How IndieGoGo Funds Affected My Tax Return

Hi again! In my last post, I described a challenge from the creative side – my relationship with my inner critic. Today’s post deals with something I am less adept at: TAXES!

This year was the first year I claimed deductions for my career in entertainment. Specifically, I deducted expenses both as a background performing artist and as producer of IndieGoGo-funded project, Les MiseraBaristas. After IndieGoGo fees, that project raised a net of $2,228. Guess whose bank account those funds went into? Mine.


Yeah, it says $2461, but IndieGoGo took 4% for their fee, which was fair enough.

In the eyes of the Internal Revenue Service, that’s income. Taxable income. Oh, you didn’t know that? Yes, it’s true. If you receive money via crowd-funding – be it Kickstarter or IndieGoGo – you have to report that as income on your taxes. The IRS wants their share of that income, and it could cost you if you don’t have any way to account for your production expenses.

In my case, I could have lost hundreds of dollars worth of my tax refund because of this crowd-sourced income. Fortunately, it didn’t even put a dent in my refund. Why? I kept all my receipts, and I categorized each one to account for every penny of where that $2,288 worth of funds went.

Here’s what I did: I carefully documented every receipt, every category I spent money on to make the project happen. Wardrobe purchases? Deduction.  Props and set decoration? Deduction! Craft services, catering, equipment, location fees, production insurance, crew member pay? Deducted, deducted, deducted.

I kept track of every physical copy of my receipts on a piece of printer paper. I then scanned each digital copy of the receipt and placed the physical copy into a three-hole binder. Never claim anything you don’t have proof of, and always be organized. 


Pretty standard stuff. As you can see, I taped the receipt down and wrote in the notes where I purchased the items from, date of purchase, total amount spent, what the items were, and which department they were for. Never rely on memory alone.

Now, I’m not going to walk you step-by-step on what sort of system you should have. I’m not a professional, and my system works for me because I understand it. But once you have all of your stuff together, you really should get in touch with a tax professional. More specifically, you should get in touch with a professional whose expertise is within your field. I sought out a tax preparer who specializes in film and television expenses, and she hammered out a beautiful tax document that would have taken me days – maybe even weeks – to figure out on my own. I simply filled out my information on her provided online form, categorized how much I spent for each expense, and sent her a couple of my own Excel sheets to use as a reference for exactly where every dollar went. I can be very precise when I want to be.

Organization, by the way, will save you money. If I were to have handed her a stack of my receipts and told her to figure it out, I’m sure the rate would have cost at least double. But since I came prepared, my tax preparer only had to focus on ensuring all the proper forms were filled out in just the right way. I had tried to use TurboTax to report my special income and deductions, but that would have cost me just as much as the tax preparer – and with less accuracy and peace of mind.

I know this is a pretty specific subject, but I also know plenty of Facebook friends who raised funds from crowd-funding sites such as IndieGoGo and Kickstarter to make their projects happen. To those friends, I hope this helps. An early strike is best if you want to make the April 15 deadline. Procrastination and disorganization can cost precious money.

Please keep in mind that I am not by any means a tax professional. I have omitted plenty of important information because tax code is too cumbersome for me to wrap my brain around, and my ignorance on the matter is bountiful. What I do know is that my diligence paid off, and good bookkeeping helped me keep all of the tax refund I would have normally received. 

And you know what? Organization isn’t even my jam. My girlfriend doesn’t understand why, after 4 years, I still put spatulas in the silverware drawer, eggs in the vegetable drawer, and books in the freezer. But when real money is on the line, you bet I’ll spend a little extra time filing a few papers. 

Posted in Organization, Taxes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

My Inner Critic is a Grumpy British Man

Last night, I was visited by my inner critic.

I had a dream in which a middle aged, plain-looking British man with a pen and a literary journal in hand approached me. In the dream, I recognized him as my employer. As my editor. He approached me and told me that, yes, he printed my story. I had a few fancy ideas he liked. But then he told me that mine was also the worst story in his publication. The worst, bar none, and no doubt about it.

“You see here,” he said, pointing to the middle paragraph. “Read that aloud to me and tell me that’s not poor writing.”

I am blessed with the ability to read text and words in my dreams, and I can even look away from a paragraph and back again and see the same words spelled, punctuated, and grammatically arranged without a single technical error. The text the British editor showed me was my writing, and it was indeed without technical error. Yet the style, the voice, the narrative choices — these were the things the British man said were terrible. These were the things I felt I knew to be terrible.

