Today we talk about Jeff’s work habits. Eighteen-hour days, writing via Skype with his two partners, organizing the episodes of the web series using his own digitial version of the Foolscap Method. Jeff also takes me on a tour of his house and workspace. It’s like Van Gogh’s tiny room at Arles, only with graphics-power computers, music synthesizers, a micro-recording studio—and Jeff’s bed, tucked into the only leftover space like the pallet of a fourteenth-century monk. This is what “saving all the money and putting it up on the screen” is all about.
(The transcript of today’s video is below.)
Steve: One other thing I wanted to ask you, Jeff, is about something many of the people on our website know about which is the Foolscap method. It’s outlining something on one page – like a novel on one page. I know that for ‘Camp Abercorn’ you did it a little differently. Can you tell me what you did?
Jeff: We have our own digital Foolscap because there’s three of us writing and we’re in three different places. Meg’s in Chicago, Matt’s in Calabasas, and I’m here in Silver Lake. So we have this program we use called Trello. It’s basically little cards that you can rearrange and organize.
S: Like 3×5 cards?
J: Yeah, but they grow to whatever length you need them to be digitally. We can type them up and move them around simultaneously. It’s a little bit cheating because you can actually get things to be really incredibly long, and I know we’re supposed to keep it short, but we take your concepts – the beginning, middle, and end thing- and try to beat out the whole series. It’s 7 episodes, the show, so for all 7 episodes we have a Foolscap, and then we have one for each individual episode, and then even sometime scenes. If we’re trying to figure out what the scene will be we can get it on a micro level.
S: So you made the decision at some point to limit yourself to 7 episodes, huh?
S: So take me through your thinking. This is season 1 and you’re thinking of it in that way, right? You’re thinking there’s going to be a season 2, etc. So did you take it as a block and come up with an entire unified structure for the 7 episodes?
J: So we have 4 main characters that we follow, and we knew where they would all start and where they would all end in the first season.
S: Ahh. You knew where they would end. Ok.
J: So from there how we’ve structured it is that each episode follows a character. So the first episode is introduction about everybody, episode 2 is about Colin, 3 is about Mark, 4 is Zak, 5 is Russell, etc. So then we were able to kinda focus on beginning, middle, and end of that character’s arc for each episode.
S: Great. Good. I like it. Speaking of the work habits and ethics that you picked up from the Boy Scouts, I just wanted to ask you, Jeff, what’s your day like? You’re really an independent artist pursuing a dream, supporting yourself by your own day jobs, so what’s a typical week like for you – And for Meg and for Matt – as you’re doing ‘Camp Abercorn?’
J: I mean we’ve all put a lot of our side jobs on hold for the moment, and we’re pretty full-time working on the project. So, we’ll set up a time – say 9:00am – we’re getting on Skype and we’re either writing or figuring out production. I mean we were just doing a lot of filming lately for our video Short Film Blitz, so during that time was a lot more going out and doing filming with our entire crew of about 30 people.
S: So you’re scheduled, you’ll get together on Skype, you’ll actually be shooting…it’s pretty much a full-time gig, huh?
S: How long is a day for you? Nightfall and you’re still working on this, huh?
J: Yeah. And one thing that I think is probably interesting for writers that’s different from [your way of writing] is that we write all at the same time. So you’re typing away at your own ideas, but Matt and Meg and I might all be working in the same google doc on the same script finishing each others sentences, crossing out what other people are writing, commenting. Sometimes it works really well, sometimes it’s painful.
S: Now the other thing I wanted to ask you, Jeff, for our people is to see kinda the artist’s life, the young 28-year-old guy who’s in L.A. doing his thing. I just want to take them around your place here in Silver Lake. So before we go into the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, I wanted to ask you about that sign up there. What is that all about?
J: “What good shall I do this day,” is a quote from Benjamin Franklin and it is our Compass Guide slogan. The Boy Scouts have, “do a good turn daily.”
S: So we’re going in to your office here. In my office, there’s just one laptop, but this is like the Starship Enterprise. So tell me how do you work with these 3 screens? What do you do on them?
J: So this one is a drawing tablet…I went to art school and everything…so if you wanted to paint directly on the screen here…and then this is the secondary monitor so you can choose your paint brushes.
S: So would you do storyboards or something on that?
J: Yeah. Storyboards, illustrations.
S: What’s that one? [Steven gestures to a musical keyboard attached to a monitor.]
J: So this monitor is so I can play music and write directly.
S: Oh. So it has software so you can write music on there?
J: Yeah. Or record music directly from here [the keyboard].
S: And when you do your writing, like when you’re working with Meg and Matt, where do you do that?
J: So I work here and I write at this section and Matt’s over at his little station and when Meg’s here – she actually made a little ‘Meg’s Command Center’ sign – she likes to claim that desk.
S: So the two of you guys at some point are working together in the same room? It’s not always Skype?
J: Yeah, it’s not always Skype. We do a lot together in the same room.
S: I know what this is, but tell me what this is on the wall here.
J: This is our cast! These are our 5 main characters of the show. [Jeff motions to headshots of the actors tacked to the wall.]
S: This is like the equivalent of Van Gogh’s room in Arles only the 2014 version of it, huh?!
J: I think that’s generous, but…
S: Well, like I say, when I was your age I was living in a Chevy van, so this is great. Thank you, Jeff, this is fantastic.
I teach a “Screenwriting for the Web” class in Fall at The New School and you can bet I’ll be making the students view these videos to see what the full process is really about and all that it entails.
Thanks Steve & Jeff!
I’m exhausted just reading about this.
Thx my friend!
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