(posted by t.j. peters)
When I asked founder of 5secondfilms.com Brian Firenzi if he would let me ask him some hard-hitting questions, he looked me dead in the eyes and said, “I fear your journalistic prowess.” (Not a quote.) Surprisingly, he agreed to go through with the interview anyway and, as you’ll see, it turned into a veritable bullfight of a conversation.
If you’re underwhelmed by the end of this interview it’s not my fault. You clearly think too highly of bullfights.
T.J.: About how many 5sf (five-second films) are there in existence now? Will there be a celebration at a certain number?
Brian: 5sf #591 will be making its debut tomorrow, then 592 the next day, and so on and so forth. If you ask me, we should’ve done something special for #555 (“Brian Shaves an Arrow on His Chest”), but I’m pretty sure that night just involved me getting drunk and watching MST3K.
T: What are a couple of your favorite 5sf?
B: You can check out our favorites on our staff bios, which are located in the “About” link. It’s a touch out-of-date however; Jon Worley wants one of his favorites replaced with “Emo Cowboys” and that hasn’t happened yet. As for me, I’m a sucker for anything that ends in a quiet little echo chamber of sadness (“Cool Neighbor”, “Robodog”). I tend to pitch a lot of ideas that end in some big easy fix, like a gunshot or an explosion, but these days I definitely prefer to just see somebody writhe in their own private sadness. I know exactly what that says about me and I don’t care.
T: “Brian Firenzi Writhes in His Own Private Sadness” almost sounds like a 5sf in itself. Do you ever find yourself twisting everything into a potential 5sf concept?
B: I’ve learned not to try forcing everything into a 5sf idea, because the less strained ones always prove to be that much funnier. Oscar week, of course, is a challenge for that very reason, because we have to find some way to take the piss out of “Up in the Air.” My idea involved George Clooney being informed as he flies over the country that he just racked up 1,000,000 frequent flier miles, to which he cackles ominously, bellows “DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU’VE DONE” and then turns into a plane, bursting out of the plane he was in and killing everyone else. Yeah. This is what straining to find a gag does to me.
T: What has been the most complicated 5sf to shoot?
B: In terms of pure time spent, nothing took longer than “Live Fast”, which is incidentally one of the 5sfs I’m most proud of, even if it’s not my favorite. We basically took a few days and countless costume changes to show the life of a married couple, from meeting to parting, in the span of five seconds. It’s like the first ten minutes of “Up” in Fun-Size Snickers form. However, I think the most complicated conceptually was probably “untitled”, our attempt at a halfway-creepy 5sf for Halloween. My hope is that Michel Gondry looks at that one someday and at least doesn’t spit on the ground, mumbling “amateurs” in French.
T: Hopefully he’ll be mumbling “auteurs”. You mentioned a 5sf pilot when we talked earlier. Care to divulge any information about what that might look and feel like?
B: Our pilot is going to be a sketch comedy show with a dedicated narrative arc, which is something we’ve never seen before on TV. It’s going to maintain our tone of wacky vaudeville as informed by nightmarish dream logic, and we’ve taken great care to make sure the energy never flags, as one might expect of a 22-minute TV show from a group of guys that make micro-comedy on a daily basis. However, the guys probably wouldn’t want anything more to be divulged than that.
T: Several of 5sf members live together. Do you ever wish you were in that house or is the space good for you?
B: Here’s how it works: Rousselet, say, will walk into the dining room one morning with an idea. It’ll bounce off Ben, to Erik, to Mike E. Peter, until it either dies on the floor or they’ve got something cooked up that they at least mostly agree on. I like that, and I like coming over there later on to have it bounce off of me. This dynamic works a lot better than the other way, which often involves me stopping by with a half-baked idea that comes with its own tombstone.
B: A while back, a reporter from West Bromwich East (Tom Watson’s constituency as MP) phoned us to try and get some “dirt” on Watson, as apparently he’d been embroiled in some sort of controversy that we knew nothing about. We only made a couple of 5sfs about Watson because he Tweeted about us and we wanted to show some appreciation. So, as the reporter tried to get our opinion about what was going on across the pond, we just fed him a line of bullshit about how shark people are a menace to society and Watson’s the only man with the guts to do something about it. The interview ended shortly thereafter.
T: What do you think makes a 5sf resonate most with you fans?
B: Relatability. Relatability. Relatability. My buddy Adrian Syben, an irregular contributor to the site, cooked up “Late For Work” all on his own and it is by far our most popular 5sf on YouTube. It’s been Dugg, Redd, and sought after by Italian TV shows. Why? Because everyone hates work, and everyone’s been late for it. We obviously don’t strive for a recognizable, human element in every 5sf we do, but we just-as-obviously should.
T: I now consider myself an irregular contributor to 5sf, since you guys plugged me into the background of your “Inglourius Basterds” sketch. On a scale of one to three, using only whole numbers, how would you rate my performance?
B: We nabbed you for our “Basterds” parody because you looked like a good B.J Novak, and when it comes to including people, I’d like to think we’re pretty open to that. As for acting in a 5sf, things move by so fast and the point is to deliver only a gag, that as long as you don’t mumble your words or get in the way of making people laugh, it’s kind of 3s all around. It’s our version of the Oscars, where we hand out giant golden 3s with an inscription that says “As for acting in a 5sf, things move by so fast and the point is to deliver only a gag, that as long as you don’t mumble your words or get in the way of making people laugh, it’s kind of 3s all around.”
