How does working with Dave Bundtzen differ from other productions?
Dave is very competent at what he does and is extremely organized. It is so great to work with a Director that shares the same interests musically too. This definitely helps when composing music for Dave’s projects as I know what he is looking for in the score. Dave also keeps me in the loop with everything that is happening, which makes things go so much smoother and things get completed so much quicker.
What do you like about working on online video shorts?
I love how quickly they can reach a worldwide audience within just a few days! It is amazing how you can get your product available worldwide with just a few clicks from your computer.
Has online video and social media changed what you do?
Totally, when used constructively it is an extremely useful tool! Without social media I would never of got to meet and work with Dave and it wouldn’t be possible to do what I do without it.
Here is the track Undercover Attack from Imperceptive. Have a listen below.
We are back with our best Spidcast episode to date this month (listen in below and subscribe on iTunes) with a focus on storytelling and passion. September’s Spidcast features the incredible John Gray, who’s the creator of TV show “Ghost Whisperer” along with the amazingly talented Melissa Jo Peltier who’s the co-executive producer of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”
John Gray is a writer, director, producer, who is the creator and one of the executive producers of the CBS television series Ghost Whisperer starring Jennifer Love Hewitt. He has also written and directed many high profile movies for television, such as the remake of the 1976 film Helter Skelter, Martin and Lewis, The Hunley, The Day Lincoln Was Shot, among others. He has written and directed feature films as well.
If you’re interested in sponsoring next month’s Spidcast show with a product or service you sell that’s filmmaking related, then please get in touch. If you have something to say with regards to what Melissa and John talked about, then please post a comment below to continue the conversation. Thanks for listening, and be sure to share this show with anyone in your network who can get value from its content!
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 John Gray and Melissa Jo Peltier. You’ve recently seen John’s work as a producer on the TV series “Ghost Whisperer” and in TV movies such as “Helter Skelter”, “Martin and Lewis” and a lot more. Melissa’s credits include executive producer with the “Dog Whisperer” and co-executive producer on “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”. They collaborated together on John’s semi-autobiographical film “ White Irish Drinkers”. I’m certain you’ll enjoy their similar but quite unique stories as well.
First up is John Gray. John, welcome to Spidcast.
John: Well, thanks for having me.
Michael: Tell us a bit about your story?
John: Well, I was very, very luck to know, at a young age, that this is what I want to do. I used to think I wanted to be an actor when I was very young kid because I thought the actors kind of did a role and then it started to dawn on me as I made films with my uncle’s Super 8 camera and got more involved with what it takes to actually put a little movie together and tell a story, I realized that there was a sort of presence, another brain that was behind the camera that pretty holds the stuff together. And I gave up the idea of being an actor which I think is good news for the world and really got committed to writing and directing and they both came to be one thing to me.
I was very young when I made that commitment. I was also very lucky because I was so young and because I grew in Brooklyn and knew no one in the film business or the television business; no connections whatsoever. I had no idea how hard it was. I really did have no idea how impossible trying to break it to the business. I just kind of went on my way just thinking this is was what I’m going to do with my life and I’m going to make it happen.
It took about 12 years, I guess, before I can actually start making a living at it but I was just really persistent and always try to make movies on my own, always trying to do a lot by yourself and writing all the time and it opened to me that I got an opportunity to direct some educational films in Washington, DC that were dramatic films but they were for classroom use and it was great experience.
To make the very long story short, there’s the script I had written that got me signed by an agent in LA, and that’s what started my career, in earnest, I was then able to really make a living just writing and openly to directing and I got started in television. My first film was actually an independent feature and I started doing TV movies which I really enjoy because I was able to do really, I felt, really interesting stories. It really had some great material to work with. That’s sort of the really telescoped “Reader’s Digest” version of how I got started.
Michael: John, you touched on something just a moment ago. If you had known just how difficult this business can be, would you have taken the same career path?
John: You know, that’s a great question. That’s a really great question and that’s something that I often think about. One of the reasons why I think I’m so lucky that I didn’t know. Because maybe if someone sat me down and say, okay, you’re 18, (you’re going to reach to) 30, by the time you can actually make a living doing this.
I don’t know maybe don’t want to do that. I don’t know. I’d like to think that I was committed enough to not care, but in my mind I was going to be a (success) tomorrow. I’m going to get this next thing done tomorrow. That’s how the attitude had a little…so I never sat down and went, “Wow, this is taking a really long time. Should I give up?” The more obstacles I found, the more determined I got to do it. It’s really important here you’ll be desperate too because you’ll realize I didn’t think I was suited for anything else in life really than to be a filmmaker. That was really what I felt I was here to do. That’s a good question. I’m glad I didn’t have to answer it for real.
Michael: Tell us a bit about how creating content for television differs from content for the film world?
John: I think the big difference is that if you’re for TV, of course, for broadcast television, you’re trying to get that big here wide audience but at the same time, at least in terms of movies, not so much series but in terms of movies, the subject matter you can tackle is so much more interesting that what you can usually do in the feature world. I made movies about the first Civil War submarine. I did a movie about the partnership between Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. I did a movie about Lincoln assassination.
