http://Spidvid.com – We are back with another exciting Spidcast episode this month (listen in below and subscribe on iTunes) with a focus on collaborative filmmaking. For July’s show we feature two filmmakers and actors who have both created original web series. These two individuals are doing interesting things within the new media space, and it was our pleasure to have Gavin Leighton and Mike Lawson (both featured below) on the show.
Gavin Leighton is a co-creator behind the web series Hitting the Fan, he also works in the creative and business aspects of acting, writing, music, producing, and collaborating.
Mike Lawson is also a co-creator of the Hitting the Fan web series, is behind Idiotscreen, and has appeared in a few feature films including “Friends With Money, Fast Track, and American Pie Presents Band Camp.
Full Show Transcript Below
Michael: Hi. I’m Michael London and welcome to Spidcast, the future of collaborative video production brought to you by Spidvid.com. On this episode, we’re visiting with Gavin Leighton and Mike Lawson, both actors living in Los Angeles and both now blazing their trail to non-traditional video production and delivery and worldwide collaboration as well. They have, in fact, worked together but also separately both with great success. I’m certain you’ll enjoy their similar but quite unique stories as well.
First up is Gavin Leighton. Gavin, welcome to Spidcast.
Gavin Leighton: Thank you. I’m really excited to be here and thank you for the opportunity to get to speak with others that are like-minded who want to do what they want to do.
Michael: Gavin, tell us a little bit about your story?
Gavin Leighton: I live in Los Angeles. I moved to Los Angeles about 7-and-a-half years ago. I moved out here specifically for acting, music and writing. During that time, I’ve worked some as an actor and booked things which have been exciting, but I’ve also have, most excitingly, been able to work on projects where I helped to create or I was just a part of the process with a group of friends and getting to wear lots of little hats on various projects over the course of time that I’ve been out here, which for me, have been really fulfilling. It’s a different experience that just booking something and moving on. You actually create something which is pretty exciting.
Michael: Well, it sounds great. Now, tell us a little bit about how you broke into the business.
Gavin Leighton: I’ve had the honor and the good fortune to work with some really great people out here in Los Angeles. I’ll name a few as I go along, but just name some, I’ve had the good fortune of working with Peter Atencio, working with Jen Ci, and Elisia Skye and these are all people that have made some really incredible video content and had gotten some attention with their work for numerous reasons specially with the quality of their work.
One of the things kind of most notably for me was I produced something called “Barackula: The Musical.” We did this several years ago, long time towards the end of ’07, long before it was cool to jump on the Barack Obama bandwagon and making videos about him. We created this 12 minutes—I call it a short political-horror-rock musical and basically Barack Obama fighting vampires at Harvard Law School. It’s totally fun and two musical numbers and dancing which I composed for, I helped produce, I also starred in.
That was kind of my first experience with collaborating with others in creating video content and it got a lot of attention. We were featured on CNN, Fox, MSNBC. We were discussed with VH1 and MTV. We’re in newspapers. It was really cool. We got a lot of great publicity and it was all kind of unintentional. We were not aiming to get that kind of publicity. It just kind of fell into our laps because we released it at the beginning of February of 2008 like around Super Tuesday, just for fun, and it just kind of took off from there for awhile which was cool.
Michael: Now, I’m going to guess on that production that you took advantage of collaboration?
Gavin Leighton: Absolutely. So, what had happened was, some friends of mine, Mike Lawson who I work with quite a bit, Brooke Shirey, Justin Sherman—they were just making a short film and they wanted to know if I wanted to produce it along with them. It was just really a story about Barack Obama being at Harvard and that’s all it kind of was. I like the idea of collaborating because you get to spend time with friends in a really special way, in a way that you get to do something that you love to do. You get to create something. But then somebody came up with the idea of making it a musical and that really got my attention. I was really on board from that point on and then they decided to make it a vampire musical.
We just had a great time. The four of us working very closely together and we created a great script and we made some really great music and the script and music and the idea that inspired and rolled others to kind of be a part of the project.