T: We’ve already touched on a couple of the Oscar nominee parodies that 5sf has coming out soon. If 5sf had its own Oscars, what parody do you think would bring home Best Picture?
B: Oscar week last year was more for movie nerds (and ourselves, being movie nerds) than it was for the general public, who hadn’t seen “Frost/Nixon,” didn’t want to and still hasn’t. As the Oscars this year have expanded to 10 in order to accommodate “Sandra Bullock’s Feel Good Touchdown Happy Hour,” we hope to appeal to just as many folks. That said, seeing as how I gravitate towards darkness, nothing will probably top what we did for “Up.”
T: How many 5sf have you thought up during this interview?
B: I’m thinking too hard to come up with anything funny. I’m sure some joke about a guy blowing his own head off came up and sat back down in my subconscious.
T: Hopefully that’s not a reflection on how you feel about this interview.
B: Well, it was in my subconscious, if at all, so in the event I do the deed, I think the blame can fall safely on someone like Rousselet. You’re cool in my book.
T: Thanks, Brian.
My name is t.j. and Brian A’ed my Q’s.
(posted by t.j. peters)
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“Hey, whaddya know, it’s The Ten-Thirty Shoooow!!!” So that’s not normally how Eric Moneypenny’s calling card introduction begins, but for the trip to Sketchfest it would have been more accurate. The Midnight Show had hour-and-a-half early performances on Friday and Saturday night during last weekend’s edition of the San Francisco Sketchfest, both of which I was fortunate enough to attend. Unfortunately, since the shows ended at approximately 11:30 PM as opposed to their usual 1:00 AM, I had additional time to do more and remember less in the hours leading up to the next morning. However, I did manage to come away with a few select memories, which I’ll share with you now in this extended, two-night coverage blog entry.
Part One – Tomotel!!!
Think about the Tomo Hotel like this: You know your favorite anime? Well you hate it now. Don’t like anime? Well then you just killed yourself. From the hardwood print carpet to the five foot clearance hanging lamps, every room in this Japantown paradise is like a living version of Katamari Damacy. To help put this in perspective, please take a moment to review the following mural, which was adjacent to my bed.
Why do those police officers have dogs printed on them? Are the dogs also police officers? Wait, are those even police officers? Could they be train conductors? Are the dogs also train conductors? Eh, doesn’t really matter. They live in a city of façade building fronts and are about to be destroyed by a giant robot, anyway.
Even if I didn’t stay up until 5 a.m. or later every night of the trip, I still wouldn’t have gotten any sleep because of that thing.
Part Two – Rubix Club
I will never solve a Rubix Cube and it upsets me. I will never solve a Rubix Cube blindfolded and it’s less upsetting to me. I will never solve a Rubix Cube blindfolded in a crowded, noisy bar and it definitely does not upset me. I will never solve a Rubix Cube blindfolded in a crowded, noisy bar while drinking beer and I wouldn’t expect that Jesus Christ himself could accomplish such a feat.
Notice the inverse relationship between the difficulty of the Rubix Cube scenario and my feelings towards not being able to accomplish it. Now take the inverse of that and look what you get – the two fucking guys I saw who were solving Rubix Cubes blindfolded in the crowded, noisy bar while drinking beer! What?!
I have to hand it to them, though. As far as “showing your true colors” goes, these guys absolutely pave the way (and then twist it on a pivot mechanism until each side is a solid color). I think it might serve people well if we all brought our obscure personal interests to the bar. The knitting needles, ping-pong paddles, and ball gags would help us figure out at a glance who we’re interested in. Personally, I would avoid the Rubix Cube guys, though. Despite the fact that there were two completed Cubes on their table, I never saw either of them complete one. Just like the guy who wears a fake Rolex or a shirt that’s too small to make his muscles look bigger, these two fools only brought the Cubes to scam on some bitches.
Part Three – Honestly, This is Not Funny
In a sketch titled “Philip Seymour Hoffman Calls in Sick for Work”, James Adomian plays the Oscar-winning actor as a pretentious, froggy-throated prima donna, hollering on the phone to his boss (or agent), Gary. At the height of his brilliantly over-acted excuse- which we find out by the end is all a lie- Hoffman screams, “I’m a truth teller, Gary!” in reference to his craft. The irony is perfect and it always gets a laugh out of me, as it did to Friday night’s crowd.
I point out this sketch to use as sort of a scientific control. The subject of the experiment, then, occurred thirty minutes earlier in John Ennis’s monologue. In what I consider to be one of the most earnest moments I’ve ever witnessed, Ennis delivered a seven minute speech about The Midnight Show that was, in a word, truthful. I don’t mean truthful in the sense that I believe his words were factual (though I do), but rather that he meant every word he said. In an annotated version, I’ll paraphrase:
It’s so exciting to work with these guys. I’ve been really lucky to host their show more than once. It’s like getting to play tuba with The Beatles. . . I’m fucking serious! These guys work so hard! They moved into a house together, so when they wake up in the morning they’re surrounded by each other! Isn’t that fucking amazing? . . . And thank you [to the audience] for doing yourself a favor and coming out to see this show because pretty soon, when they’re in the TV shows and movies you love, you’re going to look back and remember coming to The Purple Onion tonight.
Result: Some awkward laughter and lackluster applause as Ennis jubilantly leapt off stage.
