Wednesday, December 12, 2012

An Update...FINALLY

To All Our Followers,

First and foremost, I'd like to thank all of you for following us with such limited material. You rock our faces off.

The reason things have fallen behind schedule can be attributed to one word: School.

I've been going back to school to finish my degree at NYU and it's been nuts. I took some time off to get Failing Upward started, but I knew I'd have to finish stuff eventually. After this semester, you'll be looking at a full fledged alumni of the Tisch Film!

Steven has been VERY busy teaching his own animation classes and is doing a hell of an awesome job. We still converse about Failing Upward a lot and have some character models we're working on.

Nik, our new storyboard and animatic artist, is in the same boat as me. We're both trying to make it threw the semester in one piece. He's been working on his stuff when he can and I'm sure it's going to be freaking amazing.

So, what does this mean about the future of Failing Upward? Well, it just means we'll get it to you as soon as possible! We'll all have a bit of time over the vacation to regroup and plan some awesome things for the future of the show. Right now, we're looking at doing the show in 3 minute episodes, depending on how well the pilot does.

Once again, thanks for all the support guys. It means so much to all of us.

Smell ya later,

Gary

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Every Day I Write The Book #4: Creating JC

My friend Keaton had a huge vendetta against the show, "The Odd Couple". To this day, I could never figure out why. The dynamic that the show used has become a staple of television; that dynamic being the mismatched pair of kindred souls just trying to make it day to day without tearing each other to pieces. I guess, by proxy, he should hate Failing Upward, but indeed, he loves the writing and look of it, so...yeah.

The first sketch of JC. Art by Iris Febres.
If you recall, in an earlier post, I mentioned that Failing Upward was based on my friendship with a person who lived very far away. She became the catalyst for who JC would eventually become. This person, was someone who I considered a friend, certainly, but also had this snarky disposition that I had a fascination with. Every so often, she'd shoot me down for a stupid comment I'd make or just kind of poke fun at my lack of "real world" experience. Yet, somehow, we managed to be pretty close for about a year or so. I think it was the fact that we trusted each other and I also think that trust was amplified by the distance between us.

But, while she was the catalyst, I don't think she was what made JC an interesting character. See, at first, JC was a bit too mean, just as Cody was a bit to stupid. They were these kind of ...oh...how do I put it...assholes? Seriously, I look back at some of these original drafts of the pilot and I can't believe some of the things they were saying to each other. JC, especially in the earlier draft. Cody always kind of walked the line of likable/unlikable, but JC is supposed to be this reminder that the real world IS indeed a thing and not a myth adults make to scare you into getting a job. Instead, she was so terribly undefined, that she became kind of mean for no-reason whatsoever. The only reason she hated Cody was because he WAS Cody. Let me tell you, that is no way to ever write a character. It makes you wonder how the character of JC existed before she knew Cody.

So, I went back in and retooled things. I think the single most important thing I did was start putting more of myself into her. I know that sounds vein, but a lot of the time, it's the best thing a writer can do, especially when it comes to these kinds of slice of life stories, It's a great way to motivate your character with mistakes and lessons you've made. Don't get me wrong, there are BAD ways to make yourself into a character. We have loads of fan fiction on the internet to prove that. However, if you can take your personality and stretch and split it into new forms of life, then you have yourself an original character.

To me, at least, JC is the part of me that strives to work hard to attain something in life without any help from others. She's strong, independent, albeit a bit naive about her own limitations. Despite that, she shoots for the stars at any chance she can get. More often than not, she'll hit the roof, but come right back up at the next opportunity. The newer and improved version is also kind of knit from my own cynical view of the world (whereas Cody's viewpoint is much brighter). For years, I had always tried to be very open minded about the world around me, but there was always that hint of sourness that would come out every now and then. And I think that's where the initial makeover started.

Early redesigns for JC. Art by Steven Ray Brown.

Another change started when I met the voice actress who plays JC, Casey Haller. I had met Casey at her old job in a comic book store and when we started to become good friends, I really began to write JC with Casey in mind. She became a bit more deadpan, a bit more aggressive with her thoughts, and I think the best part is that she brought a more sophisticated intelligence along to JC. Anytime I talk to Casey, she always has all these facts to back up her opinions or thoughts on any subject of any scale. I like to think she just kind of perfected JC.

