"Chasing Windmills" is pretty hard workby Euan Kerr, Minnesota Public Radio
If you have been in downtown Minneapolis recently, you may have seen a camera crew working--working very hard. They're not a TV news team, or a documentary unit. They're making a drama called "Chasing Windmills." It's posted on the World Wide Web. A new episode goes up every weekday, a remarkable fact when you consider that the production is handled by just two people.
Minneapolis, Minn. — It's a Saturday morning in a minimally furnished office in the Minneapolis Warehouse District. Three actors run through scenes under the watchful eye of Cristina Cordova.
When they are ready, she rolls the camera. Then she has them do it again. She moves and has them repeat the scene. And then again. And again. The actors nail it more often than not, but she needs as many angles as possible. A few minutes now could save hours of editing time later.
They're shooting an episode about one of "Chasing Windmills"' central characters, a man called Q. He's played by Juan Antonio del Rosario. Q is miserable. He's just split with his girlfriend and is desperately trying to keep his new job as an advertising copywriter. It's not going well.
Sometimes Cordova directs, sometimes it's del Rosario. Cordova plays D, the other central character. She's Q's ex, but she's not in this episode. After about an hour of shooting, Cordova has what she needs.
"We recorded about a third of an episode. That's it!" she laughs. "Actually that's not true. We recorded about a third of one episode, and about a quarter of another."
A "Chasing Windmills" episode is just three to four minutes in length. But each takes a huge amount of effort.
First del Rosario and Cordova write a script, then create a storyboard--a sketchbook of possible shots.
Next they shoot it, edit it, mix in the sound, and the music--which del Rosario plays--and finally post it to the Web. They put up an episode every weekday. Weekends are left for creating the next five shows.
They're now about a quarter of the way though a 21-week season. Oh, and they also job-share a video production gig to make their food and rent money.
"I keep charts and charts at home because I know that we will forget things and I'm the ultra-organized, anal retentive one," Cordova says. "So I get to deal with that stuff."
So where does that leave del Rosario?
"He comes up with the witty lines, the great one-liners. Those are all his," she says.
"That's what I've been reduced to," del Rosario says wryly.
The cast and crew move downstairs. They are going to Runyon's Bar down the street to shoot another scene.
As the actors grab a bite to eat, del Rosario describes "Chasing Windmills"' birth. He and Cordova lived in Puerto Rico, writing screenplays and thinking about new ways of making films. Then they heard about video blogging where people post short movies on their Web sites.
Usually the video blocks are mini-documentaries, but del Rosario had another idea. "I had it in my head that we could build a narrative story through these two-minute, three-minute chunks," he says.
Cordova admits she wasn't keen on the idea initially.
But then they considered a screenplay they were developing about a disintegrating relationship, called "The Couple." "And it kind of translated well into more segmented narrative," she says. "So we stole the characters out of 'The Couple' and decided to use those two characters but create different scenarios to kind of show these weird, uncomfortable, intimate moments that we all have in relationships."
By then Cordova and del Rosario had moved to Minneapolis. They decided to give it a try and to do a daily episode. Thus D and Q, the intensely unhappy couple, were born. Del Rosario says that first season was almost too intense to watch at times.
"I think that anyone who has been in a long-term relationship knows that from the day you break up, you start counting back to like six months or a year. And that break-up has been building to that point and you keep trying to save it," del Rosario says. "Really, the first season of 'Chasing Windmills' was just the slow, gruesome break-up of a couple."
"Chasing Windmills" episodes are thought- provoking, and visually interesting. They are also more than a little potty-mouthed and occasionally raunchy.
Del Rosario says that's just the way they usually talk.
"We swear a lot, yeah," admits del Rosario.
"I think we are just trying to keep the natural vernacular," says Cordova. "And the natural vernacular is swearing a lot and communicating in these weird ways that we aren't used to seeing being presented in the media because, well, you have to censor things. We do have the luxury, because it is the Web, that we can go out uncensored, so to speak. So we are exploiting that. Definitely."
Recent episodes have featured relationship and roommate problems, voodoo, Klingon sex, a ventriloquist's doll that may be alive, a prescription pill scam and an ongoing debate on the merits of celibacy. For the first two seasons del Rosario and Cordova did pretty much everything. You never saw the two of them in the same shot because when one was acting the other was running the camera. With no advertising beyond Web word of mouth, it soon drew a committed following.
Now they are taking it to another level. They've not only introduced a host of new actors, they've also given each character a blog. The idea is to encourage audience interaction.
In an early episode Q, desperate for money, posted a designer jacket on the on-line auction site e-Bay. Del Rosario actually put the jacket up for sale and a "Chasing Windmills" viewer bought it, and then sent pictures back to the show's Web site. Del Rosario and Cordova say they are prepared to incorporate audience suggestions in the script.
"And now with the cast members," Cordova says, "they are feeding us stories too, sending us random scenarios when they happen in their lives: 'Oh! Check out this conversation I had with someone the other night!' I am just keeping a running file and we will pull that stuff out and use it; it's wonderful."
There's one other thing you should know about Cristine Cordova and Juan Antonio del Rosario: they haven't made a penny out of "Chasing Windmills."
They'd love to earn a living doing it but like many Web producers, they are still struggling to work out just how. They've ruled out ads at the beginning of their shows but they think product placement could be the way to go.
Del Rosario says "Chasing Windmills" gets about a thousand viewings a day. That's been enough to interest possible advertisers but not enough to ink a deal.
Chuck Olsen runs "Minnesota Stories" one of the best known video blog sites in the country. He is a big "Chasing Windmills" fan.
"The price you pay, being a pioneer, is that you might not be the first to make money," Olson says. "But you are kind of paving the way for that possibility. I think they were very early with this idea. I think we are going to see a lot more of this."
Back at the shoot, del Rosario and Cordova say even if they don't make any money on "Chasing Windmills," its been an education that will help them in other projects they're developing.
That's for later, though. With 105 episodes planned for this season, they have a lot of scripting, shooting and editing to do first.
- Morning Edition, 11/16/2006, 7:45 a.m.