We kind of enlisted a guy named Mark Mannschreck who had a RED Camera and it was the first time that any of us got to use or even see a RED Camera in the beginning of ’08 when it was really just kind of coming out. This guy Mark allowed us to just use his camera. He was just being a part of it just because he enjoyed the idea of it and so he got himself inspired to be a part of it. That’s kind of how it happened.
And something very, very small an idea that we had that we didn’t have these big, high hopes for, it was just something we just wanted to do for fun, turned out to be something much bigger than any of us expected and I think that got me really into the idea of collaborating with others.
Michael: Well, you’ve certainly whetted my appetite. Where can we see that?
Gavin Leighton: Thank you. It’s Barackula.com. People tend to misspell it but it’s just like the President’s last name. It’s B-A-R-A-C-K-U-L-A. Like Dracula but Barackula. Just Baracula.com and you’ll be able to see how press and all that but you can also watch the full 12-minute video in HD on there. Again, everything there, just so the listeners can know, it looks really good, but we shot it I think for about 2,000 or less and a lot of it was just from favors that we got from friends. We got food donated to us. It was really just one of those things where we know the right people.
We’re in that community of making video content and by knowing others and by being a part of that group, they come in and they help you with the thinking that at some point, you’ll return the favor and it’s kind of like a family that produces these projects and we have. Barackula.com. I hope people go and check it out.
Michael: I’m sure they will as will I. Now, you mentioned limited budgets, tell us how to get the most from a limited or even sometimes a no-budget production?
Gavin Leighton: Sure. I’ll speak to it with some experience. Most recently, we’ve produced a new comedy series called “Hitting the Fan”. It’s very, very small budget. The first place to start when you want to create something like a web series or just a show or just a single thing, the first place to go is have that clear idea of what you want.
Before you start calling friends over, before you maybe even start writing, you really want to think what is it that I want to create? How can I do this cheaply? Who do I know that can help me on this? People sometimes think that when you hear the word resources, you think in financial terms, but in this kind of world, in this kind of arena, with making video content, your resources are the people around you. If you associate with people that make video content or know people that do, they have a great wealth of resources for you that you may not even be able to imagine. At least start sending out emails or making phone calls and starting from there to see what people can do.
We had asked a friend of ours that the sound—our friend, Josh Bissett, he joined us on “Hitting the Fan”. It was all just a favor to us. We didn’t pay him pretty much at all. He should’ve take more, but he did it simply because he’s a part of that group and at some point, I assumed that will help him with something as well. That’s one way to begin.
Michael: Okay so you got the project done and now you’ve posted it. How do you get people to find it?
Gavin Leighton: Okay, once you’re past the production aspects and you’re now on post-production, maybe editing or even past that, what do you do now? Once again, I would say, look around at the world around you. Follow the right people on things like Twitter. That’s certainly an amazing resource because if you follow the right people on Twitter, you can learn information that you really wouldn’t get unless you spend hours digging up online. These people are doing it for you already and you can do it and kind of live streaming in action.
Other ways to figure out how do you benefit others? Where does your content belong? For instance, you made a series, would a company like Netflix or Xbox, would they have any interest in having some original content? Is the quality of the audio and the video quality up to par with what they want if you’ve done some good planning on your end in pre-production and production? Maybe you have some really phenomenal quality of writing, of performances, video/audio. If you have all the four magic things all in place together, there’s a lot of places where you can go. Right now what we’re doing is we’ve shot two episodes of our show and we’re kind of on that same place, we’re reaching out to places where it might belong.
Another example, maybe check in with a website or a product or something—I’m just going to Target, I don’t know, for some reason, it comes to me. You contact Target and maybe for some reason, (pay) their own show on their website. Who knows the reason why, but they just might. Maybe your show has that original content that they’re looking for which they can also advertise on as well. All of the sudden, out of nowhere, you have some great financing that you never would’ve expected. It’s simply, once again, a matter of collaboration, but this time with a company.
Michael: Well, you’ve given us some wonderful insights into the whole process from idea to completion. What do you foresee now in the next say, five to ten years?