Now I understand that the purpose of a monologue is to warm-up the audience and set the tone for the show, but in this instance I could have really cared less. Frankly, it pissed me off that the rest of the crowd couldn’t embrace what they were being given. Ennis riffed honestly. He was an actor shedding away the character and speaking the truth. And so, looking back to the control, here’s the question I’ve been asking myself since Friday night. Why is it funny to watch a character who’s full of shit call himself a truth-teller, but off-putting to a watch someone genuine actually tell the truth? Honestly, I have no idea.
Part Four – Straight Line to Union Square
The plan sounded simple enough. We’d grab a bite to eat, and then meet up with a couple people at Union Square. We’d heard it’s pretty cool there. Little did we know, all the 3G coverage in the world couldn’t save us.
Before I take you along on a recreation of our travels, take a moment to study the map below, tracing our route from “A” to “B” and so on.
The journey began with what I now consider to be a warm up, though at the time it felt like a cross-country trek. We walked seven blocks (which does, in fact, suck when you’re hungover and without your sunglasses) from the Tomo Hotel (“A”) to point “B”. I should have known that things weren’t going to go well when my buddy Hark translated the directions he received as, “the Doughboy on Quay,” when we were headed to The Crepevine, just past Clay Street. Somehow we made it there.
After breakfast, we officially started “moving toward” Union Square. You’ll notice that Union Square can be reached on a straight line from Sutter – the street out hotel was on – and that we blew past it and continued another six blocks to “C”. It was at this point that we actually decided to consult a map. Unfortunately, the one we looked at was not topographical. Had it been, we would have noticed that after continuing to “D” and making a left, the next twelve blocks would be an eighty degree uphill climb.
It didn’t take long for morale to get low. We started shedding travelers at the same rate as our sweaty clothes. (If it makes it sexier for you, please feel free to picture any or all of us completely naked.) The excuses for abandonment started off strong with reasoning such as “I’ve got to fix the DVD before the show,” but eventually devolved to departing statements like, “I’m gonna go pee over here.” I wish I would have been as smart. (Note: Once again, notice that after walking the first six blocks from “D” to “E” we had traveled an approximate total of twenty-seven blocks, yet were only one block away from our hotel.)
This trend continued. The next five blocks from “E” to “F” were at least downhill, so we all had the pleasure of working out a new set of muscles, especially if you (me) were wearing heels. Once at “F”, a brief period of dawdling and toying around with the idea of walking the wrong direction passed before we moved south, taking us another six blocks to “G”.
“G” brought us once again to Sutter Street, six blocks from the Tomo Hotel and eight more yet to Union Square. We had officially traveled about forty-four blocks, roughly three and a half miles, and at no point reached even the halfway point between our hotel and Union Square. So what was the next step?
“Fuck it, let’s go somewhere else.” Which we did. . . in a cab.
Part Five – A Picture is Worth About 2,000 Words
The above photo was taken outside The Purple Onion on the night of the Friday show. If you’re interested in taking a little glimpse at the rest of weekend, check out this photo gallery I put up on Flickr.
Part Six – What’s Behind the Curtain?
I watched The Midnight Show perform on two consecutive nights with different hosts and altered set lists on a small, unfamiliar stage. On night one a large contingent of the crowd was old enough to remember the first time they saw Woody Allen at The Purple Onion. Night two came with a heckler and a pony-tailed douchebag (not me) who thought his off-the-cuff zingers deserved to be part of the show. Regardless of these obstacles, The Midnight Show fucking brought it both nights. Their energy from beginning to end was relentless and it translated not only to the laughs from the audience, but to the ones coming from “backstage.”
I refer to the backstage in quotes because, really, there wasn’t one. Seeing as The Purple Onion is a room built for stand-up, the only place the dozen-or-so member cast could gather was a little alcove that led to the bathrooms. At best, four or five of them could fit back there (six or seven if anyone was on the can), so most of time the cast was spilling out into the back of the main room.
Now I’ve seen TMS plenty of times at this point and I’ve always been able to feel their energy, but this time was different. When the lights went down and the opening began with the blaring punk rock of The Bronx, the audience would have been better served turning their seats around. Like a college football team getting ready to charge out of the tunnel, The Midnight Show jumped, thrashed, and stared each other in the eyes with a confidence that only comes from being truly talented. The only thing missing was a sign for them to tap that read “Perform Like a Champion Today.” And the beauty of it was, the energy didn’t die after the introduction. As members went to and from the stage, it was as if they were passing a torch that carried that energy, and this went on throughout the entirety of their show. By the end, the audience was holding the torch.
The Midnight Show comes ready to work, but they also understand that it takes more than simply showing up to make some noise; they bring heart. It’s this dynamic that sets them apart from other comedy groups. What they’ve created is both professional and sacred. They do it for themselves, they do it for each other, and they do it with a purpose. Because of this, as they grow in strength and popularity, it will only be a matter of time before they are widely known, and people will say about their talent in a plain, almost obvious tone, “Hey, whaddya know, it’s The Midnight Show.”
My name is t.j and I road blogged this.
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Book your tickets for The Midnight Show’s monthly performances at UCB-LA by clicking here.
And check out the rest of San Francisco Sketchfest’s schedule by clicking here.
“I’m going to eat you,” he pronounced in raspy, slurred English. “I’m going to eat you and your family.” As far as we knew, those were the only words Adam (or Aaron, or whatever . . . it really doesn’t matter cause that dude was fucking crazy) was capable of speaking. At one point he asked me for a lighter, but as I recall he did so using a series of hand gestures and indecipherable grunts. Verbalized or not, it turned out he actually needed a cigarette, which I promptly gave to obtain amnesty in the event that he grew hungry for me and my loved ones.
