What’s Up with The Help Machine? June 2016 in Retrospect

What’s Up with The Help Machine?

TL;DR – This month was all about finishing up the Sitcom Writing Sprint and getting a Thigment prototype finished! Welcome to the team, F.A. Flannagan 1.5!

The first half of this month was super productive, although, I went ahead and took a week off after the 4(!) pilots got finished and sent off to the various contests that I entered. Getting those works finished was a great feeling. So was (FINALLY!) getting a new Thigment prototype finished!

  • What’s gotten done?
    • Writing Writing Writing – Sitcom PILOT SCRIPTS
      • Israel and The Big Turk
      • The Rube
      • Space Pilot Torro
      • The Ten Thousand Shadows
      • Writer’s Curriculum Vitae (CV)
      • Final Thoughts on Writing Writing Writing
    • Thigment Building
  • What’s in progress?
    • The Rings of Mikado
    • Thigment Building
  • Website Updates!
    • What’s coming up?
    • “Save it For Later” video and Indiegogo Rewards!
    • Return to YouTube!
    • Time Management – aiming for 30 hours a week
  • Anything Notable or Special Happen?
  • Important Stuff About Me That Is Important!

What’s gotten done?

I focused on completing the Writing Writing Writing sprint from last month, to get some pilots submitted, in addition to (FINALLY!) getting the new version of F.A. Flannagan finished!

But first, let’s talk about that Writing Writing Writing …

Writing Writing Writing – Sitcom PILOT SCRIPTS

Considering that the main media I’d like The Help Machine to produce are aimed at families, children, and involve colorful puppets and silly songs, the output for this writing sprint feels, at first, way off from that. Still, imagination is imagination, and writing is writing, so to me, it all fits in.

Three Sitcom Pilots got submitted to the New York Television Festival this year out of the eight concepts that got developed in May. I also ended up submitting a dramatic pilot (and the sitcoms) to a different contest. I finished a rough draft of another pilot, and also have a solid draft of The Rings of Mikado series pilot (which, mostly, can get used in the Operetta version). 

Each of the submissions I sent in had a pilot, a simplified Series Outline, and a Writer’s CV. And the submission for the month are …

Israel and The Big Turk

“Israel is a Native American who wants to make art full-time, Turk is his hippie brother-in-law who THINKS he’s Native American, Connie is Turk’s step-sister and married to Israel. The pilot features a talking Bear, a very fat man, full-frontal male nudity and a unicorn.”

I wrote a short film called “Big Turk’s Spirit Journey Weekend” that placed in a few writing festivals a few years ago. The short was focused on Big Turk, a kind of hippie pseudo-spiritualist who thinks of himself as ‘more Native American than actual Native Americans.” His brother-in-law Israel (an actual Native American), rescues him from a hallucinogenic experience.

Israel, and his wife Connie, are much better leads for a sitcom than The Big Turk. He works better as a kind of chaotic clown character. The pilot kept a few pages from the original short film, then fleshed out the rest of the world, and gave a glimpse of Israel and Connie’s home life. It was really fun to write! (and rewrite, and rewrite again …) 

The Rube

“A naive Asian-American amateur cook has big dreams for opening his own food struck in New York City, the hardest city in the world for a guileless nitwit to succeed in without succumbing to cynicism.”

One of the ideas I was developing in May was a dark workplace comedy that eventually ended up titled ‘Good Job, Team!’ As I was writing the pilot, I ended up with a few characters that didn’t fit into the story. One of the characters, Reuben, was tailor fit for a story idea I had that didn’t fit with ‘Good Job, Team!’ I wrote the first draft of the pilot for ‘The Rube’ in an afternoon, really feeling inspired. After rewrites, I realized it was in better shape than ‘Good Job, Team!’ 

The Rube ended up being a workplace comedy about a guy who’s working a day job while in pursuit of a dream. When you’re living like that you end up having people come in and out of your life a lot. This idea doesn’t come through in the pilot, but it’s there! All I wanted to do was make sure I told (what I hope is) a really funny story that paints a picture for what a series could be. We’ll see if anyone likes it!

Space Pilot Torro

“Humanity’s greatest star pilot is stuck delivering pizzas to hungry aliens throughout the galaxy, doing her best to avoid her own natural heroic instincts, deliver food on time, and earn the best tips she possibly can.”

