Can’t Work With ‘Em …. Can’t Work Without ‘Em: Creating Projects Together Without Destroying Your Relationships

TARA PLATT – ACTRESS/AUTHOR/PRODUCER (Photo by Kat Touhy)

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I’ve always loved those cheesy quotes about “the family that ‘blanks’ together, ‘blanks’ together.” But cheesiness aside, there really is something to be said for how that quote describes the work and play relationship that my husband Yuri Lowenthal and I have. Only in our case, “The couple that works together, plays together so they stay together.”

Photo by Ivan Simeon

We’re both extremely passionate about our careers in the entertainment business and both the work and play that they engender. In fact, our shared vision and drive is likely one of the reasons that we are so compatible. But as the last ten years has taught us, being married and working together is definitely full of its share of pitfalls. So, here is a glimpse into our ten-year plus marriage, our many companies (Production Company, Publishing Company, and Corporation), the work that we have forged together, and how we’ve made it work. For example, we’re working on several joint ventures right now, a webseries headed into its fourth season (Shelf Life, a short-form irreverent comedy about four action figures on a young boy’s shelf), a mockumentary feature nearing the end of post-production (Con Artists), prepping another webseries and a short film, and publishing a hardboiled novella (Tough City) by Fall. In some ways, we’ve found that having several projects actually makes it easier to work together, as we’re not always equally fulfilled by whatever we may be working on. Simultaneously working on multiple projects has allowed us to take point on the projects we’re most excited about, rather than just being stuck with one project that clearly is more one person’s cup of tea.

Photo by Zena Logan

 

 

Actually before we hop into that, please allow me a sidebar to recognize how creating our own projects has allowed us to really take control of our careers. We spend a lot of time in the entertainment business waiting to be picked. Even after doing our work and putting our best foot forward, getting hired still might boil down to things outside of our control: “you’re too tall, too young, too similar to the lead,” etc. The power is so often in someone else’s hands, but when you are the mastermind behind a project no one can tell you that you don’t fit the bill. And beyond that, you can cater the project to your personal quirks and strengths. What could be more empowering than that? We’re seeing more and more successful actors taking control and creating their own content, rather than waiting around to be picked by someone else. It improves your psychological health, feeds your soul, and may lead to big things. I would even go so far as to say that in today’s market, if you don’t create for yourself, you’ll get left behind.

But back to creating with a partner… We believe you should always strive to be in a relationship that allows you to be the best “you” you can be, while honoring the other person’s best “them.” If you’re lucky enough to find this person, working with them can be amazing. But it can also be tricky. And through trial and error we have learned several key things that have kept us sane while we’ve worked with each other.

It’s taken us a while to recognize that we each have different needs and goals, and that applies not only to our dreams themselves but the way we set about realizing them. Even something as simple as saying “Let’s make a webseries about action figures!” can create two very different pictures for two different people: Tara imagined us standing on a plank in front of a green screen while Yuri’s picture of the show was to build a scale set and shoot from multiple angles. So when we headed into production we butted heads at first because we had assumed that our visions were the same, but they weren’t.

You’ve heard it all before, but part of having a healthy relationship boils down to good communication, and having a healthy relationship AND working together requires that in spades. Getting to walk hand-in-hand across the finish line of your next project will depend on it. So now we take the time to talk about expectations and goals and how we’re planning to get there so that false assumptions don’t end up disappointing either of us. Yuri and I actually have weekly “production meetings” where we sit down at the table (with our white board) and see where we are task-wise on our individual lists for the various and sundry projects we are working on at any given time. We talk about upcoming deadlines and go over what new challenges have come up, we celebrate wins and discuss where things may have fallen through the cracks. This is invaluable in moving forward. It also makes sure we are seeing eye-to-eye on the project at hand.

So, sure, communication is important, but also crucial is how the actual work breaks down. We’ve found that resentment can quickly crop up if one of us feels we’re carrying more than our fair share of the workload, and it not only affects the project, but can damage the relationship itself. And equal distribution doesn’t mean making one person the worker and the other the whip-cracker. Despite the importance of both of these roles, there’s no balance in that. But luckily, it’s inevitable that one of you will have skills that the other does not. In our relationship, for example, Yuri is a much stronger writer than I am. I do a mean first draft, but he is a polishing fiend. [As a mater of fact, even with this article, I got it on paper and he took it from there.] He is also really good at reaching out to our business relationships and friends, while I am extremely organized and task-oriented, so I tend to act as project manager, making sure we stay on track. We balance each other out so that one of our strengths ends up being both of our strengths. On our film Tumbling After Yuri wrote and helped assemble people and I organized the production, made sure things happened on time and even stepped in to direct when needed and it was okay, because he took the jobs that are in his wheelhouse and I took the ones in mine.