After the seven hour drive that included rural routes, Roman candles, unexpected snowfall, and Disney sing-a-longs, the Sketchfest trip officially began at the International Sports Club, which is where I met up with The Midnight Show and, eventually, the above referenced Dr. Lecter. The night had many high points, I must say, most of which were strange and depraved for various reasons. And surprisingly, “I’m going to eat you” guy wasn’t the creepiest individual encountered. The following scenario was told to me by Hal and Joe of The Midnight Show, which I’ll translate in language simple enough for a monosyllabic cannibal to understand:
Man masturbates in street. Hal and Joe view from afar. Man shows no signs of stopping. Hal and Joe appreciate man’s commitment. Man is interrupted by very rude pedestrians. Hal and Joe wonder if it’s a citizens’ arrest. Man discovers that citizens are police officers. Hal and Joe feel bad for man. Man feels very arrested.
Just to clarify, that’s a story about a man openly masturbating on the sidewalk. In theory, he was walking along, possibly to or from home (our witnesses claim he didn’t appear to be homeless), and thought to himself, “Here’s good.” Then he masturbated. So there’s that story.
I’d like to think that as I continue to report on this weekend there won’t be any more anecdotes involving threats to my life or public indecency, but that’s obviously a pipe dream. Might as well openly disrespect inevitability and propose a bold toast with my Day Two one o’clock cocktail: Here’s to nothing even remotely weird happening for the rest of the trip! Try me, San Francisco.
My name is t.j. and this blog is parked in SF.
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Tickets are still available for The Midnight Show on Friday (featuring John Ennis, Mr. Show) and Saturday (featuring Trevor Moore, The Whitest Kids U’ Know). Make it happen.
(posted by t.j. peters)
Today I journey. I’ve packed all the essentials: one pair of underwear, a book of Mad Libs®, a road trip apple pie, all the Burger King® gift cards I accrued over the holidays, and my inalienable, Patch Adams-esque passion for orphans. Just as these items are packed in my suitcase, I am too essentially a piece of luggage in the cargo deck of sketch comedy group The Midnight Show as we travel to the San Francisco Sketchfest.
For the better part of their year and a half run at the UCB Theatre L.A., I’ve been attending The Midnight Show on the first Saturday of every month – starting at (roughly) midnight – and for a smaller percentage of that time, had the pleasure of chain smoking and drinking whisky on the front porch of the “Midnight Mansion”, the veritable Bat Cave where most of the group resides. Now, as a fan and a friend, I’m looking forward to a long weekend of TMS’s break-neck sketch comedy at Sketchfest.
If you’re in the San Francisco area and want your weekend to matter, here’s a reason to check out The Midnight Show:
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And if balls falling out of jean shorts isn’t your fancy, then go fuck yourself. However, alternatively, please do no fuck yourself while watching those fancy balls fall out of their jean shorts. Instead, occupy your perverted mind with one of the smartest sketches I’ve ever seen:
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I’m serious, folks. Tickets are still available for Friday (featuring John Ennis, Mr. Show) and Saturday (featuring Trevor Moore, The Whitest Kids U’ Know), so do yourself a favor and check it out. As for me, though I plan to document the trip as accurately as possible, my hope and intention is to report based on the fragmented reality left over from what will surely be a very fun weekend. Check back in the days to come for my Sketchfest updates.
My name is t.j. and this blog is on wheels.
If you fancy yourself a storyteller, chances are you specialize in a certain type of storytelling, for this is the Age of Specialization and storytelling has not been spared from its wrath. You could be any number of different types of specialist: A novelist, a poet, a blogger; an actor, a screenwriter, a director; a sketch comedian, a stand-up comic, an improviser. Or you could be DC Pierson and specialize in all of them. Because why not, right?
If you already know DC you were probably introduced through YouTube, where he and his cohorts from DERRICK Comedy – DC, Donald Glover, Dominic Dierkes, Dan Eckman, and Meggie McFadden – have struck gold to the tune of more than 50 million viewings of their online videos. In the next year the rest of the world will become aware of him as well, thanks to the upcoming release of DERRICK’S self-produced first feature film, Mystery Team, which DC co-wrote, co-produced, and co-starred in, and the publication of his first novel, The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep And Never Had To, early in 2010.
Sketch comedian, filmmaker, and novelist would make for a pretty full plate if that was all he loaded it with, but DC selects from the entire buffet. That claim from the first paragraph was not hyperbolic: He actually does all those things. And more. Hell, he even raps a little!
At his website, Ham Fisted Theatrics, DC showcases much of his work in short stories, poetry, and music and currently is in the middle of a highly-praised daily series chronicling his first 100 days in LA, having recently moved there with the rest of DERRICK. The series showcases his knack for finding the hidden wisdom and subdermally-located nuances and peculiarities in simple daily activities. Anyone can tell the story of what happened. It takes a masterful storyteller to convey what was happening while it happened. DC has an ability to vividly, genuinely, and comically relate that neutral stimuli.
In many ways DC Pierson has become the consummate storyteller, but no way more than in his ability to let the story choose its own medium of telling. I asked him about this and his answer will serve as the theme of the piece:
I don’t think your creation is meant to be a conglomeration of everything that interests you shoved into the first place they’ll fit. You might have an idea and think there’s a poem there. Or maybe there’s a little bit more to it and you can imagine a short story. Maybe a whole world is revealed and you write a novel. Or it feels visual and should be represented as a movie. Maybe it’s a rap lyric or a sketch idea or stand-up joke. Having the willingness to work in different media means nothing gets lost, nor do you ever have to shoe-horn anything into the wrong situation. A good idea doesn’t work if you have to force it.
