GADZOOK FILMS Producing independent film in Seattle, Los Angeles and beyond.


Cross Promotion is Tricky Business

And now for another entry in: who really gives a shit ya dirty so-and-so?! Likely no one, but I thought it warranted discussion. So, here ya go...

Let me say this first; I think the idea of cross promotion is great! There's one big caveat involved and that stems from what, exactly, you're cross promoting.

Some questions jump out at me every time someone asks me to help spread the word about their show or crowdfunding campaign. "Who are you? What are you promoting? Are you just asking me to just shill your project because we're friends or do you think I would actually like it?" And perhaps more importantly, "what does MY audience stand to gain from this?"

See, when your friends are creators in their own right they need that promotional network to trust them. They need to know that when they send their own links out these people will click on them. If you're sending them a lot of bung links to projects and videos that are crap, they'll remember that. It's like crying wolf. They just might stop clicking on anything you send.

You are curating material for them. If you just link whatever any of your friends ask you to repost your other friends will hold that to you. By blindly linking to projects and campaigns that are poorly run, poorly made or poorly thought out it reflects poorly on you.

I'm prepared to sound like a dick (surprise!) by telling you you shouldn't help out your friends when they ask. Some people may see this as something that further divides artists rather than uniting them. We should support each other, not tear each other down! Here's my problem with that attitude - if you support without critique, no one learns anything. If someone has a shitty idea for a project, wouldn't it be better to tell them than to send all our friends there to donate money to it?

I understand that by noting a personal connection some may find that comforting. "Well, if Dom is friends with them, it must be worthwhile!" Let's be honest here, that's not always the case is it? Just because I'm friends with someone doesn't necessarily mean I think their work is the best it could be. In a few cases I know people are capable of better. I'd much rather a friend contact me first and ask my opinion on things before asking me to share the link. They can take or leave my opinion, it's their project, but they shouldn't be surprised if I don't tell my contacts about it.

If we take away the fact that our friends made it would we still be promoting it? Does it meet our own strict criteria? Would you fund it if you didn't know the people behind it? I try not to back crowdfunding campaigns I just don't believe in and I never link to a campaign I haven't already contributed to.

So what's the answer? Cross promote with conviction. If the only reason you have to promote a project is because your friend is involved then commit to that. Own up to it. "You should check out this guy's video because he's awesome." If you think the storyline is worth producing regardless of the person producing it, play up that aspect instead. Perhaps promote aspects that may work for each audience like region (all filmed in a certain location) or genre, or plot, or actor...

Bottom line we are what we link to.


Producing is Creating

Inspired by an old post I found over at SOLO: The Series I decided I'd give you an update on our own webseries and just why it's taken almost a year to get to this point from the initial conception of the idea to a finished script.

So just what the hell have we been doing? When last I wrote about the show I had the über-idealistic goal to have a webseries screening on your computer by... uh... now. Whoops! The time has not been wasted, however, as we've been hard at work making these characters live and breathe.

Tasked with taking my initial concept and making sense of it all has been my good friend and frequent GadZook Films collaborator Faye Hoerauf. Let me just go a little more into this enigmatic dynamo behind a lot of what we do here. If you're a GadZook fan you know Faye's work as the award-winning co-writer/co-director of Snow Day, Bloody Snow Day and as an award-winning co-writer of Hook Her as well as the sole writer of Old Tricks among quite a few others.

I turn to Faye so often because she's not simply a good writer, she's a good storyteller. She asks questions and is able go well beyond the scope to make sure the story is holistic and not self-serving. Over the last year she's woodshedded a lot of the story I had initially come up with and turned it from a wispy scotch pine to a full blown working canoe. Terrible analogy. Bottom line: Faye's great and the series is in excellent hands with her writing.

