The Life I Chose

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Some lovely reminiscing by Tim Kreider for The New York Times:

I suspect that the way I feel now, at summer’s end, is about how I’ll feel at the end of my life, assuming I have time and mind enough to reflect: bewildered by how unexpectedly everything turned out, regretful about all the things I didn’t get around to, clutching the handful of friends and funny stories I’ve amassed, and wondering where it all went. And I’ll probably still be evading the same truth I’m evading now: that the life I ended up with, much as I complain about it, was pretty much the one I chose. And my dissatisfactions with it are really with my own character, with my hesitation and timidity.

Getting a Career Writing About Film and Television

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I recorded a podcast with Alison Willmore and Joanna Robinson to discuss what do for a living, how we got the jobs we have, what advice we’d have for those starting out, and what we’d do differently if we had the chance.

Daniel LaRusso is the Real Bully

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I love video essays like this that try to take established wisdom and turn it on its head.

A looping cello cover of "All My Little Words" by The Magnetic Fields

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Here is a cover of the song "All My Little Words" by The Magnetic Fields that I put together with skilled local singer Annie Jantzer. We're in the process of exploring our next collaboration but so far I'm really enjoying the unique sound we have, and love how cello and a female vocalist can transform any number of well known songs.

Check out the video if you have a chance!

An aerial hoop (lyra) dance, combined with some looping cello

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The first music video of my cello EP is out! Check it out below.



I've written up more details about how this video was made over at /Film.

My First Cello EP is out!

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Photo by elldubphoto.com
After several months of work, my new cello EP is out! It features looping cello covers of pop/movie music, and is available for purchase on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, and Xbox.

I embarked on this journey for the same reason I decided to make a movie last year: because I wanted to understand the work that went into it these pop cultural artifacts. How are they created? How are they distributed? And can an average person do it? And of course, in both instances, my starting attitude was, "How hard could it be?"

Pretty damn hard, it turns out (both times).

Putting the EP together required several steps that I might not have anticipated. First, I had to raise some money or front my own capital. In this case I did both. I spent a bunch of money on recording and mixing, then launched a successful Kickstarter in order to get compensated for my initial outlay. This process typically cost around $3-4K, but it really depends on who you choose to help you and how much they decide to charge.

After doing the recording and the mixing, I realized there was a whole other step that I'd previously been completely unaware of: mastering. This is obvious to any musician who has recorded before, but for me it was net new knowledge and showed just how inexperienced I truly was.

Mastering has meant a lot of things over the years, but to oversimplify it, these days it involves making the recording louder and more aesthetically appealing across a variety of devices and listening environments. If you are lucky, this process will only cost several hundred dollars for a few songs.

After this, I had to figure out how to distribute the music. There are many awesome self-serve sites such as Bandcamp and Gumroad that allow you to do this relatively easily, and they only take a small cut. But in addition to using these, I also wanted my work to appear on major distribution platforms such iTunes and Amazon.

To make that happen, I had to use a digital distribution company. There are several of them out there that have gained traction over the years -- most prominently, CDBaby, Tunecore, and Distrokid. I spent a lot of time poring over the differences between these sites -- their strengths, weaknesses, and pricing. Ultimately I elected to go with CD Baby (here's my album on their site) for the following reasons:

1) Longevity - Once you sign up with one of these sites, your music's continued presence in online stores depends on the service's existence. So for instance, if you signed up for Distrokid to get your music onto iTunes, and Distrokid goes out of business next year, your music is gone (as are all the associated links). CD Baby has been in existence for nearly 20 years. They are proven, and likely not going out of business anytime soon. Also: Once you upload an album, you never need to pay another fee again (although you do need to give up 9% of all sales - a pretty substantial number that Distrokid does not charge).
2) Customer service - Sure, it's not the most advanced or quick customer service in the world, but CD Baby actually has a customer service line where you can call and speak to a real person. For someone like myself who was just starting out in this field, it was helpful to have.
3) Tunecore and Distrokid are sketchy - Tunecore has had issues with musicians putting their music up on YouTube  and I just found Distrokid's interface to be lacking polish and some really basic features (as an example, you can't cancel your Distrokid yearly subscription unless you email them). I very well may end up using Distrokid down the line because it is so simple and cheap, but I didn't want to try it for my maiden voyage.

Ultimately, I'm happy with the EP's presence out in the world and grateful for the support of all the people who helped make it possible. I hope you enjoy it.

How do you like them apples?

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I've always wondered why a case of Fuji apples cost $6 at Costco while the same number of Honey Crisp apples cost $18. This Planet Money report provides fascinating insights into how Honey Crisp apples came to be, and how close we came to eating Red Delicious forever.

I'm making a cello EP

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Since I just can't seem to get enough of owing people Kickstarter rewards, I've decided to launch a new project: a professionally recorded cello EP. Much like my previous large-scale Kickstarter project, I have never attempted a project of this scale before in this particular medium. The good news is that this time, the recordings are almost done. They just cost a sizable chunk of change and it would be amazing if people could contribute to the Kickstarter and "pre-purchase" the EP to help me make up the cost.