JC's cynical attitude is in full swing, due to her living at home with her family, which consists of 10 brothers and a pair of parents. While I'm not sure why I made all the siblings boys, it might be cause my dad had a similar family, sans a girl,  I can tell you why there are so many of them. I grew up where I had friends with big families, my previously mentioned friend Keaton had a bunch of siblings and I always fascinated by the dynamic of large families. How they work, what they talk about, how they deal with age gaps. I think JC coming home and having to deal with all this, will provide some great character moments in terms of compassion and understanding, despite her bitterness.

I think my favorite moments that I've written with JC is when she's happy. Doing scenes where JC is truly at peace or even writing her music blog are just a blast. It's a chance for me to make her a multi-faceted character. Speaking of the music aspect,  that was another thing that was greatly affected by my life. I'm a huge music junkie and even the titles of the episodes are named after some of my favorite songs. JC's approach to music reviewing is still kind of a work in progress, but it's also just a giant part of her character that will be explored in later episodes.

JC's design was always fun to mess around with. I still think the best picture Iris ever drew of her was the first one. I love the halter top look for her and her punk-ish demeanor. The only thing that really changed when it came to Steven was her hair. We had a short talk about whether or not we wanted to change it from kind of long in the back, to an almost anime style spikey-explosion. I think the latter was a step in the right direction.

So, that's all I've got about JC. I might do one on the secondary characters, but it might be a while before you see that.

Good Riddance,

- Gary

Friday, October 19, 2012

Every Day I Write The Book #3: Creating Cody

So, as you may or may not have heard on the Facebook page, we have a very awesome opportunity we're going to try to seize in the coming months. It's times like these where previous plans kind of get pushed to the side to pursue bigger goals. Which means the new short, the working title for which was "JC's Suburban Rants", has been pushed back, just a bit. Don't worry, you WILL see it.

In the meantime, let's talk about Cody. If you haven't seen "Cody's Pro-Tips", you can find it in the post bellow. I think it's a pretty great introduction to the character, too.

The very first sketch of Cody. Art by Iris Febres.
Cody was created kind of as this "what-if" scenario for me. During my time at Tisch, I began to strongly consider the idea of just...not being able to fit into society as a functioning human being. I think one of the most important things you need to realize is that film school doesn't exactly boost your ego. I was put down a lot for the kinds of projects I wanted to do. I went to Tisch during a period where everything "indie" was in. I usually felt this strong hatred for anything that might conform to a mainstream taste. As you'll see in future episodes of Failing Upward, I constantly like the lampoon the mindset.

But, my point is that I seriously thought there was no place for me in the world of film and television. For all I know, I may be right.

The idea of Cody started with the prediction that I was still going to be living at home at the age of 24 or so. I've always kind of had this weird fascination with kind of reclaiming lost time from my childhood and teen years. Suddenly, I'm living in the city and it's a bit scarier that I had anticipated. I kind of felt like most people where they felt it had gone by way to fast and that I didn't have the experiences that I wanted to, but you know, I'm a rational person. We get over these things.

With Cody, that thought process is taken to a much crazier extreme. He's a character that literally will do anything to avoid any kind of social responsibility. It's not that he's stupid or a jerk, it's just that he's got this ideal life in mind. He legitimately loves suburbia. Now, it's not to say he's not lazy, that's a given. However, in the first episode that I had written, there's definitely a bit more going on mentally with this kind of refusal to grow up. I think, once Cody has been kicked out and is forced to move to the city, a lot of these things start to come to fruition.

