake of the logo because of one of these physical media requirements, which may or may not pertain to items we’ll be handing out in San Diego in about two weeks’ time (from the date of this post).  But, as the Ghost has sworn me to secrecy, I couldn’t possibly comment on that.  Enjoy.

Conversation to Concept to Convention

Once upon a time this drunkard ghost living in a castle wrote down his (after)life story and gave it to us to do with as we pleased.  Easiest origin story for a sitcom ever. Unfortunately, the reality of the origin of the Hearst Castle Ghost is a lot less strange and far more cyclical in nature, in this case starting on the road to a convention with a conversation…

The year was 2017 and, as was our tradition, my brother, Greg, and I were on our yearly pilgrimage to San Diego Comic Con (SDCC).  We had been attending for a number of years at this point; designing and dressing in new costumes each year and had even gone so far as to enter into the Masquerade one of those years.  For a geek there really is no better vacation.

As part of our tradition, each year I fly out the weekend prior to “Preview Night” and meet up with Greg to wander across California and hit up some of the sights, attractions, and landmarks available.  At this time, Greg had been residing in California since the mid-90s so he knew most of the oddball places to take me each year.  For 2017 that oddball place was the Hearst Castle, located in San Simeon, CA and built by William Randolph Hearst.

I use the word “oddball” when referring to historic sites because of the simple fact that the majority of these places were either built by persons known for being completely bat-shit crazy, are known for being haunted by some sort of “intelligent” ghost, or both (such as the Winchester Mystery House we visited the year prior).  Thus oddball.  To the best of my knowledge, William Randolph Hearst was not completely bat-shit crazy.  Eccentric, yes.  He was rich after all.  But not bat-shit crazy.

Anyway, to keep myself from getting too long winded in the telling of the rest of the Hearst Castle Ghost origin story I am going to switch over to script writing format without all the font and formatting rules.  Enjoy.

INT. BLACK SUV – NIGHT 

Greg is driving a rental SUV through the unlit shoreline roadways leading to San Simeon.  Andrew relaxes in the passenger seat.

ANDREW

So this place is haunted right?

GREG

No.

ANDREW

It’s a castle in the middle of nowhere, how can it not be haunted?

GREG

It’s not.  We asked on a couple of the tours.  All the guides said it wasn’t haunted.  As far as I know, no one ever died there.

Andrew leans his head back and closes his eyes.  Greg continues navigating the dark twists and turns of the road in silence.

ANDREW
(sitting up)

What if it really was haunted?

ANDREW (CONT’D)
(in voice of H.C.G.)

Jesus Fucking Christ Guys.  I’m right here.  Why do you have to keep telling people I don’t exist.  That’s just fucked up.  It’s hurtful, that’s what it is.  Just hurtful.

Greg and Andrew spend the remainder of the drive riffing back and forth in the voice of the Hearst Castle Ghost, expanding upon the character and laughing uncontrollably.

FADE OUT.

That is pretty much where the idea for the Hearst Castle Ghost character came from.  At some point during that drive Greg threw out the names of Brad and Becca, and so they became canon.  Additional details were added in during our tour of the Hearst Castle based on what we saw, or didn’t see, such as all of the fountains and the Neptune Pool being empty for repair.

SDCC2017 ended and time went on with monthly phone calls between Greg and I invariably degrading into one or both of us switching into the voice for H.C.G. and riffing out the afterlife of this poor character.  I truly feel bad for the friends and family who had to listen to us switch over to H.C.G. for 30 minutes or more during these phone calls.  We have the habit of going too far and then sprinting a little further.

It was during one of our monthly calls at the end of winter 2018 when Greg asked me what I was dressing as for Comic Con this year.  We usually try to work in a costume or two with the same theme or as an ensemble (previous years included Steam Punk Alice in Wonderland and Steam Punk Avengers).  I can’t really remember why, but when my brother asked me I wasn’t really feeling the whole cosplay thing yet, so I responded “I’m going as Hearst Castle Ghost.”

That opened a small can of worms in the form of who actually made a better Hearst Castle Ghost.  Not that we had any real intention of going to SDCC dressed as the Ghost, but I must admit Greg definitely makes a better H.C.G.  Granted, he is more likely to cross the line from funny to WTF, but on a whole he just pulls off the character to perfection.  All said and done, for SDCC2018 I dressed as two different mashups: the Avengers (all of them) and Justice League (all of them).

Fast forward to end of winter 2019 and I get the same question from Greg.  Only this year two things were different.  First, I had been dealing with a lot of health issues from the end of 2018 forward which limited my time to construct a new costume as well as my desire to sweat my balls off in costume.  Second, Greg and I had another year under our belts of fine tuning Hearst Castle Ghost to where we began taking the concept seriously as a direct to Internet sitcom.  Thus my response was, “I’m going as Brad.”

There was a lot of back and forth at this point of, “You can’t go as Brad” or “No one knows who Brad is,” from Greg, which was counterbalanced by my most elegant argument, “I don’t give a shit.”  Eventually my argument won out over his logic and instead of spending a ton of time creating cosplay costumes for SDCC2019, we have spent a ton of time brainstorming, designing, fine tuning, writing, and casting for a web series about a drunk ghost living in a castle that was never haunted.

And I’m still going to SDCC2019 as Brad.  I have the costume after all.

Full Transparency

We decided early on in the process of creating the Hearst Castle Ghost that we want to be fully transparent with our viewers.  First and foremost, Hearst Castle Ghost is a satirical comedy.  Easy enough to say, however, unlike most people on the Interwebs we know what “satire” actually means.  Just like we know “irregardless” is not a word, but apparently wishing something to be true works in the world of Merriam Webster.  Yay learning!

Anyway, to be an actual satire we need something or someone to poke fun of in such as way that it will fly over their collective heads.  Our target is the special little snowflake hypocritical social justice media warriors of the world.  Try saying that 69 times fast.  For the two of us that target is a no brainer.  Figuratively and literally (zing).

The one catch in creating our little media experiment is that we can’t allow ourselves to become hypocrites as well.  Enter full transparency and full disclosure.  If this experiment is going to work then the good, the bad, and the dirty of Hearst Castle Ghost all needs to be aired out for the world to see and reflect upon.  We need to show the world the hows and the whys for our decisions.  And what better way to do that then via a blog.

That is it.  This is the blog for the Hearst Castle Ghost comedy show.  Expect openness and bluntness.  We won’t be talking about it here if we are planning on explaining something via an episode.  No one wants spoilers after all.  Aside from that it is our hope that being extremely forthright will make the show that much more enjoyable for everyone.  Except the snowflakes of course.