River Manor: Behind the Series!

RiverManorPoster1

My friends and I created a season of television for the internet. I guess you could call that a web series. Or a miniseries. You can call it whatever you want. I wrote 6 intertwining stories and then we filmed them and now we’re showing them to the world to see if the world hates them. That’s the gist.

Here is where I’m going to post all of them and then write about each one along with adding behind the scenes photos and videos, mostly for my own enjoyment, so if you happen to take something positive away from this or are entertained in any way, that’s all gravy to me. Okay cool!

Oh also, S1E1 means Season 1 Episode 1. We’re all learning!

S1E1: “The Deli Caper”

I’m not good at writing pilots or introducing characters. I don’t like spoon feeding exposition and that is what a pilot wants to be most of the time. I had to be reminded the whole time we were filming this to make sure and say everyone’s names so the audience knows what to call us. Even that makes me uncomfortable. I don’t like insulting an audience’s intelligence, although in retrospect I should have bowed to that whim a bit more than I did.

I decided as I was writing the season that I was just gonna throw the audience into a whirlwind and see how they like it. Which is what this pilot ended up being. Also, the pilot sets up a big theme for the series which I call “filling the shot.” I wanted most shots to have 2 or more things happening in them at once. I wanted the audience to have to watch the episode a few times to catch everything. One of my favorite movies is Ocean’s 11 – I’ve watched it around 25 times and I still catch new things to this day. It gets me going, so I assumed it would get other people going as well. If you’ve already watched this, watch it again and see what new things you find. In fact, that applies to all of these episodes. Watch them all about 10 times if possible.

Oh, and the shot of us running across the backyard and Marc getting pummeled? Jo really hit him. Hard. Don’t be fooled by her tiny stature. She hits like a monster and we did that 6 times. Marc was sore for a week. It was hilarious.

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S1E2: “Everyone is Poisoned”

This is the first episode we shot which was purposeful. I wanted our first go at making this series to only have the 4 main characters in it so that we could build some semblance of chemistry and then carry that over to other episodes where there are more characters with screen time. This is also the day we realized GBaby’s character is wonderful in his simplicity which would be a constant theme throughout the season.

I go back and forth between what episodes are my favorites and this one always seems to pop up in my mind. I love Steph’s makeup, I love the Frasier scene & the good cop bad cop with Marc and Elliot, I love the dubstep Frasier at the end and how GBaby keeps eating the poisoned food the entire time. In fact go back and watch this episode and just watch GBaby. You’re welcome.

Marc and I acted out the good cop bad cop scene most nights for 4 months prior to shooting this. In fact that is the way most of this series was fleshed out. Marc and I sitting on our porch and acting the entire episode ourselves. We rewrote the entirety of episode 4 that way, but more on that later. Also, as a last note, this is the episode we had Alex Meeske on set for and you can tell if you know him that he was there. That warbler line G says? That was his. Fun facts!

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S1E3: “Elliot Finally Shuts the Fuck Up”

This episode was to do 2 things. First off I wanted to show that Elliot’s character is basically the house scapegoat and secondly I wanted to introduce every character the audience hadn’t met yet.

At Elliot’s forced wedding we meet his insufferable brother Peter played by one of our Executive Producers, Johnrobert Vergati. You also get to check up on our local cockneyed talking delusion ridden Milk Toast played by our EP/DP Dylan after meeting Milk in episode 1 along with the ever quiet and mysterious Olive Druthers played by Stephanie Vergati who has a nice lil’ monologue in this episode. Then we add Olive’s best friend Lola Montez played by Allie Rivera, one of the funniest humans I know, throw in some Robinson Mahler, who brings a sort of grounded delusion you don’t really get anywhere else in the series played masterfully by Justin Hagen and then Jo is back, no longer tied up and in straight up in the dating game with Marc who is eye banging her most of this episode. Oh, and I can’t forget Abigail playing Elliot’s new Russian mail order bride, Ulyana Larinov!

This is a good time to talk about how we shot these scenes. There was no script. There was a detailed outline – sometimes I would give people lines to say, sometimes I didn’t. That means we built every new scene from scratch as we filmed it, did an average of 6 takes per shot with two cameras running, and usually used the last take.

