POPLIFE is a collection of excerpts from my work journal. There is no specific form or function the column serves other than to allow the reader to see what my experience in my first year as a comics-writer is like. Some weeks I get work done, so I talk about work. Some weeks I don’t get any work done, so I ramble incoherently. POPLIFE’s purpose is to provide a glimpse behind the curtain of my specific process.
You Have Seen Me on the MTV
By hook or by crook, MK12 has gotten on to MTV. While they might have turned down our first music video, they hired us to do the show redesign for The Carson Daly Times Square Estrogen Explosion Show, better known to most folks as TRL.
This apparently stands for “Total Request Live,” which is the kind of grammatical nightmare that would send David Foster Wallace into gibbering fits.
The turnaround time, budget, and schedule were all phenomenally tight. While we didn’t provide the entirety of every animated element you’ll see during a TRL show, we did all the major ones and provided a toolbox for MTV to do the rest. The redesign began airing on the 3rd, and will run Monday through Friday for the rest of your lives, I reckon, or until MTV decide to redesign the whole thing all over again. I wonder if it’s seasonal? I’m not really TRL’s target demo, so the physics of the show remain a bit of a mystery to me.
It was a strange and humbling experience, working for a network as indigenous to our culture as MTV is. Regardless of that which we’ve been able to accomplish as a company, I don’t think we quite feel like we’ve got the power or strength to fight the big fights, so we have a tendency to smile, nod, and let the Corporate Design Process piss in the pancake batter.
Our primary producer over there is 100% great, which made the entire gig a lot easier to get through. The biggest recurrent headache we’ve encountered doing these Big Time Gigs so far are that there will always be more chiefs than Indians, more generals than soldiers, more metaphors than similes. And, you know, when you’re talking about the daily centerpiece of your network… well, that’s just gonna be how it is. Having a good producer on your side is great if for no other reason than they’ll understand what you’re going through, they’ll be laughing and crying just as hard at the Office Spaceing as you.
The funniest TRL story I’ve got came very early on in the process. In a big project like this, the tendency seems to be that we do concept work and thumbnails for mid-level management. We design and redesign ideas based on their feedback, and when we finally get to what they’ve wanted to see, then they kick it upstairs to upper management, who in fact have their own ideas as to what needs to be onscreen. In this instance, the earliest directions that we were given was “More girly! More girly!” and so we pushed the design more girly, more girly.
Upper Management took one look at it and said it was too girly.
Anyway, it hit air. I’m one of the peopleshapes in it. We shot quick over an afternoon in the MK12 Greenscreen Compositing Studio (also known as The Other Side of the Office) with a Canon GL-1. Our friends Kip (the girl from Agenda Suicide and Danna (who works with Kip at the coffee shop below our old office) are in it, as are Timmy, Shaun, and me from MK12.
We’ve also done another show package for the MTV that’s not scheduled to air yet, so I don’t know what I can say about it other than, you know, it’s done.
What about John Fuckin’ Woo?
You may remember BMW Films’ series THE HIRE from last year. The idea was pretty sharp: five directors were brought in to each make a five-minute web-exclusive short film (written by Andrew Kevin Walker of Seven fame) revolving around a BMW and it’s somewhat legally-subterranean driver for hire, Mr. Clive Owen. Last year, the directors were Wong Kar Wai, Ang Lee, Guy Ritchie, Alejandro González Iñárritu, and the late John Frankenheimer.
We’re doing the opening titles for them.
There’s not much I can say about them really, only they should be hitting the web in October, and there’ll be a massive media push like last year, I suspect. 12 million people downloaded the original wave of films.
Broadcast design is fun and gratifying, but man oh man this is the kind of stuff we’ve always wanted to get into. We had to sign Non-Disclosures over seeing the cars themselves. We’ve always come thisclose to speaking with any of the directors, who have to date been busy actually, you know, directing.
Don’t touch me
It’s a massive, massive, massive job.
And it’s gone around and around between us and them, nitpicking and overanalyzing and missing the point and fumbling the ball but somehow through it all the shit’s still funny. I don’t want to blow the central conceit of the packaging, but I think it works pretty well. It’s funny. It looks neat. I wrote a bunch of bits that made it in and have stayed in through a few revisions.
