AirSWAT – The Series – Chapter 7

Okay, this one won’t be that long.  I’ve talked about most of the issues we had as a group already, and to continue would seem like regurgitation.  I will talk about motives for a little bit, but I’m saving the big lesson for the last entry which is looming on the horizon like some kind of, I don’t know, celestial orb or something, burning with the heat of hell’s fury.

. . . Yeah, a little like that, I guess . . .

Now people can have different motives for doing things, which is fine.  I have a friend that drinks to escape the misery of life, and I drink because my great-great-grandfather was a bottle of gin and so it’s up to me to maintain the heritage.  And yet we both get together and hit up the bars like we’re going to die tomorrow, which might be a self-fulfilling prophesy depending on how much liquor we can get our hands on.  But motives can also clash and on artistic projects how those clashes are dealt with could mean the difference between a great partnership and never working with each other ever again.

One person is it in for the money.  One person is strictly about the art.  One is for the jokes and the other for the action.  One is willing to alter the idea to reach the biggest audience, and the other is willing to sacrifice viewership for originality.  None of these are the wrong choices and they aren’t necessarily polar opposites –

This is the cutest example of opposites that I could find.

– but given equal power and gone unsaid, the separate motives of the individuals will damage the group as a whole.  Something has to give, and each side has negative connotations.  Work for the money, you’re a sellout.  Work for the art, you’re a snob.  Try to work for both and you’re unrealistic.  The only thing more important than figuring out your partners’ motives is figuring out yours, not just for the project but for your life as an artist.  Where you fall in this constant debate between artists will not just sculpt your work but the environment you build for yourself.

This was the beginning of our zany PSA’s, where we ditched trying to deliver some social-minded message for getting in whatever one-liners we couldn’t fit into the main script, and because of that this ended up being the weakest one.  It’s still funny, but it’s also transparent, neither relying on us as a misguided group nor individual characters spreading awareness.  It does make me hungry every time I watch it though.

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AirSWAT – The Series – Chapter 6

This is going to be a shorter article as I am a busy busy busy man.

As you can see, I have my sinister spoon in many soups.

When working on a personal project that does not produce any monetary value, high morale and fun replace currency.  You must set goals because that’s the only way to get things done in this world, but it is almost more important to make sure you are doing what you’re doing because you like doing it (doing doing doing doing).  When morale drops, when the only form of payment from the process lessens, you are effectively cutting your own pay thereby making the entire project more like laborious work than something you care about. And that pay cut will stick around with you for a lot longer than a monetary one if you are invested in the project enough for your immediate emotional well-being to be at stake.

Like this, except it's your soul.

As time has gone on it was apparent that the group’s motivation for the series started to split and shift from the original concept.  That’s fine.  The evolution of an idea is a vital and necessary part of the process but none of us agreed on where exactly to take it.  More business?  More craft?  More advertising?  More rewrites?  We never fully agreed on where we wanted it to go as a group (hell, we hardly talked about that until the end) and the rift between our own personal goals for the project caused tension between us.

"I said it should be 'Irish & the Carbombs', not 'Irish & the Car-Bombs'!" "Oh yeah?!"

The second episode (which was actually the third episode we filmed as we shot one out in the desert for promotional material) was much more involved than the first.  There were more locations, more props, choreography, potential pyrotechnics (which we soon decided to use CGI for, much to my distaste as I am very willing to sacrifice my friend’s genitals in order for it to “look real”), and many more times when we had to be innovative and change our strategy to get as close to the script as possible with what little time and materials we had.  I think what we ended up with was great.  Not perfect, but I think that hint of rawness added to the makeshift feel of Irish and the Car-Bombs.

Frankly, this is the best idea I've ever come up with.

But the shooting was no longer as fun as it had been when we started.  For the entirety of the second episode, my favorite part was location scouting.  We ended up hiking through the wilderness for the entire day and by the end we found a huge mountain of dirt that we took turns jumping off of.  That feeling of boys playing in the dirt, a small brotherhood where communication could occur without words, is what the show was really about.  Not airsoft, not action, not comedy.  It was about the friendship that only guys share, part humor, part bravado, part loyalty, and I think as we started to lose focus on that we started to lose control of the series.