We talked a whole lot prior to shooting about these characters with every actor who I chose specifically for their ability to make funny shit up on the spot. Some of the best parts of this series are things I didn’t write, and that’s my favorite. I bring this up soon after bringing up Abby’s Uly because she was so super worried she wouldn’t nail the Russian accent that she had me write every word of hers out. She then came in and murdered it anyway at which point I started making her say more things she hadn’t practiced, much to her dismay and much to my delight. And hopefully yours as well.

Also, it was raining that day. All of these shoots were one day long and that day the wedding was supposed to be out in the back yard but it was raining. Turned out to be a blessing in disguise because the garage looks like the absolute worst place to have a wedding, which Lola points out and to me makes it that much neater.

Here’s a behind the scenes video of JR hitting Elliot in the balls a bunch of times:

S1E4: “In Stapp We Trust”

Up until a few weeks before shooting began in the Summer of 2015 this episode was something completely different. Originally this episode was going to be called “Bed and Breakfast” of which the general gist was going to be that the boys opened up a B&B a la those food carts people open sometimes where their main selling point is being mean to their customers.

The boys plan goes awry once the first two people trying out the B&B is Lola and Olive and Lola basically takes over the entire day as GBaby and Marc escape by swimming away down the river while Ryan yells at them to come back and follow through on an idea for once instead of running away. In response, G and Marc tell him to shut up and keep swimming.

In all reality I wanted an episode that explained how good of friends Lola and Olive were and that idea was my chosen vehicle. But from idea to execution it felt weird. It just wasn’t written well and I didn’t like it which is something I made clear to Marc one night after coming home from the bar. And it was in that moment Marc pitched that he start a cult, and then I pitched that it be about Scott Stapp, and then we both improv’d the entire episode in the hallway in about 15 minutes. Then, still a little drunk, I opened up my laptop and wrote the episode, intertwining the Olive and Lola story line into the Stapp story line. Marc gets a writing credit on this one and deservedly so but he also brings a gravitas in this episode that was absolutely amazing to watch from the other side of the camera. He hit his stride acting wise as a cult leader, nonetheless. I don’t know if it’s the best one, but it’s the one we all laughed the most on set and that’s for damn sure.

S1E5: “Step Up Your Hat Game, Fool”

Most of the people around me thought this episode would suck from the beginning and I can see why. This is the most insular idea I chose to do. It’s based on inside joke after inside joke that I had the task of making into outside jokes as well. Step Up Your Hat Game, Fool acts in dual capacities. One is as the 5th episode of the first season of River Manor and secondly it is basically a time capsule for my late 20s. And from the outside looking in that looked like, to everyone else around me on the project, like not that much fun.

Until you see Marc and I screaming at a camera, or G fighting a plant, or Elliot dumping Sunny D on himself – Until you hear the soundtrack that JR put together – until you see that this episode is by all accounts a concerto of dialogue that ebbs and flows with a rampaging sense of urgency – until you see all of those things live I can very much understand how you could think it would suck.

Thankfully I love this episode and how weird it is. AND I HOPE YOU DO TOO sorry that was pushy have a nice day LIKE IT LIKE IT NOW.

S1E6: “Olive’s Low Key Get Together”

Season finales are important to me. When I was being a child I didn’t read enough, and it’s not because I didn’t enjoy reading. It was because Television was so god damn entertaining.

As I started to figure out what stories were and the kinds of them that I liked, I realized that one of my favorite parts of a Television series is that it’s stretched out. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end – and all of them matter. With a movie you can skip the middle sometimes and still be just fine in the last 20 minutes. Television doesn’t allow for that. There are small details everywhere, there are character developments that happen in mere moments, and there is an ongoing decay that you as the audience member are tasked to observe and understand. The season finale is the ultimate payoff for all of it.

