Indie production is emotionally draining AF

(Amanda Taylor) #1

This summer, amidst hysterical tears, I said on more than one occasion how much I just wanted to quit being in charge of my production team, remove all the responsibility from myself and place it on someone else - or nowhere, and just be at peace. So I took a three month break from doing anything web series, deleted some social media, and slowly cut off contact with people who were making me unhappy.

Bri asked me to give her a quote about leadership, and it turned into all of this:

The Background

We started Apple Juice Productions (AJP, to the initiated) in the spring of 2016. We wanted our series, The Cate Morland Chronicles, to look more official. Also, I’d been toying with the idea of taking my long-used “Apple Juice” brand into the world of filmmaking. I had a blog with that name (now defunct) and an email newsletter with that name (also over), and I was very into the branding. It was me, though. Mine. My idea, my online identity, to the extent that I had one. So when I proposed it to our then-screenwriter and then-publicist, I was careful to specify that I was turning the brand and the name over to the whole group. It was ours, as was the show and the general endeavor of making a web series with absolutely no experience to speak of.

I also was nominated by the team to take on the part of the show that was the show itself: producing. I had to find a camera, someone to operate it, cast actors, find locations, direct the show, and so many other pieces I’m sure you can all relate to. So, just as quickly as I had generously given up my brand, it became almost solely mine again. The other two girls helped a little (one far more than the other) with food costs and finding bodies when necessary, but they lived in different, far away states. It worked! We made a 40-episode series, with some transmedia efforts attached, and put ourselves on the map.

Our Lily Evans series took us in a different direction, and the Baby-sitters Club series in yet another. Still, all production was happening because of my efforts, connections, relationships I was forming locally with people who could help fill out our casts and crews. My camera operator/DP/co-director from The Cate Morland Chronicles had become my right hand woman, helpful where she could be but lacking the personality type to be a very effective producer. The other branch of our core team (so. many. apple. puns.) lives in New York City, and although she tried to be helpful, ultimately was not. At risk of just sounding like I am whining, I want to go into some detail about what eventually happened.

The Fallout

I was making gestures of genuine friendship to all our actors, of which I was one, but not necessarily feeling as cared for. I was texting them, liking their instagram posts, attending events for them (like plays they were in) - especially because we shot over the course many months and wanted these people to return, I felt it was important they felt valued. But only by me? Nobody else on my “team” was making this effort.

We did a crowdfund, during which we asked our secondary crew of four girls to help with publicising and begging for money - and three of them made a blanket refusal. They revealed they didn’t believe in the mission of AJP enough to make that effort. Well: AJP was, and had become almost entirely, ME. All I heard was that this thing I had put my life into was not interesting, high quality or ambitious enough to tempt them.

The last year of being the founder of Apple Juice Productions has been really dark. I have felt deep betrayal, disappointment and abandonment from women who I sought to give opportunities to, whose work and abilities I believed in - and who didn’t appear to believe in me. Most of these people were hand-picked by me for their talents, and had an excellent time making something creative with other women. I also tried to manage expectations and let everyone know they’re getting themselves into long days and stressful situations. I talked to these people who I was feeling let down by and asked what went wrong, only to hear the response: “you didn’t appreciate us enough” a lot. This really bothered me, because it was supposed to be a group effort. But apparently since I was at the head of the table I needed to be more expressive and doting. Which was exactly the problem, I thought! I was doing it too much and getting nothing in return! I was completely emotionally spent from maintaining relationships and complimenting people’s skills so they would apply them to our work.

I became the leader because I’m bossy, efficient, connected, unafraid to ask for what I want, and determined. I believe in what we do at AJP - the stories, the mission, all of it. But being in charge of people who constantly undermine you, refuse to commit or communicate, and in the end tell you ‘I really only cared about the part I was doing’ is a miserable way to live. Because I was the leader by default. Nobody voted me in or anything.

And let me be clear: I am not patient, kind, ministrative, a mentor or whatever other thing you might want in the person who is in charge of you. I expect results. I want perfection. I will TELL YOU if you screw up. Sometimes I yell. But I also desperately want to be liked.