I was able to indulge a lot of my own personal fascinations by making movies about them for television which, in the feature world, you’re probably never going to get those movies made unless you have some mega star casting. That’s why always love working in television movies particularly. I did a lot of movies for TNT and for CBS. At that time, there are not very many made now, but at that time, it was easier to get to do something little bit different and really kind of interesting and each movie I did was vastly different from the other.
In the feature world, I found it difficult to try to anticipate what’s commercial and what isn’t. As a writer, I’m more attracted to sort of character-driven material. That’s very difficult to do in the feature world. I knew I’ve made a few features and I hope to make more features but mostly I’ve tried to stay in that indie sort of sensibility where you just sort of make new what they’ll consider small movies but to me are very big movies about relationships and people and humanity and how we all deal with each other.
Michael: Hey, John, I’d like to hear about your most recent film, “White Irish Drinkers”. Take us through that.
John: It was a script I had written about 10 years ago that I really, really wanted to make. One of the character piece, it was a very goody kind of violent look at growing up in Brooklyn. I could never get money raised to actually get it financed as a feature. For those 10 years, I just kept revisiting it and trying to figure how I can get this made.
A lot of people read the script in the business and liked the script and in fact, it got me a lot of work like writing work, but no one really wanted to make it. It even just felt like, you know, the character that’s small…so what happened during those 10 years then, really three things, I guess, one is that the technology changed so drastically in those 10 years. And then also, I was lucky enough to get a successful television series on CBS that lasted for five years so I had some more financial resources that I’ve never had before. The only thing was that I married Melissa, who’s a really brilliant producer and she kind of convinced me to not give up on this movie and so we have sort of teamed up. I realized that I could probably spend about $600,000 and make this movie digitally and call in on favors in people I’ve worked with for the past 20 years and that’s really how that came about.
We shot it for $600,000. We shot it in 17 days, all in Brooklyn. We have a wonderful cast Stephen Lang, Karen Allen and Peter Riegert and then some really exciting young actors Nick Thurston, Geoff Wigdor, Leslie Murphy, people I think that are going to be huge in the years to come. It is a wonderful experience. It was great making a movie just as what we wanted to make it. There was no studio. There was no network. It was just us.
The movie was released. We got a small release. We were out at about 25 cities. But that in itself is a miracle these days because the climate that the independent films in. It’s on DVD now and Blu-Ray and Netflix and iTunes and it’ll be on Showtime in the fall. It was a great experience. We got the movie out there and it was something I’m dying to do again.
Michael: And we do hope that you get that opportunity again. As you said, “Ghost Whisperer” allowed you the financing to make that film. Take us a little bit of the story of “Ghost Whisperer”?
John: It was really interesting because I’ve never done a series before. In fact, I’ve never even pursued a series. This opportunity just came to me because the executive I work with in CBS had wanted me to meet this woman who the “Ghost Whisperer” was based on. When I met this woman, I realized there was a way to maybe really do a series that for me to be really interesting in this was (meld) horror with emotional character-driven stories. That’s kind of how I pitched it and probably most people who get involved in the series is that they never believe they’re going to go and I wrote the pilot and I figured that that’ll be the end of that and then they said well, let’s shoot it. I thought, well, okay, I’ve never directed a pilot. I’ll see what that’s like and I’m sure that’s as far as it’ll go.
We made the pilot and they said, okay, why don’t you do 13 of them? I was like, “Oh no, I have to do this 13 more times. I don’t know if I could do it”. And they openly gave us a full season pick up and openly we went to do five years. I loved a lot of it. I wrote many, many episodes, directed many, many episodes and that was really fun because it was so fast. You get an idea for a show and then two months later, it’s on the air.
In that respect, it was very (heady) and we loved the cast and the crew’s really like family to me. That part was really great. The part that I enjoyed less was the kind of a show on her aspect of it where the first two seasons where it was really kind of dealing with more administrative things and creative things. Of course, writing, I guess were the biggest creative job but it was dealing with the network and dealing with the studio and dealing with agents and dealing with physical production and things that a producer does and things that I’d never aspire to do. I just consider myself a writer-director and that’s really what I wanted to do.
In that third season, we brought in P.K. Simmons to be the real show runner so that I could sort of step back and pursue other things but also keep writing and directing for this series and that was a wonderful change for me and that’s what openly allowed to write some of the pilots and also to get “White Irish Drinkers” off the ground.
Michael: So you have gotten one of your dream projects off the ground, you’ve had it made, you’ve had it distributed, but John, if you were a 20-something, just trying to break in to the business, what is the career path you would take? What advice do you have for the young filmmaker looking to get in?
John: I think the really advantage that young people starting out today have is again, the digital possibilities of cinema. When I wanted to make a movie, I had to do what I do it either in Super 8 or the Kid or 16mm. It was a huge expense but I mean, now, you see people making movies on their iPhones. To me, that’s really exciting and that’s what I really advice and I always advice everyone to do is get out there and make movies. Learn. Learn how to tell stories to the camera. Learn to how to work with actors.
That’s what I always emphasize because I feel like what’s happening with young filmmakers today is that they’re so involved with the technical aspects of it which are really fascinating and limitless. But I think what we’re losing a little bit is people being interested in storytelling and in creating performances with an actor and collaborating with an actor.
