In 2011, with the help of a handful of friends, I produced, shot and edited the pilot episode for PortsCenter. The process from early idea to finished edit was surprisingly short, sparked from a conversation I had with Kyle LaCroix about the PSone port of id Software’s Doom. I wrote the first episode over a couple of days, purchased two grey PlayStation consoles and two copies of the game (with kind help from Teri Fisher and David Lewis, who chipped in funds for the pilot at a time when money was thin on the ground for me), and roped in a bunch of friends to help me shoot the episode and capture the game footage.
Two years later, I’m in the final stretch of the first season. 2013 has seen PortsCenter join Retroware TV as a featured show and signed with Screenwave Media, a YouTube network that has been incredibly kind and supportive of the show. But most importantly, we’ve nearly completed our first full year of production on the series, with twenty completed episodes and a further four left to produce before the new year.
Over the last year I’ve learned a lot, a lot, about producing content for the internet. I’ve learned a lot about what I need to do to make PortsCenter work. I’ve no idea how much of what I’ve learned is going to be applicable to others, but what the Hell, I’m going to write it down anyway.
#1: Keep your mouth shut.
It’s a fool who tells the world what he’s going to do before he’s actually done any of the doing of it. Don’t tell the world you’re going to climb Everest before you’ve bought your gear. Or before you know how to climb a mountain, for that matter. Do your research. Study. Figure out what you need to do in order to do the thing you want to do. Then, once you’ve done that, keep your fucking mouth shut until you have something to show the world. Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
I’ve made this mistake often over the last fifteen years as I’ve hopped aimlessly from one pipe-dream creative endeavor to another. I still made that mistake with PortsCenter, by posting the complete list of games I intended to look at for the first season. You’ll notice games on that list that I sadly didn’t get to this season – Perfect Dark, Street Fighter II, Gears of War: The Board Game. The Gears episode is my biggest disappointment, because I’d announced plans to look at it before I’d figured out the logistics of filming four people playing a board game.
For season 2, I’ll be keeping my planned titles close to the chest. No list, no episode list complete with intended release date that I have to keep editing to shift stuff around. Just the show, and the episodes I release.
#2: Tell the world.
You may think this contradicts my previous point, but it doesn’t. You’ve got to plug. You’ve got to be on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, Vine, everywhere talking about the video you’re filming, the song you’re recording, the comic you’re drawing. Then you’ve got to do it again when it’s released. Then you’ve got to do it again so you catch the people who didn’t catch it the first time ’round. Then you’ve got to do it a third time. Then you have to do it all over again when you’re getting ready to release your next video, or song, or comic, or whatever. If you don’t tell people what you’ve released, how is anybody going to find it?
The trick is not to be obnoxious with it. I try very hard not to drown people with “WATCH PORTSCENTER!” messages on Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook every five bloody minutes. I use a rule of three – the day the video drops, the night the video drops, and then later in the week as I’m working on the following episode. This may seem excessive, but remember for every person who saw your first post, there’s probably someone who missed it who’ll catch it in one of the later posts. This is the internet. It’s global, and not everybody is going to be online or even awake at the time you make your initial post.
Occasionally I’ll post something from an episode currently in-production – a photo of my monitor showing part of a script, or a voiceover outtake. Something fun, so it’s not all promotional. I mean yes, ultimately this sort of stuff is promotional, but it’s fun too. There’s a world of difference between a tweet that says “Episode 21 drops tomorrow!” and another that says “Wow, Ben can’t even get his lines out of his mouth without accidentally beatboxing.” Again, the key difference here is that I’m not stating an intent to do a thing. I’m showing you the doing of it.
#3: Give a shit.
If you’re talking about a topic, be it for a podcast or a video series, or just for your Tumblr blog, make sure it’s something you genuinely care about. I’ve seen people, occasionally friends, make videos solely to attract an audience, often about a topic they have no genuine heartfelt interest in. It shows in the work, and people will see through it, whether you’re making a simple YouTube video, or a blockbuster movie.
On the flipside of this: If you have a genuine, heartfelt love of the project you’re working on, don’t phone it in. A “That’ll do” attitude isn’t going to result in a fun game, or a decent video, or a song worth listening to. It’ll be crap, nobody will give it the time of day, and you’ll wonder why you bothered.
The point is, a labor of love has got to be exactly that. It’s got to be hard work, and it’s got to be something you care about. Forget just one of these ingredients, and it’ll just be a thing you did.
This may sound silly, but I care deeply about video game ports. I’m fascinated by them. Almost obsessed. The version of myself I portray on the show is a little more aggressive about his fascination with ports than I am in real life, but the passion is still there. Ultimately, without that passion, PortsCenter wouldn’t be what it is. If I were just making this show because there aren’t other shows about game conversions on YouTube, it’d feel hollow. I think that’s an important distinction to make.
#4: Push your limits, but know your limitations.
Plan to make stuff outside of your comfort zone, outside of your knowledge level, because in doing so you’ll learn new tricks and techniques which will make your work better. You may fail, but you’ll still learn something and you can use that knowledge in the future. Or, as Thomas Edison allegedly put it, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
That being said, keep in mind your resources, talent pool and technical ability. It’s one thing to write:
A giant robotic spider lurches over the city, firing lasers from its eyes and swatting down aircraft like flies.
It’s another thing entirely to actually film it. If you know you can, do it. If you think you can, go for it anyway. If you know you can’t, or think you won’t be able to, scale it down to something more manageable and realistic. Remember to push yourself, but don’t overdo it and don’t try to run before you can walk.
That, ultimately, is what bit me in the arse with the Gears of War: The Board Game episode. I have no bloody clue how to film it. I still don’t. I want to include the episode in the second season, and I’m working on how to make it happen, but it’s nowhere near as simple as pointing a camera at my couch and making jokes about it. Mind you, two of my webseries projects for next year are going to be… well, not exactly simple. Yikes.
#5: Make the sort of content you want to see.
This is an extension of sorts of Point #3. If you want to see a webcomic about a sentient cheeseburger trying to make it in a world populated by anthropomorphic geometrical shapes, start drawing it. If you want to watch a webseries about a guy with rabbit ears applying for a business loan, get writing. Write, draw, film and record the sort of stuff you wish existed, because either you’ll spend the rest of your life waiting, or someone else will beat you to the punch and you’ll regret not acting sooner.
PortsCenter exists because nobody else was making a show about video game ports, nobody else was making a video game show with this kind of sense of humor, and the one person I secretly hoped would make one, Charlie Brooker, seemingly had no plans plans on following up his single Gameswipe special, although in a few days his next gaming project, “How Video Games Changed the World”, airs on Channel Four in the UK.
So that’s it. That’s what I’ve learned. Except that I’m lying, of course – I already knew all of this. The trick is remembering it, and acting upon it. Here’s hoping that next year, be it PortsCenter, Dalek Gary or the other projects I have in the works, I’m able to keep a firm grip on these words.