River Manor is not exactly like television, though. Character arcs are sporadic, plot details are heavy handed, and each episode can choose to be closed into itself at any given moment it chooses. That is, until you reach the finale, at which point you will perhaps realize it was all connected the entire time LIKE MAGIC. Hopefully. At the very least, that’s what I was trying to do. You, the audience, can be the judge of the success of that.

On a more grounded level, this finale was shot on one very long Saturday that was a day of pure exhilaration for me. We were filmmaking by the seat of our pants that day more than any other time we broke out a camera and hoped for the best. It was so much stupid fun.

If you liked this series at all I would urge you to watch it again. Every episode is meant to be watched multiple times with tiny little details you’ll pick up that you didn’t see before including running gags that wrap themselves up in the finale – one of which goes 6 episodes long and is my favorite thing ever.

But anyway, thanks to everyone who worked on this project and thanks to everyone whom enjoyed it. This is my favorite thing I’ve ever done. Okay cool bye.

 

 

 

 

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One Man Show

Yesterday started so normal. Then. In other parts of yesterday. It got weirder.

I’ve had this idea floating around in my brain for like 4 months where I would make a short film about all of the embarrassing but incredibly normal things we as human beings do when we are home alone in our comfort zones. It is being alone with ourselves that I find the most interesting. (that sentence makes me sound like a freshman Philosophy major who sleeps through class because he doesn’t respect the value of a dollar.)

So. Yesterday. Yeah.

I went to work. On a Monday. Because it was a Monday. And you know this thing about Monday’s – and I’m 100% sure no one has ever mentioned this before and I am the genius who came up with this first forever…Monday’s aren’t great.

And you know why they aren’t great? Because on the weekend, if you were lucky, you got some alone time. And alone time is the best. It’s when you get to think. And feel. And love. And hate. And Master….skills. You thought it was going another way there. But I didn’t. Because I’m an adult.

So I had this video idea of being by yourself but narrating everything that was happening in your brain and I had a web-series that I’m writing. So, I thought hey, let’s destroy two birds with one stone and put those two things together. That’s my life right now by the way. The web-series that we’re shooting in June. I’m writing it and I have been for 6 months. It’s been done for 3 months. I’ve been editing every day. Rewriting entire episodes. It’s sort of all I think about when I’m not talking. Just for perspective.

When I was re-writing an episode I had the idea of making all of the characters do this thing where they narrate what they do by themselves and we see the differences between all of the characters. I thought it was a good idea. But it just didn’t work for me. I got no juice from it. I couldn’t wrap my head about it fully, so I had another idea, and wrote it. But I still liked the by myself idea as a concept.

Then came yesterday. I was bored. Finished my work. Low on creative energy. And a spark hit me which was so cool because it doesn’t happen very often. I texted my talented friend Steph, asked her if I came over her house in 30 minutes if she slap makeup on my face gracefully, she said yes because she’s the nicest. I went there. We talked about the video. She told me what it should be called, “One Man Show.” And then I left. Got home. Got the camera. Took out my new Rode Smartlav+ Microphone that hooks into your iPhone and or Android device. And went for it. 3 hours of shooting. Made it all up. 39 minutes of material. Imported it all. Edited sound on 27 clips. Synced the audio and the video. Edited for 3 hours. Cut it down to 8 minutes or something like that. And it was done and on YouTube. This entire paragraph is a humblebrag that makes me feel uncomfortable.

And I like it the final product of the video, which is a nice thing too.

I think I want to make this a series because it was fun to make and other peoples alone stories fascinate me. The stuff you do when you’re alone is so weird, and gross, and self righteous, and full of hubris, shame, love, hope, fear – you cover every emotion on the spectrum in complete silence looking at popcorn ceilings and sunsets. That stuff is beautiful and normal and so so so so so so funny. To me, it’s the times with no audience whatsoever people have the ability to be the best or worst versions of themselves – and that journey by yourself, I think, is inherently funny.

Also, for the record, I do hope very much that I get at least a C in my freshman Philo class – that Prof is such a narc.

Ian and the Bishop – A Short Film

If you don’t want to read my long winded diatribe about making movies and dreams coming true then here is this movie. I sincerely hope you enjoy it.

