The format doesn’t matter so long as I can tell stories that entertain. Feature, short, web series – I just want to create something and get it out to people to enjoy. This web series is my first true attempt at that. For too long I’ve hidden behind my writing, waiting for an option to develop into a feature and whisk me out of obscurity. Overcoming my shyness has always been my greatest challenge. But I wanted to create something and find an audience for it. No waiting, no asking for permission, or hoping by chance someone else would take the lead. It was time to take a chance. That’s how Chutes & Ladders came to fruition.
Over the last year, there have been tremendous ups and downs getting Chutes & Ladders made. I’ve learned invaluable lessons to take with me on future projects. You have to be single-minded and focused to the point of craziness to make a project happen. And there’s no such thing as DIY. A microbudget (or no budget) project is only possible with other people willing to give so much more time and energy than could ever be imagined. DIWO is the way to go.
I’ve been told as a writer that from a business perspective it’s better to stick to one genre and get really good at it, but I’m all over the place. Beyond a Star Wars fan film back in the day that will never again see the light of day, I had yet to write a sci-fi script. This despite the fact that I’m a huge sci-fi nerd and diehard Doctor Who fan. I figured I was due a sci-fi story. Thinking a web series would be easy to do on a lower budget was a mistake, especially with sci-fi elements. By the time I finished the story, we had 11 episodes between 5-7 minutes each. So much for that weekend shoot.
The initial length and time commitment was unplanned, but the writer in me didn’t want to cut the story back. We went forward anyway, optimistic because we didn’t know any better. There were three of us in it from the beginning – me, along with Datta Davé and Violeta Reina. One I argue with like an old married couple. The other is my wife. Despite our constant head butting and disagreements, Datta and I balance each other. Being able to work with someone who’s not afraid to tell you when you’re wrong and bring a different approach is rare and I’m grateful to have such a partner. And Violet manages to be our mediator while juggling countless other positions – makeup, production design, wardrobe, craft services, scheduling, and creative producer, to name a few.
We scheduled, we cast, and we found mostly volunteer crew. Through all of it what we told everyone who came onboard was that we wanted to have a good time, and we did. For three months we were sucked into a world of weekend shoots constantly being rescheduled, late night planning and re-planning, and the usual Murphy’s Law following us everywhere. We managed only two and a quarter pages on day one. Eventually we made up that difference and then some but our initial nine-day shooting schedule was unrealistic to begin with. Other things went wrong. Personal things – day job woes, financial strains, family issues, family tragedies. Datta had to fly to India for a day, fly back to work, yet still made it to filming. Another night, a cancelled flight meant he had to be up at 4am to fly out the next morning and still make an 8am call time. A flat tire on the way to pick up actors. A birthday party at the park where we were shooting. Rain on outdoor shoot days. Despite that, some days it was a relief just to be on set. We always maintained our number one goal of everyone having a good time. And nothing compares to the rush of production. We stayed in a bubble with a single-minded focus of getting this project made no matter what.
Friends wondered where we went. It would’ve been very easy to put the project on hold or stretch it out for another few months, but we weren’t going to treat it as a hobby or make excuses despite our day jobs. That wouldn’t have been fair to everyone who put their time and energy into the project. At one point or another everyone involved gave something up to be a part of it – higher paying gigs, parties, anniversaries, birthdays. After we wrapped, a friend said, “you know, you got a little crazy when you were shooting.” It wouldn’t have been possible any other way.
That single-minded focus drove everything forward and because of it, we had the support of everyone who joined our production bubble. We had fun, but we knew we were making something and the hard work was going to pay off. Everyone went the extra mile to help us be successful. Everyone supported one another and had each other’s backs. Violet’s mom made us lunch one day, Datta’s mom on another. What began as a situation where we were in over our heads, learning as we went, turned into a bonding and learning experience like no other. A project with limited resources can only survive if multiple people go all in on it. By the end, we realized we weren’t doing it ourselves – we were all doing it together.
We want to put ourselves out there to find our audience and grow our film family. It’s a scary proposition because there’s a lot I’ve read about things that should be done, but it’s a different thing entirely to actually do them yourself. And even if everything is done correctly, there’s still no guarantee you’ll find an audience or that people will even like it. At the very least, we hope we’ve made something that people will give a chance and enjoy when they watch.
Chutes & Ladders is more than a web series. It’s the beginning of a much bigger story. The core storyline of season one follows the adventures of brother and sister Alejandro and Olivia as they discover a time portal in their home. Aided by a man from the future, Vikram, they piece together clues left behind for them in order to solve the mystery of their mother’s death. But where did Vikram come from? How does the time travel work and who created it? These are all things we hope to reveal in other stories, told through different mediums.
But it begins with this season, the first 11 episodes of the journey. There’s a quote I read recently from Gregory Bayne, “make cool sh*t, then do something about it. Repeat.” And while I know he was speaking of feature distribution, I think it still applies here. We made something cool. We’re trying to do something about it. Hopefully, with this approach, and this mindset, we can repeat.
Chutes & Ladders airs new episodes every Sunday on Koldcast TV.
Episodes can also be found on blip.tv, iTunes, and YouTube.
Miguel was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona. He graduated from Claremont McKenna College with a degree in Film Studies. During his time in school, Miguel co-wrote, shot, and edited the first feature film ever produced by the college, Storm of Beauty. Since graduating, Miguel has done freelance editing and production work while continuing to write. His short film Pá, has screened at several film festivals across the country. Miguel is an active member of NALIP (National Association of Latino Independent Producers) where he’s participated in both the Latino Writer’s Lab and the Latino Media Market.
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