Tongal changes people’s lives. Just ask Andrew Adams who has amassed just over $70,000 in winnings since joining the Tongal community in January of this year. Andrew’s Tongal career highlights include first place video wins for the Robert Half “Career Coaching Gone Awry Project,“ the Benjamin Moore “Chalkboard Paint In Any Color Project,” and Viggle’s “Viggle Me This Project.” These high profile wins, along with placing in numerous other projects, made Andrew our first ever Tongal Seasons production winner. Besides bragging rights and a place in Tongal history, Andrew took home the $23,900 Seasons top prize. We had a chance to ask Andrew some questions about his filmmaking background, what it’s like to be a “Professional Contest Winner.”
Caleb Light-Wills – How and when did you first find out about / start participating on Tongal?
Andrew Adams – There’s actually a surprisingly large community of Florida State grads who have been making their way onto Tongal, and I discovered it through them. I think Carrie Hunter was the first, and she was quickly followed by Colin Duffy and Aaron Moorhead (of the Norman Invasion). Those guys are two of my closest friends; Colin’s even my old college roommate. I lived in New York during the period when they were taking Tongal by storm, but moved out to Los Angeles in December of 2011. Colin invited me to produce and art design two videos for the LifeLock competition… And it’s been true love ever since.
CLW – What is your production background like?
AA – I taught myself to shoot and edit on iMovie with my stepfather’s busted-up Hi8 camera. I use the phrase ‘taught myself’ loosely because I wouldn’t say I made all that much progress in those days. Then I went to Florida State University’s film school, where they rotate students through every production job – writing, producing, gripping, booming, on and on – over the course of 50+ sets. It was a fantastic experience because I came out knowing the mentality of each and every worker on set, and knowing how every department works. When you’re actually on set, the benefits of that are nuts.
After school I started working on professional sets, but most of it was just production assistant work. I proved that I was real good at grabbing coffee for all sorts of celebrities… But it was demeaning, and I felt like I was squandering my education and talent.
CLW – Are you a video producer by trade or is it more like hobby?
AA – I used to jokingly say “I’m a Professional Contest Winner.” But then it actually did become my primary source of income, so I guess it’s not a joke anymore. I still haven’t figured out the best way to explain it to people. It has ended more than one conversation with pretty girls.
I realized I could do it full time when Colin and I won the LifeLock contests the same month that I was announced the winner of the Lonely Planet competition. In one month I’d doubled my earnings for the year by working half as hard and in a much more creatively satisfying capacity. My next gig as a production assistant was for a dating show that aired on CBS, and I was put in charge of the room where girls were sent to wait after the bachelors had rejected them. It was bad. On Day 5 I forfeited my day rate, walked off the set, and swore off PA work forever. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
CLW – What winning Tongal Video are you most proud of?
AA – Most times I find it hard to watch my work without burying my head in my hands at every other line. Even on videos where nobody else seems to notice, all I can see are the missed potentials, the lines that don’t land as hard as I’d like, the technical flubs that are inevitably my fault and could be fixed in four minutes if I just had a better grasp of postproduction sound…
The only video that doesn’t make me cringe at any part is the Benjamin Moore video… It seems like the most well-executed of the bunch. But honestly, I’m probably most proud of the Viggle one. Because even if the dialogue doesn’t all work and it might be too long and it might not explain the product as well as it should… It has the most me in it. It was the first time I decided to make a video I would want to watch instead of trying to match a brand’s existing style, and that gamble paid off!
CLW – How did you come up with the idea/premise for that video?
AA – The initial idea came from Brian Katz. ”Extreme TV chars popup in family’s living room to give gifts:a vampire has coffee,aliens give Mom gift cert,actress gives Dad movie tix,etc” It was the only one of the ideas that really connected with me, probably because it seemed like a comedy sketch. I pitched three or four variations on it to Viggle. One where all the characters were actually inside the room but based on famous shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men. Another with original characters. Then one where all of the characters spoke through the screen and threw gifts out at the viewers. When Viggle picked it, that’s what we went with!
A lot of the creative decisions came out of production constraints, truthfully. I think DeMorge and Davey (who portray Jackson & Jackson) are two of the funniest humans on the planet, and I didn’t want to worry about casting people who could equal them once the channels started switching… I also wanted a consistent voice to be explaining the product. So I created a world where every TV show is a spin-off of ‘Jackson & Jackson.’ Then to pick the spin-off shows, I had to think about what props and locations I could get easily. A lot of DIT technicians buy old vans or trucks and retrofit them to become their workstations on set, and I had one friend who bought an old ambulance for his work truck. So I knew I could do a hospital show. Every decision was made based on things that.
As for the weird, alien tone of the couple watching TV… Viggle’s brief made it sound like ‘anything goes,’ so I decided to do whatever would make me laugh hardest. The actors and I came up with that Stepford Wivesy stare into the camera and it made me laugh super hard. So I never did any other takes. Thank God Viggle approved.
CLW – How long did it take you to produce that video and what was your process like?
AA – Almost all of the videos I’ve made have had extremely small crews. Honestly, it’s for selfish reasons. The fewer of us there are, the more money we all keep. And my first semester at FSU was very run-and-gun/wear-every-hat, so it’s a style of work that I don’t find at all overwhelming. It’s kind of invigorating to be writer, director, producer, editor, production designer, and grip all at once.
The two people who were pretty much always on my crews were Jennifer Ruiz and Eric Bader. They deserve the most epic shout-out possible; I couldn’t have done nearly as much as I did in this ‘contest summer’ without them. Jen was a producing partner on Benjamin Moore, Viggle, NASA, and Dow and came up with an insane amount of juicy ideas. All the gorgeous painting jobs in Benjamin Moore are her crafty doings. And Eric was a one-man show on Robert Half, Bounty, Viggle, and NASA; he lit and shot all of it wonderfully, changed styles on each one, and did most of the tech stuff solo. I moved at the end of the summer and they started their own profiles on Tongal and are tearing it up… But they were the crew on the Viggle video.
We shot nearly everything on a Canon 7D, using a Nikon adapter for the lenses. For dolly moves on all my videos, we either used a camera slider rigged up on two tripods or a Cineskates rig on a piece of plywood. For lighting we had two Kinos that we borrowed from a friend, and Eric had one or two Tungsten somethingorothers to supplement it.
We shot it over two days about a week apart. Day #1 was all of the ‘Jackson & Jackson’ scenes and had something like eight company moves. We were dancing all over LA for it, grabbing shots and then getting out… Going from our houses in Los Feliz to the beaches of Santa Monica to the hills of Eagle Rock to the dredges of the Los Angeles River… But even with all that moving, it was very casual… It’s hard to be too serious when you’ve got a fortysomething guy running down Venice Pier in a pink dress and a wig.
Then I edited all the footage into the ‘Jackson & Jackson’ shows over the weekend, and we came back a few days later to shoot all the living room scenes. Those were hot. Very hot. Everybody was covered in sweat and had to be patted down every few minutes. That was also a weird day. I threw a cheeseburger at my lead actor’s face without warning him… And then didn’t even use the shot. (He not only still talks to me but even started participating on the site: Patrick Muhlberger) For the end, when the confetti rains down, there are four people scattered all throughout the room using confetti sticks from Party City… On the count of three we all had to snap our elbows and just hope the timing worked out. It took two hours to clean.
CLW – Winning a Tongal Production Season is no easy feat. It requires consistent, high quality participation across a 20-project span. Was there a point at which you made a conscious decision to go for the win?
AA – I entered the Benjamin Moore contest with Jen just because I was hurting for money after I swore off PA work. But in the middle of that contest, I discovered that I’d earned a full scholarship to Fordham University and was going to need to make enough money by the end of summer to support myself for a year in New York. Getting first place solidified it, and I decided to make Tongal Seasons my top priority.
CLW – How much did Seasons Eligibility factor into your decisions about which projects to participate in?
AA – I stopped entering contests without Seasons Eligibility, and started entering I think every contest that was involved in Seasons. I made the decision with 11 projects left, and participated in 7 of them.
CLW – Were you nervous about the (seasons) competition?
AA – Yes. Once I realized it was the only way I’d be able to pay for school, I actually created a big chart with all the top Tongalers on it and started figuring out which contests they were participating in and how many potential points they had. So I knew exactly what the competition was and how much I would need to secure the win. But it took a long time to earn the large lead that I ended with, and so even once I was in the top seat, I was nervous at every announcement that I’d be dethroned. All the way up until the last day.
CLW – There’s so much Tongal content being actively promoted by our sponsors that sometimes it’s hard for us to keep track of. How do you feel about having your video being THE Chalkboard Paint In Any Color Video?
AA – It feels great! I actually stopped telling people “I win contests for a living,” and started just saying: “I direct commercials for a living. Check out Benjamin Moore’s website.” It was mostly an experiment to see how much I could control people’s perception of me, and it totally worked. Seeing the commercial in use made the whole experience feel like it mattered, in some way.
CLW – Do you see Tongal as a viable avenue to further your creative career?
AA – I would answer this way more enthusiastically if I thought you’d print curse words, so I’ll just say “Yes. A resounding yes.” Thanks to Tongal, I went from taking out the trash on Monday to directing commercials on Tuesday. Every project has helped me grow, and I feel like you can watch me develop into a better and more ambitious filmmaker from my first projects to my last. Hopefully that will continue. It’s changed the way people view me, it’s given me enough material to put together a reel, and it’s given me credibility so that the day I finally pitch a feature film to investors, I can say, “Look at all these commercials I’ve directed.” I love Tongal! I never want to leave!
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