This was originally a one-note sci-fi comedy action adventure cartoon short that ended with a punchline. It as basically translating what can happen when you deliver pizzas into a mini-Space opera. The original version was focused on keeping the script short, so, a lot of the original notes and ideas I had got jettisoned. Rewriting Space Pilot Torro as a sitcom gave more room to explore those weird ideas. The most fun part about it was thinking through the story even more. Like, WHY were people delivering pizzas in space? A lot of goofy, fun, action-adventure ideas come from answering that ridiculous question. Really fun to write, rewrite, then rewrite again!

That was the thing all of these had in common, all of the rewriting after getting a first draft down on paper. Hopefully it was enough to peak some interest at the NYTVF!

The Ten Thousand Shadows

An online terrorist group is loose in New York City, ready to detonate bombs and kill thousands. A group of NSA agents hunts for the terrorists, but come to realize that anyone could be among the ten thousand shadows.

While going through my old scripts and ideas, I found a feature film script from almost ten years ago about computers, surveillance, terrorism and the NSA. This idea could be developed as a fun, Adult Swim sort of sitcom, but could also be just a straigh-forward sci-fi action show, of the kind you might see on USA, SyFy or other cable outlets. When I originally wrote the feature, shows like Mr. Robot or Person of Interest, didn’t exist, and the ideas seemed really far-fetched. The most common comments I’d get about it were how impossible some of the surveillance techniques described in it were; now, a lot of the ideas are fairly common in high-tech spy movies and such.

While I was looking up some info about the New York TV Festival, I discovered the ‘Final Draft Big Break’ contest. That one also accepts TV pilots, so, I had another venue to submit scripts to, and decided (after a rewrite) what the heck, and submitted this. I also went ahead and entered the sitcoms for the NYTVF into that as well.

Writer’s Curriculum Vitae (CV)

Weirdly, the hardest exercise out of all of this was creating the Writer CV. A CV is like a resume, only with slightly different information (and more of a focus on accomplishments and work credits). At least, I think it is! That’s how it was explained to me, at least, by a tech recruiter a few years ago. I have no idea how to write one of these, and wasn’t sure about tone. I’m fairly serious about the writing I do, so serious that I hopefully have a good sense of humor about it. You can never tell if your tone in a theoretically serious document like a CV is going to come across well, or just leave the impression you’re a jerk.

Final Thoughts on Writing Writing Writing

Sometimes, practice is worth it on its own, and this is one of those times. The Help Machine has some additional IP in it’s slate; it seems silly, but I went ahead and did the paperwork and stuff to make sure that The Help Machine essentially ‘owns’ the material, so that any benefits (prize money, opportunities, whatever) can go back to it. The goal behind this all was to go after some opportunities I saw (the NYTVF, Final Draft Big Break) and see if they could turn into business that helps the Help Machine grow.

We’ll see how it works out!

Thigment Building

After what feels like forever, I finally finished the next F.A. Flannagan prototype! When people see him, it probably won’t look like much. The thing that’s hard to see about puppets is that, a lot of the work to make them work well happens on the inside. Things like making sure you have a way to grip the mouth inside, have nice material that keeps your sweat away from the fur, and also have material to help you keep the puppets shape.

You make decisions, like, “Does this one have a flexible mouth, like Kermit the Frog? Or does this one have a stiff mouth, like the Rowlf the Dog? How do you hold onto the mouth when you’re working it?How are the arms attached?” All of these little subtleties that can affect both the longevity of the puppet and the performance you do.

One thing that none of the instructors, classes or texts I’ve read about puppet making ever goes into is duplication. This is one of those things you never think about when making a character. When you’re really grooving while making a puppet, you can get really focused on making this one, really cool character, which then becomes one, really cool puppet. But puppets, if they get used a lot, fall apart. Seams fray, glue comes undone, pieces break, fabric gets gross because of your sweat. I learned this the hard way when Kwiddle and Bobidoo both fell apart, within days of each other in December.

When that happens, you can focus on just making quick repairs to the puppets. But when I thought about the shows I liked, the art I appreciated, the more I realized it wasn’t enough to fix them. Avenue Q, Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, if you name a show with puppets produced since the 1970s, the thing they have in common is that there are typically multiple versions of central characters available to the creators of those shows. I really thought about it, and imagined shooting the music video for ‘Save it for Later’, with these single puppet bodies that could fall apart at any moment.