“Bloody awful,” said the editor, shaking his head. “I can hardly believe I even printed it. Do better.”

He shoved the copy into my arms and walked back down the darkened suburban street, a mist of cigarette smoke trailing behind him.


Can you find the grumpy British guy in this photo? If so, can you please not tell me? This will work a lot better if he’s imaginary.

I woke up feeling more upset than I normally would after even my most jarring nightmares. I certainly didn’t feel well-rested. What perturbs me isn’t what the British man said to me. It’s how I reacted to him that gives me pause.

First off, I realized toward the tail end of the dream that the man wasn’t real – he was a symbol. A representation. My subconscious self, of course. Yet I still felt weak around him. I felt powerless and incapable. I felt my dream self’s submissive body language in his presence. More than anything, I felt ashamed.

But when I looked back at the dream, I realized that the editor wasn’t my real antagonist. He didn’t just show me what was wrong with my story – he told me which parts were right. He challenged me to read my work aloud, to test my writing on the human ear.

He published my story, in spite of it all. He hated it, yet he deemed it worthy to publish.

“Do better,” he said.

He didn’t tell me to give up, but he also didn’t give me false affirmation. The real struggle is with the part of me that’s scared of getting yelled at. It’s a misguided part of myself that paralyzes my creativity unless it’s sure there’s no risk of rejection or worse, disappointment.

Again, the British editor in my mind didn’t tell me he was disappointed – just frustrated I didn’t do better. There’s a difference. Disappointment, to me, is the loss of faith in someone or something. Frustration, meanwhile, is the prickly side of believing in capability. The editor in my head knows I’m capable of producing better work, and he’s angry that I’ve rested on my laurels for so long. He’s angry that I’ve played it safe. He’s angry that I’m stagnating.

“Do better,” said the editor with a smoking habit I don’t share.

“Do better,” I’m telling myself. “Do better than hold your hands an inch away from the keyboard.”


Posted in Creating, Self-Reflection, Sleep, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

From Barista to MiséraBarista to…

Hi! Here’s a quick update. Remember when I quit my job as a barista at Barnes & Noble Café? And do you also remember when I said I was working on a musical parody called Les MiséraBaristas? Well, it got made.

That’s the musical, coffee-shop parody of Les Misérables I made with my friends Hayley, Nick, Sam, Ashley, several of my fellow baristas, and dozens of dedicated crew-people and contributors to celebrate my launch into life on set. Well, it wasn’t made strictly for that reason, but I liked to think of it that way.


Here I channel every pensive thought I had about working in the coffee shop.

I’m proud to report that, as of this writing, we have accrued well over 24,000 views since we posted it on YouTube on July 14, 2013. Heck, we even won the award for Viewer’s Choice in the Thriving Artist’s Circle online Tiny Film Festival. We had to bring in quite a few votes to inch ahead of some pretty worthy competition to get that one. Ah, the taste of victory.


Victory tastes like a caramel macchiato, it turns out.

Well, after many happy adventures on set and in the office as an extra, a production assistant, and an office researcher, I’m happy to report that I am enjoying steady work as…



…a barista.


But hey, look closer. Does that look like a coffee shop to you? See that E! poster? That’s me serving coffee in E! Network’s production office. And that coffee bar in front of me – that baby has wheels. I take the mobile coffee cart from office to office, studio to studio, film set to film set. I wheel my setup into the most accessible spot, set it all up and make it pretty, and serve lattes to cast, crew, and producers until it’s time to pack up and head out for the next gig.

The company I work for is called Mocha Kiss, and I’ve been with the company since the beginning of October. See, while I’ve always loved making lattes, I started getting antsy going day in and day out to the same retail store every day. I longed for life on set, to see fresh faces and explore new places on a regular basis. The best part of all is that I don’t feel as anxious about finding the next gig because I’m finally getting regular work with a livable wage.