 

Oh – You would like to read about my love for filmmaking and how important friends are? Okay. Well then, here you go.

Ian and the Bishop started as a novel. It was about a character that was depressed and started drinking again only to be forced into saving himself by a new acquaintance and his drunken alter ego. It was based off of a very real character in my life that got thrown into a romantic dramedy setting because that’s what I know how to write. I got 4 chapters in before I realized I was writing a screenplay, not a novel.

For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to make movies. I saw the film “Tall Tale” when I was a kid and it clicked in my head that this wasn’t just a fun story unfolding in front of me. This was a creative endeavor that real human beings put an incredible amount of hard work into and then came out on the other end with a finished product. I wanted that. I wanted to tell a story. But one person can’t make a movie, or at least, not the movie I wanted to make.

So I called my friend Dylan. He’s everything I’m not. He’s a wildly talented creative mind with a knack for the aesthetic piece of life. I needed him to say yes before anything else could actually happen. I was driving through New Haven, Connecticut on my way to Long Island for work way too early in the morning late in 2012 and called him with an epiphany.

“I want to make a movie.” I said.

“Umm. Okay. What kind of movie?”  He replied.

“I don’t know yet. But I want to make one.”

“Oh….Alright then. Sure.” And Dylan was in. Way easier than I expected.

That week I took my fledgling novel and turned it into the first draft of the screenplay. When it was done I sent it to Abigail. She was the second piece of this puzzle that was absolutely essential to making a movie. She’s my box. And by that I mean, I come up with over the top crap and she brings me back down into a place that can actually happen. Everyone needs that kind of person in their life, and she’s mine. I sent her an email with the screenplay attached that started with, “Hey. Remember when you told me months ago that this novel would be better as a movie? Well…you we’re right.” She was both excited that I told her she was right and taken aback by how much work I had done in such a short amount of time. So, Abigail was in. We’re moving right along.

Then, very quickly, it all became super real. We were scheduling the audition date to fill out the cast. I was filling out paperwork/asking my favorite local restaurant locations very politely to secure locations. I was writing a shot list (basically, making the movie in your head before a camera even turns on) which I had never done before. We were editing the script. A lot. The final version of the script is very different from how it began. Dylan, Abigail, myself, and two script editors (Allie Rivera and Robert Pinney) helped me out a great deal in that department. The entire ending is different from how I first wrote it because all of them knew it had to be.

I asked my roommate Elliot Smith if he could be the Prop Manager because he knew how to get things. I asked my other roommate Ryan Gentner and friend Adam Carner to be additional cameras on the project – which by the way, some of my favorite shots came from both of them plus Dylan taking my ideas and making them better, which is exactly what a talented crew is for. I asked my friend Mike Storiale, the most well organized and level headed human being I know, to run the production from a logistics stand point. He made a calendar, which should not be overlooked. The hardest part about making a movie, hands down, is the schedule. Getting everyone in the same place at the same time. It is a true nightmare and Mike and I threw it at the wall and then hoped it stuck. Thankfully it did. I then asked my friend Marc Gibson to be a production assistant – the jack of all trades on a movie set – and he also obliged. He also ended up playing my older brother Tom in the film and in my opinion steals every shot he is in.

A few weeks before the casting call I realized movies require a hair and makeup artist. It is in this area where I was lacking in the friend department. When I came to this realization I scoured Facebook for people posting pictures of hair or makeup jobs they had done. I came across a friend I hadn’t talked too at length for a while – but her work was stunningly brilliant and I knew she would be perfect. I called Dylan and asked him if he thought Stephanie Gagne would help. He replied with something like, “I don’t know, probably, maybe just ask her?”

That’s something else I learned while making this film. Sometimes, if you just ask someone to do something, they will do it. It’s crazy. So I asked her, and she said yes. And through the movie I started talking to her and her fiancé/current husband JR who became a production assistant on IatB and would later become a Producer on the new film we made this year. But more importantly, he is the most passionate and enthusiastic person I’ve ever met. Through just asking I added two crazily talented individuals who made the movie that much better as well as two amazing friends. I asked her to be a part of the movie in early 2013. Last weekend Elliot, Marc and I were in their wedding party. The crew/my best friends screamed Africa by Toto on the dance floor at Steph and JRs wedding at the top of our lungs. Twice. I fucking love making movies.

