By Rebecca Norris
Writer Harry Waksberg knows a thing or two about writing for the web: He was a finalist for a Student Emmy for his web series Mouthwash in 2008 and is now back with a new series, Doing Good.
This comedic series, which was written by, produced by, and stars Waksberg and was directed by Saminah Karmoen, is about the people who help the wealthy decide what charities to support. The story follows Lane, an idealistic college student, during her internship with one such middleman. Unfortunately, he's a schmuck.
The series will premiere on Sunday, October 6th with a fantastic launch party at the Silent Movie Theater (Cinefamily, at 611 N. Fairfax, Los Angeles) that is free and open to the public. (There will also be free beer, so how can you go wrong?)
I interviewed Harry about his writing and production process for the series.
Rebecca: How did you come up for the premise for Doing Good? What inspired the story?
Harry: My friend's dad worked for a rich guy, deciding how he'd donate his money. I thought, I would be terrible at this job. I'm surrounded mostly by people who are doing amazing work in activist circles, and I'm pretty fascinated by people who do good.
Rebecca: What was your process like in preparation for writing? Did you do outlines, story grids? How many drafts did you go through?
Harry: I usually spend a month or so just jotting down any ideas I have about it. Once I get bored of that, I try to organize them around character arcs and build the plot that way. This probably went through around 5-7 drafts. When I feel like a script is almost done, I get my friends over, promise them pizza I never deliver on, and we read the script through. This gives me a sense of what the characters could sound like if they were played by my friends, which, under the best circumstances, they are.
Rebecca: How much of your marketing and branding did you strategize in advance?
Harry: We knew we would do some, but saying we strategized would be generous. We knew we'd be working a few social media networks because I would be doing that anyway. But otherwise we've been playing marketing by ear, and probably learning a lesson.
We think the show will appeal to people with a background in nonprofits, so we've been trying to spread word of mouth that way. If you've ever canvassed, this show is probably for you. I would go door-to-door to spread that message, but I quit after my first day of door-to-door canvassing, and I don't think I'd be very effective starting up again.
Rebecca: What else did you plan in advance--your season length? Number of webisodes? Season arc, character arc? Did you feel well-prepared going into the shoot?
Harry: I originally wrote this as a pilot, and then thought better of it, and rewrote it to be a seven-episode webseries. So it sort of necessarily has a season arc. I felt very well-prepared, because our director, Saminah Karmoen, knew exactly what she was doing, so I could focus on locating snacks to consume.
Rebecca: How are you raising funds? What have you shot already?
Harry: The whole thing is shot! We raised the money on Kickstarter, which is a website that is also used by Spike Lee. I'm not comparing myself to Spike Lee, but the similarities should be obvious. Saminah and I blasted everyone we knew with messages urging them to back us on Kickstarter, figuring people who knew us might be interested in what we could make together.
I once tried to film something without raising any money, and directing it myself. That was a pretty clear disaster. I couldn't feed the actors and I am, uh, not a very good director. Having enough money to provide sandwiches helped. And having someone with a clear vision and authoritative style, like Saminah, was huge. She came in knowing what she wanted to see and didn't waste anyone's time after she got what she needed. This was a good way, it now occurs to me, to conserve sandwiches. I don't think that was her motivation, but she's a tough person to get.
Rebecca: What inspired you to create your own work, and what advice would you give to others who are thinking of filming their own writing?
Harry: I had to create my own work! Who else is gonna?
If you plan on filming your own writing, my advice is to make the shoot as short as possible. The longer you ask people to stay on the line for little or no money, the more of them you'll lose to more efficient projects. I've had actors get dramatic haircuts in the middle of shoots that dragged on for months. And I've lost crew members who didn't care enough about the project to stay on hold forever. Totally understandable! You can't trick people into being passionate, but everyone's down to help out for a weekend or so.
Doing Good premieres on Sunday, October 6 at 1:00pm at the Silent Movie Theater (Cinefamily, at 611 N. Fairfax, Los Angeles.) The premiere is free and open to the public; there will be drinks, snacks, and entertainments! That very night they will launching Episode 1 at doinggoodseries.com. If you're in LA, be sure to check it out!
- More Writers on the Web articles by Rebecca Norris
- Writers on the Web: Writing for Web – It’s Time to Write… but Wait! (Part 1)
- Writers on the Web: Mapping Your Destination and Branding, Part 2 – Interview with creators of “Misdirected”
- Writers on the Web: Developing Web Series Ideas, Part 1
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