Gavin Leighton: It’s funny when that has had a hand in making video content. Now, people know that it’s an exciting time to be doing this because look at where things were five years ago? You never would’ve imagined the kind of advantage that we see with video equipment and all your equipment that we have access to now. Not only do we have access too, but also really cheaply. There was never anything like HD cameras. It would’ve cost a fortune five years ago, but right now, and there’s no excuse for anybody to not be able to make something that is worthy for a big screen, with lots of people watching it or worthy of having 10, 20,000, 30,000 people following it.
It’s just a really phenomenal, exciting time to be doing this because cameras are going to be getting better. Sound equipments are going to be getting better. They’re also going to get more affordable. Even this month, I think, final cutbacks with Apple (has got) software coming out, I believe, this month if I got that right. Even advances in just software can really take people’s production to a new level that they would not have imagined five years ago.
The exciting thing is in five years from now, it’s just going to be the same thing, but it’s going to be exponential. I see in five years now, everyone having cameras like the RED camera or better. Being able to make something that looks beautiful for under a thousand dollars or whatever it might be.
Once you have these resources available to you, the first place to begin is a good, proper planning. What do you want to write? What kind of script do you want? Get out there and speak. I suggest people to give their scripts to others and let them do a table read because technology can get better and you can have access to really phenomenal equipment that’ll make you look good. But you want to make sure that the content is good too. It’s all equal in form.
Michael: Well, there you make an excellent point. The accessibility, the ease of use, the quality of the equipment, but it still comes down to the writing.
Gavin Leighton: Absolutely. Every single time. Again, another example with our show right now, “Hitting the Fan”, we did a table read with a group of friends that we were not asking to help us. We just wanted to hear how it sounded out loud with me and Mike Lawson and Ron Fallica, kind of production he might have out here. And we liked having this table read but once people read the script, there are actors with great credit, people with great talent, people that their time is valuable. They said to us, how do we be a part of this? We just want to be a part of it. We’ll help any way that we can. This is a great script. It’s very funny. It starts with that. From that point forward, because we had a good product before the cameras are turned on, more resources became available to us and also for free. We got free location and things like that in nature.
Michael: Gavin, tell us a bit about how Spidvid has impacted collaboration and production for you?
Gavin Leighton: Absolutely, when I first learned about Spidvid, not too long ago, is impressed with the idea. It’s essentially just a place where people like myself and others, the same who’ll be listening to this, can really connect with others and it’s another great resource out there. That’s what it’s all about. You go online and you put out a video idea and before you know it, the world brings you something that you would not have expected yesterday. And now, all of the sudden, your project is jumping to new great heights which built the excitement and built the, I think, the production value as well.
I think it’s a great form for people to connect and learn things about themselves as video creators and also learn things about others and to produce even better content in the future. Jeremy’s is also just a pretty nice guy.
Michael: He is that indeed. If you could just wrap this up with a few easily digestible nuggets, what would they be?
Gavin Leighton: The four things that I think that are most valuable is that they’re your four pillars for a great project and that is great writing, great performances, great video, and great audio. If one of those pillars is missing, I feel like the foundation of what you’re trying to accomplish will fall apart if you’re trying to go for something grand. If you’re just wanting to make something just to make it and show friends on Facebook or YouTube or whatever, then you have a lot more freedom but if you’re trying to take it to a next level, you are getting financing or want to place it on a network, you really need to take under consideration, I think, these four very essential aspects to video creating.
Michael: Excellent. Now, Gavin, one more time, where do we see your stuff?
Gavin Leighton: You can see my new show, which I’m the star, the writer and composer of this as well, Hittingthefanshow.com. You can watch Barackula at Barackula.com and I can be emailed from any of these sites. The best one out is Gavin@hittingthefanshow.com.
Michael: Thank you so much, Gavin Leighton for joining us today.
Gavin Leighton: Michael, thank you so much. I appreciate it.
Michael: Next up is an actor, writer and editor of Idiotscreen.com. He’s Mike Lawson. So tell us a bit about yourself and what’s your story?
