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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Caterpillar's Tale

After five months of pitching, cajoling, lining up resources and generally annoying many people around me, I finally secured funding for a video project.

Having done an anti-bullying video aimed at mid/high school aged kids last year, I wanted to do one for the younger students. After all, habits and beliefs about what is and is not socially acceptable begin early. They are usually learned by absorbing attitudes toward bullying, ("Boys will be boys", "Girls are just mean," or "When I was a kid, you just..."), and those ideas begin to form a child's core beliefs about the world in which they are expected to fit in and get along.

So, I wanted to help.

Having created a few video programs centered around the winter holidays, my first thought was to go back to that well. As I began to explore options, I realized that my mindset was simply to rehash all of those things I had seen and watched many, many times over the years. Yawn. Then, I decided to point my efforts at the most underserved "holiday", Halloween. Kids of all ages love Halloween, (settle down, religious fervorists), and it's second only to Christmas as a holiday chock full of "no-explanation-needed" icons.

I had my moral. I had my theme. Now, what to write?

I began pitching it to my family at the dinner table. With two kids under the age of twelve, I figured I'd toss the idea to them, and my wife and I would get an understanding of what they wanted to see in a video program like this. We would discuss it, and I would begin to build a story that I could eventually write and produce. I was not disappointed, nor did I have to wait very long.

After batting around some ideas that kept going back to what I had done already, (musical numbers driven by puppets and dialog), my kids began to get bored of the topic. In an effort to be silly, my oldest child barked out something about a giant, ferocious caterpillar.

The lights in my head went on, and the wheels started turning. Over the next few weeks, I kept driving the discussion back to what happens to the caterpillar. Where does he come from? What does he do? Who shares this world with him? I got some great, fun, silly, fantastic ideas from each of my family members, and I was off and running.

By January, I had a script, but not much else. I set my sights on the folks that funded my last project, and arranged my pitch meeting. The idea was well-received... and that's where it lay. Budgets, meetings, cancelled meetings, postponed meetings, other funding option meetings and a general sense that this wasn't going to happen began to wear on me. Finally, I dug in my heels and decided that I was going to give this one last push. If I didn't get the funds I needed, it wouldn't be done by October. I would still work on it, but I would have to make it for the following year, and that just bummed me out.

I set a few influential people on the case, to push for the idea from different angles on the folks that I knew would fund this project if they were convinced in the right way, and then...
One more meeting. I told myself that if it didn't fly, it was going to the back burner. I had other work to do. Two minutes into the meeting, the project was green-lighted and I could barely contain myself. "Will you have enough time to deliver it?" "Absolutely!"

As I was driving away, I began to wonder, "Did I have enough time to do this?" I had two months before one of the lead actors I wanted for this was gone for a month. Those two months happened to be June and July, which are notoriously hard to pin people down for work. Add to that the fact that I wanted to use an all child actor cast, and the fact that the youth theater company I would tap for the cast members was mounting a summer production, and I was starting to sweat.

Realizing that I had to bite down on my ego and ask for help, I turned to my wife.
An executive organizer with years of corporate project management experience, my wife is a consummate professional. Along with her innate skills for not only gathering people together, but getting them to do their jobs, she is also a mom. Which means that she is a practiced psychologist, social engineer and hands-on creative dynamo with a knack for making sure stuff gets done. Once she decided to be involved, the project took off.

We started with our dream cast list, drawing from the many creative kids and families we associate with on a regular basis. The next thing I know, she and I are having meetings, discussing casting, costuming, props and shoot dates. She arranged a meeting/script read with fifteen cast members and their moms... and everyone showed up.

I could not have pulled that off myself.

So, this project is a "go". I've already shot some of the exteriors, and our first cast shoot is coming up this week. I am beyond excited. More as things develop...