Conceptualizing. Reading. Writing. Brainstorming. Designing. The world of this show has taken shape. All the little things we do as we (the producers) prepare a project to release into the wilds. Reading Lovecraft is not like reading, well, there's almost no comparison appropriate. You read one story (say, "The Dunwich Horror")  and that effectively eff's you up for a few weeks. It's a strength and a curse of his writing. So good. Anyway, I've been going through his stories for inspiration (of which there is plenty). So for the last year we've been trading back and forth: I'll come up with an idea, Faye will write; Faye will come up with an idea, I'll give feedback and she'll write some more. Around February this year we sent the first draft to some friends we trusted. The feedback was invaluable. And we went back and started cropping, re-arranging and tightening.

Last Tuesday I put together a small read-through with some friends of mine to see how the whole thing sounded. Using the most recent version of the script finished literally hours before the readthrough. Frequent readers of this blog may notice that this is - OMG - precisely what I think ALL creators should do. Get it read and get feedback. As this was the 2nd round of feedback we were anxious to see if all the work had been for naught.

I'm happy to say the readthrough was a big boost of confidence! Everyone seemed to really dig the premise and the characters, the pacing and length. Is it perfect? No, of course not. But it's grown from this crazy idea I had over a year ago (another OMG moment!) to a living, breathing show.

I just wanted to share my excitement with you, dear reader. And I hope to share more as we inch our way closer to pre-production! Stay tuned!


Why Do (Most) Webseries Suck? part 3

Welcome back to this ongoing pontification about webseries. In Part 1 the topic was focusing on originality to set your show apart. Part 2 discussed the need for a compelling story over all else as your main audience development tool.

Let me be very clear, these are basic concepts familiar to many filmmakers regardless of what the destination format may be. But webseries production introduces new limitations for writers that make it very different from your typical traditional media production.

Most narrative webseries (those with a story arc, as opposed to informational/reality series) are harder to write than your traditional media projects because of several inherent issues:

Time Limit - optimal web videos destined for virality are between 1-3 minutes long. If they can impart their message faster than that they have an even greater chance of being passed around. By contrast most short films bound for festival runs are between 12-20 minutes in length. And TV shows are somewhere in the 22-48 minutes range.

With shorts and TV shows and movies there are very clear broadcasting standards as well as programming considerations. With webseries there isn't such a clear guideline.

You have to take the brevity of the viral video along with the production considerations of the short film plus the episodic nature of a TV show. But there's no magical logarithm to find your ideal time limit.

You have maybe 6-10 minutes to tell your story in each episode. Trust me when I say even just 5 minutes can have the emotional impact of a half-hour TV show if you pace it right. 5 minutes can also feel like a half-hour and have NO impact whatsoever.

I've seen many filmmakers with episodes that are way too long. This is often seen with comedic series where episodes are written around a single lame joke for about 5 minutes... long after the audience got the joke and finished chuckling. Aim for the 2-3 minute mark when editing, but if your story is good people will watch more. Just don't bank on it.

Once you have your audience hooked on your character's story, they'll want more. The webspace is fairly unique in that your audience can easily access past episodes, recaps, character bios, etc. through your website and get caught up. In my opinion you don't need to spend 10-20 seconds recapping your previous episode, or have a minute long credit sequence. There's some dissenting opinion on this regard, of course, but for my money I believe if the audience is interested in your content they'll do the research to catch themselves up - naturally disregard this if you crowdfunded your show and offered a credits listing on the show as a perk.

Accessibility - This may sound contradictory to my previous posts about uniqueness and niche, but I assure you they're very separate.

You do not have the time to develop one character for 15 minutes before you introduce another. Or drop in your first major plot point three episodes down the road. The more shows I watch the more I see the good ones like Solo or GOLD or JourneyQuest introduce the characters, the basic plot and the construct of the world in the first episode. Further episodes expand at a more gentle pace once you've established who everyone is and what they're after.

So you can see when writing a webseries you need to make it both accessible and thrifty with time. Keep that first episode under 10 minutes if you can with the knowledge that you want it to be only as long as it needs to be. All of this should help you develop your story. Hand off your script to friends who maybe aren't familiar with your concept. Ask them if, after the first episode, they know who the main people are and what they're after. If they don't have a clear idea after just one episode... you're in trouble.

