My Less Successful Projects

02May13

I’ve been part of many projects in my longish career as a writer, improviser and sketch performer. Many of which have turned out great. Many other have not. Many, many others. Here’s a sample of my less-than-amazing résumé. The anti-résumé.

1.) “CONSORTIUM” (Sketch Pilot). A great idea — get all the presently-unattached sketch people (mostly associated through iO-Chicago), pool our abilities and make a sketch pilot. Among the crowd were many actors who have gone on to Second City Main Stage, Boom Chicago, zillions of TV appearances (including a character on “30 Rock”) and even a writer for “The Colbert Report.” What could go wrong?

WHAT WENT WRONG: Obviously, this is all conjecture from a decade of hindsight, but I think it was a couple things. Firstly,  super-groups rarely produce super work. It’s very difficult to get several voices — however similarly styled they might seem to be — to congeal into a cohesive vision. I’m pointing this out because in order to sell a sketch show to television, I believe there must to be something unique about it, and often times that something unique is the voice of the show. This project lacked a voice, and thus lacked uniqueness (re: sellability).

Secondly, on the production end, there were just too many cooks cooking waaaaaaay too long on each little bit. Again, this is theoretical, but I believe the best sketch (and perhaps the best comedy) has an inherent roughness that comes with speed and devil-may-care production. Comedy relies less on being perfectly shot, perfectly acted or perfectly produced, and relies more on just landing the joke, which then gives the feeling of perfection. Through no fault of its own, “Consortium” tried to plan and control everything, and ended up removing the juice and natural humanity that made some of these sketches work. Case in point, Superpunk (aka me and Mike Betette) got a couple scripts green-lit for this project, one of which was a favorite stage sketch of ours called “Hurricane.” The premise was that a to-be-engaged couple kept getting the proposal interrupted in crazier ways by the Scorpions’ jam “Rock You Like a Hurricane.” The song emerged from multiple tracks on multiple CD’s, radio channels, musical instruments, window coverings, etc. It makes no sense outside of itself. This script was chosen and shot well, acted well and everything. But the result was bland. In theory such preparation makes sense, but in practice it sunk.

WHAT GOOD CAME OF IT: One of the other scripts we got produced was “Time Traveler,” which worked as a stand-alone animated short. It ended up winning a festival and eventually helped Superpunk yield a script deal with Comedy Central. Which reminds me…

“TIME TRAVELER” (Animated Webseries) Mike and I worked really hard on writing a TV pilot script, promoted it with staged readings and postcards and such, eventually landing a script deal with Comedy Central’s new online comedy site MotherLoad.

WHAT WENT WRONG: A bunch of weird stuff, really, but it seems like the typical fodder for Hollywood “work.” First off, a pass-the-buck moment: ComedyCentral shut down MotherLoad. This was the early-mid 2000’s, so the boon of web-based entertainment had not yet hit (that comes later), and they really hadn’t gotten it all together. Personally though, we didn’t exactly rock it. I’m guessing. I haven’t revisited the scripts in a while, but I’d imagine that if we’d really nailed them, we would have nailed them. They were funny, but just didn’t last.

WHAT GOOD CAME OF IT: We got a manager. And we got to say “We have a script deal with Comedy Central” for a while. It also pulled me from Illinois to Los Angeles, a move which — career-wise — probably should’ve happened earlier.

“TIME TRAVELER” (Animated Webseries) 2.0. Our manager managed (hey!) to retain the ownership of “Time Traveler” for us so that we could sell it somewhere else, and that “somewhere else” was SuperDeluxe.com. This was around 2006 (?), a time period I came to know as “The Period Where Web Companies Had Too Much Money, and Spent WAY Too Much Money.” We signed a deal to produce three episodes (kinda too short), around 5 minutes a piece (way too long) for a $12,000 budget.

WHAT WENT WRONG: In animation, $3000 an episode can go quick. But in terms of staying competitive with the market — a market which includes and is not limited to videos of cats playing with toilets — this is about $2960 over budget. We spent almost every penny on the shorts, and some of them turned out really well. Too bad such rampant overspending resulted in SuperDeluxe taking itself completely out of the game. On our end, I think our scripts suffered from being a bit over complicated, an affliction I still suffer to this day.

WHAT GOOD CAME OUT OF IT: We got to make more “Time Traveler” shorts. And with the company folding, we got to put the shorts up wherever we wanted as demo reels and calling cards. The shorts made the front page of “MySpace” (oh, yes…) and we got to say “We helped bankrupt SuperDeluxe” for a while. I suppose we still can.

MAKER STUDIOS (Staff Writer). I’ve talked a lot about my time in the trenches at YouTube’s home for sketch comedy, even though it was only for a summer. I got hired as (bragging here) a go-to guy based on my “terrific” sketch sample packet (which was pretty good, I am proud to say). A handful of writers and I were brought in to be the staff and fuel the stable of “Channels” under the Maker label. This included its flagship “SNL”-style channel TheStation as well as the personality-based channels like KassemG, ShayCarl and (eventually) NicePeter and EpicLloyd. We were there to just write sketches. What could go —

WHAT WENT WRONG: a couple things. First off, very quickly after I got hired, the powers that be in charge of Maker Studios (aka the very Personalities running their own Personality Channels) decided to change the direction of the entire operation. I never got a full rundown of the scenario, but what I gathered was that it changed from a “writing sketch comedy, first and foremost” mantra to a “we’re open for product-based infotainment.” This philosophical adjustment lead to the immediate departure of our famed Head Writers the Fine Brothers, which basically left the staff writers adrift in the ocean without a paddle or a sail. Add to that the “fact” that the basic conceit of such an enterprise — hiring outside writers to generate material for personalities — takes a lot of trust at least and can fall apart quickly at best. These YouTube personalities got where they were by creating their own material and honing their own voice. What did they need us for? At the beginning of the summer, I had gotten my foot in the door of a potential dream job. By the end, the writing room was dissolved to no surprise of any of us.

WHAT CAME OF IT: I have my name on some very successful viral videos, I got to see how such things come together at a basic planning level, and I am a footnote to a footnote of history in that Pete “NicePeter” Shukoff — in search of a refillable series — was just coming up with a celebrity rap battle idea, and he wanted ideas for lyrics and insults. Nothing ever came of Justin Bieber vs. Greyson Chance rap battle… directly. But Epic Rap Battles of History took off like gang busters. Making such claims makes me feel a little like Jose Canseco, bragging like I’m part of something when I’m not really that integral. Yet every time I get another “ERB” update, I remember seeing Pete in that windowless room pitching this idea and jamming out some bits for him.

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