The side of Cody that was the most influenced by my own personal life was Cody being a geek. I guess by popular label, you could call me a "geek", and I'd be hard-pressed not to disagree with you. However, I think the thing that separates Cody from the normal sitcom geek, is that, all of his nerdiness is based in pop-culture. There's no real intellectual side to Cody and I actually really prefer it that way. We're living in an age where being a geek is pretty much defined by how much you know about trivial topics. I never really understood the correlation between being smart and loving science-fiction and comic books, considering the latter almost always slaps logic in the face. I think actor/comedian Donald Glover said it best;

Early Redesigns for Cody. Art by Steven Ray Brown.
"Strange specific stuff, that's what makes what makes a nerd a nerd. If you like strange specific stuff, that's a nerd. Kanye West is a black nerd, he likes strange specific stuff. If you go up to Kanye West and say; 'Hey, what are you favorite things?', he'll be like 'Robots and teddy bears!', that's a nerd!"

That's what makes Cody unique on the surface. He'll be talking and just whip out a reference to this B-movie movie you may only know by name, at best. It's this strange, habitual trait that his brain is hardwired to jump to. This isn't random either, he always has legitimate points to make using these references. It's not done to prove anything either. That's one of my biggest problems with the sitcom nerd, it's feels like name dropping for the sake of name dropping. I'm looking at you, Big Bang Theory.

I guess the last thing I should mention is Cody's design. If you ever see me on a livestream or doing a Q&A video, the first thing you're going to automatically notice the resemblance between myself and Cody. I kind of made pact with myself, that this would be the one and only character that would ever look anything like me. I think it's mainly because Failing Upward is such a personal story for me. On the flip-side of that, I knew there had to be some differences.

One of the major ones was giving him glasses, which is kind of just the Clark Kent trick, but I really do think there's a lot of character in those glasses. From Iris' first design, I just thought they made a world of difference between me and Cody, it allowed me to step back and not look at him as myself, but as a character. Steven came in and did some amazing touch ups and one of the things that I love about Cody now, is the dotted eyes. I think those emphasize the glasses and give him even more character. Of course, there's also the slew of geeky t-shirts, which, I'm sorry, but if I'm going to be guilty of any kind of reference dropping, it might as well be something you have to recognize and think about.

So, I guess that's Cody in a nutshell. Despite all the geekery and silliness, I'm glad he kind of became an entity that didn't entirely represent me. I can't wait to really explore him further and I'm sure you'll grow to at least tolerate his antics. In the next post, I'll talk about how I was able to take a bunch of other stuff about me, and mold it into a redheaded girl named JC.

See You Space Cowboy,

- Gary

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Every Day I Write The Book #2: Condensing My Love

Back in 2009, I was asked by a professor to write a 30 page screenplay. The project could have been one of the following 3 formats; The first 30 pages of a feature, a 30 page short film, or a full 30 page sitcom pilot.

At the time, I wasn't really feeling myself. I had a long distance friend who'd recently severed all contact with me and I really, genuinely missed their company. Losing a friend you really care about, is a lot like going through withdrawal, especially when you've made a habit of talking to them every day. It was an odd friendship, as I'd never really had someone to really rely on like that, save for a very small select few. But, you can tell when there's something special about a friend when you look forward talking every day.

Eventually, this longing got so bad that it began to intervene with my studies. I really had no idea what to do or who to talk to. The only solution I had, was to write. I began to spin all these short stories about being in a long distance friendship. They were OK. Mostly conversations one would have over the phone and talking about everything in your daily life on your side of the country.

Then about three weeks later, I realized the first 15 pages of my project was due. This stunning revelation hit me at about three in the morning, which was about six hours before the class. I pretty much sat in front of my computer for twenty minutes, staring at a blank Celtx file. I really had no idea where to begin.

However, without any strike of real inspiration, I just started writing a sitcom pilot abou these two mismatched friends who lived far away from each other. Those pages  became the foundation of Failing Upward.

A lot of people are trained to think that the greatest projects are inspired by some kind of striking image or grand reveal, but really, I don't think anything created in just one night. Ideas kind of just flow around in you for a while until you write them out. I think the motivation is what comes in that  instant where you just start writing.

The class ended up taking a real liking to the script, which was very surprising. Almost everything else that I had written over the course of my college career never got that kind of reception. It felt good to have a writing class' approval and I guess from their I just continued to work on the project.

Three years and tons of re-writes later (Would you believe that JC didn't have her own plot in the pilot for the first like, ten drafts?), I still want to bring this project to life. I've put a lot of other fully written pilots on hold, just to get this one out in some form. I've had several opportunities to try and do that, but none of them have really worked out.