I do know that I have a lot of ideas. I know how to execute them. I want to continue writing scripts and playing the characters I come up with. I love putting together a production and watching a group of people work toward a common goal more than anything else in the world. But maybe I just really need to not be leading that group. There is no way to be liked and be truly efficient, that I’m aware of. I tried to be everyone’s friend instead of their boss. I made all the classic mistakes of people who have no clue what they’re doing. And I’m not sure I want to learn?

Trying to build a brand and an empire, while making shows that have individual personalities, is really tough. You need people who can help you make the product but also help you make that empire, too. Those people don’t get to pop in and out and only care about one show. I think of people who seem to have done it successfully alone (Kate Hackett) and together (Shipwrecked Comedy) and I think of my awesome production partner-in-crime Kailee and realize I kind of want it all. I want to make all the decisions, but have a good and supportive team carry them out. See? I should not be in charge.

Other, maybe relevant information:

We operate with volunteer work, which is not uncommon in our area OR for indie filmmaking, as many of you know. We’ve tried sponsors, grants, donors, crowdfunding, etc to try to drum up some $$$ to eliminate the need for this, but in the end it’s kind of like community theater. You do it because you love it.

I went to journalism school, not film school. I’m no expert, have no experience, don’t know what a lot of this process is “supposed” to look like. I’m going on feelings alone. And maybe that’s the problem. hahahahahahahaha falls down dead from emotional upheaval

(Bri Castellini) #2

I have felt these feels and I’m so thankful you put them into words for me and I’m sure many, many others who have also felt them. :heart:

(Evie Marie Warner) #3

I get where your coming from. I go into my day job at 1:30 p.m. I don’t get home until 11:00 p.m. Sometimes, I will be getting home even later. Why a I still up? I having been posting about my crowdfuding everywhere I can.

Our first table reade was pretty much a disaster. One of my actors got the time wrong. Ended up not making it. Another actor had had a medical emergency earlier in the week and was still recovering and forgot about the meeting. he hadn’t give me his phone number so I coulnd’t get a hold of him. Another actor ended up not making it b/c his fiance’s mather had just gotten out of the hospital and needed someone to be with her. He at least remembered to tell me he couldn’t make it.
My other two actors could have both been in horrible car accidents for all I know.

And now the actor with the medical emergency decided he needed to drop out. So now I am trying to recast someone. And the DP I wanted backed out. And he tried makeout like he was just too busy. But the fact of the matter is, he wants to get paid. And even though, he is just now turning 18, he is getting paid work. Ive been doing this for 4 years and nobody will off me paid work and if they did, I’m not allowed to drive. I could make great money if I had a car and could get on some of these sets as a PA. Money talks. And if I was in position to offer it, he would be there. but most DP’s in Ohio want 1000 bucks a day (not sure how the market works in other areas) But I don’t even make that much a month.

However, he never wrote and produced a film that he was able to go all the way to California to shoot, if that is worth anything.

If I waited to have the money people wanted me to have, I would never make another movie. Simple as that. I’m feeling pretty drained right now.

(Erik Urtz) #4

Great post Amanda. Here is a big hug through the internet.


Now that i’ve made you feel better, I’m pretty sure I can tell what’s going on here. People get involved in film for two reasons; either to be creatively fulfilled or to have fun. People also have limited time and need to dedicate potentially the majority of their work efforts towards making money. The dream is to find something that does all three.

Production is hard work but it’s ok when there are other benefits. In this case it seems like people weren’t feeling creatively fulfilled and from the way you describe yourself i’m guessing not a lot of fun was being had. It’s great to go out of your way to be supportive but that part of the job isn’t supposed to feel like work and if it does people will pick up on that.

Ultimately people will always prioritize paid work, and as something that is not paid work… even if it was fun and creatively fulfilling your projects will always take a back seat. Volunteers will never give you the same production as a paid employee simply because they are already obligated to place that effort somewhere else. Placing that level of expectation on those people will simply lead to them feeling under appreciated.

