The Channukah Carolers — Or, How to Push Past Your Creative Perfectionism and Make a Web-Short.

Happy New Year!! It’s sketchy times we live in! As in, I decided to usher in the holidays and New Year’s with a sketch/web-short mockumentary.

This is all part of me adhering to the new oft-heard mantra, ‘Hey you want creative opportunities and roles? Make ’em yourself!’.

This is actually the second short I’ve created, directed, and acted in (the first has been indefinitely stuck ‘in post’), and like the first, I definitely learned a lot from it.

I gotta tell you, even just doing this short shot up my already extremely-high respect and esteem for any artist who actually creates work — both in the independent world as well as commercial one, but I definitely give more props to those in in the indie world for the simple fact that we have way less resources.

Basically, it’s easy to be cynical and critical of people’s work (and I still am), but the more I do my own stuff, the more supportive and less critical I’ve become to others. It sounds cheesy and even obvious — you know the whole, ‘walk a mile in my shoes before you judge…’ — but I actually thought experience would make me more critical, not less.

Instead, I now think of shows I love, especially ones featuring sketches as just a small “side thing”, and I cannot believe they’re able to pull off as much as they do day in and day out. Sure, they have a huge group of people working on production, writing, costuming, catering, etc, but it still amazes me that they manage to get so much done.

Now onto independent filmmaking and the short I created. As any creator will know, and as I told Felix, my awesome cameraman:

You start off with a grandiose idea of what you want to achieve in a perfect world — if money, time, talent, equipment were limitless — and then as you set out to produce it, reality sets in and you must chip away at it all, and hope that the end product isn’t just one pile of shit.

But here’s the important part: even if it is a pile of shit, you hope and must convince yourself that there’s some twinkle left in that pile of shit that still resembles the original grandiose idea, and you close your eyes and just post it anyway.

And that, kids, is how creative work gets made!

At the end of the day, you must just force yourself to do it, despite your perfectionism, despite the knowledge of “oh, but it could have been so much better” — because yes, it could have if you had more time to write, had more time to edit, didn’t procrastinate as much, had more money, insert a myriad of other reasons; because the truth is, any work can always be better.

So when it’s all said and done, and while wondering why you even liked the project in the first place (I awoke one night saying, “Wait, is this short even funny? I think I thought it was, but now I can’t tell”), you still just gotta take the finished product and put it out there, anyway.

So with that — yes, I’m calling this a pep talk — and in the words of Hamlet to his players, “Go, make you ready.” (Big thanks and shoutout to my acting gurus, Ben Ratner & Loretta Walsh for making us memorize Speak the Speech, which is not only a fantastic piece to live by for actors, but also just good, plain advice for all artists and creators).

So yeah, go forth and create something you too can be proud of — and at the same time sick of or ambivalent about — so that you can get onto the next project!

Oh, but wait:  before moving on, you still have to promote the shit out of the project to the best of your abilities — posting the file, submitting it to sites, asking people to share it (and declaring to yourself that anyone who hasn’t is clearly an enemy of state who hates freedom and is certainly no friend of mine), essentially harassing people to get it seen; otherwise, what was the point of creating it?

Now  all that said, I don’t want you thinking this wasn’t fun — it was, and we had a blast! And I don’t want you to think I’m not proud of it — I am! In fact, I’m super proud of what we accomplished: we shot this, extremely guerrilla style, and in only 5 hours!

For anyone who wants to know the details, here’s a quick sum-up of how it went:

Our first ‘pre-production’ meeting at a cafe was a week prior to the shoot. The four of us included: Felix; Ace, who did sound for this, and who’s also a comedy filmmaker, director, producer in his own right and with whom I just worked as an actor in his own comedy pilot, Twanglers; and Ruven, comedian and my partner in our live-performance sketch duo Schtuptown, sat there at a table Saturday morning and we all agreed, “let’s do an online sketch for the holidays.”

It was supposed to be a very short, simple thing, maybe based on one of my characters I do, and looking back, this is definitely still what we should have done: just keep it simple — and way shorter.

Instead, we chose the complicated full-sketch-almost-full-short-film route (ok, by ‘we’ I mean me).

Casting had to happen super quickly, and at this cafe meeting (Kafka’s — go there, it’s good), when Ruven was saying, “it’s just too soon — let’s do it next year and work on something for February” (I affectionately call Ruven “The Nixer” — he can successfully naysay anything, and all with valid reasons), I found myself saying with unbridled and even downright cocky, dare I say, as is often hurled solely at females, ‘bossy’, optimism:

“I can do it. I’ll have a short script ready tonight. I’ll get the actors. I know tons of them here. They’ll say yes. Our schedules and dayjobs will somehow all synch. I’ll make the costumes in time. I’ll get the songs to them all transliterated and recorded for them to listen to in time.”