You can donate to the project here. Thank you so much to all who have already contributed!
While my Kickstarter goal of $1000 was fulfilled in less than 5 hours, I was originally quite unsure of what the response would be like. Several of my previous Kickstarters have also been successful,  but they've all had something to do with stuff people know me by, whether it be film or podcasting. This was my first project where people might not have had any frame of reference for what I was producing. I was grateful that so many took a chance on this one, and I am hopeful I will be able to make something beautiful that will make us all proud.

A few thoughts came to mind on how I could've done this run this Kickstarter a little bit better:

Under a certain goal amount, it feels weird to launch a Kickstarter - One of the benefits and downsides of Kickstarter is that if you don't fulfill your goal, you get none of the money (Kickstarter competitor Indiegogo famously gives you money along the way). Thus, I toyed with putting a goal of something like $300 or $500, to give myself a better chance of reaching the goal. But on a personal level, I felt as though under a certain amount (call it $500?), it doesn't really make sense to do a Kickstarter. Why not just borrow some money from a friend or something? In addition, Kickstarter projects take a crapton of work. If you're going to do one, you might as well set your goal higher to make it worth the time that it will take.

Very few people will take your lowest tier - Again, as with previous Kickstarters, my dream was that I would get hundreds of people contributing small amounts of money (i.e. $3 for just the EP) and once again that did not play out. When it comes to Kickstarter, people like to be upsold! They like bonus content, they like the personal connection with creators, and they like knowing that they are getting a set of rewards that are hard or impossible to obtain otherwise.

The emotional and practical barriers to entry for people supporting Kickstarters is pretty high. They need to support your work, they need to be willing to contribute to it, and they need to know that you have a live Kickstarter. Once those barriers have already been surmounted, they are likely going to be willing to contribute a larger amount than the bare minimum. On that note...

You should absolutely have a reward tier between $15-25 - A lot of people gave $5, but I'm fairly certain they would've been willing to contribute up to $15-25. That's a lot of money that I simply left on the table, and while I did eventually add a few $15-25 options, I really should have built this in from the beginning. As in, I literally should have spent as much time as necessary time thinking of how I could produce a ton of $15-level rewards and not launched the Kickstarter until I had come up with something. It's that important.

The average Kickstarter donation is $25.

All who go do not return

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Here is a staggeringly good two-part episode of Reply All, which follows the story of a Shulem Deen, a man whose life was ruined after he tried out AOL for the first time.
 

All rewards have been delivered

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Photo Credit: elldubphoto.com

This past weekend, The Primary Instinct World Premiered at the Seattle International Film Festival. On the /Filmcast, we talk frequently about how much technology is changing the film industry and how much viewing is moving towards streaming and online. But despite all these market forces, I can now confidently say that nothing beats seeing your film projected on a big screen. Seeing people line up around the block to see my film, and then hearing people laugh and engage with it in a darkened theater - there's nothing else like it. I suspect it's a feeling I'll want to chase again.

One of the biggest, most emotional moments for me was actually fulfilling the final reward in our Kickstarter project: sending everyone a viewable copy of the film. Firstly, I need to say that the service we used for this, VHX, was excellent.  They have amazing, responsive customer service, along with a platform that did everything I needed it to. I'd highly recommend them if you ever need to fulfill a project, and it's very likely they will be part of the mix if/when our movie ever gets sold on VOD.

While it was a pleasure to enter into this journey with all our backers, it was also a mentally taxing obligation. All these hundreds of people chose to give us money -- they deserved not just to get a film in return, but one that was of high quality and that they will be proud of.

Sending out those copies to everyone meant that my obligation was over. I had run the race. I had delivered what I promised I would. And even if the film goes nowhere from this point forward, I can hold my head up high as someone who followed through on a very ambitious project. In a world littered with crowdfunding projects that never delivered, it feels like an accomplishment. (That being said - the film won't go nowhere. We'll have more to announce soon...).

For our final update. Stephen wrote a note to all our Kickstarter backers that I think eloquently sums up how we feel at this moment. I've included it below. If you've supported me in any way during this intense journey. I hope you'll accept my gratitude.

***

It is hard to give credit where credit is due.

There have been too many hands that have helped me in times of need. I have tried to make a list to demonstrate how one small thing like The Primary Instinct is really the work of thousands. Literally. 
To:

Cedering Fox for encouraging me to write down my first story.

Robert Brinkmann for proposing we make a film—a wonderful collaboration resulting in Stephen Tobolowsky’s Birthday Party.

Andy Putschoegl for producing and editing it.

All of my friends that had to wear the same clothes for three days straight to be party guests.

That stupid horse, Little Red, that broke my neck and forced me to start writing more stories to save my sanity.

David Chen for inviting me to be a guest on the Slashfilm podcast at just the right moment.

David Chen for devoting uncountable hours, for no pay, to produce, edit, and promote The Tobolowsky Files.