I also think that the core concept of a show about two friends who's relatonship consists of talking on the phone is kind of a hard sell for networks. However, it did leave me with one option that, if you read my last post, I'd been dreading for a while.

ONLINE PRODUCTON

I'm not going to repeat my thoughts on web shows and cartoon again, so let me get to the point. I was really weary of this, but there was more to it than just the content already being produced online.

In the three years leading up to now, I had written an entire world for Failing Upward. There were characters, locations, story arcs (a good three seasons worth), and just tons of imagery that I wanted to use. As of now, it doesn't look like we'll be getting a full 30 minute sitcom deal, so when it came to condensing these characters and their traits into three minute shorts, I was stumped.

When push came to shove I went back to those short conversations I mentioned and studied them. I think the key to making Failing Upward work in a shortened form was to take the rhythm I'd established in the stories and mix it in with the surreal humor and get out as quickly as possible.

Even with that mindset, I still had all these other characters I loved and was wondering how I'd bring them in. I'm still kind of stumped on how to introduce some of them, but others kind of just fell into random ideas I had. I've also had the honor of talking to numerous people who you may or may not know to do voices for these characters. So keep your eyes and ears open.

Not quite sure how to wrap this one up, but I can safely say that from start to finish, I never thought I'd really be able to make this little idea I had a fully realized product.

- Gary

PS: I have the theme song...and it is amazing.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Every Day I Write The Book #1: LOL FUNNEH

If you had told me, two years ago, that I'd be taking my sitcom pilot and changing it to fit a three to four minute web series format...I would have beaten the shit out of you.

So, what you may not know about me is that, up until recently, I've always had a serious problem with web shows or more specifically, web cartoons. Comparatively there's more effort put into live action web series, especially if you compare something like The Guild to anything SMOSH releases on their "Shut Up! Cartoons" channel. However, what pisses me off about both is that a good chunk of them feel like they're made for solely the creator and his friends, and not a broad audience.

Most animated web series feel like they're always trying please one certain kind of crowd. I think we can all agree the majority of web cartoons and web comics center themselves around gamers or geeks or whatever special interest group is popular at the moment and adhere strictly to that. They kind of set up this bubble where they just made a lot of inside jokes that only fans of the medium would understand. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, but when almost all animated web series becomes that, its kind of off-putting to me.

More importantly it really kind of destroyed any expectations I had when thinking about turning Failing Upward into a web series. I didn't feel like it fit in with a certain "click". Sure, both my characters are "nerds" in a one way or another, but they're also people. Their stories don't always revolve around their hobbies and stuff, like many online series do. I've yet to see a web cartoon that's balanced both comedy and slice-of-life, as good as something like The Simpsons.

However, over the past couple of years, there have been things done to kind of change the world of web animation that makes me feel way more at ease about putting something with character development up. With the dawn of actual production houses working on web cartoons like Tom Hanks' new project "Electric City", it feels like there's a big change coming. However, it doesn't just stop at super high profile names helping this cause.

During an interview, Arin "Egoraptor" Hanson said something that really brightened my day when I saw it. For those of you who are sadly uninformed about who Egoraptor is, he's a web animator who's primarily based in video game humor. However, what's different about Ego, is that he wants to make people laugh before he makes them appreciate his nerd cred.

"Like, I have a little mini-orgasm when somebody comes over and their like 'I've never even played the game and I thought it was hilarious!'. That's awesome, cause I try to do that."

It's this kind of attempt to breach into a more broad audience that has made me feel much more comfortable with putting something like Failing Upward out there. People are finally seeing through the fact that you can't just reference something and make it funny. There needs to be a deeper feeling of effort put into it that breathes through the characters and story.

In a nutshell, that's what Failing Upward is, to me, it's two characters talking about their lives, their likes, their dislikes, and growing as people. There's no pretense of "You have to be a nerd to get this", because that's not what makes shows great, it's the writing itself.

So, with that, I'll cut this first post off here and just say, I'm happy Failing Upward finally found a home on the internet. I'm so excited to share these characters with you and I hope you love them.

- Gary