It’s just, you know, taking forever. With a list of deliverables as long as your arm, though, I don’t really know what I was expecting, realistically.
I think we’re supposed to have it all out-of-doors by the middle of September. It’s been a sort of 900-lb bear in our collective rooms for a while, but now that more and more boxes are getting checked off of the list we’re starting to exhale a little bit.
I’m Still Not Entirely Sure What ESPN Stands For
The ESPN package we did for a show called The New American Sportsman is done, too. It ended up dragging on for three months, though; at one point the show’s launch date got pushed back, so the project lost the speedheat it had up to that point; around that time Cartoon Network rolled in and we mutually agreed to put it on hold while we got other stuff out of the way, but eventually it all caught up with us.
The show is a revamp of an old sports classic, a sort-of Famous People Hook And Bullet Show. Affable celebrities of various stripes go into the wild and either hunt (with cameras) or fish (with… um… fishing poles, I guess); a camera follows them around and you get an enjoyable half-hour of televised sports entertainment.
The opening was the sticky. Originally conceived as about 2/3 live action and 1/3 animation, as time went on it became more and more animated; shots were dropped in and taken out, the celebrities eschewed from the open entirely, and everything was crushingly and sincerely micromanaged. Every detail questioned, every choice reconsidered and monkeyed with until the deadline began defining what we could and couldn’t do. Aside from all that, though, I dig the ESPN guys personally and professionally. Somehow liking someone who’s making your life miserable makes it easier to take I guess.
Our animation process on the project involved rotoscoping out a lot of footage and sort of weaving in vector-based graphics over top. Mom, if you’re reading this, that meant we had to cut out parts of the video image, and replace it with a color-shape moving in its place. It was fairly arduous, and since we had no real idea how we were going to do it when we started, the learning curve kicked in too late to really nail it to everyone’s satisfaction. It’s still a cool piece, I think, and it looks great– but man oh man, if we knew then what we know now and all that.
I don’t know if there’s a firm airdate set for the premiere of the show, but it should be airing some time this fall.
And then there’s another, smaller project we may or may not be doing for ESPN, depending on which way the wind’s blowing; but we’ve been pre-producing that as well.
Pre-production for a series of spots I’ll be shooting for SHONEXT rolls right along. And this is legitimate, actual pre-production work. Dealing with location scouting and casting and costume designs, all of that horrendously boring OCD-encouraging busywork that keeps people anywhere but behind a camera. You would think I was asking insurance companies to insure my gigantic Osama bin Laden glass sculpture while I drove it past a county gun show for all the hoops we’ve had to jump through to get the proper insurance. Waiting on insurance has meant waiting on signing contracts which has meant a lot of walking around in circles and crossing lost days off of a calendar. If you want, you can read more about the spots here.
At first, I wanted to try and capture as much weirdness in-camera as possible, but as time has gone on I’m seeing a certain wisdom in getting as pristine and precise an image as the medium will allow and fucking with it all in post-production. The art school snob inside of me thinks that that’s dishonest and easy; then again, the art school snob inside of me doesn’t think that film should be cut with anything other than a razor and a desk-lamp.
It’s been the first time since film school that I’ve gotten to work on something like this, and so far I’m enjoying it immensely. And it’s something that I can do without sapping the other resources at MK12. As I’m not really an animation or graphics guy, it’s nice to feel like I’m earning my keep sometimes, I dunno.
I hope to have all the spots in the can and off of my desk by the wedding, which is the 29th of this month.
So, so yeah. Six concurrent gigs, and we’ve bid and gone after at least as many during the same period of time, invoicing and outvoicing and changing our representation; on top of working on an in-house project while polishing the details on our new website and new DVD. My focus has started phasing in and out.
Lately, whenever I close my eyes, all these stories come to the surface. I’ve been writing in my sleep for about a week now, subconsciously getting done what doesn’t happen during the day. I wrote about half of a new OGN in my head last night, and now just need to find the time to type it all out.
Liz Phair is singing on the radio next to me: it’s nice to be liked/ but it’s better by far to get paid.