David Chen (I’m sensing a trend) and Peter Sciretta for making a home for me at Slashfilm.com.

Jeff Hansen, the innovative Program Director at KUOW for taking the leap of faith to put The Tobolowsky Files on public radio.

Melinda Ward of PRI (Public Radio International) and the extraordinary talents of engineer Margaret Moos Pick, assisted by Mark Kausch and events coordinator Elisa Pluhar for making The Tobolowsky Files a national radio event.

HOWEVER …none of that would have happened if it weren’t for the efforts of Brandon Taitt, an unpaid volunteer who introduced Melinda to The Tobolowsky Files while working at his regular job in a computer repair store.

Ben Schwartz for making the introduction to literary agent Jud Lahgi—who said, “Yes!” – such a precious word.

Ben Loehnen, my brilliant editor at Simon & Schuster, for publishing my book of stories, The Dangerous Animals Club. David Lavin, Ken Calway and Octavia Ridout at The Lavin Agency for booking appearances.

To David Chen for harassing David Blum at Amazon Kindle into publishing “Cautionary Tales.” And Mark Crilley, a podcast fan, for doing the artwork.

There were many people on the radio who have promoted The Tobolowsky Files. Before anyone there was Nick Digilio at WGN. Nick has been there from before the beginning in support. He was the first person I sent a copy of The Dangerous Animals Club. I wanted his opinion. So many in the media have helped me. Marc Maron (WTF), Tom Rhodes, Liam McEneaney (scariest bathroom in a recording studio ever!), Alan Sepinwall (Hitfix) , Luke Burbank (Live Wire!), Jesse Thorn (Bullseye), Tyler Smith and Dave Bax (Battleship Pretension), Dave Davies of NPR’s Fresh Air, Scott Simon (Weekend Edition)…

Pause to take a breath. So much help.

Whitney Matheson at USA Today, Jim Philips of the Philips Phile in Orlando, Bob Strum and Dan McDowell at The Ticket in Dallas, Nadia Chaudhury for The Awl, Richard Sergay at Curiosity Project with Discovery Communications, Michael DeSenzo, Jennifer Wilk, Jenna Dooley of WNIJ Public Radio, Vanessa Finney, Colleen Horning at KTXD-TV, Brandon Isaacson, Mark McKeown, Wolfie Rankin, Elizabeth Shepherd, Anne-Marie Welsh, Jay Wulff, Philip Wuntch, Adam Yoffe, Joshua Youngerman, and John Swansburg from Slate.

David Farrier, journalist, comedian, bird watcher extraordinaire, who opened his country, New Zealand to us and his home as well.

Denis McArdle who did the same for us in Dublin (I didn’t live in his home, but I DID eat his sister’s food!) We haven’t even touched on the producers and theater owners that extended themselves for my stories.

Adam Zacks (Seattle Theatre Group / the Moore and the Neptune) and his wife Lynn Resnick at BFI Seattle, Michael Hawley (The EG Conference), David Hunt Stafford (Theatre 40), Nick Hinkle at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, Robert Newton at his theaters in Worcester and Gloucester Mass., Rebecca Graves, Lauri Hennessey, Susan Hanson, Kim Cunningham, Hedy Anderson and Vashon High School Theatre Program, David Caplan (Bell House, 92Y Tribecca ) Robyn Tenenbaum (Live Wire!), Kyle Mann and Dan Forte (Kentucky Center in Louisville), Lietza Brass (Paramount Theatre in Austin), David Wolkin and Matthew Grob (Limmud NY), Cole Stratton (San Francisco Sketchfest), Clinton McClung at SIFF, Randi Caldwell and Randy Lubas (Ventura Comedy Festival), Ann Alexander and Carrie Rodgers at USA Film Festival in Dallas and Katie Hutton at Dallas Museum of Art.

Amy Carver with Friends of the SMU Libraries. Jennifer Hall at Aegis Living. The Classic Theatre in Auckland New Zealand, Vicki Abelson’s Women Who Write, Wendy Hammers’ Tasty Words, Paul Morrissey of Alley Oop, Kimmie Dee, Brett and Lester Levy, Jr.

My friends at PIXAR: Galyn, Angus, and, of course, Dr. Wave for inviting me out to tell stories from The Dangerous Animals Club.

Super Frog Saves Tokyo - now cut.com - (Mike Gaston, Blaine Ludy, Jason Hakala, Joanny Causse) for going into the venture as partners with David and me.

Gary Matoso and his team from Vignette, and Joel Clare and his team for helping us with our Moore Theatre shoot. In the end, it all comes down to individuals.

Richard Kagan who bought a LOT of books for Christmas. I mean a LOT.

Matt and Maria Swanson for being our angels on The Primary Instinct, and funding a whopping 25% of our budget.

And you. 

I know. It’s overwhelming. It’s like the beginning of the Book of Numbers. Every name here, including yours, represents time spent and risk taken. Your time and risk are honored. David Chen and I will endeavor to return the favor with enjoyment. Thank you all.

 - Stephen Tobolowsky and David Chen