(Evie Marie Warner) #5

Well, when are on set, I as a director expect people to give the same effort whether it is paid work or not. I know a guy right now that doesn’t really even expect his actors to have their lines memorized. And he is paying them. Not huge amounts of money. I think enough for gass and a little extras. He is even giving the extras 20 bucks or something like and he needs like 20 of them. . But any, he writes their lines on huge pieces of paper for them. Maybe that happens a bunch on different sets, I don’t know. But I don’t have time to write out everyonese lines. I really only asking two things of them. Come prepared. Come on time. I do that whether it s is paid or not.

(Jules Pigott) #6

Amanda - for the short amount of time I was helping with the AJP Tumblr, I was consistently impressed with you and how much work you did. I’m not exactly great at communicating with people, mostly due to a wide range of brain problems, but I want to tell you that I appreciate you and think you’re pretty dang amazing.

This is… HIGHLY relatable. I have no film background (though I’m trying to get one now). I started out working with two other girls in different states but eventually my group ended up being, well, just me. In the end, a production ends up being just me and whoever’s acting in said production. I basically do everything, and it SUCKS. My grades last semester suffered tremendously from the stress of filming. Now that I have a show airing basically for the next four months, I’m ready to take a break, but I also keep getting ideas I want to do? It’s inconvenient. And also basically no one is watching my show which is a whole other problem that I ain’t gonna complain about here.

So yeah. It stinks a lot of the time. But I guess it’s good to know that this stinkiness isn’t relegated to just me? (Also, I’m sorry if I was ever one of the people who undermined you. Again, VERY bad at communicating, especially online. I’m workin on it.)

I will end this reply with a gif of you, because you’re awesome.


(Ghetto Nerd Girl) #7

Hi Amanda. This post is so relatable it’s not even funny. I want to give you props for all that you’ve done because heavy is the head that wears the crown. Don’t give that away. I’ve been in similar situations before and it’s not bad to be guided by your feelings (most of the time). I learned to not take things personally when people don’t do things because most of the battles aren’t worth fighting. I know I chose the people on my team for a reason and (most of the time) they redeem themselves when it comes to doing the thing they enjoy. Friendship can’t be forced. I learned this the hard way. It either happens or it doesn’t, but it can still be a healthy working relationship for all involved. Good luck with everything and thank you so much for this post!

(Emma Drewry) #8

I do think part of this is cultural. when you’re working in LA, your actors’ time is valuable, especially if they’re professional working actors. your crew members’ time is valuable, especially if they’re professional working filmmakers. they’re trying to make it as much as you, and you have to make the relationship worthwhile. if that’s not through payment, it has to be something else. for us, we put in a ton of effort to make our actors comfortable, and make our crew members feel valued. this meant a lot of things-- we worked really hard to accommodate our actors’ schedules, and our crew’s. we made sure there was tons of food at all times, we always always always complimented and vocalized our appreciation for their work. we let our actors leave set for auditions during lunch because we knew that’s how they make their money.
we gave our cast input into their characters, gave our crew creative input too. we trusted them with their talents, which i think helped a lot of them care more about the show because they weren’t just there fulfilling a job, they were practicing their craft and helping create. not a single person on the show didn’t have some input-- one of our PAs/sound guy even helped us write lines because he has a degree in computer science and we needed help making it sound legit. he’s now a writer for the podcast we’re working on.
if you’re not paying your team, especially when you know that they want to be professionals in their field, you need to make it worth their time. if not, you can’t expect them to give 100%, because why should they? it’s not worth it.
like i said, though, a lot of this is because LA has such a competitive industry, so i’m not sure what it’s like outside of NY & LA, but i know if you’re working with people who are or want to be professionals, you have to either pay them or make it worth their time, however that may be.

(Emma Drewry) #9

i will say that i’m also now at a place where a solid portion of my team is just… me. i do our social, our marketing, everything, because we’re at a stage where other people have other things they need to be focused on. i’m paying someone to be our post supervisor because i don’t have time, but i can’t force people who have other things to do to love what i’m making as much as i do. it’s hard, it sucks, but it’s the reality of indie production :no_mouth:

(Yard Lion Films) #10

You’re not alone.