Now, I don’t intend to change course, of course. My sights are still set on writing, directing, and voice acting. But after many adventures as a PA on set, I rather enjoy the persona of “The Coffee Guy”. Do I worry about getting pigeonholed? Not really. I make it clear very early on to people that I’m a guy of many talents – the art of coffee-making among them. I use the coffee cart as a sort of platform for my own performance art – my mission is to hypnotize, to entice, to entertain, and to bring happiness to every person who comes to my cart. Every person is different, so I make every interaction unique. Some folks like the proverbial – and, occasionally, literal – song and dance, others like vivid descriptions of the drinks I make, and still others prefer a more low-key touch. I oblige, and I earn their respect and a spot in their memories.

And that, dear readers, is a large part of why I’m so enthusiastic about the work that I do. While I’m not out to solicit anyone with shameless self-promotion, I do know that this is a fantastic way for me to make a first impression on people within the industry. While not everyone is curious about what I do outside of coffee catering, I meet a good number of people who recognize that I have a voice and a style worth amplifying to the masses. I agree.

I’m happy to announce that I’m in the early stages of developing a podcast, the tone and contents of which I’ll reveal later. The most I can say is that it will be steeped in storytelling and the velvety sound of my voice.


Ten bucks and a personalized haiku to the person who can decode the message in this sound wave.

That said, it’s time to call it a night. Exciting developments are within view, and I’ll be keeping all of you posted as the updates come along.

Until next time!

Posted in Adventure, Barista, Coffee, Creating, Happiness, Networking, New Gig, Plan, Strategy | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

I Wanna be a (Creative) Producer

Life has changed a lot – so much so that Ashley Lam insisted I document my experiences.

“Do it for the filmmakers who want to move out here,” said Ashley, “so they can follow your example in real time.”

Because I have a messiah complex, I agreed I’d do it for the people who want a fresh perspective on the industry.

Since my last post, I’ve become more confident in what I want to do – to write and to be a creative producer. From what I understand, creative producers oversee the artistic elements of their films – and makes sure that the work maintains its artistic integrity. Creative producers also understand that filmmaking is a business, but don’t let the business decisions compromise the creative decisions.

Though an even balance of both would be nice.

Though an even balance of both would be nice.

I found that I best learn what I want by first deciding what I do not want.

Yesterday, I met with my producer to discuss who will be playing what role in my upcoming short film, Les MiséraBaristas. While we were talking about who would handle the logistics of the project, it occurred to me that I could never be a line producer. Line producers are in charge of locking down the location, dividing resources to each department, and, most importantly, managing the money. I imagine the art department, camera department, grip department and makeup department sitting at the dinner table, waiting for the line producer to scoop their portions from a great big bowl of money salad.


Mmmm. Money salad.

That sort of responsibility, while genuinely fulfilling to some people, would throw me into a mental meltdown because my brain isn’t wired to solve practical problems quickly. Dealing with a shoot’s logistics requires juggling a lot of left-brain information in a short amount of time, something my right-brain way of thinking doesn’t handle well. The job of a line producer requires a sort of mathematical plugging in of variables and a rigidness of thought to solve problems efficiently and quickly.

My mind ticks a little differently. My favorite problems to solve are aesthetic or emotional dilemmas – my intellectual world is informed by a synaesthetic point of view. Rather than consider things in solid figures matched against fixed constants…

No cash for you!

No cash for you!

…my world is a world of feelings and impressions.

My train of thought is, “This color and that color dance with those textures…”

R and B Dance

“Take me with you, Red.”
‘You know I will, Blue.’

“…but this other color is not in harmony with the mood the characters are setting.”

Magenta anvilled!

Magenta anvilled!

I can read people’s emotions and states of mind well – well enough to comprehend why line producers enjoy their work, but not so well that I can overcome my awkwardness with practical problem solving. I get overwhelmed with the practical things because my brain is too busy dreaming up new stories or clever spins on situations.

Well into pre-production on Les MiséraBaristas, I’m grateful that I’m taking the opportunity to do what I love to do: be creative, and have a team of left-brained people to help me bring my right-brained ideas to life.

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First Set Gig in Months. I Got Rusty.

Until a couple days ago, I hadn’t been on a shoot since mid August. Now mid-February, I can finally say I was able to work on set again. Even if it was just for a day — even if it was unpaid — I’m glad I got to get outside of my day-job zone.  This time around, I worked as a set intern, which is just like a PA without the PA-Y. I started out feeling pretty optimistic about it — I bought some sharpies, notepads and pens from Target, and I ordered a multi-tool online for $36.