Two asides:

1) Try finding enough Jews in Waspitown/Asiantown-Vancouver for this type of sketch — only three of us in it were, and the other two only knew the last song. Oy, assimilation’s sometimes a bitch, but I digress… ;) But I had fun casting ‘Jewwy-looking’ actors I knew (yay to Romanian or French heritage peeps!), though admittedly, I almost felt a bit Nazi-like doing so (don’t worry, though, I never once got out the calipers).

2) I could also promise all this, because I’ve recently booked a few lucrative commercials and one small role in a major film, so have been on hiatus from dayjobland. In other words: I had more time than the others to work on this, and even then it was stressful and packed. Speaking of which, I plan on making a blogpost about the myth of successfully juggling a dayjob and non-paying/low-paying creative work so look out for that very soon.

Now, back to our meeting and my testimony on the stand, trying to persuade my team to make this short:

“It’ll all happen in time! Just try to be optimistic.” I was almost causing a scene. Of course, that’s not hard to do in Vancouver, where a slightly raised tone in a cafe is very unsightly — cafes are essentially seen as an extension to libraries here, but again, I digress…

“Just trust me! Let’s do this! Yes, shooting in the subway will be fine! Stop worrying!  We’ll do it at the entrance of the station only as plan B if they demand we leave, but why not try it inside the car first?! (Ahem, again Ruven) ;) Stop putting up roadblocks before we actually get to them! C’mon, it’sVancouver! We can take advantage of the people’s small-town, polite passive-aggression, and we may get glared at, but no one will actually tell us anything! You know this! You’ll see!”

See, we indie creators worry a lot (as do non-indie ones, but the worries we face are different). And the truth is, we have to worry since a lot of these concerns are very valid. For example, we have to worry about film permits (we had none); city bylaws; people dropping out at the last minute (hey, you get what you paid for); fears and worries that your name will be attached to something you don’t like, and anxiety that your creative reputation will therefore be permanently destroyed over one bad project or comment or photo, thanks to it being forever available on the interwebs (gotta love the times we live in). I have all of these worries, too.

And looking at the finished product, of course there are tons of things I would change and improve on. But truth be told, I’ve actually been recently inspired by an interview I read with Howie Mandell, where he stated,”There’s always a thousand reasons why not to do something.”

That hit home. Yep, there’s always a reason to say no to something — so say yes.

Even if your fears are valid — and let’s face it: you can always justify them — I’m saying you gotta just push past these thoughts, and do it anyway. Otherwise, you’ll never create anything.

To some extent, I’m surprised it’s me saying all this. Honestly, I’m more of a pessimist at heart, or perhaps now more an optimistic pessimist, and my two sides battle each other all the time. As for neurotic worrying, that’s also definitely one of my top talents (gotta love the Jewish cultural upbringing out east in Brooklyn & Montreal — yep, some stereotypes die hard…).

But hey, maybe a few years out here has finally west-coastified me on some level, and I can push through the doubts and no’s better than I used to. (Yay, assimilation! Finally! I’ve been trying so hard!)

Anyway, that’s it for now.

Some accomplishments and behind-the-scenes fun-facts to note about The Channukah Carolers:

  • Our sketch got posted in Heeb magazine, (for those who don’t know it, it’s sorta like a Jewish Vice — ‘But Vice is already pretty Jewwy’, you say. Yeah, yeah, but this one is especially so).
  • It’s also posted here on Funny Or Die, and has so far gotten zero ‘die’ votes — to be fair, it only has 180 views, so feel free to check it out and give it some more ‘funny’ votes, please and thank you.
  • The funniest part of filming was during the opening scene, when we noted that a homeless guy at the corner was sitting up, his blanket covering him, and was jerking it to ‘Oy Channukah’ — if that isn’t a sign of success and bringing holiday joy to people, then nothing is! We got some footage of it for ‘crowd reactions’, but alas, it didn’t make the cut. Ok, fine, here’s a still and if I knew how to create a gif I would:
  • YouTube analytics shows me that it’s gotten world-wide international views, my favorite ones being in Saudi Arabia.
  • Last but not least, the analytics also show that we’ve earned close to $2 bucks for our nearly 1000 views so far. Note to my team: See? Told ya it’d go viral! ;)