What are your thoughts? What obstacles have you seen that set webseries production apart from more traditional media? Stay tuned for the final installment in this series next week! Please share with your friends and comment below!


Why Do (Most) Webseries Suck? part 2

Hey, welcome back! This is Part 2 of this multi-part series where I'll go into some of the roadblocks facing webseries producers and how they can improve their idea to get an audience and have a successful show.

2) Producers don't know what's wrong with their own shows.

There's a favorite argument amongst web-producers over the word "webseries". Many believe the word itself is the factor preventing audiences from finding or watching their work.

In last week's post I went on and on about the standard, blah, unimaginative "traditional" webseries. Some producers believe now that the term "webseries" connotes bad quality because it is overwhelmingly associated with this content. This isn't an entirely false assumption, but it's scapegoating the very thing that sets us apart.

We need the word webseries because we produce shows for the web. If we produced shows for TV then they'd be TV series. It's very simple and silly to want to change the term for what we do. But I'm getting off the topic at hand...

Still other producers choose to blame their own AUDIENCE as the reason their show isn't more popular. For some reason they call out their audience for not sharing the show with their friends, or for not "getting the premise" when they lambast the show on YouTube. Protip: If the people watching your show don't get it or in anyway don't like it - you're doing something wrong. Not cool, dude, not cool.

It's not what we call what we do, and it's not who watches our show - clearly it's the content that's king. A great idea does not a great show make. Beyond simple technical issues like bad sound or a shaky camera there's still the story and the performances - the things that audiences truly, passionately care about.

If you're not getting an audience to watch your show it's likely not what camera you shoot on or what editing system you use to cut it. It's what your show is about and how you tell your story. Filmmakers are often trying to shift the blame - I've certainly been guilty of this. "Oh," they say (I've said), "we'd have more fans if we shot in HD and bought a better mic." While technical skill is impressive, it cannot hide a shoddy or, more appropriately, uninteresting story.

Sure, not all people will get your show. That's not the point. The point is that you're squandering what small reach you have by alienating the people who are seeking your show out. In marketing, well, I'm sure there's a term for it in marketing... let's just call it "word of mouth." What? That's the term? Nice. Anyway, webseries need word of mouth advertising. We don't have the vast ad dollars of movies studios to plaster banner ads all over Facebook. If you think word of mouth didn't help nobody, I invite you to check out The Guild.

As a 7 year veteran of the 48-Hour Film Project I've seen my share of winners and losers. The winners tend to have a healthy mix of story and technical savvy. Fancy camerawork is impressive, and special effects (done well) can bring an audience to its knees - once. But if there's no story to back it up the audience doesn't have anything to latch on to.

When writing/producing your webseries think to the story - what makes it better? What makes it stirring? Funnier? Who you cast, how you shoot and what music you use. Every decision you make for your show should be for the betterment the story. That's what's wrong with your show... fix it.

Next week I'll berate those of you who think none of this applies to you. Naw, don't worry... it'll be fun!


Why Do (Most) Webseries Suck? part 1

Woah there, cowboy! Let me clarify. Not ALL webseries suck, silly. Just most of them. But why? And why would anybody want to jump into this game if the odds are so heavily stacked against them? In this multi-part series I'll go into some of the roadblocks facing webseries producers and how they can improve their idea to get an audience and have a successful show.

1) Most webseries suck because they lack originality.

It may surprise you to learn that a lot of people think webseries are all about out-of-work actors/filmmakers and their hilarious dating lives. If I had a nickel for every filmmaker/actor who believed their personal life would be ambitious or hilarious fodder for a show I would probably have upwards of $6.35. Yep.

While there are some good shows out there based on this premise and I certainly don't mean to lump them all together, it's a pretty tired concept. So many TV shows, movies and yes, webseries, have done this better and way before you set your pen to paper.