The crew was set. But I still needed to cast 6 characters. 4 women and 2 men. Tavis and Marc filled the two male roles, bringing more talent to them that I could have ever imagined, but we still needed the women. Abigail ran casting like a well-oiled machine, and all I had to do was show up with a script and watch strangers say words that were once only in my head. They each read for two parts – the girl breaking up with Ian in the first scene and the female lead whose name was Emma. I was nervous to say the very least. Without an Emma, we had nothing. Just some pieces of paper that resembled a story.

As the auditions were happening we were finding very good actresses. They were beautiful and talented but they weren’t Emma. I knew Emma. She had been in my head for a year at that point. I knew her favorite book was The Fault in Our Stars and that her dream was to be a dancer. I knew she loved her father but missed her mother every day. I knew she wanted to go on adventures but she believed an adventure alone wasn’t an adventure at all. She wanted someone to make her better than she already was. And that person was Ian.

Casey McDougal was my Emma. She nailed it. From the moment she walked into the audition room until the moment we wrapped, she embodied that character. She made decisions that I didn’t write that made Emma real. When she left the audition I resisted the urge to chase after her and beg her on my knees to take the role. Thankfully she took it anyway, minus the begging. When I watch this film now all I can think is, “That is my Emma. And within every wonderful flaw, every matter of fact smile, and every time she hits Ian out of pure frustration, she was absolute perfection.” I thank the stars every day Casey came into our lives and I think Ian does too.

With that I need to take a moment to thank JD, Grace, Sehee, Samantha, Marc, and Tavis. I am incredibly thankful you all took the time and helped me create something so important to me. The movie is better because all of you were in it.

One more technical note before I go. Movies are made up of pictures and sounds. Sounds are half of the experience. We used most of the money from the Kickstarter campaign to buy microphone equipment that has served us well. Problem was, we never made time to really learn how to use it prior to shooting, so the entire shoot was a long uphill lesson in sound design. Some of the movie was only recorded in mono; some of the movie had the mic pointed the wrong way, etc etc. Sometimes it’s just bad. And I had to come to terms with that. A large reason this film took a year and a half to release is because I hated how it sounded. But with some elbow grease and a few hours of Dylan’s magical editing a year later we made it the best it could be. When you all watch our next film (Zer0s, coming to YouTube October 3rd) you will notice the sound is better. That is because my friends (specifically JohnRob, Marc, and Elliot) took it upon themselves to be better the second time around and they succeeded.

Making this film was an incredible learning experience and by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I never went to film school. I just wanted to make a movie. It was my dream. The thing I thought about late at night while staring at ceilings. And then I somehow tricked my friends into helping me do so. AND THEN I asked for donations to get us off the ground which exceeded my expectations and we were funded within the first two days. It was and still is pure insanity.

This film is not perfect. Not even close. But it’s done. And my friends/crew, family, and Kickstarter backers should be incredibly proud of themselves. You guys helped create something from nothing and to me that’s beautiful. Thank you so very much.

Graham the Cracker

When I get creatively stunted while writing a certain project my method for getting rid of writers block is making the stupidest thing I can think of. Just turning off my brain, and making something so bad that it hopefully kickstarts my brain back into writing something of worth. I do things like this all the time but I never show people because…well, because they’re dumb. But I figure, it’s funny to me at least a little bit, so it might be funny to one more person. So here ya go, this was today’s. (click to make bigger)

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New Book plus Movie and Music Updates

Oh hey.

I want to do a fun article but I’ve been a bit busy. Someone asked me the question “when do you have time to sleep?” last week and I was so happy. I love that question because it means I’m doing something right.

WMiT

So here is a quick update on all the stuff. Last week I kinda secret published a short book called What More is There about going to see my Grandparents in the summer when I was a child. Other than the movie I’m making (I’ll get to that later) it’s the most personally invested I’ve ever been in a project. The description is: A telling of my childhood summer trips to visit my Grandparents from my first person perspective written by my Grandmother and elaborated upon by me 20 years later so we can always have these stories.

