Celebrating the Web and Stepping Back From the Ledge

By 04/16/2010
Celebrating the Web and Stepping Back From the Ledge

Logan Rapp[Ed. Note: This is a guest editorial from Logan Rapp. When not working on the shows of others (or at his day job), he is a writer/producer in North Hollywood. He also runs a community for authors and writers in every medium at www.welcometothevelvet.com. He is currently working on a pilot for a web series, with principal production to begin in May.]

Jesse Warren - Celebrate the WebAt first look, it might seem strange that a celebration is scheduled for Tax Day, which still in times of economic hardship would seem like a time to reflect on where one went wrong. After all, celebrations are rewards, aren’t they? We’re not paying anything (bar tabs aside).

Tonight, though, we’re paying our Respect Tax. To the web, to ourselves, to each other.

I’m not going to get sappy – partially because as I write this a raging of a hangover is on the horizon (look for that as a metaphor later in this piece!). However, in her acceptance speech at the Celebrate the Web, post-Streamys gathering, Felicia Day said, “We want to be authentic to ourselves,” as why we work on the web. So I’m going to pound a Red Bull and write this with the honesty it deserves.

I hate crowds. It’s my lot, because I am destined to always find myself in them. Walking into the event at the ACME Comedy Theatre, I couldn’t help but feel like I’m waiting for the next Big Disaster to hit. We’re not going to rehash the Streamys – “what happened, happened,” as Jesse Warren bluntly said in his speech. But what happened at the Streamys served as a catalyst for the creation of this event.

There was a lot of potential energy in the half-hour mixer pre-show. I think some of the winners were still considering what it was they had to say. It’s become clear to me, in the bleary-eyed morning, that what I interpreted as trepidation over What Might Happen was in fact myself projecting onto everyone; the truth is, the industry last night realized we’d all just stepped onto a ledge with Sunday, and over the subsequent 72 hours, we were spitting over the edge, measuring the fall. Thursday night, we took a step back, and with the giddy high that first breath of relief brings, the emotional adrenaline had yet to drain.

This all might seem a bit dramatic, but for many in this industry, there isn’t anywhere else they could go to tell their stories. Not in the sense that they couldn’t make it in another medium, but that the stories they want to tell would never belong there. And as storytellers, writers, directors, that desperate search for an outlet strangely becomes more frantic when we find it.

Rum can help with this feeling.

Rudy Josh CaseyThe actual event in the theatre felt very similar to the awards ceremony for Dan Harmon and Rob Schrab’s Channel 101 – a group of friends in a semi-structured function sitting in a theatre in various states of inebriation, trying to stay a little professional for the sake of the common goal. Also, because the Internet was watching.

In the end, the event (which you can see at the Celebrate the Web site) clung to the tone of community, with the humility and passion and humor it needed. While all the quick speeches were honest and from the heart, the celebration and the state of where our industry leaders are standing can be summed up quite nicely through that of Sean Becker’s love letter to the Internet, and Jeremy Redleaf’s hilarious run-on sentence video incorporating the titles of most if not all of the Streamy winning shows.

That’s where we are. We survived a fail.

However (here comes the Soap Box), while I see this community holding together, there were some ideas floating throughout the show that worry me, and they’ve been prevalent from the beginning of this industry.

There has been a growing feeling of resentment toward “Old Media” – not unrightly so – that has flowered into, for some, a sense of “us vs. them.” The little guy against The Man. In the same breath, we agree with Zack Arnold’s speech, as read by Mark Gantt, that in X number of years (Zack said 10, but the number always fluctuates in proportion to one’s optimism), the web will be “taking over” the other industries.

I’m not convinced it will be a takeover. I am, however, certain that as our industry grows and matures, the ubiquity of the web series will be on par with that of our older counterparts. We don’t want to admit that money is an issue – we blow our savings on pilots because we want to tell a good story, sure. But at the end of the day, money talks. We may be able to get a few episodes out on our own, but when all is said and done, we have to admit that funding is required to continue making the stories that we love.

And while the process of storytelling in TV or Film may, to some, be the bastardization of our ideas and scripts, I don’t subscribe to the notion that we are rebelling against “the system,” trying to destroy the industries that take dreams and mutate them into horrors. That sort of demonization is not productive. In fact, as we try to acheive mainstream status, that “underground” sensibility, while good when we started, will become a liability.

I would never suggest that we go Huey Lewis, cut our hair and put our bands in business suits, but we must begin to recognize that hating “the system” and preparing for its demise is counterproductive to what we are doing. And dangerous. We live in a capitalist society, with marketing and PR and all that entails. Right now, should the other industries—film or TV—choose to muscle us out and take web completely for themselves, they can. I’m sure I just pissed more than a few people off saying that, but we cannot afford to stick our fingers in our ears and do the mental gymnastics to reach the belief that we are doing this in a vacuum.

We’re not.

Many of us in the “liberal Hollywood” industry would agree that President Bush’s “cowboy diplomacy” was a terrible, terrible notion. So why are we using that tactic with Old Media?

As we go away from the Celebrate The Web event, in the hangover (metaphor!) of our survivor’s high, the big question is “where do we go from here?” Unity, solidarity, community, whatever you want to call it is, indeed, important. Not for battle, but for engagement. Hatchets were buried this week—with the Streamys, with each other—and I do not want to see us picking up another one.

“Sellout” is a dumb word. We need money. We make shows to make money. Why? So we can make more shows! So to demonize the industries that have the larger pieces of the money pie is not helpful to our budding industry. If we want to succeed, we must not be channeling our horror stories in the other industries as fuel to rage against them. It behooves us to channel our inner diplomat to engage the other industries. This is not folding or selling out. If you want to be competitive about it, it’s the long con. Also, I like con men.

It is in our best interests not to try to take our place on the stage by force – it won’t work – but to convince others that it’s been our place all along, and they were just saving our seat. If we as an industry can come together like we did on April 15th, we can move forward with that sense of community to pull the long con, to watch each other’s backs, and to take our place on that stage. It’s where we belong.

Photos by Bernie Su.