A lot of times, you’ll see a director on the set these days and they just hide behind the monitor and they never talk to the actors. That’s an art, I think, we’re losing and so that’s something I always encourage young filmmakers to learn. I encourage them to read not just scripts but read the great novels, learn storytelling in the best possible way, see every movie you possible can, and take acting classes. Learn what it’s like to be an actor. It doesn’t matter if you suck as an actor, but you have to learn what actors go through. And be a friend to the actor. Don’t be afraid of actors. To me, those are the best things to do. It’s a scary atmosphere today as it always do because the business is contracted and if you’re movie’s been made and there isn’t any longer that incredible reservoir of television movies where you can go cut your teeth and learn on. Now, I think, it’s just be who’s any young filmmaker to go out there and make your movie, make it as great as you can, learn from it, make another one, get it out in the internet, get it on YouTube, get it seen and just keep working that way. Just never rest. Just keep going.
Michael: Excellent advice, John for the young filmmakers. Now, as you said, you’ve seen in your lifetime the whole process of filmmaking change completely. Let’s go forward maybe to the year 2021, ten years from now. What do you see? What will filmmaking look like then?
John: It’s hard to guess because who knows what’s the next development is around the corner, but based on what I see now, I think everyone will be experiencing movies to their computers or certainly through the (ether). I think the idea of the DVDs, unfortunately, the hardware’s probably going to go away. I think that movies are going to get easier and easier to make, easier and easier to see, and I don’t know if that’s going to devalue them or if it’s going to make them more valuable. I’m not really sure how those all are going to shape out.
I think that we’ll probably look at it in the future. I believe that probably the only big studio movies that will get made in the future are big ten pole “Planet of the Apes” and gigantic event movies. I think the smaller movies like “The Help” and movies like that, I think we’re probably going to see more on demand or in delivery systems other that theaters because I just believe that it’s not going to be cost-effective in the future to make those movies and market them in theaters. I hope I’m wrong. I really do, but that’s kind of where I see it going.
Michael: Now, there you make an excellent point. The accessibility, the ease of use, the quality of equipment, but it still comes down to the writing. Am I right on that?
John: I think it does. I think, at the end of the day, the things that last, the thing that live on to people’s memories “The Godfathers”, the classic films, the Tennessee Williams’ movies…it’s all about the characters, the writing and the storytelling. The other part that’s great too, I’m the first guy on line to see the big effects movies. They just don’t go away. They will live on in the history of film.
Look at the movie, “Rocky”, couldn’t be a simpler film, done for I don’t know how much money, million bucks, maybe back in those days. People still reference “Rocky”, they still talk about it. They still it was just that movie about people. I think those are the kind of movies that live on and I would hope that there are more people that wanted to make those kinds of movies even though in the future, they may not be as widely distributed as the bigger effects movies but we need those movies and I think they’re starting to be eradicated a little bit by these big effects extravaganzas, which I think, I’m not down on those, I love them. I’m always there for them. But I just don’t want them to have to be all there is.
Michael: I am in agreement with you there, John. Tell us what is next from John Gray?
John: Well, right now, I’m in New Orleans. I’m directing a movie for TNT called “Hide”, which is a terrific thriller, which I did not write, but Janet Brownell wrote it based on a novel. Melissa and I are producing partners have another low-budgeted thriller called “Slander”, which is about hate speech that we’re trying to raise money for right now. We’re trying to do some casting attached. That’s another movie we’re hoping to make independently as a feature. I’ve written another TNT movie and basically just trying to stay busy and keep it all going.
Michael: Thank you, John Gray for joining us today on Spidcast.
Next up is writer/producer/director Melissa Jo Peltier. Melissa continues to produce the “Dog Whisperer” and co-executive produced “My Big, Fat Greek Wedding”. And as you’ve just heard, she is a frequent professional collaborator with our previous guest and is also married to John Gray. Welcome, Melissa.
Melissa: Thank you. I’m happy to be here.
Michael: Tell us about your story and how did you break into filmmaking?
Melissa: Well, my beginning in filmmaking was due to my father who is 90 and literally just retired from teaching. He was teaching at Harvard Institute for Learning in Retirement and he was at the time an audiovisual librarian but (by first-rated) filmmaker and he actually taught me how to edit films when I was 9. I made my first movie when I was 8 years old. I was doing plays when I was 4. He has basically taught me film theory before I knew what film theory was. I was bitten by the bug that young and I was just…the national storyteller.
The way I got into the business really was I went to Pomona College in Claremont, California, which I was a really wonderful school and I was an English major there but I was also in theater there. While I was a senior there, I got an internship on a documentary and that sort of sent me down the documentary path even though my goal has been to do drama. I got very addicted to doing documentaries. I got sort of caught up in the excitement of being a fly on the wall and being in people’s real lives and doing what I felt was making a difference because that’s how that social justice side of me show. That was my beginning and because our business was so varied and there’s no direct 1-2-3 path, you can take to do anything. I definitely geared from that over the years but that was definitely my start.
Michael: So you say that you learned to edit from your dad, you mean you we’re actually cutting film stock or digitally?
Melissa: No, it was a long time ago, there was no digital then. I was editing Super 8 film on little, teenie movie. I was with glue, cutting it with glue. I had small fingers so it actually made it even easier because I was only 9.
Michael: What a great experience.