I don’t think this article ended up being any shorter than the last.  Dammit, now I’m tired but I don’t know if I can get to slewopjiwa;ovio;3rh o og…………………………………………………………………………………………………….

AirSWAT – The Series – Chapter 5

It’s hard enough just getting by in this world, let alone trying to do something.  But when someone comes along and starts spouting condescending, parental-sounding bullshit advice then you suddenly have to deal with murderous rage alongside everything else.  Please forgive the general truism, but if you are to succeed in any venture a definite structure must be set into place.  God, I feel dirty, excuse me while I take a shower.

Five minutes later.

Unfortunately, it’s true (truism . . . true . . . oh, I get it).  We had no solid structure to how we went about producing.  Oh, I tried to keep a calendar and notes of when we talked, but these were feeble attempts when a key element in the structure was missing: Hierarchy.  In AirSWAT, each of us held the same amount of power as the others in every aspect of the project.  This was fine in general as AirSWAT wouldn’t have existed if we each hadn’t been involved, but in regards to each particular production it was a detriment.  Going from my POV for a moment (unlike the rest of the article which should be considered straight from the mouth of THE LORD), working endlessly on the script from conception to realization only to have one of the others argue against a crucial plot point during production was more than just aggravating but truly upsetting.  And I’m sure that this happened vice versa as I would argue/comment about an area that I did not have experience in, such as the actual filming process.  Undermining each other is a natural part of this set up.

“Fuck these guys.”

If for every production we had said, “Okay, Nic and Pete, you write.  Matt, handle direction and filming.  Mark, just . . . just . . . just act, man.  You’re good at that,” then a hierarchy would have been set.  We could have written, directed and produced without getting in each other’s way, thereby forgoing many of the issues that we ended up having with each other.

Example - I'm a dick.

But there’s more to it than the practical.  Now here comes another truism, but this one doesn’t make me feel like some corporate stooge so I won’t need to take another shower.

This time, I want to do it.

On a creative project, you can wear many hats, but you can not wear them at the same time.  You can not write as an editor or you will spend all of your time nitpicking and the writing will suffer.  You can not act at the exact same time you are directing others or else you won’t be in the moment and the performance will suffer.  You can not produce and promote at the same time or the project will suffer.  You can do all of those things, but you must do them separately or else the quality of the work will lessen.  The separation between duties and roles is vital to the success of a creative endeavor.

Here is another PSA, the only one we didn’t film in a garage with a parachute as a back drop.  To his credit this was one of Mark’s ideas, and it was the last PSA that we filmed that actually could have a genuine message to it.

Ladies, honestly, we love you. Keep yourselves safe. Also, BOOBIES!

AirSWAT – The Series – Chapter 4

One thing about writing comedy with a group is that you are often times overloaded with gags, making the real challenge not one of creating the jokes but one of trying to figure out where to put them all.  This is actually much harder than it seems.  How do you connect an exploding car, a pack of rancid meat, the line, “The t-shirt means nothing!  We give everyone the t-shirt!” and the image of the four us standing in the desert, all naked save the one who’s in a chicken costume together?  We discovered in our process that if we wrote the script around the jokes (e.g. we start with this joke, then link to the one we wrote yesterday, and then link, etc.) we ended up with a script that distanced itself from a large population.  It was a script full of inside jokes.  Sure it was funny if you already knew each of us and how we all interacted together, but then to make something like that is a form of just laughing at our own jokes at the expense of connecting with the audience.  You’ve met those assholes at parties; people who “know” they are “funny”, what with their “witty” references to the American The Office and “clever” nicknames for all of their “friends” based on past events.

Until they invent a "Sarcasm" font, all I have are these.