So, F.A. Flannagan ended up being about a couple of things. This is not only a puppet that, essentially, is duplicated into three bodies which look the same, and feel the same, but are also sturdier, theoretically more emotive, and should let The Thigments let loose a little more. Want to let one get hit in the face with a pie? Sure, why not? We have another one ready to go if we end up ‘ruining’ one of the little buggers!

Figuring out how to make those improvements, and how to make 3 identical versions of a puppet might not look like a big deal to anyone else, but it’s a HUGE milestone for me and The Help Machine !

What’s in progress?

The works in progress are still essentially the same, but a lot of these are getting closer and closer to a finished state. That’s a nice feeling, especially when it comes to The Rings of Mikado.

The Rings of Mikado

This came really, really close to ending up as a submission to the NYTVF. The primary reason I decided not to submit it to any contests is that I don’t intend for anyone else to produce or own this material; this is material that is only intended for The Help Machine. I used the Writing Writing Writing sprint time to recraft some of the ideas, though, that went into this story.

There’s essentially two versions of this story in progress right now. Both versions are attempts to excise the racism and sexism of the original, while also updating the story for a broader audience. The operetta version remains a fairly faithful adaptation of The Mikado, with changes focused mostly on the lyrics, dialogue and lightly on the plot.

The series version, though, diverges from the plot more drastically. There’s an extended opening sequence that both the Operetta and Series versions of The Rings of Mikado share. However, the series version also adds a mini-adventure for the central character. In the original operetta, the main character appears in the town that kicks off the story at the start of the story. In the Operetta, after the prologue, the main character ends up at the town. But in the Series Version, the pilot shows the story of what happened to the main character on the way to the town.

The intent is to still complete the Operetta rewrite by September of this year. And then once I’m happy with a rewrite, offer it to the public.


Thigment Building

Now that I’ve got F.A. Flannagan done, and duplicated(!), it’s time to move onto the next prototype. Woojin is a new character, intended for some instructional videos I have in mind to make. The goal with Woojin is to create 3 identical versions of the character that includes all the improvements made for F.A. Flannagan, but then includes some new opportunities to learn. Woojin has eyes, an accessory (pipe-cleaner glasses!) and requires some fur trimming in order to get the face looking right. The fur trimming is simple, but the critical thing here is learning how to keep track of what’s been changed, so that all three versions look the same. It’s also important that Woojin’s pipe-cleaner glasses stay on during performances, so, part of this effort is learning how to do that. 

After Woojin, the next puppet is Bobidoo.

Bobidoo was originally made with some goofy accessories (custom eyes, funny hair, little furry nose) and some fur trimming. Bobidoo’s face has some specific cuts around the mouth to create the mouth shape. By the time I’ve finished Woojin, I should be able to incorporate everything I learned how to do well with F.A. Flannagan (replication, better mechanics) and with Woojin (fur trimming that’s even and looks the same, keeping accessories attached and looking the same), while also making some improvements to the little guy.

With Bobidoo finished, that then leads naturally into Kwiddle, the first puppet I ever made. With Kwiddle, the challenge is everything with the other three, plus the little antenna. It is hard to keep the Antenna stuck like you want them! But I feel like, by taking this kind of step-by-step approach, I’ll not only improve in skills, but I’ll have some critical pieces that are needed to get The Help Machine’s music and video work moving again! 

Anyway, this is all way ahead of myself, right now, it’s just …

  • Build Woojin x3
  • Build Bobidoo x3
  • Build Kwiddle x3

Focus! Once that’s done, THEN it’s on to the next thing …

Website Updates!

I started some light updates to TheHelpMachine.com in June. The primary one was a first attempt at getting the YouTube videos that Bobidoo, Kwiddle, Marmalade and Uncle Prunce made onto the site. I settled on a WordPress plug-in that sweeps our YouTube channel for content updates, then generates a new blog page for each video. The video blog page is then simultaneously published to Medium.com. At the very least, this creates some sections on the site and some landing pages to help improve overall SEO.

There are still improvements that need to be made to this, though. Like, it’d be better if the videos were readily available to watch when you got to pages like this http://www.thehelpmachine.com/category/youtube/. There’s also perhaps just having a gallery, as well, for users to visit. I don’t make it easy for people to discover, share, and subscribe to the channel when they end up on the video pages.

So, more improvements needed for getting the YouTube videos onto The Help Machine’s website, but those can wait until after video production is going again. 