Mike Lawson: Well, I grew up in Dayton, Ohio, in a small town right outside of Dayton. I always knew that I wanted to be a part of films. I started making films when I was around four or five and my parents played different roles and I would direct them and write them and make remakes of movies that I really like, like “Red Dawn” and a movie called “Daryl”, which is a cheesy movie about a boy robot.
I write and I just continue to do that through my childhood and I moved out to L.A. like so many other people primarily to be an actor and a writer, but I really focused on writing first and (I was) in the acting first. I started working at casting offices just to intern and learn the other side and worked in script development in a couple of production companies also to learn that side. Slowly, I booked like kind of bit parts on TV shows and then the parts started to go a little bit bigger and did some independent films and started to write more and I started to produce my own stuff because I got tired of waiting around like so many people do.
I produced a couple of short films and web series and then I thought of the idea to kind of create my own site like a blog featuring interviews and panel discussions in our own content that my friends and I would do and have a hub for it. I created Idiotscreen.com and now it brings me to greater than right about now. That’s basically my story in a nutshell there.
Michael: So take us to the process from your idea to script to the finish product?
Mike Lawson: Well, my friends and I, we thought of an idea originally for like a half-hour comedy show and we wrote a pilot and we were like where do we take this? We didn’t have many connections with inside the big network studio system so we said let’s do this on our own. At that time, the people were, of course, creating their own content for the web, and we thought we can do this. We have the script and then we have to add the outline for the rest of the series. The show is called “Hitting the Fan” and we basically kind of pooled our friends together. We had a sound guy friend of ours that we said can we get work (cheaper too.)
We started creating the website just this WordPress site, found this WordPress theme and started learning that so you’d have the color scheme and then we just called all our friends and Facebooked them. Between the three of us, my friends Gavin and Ron, and we basically put in money we had into it, which was very little and created a test pilot shot on a HV20 camera this little mini DV camera.
We used China lanterns because they were super cheap. We used other kinds of light fixtures from Home Depot and when our sound guy couldn’t be there, we had the other actors kind of boom that first episode. We shot it and it took several months to edit it. We had a guy editing it, a friend of ours in New York. We were editing out here between our computers. Had a lot of bad luck as far as like computers crashing and there’s probably like five different computers that was on. Then we had a friend do the sound mix.
We created it. We had a screening and then we decided let’s do a second episode before we air anything. We went out and we put a little bit more money but not much but we have learned a lot from that from that first one way shot on the T2i Rebel and the Canon 70 DSLR HD cameras and we got our other friends involved and we used again, mostly China lanterns, not really any traditional film lights but we went out and we shot it and same thing, it was a lot quicker because we didn’t shoot as much footage. We improved a lot more that first one. We were a lot more efficient with our time and our schedule and the second episode and we kind of put it out there.
That’s kind of how that happened for that show, “Hitting the Fan”. And then another series that I did was a lot different. That panel show for Idiotscreen. Basically, I just contacted various people that I’d want to interview and schedule a day at a friend’s house and had the basic China lanterns and borrowed a couple of lights from friends and set up three cameras, two T2i Rebels and the one 70, had some friends come. We just shot interviews all day and then had another friend edit and put it out on the web and try to send it out to the influencers out there, the people that who’s opinion seem to matter, which I believe is everyone, but we send out to everyone and also those who have even more influence as far as views on their site whatever.
Michael: Now, through what you just said, there was a continuing thread—friends, friends, friends. Tell us about how friends and Spidcast and others have helped you?
Mike Lawson: Well, Spidvid and Facebook and them together are basically—for us, I can speak at least for how we do it. They need resources to find talent because like a lot of the people that I work with, I come mostly again from the acting background and at the time, I didn’t have a lot of friends that were—I have one sound guy friend, which was a blessing, but the other people, I didn’t have many DP friends or editor friends or grips.
In certain cases for acting’s sake, one of my friends are kind of playing the similar age to me, kind mid to late 20’s, but there’s not always, maybe like someone in their 40’s or a teenager. It was very helpful to find people who I didn’t have in my inner circle then and who wanted to do the same thing. Of course, by them helping us out, in turn, we owe them our help on their passion projects. It’s just a way to find people because very often, in our case, we didn’t have the funds and even so, even if we did, we would want to have a place to find them that we could trust, that we would have like obviously, if we have people who’ll vouch for other people in person and online, we can trust them more than if we just got a resume through Craigslist.