Melissa: It really was. I think one of the things that I learned early off from my dad, but also my mother was a third generation English major and there was a lot of reading in my family. A lot of reading a lot of classic films and theater and I think just the building blocks of storytelling. One of the things that excited me about documentaries was I’ve never thought about how the building blocks of fictional storytelling can be used in telling real life stories. That was something that just thrilled me and took me off in that direction. And those are things I learned (mine) too.
Michael: Well, fiction or non-fiction, you’re still telling a story so it always comes back to the writing.
Melissa: I think so. One of the questions I know you wanted to ask me was advice to young filmmakers and want to be filmmakers and my main advice, I was thinking about this today is to learn storytelling and to learn it from the (great) tragedies, the real ones today to the most avant-garde methods of storytelling today and try to see the patterns because no matter what you can have the most original work in the world, you can be the most imaginative person in the world, but you still work hard about tradition and you will fall somewhere along that line even if you’re pioneering a whole new genre.
I just recently read an article about how there’s a lot of people who wanted to become writers who don’t think they should have to read and they don’t think they should have to read classic and there are…that way, but the truth is, you’re reinventing the wheel if doing that. Also I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t want to experience the pleasure of reading and singing classic songs. To me, that’s one of those natural highs of life.
I think learning the basics of storytelling is one of the most important things that any storyteller can do whether even if you’re a cameraman and you’re just going to shoot, you still want to learn storytelling, story (beads), how stories unfold and how it’s been done and the many, many different ways it’s been done over the years. Whether it’s a mini-story or reality TV or it’s an opera, it’s the same basic principles of storytelling and everything flows from there. I can’t recommend enough to young filmmakers to really study great things in every possible film all the way back to the great plays.
Michael: Excellent advice, Melissa. Now, you recently were involved in a project with a fantastic story, “White Irish Drinkers”, tell us about that.
Melissa: “White Irish Drinkers” came about because my husband, John Gray had been doing the “Ghost Whisperer” series, which he created for a number of years and that went off the air and he had written a couple of pilots for network TV and he’s really an incredible writer and the pilots stopped to that point where they were in the running…it was between his pilot and another pilot and which then that happened twice in a row and it’s a good way to make a living. It definitely pays the bills but he was getting frustrated about not being able to tell his own stories.
So he pulled this script out of the drawer and he said, this is what I wanted to make for years. Is it any good? I don’t know and I read it and I just said “I think that this the most honest thing you’ve written and I think we should make it”. We actually decided to throw our money, well it was really John’s money he made from “Ghost Whisperer” and make it and call in whatever favors we could. Nobody works free on it but everybody worked pretty damn close.
To really get out there and make and for me, it was my first experience. I’ve actually been involved in independent films before but it was my first experience really getting down and dirty on the ground making an independent film. And I had two other producers with me, Paul Bernard and James Scura. Jim was more of the guy watching the budget. He was not on the set. Paul was actually doing the first assistant director. John was there also.
But really, between the two of us, we were putting out all the fires our film that’s smaller than a lot of fires but it taught me first of all, that all my TV experience, learning how to do down and dirty and fast, actually paid off because we were able to a feature film in 17 days and do it well.
I think the other think that it taught me in terms of filmmaking was it taught me about the honesty of a filmmaker’s voice and if you can stay connected to that how it really comes out in every aspect of the film, I believe John’s so connected to this film that it was infectious for the actors, the production and to all of us. Everyone up to the last possible minute was amazing, actors like Karen Allen and Stephen Lang were going out on their own with no money, nothing, just going out promoting this film because they believe in it so much.
I think that’s something that I kept with me about the strength of your commitment to a project can really be infectious. There’s part of me I do have to just do it for a living and film it in but when you’re passionate about something and you get the right people behind you, you can really make miracles.
Michael: Passion certainly is what draws many people into this business. What would you tell a young, passionate filmmaker about how to go about breaking into the biz?
Melissa: It’s such a different time when I started in the business because the technology has changed so much. I think that modern technology right now is very important. I think learning the building block is very important. I think being flexible is key. I think in owning what we want is important but there’s people out there who don’t know exactly what they’re going to do in this business are still going to find that by working. You don’t necessarily have to get an MSA to do that. You can get out there and get on the set and work and be a PA and work your way from bottom and see what you really connect with. That’s something that was true when I was starting and that’s true now.
You have to find something that will make you stand out if that’s the only the way you want to get in. knowing your craft better and once again, some of the basic rules of just being a good employee really apply in the business. There are a lot of people and I’ve had this experience because I have a company for 15 years and there’s a lot of people who come out of film school who are very bright and kind of big fish in a small pond and they’ll start out as somebody’s assistant and then they’ll three months later will say, when do I get a chance to produce. It doesn’t work like that. You still have to earn your way just like in any field.
It’s important to really work your butt off. Work hard. Have a great work ethic. Have a great attitude. Don’t expect your dreams to come true tomorrow. Keep dreaming them and keep working toward them but work hard and people will notice your hard work and your attitude, there’s no question. Still, even in our business, it’s not that common, by starting out. People will notice that.
Michael: So, what is next for Melissa Jo Peltier?
Melissa: Right now, I’m looking at a couple of writing projects my book projects, but I’m also working on a film with my husband, another independent film that we’re trying to raise money for. It’s being read by film actors right now and actor’s reps rather. We can’t name them right now but we’re hoping that we’re going to get a pretty important name to play this role. The name of the movie is “Slander” and it’s a small movie but it’s a really, really powerful story that John’s written.