That leaves another set of updates, around a better value proposition and more organization of the site information, to help support Consulting work. The point of the consulting work is to continue to raise seed money.

So far, The Help Machine has made a little money this year, primarily via consulting. The key to this is making it clear what we can help people do; at this point, I have to have a very good reason to turn down a paid project. 

Some of the changes I need to get done in July to the site are …

  • Add a consulting section that includes a value proposition and explains some skills we can offer to other people …
    • Atlassian Consulting
    • Business Operations Consulting
    • WordPress Web Development Consulting
      • for small businesses and start-ups
      • UX/UI
      • Templates
      • Plug-In Recommendations
      • Hosting Consultation and Set-up
    • Change the ‘Programs’ section into a ‘Prototypes’ section
      • to better reflect ideas and experiments we have percolating
      • to also reflect ideas that are in progress right now
    • Add notes about content we’ve created
      • Make sure that ‘Save it For Later’ (our awesome and successful Indiegogo Campaign) has a section
      • Shortles
      • The Rings of Mikado
      • The Pilots created for the NYTVF and Final Draft Big Break contests

Hopefully, some focus during allocated ‘web-dev’ time turns into more work, which can become more opportunities and seed money into the company!

What’s coming up?

I’m really excited about the writing that’s going on, and also at ramping up how much a week I work on The Help Machine. The only thing I find troublesome is that everything that was coming up last month is, basically, still coming up. 

Even that last paragraph is recycled from last month!

“Save it For Later” video and Indiegogo Rewards!

Basically, as soon as I’ve got a Bobidoo puppet, I can start filling rewards, and can actually get the video scheduled. When Kwiddle is ready, I can fill the other rewards and do some graphic updates. My original goal of late June or July is now, clearly, wildly optimistic. It’s looking more like August or September, now. Ernio and Michael are both busy with their own projects, just have to be respectful of their time and get this moving.

Return to YouTube!

Until the new Thigments are ready, there’s no YouTube videos. I’ve been reviewing my backlog of scripts and ideas on Sundays, and feel really confident about helping the Thigments shoot some great stuff! The only thing I’m really concerned about is views; we were just starting to build up a LOT of views, right when I stopped. It could be back to the drawing board with building up audience again. But at least making the videos is fun, no matter the outcome! Plus, I have something new to potentially add to the videos, beyond just the Thigments themselves. Whatever the new videos end up being, the key is going to be building a backlog before they start getting published again.

However, with F.A. Flannagan finished, I could fold in some shoots, now …

Time Management – aiming for 30 hours a week

As it stands, I spend roughly 20 hours per week working on The Help Machine, the rest of the time is for living and my day job. In May and part of June, I ramped that up to over 40 hours/week (and hit 50 a few weeks).

Strangely, I was incredibly happy during those times. It might have been related to the writing, but it was kind of fun balancing some consulting, script writing, and more during that time. It was kind of a preview of what it might be like to be fulltime at this.

So, just to keep momentum going, and building, the goal for this month is to work up to 30 hrs/week on average of time devoted to The Help Machine. We’ll see if that translates into increased productivity or, hopefully, seed money!

Anything Notable or Special Happen?

Getting F.A. Flannagan 1.5 done was a big milestone for me, personally and professionally. It’s the kind of thing that might not matter much to other people, but matters a lot to me and The Help Machine.

Important Stuff About Me That Is Important!


Fred Chong Rutherford, that’s me, has been working on the internet since the late 20th century in a variety of digital product and project management roles. I’ve been very lucky, and gotten to work with a lot of smart, incredibly talented people over the years to make cool digital stuff. I spend my time thinking about technology, people, and the how to look sideways at problems to find the best solution. I’ve been lucky enough to work with clients like Amazon.com, Nintendo of America, EA, Tetris Online, NBC Universal and Xbox over the years. I’ve worked in product and project roles for a few companies, including IDT, The Topps Company, Viacom, Time, Inc and some start-ups. I’m currently at American Express.

Short films I’ve written, produced and or directed have appeared at film festivals around the world, including The Kino Short Film Festival, San Diego Comic Con, Seattle Asian American Film Festival, Seattle International Film Festival, Satellites Independent Film Festival, StockStock and more. I also love puppets, and do my best to help the Thigments make the videos they like to post on YouTube. I live in Brooklyn, NY, because it’s awesome. Twitter | Facebook | G+ | Instagram | IMDB |

Also published on Medium.