No one laughs at those people.  We only wish to punish them, because between all of their bullshit they are treating people like a) stupid because they don’t understand the reference, or even worse b) irrelevant because they weren’t there.  Usually a mixture of the two.  As for me, I always make sure to convey my distaste for their attitude . . .

. . . with this.

But if you base all the jokes around the script and the story, you get something that makes sense to everyone because although the jokes are still “inside jokes”, through the story you have brought the audience to the inside.  Not only that, but new jokes will be created while writing the script that may be even funnier than the original idea.  The downside to this is that you may have jokes that you’ll never use because the script never gave you an opening for it.  This can be an alarming thing because even with four people working on the script at some point everyone will forget that hilarious joke if it’s never written down in the script.

One way around this is to write everything down.  But if you’ve ever woken up and wrote down something you want to buy in the morning only to awake the next day to the note “Buysa Nu Goat Mask” you understand that without context, words on a piece of paper are useless.  And if you’re going to sit down and write the context you might as well start writing the script.  The other way is to keep writing material until you get to a place where the joke does fit.  This is equivalent to having one puzzle piece that fits none of your puzzles, so you say, “Fuck it” and make your own puzzle around that piece that features dragons, fire, lasers, space coyotes, all kinds of sexy naked people and a shit ton of gold.

This is the puzzle that piece originally belonged to.

It’s through that method that we started writing small vignettes in the form of public service announcements.  They were for all the jokes we couldn’t find a place for in the normal episodes.  They also gave the characters a sense of depth.  In between them acting like idiots on the airsoft field and in training missions during the episodes, they also acted like idiots in the real world.

Deep.

These were important not just to our writing, but in our morale as well.  Once we had started shooting the series being involved with AirSWAT was mostly work and planning, and at times we would get bogged down and tired.  The PSA’s let us get back to the ever-so-fun writing stage and were often so easy to shoot we could film three or four in one day.  If AirSWAT had caught on and had been able to continue, the PSA’s would have added a whole different element to the series.

AirSWAT – The Series – Chapter 3

The amount of work and energy that goes into shooting something can be extraordinary, especially if you set a high standard for yourself.  Because we were drawing our inspiration from the great blockbuster action movies, we wanted AirSWAT to have a similar style.  But with our limited resources and availability the elements seemed to be working against us.  First and foremost – Our BudgetBWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

I’m sorry, I couldn’t keep a straight face.  We didn’t have a budget.  Not in the sense of, “We had $15 to work with.”  That implies a sort of pooling of finances.  We did not do that.  We would end up going in on some purchases together later on, but at the time we each operated separately. Matt got the water and reserved the location, Mark got the posters and camera, I’m not sure what Pete got but I know he got something, and I got the donuts.  We all spent our own money and we all went into hock a little bit.

They were expensive god damn donuts, okay?  Covered in gold n’ shit.

Second – Equipment.  We wanted a high quality look to AirSWAT, which meant we had to bump it up to HD.  Unfortunately none of us had an HD camera.  I had a video camera but it only worked if you wanted to end up with a “Nondescript Shapes of Changing Color and Size” sort of feel.  We were able to borrow an HD camera easily enough, but it was a snare in our psyche.  Every single time we shot something, we would have to find an HD camera to borrow or rent.  Or we throw down and buy one of our own, which would mean spending money we didn’t have.  Either way, it was an issue we would have to deal with every single shoot and I believe this was the first hit to our morale.  The dilemma was a small hint of the large task we had taken on.