We want to put our whole team together that we have on “White Irish Drinkers” again because that was such great experience for everybody who worked on it and this time, we had a little more money and maybe a few more days to shoot. Everyone who worked on the film was like us we just love the process of filmmaking. So it doesn’t matter that we don’t have (players) and all the perks that you might have on a network television show because actually, it’s more fun to have less money. Once you’ve actually worked with money, it’s sometimes a lot more fun to just do it the way that you did it when you were 9 years old.
Michael: Well, certainly things have changed since then including what we’re doing right now. Share with us your thought about Spidvid and what impact it has on future filmmakers.
Melissa: I think what’s exciting about it is that…and I like this about Twitter which was how I found Spidvid and I liked the fact that you can communicate with people who share your goals and also some of your values and your tastes who might be very far away from you and I think that that’s an important aspect of the organization that you have which is that people can reach out to others and they have a vision that nobody near them connect with their vision. They may just not connect, but somebody 2,000 miles away might absolutely connect and might be the piece of the puzzle that they need to get it finished. I think that’s a really nice thing about today’s technology.
We were isolated starting out when I began and I remember writing letters literally…typewriter and typing letters to producers trying to get meetings with them and it’s much more comfortable to reach out in other ways.
Networking is easier and I think that if you use it right and in a discerning manner, I think that’s a real advantage to the technology.
Michael: Speaking of networking, how can folks get in touch with you and learn more about you?
Melissa: Well, I’m on IMDb, so if they want to see everything that I’ve done, pretty much everything since IMDb started. I’m on Twitter @MelissaJPeltier. Whiteirishdrinkersthemovie.com is the website of our movie. My television production company is called MPH Entertainment. MPHent.com is out website. We’ve done a lot of non-fiction TV including the show “The Dog Whisperer” which we still do. That’s probably the best way.
Michael: Melissa Jo Peltier, thank you so much for taking the time to visit with us today.
Melissa: Thank you, Michael. I really appreciate talking to you.
Michael: That’s it. Thanks for listening to the Spidcast Show. We appreciate your time and attention. You can now join the conversation at Spidvid.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.
We love to sponsor video content that resonates with our members of web series creators and producers, filmmakers, actors, screenwriters, directors, and other talent who can gain value from our Spidvid platform and community. If you don’t yet have one, grab a free Spidvid profile now.
I recently had a conversation with Travis Gordon who is the host of This Week In Web Series, and instantly knew that sponsoring his show would be a fantastic idea! This week features Tom Konkle, who’s very well known in the web series world for Safety Geeks. Along with Travis and Tom is Chris Greenaway who’s the creator of the male favorite Venus Spa web series. Their conversation is all about web series, the IAWTV awards, YouTube vs traditional television, and a discussion about Spidvid.
Watch This Week In Web Series – Episode 4, below
The 3 gentlemen had a discussion about Spidvid, and you can hear what they had to say below
We are back with another exciting Spidcast episode this month (listen in below and subscribe on iTunes) with a focus on collaborative filmmaking. For August’s show we feature a big Hollywood actor/filmmaker and a web series creator, director, and actor. These two individuals are doing interesting things within the new media space, and it was our pleasure to have James Morrison and Richard Weigand on the show.
James Morrison is a filmmaker, playwright, poet, actor, singer/songwriter and yoga teacher, who was born in Utah and is a product of Alaska. James has been in some big Hollywood films and TV shows including, “24,” “Catch Me If You Can,” “Jar Head,” “The One,” and countless others.
If you’re interested in sponsoring next month’s Spidcast show with a product or service you sell that’s filmmaking related, then please get in touch. If you have something to say with regards to what James or Richard talked about, then please post a comment below to continue the conversation. Thanks for listening, and be sure to share this show with anyone in your network who can get value from its content!
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 Richard Weigand, he’s an independent producer. He produces a very cool web show called “Curve your Vampirism”. We’ll hear more about that in a little bit. And he’s brought with him a very special guest. A very recognizable face if you watch episodic TV at all, especially the dramas all coming up just a moment on Spidcast.
So let’s jump right in. Richard, welcome to Spidcast.
Richard: Thank you very much. Thanks for having me, Michael.
Michael: So Richard, tell us a little bit about yourself, how you got into producing your own web series?
Richard: A couple of years ago, I started making small videos for the internet like my YouTube account and I’ve always wanted to do a kind of episodic, different kinds of things and wanted to branch my stories and create different kinds of characters and creating a web series allows me to put my ideas together and post it out there and get some feedback.
Michael: And how did you break in to the filmmaking world?
Richard: I’ve always kind of had this kind of creative mind of thinking—and I kind of perceive the whole world as one giant film; everything that I see and my mind creates the character and the dialogues and all that stuff comes by watching television and movies. I get an idea of how I piece (own songs) together and ever since I was real little, I’ve always wanted to do this and when I first got a camera, I was just able to film the different ideas that were in my head. That’s how it all came about.
Michael: After you get that idea and after you put it into motion, I’m going to guess the collaboration comes into play in a big way. Tell us about how collaboration has benefited your web series.