We’re a community that loves to perfect our craft in ways we can’t imagine. Given that I’m in the same boat as you are with the current climate of having to recast our lead for our review series, it’s a hassle. Especially when it’s not paid. I’m fortunate to find someone to fill in on the meantime, but at the same time it is stressful, it is tough and it is a hassle on many parts. But you have to remain persistent.

Yeah, it’s easy to go and put 100% on our jobs because we’ll, we have to eat, sleep and pay bills. Yet persistence pays off in the end.

(Evie Marie Warner) #11

I am currently having a rough time of it. I have auditory learning disability challenges, anxiety, struggle with staying organized. Some how I got it in my head that my actors middle name was something else. When I got it wrong in a facebook post, she got so offended at my unproffesionalism, that she quit.

This is now the second time I have had to recast this role. I am meeting the new person tomorrow. Im hoping she can fit the outfit. But you know were at this great honeymoon stage, “Oh, I am so excited! I can’t wait to meet you!”
I am reading the e-mail hardly able to breath b/c and wanted to break down crying b/c yeah that is what my last actress said and apparently she thinks I am just a hobbyist.

I guess when you are getting paid to do something that is all I am, I suppose. I feel like I am workign so hard. Recasting one character resulted me having to recast the father. Because the new girl is now too old to play the adult daught of a 38 year old. it was the guys suggestion, he doesn’t think he can make himself look old enough. I have worked with him b/f I think he really wanted the part. He is amazing and I really wanted to have the part.
I need this girl to work out b/c we start filming on the 17th. And with my crazy work schedule, I still have lots that needs done. I keep wondering if God and universe is trying to tell me something.

(Ian David Diaz) #12

Without struggle, there’s no success, if you believe in the project and need to complete it then just keep going. I can’t tell you the nightmares I have been through as a producer/director, the more you do the better you’ll get at it. As I keep saying to people, filmmaking is about knowledge and common sense, if you don’t have the knowledge find someone who does and ask them for advice, that’s common sense, like what you’re doing now by posting here asking for help, well I think that’s what you’re doing, common sense well, making films without common sense is like a boat without water. :slight_smile: Wishing you all the best Evie Marie Warner.

(Yard Lion Films) #13

First of all,

I wish you all the best in your recasting as your series goes forward. And second, never give up on yourself because of setbacks. @Ian_David_Diaz is right. Without struggle, there’s no success. As I said before, we are all on a learning curve when it comes to creating a series without any financial backing or sponsorship. And yes, there are people out there who see your good heart and sees your potentiality in making something great.

Sometimes we don’t know what the future holds, but in the end, tenacity is key when it comes to continuing what you love. God bless.

(Ghetto Nerd Girl) #14

Oh @Evie_Marie_Warner I am rooting for you and trying to put positive vibes out there for you! I have had my own struggles as well but remember why your story matters and why you keep at it. That usually helps me. And we can always continue the chat on social media so I can help cheer you on some more.

(Amanda Taylor) #15

I am so glad we can commiserate! It all seems very worth it to me, but there are very low lows amid the highs.

(Amanda Taylor) #16

It really seems to me like there is an integrity factor and there are two kinds fo people in the world: people who want to be their best regardless of anything and those who say “meh, I’ll be my best later.”

(Amanda Taylor) #17

YES that is the lesson I am learning - friendship absolutely DOES NOT have to equal a good working relationship or vice versa.

(Amanda Taylor) #18

Definitely prioritize school!! It seems like you should make things because you can make things, but quality and sanity will suffer. A break is hard, but it sounds necessary.

(Amanda Taylor) #19

I guess I’d argue we definitely did make it worth their time in similar ways you mentioned - being accommodating, offering food, creating a friendly environment on set … and we actually did end up compensating our principal cast in a deferred payment situation. So I’m with you. There has to be value.

(Evie Marie Warner) #20

Thanks everyone. We are full steam ahead but I feel better about some things than what I did. :slight_smile: