Is There (Good) Life After Layoff?
Mike Kravinsky (center) had a pretty good career run with ABC News, working for 29 years as a video editor and technical director for the network's Washington, D.C.-based programs. But in 2010, when he was offered a voluntary buyout, Kravinsky figured it was time to use his visual talents in another medium.
"I'd always had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to make a film," he recalls. "But I couldn't think of a good story to tell."
When the 57-year-old Arlington, Va., resident suddenly found himself searching for a new calling, he realized that midlife reinvention itself was the subject that he'd been looking for to fictionalize. The result: The indie writer-director-producer has created a new web video series, The Nextnik, a "dramedy" that depicts the trials, tribulations, false starts and breakthroughs of a 55-year-old "upper middle management" corporate office worker named Larry Zimmerman. The protagonist is abruptly downsized and sent on his way with just enough of a severance to finance a year of self-exploration and search for a new career.
Here's the trailer for the series, which will post its initial six episodes at Nextnik.com starting in January.
While many people dream of a second career in writing, directing or producing, Kravinsky actually did all three on The Nextnik -- and virtually everything else in the production except for the acting and photography, including making the sandwiches that the cast and crew ate at lunchtime. He's also doing all of the editing and promotion to keep costs down.
Early 1990s low-budget indie filmmakers still had to spend thousands of dollars on color film stock, but Kravinsky only needed a bunch of thumb drives that cost a few dollars apiece. He did the editing and other post-production work on his Mac computer and Final Cut professional-grade editing software, which dramatically reduced his costs. Except for some scenes shot in a Delaware beach town, most of the shooting was done at various sites around Arlington. He says he was able to recruit a cast of "really excellent" actors willing to work for modest pay.
Another cost-saving plus for Kravinsky: Due to his long career in news, he's used to getting things done quickly and rushing to the next assignment. "We'd shoot a scene, and I say, 'cut, that's great -- let's move on,' and everyone would say, 'Don't you want to do another take?'" That brisk pace enabled him to shoot the initial six-episode season in just two weeks in early November -- a pace approaching that of legendary high-speed, low-budget filmmaker Roger Corman (who reportedly shot his 1960 classic The Little Shop of Horrors in two and a half days).
Kravinsky has another advantage over previous generations of shoestring DIY filmmakers: He doesn't need to show his work in theaters for him to make a buck. Instead, Kravinsky intends to self-distribute The Nextnik on his website, where viewers can watch the series for free, provided that they're willing to watch a few seconds of commercials from which he'll earn revenue. If the show creates enough of a buzz, he says he may be able to find investors to finance additional episodes. "At the very least, I'll get a wonderful learning experience out of it."
Kravinsky says the subject of midlife reinvention is such a rich mother lode for video storytelling that he's already got a couple of other ideas for web series. "Reinvention isn't just about getting a new job," he says. "What if you get divorced, or move to another part of the country and start over. Or an older parent passes away, and you're suddenly the patriarch of the family. There are so many different variations to the basic "fish out of water" scenario. And I'd like to explore more of them."
If you're interested in checking out what other online dramatists are doing, try the Web Series Channel, a portal for indie shows on the internet.
*The photo above features Mike Kravinsky, center, with actors Connie Bowman and Rick Kain.
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