Richard: For this web series, in particular, I collaborated mostly with my sister, Rosella, just going back and forth (with any ideas we wake up with) for the show. We both are on the show. We’re both actors allowing her to take over some of the directing tasks of it. But outside of that, it was really an experience to get back in touch with friends through Facebook, to cast them in one of the parts in one of the episodes. The most interesting thing about this series is I got to collaborate with the UK composers. People all the way over there that are piecing our music together were really a true inspiration to beginning this series.
Michael: Collaboration is what’s it all about these days. What are some tips for some young filmmakers out there trying to get the most out of a limited or no budget situation?
Richard: Well, for one thing, having no budget has never stopped me from doing what I want to do and I’ve always felt the story as a character. And for something really important that I think that should be (dead) in what I film, you know, having no budget, having limited sets, using the same sets over and over again doesn’t take me out of my vision for what I’m doing. As long as I get it out there and I’m happy with the performances and the editing and everything, having no budgets or with limited budgets, doesn’t restrict me. I think I can actually hit that out with a little bit more creative ideas if I don’t have that much to play around with and that’s what really impresses me—not having big, a whole lot of financial support to pull off a big project or a small project. I think that people are really impressed with what I can do at the budget level that I’m at.
Michael: Excellent. Little or no budget, you get it done. But once you get it done, once you get that product finished and you get it on to the web, how do you get people there? How do you get noticed?
Richard: I used Facebook to get it out there with my friends and everything, but I can say that Twitter is the best way for this series to get out there because we started on Twitter, @curve_vampirism, to get our series out there. We started doing it before the show even started. We and my character Vladimir, he tweets to people and people tweet back to him and they’re kind of getting inside the world of “Curve your Vampirism”. And it’s getting people excited about it and it was really cool (when) somebody follows it and wants not only to follow the Twitter but follow the show and want more out of it and want to see more. That was really cool. But Twitter has been overall the best way for our show to be seen.
It’s also a really inspirational thing to get kind of a feedback instantly of they love Vlad or they love what he does and they want to see more. It inspires me to want to create more. It inspires me to want to take the whole world to a no (silly) level and then they’re part of it too…
Michael: Well, talking about characters. It’s a character that we know from a TV show we love. You brought a very special guest with you today. Why don’t you go ahead and introduce him?
Richard: Yes, I’d like to introduce you all to actor, filmmaker, musician, James Paige Morrison. Hi, James.
James: Hi, Richard. How are you, man?
Richard: Not too bad at all.
Richard: Not too bad. I’m excited that you decided to do this, which is really cool. Since this is an audio podcast and (put you) a face to the name, James Paige Morrison. Where we’re you seen lately?
James: Let’s see. I spent four years as Bill Buchanan on “24” on Fox. And on the big screen, let’s see, you would have seen me as the person who inspired Leonardo DiCaprio to become a pilot in “Catch Me If You Can”. I’m the captain who went to the hotel and he said I want to be that guy. Lots and lots of episodic television, well, for series, the “Space: Above and Beyond”. I was Col. McQueen on Fox for the sci-fi fan.
Richard: I’ll just leave you right into it because the reason why I chose to talk to you is because you’re not only an actor and a filmmaker and a musician, but you’ve also used parts of the social media like Facebook and Twitter to kind of get your ideas and your projects out there, so I’m wondering how has Twitter changed your life?
James: Well, I wouldn’t say that it has changed my life as much as it’s just given it another way to interact. I was listening to you talking about this. It reminds me of back when we used first started doing theater when I was a young actor in a smaller theater in LA and in the few places that I did in New York 30 years ago.
Any series really back before the internet, you would try to drum up word of mouth and that’s basically what we’re doing with Twitter. It’s just a word of mouth audience until it starts to catch on and if it doesn’t, it’s because we didn’t have the elements that were necessary for it to catch on. But you use any means possible to promote yourself as an artist and I think it’s just a great way to reach out and expand your audience.
Richard: There’s also a really cool thing to be able to talk to the fans and have them instantly give you feedback on if I saw you on a show the night before, they could tweet that to you and you say thank you or whatever. I think it’s a really big deal when they get response like that. It is inspirational to hear from them. You see the performance that you get to respond to your favorite actor or…
James: Yes, I think it means a lot to them. But it will also means a lot to the artist especially those of us who are sort of crossover artists who are multi-disciplinary, I guess. It also goes with who make music or who writes or direct as well as act. There’s constantly a way to keep people informed about if we can afford the 10 or $20,000 a month PR firm to do it for us. It’s also, like you say, a way to maintain contact with the very people we want to reach.
Richard: Do you ever get tired of hearing the same messages over and over again?
James: No, because it’s the feedback that you don’t get from working on television and film that you do get when you’re on stage. The applause never sounded the same and never feels the same when it’s that live feeling of the laugh that comes back to you from the dark. It’s never the same. It could be, I guess, you could say that it’s the same every night, but it’s not because it’s in the moment.
If you hear two people say the same thing, they’re really saying it from a very personal place, I think that’ the—I don’t know what’s the best example I can give about it—no, I don’t tire about it at all in answer to your question.
Richard: How long have you been tweeting?
James: Let’s see, I discovered Twitter when I was in Canada. It’ll be two years ago just last April, so just a little over two years. I was up there doing a benefit for the Canadian Cancer Society and I’d heard that Mary Lynn Rajskub, who played Chloe on “24”, was on it and Jon Cassar as well.