But this isn't the only tired concept out there. There are dozens of mockumentaries done in the style of "The Office," hundreds of series about a bunch of 20-somethings living life and dating each other a la "The Real World," or "Friends," or whatever. Again, I don't mean to cast aspersions on ALL such shows. I would gladly point you to a decent one of these... had I the time to go through the dozens of shows in this milieu.

As my friend Tom Becker of Ogre Mage puts it, these shows "poison the market." By popping up in Google searches for webseries and flooding review sites these shows form a sort of wall. They prevent the casual audience member from learning about the vast variety of web content out there by virtue of overcrowding the system.

How do these shows generally come about? My guess: The basic motto for beginning writers to "write what you know." Along with "write for what you can get" and you have the combo for a lot of terrible shows about uninteresting people in less than glamorous places. With a dearth of hastily written shows about nothing in particular it's no wonder audiences are shying away from webseries as a whole.

So what CAN you do? Taking all this into account you simply need to ask yourself "Is my story worth telling." Is it something that you need to tell, or is it just something to put your face on the map? Who would benefit, i.e. enjoy watching this? You're going to have to narrow it down from "all people ages 18-45," friend-o.

Think niche, baby. High concept. There's such a vast audience available to you via the internet why focus on an audience that is split so much already? Find a story that ignites your passion and tweak it to fit your available resources. Sure, you might not be able to do that zombie western you've always wanted, but maybe you could do that stepping stone project. The point is if audiences are rejecting your show your show probably didn't have a cohesive audience targeted in the first place. I guarantee if someone told you to watch a show about their lives you'd groan too. Unless maybe they were a time-traveling astronaut werewolf. That's something I'd watch.

You may only have access to one other friend and your only location may be an apartment (although I'd argue with you here). That's fine... it's all in what you do with what you have at your disposal.

Next week I'll go into more depth about why webseries producers fail to see the problem inherent in their shows and instead blame the medium or worse, the audience! Let me know what you think in the comments!


Making a Cthulhu-based web-series is not all shoggoths and rainbows

DespairI've been working on this web-series since November 2010. What is it? Who's in it? Where can I watch it? What's it... uh... called? All excellent questions. Hold your horses...

Let me tell you how this whole thing came about. I wanted to make something based in the Cthulhu mythos ever since I played my first round of the Call of Cthulhu RPG about 20 years ago. Thoroughly creeped out after each adventure, I'd track down any Lovecraft story I could find to remind myself that they were just stories. Amorphous blobs of floating jelly with dozens of eyes and a haunting wail didn't really exist! Right? Didn't help. I loved it.

I sort of lost track of Cthulhu and those wacky Elder Gods once I left college. It made for nice icebreakers with friends but I hadn't read any of the stories since high school. Then late last year I started working on an idea for a web-series about a down on his luck guy who hunted monsters. Rolling the idea around in my head - and yeah, that does sound like a fun premise - I couldn't figure out how to make it work. I remembered Lovecraft and his twisted imaginary abominations and suddenly things started to gel.

The bulk of the writing on the series is being handled by the esteemed Faye Hoerauf. Many of you (6?) blog followers know Faye as part of the writing/directing team of our short zombie-comedy "Snow Day, Bloody Snow Day" which is STILL playing in festivals around the world. She's taken my initial idea and expanded and informed the world allowing it to become something personal and convincing. To be sure, our Cthulhu series is a distinct departure from the comedy bits we've produced in the past (and will continue to produce in the future). This is also a project that I'm already extremely proud of and can't wait to share with you!

Over the next few weeks I'll be dropping tidbits about the production, ways you can help and when it'll be available for all to see. We're aiming for September, keep your fingers crossed! There's a lot going on here and I just wanna say thanks for your continued support and I think you're gonna love this show.