I made it as cheap as I could and it’s a literal one or two hour read so that’s a thing.

As for the movie (Ian and the Bishop), I’d say we just passed the half-way point of editing it. We have two more scenes that need rough cuts, then we have to go back through for audio levels and color corrects, music additions etc. My current estimate for that to be completed is the end of October, but I’ve been wrong before. Don’t worry though; when it comes out I’ll be shoving it down your throats constantly.

On the music front, Adam and I are in the middle of creating a full length Jolly Good record that has a name that we’re not telling people yet. I think it’s going to have 11 tracks if it all works out, and that should be done first quarter 2014.

Other writing stuff: I’m in the beginning stages of a new book – the working title of said book is “The Nightshade Express.” Also I’m working on the first draft of the next short film, which has a working title of “The Worst of Us.”

Plus I might try to fit in a web series called Apartment B2 and a web musical based on the new Jolly Good record, but who knows man. I change my mind on a pretty constant basis.

Staying In – the new song I wrote!

The first single off the new Jolly Good (The Comedy Rap Duo I’m in for funsies with Adam Carner) full length album is here! We’ve been working and perfecting this song for a while now and I’m extremely excited for people to finally be able to listen to it. Its premise is simple: Sometimes you just don’t want to go out on the weekends, and Staying In every once and a while can be straight up magical.

If you like the song you can download it on soundcloud for free and if you want to hear our last EP you can go here and download that for free as well. Below are the lyrics if you’re interested in following along – have a good day 🙂

Staying In by Jolly Good
Red = Adam, Purple = Ryan, Bold = Both, Pink = Elliot’s spot on girl impression

“Heyyyy man, you wanna go out tonight?”
“Nah, I’d much rather stay in”

Stayin’ home instead of going out
This is what adulthood is all about

“But it’s the weekend, gotta party it up!”
You should ask my sweat pants if they give a fuck
All up in my Kitchen, gonna cook up a storm
If you think I can’t go hard than you’re misinformed
Epic Meal time is every time I eat
If I’m not watching my carbs or intake of red meats
But I’m by myself with no one to judge
So I’m gonna fill this cake with molten lava fudge
Then I D to the Rizzle caramel galore
On these double stuffed Oreos for my mouth to explore
Turn back to the blender, gonna mix some shit
Let’s see how rum tastes with these bacon bits
No shame in drinking when you’re by yourself
If you don’t get caught then you don’t need help!

Chorus
I’m Staying in Tonight
So don’t put up a fight
I’m chillin’ Home Alone
Don’t bother blowin’ up my phone
I’m Staying in Tonight
Relaxing is in sight
Ohhhh ohhh oh ohhh
I’m Staying In

Lay down on the couch All Cozy now
I turn my Netflix on while I eat my chow
But before I pick the night’s rad viewing pleasure
I Wiki random info at my leisure
With the outside getting darker yet
I try video games as another safe bet
This online fame is callin’ my name
Til a kid calls me a fag then I quit the game
Make some popcorn but I don’t need a bowl
Eating out of the bag cause I’m out of control
Create a new tiny world with Legos and pets
My Hamster balls so hard, don’t you ever forget

Chorus

What can I say to get you to come out?

Wanna head to the bar?
I’m Stayin’ in
Set fire to my yard?
I’m Stayin’ in
Roll face at the club?
I’m Stayin’ in
Find your one true love?
I’m Stayin’ in

Ohhh oh oh oh ohhhh (Adam harmonizing with himself like a boss)
X2
I’m Stayin in
Chorus
X2

I’m Stayin In
Walk naked round the house while there’s no one home
This kind of freedom only comes when you party alone
Instead of dance offs where I’m dropping it low
I stand tall at the window for my one man show
I’m Stayin In
Going to sleep, get a solid 8, but not before I procrasturbate
As my lights go out I and my slumber begins I’m just so happy that I said

I’m Stayin in – I’m Stayin in I’m Stayin in