[Editor’s Note: Welcome to Diary of a Web Series, the column that offers you an entertaining look into the machinations of a zero-budget web series made possible by an idea, fortitude, and democratized tools of production. For all the background on why we started publishing Diary of a Web Series – and why we think it’s great – check out the first installment right here. You can watch the web series the diary is about, too. It’s called STRAY and it’s good. Click here to watch it. And you can catch all the installments of Diary of a Web Series right here.]
Sha was late.
It was our first shoot, and one of our leads was nowhere to be seen. To be fair, Sha was only half an hour late – not that bad in the general scheme of things – but he wasn’t responding to my texts. Had he overslept? Was he lost? Did he decide that this no-paying, bottom-budget web series was not worth the effort? Whatever it was, I needed to know.
The Crown Heights Airbnb I booked was on the third floor, and I couldn’t get a good view of the front of the building, so I went downstairs to see if he was waiting on the stoop with a dead phone, not knowing which apartment number to buzz.
I clambered back up the creaky stairs – that third step was a wooden hiccup that startled me every time – and rejoined the crew. Alison, the director, was fussing with the lights; Will, another crew member, was tweaking set pieces; and Cameron, our other lead, was running through his lines. I decided to fixate on Connect Four.
Connect Four was the set centerpiece of the first episode we shot. Jay, one of the two main characters, would play Connect Four by himself throughout the episode as Rich, the other protagonist, gave Jay the third degree.
Simple, right? Not so much when you consider we were shooting the scene from multiple angles with a single camera. For continuity’s sake, it was important that the discs were dropped at the same time every take, but it had to be easy enough that the actor didn’t have to overthink the placement so that he could focus on the delivery of his lines.
After filling up the grid halfway and tweaking for 15 minutes or so, I charted a simple left-right, left-right sequence on adjacent columns at easy-to-remember inflection points of the script. I conferred with Alison, and we adjusted the shoot script accordingly.
I checked my phone. No text.
I went back down to the front door and looked out the window. Nothing. I called Sha’s phone, but it went straight to voicemail. I went outside to look around the block and spotted Sha chatting nonchalantly with a neighbor. No rush, motherfucker.
As it turned out, Sha’s phone was dead and the address the Airbnb owner provided was actually the building next door, which is why he was asking the neighbor the address.
As he followed me inside and up the stairs and over the landmine step, Sha said, “So, I’ve got a few ideas I wanted to run by you.” Already behind schedule, but this guy, late on Day One, wants to hash it out?!
After pitching me a few script variations – as a writer, I rather hear about puppycide – I told him that we would shoot it as scripted and then try the variations, which seemed to appease him.
Sha changed into wardrobe in plain view and then sat down on his mark. He pawed at the Connect Four set and said, “I was thinking I could do something like play the game real aggressive,” and with a crash the grid toppled over and the discs came spilling out. Sha stood the grid back up and started dropping the discs back in as if no one one would notice.
“Oh shit, my bad,” he said, genuinely sorry. “You didn’t spend that long on that, did you?”
“No,” I said. “Not that long.”
Back to one.
Pablo Andreu is not a creator or a scriptwriter. He’s certainly not a filmmaker. He’s just a guy who decided to make a web series called STRAY. It’s a bromantic comedy in which a brash gay dude and a nerdy straight guy talk sex and relationships while reconnecting in New York City years after college. He hopes it’s funny. By some inscrutable alchemy, his scribblings have wormed their way into The New York Times, McSweeney’s and some others. Usually, you can find him babbling here: https://medium.com/@pdandreu
Photos by Alison Bourdon.