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:
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.
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