Third – Division of Labor.  I was incredibly gung-ho in pre-production.  Conceptualizing, writing, drafting, scheduling, planning, casting, designing; I basically ran the pre-production side.  Not that the others didn’t do work by any means.  I was just the guy with the checklist, making sure everything got done.  And I didn’t mind it so much.  I would have liked it if all of us were involved at every step of the process, that everyone helped carry the load throughout the series, but it just didn’t happen that way.  In a general split –

Concepts – Everyone
Writing – Pete and I
Pre-production – Mark and I
Production – Matt and Mark
Post-Production – Mark and I

This split is fine, but it’s something we never agreed on.  If we had a definitive list of roles I believe we would have been okay.  The lack of it, however, definitely caused tension.  I would strain to write, draft and put everything in place that by the time it came to shoot I wouldn’t handle any of the production, apart from the acting.  This caused resentment in the others who worked their butts off on the shoot, which then caused my resentment for them not helping me in the first place. And so on and so forth.  This was one of the major factors in the dissolution of AirSWAT.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here.  The shoot for the first episode was fantastic.  We were right on schedule, the performances from the actors were above what we hoped for, what little crew we were able to get added a lot to the look and visuals, and we weren’t arrested.

Please remember that at every single shoot we have an arsenal of realistic looking, fully automatic weaponry.

Most importantly, we were starting to discover people believed in AirSWAT, more than just our parents who are all under legal binding contracts to be supportive –

I’m fucking serious.

– but also the actors and others who helped us.  People believed we were onto something, and that we were talented enough to make it good.  Nothing represents our realization that we were on the right track more than this first episode.

And let me tell you, the rest of them went the exact sameBWAHAHAHA!

Sorry, I did it again.

AirSWAT – The Web Series – Chapter 2

With the idea firmly in place and a large well of jokes my friends and I have created over many years of acting like morons, we were off to writing.  That is to say, I was off to writing, and quite a lot.  The night after we officially created AirSWAT I went home and began to write the first episode.  I was prolific in writing the ongoing adventures of Irish and the Car-Bombs.  Within a few hours I had a first draft of the episode along with rough outline of two others.  Within a week I had written five episodes; within a month, thirteen.   After three months, our finished script had 25 episodes at 128 pages, practically a feature-film length script.

I vaguely recall the actual writing process.  I would sit at my computer, open my notebook and pick a concept, place my hands on the keyboard and then . . . I’d wake up five hours later, one hand chained to a goat eating a watermelon and the other holding the freshly scripted episode.  We all have lost track of time when engaged in an activity that we enjoy, but I seemed to be losing my sense of time.  Eighteen pages would take less time than it took for the water to heat up in my shower, while one particular joke would last for the NBA playoffs. To use terminology that I understand, it was like being drunk and listening to a jukebox.  It seems to take forever for it to get to your song but when it does, that bluegrass rendition of “Never Gonna Give You Up” is over before you know it.

What was that?  “But Nic, weren’t you dead-ass drunk while writing most of these?”  I’ll thank you very much not to burst the Artistic Genius Savior image I have going on here.  I wrote the whole thing enraptured by the spirit of the Lord and fueled by the power of the Elder Gods!  Dare you defile my glory with the insinuations of inebriation?!

In truth, I did not write the whole thing.  Pete wrote a good chunk and Mark wrote some, and their episodes were the best in the script.  The only reason I ended up writing so much is that I’m crazy and I was the more experienced writer at the time.  One of the others would have an idea for an episode and before they knew it I had swooped down, taken the idea and written a thesis with it.

But in retrospect it’s incredibly easy to write webisodes.  You have no set time length so you can stop whenever you want to, and there is no censor involved so sky’s the limit with the content.  The people we were writing about were basically heightened and exaggerated versions of ourselves, so we also had a very strong grasp of the characters.  I believe the fact that we knew these four guys so well made it easy to write.  Place them in any situation and we wouldn’t worry about what everyone would do because we already knew what they would do.

It also helps when the characters you are writing about are borderline idiots.  If you ever get stuck you can have something stupid and random happenOHMYGOD LOOK IT’S A PUPPY!!!!!!!!!

Like that.

All in all, the writing and revising the script was the most enjoyable time in the whole experience.  It was nothing but laughter and good old fun, and once we were finished we felt even more inspired.  We had a script, and the script was good.

Now we just had to film the lil’ fuckers.

AirSWAT – The Web Series – Chapter 1

(This is the story of the comedic web series, AirSWAT, from its creation to its end.  Each chapter will come with an AirSWAT video, just re-released onto the internet.  For the sake of not pissing my friends off, I’m gonna use different names for people here.  Matt, Mark and Pete should do well.)

In the spring of 2008, my friend Matt came to me with a new hobby he was interested in, and I was slightly nervous.  Ages ago, Matt had been the one who introduced me to laser tag, a game full of fog machines, large rubber vests, and “guns” that looked like they were designed in a cartoon and were attached to you via a telephone cord.  After a few years it seemed that laser tag no longer held any excitement for Matt, so he moved on to paintball, an outdoor affair that did away with the cords and replaced them with compressed air and a watering can full of colored fish oil pellets.  And so did I, and my friends, how we did laugh and play.  But this new hobby, this airsoft, only marked a dangerous progression in these hobbies.  The ammo had gone from light waves to gelcaps and now to small plastic pellets that are shot out at such a high velocity that they break the skin upon impact (I have scars.)  And the opposition had gone from nerds to active nerds to ex-military, police force and the GOD DAMN NAVY SEALS.  I suspected, as I still do, that one day we would simply give up the charade, strap on bullet-proof vests, and go “play” in the streets of Los Angeles.  I’d label the game Realistic Ballistic Urban Tactics (RBUT) or, if that was taken, Reckless Endangerment and Attempted Homicide (REAH) or, if that was taken, Shooting at Each Other With Real Fucking Guns (SaEOwRFG).

But still, I followed Matt as he took me to an airsoft store so I could buy my first gun.  I tried to pick something that, if caught by the police, wouldn’t get me immediately arrested/shot.  After a few minutes, I realized I was surrounded by products designed to look as real as possible, down to the serial numbers on the barrels, and that no matter what I picked I was most likely going to jail in the immediate future.  Should I go with the AK-47?  Eh, too cliché.  How about that double-barreled shotgun?  In a game it wouldn’t work so well on its own.  Every time you fired it, you’d have to retreat to reload the fucker, causing you to miss on valuable combat time where you might be able to sucker punch a few of the opposition if you’re lucky.  I decided to follow my pocket book and get two gas-powered semi-automatic glocks at a reasonable price.

That night, Matt and my other friend Mark, played a few rounds in the street with just pistols, and it was a lot of fun.  We ruined a few parked cars on the street, but we were at war, son, and collateral damage is expected.  From that moment, airsoft was the new group hobby.  Between Matt, Mark, and another friend of mine Pete, we formed a ragtag airsoft group that I jokingly called Irish and the Car-Bombs, after one of our favorite libations.

After one game, Mark walks up to me and says that he had an idea for a web series.  It would be titled AirSWAT, and would be about the four of us acting like idiots while playing airsoft.

“So, being ourselves?” I said.

HAR HAR HAR, my brain said, MY LORD AREN’T YOU FUNNY NIC.  PLEASE, MORE WIT, POST HASTE.  (My brain talks to me in caps, and is very abasing.)

But the idea stuck in my head as I drove home.  As young creative adults who were also broke and lazy, I found that my friends and I often spoke of starting our own projects but no one ever pushed to get them off the ground.  We’d merely intellectually circle-jerk each other until we all felt that we were better than every successful artist out there, and then continue to eat our barbeque chips and watch Stargate.  I had been working in a corporate setting for a year and hadn’t done anything artistic in that time which had left me extremely frustrated.  I was itching to get my hands on a project, to fucking DO something.  So before I went to bed I mocked up a logo for the AirSWAT team.  I emailed it off to the Matt, Mark and Pete, and said that if they were onboard I suggest we give this “Personal Artistic Endeavor” a shot.  At a party a few weeks later, as we all waded in the pool enacting slow motion fights scenes underwater, we all agreed we were interested in pursuing this, if nothing else than to see how far we could go with it.

Thus AirSWAT was officially born in a body of chlorinated water between four half-naked men hitting each other in the head with beach balls.

I went home and began to write.