In some ways, we’ve found that having several projects actually makes it easier to work together, as we’re not always equally fulfilled by whatever we may be working on. Having several projects has allowed us to take point on the projects we’re most excited about, rather than just being stuck with one project that clearly is more one person’s cup of tea. Right now, we’re headed into our fundraising campaign for Season 4 of Shelf Life, but Yuri’s working on editing the novella which he wrote, while I’m managing post-production on Con Artists.

But here we are talking only of work, when just as important is knowing when to walk away from the work to take time together to do things that have nothing to do with your projects, shared or otherwise. This can be particularly tricky as we run our own business and love what we do, but trust us: you will always be your own worst boss, so remember to also be your own best boss. Give yourself mini-vacations, nights off and time to relax together in the midst of deadlines and obligations. It reminds us both why we got together in the first place and helps to disperse the work stress and not direct it at each another. Even if we can’t take a real getaway we try to take nights off where we can hang out just the two of us (something as simple as curling up in front of the TV and vegging out together). To be sure, our list of tasks is important, but we try not to allow it to interfere with precious “date time.”

When we start bickering or we’re short with each other, that’s a warning sign that we’re overstressed, or as our dear friend Dallas Travers likes to say, “overcommitted.” When that happens, we stop, take a breath, check our priorities, and compare and sometimes re-prioritize our need/want list. We can help each other out by being aware of each other’s life and helping to keep the other person balanced; honor them while supporting them. And when one of us falls down on something we were responsible for, copping to it quick ends up being much less painful. And it’ll make it easier if you need to ask for help sometime. Remember, relationships will always be a give-and-take.

Lastly, we try to keep in mind that work is work and play is play, and even (and especially in this business) when the “work” is essentially “play,” the best way you can respect one another and move forward is by putting things into context. Nothing is that important. Decisions are just choices. There is a human being on the other side of your decision who has feelings, needs and wants. We don’t always get it perfect, and we’re constantly relearning these lessons, but if you can learn to juggle these concepts you’ll likely be able to create and sustain a successful working relationship within your romantic one. At least we certainly hope so…

So to recap…

• Communicate (not just the bad but the good as well)

• Don’t let your work come between you

Don’t make one person “the sheriff” (no good guy/bad guy)


Share responsibility and decision-making


Collaborate and use your individual strengths to counter your individual weaknesses


Take time to relax


Make work about work and play about play, even if you love your work

Divide duties if not equally, in the most equitable way

Our production company, Monkey Kingdom Productions, is currently in post-production on our second feature, the mockumentary Con Artists – a tale of friends, fame and fans on the pop culture convention circuit. We are getting ready to start our IndieGoGo fundraising camping for Season 4 of Shelf Life. Our first feature, the award-winning psychological thriller Tumbling After, is now available on iTunes. Our publishing company Bug Bot Press is currently completing the finishing touches on Yuri’s neo-noir novella Tough City, which he co-wrote with Keith Ikeda-Barry and will be out later this year. Our award-winning book (and accompanying warm-up CD) Voice-Over Voice Actor (also published under the Bug Bot imprint) is currently in its third printing.  There are countless other projects in various stages of prep and planning. Clearly we can’t sit still. Yuri likes to tell people we are addicted to creating content and I would have to agree. Here’s to ten successful years of partnership only being the beginning!

 

BIO:

Married Los Angelenos Tara Platt and Yuri Lowenthal are both well-known for their voice acting work-often, at times, performing together. Tara, an actress, author, producer and business woman, is easily identifiable for her voice acting, including as ‘Wonder Woman’-DC VS MK, ‘Dream Girl’-Legion of Superheroes, ‘Temari’-Naruto, ‘Jennifer Nocturne’-Ben 10, ‘Eastern European Player’-Saints Row: The Third, and ‘Marida Cruz’-Gundam Unicorn. While Tara’s husband, Yuri, is an award-winning author, actor and producer, who is also most recognizable for his work as a voice actor: ‘Superman’- Legion of Superheroes, ‘The Prince of Persia’- PoP:Sands of Time, ‘Jinno/Kuma’-Afro Samurai, ‘Ben Tennyson’-Ben 10: Alien Force, and ‘Matt Miller’-Saints Row the Third.

The couple’s award-winning webseries Shelf Lifea Monkey Kingdom Productions, centers around four “bawdy, sometimes a little bitter, and very human” kid’s toys. This edgy series certainly isn’t a loving story, but rather short cynical tales that focus on figures subjected to the destructive hands of their young owner-“this ain’t no Toy Story…” Also, be sure to keep an eye out for their second feature film, mockumentary Con Artists, about attending conventions as voice-actors, due out later this year.

For more on Tara and Yuri visit ShelfLifeSeries.com–Season 3 premieres on June 12th — and follow Tara, Yuri and ShelfLifeSeries on Twitter too!