Seeing someone’s profile page and their example work all in one page, I think, is very helpful and on Spidvid and Facebook and Twitter in a completely different way, but for as far as connecting, Facebook, Spidvid and some of the other places out there are huge resource to filmmakers and they definitely were for us.
Michael: Well, you feel your collaborators have certainly helped to bring the future to reality. What do you now see in the near and distant future?
Mike Lawson: Well, I see it going on the direction that it is. It’s becoming, of course, more digital and that gatekeepers once were at these networks and studios. They, of course, fight on to it to keep their place but it’s slowly slipping away. If you think that when it comes to collaboration, there’s going to be more and more content and more and more avenues to watch it and it’s already happening the way everyone is watching on different devices, mobile and of course, on internet, on television and vice versa. We’re just going to see more of that.
What I don’t think is going to change too much or I hope not is the medium itself. I’m a huge fan of collaboration. I think that that’s an incredibly important thing, but I also think that having a specific vision, it was the one creator or a couple creators and of course listening to input is very important but what I hope that it doesn’t change is that personally, I’m not a big fan of interactive content. When I’m watching a story or reading a book, I want the writer or director to take me into certain place. I don’t think that’s going to change except for a couple of gimmicks here and there, but where will change and get better, I think. There’s more and more sites and keeps growing. We can find more people and we can monetize the content online.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt has that hitRECord site which I believe just sold a first book from someone coming up with an idea of that site and they have a book deal, I believe, I just saw. I could be wrong. We’ll see more and more of that where the gatekeepers are going away and the gatekeepers are just you and me and everyone else who are have an internet account. That’s just going to continue to grow and get better. Unlike where the actual storytelling itself despite a couple of gimmicks and niches here and there, I hope that doesn’t change too much because I think there’s something to be said for classic storytelling. Pushing boundaries is one thing but that’s basically kind of what I feel about.
Michael: Mike, you’ve mentioned the phrase “gatekeepers” several times and is it that a wonderful thing that the process of those “gatekeepers” that their influence has changed.
Mike Lawson: Yes, it’s a great thing. It doesn’t cost as much to create something now that you used to. The gatekeepers are not as important they once were. We now have the ability to go out there and create what we want to create at a cheaper rate. That’s inspiring. You can also use that with the cost going down and more content out there, it’s harder to monetize, but I believe that the ones that really stand out—the films, short films, the web series, whatever it may be—the ones that are truly great will find a home and will make money and we’re going to make some money on their next one. I think that the good ones will eventually be found.
Michael: Now that we’ve had a chance to visit with you Mike and folks have gotten to know you, I’m sure they’re going to want to see your stuff. Where do we go find some of your work?
Mike Lawson: You can go to Idiotscreen.com or Hittingthefanshow.com and you can watch the panel shows and interviews that we’ve done and also the original series “Hitting the Fan” and then we’ve got a feature film called “The Deadbeat”. We’ll be shooting later this fall and there’ll be more information about that as well. Idiotscreen.com and Hittingthefanshow.com as well.
Michael: Excellent. And do you have a parting shot for all listeners?
Mike Lawson: No, I mean, other than I guess the typical, just set a due date and go out and do something, I think you’ll find it be the best thing. As Seth Goden says, “Ship it.” Just go out there and ship something out into the world and then keep and go out and ship something else and constantly we’ll better each time, but the important thing is to “ship it”.
Michael: Mike Lawson, thank you so much for taking the time to visit today.
Mike Lawson: Thank you, Michael. I appreciate it.
Michael: Thanks for listening to our Spidcast show. We appreciate your time and attention. You can now join the conversation at Spidcast.com or on our Spidvid blog. And you can join our collaborative filmmaking community at Spidvid.com. Tune in next month for another entertaining and informative episode of Spidcast.