I just went on to check it out because I’ve heard of it because I guess it must’ve been five years now Twitter’s been around?
James: I just checked it out and what do you, wow, this is interesting. How did I not know this is here? I like to converse especially about current events and social issues and as you know from following me and from the things that I talk about on Twitter—
Richard: The documentary that you tweet about—
James: The documentary but also just what’s going on in the world. It affects us as human beings and if you’re connected as a human being and an artist, I think it’s should have an impact on what you create as an artist. Now, of course, it’s where I get all my news. I trust these sources on Twitter more than I trust certainly the mainstream media.
Richard: That’s the way that everybody’s look at the world. You’ve collaborated with filmmakers in both the television and the film world. I’m very interested in knowing that what would you say to those out there who use the Internet as their television and film world?
James: Well, I’m still beginning to understand all that. I’m sort of old-school. I still watch TV. I still go out to movie theaters and not quite as much now that I have a child but I like to go to live theater. I think we have to find balance. I think that’s what I would say is just like I read today on Twitter, as a matter of fact—I think it was the President who said this, “Don’t get all your information from one source and question the sources that you have.” If you’re getting all your information, if you’re using only one medium as a sort of a pitching post, untie and get out there and ride around a little bit. That’s the advice I would give.
Richard: It was Twitter how I found out that not only do you act and you have the documentary you’ve been producing, but you also are a songwriter and musician. For those out there who don’t know that you are a musician, what kind of music do you like to perform?
James: I guess it’s a folk rock. I was influenced by the 60’s bands like The Birds and Dylan, of course, and all the different groups that came out of Buffalo Springfield and those guys, that sort of sound that’s sort of cosmic-country-Gram Parsons-things. I was influenced by the Grateful Dead and those guys. And groups like Canned Heat, who’d come out of the Woodstock era. In fact, Larry Taylor, the bassist for Canned Heat, played on my album, “Son to the Boy”, which has been out for a little while and we’re just starting to tour to play live, to promote it. That was kind of cool to play with Larry. It’s that sort of thing.
Richard: Why did you choose the internet (to put your music in)?
James: Well, mostly because it’s just so immediate and the people are so connected to the digital download and also because I was self-produced, I’m not affiliated with a label. It seems the most cost-effective way is to just make it available before I can mass produce CDs, the physical CD and also it’s a little greener, I just didn’t want to put all that plastic out there.
Richard: Your album that’s been in fact available in digital form as of this past December, how long were you working on it?
James: That story actually is kind of interesting. That week that we started and recorded the first two tracks, my son was diagnosed with a brain tumor, so that was put on hold for seven months and it took about a year-and-a-half actually all told to finish it up.
Richard: You’re talking before about who inspired you as a musician, who are some of your influences as an actor?
James: I was really influenced by films in the early 70’s like “Clockwork Orange” and the Scorsese movies of the mid 70’s when I was in New York and I saw “Taxi Driver”. At that point, I just said this is what I want to do.
Richard: You who played Bill Buchanan on “24”, working the set of a show like that or any big motion picture, how has that helped your own personal project?
James: By the time I got to “24” in the season 4 or halfway through season 4, they were just about where they had developed this finely tuned precision machine—and I say machine but a human machine—so that they knew exactly how to shoot it, how to do what they did so well and it was precision. It was a well-oiled and worked together really well and most of that, I think, as I looked at it now had to do with the way Jon Cassar worked and he brought a lot of his artistry to the creation of that.
I think now, in answer to your question, coming away from that, I just realized how efficiently and how it collaboratively it benefits everyone if you learn how to work together, if you involve everyone. If you don’t, decide who am I to this person now as Jack O’Brien, a stage director, says in our documentary “Showing Up.”
I think there’s too much about if we’re all just worker among workers and we’re equals in this collaborative process, without the power trips and without the secrets and whatever it is that flows downhill as they say. Then the collaborative effort becomes as you on “24”. It was tight. It was really tight and they told the story really efficiently. They shot it that way too.
Richard: I think “24” is one of the best shows on television and good to see over the years (they’re able to) come in all of the people that pieced that show together. It’s really remarkable how every year they have new people come in and I found it interesting with all the new people coming in. That was a really interesting experience to (put) all these kinds of people have come in all the time.
James: The other thing I noticed was when I left the show and I think probably everybody who was there for while have the same issue in their own way, I would go somewhere else and they’d be working in whatever way they work, which is going to be different, and my first inclination would be to say, you know, in “24”, we—I have to stop myself because of course you can’t. You’re a guest and you can’t really tell them how best to work. You want to because they’re working inefficiently and you sort of feel a little bit superior, but then you have to, like you say, make it how it works best for you and you have to take whatever you have personal control over and apply the things that you learned without imposing that on somebody else. I think that’s where we get into trouble. We all bring those things where you got to “do it my way, my way or the highway”.
It takes time to develop that kind of ensemble feeling, so when you experience it, you want it to be an A in everything, but it can’t be. It’s a very rare thing. It’s like finding that one true love in your life.
Richard: That’s the best thing about following you in Twitter and why everybody should follow at @JamesPMorrison on Twitter is I instantly get the impression of how well you work with the after and behind the scenes. You probably work just as much with the cast as well as the behind the scenes people and if I get to know them, I will too because I see it in your tweet. You always tweeted to some directors and good people who are out there that you no longer probably worked with but you still, thanks to Twitter, get to interact with them.