48 Go Green

We're at it again. Ramping up the new year with a new 48 Hour Film Project called the 48 Go Green. It's just like the regular 48HFP but it's all environmental and stuff. We need some help, though! We are looking for the following:

Gaffer - come with your own lighting package, or know where to get lights super cheap.
Editor - must know FCP and sound syncing (either using Plural Eyes or similar).
Sound Op - we have equipment, we just need someone who knows what they're doing. If you have additional equipment it's certainly welcome! (we've got a shotgun, boom and Zoom H4N recorder)
Asst. Director/Script Supe/All-around good person - you've got moxie, inscrutable attention to detail and a thorough knowledge of film workflow.

If you or anyone you know would be a good fit here, and you live in LA or close enough, please e-mail me with the following:

Links to clips, reels, resumes, etc. If you're an actor or any crew person not explicitly mentioned above, please hold your horses and don't write to me yet. Cool? Thanks! Hope to hear from you!

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Chick Flick & the 48 Hour Film Project

It's happened. Another 48-Hour film has been produced and screened. Now it's a waiting game to see if we measure up! It's interesting seeing the competition from year to year. Last year only a few teams had upgraded to HDSLRs or otherwise "fancy" cameras, giving their films a very professional look. This year nearly everyone had some depth of field advantage. The ones that didn't have this used their cameras in filmic and oft-times inventive ways. Ambition was high.

One thing I notice year to year, however, is that as technical skill goes up storytelling remains a constant. That is, it's either there or it's not. For 48HFs it's most often not. A script is thought of by some as an annoyance. A waste of time, perhaps. "We'll improv it!" is a popular refrain. Films then languish with exciting visuals that go nowhere and lead the viewer not on a journey but on a slideshow. And time after time the winning films have a story to tell. I've seen this in the screenings I've been apart of and had it reinforced when I attended the 2010 Filmapalooza screenings for the Best of City winners for last year's 48HFP. Each film told a story. Beginning, middle and end. Some of them were more powerful than others, some written more wisely, but they were all stories. Even the impressive, effects-laden masterpieces had something that drew the viewer in and kept them concerned beyond just nifty special effects.

My tips for anyone wanting to participate and, perchance, win - story. Brainstorm with anyone, but designate one person as your writer and sequester them around 9pm on Friday night. You'll get a much more focused story as a result. The "write by committee" scripts usually feel that way. Unless everyone is comfortable writing with each other, you end up getting a bunch of different ideas no one can agree on and you go out Saturday with an unclear idea of what needs to get done. Really these rules can be carried over to non 48HF Projects. Story is king!

Well, without further ado, here's our entry for this year. No awards have been announced, but I think we rocked regardless!

This film was made for the 2010 48 Hour Film Project in Los Angeles. This is the ORIGINAL cut of the film. A re-cut will be uploaded soon with improved sound and extra footage.

Team: GadZook Films
Genre: Film de Femme
Character: Jamie (or Jared) Woodnit, Actor
Prop: Keyboard
Line: "I have no idea."

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Crazy Train

What's this?? Another video?! Are we insane or just moderately productive? A little of both? After seeing this video you may lean one way on that notion. This is the first part of a planned trilogy featuring The Troubadour. I directed and edited this thing, in addition to my typical producing duties.

Next month we shoot "Turkey and Nathan" a short about self-worth, and then in August we sojourn back to the 48 Hour Film Project and attempt to kick ass. Without further adieu - "Crazy Train"!

Boy tries to impress girl. Girl is more than she seems. Ain't that the truth, am I right guys?
Starring Dan Gallo, Erika Godwin and Tyler Rhoades.
Written by Señor Rhoades.
Shot by Alejandro Zuniga.
Produced, Directed and Edited by Dom Zook.
GadZook Films



Ooh, ooh! Looky! New video! This puppy was written by Tyler Rhoades, and stars Tyler and the inimitable Patrick Donahue. You might remember Patrick from last year's 48-Hour entry from us, "Double Feature." Well he's back and it looks like he has a score to settle! Anyway, enjoy the film! And don't forget to Like it, give it a thumbs up, or head over to Funny or Die and give it a Funny! rating. Thanks folks!