Without further ado, let’s swap stories with DC Pierson!
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GROWING UP DC: THE FORMATIVE YEARS
I was that quintessential indoor kid. I really, really was. I got a bike when I was whatever age you get a bike, and my dad taught me how to ride it. I had the training wheels and everything, and that was fine. I stuck with it. Then he took the training wheels off and I rode it down the block and back around. No problems. Then I put the thing in the garage, closed the door, and never rode my bike again. And, summarily, I forgot how to ride a bike, which you’re not supposed to be able to do.
Your block and the world of the kids on your block are supposed to be this microcosm that you grow up in. You don’t get to select those friends; you just play with the kids on your block. That seemed like such an unknown quantity to me. Staying inside was so much more controllable. It’s not that I didn’t like playing with other kids, because I did, when I would find other freakazoids at school that I got along with. Like my childhood best friend, Trevor. He was into the same nerdy stuff I was and we would spend most of our time being weird together. But as far as my block went, I don’t know, I was just sort of terrified of it. So when kids would come to the door asking if I wanted to come out and play I would tell them that my mom said I had to stay inside, even though that was not the case. And then they would go away and my mom would ask who was at the door and I’d be like, “Don’t worry about it.” Of course she would’ve wanted me to go outside and play, but I was so much more comfortable reading my books and drawing my pictures, in my own world having a blast.
EXCERPT FROM THE BLOG: LEAVING NEW YORK
A lot of friends, when tolerating a fast, discursive, hugely whiny thought of mine about leaving New York recently, have responded “You can always come back.” Which is totally true. And I honestly can’t wait to come back. I know people who are just moving here now, in the summer, and I am so jealous that they get to move a mattress up eight flights of stairs in Bushwick and then go downstairs that night, covered in dried sweat and buzzed from exhaustion and post-moving beers and think, “Well, I’m here now.” You can move to New York any number of times but you can only move there for the first time once, and if you are just having that experience now, or you are planning to soon, or considering it as a vague-someday-thing, I’m jealous. And if you’re thinking about it, do it. I don’t worry about that being bad advice because the people who move here are going to move here and the people that aren’t, aren’t. (More snobbish predestination talk from somebody who’s only lived here five and a half years and is awfully fucking anxious about whether or not he can be said to be a “New Yorker” and is very worried that the most that can be said about him is that for a time he “lived in New York.”)
THOUGHTS ON TIMELESSNESS, TIMELINESS, & TECHNOLOGY
We have no way of knowing what’s going to be canonized or selected as “the thing” until way down the road, so we shouldn’t shoot for that. You shouldn’t try to last forever. But by the same token, I don’t think you should bat for being timely, either. The reason DERRICK never did a Bush/Cheney sketch is because while it might’ve been funny a year ago, now it just seems like old hat. Anything that seems cool and of-the-moment is only a moment from seeming uncool. There’s nothing lamer than the thing that seemed really current a week ago.
When I was in college I got very into mp3 blogs, because they were constantly putting out new songs that these up-and-coming bands had just cut in their garage, and it was really cool being on the ground floor of the “next big thing.” But I exhausted of it very quickly, as did a lot of people, because these bands that were so pure and untouched and amazing based on their four songs couldn’t stand up to that hype, nor should they ever be expected to. They weren’t ready for primetime, they only had four songs! So then, two weeks later, we would reject them just as passionately as we had believed in them two weeks before. There’s something really sucky about that unforgiving accelerated hype cycle, whereas had this band been given three years to write songs and learn to play live they might’ve been able to create something more rich and potentially timeless. But on the other hand, that same technology that forced us to consume them too quickly is what allowed us to consume them at all. This is the technology of the times, even if it does seem really paper-thin right now. Eventually this will all seem nostalgic.
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THE MOVIE: MYSTERY TEAM
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Was it always the plan to make the movie independently?
DC: Mystery Team, yes. We brought a different script out to LA that we were sort of excited about, but not that excited about and pitched it around a bit while developing the idea. Nobody wanted to make it, so we were like, “Oh, that’s a bummer.” But we weren’t too bummed out that no one wanted to make it, and that probably should’ve told us something. I guess it did, because we didn’t end up making that movie. But what the experience of pitching told us most was that no one was going to let us make a “DERRICK movie”, whatever that might be, so if we wanted to do that we would have to make it ourselves.
What were the benefits to making it yourselves?
DC: It meant there could be no one with a controlling interest breathing down our necks saying so-and-so needs to be played by Zac Efron and these bad songs need to be in there. And no one could make us cut it down and sell it to TNT. It’s great that someone wanted to distribute the movie theatrically, but it was also great that if we didn’t get the right deal, we could always throw the movie in the back of our car and take it from town to town if we wanted. Or we could sell the DVD on our website. Or run it on Video OnDemand. Getting a theatrical deal that you’re really happy with is NOT a likely thing. It did end up working out and we’re in a situation that we’re really happy with, but that’s because we only had to obey the dictates of our own tastes and conscience.
Was there fear that in this global economy it was the wrong time to take on such an epic pursuit?