James: That goes back to when I was to when I was about 21 years old. I was in the circus. I was a circus clown and when I first got to the winter quarters in Hugo, Oklahoma, the performer sat on one side of the mess hall, the cafeteria and the workers, the hands, sat on the other side and they never interacted. So I got my plate, went over and sat with the hands just to say hello. I mean, these are the guys that in some cases your life depends on them for rigging. They’re the workers.
I was immediately reprimanded and ostracized and taken to task for mixing with the working staff. I just thought, man, first of all, what this built this country? This is the people that built this country. They build the shows that we watch and if you bring that work ethic to—it’s the work ethic I learned from my dad. He worked in a construction business. If you bring that work ethic to what you do, then we’re all in this together. You can’t fail.
Richard: And that’s the impression people get when they log in you have over 5,000 people that basically listen to what you’re saying and they have the option to get your idea down there further. That’s why I find it truly inspirational not only reading your tweets but getting to know you kind of in a different light aside from on watching you on television. Getting into how you think inspires and I think it inspires a lot of people. My last kind of question is what advice would you give to aspiring actors and aspiring filmmakers out there?
James: When I was a young actor, I wanted to join Actors’ Equity, the union for stage actors. I went to the artistic director of an Alaskan organization and he sounds like 23 years old or something and I said, “I’d like to do this. Can you help me do this?” He said, “You really can’t think of anything else you’d rather do?” It was that school of hard knocks sort of thing. I said, “No, I can’t. I’m pretty sure I want to do this for a living.” And he said, “Okay, welcome to the ranks of the unemployable.”
It didn’t register then but what he was doing was showing me that there are going to be lots of people in the path in my journey through my life as an artist or as a man that are going to try to minimize my goal. If not giving me a hand up and certainly not a hand down, but there’s a way to encourage people that if someone says if this is what you love and this is what makes you feel good, then you have to do it because you’ll be unhappy if you don’t. It’s that simple really.
If what you’re doing make you happy, whether it’s accepted, how it’s received, all that stuff doesn’t matter. If you place qualifiers, good or bad before or after what you do, you’re going to minimize your effort, your contribution, your journey toward what you want to achieve and your pleasure in the moment. Be very sure and first of all, that’s what you want to do like the guy said to me. Can you think of anything else? But also just then just go, I’m not going to let anybody deter me from this. I’m not going to let them devalue me for whatever their personal agenda is. They’re unhappy in their own lives. They’re critics and that’s their job—to devalue, to feel like they can give something of value based on their word or their appraisal of it. Like Steven Spailis says in showing up, you have to take that into the room with you, that sense of value of your own personal value. That’s, I think, the most important thing I can say is get ready to stand up for yourself and what you’re putting out there. Just teach people how to treat you.
Richard: That is very inspirational. I’m always surprised by what you’re saying. I can’t thank you enough for—
James: Thanks. I appreciate that. It was a pleasure talking to you. I’m glad this worked out.
Michael: If I can jump in, James and Richard. What is next for James Morrison?
James: I just put together the first performance with almost all of the band that I’m putting together at the Hotel Café in Hollywood. We’ll be the musical guest with (some spoken word) artists. For a monthly thing, they do this. That’s sort of the world tour kickoff in Hollywood. Then we’ll have a CD released probably sometime in August or September with the full band and this is to promote the album, “Son to the Boy”, which is available on iTunes and CD Baby and Amazon and all of the other places digitally.
Michael: Excellent. If we’d like more information on what you’re up to, where do we get in touch?
James: If you’d like to find out more about this, I’m pretty good about keeping the website up-to-date. It’s JPMorrison.com then you can find out more about where we’re playing and what will be happening with “Showing Up”, the documentary. My wife and I just co-directed and co-produced up to the actors audition. We had a conversation with about 60 of our best working actors about what it means to them and ultimately ends up being more about just showing up for what you want to be and do in your life and we’re very happy with it.
Michael: Richard, thank you so much for brining James as your guest today.
Richard: You’re very welcome.
Michael: And when folks want to see your stuff, where do we see that?
Richard: Well, the web series that I currently produced, “Curve Your Vampirism”, you can watch at www.curveyourvampirism.blip.tv.
Michael: Richard, thanks for being with us today.
Richard: Thank you.
Michael: That’s it. Thanks for listening to the Spidcast Show. We appreciate your time and attention. You can now join the conversation at Spidcast.com or on our Spidcast Blog. And you can join our collaborative filmmaking community at Spidvid.com. Tune in next month for another entertaining and informative episode of Spidcast.
Karim Kanji is a man of many talents; including the host of the Social Media Show, and co-founder of ThirdOcean which is a social media, marketing, and community consulting startup.
Karim and his guest Karim Awad discussed companies to watch out for on the Social Media Show, and selected Spidvid as one of them. I have posted the clip where Spidvid is mentioned and explained quite well by Karim (Kanji). Enjoy, spread the word, and enjoy your weekend. Oh, and if you want to listen to the full 46 minute podcast, here’s the link to it.
And as Karim mentioned I’m now actively seeking out a tech co-founder (rock star developer/hacker) and angel investors, so if you are either or know people who fit one or the other description, then please get in touch and let’s have a chat.