Start Making Somethingwith Grant Rodiek, Chel Cortes, and Fred Perotta
New year, new you! If you started 2018 with an idea for a product, business, or creative pursuit, now is the time to start making something. In this episode: A tabletop game designer finds that sometimes, all you need to get going is a pack of index cards and a marker; a skincare blogger tries her hand at DIY and ends up with a cult hit; and a travel backpack company’s first attempt at making something goes comically awry.
- Shux 2017 - 00:05
- Hyperbole Games/Grant Rodiek on Twitter - 00:20
- Farmageddon - 4:31
- Holy Snails Shop - 6:08
- "The 10-Step Korean Skincare Routine" (Into the Gloss) - 6:47
- Treat Yo Self (Parks & Recreation) - 7:04
- Chel Cortes' blog post about Vitamin C - 8:09
- Part 1 of Chel's DIY Vitamin C serum tutorial - 9:05
- /r/AsianBeauty on Reddit - 11:50
- Chel's friend's glowing review of Shark Sauce - 12:06
- Chel's Shark Sauce tutorial - 12:25
- Tortuga Backpacks/Fred Perrotta - 16:23
- Jeremy Michael Cohen (Fred's co-founder) - 16:49
- The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss - 19:00
- The Great Monstrosity - 21:23
- When Sparks Fly (2014) - 27:50
- The Wedding Planner (2001) - 30:50
- The Bechdel Test - 31:05
- Comparing Meghan Markle's two Hallmark movies - 34:39
- Suits - 35:03
The Full Transcript:
Wailin: [00:00:00] Back in October, a group of board game enthusiasts met in Vancouver for the first annual Shut Up & Sit Down convention. Also known as SHUX.
Grant: [00:00:08] They invited me up as a guest and basically wanted me to run an event, and one that I’d sort of done in a smaller form before that that I thought would be really entertaining is something that I call design with your hair on fire.
[00:00:19] Hello, my name is Grant Rodiek. I am a video game producer and in my spare time, I am a tabletop board game designer.
Wailin: [00:00:27] At this event that Grant organized at the convention, he took the 80 or so people there and split them into groups of around 10 people each.
Grant: [00:00:34] I gave them a stack of cards that had different prompts on them. One card might say chicken and then the other card might say empire or barbarian bakery. Just weird mixes of nouns of adjectives and things like that, and basically groups had to pick two prompts to mix together to design their game theme. And I gave them a bag of junk that I put together, and that bag might have cubes of different assortments and distributions. So you might get 10 green cubes and three red cubes. You might get a deck of cards. You might get index cards. You might get dice, you might get blank dice with dry erase marks on them so you could customize and write on them. I gave groups string or rope. Blocks. Just all sorts of random stuff from my garage that I’d been collecting. I gave one group seashells. And then they had 60 minutes to make a game. Every group, almost, came up with something really good, and two or three groups came up with really good ideas. One of the groups that used the string, their game was called Volcano Garden, and they made a mechanism where they had red string which was a lava flow, and you would redirect the path of the string to try to fertilize the ground that you could then plant orchids. Or, the lava flow might go over somebody else’s flowers and ruin them. It had this beautiful table presence because it was using the string.
[00:01:51] It was very cool to see such great ideas come out of only an hour of sort of silly stupidity.
[00:01:56] Broken By Design by Clip Art plays.
Wailin: [00:01:56] Hello, and welcome to Rework, a podcast by Basecamp about the better way to work and run your business. I’m Wailin Wong.
Shaun: [00:02:03] And I’m Shaun Hildner. Happy New Year, Wailin.
Wailin: [00:02:07] Happy 2018!
Shaun: [00:02:07] Happy 2018, to you, and happy 2018 to our listeners. So, are there any big projects you’re going to work on this year.
Wailin: [00:02:15] I thought maybe I would learn how to sew.
Shaun: [00:02:16] Why’s that?
Wailin: [00:02:17] I thought it would be really fun to make a super elaborate costume for my kid for Halloween and then we would be the envy of all of suburbia.
Shaun: [00:02:26] I mean, this is the time of year when people are feeling really motivated to do something new or recommit to a dream deferred, and maybe that dream involves finally pursuing that business idea they’ve been thinking about.
Wailin: [00:02:37] We want to give you some inspiration to do just that. A little kick in the pants to say, start making something, because you can’t improve a product or service that doesn’t exist, and you won’t know if your idea’s any good until you’ve put something out in the world for people to use.
Shaun: [00:02:51] Today, we have three stories about people who started making something. We’ll hear more from Grant Rodiek, who designs tabletop games as a side project.
Wailin: [00:02:59] We talked to a woman who started out as a blogger and DIYer and developed a cult skin-care product in her kitchen.
Shaun: [00:03:06] And, we’ll bring you a story about what happens when you finally make something and it’s kind of a disaster.
Grant: [00:03:25] How I got started in tabletop games is that I work for a large corporation, I make big multi-million dollar video games that take anywhere from six months to five years. And, because it’s so expensive and there’s so many people involved and we have to represent stockholders, ultimately, I’m working for my company. That’s completely fine, that’s reasonable, but when you’re in a creative industry, at some point you find that, if you’re a creative person that you want to make something that’s yours, and you want to make something that you can control. And a lot of people, you know, write blogs, or become photographers and for me, I really wanted to design games. With video games, the burden of that is quite extensive. You have to learn to code, and animate, do all sorts of things and I realized I could do tabletop games with basically an index card, some pencils, and suddenly, I could make any game I wanted. You can write over a poker deck and have your own game.
[00:04:18] Technically my first game was poster-board and index cards and it was a big complex one, but after a month or two of tinkering with that and realizing that it was too complex and quite terrible, I actually scaled it back down to my first published game, Farmageddon, which I still have. And it is a series of pink and green index cards cut in half with my handwriting scribbled on them. Wailin: [00:04:41] With tabletop games, since you can just do it with index cards, there seems like there’s a certain kind of tactile pleasure, or tactile response you get from it. An immediacy you might not get when you’re designing video games. Grant: [00:04:55] I think that’s not only a benefit of tabletop game design, but I think that’s a big benefit of tabletop games to begin with. You know, they’re a truly social experience where you’re sitting around a table. You have that tactile satisfaction where you’re holding cards or rolling dice or placing chips. You know, even playing checkers is satisfying to smack them down and you jump over somebody else’s pieces.
[00:05:17] Because it’s so simple and fast, if I’m playing a game and it’s terrible or something’s off, or even if one of my friends, we’re testing and they ask a question. I can immediately say, uh, just do that instead. And in a couple seconds, I can correct it. Whereas if it was a video game, it might take months to fix a bug. It might take—if we identify a problem in a focus test or our own play test, we might file the bug and then it could take months before we can see the change and even that change may not work.
[00:05:41] Broken By Design by Clip Art plays.
Wailin: [00:05:44] Grant isn’t at a point where he feels like tabletop games can be a full-time thing, or if he even wants to do it as his job. Our next interview is with someone who initially thought the same thing about her side-project, but changed her mind after seeing the demand for what she was making.
Chel: [00:06:07] My name is Chel. I am from Holy Snails, which originally started as a blog. It is now an online shop selling skincare products that I make myself. My introduction to skincare was actually a very expensive and impulsive decision. I had just had my kid, and my birthday came around and I had done nothing for myself. I kind of just was like a zombie who was just here to take care of this tiny human being.
[00:06:41] My birthday came around just at the same time I found this article. I think it was on Allure or something. And it was like the ten-step Korean Beauty Skincare Routine, whatever whatever. And it just seemed really neat. It’s not like I wanted to attain perfect, flawless, milky smooth skin or anything like that. That wasn’t really even a goal. It was just like, hey, this sounds really interesting and hey, this is like a huge treat yourself thing.
[00:07:07] So, I actually took that thing as gospel, went on this one website and bought every single step of the routine, which was extremely expensive, actually. My skin improved dramatically. Like, I wish I had before and after pictures. So, I was like, holy crap, there’s something about this. So, I started trying to find more information about it. Specifically like skincare ingredients. What certain ingredients are good for, which ones are research backed, and it just kind of stemmed from there.
Wailin: [00:07:36] When in the process did it occur to you that there was a skincare product that you wanted that you weren’t quite finding in that particular combination of ingredients?
Chel: [00:07:46] I think it actually started when I learned about vitamin C. There’s this product called the OST C20 that’s a vitamin C that is actually very affordable. It’s like $15-$25-ish, depending on where you get it. And I was looking at the ingredients to review on my blog, and it seemed to be missing some basic stuff that helps with vitamin C.
Wailin: [00:08:11] Here’s a quick rundown of what Chel learned doing research for her skincare blog. Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is supposed to reduce inflammation and even out skin tone. And there are substances that help stabilize vitamin C and make it more effective. Specifically, vitamin E, and something called ferulic acid. Chel couldn’t find these things in the vitamin C product she was writing about for her blog. When she looked into it she found that another company had a patent on that vitamin C ingredient combination. And one fluid ounce of their product cost $165.
Chel: [00:08:47] But, L-ascorbic acid is extremely cheap. Vitamin E is pretty cheap and ferulic acid, which is the other ingredient to help with it is also fairly cheap. And you could just buy it and make it yourself, and there’s a whole community of DIYers who make their own skincare.
Wailin: [00:09:08] Chel was working full time as a lab technician and had studied biology and chemistry in college. So, she was already comfortable with the science. She looked up some recipes on line and made her own vitamin C product.
[00:09:21] Were you nervous about testing it? How did you approach testing your own product, the first thing that you made?
Chel: [00:09:26] Okay, so one thing about vitamin C, specifically, a vitamin C serum for most efficiency, it needs to be between 2.5 and 3.5 pH. Which is extremely acidic.
Wailin: [00:09:39] Shout-out to Mr. Grocer of the Glenbard South High School science department for teaching me about the pH scale. You remember this, right? It measures how acidic or basic something is on a scale from 0 to 14. Stomach acid is 1, the range that Chel’s talking about 2.5-3.5 is Coke or grapefruit juice.
Chel: [00:09:58] That’s scary enough, because you’re making it at home. You’re using like, initially, like, way back in the day, I was using like little test strip papers which shows you, like a solid 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 kind of thing, but you still doubt yourself. Because you’re just like, holy crap, this is a very potentially damaging product or something. And I just kind of went through a basic patch test. So, I actually, like, I went and put it—a little bit on my wrist and I waited a little bit. And nothing happened, so I smeared it all over my wrist. I actually emptied a quarter of the first bottle I made all over my wrist just to see what would happen, and then I put it on my neck area. And then I just put it on a small quadrant of my face, first, and I left it there for like a day just to see if it would turn red or I would molt, or go screaming in pain, or something like that.
[00:10:50] After like the first day, I was like, okay, well, clearly, I’m not—my skin’s not going to fall off. Let’s just YOLO it. And I put it all over my face. And I was like, holy crap, this works amazingly. And then I just, I messaged my friends. I was like, hey, can I send y’all some of this. You need to see this.
Wailin: [00:11:07] And what was their reaction like?
Chel: [00:11:10] They loved it. Obviously, this was like, initial effort. It was just using recipes I found and I didn’t really know what I was doing, and that’s fully honest right there. I don’t really know what I was doing because I didn’t know any of these ingredients really. I just knew technically this could combine with this, and here is this recipe. These people have used it, it’s like, dozens and dozens and dozens of people can vouch for this. But like, for example, it didn’t feel good. It was like, greasy.
[00:11:35] So, I was like, okay, well, how do we make this not feel greasy but still have everything that it needs in it. So, I would tweak it a little bit, tweak it a little bit, send it out, tweak it a little bit, send it out.
Wailin: [00:11:44] Chel was friends with other skincare bloggers and part of a community on the website Reddit devoted to the Korean beauty routine and products coming out of Asian countries. Chel and one of her fellow bloggers started talking about developing a serum with niacinamide, which is a form of vitamin B3 that helps reduce skin discoloration. Chel got to work, sent a sample to her friend and her friend blogged about how much she liked it. Word started to spread online about this new serum which Chel named Shark Sauce, a play on her friend’s Reddit username.
Chel: [00:12:16] I think the very next morning, somebody on the subreddit had actually started a thread going, hey, we want some. I was like, okay, here’s the recipe you guys. I took pictures, and everything. Here’s how I made it. Here’s how you can make it yourself, and I linked to the supplier I used. I linked to other tutorials that have other recipes as well and everything like that. And they’re just like, no no no no no. We don’t understand, we don’t want to make this. We wanna buy it. And I was like, um, I can’t really sell this guys, I’m not a business. I just run a blog. And, no, there was a lot of people, so I was just like, okay, how about, I can accept maybe, like, a dozen people and I’ll make it for y’all. I ended up making a Facebook group and I would just accept like a limited amount of people for each batch that I did because I was working full time at the time. And the form would sell out. The form that I had opened for the batch thing would close out in like seconds. There were people on the other side of the world who would stay up until like 3 am for the form to open up. Or people who pulled over on the side of the road while they were driving.
Wailin: [00:13:26] Oh my gosh, I mean, what did that feel like on your end?
Chel: [00:13:31] Horrifying! I was just sitting here trying to think of what the heck I could do. And, I think that went on for like, three months, maybe? Maybe a little bit more and it got to the point where it was just like, look. People are going to be upset if I can’t change this. People have been waiting like, weeks now, and they’ve been unable to be able to get in. So, I started a shop. I was just like. Just so y’all know, this is not a Shop shop, this is just so we have a more streamlined way of doing this. I was the biggest anti- for starting this business. Even my husband was like, how about we try it. Like, no, you don’t understand, okay. We make this here in our house. We can’t go selling this to people.
[00:14:19] I assumed that it would never be a huge, huge huge thing. I just thought we would make decent enough money that with my husband working full time we could make do. So, I quit my job, and I tried to set it up so it was a more like, legit setup where we actually moved into a spare bedroom. We gutted the whole thing and made it like nice and clean and proper as opposed to a place where I had my bananas right next to my station.
[00:14:51] We tried to improve that every step that we can. We tried to get better equipment. We tried to refine protocols. We tried to make nice, clean detailed logs of everything. We tried to improve the actual products. We might not be putting out 50 new products, but we’re improving every step of the way that we currently do have.
Wailin: [00:15:12] Today, Chel makes a few varieties of Shark Sauce plus some other products like a facial oil, and this whole skincare thing, which started out as a treat-yourself moment and then became a make-it-yourself moment is a real family business.
Chel: [00:15:24] We actually have been so fortunate to have it so my husband could quit his job and come work for me full time. It’s thrilling and it’s terrifying, but it’s definitely amazing.
[00:15:38] Broken By Design by Clip Art plays.
Shaun: [00:15:41] Did I ever tell you I used to do the exact same thing as Chel?
Wailin: [00:15:43] Was this during your infamous handlebar mustache phase?
Shaun: [00:15:47] Yeah, I used to make men’s grooming products. Mustache wax and aftershave and lip balms and things. It was a lot of fun. But it’s one thing to be like myself and Chel making something in our own home. But for a lot of makers of physical goods, starting to make something look more like finding a manufacturer, and there can be some challenges.
Wailin: [00:16:08] And sometimes you might even question if it’s worth it. We’ll get into that with our next interview.
Fred: [00:16:21] Hi, I’m Fred Perrota, I’m the co-founder and CEO of Tortuga.
Wailin: [00:16:25] Can you talk about what the impetus for starting the company was, because you didn’t come from a physical products or a travel company. You were working at Google, right?
Fred: [00:16:34] Right. The impetus was that I didn’t want to be working at Google anymore. Yeah, it was basically looking for something to do to kind of strike out on my own and my co-founder Jeremy was in kind of a similar boat and was kind of fishing around and ends up going on a trip. We did a two week backpacking trip in Europe. This was in summer of 2009, so kind of the depths of the recession. We got some very cheap plane tickets. Doing the typical backpacker thing and had the typical backpacker bags and kind of started to see the shortcomings with those and we had a lot of free time on very long train rides, so that ended up being one of the points of conversation we kept coming back to. Of, what was wrong with our bags and how we thought we knew better or could make something better.
Wailin: [00:17:22] So, what were the shortcomings with the travel bags or the backpacks that you were using?
Fred: [00:17:27] The ones most people use for your cliché 20-something backpacker staying in hostels. Those are really hiking bags. Those are kind of the tall, skinny cylindrical-shaped ones. They load from the top, which is one of the bigger problems. So, if you are staying in a hostel like we were and you need something in the middle of your bag, at the bottom of your bag, you have to dump the whole thing out. Get what you need, then repack the whole thing. And, I had a big 16-liter bag, which isn’t even that huge for that category, but it’s pretty big to be lugging around and also a lot of junk to be dumping out when you’re fishing around for something. So, I kind of figured that that was not very convenient.
[00:18:06] You have a suitcase, which is way more organized and easier to get to everything, is also kind of unideal when you’re dragging it all around the city, or you’re in Europe like we were and the sidewalks are not very smooth or made for dragging a suitcase with plastic wheels everywhere.
Wailin: [00:18:21] So, then after you and Jeremy got back from Europe, how soon did you start talking and planning in earnest.
Fred: [00:18:30] I mean, we were planning even during the trip, but when we got back, I kind of wanted to keep that momentum going. It’s easy to be talking about something on the trip, and then you come back to your regular life and you just kind of forget about it and move on. So, the first thing I did when we got back, because this is one of the few things I knew how to do that ended up being part of this list was buy a domain name. So, that was just like a tiny little gesture, but it felt at least like, okay, I did something. We were around the time using the book The 4-Hour Workweek as kind of our blueprint because it does talk a little bit about creating new products so we felt like we had a little bit of a blueprint to follow, and then you start to find your own path. But at least we had that to just give us a little bit of confidence right from the beginning that we had something to follow and didn’t have to make everything up from scratch.
Wailin: [00:19:18] And then once they had the idea, it was on to actually making the thing.
Fred: [00:19:24] It took us between having this idea for this trip we were just talking about and actually selling something, it took us about two years to get from one point to the next. And, most of that was in figuring how to do the manufacturing piece. We talked to a designer. We eventually got some designs and that was all within a few months, so really it was a year and a half or something like that. Just figuring out, okay, we have a drawing of what we want. Now, how do we actually make it in real life. And that was a long arduous process. That’s where we end up kind of having to go off the book from the 4-Hour Workweek, but we started out in China because that’s what everyone told us to do and we didn’t really know anyone there. We didn’t speak the language. We were very much flying blind.
[00:20:16] We sent them stuff and are finally waiting for the first sample, and this is probably a year, total, into the process. And after having other people waste our time, we’ll send you something next week and then never getting anything. So finally we had a factory that seemed to actually be making a sample. And we were super invested at this point. It’s a year in and so we finally get an email with the sample’s done. And they can send it to us and they’ve attached some pictures.
Wailin: [00:20:46] So then, you get this email. Were you—did you see it pop into your inbox and were you so excited to open it up because you knew the photo would be attached?
Fred: [00:20:54] Yeah, we—we had spent a year and finally had a thing. I mean, it wasn’t in the mail at my apartment or anything yet. But we’re going to see pictures of the actual bag. It existed somewhere in real life. Then I opened it up and looked at the picture and it was just a gut punch. We get this picture which is funny to laugh about in retrospect, but we now call it the great monstrosity.
Wailin: [00:21:18] So, since this is audio, we’re going to have to do a little work to describe what the great monstrosity looks like, and I’ll post a picture in the show notes. But, can you maybe… are you able to describe what it looks like?
Fred: [00:21:32] Well, I would say that it overwhelms the person wearing it is the simplest way to put it. Yeah, there’s certainly miscommunication in the size or the woman wearing it in the picture is incredibly short. We never got to the bottom of it. We actually didn’t really continue with that factory after that. But yeah, it seems to be—I’m about 6”1’, I think I could have fit inside that bag just from the picture.
Wailin: [00:22:02] And it looks like the hiking backpack that you were describing earlier, right? What you didn’t want. It looks to be very long. I can’t tell how it loads, but it certainly looks like a very long stuff-sack that you carry on your back.
Fred: [00:22:16] Yeah, it’s definitely the same very long sort of cylindrical shape. So, something got lost in the measurements and it’s pretty common with the first sample for it to have a lot of major flaws and maybe to not be usable. But for the—even just the basic dimensions to be wrong was not a good starting point. It was just so far off where we wanted to be that I had no idea how to go from what I saw in that picture to where we actually wanted to be. And it just felt like, okay, this was such a dumb idea, this is a stupid project. We can’t do this. We should just quit now is what it is. Those moments when you take a very hard look in the mirror. So, after the great monstrosity and that disaster, we kind of freaked out about trying to do things in Asia and came back to the States and ended up finding a factory that we worked with. They were problematic for other reasons, but we were able to get some product made and we basically reached this point where we’re still tweaking the design, and trying to change things. It wasn’t totally where we wanted but we hit a point where either we had to go into production or we were going to run out of the money that we had left. So, it was basically make an imperfect thing or keep trying to perfect it and eventually never make anything.
[00:23:33] So, we did a very tiny run. Just a hundred bags, basically deciding at that point that it was better to have something out there and try to be able to sell it and see if this is anything than to keep fiddling endlessly with it. And now that I’ve learned about minimum viable products, I kind of consider that ours. But, by accident.
Wailin: [00:23:51] What were the items that were still on your wishlist that didn’t make it into that bag?
Fred: [00:23:55] The biggest thing for me, from a design perspective, on that one is that the logo is kind of garishly huge. The bag was also very rectangular and boxy, but I think that was more easily overcome than the giant logo which was not the size that we specified, but again, going back to, that was what we had and either we could do another round of sampling, waste two weeks, maybe a month because the factory was not on top of things time-wise or just put it out there and live with it and fix it in the next round.
Wailin: [00:24:29] Got it. So then, you consider that—that’s version one and you sold out of those hundred bags?
Fred: [00:24:37] Yeah. It took us a year and a half or so. But people actually did buy them. It helped that we got a couple sales right off the back when we launched. We got a little bit of coverage and just shipping it to friends and family, and all that sort of thing. And then it was pretty slow, generally. A lot of months we’d sell like two or three bags, and every time we’d get a little alert that we sold one, it was exciting but honestly two or three sales a month isn’t really a sustainable business, so, we had to, even from that point kind of decide. Well, there’s a little bit of signal here, but clearly we haven’t figured things out. But the people who did buy bags, we got really good reviews. People liked them. We basically had hypothesis that we were onto something in terms of the way the company was designed. The points of the bag, the main features that we had. So we felt that there was something there even if we hadn’t totally figured it out yet. And we felt like the—so we could make the right changes to design that we had in mind. Then, we’d be able to get to where we wanted to be and turn this idea and product into an actual company.
[00:25:42] Broken By Design by Clip Art plays.
Wailin: [00:25:44] Fred and his co-founder Jeremy instincts turned out to be correct. Today, Tortuga Backpacks product line includes three different travel backpacks, a couple of duffle bags, and accessories like packing cubes.
Shaun: [00:25:58] Rework is produced by Wailin Wong and me, Shaun Hildner. Our theme music is Broken By Design by Clip Art.
Wailin: [00:26:05] If you want to check out the websites for the people we interviewed in this episode, you can find Grant Rodiak at hyperbolegames.com. You can find Chel at holysnailsshop.com and you can find Tortuga at tortugabackpacks.com and I will put links to all of these in the show notes.
Shaun: [00:26:26] If you haven’t already, we’d really appreciate if you would rate and review us on Apple Podcasts or Google Play music or wherever you decide to get and rate and review podcasts. It really helps new listeners find us, and we’re always looking for new listeners.
[00:26:42] We have an upcoming episode all about how meetings are toxic so if you have any stories about awful meetings you’ve had or a way that you’ve managed to avoid meetings, we’d love to hear any of your stories about meetings. Email us at email@example.com. Or you can give us a call and leave a voicemail (708) 628-7850.
[00:27:38] Wailin, our listeners have been waiting a long time now for your review of 2014’s When Sparks Fly starring Meghan Sparkle Markle.
Wailin: [00:27:52] Meghan Sparkle Markle.
Shaun: [00:27:52] Did you watch it?
Wailin: [00:27:53] I did watch it. It is not a good movie and yet, I have no regrets. I had a good time watching it.
Shaun: [00:27:59] Okay. Quick plot summary.
Wailin: [00:28:01] Okay, my plot summary will contain a couple corrections of things I said the last time we discussed this.
Shaun: [00:28:09] Oh, spoiler warning.
Wailin: [00:28:12] Okay, here goes. Meghan Markle plays a Chicago Newspaper reporter named Amy Peterson. She gets sent—
Shaun: [00:28:22] Who’s sort of a Wailin Wong surrogate.
Wailin: [00:28:24] Oh, absolutely. Yeah. Except that she has seemingly no friends in Chicago. And is so busy that she doesn’t have time to cook and keeps shoes in her oven like Carrie Bradshaw. And these things don’t really track with my life in Chicago. And, she is stuck in a bit of a professional rut and she is also not super happy with her life in Chicago. She’s dating this guy named Phil who is so obnoxious that when he takes her to a fancy French restaurant, he talks to the waiters in French. Which almost made me throw something at the TV.
Shaun: [00:29:01] Oh, garçon!
Wailin: [00:29:03] Yeah, he said garçon, and he’d be like, “Oh! Merci beaucoup!” And I was like, you’re in Chicago. You don’t have to address the waiter in French! Anyway, so she’s in a professional rut. She gets sent to her hometown to do an article, a first person narrative about her family’s fireworks business. So, her family owns a business called something like Peterson’s Pyrotechnics and they put on the town’s big 4th of July display every year. And, when she goes home, she also learns that her best friend is newly engaged to her former boyfriend. This is someone that she was dating for a long time. He was going to propose to her on the 4th of July seven years ago, or whatever. But she announced to him that evening that she was taking a new job in Chicago. Moving to the big city.
Shaun: [00:29:54] Her best friend and former boyfriend are both townies?
Wailin: [00:29:56] They’re both townies. They’ve stayed in the town. Her boyfriend has gone on to become what appears to be a fairly successful attorney of some kind. I have no idea what the best friend does but her name is Sammie. And Sammie, for reasons that are not clear to me, is obsessed with July 4th, and so she’s having a wedding on July 4th, and everything is spangled down to her wedding dress, and like the bowties for the groomsmen.
Shaun: [00:30:22] Oh, no, I get it.
Wailin: [00:30:24] Everything is red, white, and blue. And as Meghan Markle, Amy, starts helping her friend plan for her wedding, also seemingly to the exclusion of all other activities, including working on her story which is what she was sent home to do. She falls back in love with her old flame, who then also develops feelings for her again, and then—
Shaun: [00:30:47] Like some sort of wedding planning starring… Jennifer Lopez?
Wailin: [00:30:51] Jennifer Lopez and Matthew McConaughey. Okay, so, here’s what’s interesting about When Sparks Fly.
Shaun: [00:30:57] Tell me. What…
Wailin: [00:31:00] Okay, listen.
Shaun: [00:31:00] Give me the most interesting, because I know there’s going to be a ton of interest here.
Wailin: [00:31:05] It passes the Bechdel test, which I wasn’t expecting.
Shaun: [00:31:07] Okay, what was this situation.
Wailin: [00:31:11] Well, Amy is walking through town and she runs into an old friend of hers who is a local TV reporter. And so, they have a conversation about their careers and how Amy left and how she’s enjoying Chicago. And then the woman who’s a TV reporter says something like, oh, you’re doing better than I am, see, I’m still here in town. And then they’re like, see you later.
Shaun: [00:31:33] No like, why are you in town?
Wailin: [00:31:35] There might be a brief discussion but she doesn’t mention Hank, you know what I mean?
Shaun: [00:31:37] I love it, yeah yeah.
Wailin: [00:31:39] Yeah, so it passes the Bechdel test.
Shaun: [00:31:40] Amazing.
Wailin: [00:31:41] Which is amazing. The other thing is that this fictional small town of Lakeside, Washington is incredibly diverse. There is just a lot of people of color like in the background, in the engagement party scene, just walking around town. The town of Lakeside, Washington is more diverse than the New York City you see in Sex in the City or Girls.
Shaun: [00:32:06] I’m definitely not surprised by that.
Wailin: [00:32:07] In this tiny town of Lakeside, Washington.
Wailin: [00:32:09] So, those are the most interesting things about When Sparks Fly.
Shaun: [00:32:14] So, does she get the boy? What—does she plan the wedding? Does Hank come around?
Wailin: [00:32:20] Yeah…
Shaun: [00:32:21] Does she ruin her best friend’s life and 4th of July—
Wailin: [00:32:24] Yeah!
Shaun: [00:32:24] —for everyone, forever.
Wailin: [00:32:25] I mean, this is the thing that makes me really irritated about the entire genre of romantic comedies. Not just the Hallmark, made for TV variety, but even your big budget romantic comedy is that they all are basically about people leaving an enormous trail of destruction in their wake as they pursue their own personal happiness. Consequences of what they do are just like not discussed. Everyone’s always like, rallying around their choices, like really rooting for them, and I don’t understand it at all.
Shaun: [00:33:01] The protagonist will always get what they want, no matter who gets in the way.
Wailin: [00:33:04] Yeah! And everyone is always doing things where if you saw your friend IRL doing these things, you would be like, you are a monster and you can’t be doing these things. Here’s what really, I was like, EUAGHH, and this is a definite spoiler alert. So, the wedding itself gets called off, right? And then, on the 4th of July, which, bear in mind was supposed to be Hank and Sammie’s wedding. Hank decides to propose to Amy. So, he’s just broken off his engagement because he fell back in love with his old girlfriend, and he decides—
Shaun: [00:33:44] Did Sammie give him the ring back? Do you think he proposed with the ring—
Wailin: [00:33:49] —the same—
Shaun: [00:33:49] —that Sammie threw in his face after he called off the wedding?
Wailin: [00:33:52] Probably, because everyone acts like a sociopath around here. Meghan Markle literally says something to him, like, you know, I think 4th of July is a really great day to propose. And I was like, you can’t say that! You just broke up his engagement.
Shaun: [00:34:11] It’s a good day to propose, it’s a good day to blow shit up, it’s a good day to break off weddings. Hey, man, 4th of July is good for everything. My name is Hank, what’s up?
Wailin: [00:34:18] Anyway, so that’s my review of When Sparks Fly. I read this thing on the internet that compared When Sparks Fly to her other—
Shaun: [00:34:27] Citizen Kane.
Wailin: [00:34:27] —yeah, to Citizen Kane. No, to her other, Meghan Markle’s other Hallmark movie, which is called Dater’s Handbook, and this thing on the internet said that When Sparks Fly is the better of the two films. And I was like, whoa. I don’t think I need to watch Dater’s Handbook, then.
Shaun: [00:34:44] Oh, I was going to ask. You haven’t seen it?
Wailin: [00:34:46] I haven’t seen it, and I don’t think I will because if I’ve already seen the better of the two, I feel like, I’m good. I feel like my time would be better spent, in terms of my Meghan Markle mental real estate and time, it would be better spent watching Suits.
Shaun: [00:35:05] Oh, so, final question: how was Ms. Markle in the role?
Wailin: [00:35:10] Her acting is better than what the writing calls for, and I haven’t seen a lot of Hallmark movies, but I have seen a decent amount of made-for-TV movies, and I feel like the acting style is to generally over-emote, and over-act. Like, you’re signaling a lot to the audience. Exactly what you’re feeling in every scene and what the audience is supposed to be feeling. And Meghan Markle actually has a more natural style, I would say, which I really enjoyed. But it almost seems out of place in a movie like this.
Shaun: [00:35:40] Sure.
Wailin: [00:35:40] Where everyone’s supposed to be like, madly over-acting.
Shaun: [00:35:45] Gotcha.
Wailin: [00:35:45] Yeah.
Shaun: [00:35:47] Well, thank you.
Wailin: [00:35:47] You’re welcome.
Shaun: [00:35:48] Listeners, please tune in to our next series, called Suit Up, an episode-by-episode review of Suits, starring Meghan Markle…