DC: Far from it. It’s a great time to take risks. I was reading this interview with Steven Soderbergh about making the film Che and then doing a road show for it. It’s this incredibly non-commercial four and a half hour movie and he was talking about how during times like this the practical thing is to be a little crazy. People are looking at the recession like it only makes sense to tighten your belt and play it safe right now, where as the lesson to be learned is that playing it safe doesn’t work. Because everyone was playing it safe. This is only the end result of people’s best thinking and safest choices in the past. I couldn’t agree more. The conventional thing presently is to be unconventional.
What was the writing process like knowing that you would then have to produce the film yourselves?
DC: From the start we wrote around things we knew we could accomplish. You don’t want to write this pie in the sky script and then have to tamp it down. It was important to write it as manageable as possible, because even that’s going to end up being unmanageable when you’re filming. And we needed the script really tight because there wasn’t going to be much room for error or playing around on set. The first few drafts were largely about making sure the mystery tracked. No one is going to watch this movie and think it’s the greatest mystery of all time, but hopefully when held up to the harsh light of day it will come across as a really funny movie with a mystery that basically holds up. Once it felt like that was working and the beats of the story were in order, we went back and did joke polishing. We did maybe 13 or 14 joke polishes of the whole movie, always trying to beat those last jokes. We would literally sit there for two to three hours sometimes on one joke, and kind of pitch off of each other. You’d just be sitting there in a prone position talking to yourself, trying to work out a joke. It’s a lot of work, but it doesn’t look like any work.
So how were you able to manage on set?
DC: It’s largely a credit to Dan and Meggie that we pulled it off. Dan, because a director’s job is to mediate between the vision in his head, the execution of the script, and then what you actually have to work with on the day of, which is not always everything you need. It’s a behemoth even when you have a big budget, let alone when everything has to be cheap, if not free. And it’s a credit to Meggie, as the producer, because the sheer number of different things she had to handle was baffling. A lot of people wonder what a producer does on a movie? The answer is a producer does FUCKING EVERYTHING. The producer has to worry about all the legal shit, making sure people are where they need to be when they need to be there, that they’re getting paid, that all these union contracts are being followed. The list is infinite. And Meggie executed it flawlessly.
Did your internet video background prepare you for the endeavor or was it a whole different ballgame?
DC: There’s some natural progression. We always tried really hard to make the videos look like short movies as opposed to internet videos. Dan took the time to plan out the shots and execute them to best serve the ideas and jokes we were trying to get across. As a result we would get these comments like, “This looks really great. What camera did you use?” What they were really asking is how we made something look that good or be directed that well. Dan did have a pretty nice camera, but it’s not about that, it’s about how you use it.
Did you encounter a lot of naysayers throughout the process?
DC: Not naysayers necessarily. There was a general feeling amongst the people we told that it was really cool we were making a movie, but they’d believe it when they saw it. And then once we completed the movie, it was really cool that we’d made it, but they’d believe it when they saw it in theaters. And even now that it’s coming out in theaters, they’ll believe it when it’s a success.
So people don’t believe you can make a movie until you make it, and then they believe that everyone can do it, right?
DC: The truth is, anybody can make a movie. You just have to be willing to work really hard on more levels and in more facets than you could ever imagine. It’s about getting up early and working really hard, which people don’t want to think about, because getting up early and working really hard sucks. That’s the thing: People want to think somebody hands you the opportunity to make a movie. They don’t want to think about all the effort put into the various processes that go into making a movie before you ever start making it. People don’t want to think about those parts.
Hard work is clearly necessary, but talent has to be a pretty big factor, no?
DC: I don’t think it’s about your talent. Or at least I wouldn’t want to. David Mamet has this thing about, would you like to think that you are just preternaturally gifted and all these things that you have just came to you? Or would you like to think that it’s about working really hard? I choose hard work, because that can be controlled. Talent, not so much.
It seems to be a common conception that, for all a person’s talents or hard work, you need connections in order to make it in “the business.” Has that been your experience?
DC: There are different ways to look at that. Having connections isn’t just about having a family member in the industry. It can also mean that if you keep doing the things that you love to do as best and as constantly as you can, along the way you’re going to meet people. Maybe they can’t do anything for you now because they’re just coming up alongside you, but eventually you both might be in positions, thanks to your hard work, where you can help each other out. And not as a form of nepotism, but because it’s easier to work with people you like and trust.
What has stood out to you about the response at screenings?
DC: The thing we’ve really enjoyed is that people seem refreshed by being asked to give a little bit of a shit. Mystery Team is a comedy first, but we also wanted to invest the story and characters with heart; not heart in the sense of emotional manipulation or forced feeling; just people laying their messy emotions on the table and expecting you to respond to them. That’s what is really cool about the reaction to the Apatow comedies the past few years. Knocked Up is my step-mom’s favorite movie. It’s also one of my favorite movies, and a lot of my generation really responded it. But my step-mom would never in a million years like what she considered to be a dick and fart comedy for people in college. If you look at a lot of film and TV comedy, there’s so much ironic detachment to it. Like, here’s an 80’s dance sequence and a wink and a smile. There seems to be this notion that to make a funny movie you can never ask the audience to care on any level. We think our movie is funnier because you invest in it.
This seems to be a common theme in a lot of your endeavors. What is it exactly about ironic detachment that rubs you the wrong way?
DC: Irony is such a dangerous k-hole and smarter people than me have written about how it can’t be criticized because it’s already set itself up in opposition to itself before you can criticize it. There are David Foster Wallace essays that put it better than I ever could. It just seems you never get to enjoy anything if you’re constantly analyzing how much and in what way you’re enjoying it. The people and the artists I’ve really responded to are the ones who aren’t saying, “Isn’t it funny that this is me and my thing?” They’re saying, “This is me and my thing.” I just think doing what you do and liking what you like, without apologizing for it, is pretty damn cool.