When I arrived on set, however, I suddenly realized just how rusty I was. It had been half a year since I set foot on-set, and I’d lost my rhythm. That first hour of the shoot, I meekly shuffled about trying to volunteer my help as I tried to find at least SOMETHING to do. Need a HAND? A grip mentioned he was thirsty. HERE, HAVE A WATER! I BROUGHT SIX. Here-let-me-write-your-name-on-this-or-okay-you-can-take-it. Ah, here comes the 1st AD. She stands by me and watches the grips.

ME: So, you’re the AD?

1ST AD: Yup, that’s me.

ME: Ah. Yeah, First AD, huh?

1ST AD: Yep. *takes swig of water* That is who I am.

I slid on my sunglasses to hide the shame in my eyes. Clearly, I’d been inhaling too much latte steam for too long. I’d forgotten how to jive with people on set, or even what needs I was meant to fill. I wasn’t surprised to be assigned to traffic directing duty before the first hour passed.

For the next few hours, I called out, “CAR COMING THROUGH!” whenever a car turned down the street we filmed on. We were shooting on a residential street, after all, and we couldn’t well close the road for the entire production. We could only temporarily keep it clear during rolling, which usually involved me standing in the middle of the road with an outstretched arm and open hand. Halt, ye who dare trespass. This duty included warding off pedestrians, though no amount of explanation would stop passers-by from trotting right along, gawking directly at the camera the entire time. I even encountered a couple of pleasant, 30ish gentlemen who I very politely asked to not draw attention to themselves during one take.

ME: Good afternoon! Excuse me, but we’re on a shoot on this street, so if you could please pass without looking too much that way…

GUY 1: Wha? Wha? Wha?

GUY 2: Hmm? Huah?

ME: We’re doing a shoot, and —

GUYS 1 & 2 (crossing the street we’re shooting on): Hi! Hello! Hi! *they wave and smile as they walk by* HELLOOOOO HOLLYWOOD! HELLO! OVER HERE! *they whistle and clap, lingering a while* YOOOHOOO!

They turn to me and say something mocking that I can’t quite make out. I smile back and give them a jolly ol’ thumbs up. They resume holding hands and laugh audibly as they walk into their sunset. I send a silent prayer to the karma gods to take away their ability to achieve erection. May they both be incurably flaccid for three, no, six months.

And then we heard the sounds of buzz-saws slicing through wood and mallets smashing bricks. We had a noise problem. My walkie garbled the order into my ear: “Max! Track down that noise and make it stop!”

Copy that.

I jumped on the opportunity to take this adventure. I tracked the sound of a buzz-saw to a man and his boy making a wood picket fence. They very pleasantly agreed to halt the woodwork when I explained the shoot we were working on. Just as soon as I solved this problem, the buzz-saws started again. I gave the man a curious look. Wasn’t him. Turns out the neighbors were doing some construction too.

No problem. I’ll just ask them to stop the same way I asked this guy. I let myself in through a gate, up a driveway, past another gate, and into the backyard of a condemned looking piece of property to see a small team of workers tearing down a small house. I asked them if they could just halt construction for the two-minute shots we were doing — and they reluctantly humored me for the first few shots. But when I told them this start-and-stop would go on til nightfall, they came out with the question.

“We’re hourly workers, you know. We have work to do too. Are you going to compensate us for the hours we lose?”

Uh-oh. This shoot was just a super low-budget short. From what I understood, the production didn’t have the funds to account for these guys. Fortunately, the line producer swooped in when I explained the situation — she was a more experienced talker, and was able to convince them that we just had this one day to shoot, whereas they surely had other days they could continue their labor. Perhaps they could do the lighter, less noisy work to finish out the night. And then I delivered some snacks as a thank-you — sodas, fresh fruit, potato chips — literal bargaining chips, I guess.

Actually, negotiating with both neighbors on their respective construction projects required more finesse and tiptoeing than I detailed here. It was actually the part of the shoot I most enjoyed because I love playing the role of diplomat, ambassador, negotiator, or whatever you’d like to call it. I warmed these people up to the idea of what we were doing, shared tidbits of what sort of story and characters were involved in the project — I even asked them about their projects and told them relatable anecdotes about myself when appropriate. I like building that human factor between people, and that’s probably because I like to remind people that we’re all fellow human beings.

Anyway, I ended the night driving a van back and forth as I shuttled crewmembers to their cars after wrap. That’s my story.

