Half Bath

On Using What You've Got by Reese Hayes

It seems like a large population of the independent filmmaking community is overly concerned with gear – cameras, sound recorders, stabilizing equipment, fancy lights, whatever you get it – so much so, that it prevents them from actually making the thing they want the gear to help them make.  I completely understand this.  In fact, I’ve been struggling with a mild camera buying addiction for several years. I always want the newest thing with the coolest features and neatest doodads, but I try to never let my lack of doodads keep me from being creative. As far as I’m concerned, creativity requires very few doodads.

At the risk of sounding repetitive, making Cobblestoned has been one of the most challenging yet rewarding projects of my short filmmaking career to date. We spend very little money, shoot in our backyard, and cast our talented friends to act and operate the camera. Of the 3 episodes we’ve completed so far, a tri-pod has been the only piece of non-camera/sound equipment that we’ve used. We have no gimbals or cranes or dollies or doodads of any sort. We have a camera, a microphone, and (this a very new addition) a ring light. You can see the ring light in action during Cobblestoned 3 when it’s reflected in Erick’s glasses while he sits on the couch eating Shredded Mini Wheats with Irish Cream Liqueur…

And I will admit, we have a nice camera. Like I said, it’s a serious problem I have. After shooting Half Bath with a rented Sony A7Sii, I decided I needed something for myself to shoot all of my projects with. The camera I had been using up until that point was incredibly outdated (i.e. it didn’t shoot 4K video). So, I saved up for a few weeks and bought the Panasonic GH5 and a couple prime lenses. Since then, I’ve purchased another lens, a battery pack, and a variable ND filter. All of that and the Tascam sound recorder and Rode NTG-2 boom microphone I’ve had since high school pretty much fills out our equipment list. And from what I can tell, it’s really all we need to tell a story.

I understand that a lot of filmmaker’s number one priority is not always storytelling. Some just want to make something pretty. Others are more concerned with creating dope visual action sequences or being really cool—okay I don’t actually understand those filmmakers. Storytelling should always be the number one priority. But the point is, make stuff. It doesn’t have to be perfect, polished, professional… It just has to be completed. If you have a camera and a microphone you’re already half way there. And if you don’t have a camera, I’d be more than happy to lend you one of mine.

On Making a Shitty Web Series by Reese Hayes

Reese looking annoyed on the set of Half Bath Chapter 4.

Reese looking annoyed on the set of Half Bath Chapter 4.

Like most budding filmmakers, we honed our craft by making short films, corporate videos, music videos, and micro documentaries with the ultimate goal of taking what we’ve learned to create a feature length movie.  But after nearly a decade of practice and hard work, we decided we still weren’t ready for a feature.  Also, whose got the money for that?  So, what do you do when you’re sick of shorts but not ready for the big leagues?  The obvious answer is the dying art form of the web series.

The first web series we made was a romantic(ish)-comedy called Half Bath about a young couple looking for a new apartment.  We shot it over 9 nearly consecutive days with a small crew and some fantastic local actors.  It wasn’t necessarily cheap to make (equipment rentals and food mostly), but we put in the effort and created something we’re all pretty proud of.  It was an overall positive experience that taught each of us many valuable lessons, most importantly: the dangers of making a not-shitty web series. 

First: It’s too expensive. Who has the resources to feed people or ya know… pay them? Why do we need such a fancy camera? Are these locations really necessary? Why won’t anyone take their shoes off in my apartment???  I saved up for months to be able to make Half Bath and by the time it was completed I had no money and very few views on YouTube. 

Second: It’s too stressful.  5 episodes (ranging from 6 to 8 pages), 9 days, 8 locations, dozens of actors and extras, not enough crew, too much food, everything going wrong every day… It’s a lot to handle and most of it is totally unnecessary.  Looking back on it, I can’t actually remember if I had any fun. I enjoyed the directing parts, but everything else was kind of a nightmare.

Third: No one cares about it anyway.  When you put a lot of time, money, and energy into something you’re inevitably going to expect something in return.  The unfortunate truth about your web series, though, is that nothing will ever come from it.  This obviously isn’t always the case and had my web series gotten millions of views and picked up to be an HBO Original, I’d be preaching something radically different. BUT. Most web series barely see the light of day.  It has almost nothing to do with the talent of the individuals involved and almost everything to do with the way YouTube works.  That being said, no one is searching for your web series.  You have to shove it in their faces, which tends to be a lot more work than you’re probably willing to do right now. 

Erick as Erick shooting a scene in Cobblestoned.

Erick as Erick shooting a scene in Cobblestoned.

We took these lessons and decided to use them to make something we never dreamed possible.  Another shitty web series.  This time, however, we knew that we had to embrace the shit.  No actors.  No crew.  No money.  The result is something I think is far better than anything we’ve ever made before.  By limiting our resources and having a relaxed and stress free attitude, we’ve been able to express our creativity in the most authentic way possible.  We don’t need to wait on anyone to show up to set or have someone tell us the best place to put the camera or give away any of our hard earned money!  And since we know no one is going to watch it anyway, we have a lot more confidence to try new things and actually grow as filmmakers.   

Web series have not only given us a convenient way to tell longer stories and experiment with new ideas and techniques, but it’s also been great practice.  Because we have to do everything ourselves, me must teach ourselves how to do the jobs that we usually hire other people to do. I’ve become a better cinematographer, I have a better understanding of what an actor needs from the director, I’ve learned how to create a sound design, how to produce, how to market… I’m not saying collaboration is harmful to the filmmaking process, but sometimes you have to rely on yourself and there’s no better way to learn than by doing. Unlike Half Bath, our new series, Cobblestoned is written, shot, and edited one episode at a time.  This results in a much slower process, but allows us to be working on it whenever we want.  There’s no waiting around.  We can constantly be writing, shooting, or editing every weekend.  It’s exhausting, but 2018 was a great year for our productivity (and I assume 2019 will be even better).

If you’re not having much luck with short films and festivals or you think you need more experience before striking out on a feature… consider making a shitty web series.  You have nothing to lose but the respect of your parents!