So what’s next for the pretty damn cool Mystery Team?
DC: We just made this short film that premiered at Comic-Con and is now on the internet and we would love to make like ten thousand more of those because we’re still excited about the idea and love the characters so much. But we don’t know if the movie is going to be a success or not. It opens in select cities starting this month and then nationwide in October. We hope the theatrical release goes about the same as every other stage, which is very serendipitously, in the sense that things haven’t turned out exactly the way we expected, but at the end of the day things have really worked out for this movie.
And how about you? What’s next for DC Pierson in “the biz?”
DC: I went to school for dramatic writing and I would still love to write for television or work on independent screenwriting. I’ve had the opportunity to act some small parts in a couple movies recently and it’s been a blast. I would gladly do more of that.
Acting on other movies must be like a vacation now, huh?
DC: Total vacation. I love being “talent” on other sets. You get to be a hero for VERY little reason, because all you’re doing is goofing around on camera for a few minutes. Not to minimize it, but at the end of the day that’s kind of what it is. You’re just expected to come in and do your little thing, maybe you’re improvising and you try to crack the crew up, then you go home. And you get paid for it, which is NUTS.
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LOVE OF MUSIC: RAP
mc DJ – Steampunk (DC Pierson Freestyle)
I started listening to rap music in a very dilettantish way: I think The Roots was the first group I liked, because there was this apologist thing, like “They play real instruments so it’s more music than other rap.” And I listened to stuff like Nelly, because it’s what was on the radio. But then I heard Notorious B.I.G and that was it, I was hooked. Biggie was a virtuoso in terms of lyricism and I dug the way his songs were really hard and dark and fucked up, but the thing that appealed to me most was the whole mythology he created for himself. He was like, “I’m a fat black guy with a cockeye and I’m going to be a sex symbol to you. You’re going to love me.” And it became true! That was so unbelievably cool to me. And NO ONE in rock n’ roll was like that at the time. At one point they were: Led Zeppelin was on-stage announcing that they were Gods. But all of that was gone from contemporary rock music. Especially in the current indie rock, where it was like, “I’m a skinny white guy with glasses. Sorry I’m up here.” Hip hop wasn’t like that. Rappers took that rocker ideal and made it their own. Which is why it should come as no shock that hip hop has gone through this love affair with rock star imagery the past few years, the result of which is a lot of shitty fashion in rap music, but that’s another thing altogether.
LOVE OF MUSIC: JASON ANDERSON
One of my favorite musicians of the past couple years is this guy named Jason Anderson who writes a lot of songs about being in cars with girls. Many of his songs are very clearly ripped directly from his own life, but the way he puts it makes you go back and look at moments from your own life and say, “I’ve experienced stuff like that.” There’s one particular song where he’s talking about being in a car with a girl driving to the beach “and the radio played Usher.” And he isn’t saying that the radio was playing Usher and isn’t that ironic and hilarious. He’s just saying that the radio played Usher. And it was probably a pretty good song, just not the perfect one. And I really like that, because I’ve very rarely been in a car with a girl where the radio played the perfect song, but I’ve definitely been in a car with a girl when the radio played Usher. It wasn’t the perfect song for that moment, but it’s still the song that was playing IN that moment.
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THE NOVEL: THE BOY WHO COULDN’T SLEEP AND NEVER HAD TO
The novel is being described as ET meets Superbad, which I find funny because neither is a novel. How would you describe it?
DC: ET meets Superbad sounds cool because Superbad is really good and I fucking love ET more than anything in the world. I’m not sure that’s what I wrote, but I’ll take it. I’ve had the idea in some version since high school. It’s a coming of age story that turns into a sci-fi adventure about a weird, nerdy high school kid that forms a bond with an even weirder kid who it turns out has no biological need for sleep. There’s a whole lot more to this boy who doesn’t sleep and the story is about these two kids and that development. It starts in a mundane high school setting and then I layered science fiction on top of it, which is hopefully where the cool contrast comes from.
Did you sell it and then write it or vice versa?
DC: It was done and in good shape before I ever even thought about showing it to anyone. I wrote it to write it, with the idea of getting it published, but I was never angling for that by any stretch of the imagination. I only told three or four people that I was even working on it. It was nice that no one had to know except me and my laptop. And showing the finished book is a lot more satisfying than pitching the idea or showing a summary or work-in-progress.
You are very protective of your creations, holding onto them until they are totally ready for public consumption. Why is that important to you?
DC: You can get into this place, especially with social networking, where you’re talking about what you’re doing a lot. I’m always worried that getting too much feedback as you’re doing it can dissuade you from going crazy in your own little world. If I’ve learned anything from doing the book and movie it’s that this is not the way it’s typically done. A lot of the process seems built around this notion that you’re almost wasting your time if you don’t just have an idea and then sell it around. Be it in publishing with a book proposal or in movies with a pitch you then get paid to develop. There seems to be an institutional prejudice against the idea of completing something and then showing it. DERRICK, as a group, doesn’t subscribe to that idea. We’re not into letting people in on the process. We are very much about finishing it and then showing it to you.
What sort of books do you enjoy?