Posted in Adventure, Determination, Intern-ing, New Gig | 1 Comment

The Fail-Proof Plan

Now, this post will have to be short and sweet. I’m sure you’re okay with that, because, goddammit, we all have work to do. So I’m going to rapid-fire the ways I’m accommodating for my lack of car.

1. I’m saving every dime I can and am foregoing the lavish social life I’d like.

2. I used some of those saved dimes to purchase a condenser microphone, a stand and a mixer. Seems like an unnecessary toy in the face of my career, right? Ha! Little did you know that I’m also going to be a voice actor. I’ll do cartoons, commercials, narration — you name it, and I’ll scream my voice all over it. I like to think my resonant, sultry, corny baritone pipes will take me places. So while I experience the crippling lack of car, my career can still be nourished and prosper from inside my own home!

3. I’m taking time to meditate on who I am and what I really want — something a lot more important for the driven soul than is given credit. I’ve often found myself running full speed ahead toward a goal before I had to catch myself and ask whether I really wanted it. I’m convinced that I want to make movies, but I haven’t yet found the type of movie I want to make. Do I want to lighten people’s moods? Or should I follow the red hot activist boiling just under the surface? Maybe I just want to take people to a crazy and absurd world full of whimsical horrors and childhood fears.

4. For that matter, I’m just going to start writing. For that past few years, I’ve let my imagination limit itself to what’s immediately practical. As far as a personal budget goes, that limits me to holding my iPhone camera and recording an experimental short based on a thriller starring the protagonist, a scurrying ant, and the evil Doctor Magnifying Glass. Hilarity ensues when he gets stuck in the vegetarian spider web. No word on how I’ll cast the vegetarian spider. Point is, I need to start writing, big bad budget be damned.

5. I will STILL apply to any and every relatively reputable film crew I can find. Even if it means scouring Craigslist for gigs every couple of hours. Almost all of them require automobiles, of course, but I may just find that one needle I need from the professional haystack.

And there it is. That’s my plan. If I had to be concise about it, I’d say I’m solving my woes with creativity and stubbornness. Not convinced it’s solid? Me neither! If I wanted guaranteed stability, I’d stay with Barnes and Noble and crown myself store manager.

I’ll let you know how it plays out in the meantime.

Ah, and here’s my destination. Time to step off the bus.

Posted in Automobile, Creating, Day Jobbing, Determination, Happiness, Plan, Public Transportation | Leave a comment

Bad News Bus

For everyone moving to L.A. with a car, a warm welcome to you and yours. All you need now is talent, determination, social savvy and some luck. Happy hunting!

For those of you who plan to move here without a car, I have some good news for you! The public transportation is pretty reliable and gives you time to write scripts or blogs like this on your daily commute. Sure, it takes at least three times longer to arrive at your destination than it would with your own automobile — thus defeating the “writing-time” benefit, and…huh.

Actually, besides not having to worry about parking, there’s nothing at all advantageous about taking the bus. This brings me to the really bad news: no matter how reliable your public transportation strategy, nobody wants you if you don’t have a car. Even if you want to hold the lowest spot (PA) on a set — ESPECIALLY if you’re a PA — you must have your own automobile. Without this veritable god-machine, you can’t be of much use to the anyone. Sets are chaotic and require you to be able to hop into your car at a moment’s notice and speed off to get what the set needs. The production needs you to have your own transportation to ensure your punctual arrival. And if you don’t have it, you’re done.

This is a lesson I’m currently learning the hard way as I scour my contacts and the net for opportunities. “MUST have a car”. “NEEDS own transportation”. “DO NOT apply if you are unable to make runs”. And I agree with them. I wouldn’t be able to take a potential crew member seriously if that person couldn’t personally drive to set.

So how do I deal with these circumstances? I recently finished with a two-week shoot, and I want more. I know I was lucky to serve as Boom Operator for that feature in the Mojave — I was able to do it because Ashley was a PA on set and was able to drive me up to location. But I know I can’t wait around for the months it’ll take to save up for a car. This will require a lot of my creativity and resourcefulness, and I’m already hard at work forming a plan. I will not be satisfied with wiling away the months as a barista.

I’ll let you know what that plan is on my next post. Until then, this bus ride is over.

Posted in Automobile, Day Jobbing, Determination, Public Transportation | Leave a comment