DC: The things I respond to the most are kind of genre-colliding rather than in their own column. My favorite sci-fi author is this guy Neal Stephenson who wrote Snow Crash and this three book series The Baroque Cycle, which is this huge, six or seven thousand page cycle about pirates and the creation of modern economics. He sort of effortlessly synthesizes a lot of time periods and styles and isn’t afraid to try on a bunch of different hats; isn’t afraid to cram a bunch of different stuff together and never lets himself get pigeon-holed by any one genre. And then I also like musician biographies a lot. I have to stop myself from reading too many music-related books, because it’s all I’ll read if I let myself. Since I want to be a novelist I know I should be consuming novels all the time, but when it comes down to reading some other guy’s first novel or a biography of Joe Strummer, I’m probably going to choose Joe Strummer.
What’s the plan for the book’s release?
DC: It’s coming out in 2010 through Vintage/Anchor. I haven’t thought too much about publicizing it yet, just because we’ve been so in the trenches on Mystery Team. I would like to do something that resembles a book tour, but it probably won’t be paid for by my publisher, God love ‘em. I ran it by them and they were like, “Yeah, that doesn’t work anymore.” Which was sort of a bummer. The publishing industry, like most industries right now, is trying to figure out how to use technology instead of letting it use them; trying to find ways to reach young people. But I’d really like to do something where I get to actually go and meet the people who are interested in the book. Things like web marketing and internet word-of-mouth and low-cost advertising are nice, but I think there is something so irreplaceable about being there in the flesh, present in people’s lives. It’s really un-fuck-with-able.
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GROWING UP DC: THE TEENAGE YEARS
The big dilemma for me growing up was that I thought I was hilarious and the other kids didn’t. I was into what I thought was smart, funny stuff like Monty Python and other kids thought I was weird and kind of creepy. They weren’t that into me. But I kept going with it and being that way and eventually there was a conversion. Eventually they came around to thinking I was funny. Or maybe I just started expressing myself in a way that was not entirely creepy to other people. Probably some combination thereof.
Middle school was kind of miserable, just because middle school is miserable for anybody. A friend of mine was saying that if you were happy in middle school, you’re damaged. There’s something wrong with you and you’re not equipped for adult life. So I hated middle school because you’re supposed to or you’re messed up.
High school was much better. I was in this program called Theatre Company and was really happy within that context. It was essentially public school Drama Club, but an extremely unique version. We performed six mainstage shows a year and tons of student-directed one act plays. And it wasn’t a situation where theatre kids were only liked in theatre and outcasts to the rest of the school. My friends and I weren’t cool, we were just accepted for what we were: Those funny kids who make all those plays. The other kids wouldn’t come see our plays, but they thought it was hilarious in English class when we made fun of the teacher.
EXCERPT FROM THE BLOG: 100 DAYS IN LA
Lying in bed on Tuesday night I for some reason think of a phase I went through in high school where I had a thing against “nice people.” I was fond of saying that I would rather someone be interesting than “nice.” What a douchebag! What a position of privilege! Kindness has a hard enough time in this world without people attacking it for being unsexy. Man it was great to have so little of substance going on that you had time for cool-sounding but essentially retarded opinions on human relations like that. If you are an adult and you still have time for half-baked reality-show-sound-byte “I’m the type of person where…” proclamations to make you sound callous and cool and unique, if you have time to subscribe to them in any way or form or fashion, I think you are not done yet and somebody should put you back in the Oven Of Personality. If your central tenet is not some variation on Let’s Try To Make Life Sane And Safe For Love And Fun And Not Be Jerks To Each Other, then I don’t know what you’re after and I don’t really want to.
Since I’ve been writing the first 100 Days in LA the thing that keeps coming up when I get positive feedback is something to the effect of, “You take this little experience that I’ve had before and you look at it in this different way,” and I really appreciate that, because if I had to sit down and choose one central theme to try and get across it’s that I really believe we need to start expecting more out of our lives, and that begins by looking at these things we do on a daily basis with a sense of adventure and dignity.
So much of our lives are these standardized, controlled experiences that are planned out and imbued with technology, and there’s this great feeling amongst people that they lack control and never get to do anything interesting. And I don’t think that’s okay. But I don’t think we should all go live in the woods or come up with a different way to wear shoes, either. It’s really just about coming up with a different way to look at things. We have lives that are so rich with opportunities and materials and choices, we don’t have to feel a lack of control; our lives deserve to be treated with a sense of dignity. And the fact that every one of us isn’t doing something completely, utterly original is a real tragedy.
Too many people have this attitude that they aren’t smart enough, or talented enough, or they don’t know what they want out of life. “I’m not one of those people.” You are one of those people. Choose to be one of those people. If we start to view our mundane everyday lives as adventures, then we start to think we might actually deserve real adventures. We can look at life like something we have to get through that’s depressing for how unlike the movies it is, or we can view it as adventure practice.
Thanks, DC, you tell one hell of a story.
My name is Ben and I interviewed him.
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This has been the third in my series of interviews featuring comedians with unique styles. My goal is to find the soul of what an artist or group does best, then mold the interview to best reflect that. In doing so, hopefully, I can offer a glimpse of the creative process. You can read the previous two interviews here.
- An Interview with Brian Firenzi of 5secondfilms
- Sketchfest with The Midnight Show
- The Road to Sketchfest with The Midnight Show
- Burning the Midnight Oil at Sketchfest
- Choose Your Own Adventure: An Interview with DC Pierson of DERRICK
- Resolving Non-Conflict: An Interview with Sketch Comedy’s The Birthday Boys
- KEEP ON TRUCKIN’: AN INTERVIEW WITH IMPROV GREATS CONVOY