Production Day 1: The Parkist

Storyboards for The Parkist.  (Shhh... we planned a little.)

Storyboards for The Parkist.  (Shhh... we planned a little.)

And then, it was time to make this thing.  Our first day of shooting May 30, 2015 and I arrived early with Joel, Justin, and Colin to set up.  How much planning went into Day 1 of No Plans?  I brought with me seven or eight sketch concepts, along with the script and storyboards to our "The Parkist" trailer.  I knew roughly who was going to be coming, and roughly for how long.  And we knew where we would be ordering lunch from.  Them's was the plans.

We started with The Parkist, which itself was not exactly a reason for doing No Plans, but being able to shoot something like this was definitely a corollary benefit.  I had written several silly shorts over the last few years, and never got around to shooting them.  Planning is just the death of these things.  You start out with something that seems so easy, and then pre-production is the time for killing hopes and dreams and puppies.  Too expensive, too complicated, etc. 

With No Plans, I just decided that I Am Going to Make The Parkist.  That means, by definition, it wouldn't be too expensive.  It would cost nothing.  And it couldn't be too complicated, because there was no budget and we'd only have a few hours.  It also meant that I would have to sacrifice a little bit in terms of visual quality.  No one would watch this and think that we actually shot an expensive movie.  Like the rest of No Plans, the jokes would have to work without the benefit of production value.   

With those limitations, I created a new script and new storyboards and on Day 1, we shot most of the piece, with a few pick-ups coming on future days.  It was a great lesson.  Don't let yourself want too much, and it's amazing what you can get done.  Confucius says.  

Origin Story, Part 5: The Sound

While you can do a little jiggy-wiggy-hanky-panky (technical term) around spending too much on lighting, there is no substitute for hiring someone who really knows how to record sound, and who has great mics.  If you can't hear the jokes, they're definitely not going to be funny.  (But the corollary applies; if the jokes suck, go with the cheapest mics you can find.)

However, there is a substitute for paying for a good sound person: Make sure you went to high school with one, and that you both moved to the same city.  Done and done.  The great Justin Asher agreed to come on board to handle all things sound-related.  That meant getting the sound gear, setting it up, recording the dialogue and mixing it all when the editing was done. Oh.  And then there was music.  And Justin is a Musician with a capital everything.  And he will also be writing and recording the theme music, and all the music that appears throughout. 

As of the writing of this blog, the situation is this: I thought that from our four days of shooting, we would be able to make two full episodes.  But it's now looking like we will actually be able to make THREE episodes out of this original material.  Which means that Justin has THREE shows to mix, and THREE episodes of music to create.

Who wants to tell him?




Origin Story, Part 3: What Kind of Improv?

Jeremy Guskin, Jonica Patella, John Newman, and Mercedes Manning in "Hummus" (Episode 1)

Jeremy Guskin, Jonica Patella, John Newman, and Mercedes Manning in "Hummus" (Episode 1)

But what were we actually going to do?  Both creatively speaking, what were the plans for making No Plans?  

Creatively, this was not going to be WHOSE LINE IS IT ANYWAY.  This was not going to be a collection of improv games.  I think that the joy of watching good improv games, done on stage, is the high-wire-act nature of the thing.  You see them, live, no breaks, no second chances, makin' it up as they go along.  We wouldn't have that.  As much as we tell you that No Plans is improvised -- and it is -- the fact that it's improvised becomes less a part of the comedy, since we can obviouslly do a second and third take, and since it's all obviously edited.      

So there would have to be more to the comedy than the fact that it was improvised.  In our case, the improvision process was just going to be taking the place of the writing process.  It would be a different means to similar ends.  It wouldn't be funny because we were improvising.  I would have to ultimately be funny even if the viewer didn't know we were improvising.  Essentially, I was hiring a writing staff who happened to really be actors who wrote on the fly, as they spoke.  

While I truly wanted to just show up and say "So, any ideas?" I felt like I should probably come with some concepts in mind.  Actually, it didn't even start out as such a deliberate plan.  In the weeks before the shoot, ideas for sketches started to come to me.  I could have set some kinds of rule for myself: "No, I want to really have No Plans when I arrive."  But that fell apart in light of the other rule I had already established, that "I really don't want to look like An Asshole when we can't come up with anything.  So, I started keeping a list.

On the day, then, it went oddly as planned.  As unplanned.  One of the sketches we shot on Day 1 was what is now called, "HUMMUS" (Episode 1).  That idea actually came from JEREMY, who started to do a crazy Farmer's Market Guy Who Sells Hummus at one of our early meetings.  The concept we started with was... thin.  It was: "Jeremy sells hummus."  At the last second, we put JONICA in there as his (literally) silent partner.  We then took JOHN and MERCEDES and said, "Go ask Jeremy about the hummus."  And that was it.  Then, as he starting answering their questions with his aggressive, ridiculous answers, those of us on the sidelines started to get ideas of our own, or notice things he was doing that could be expanded upon.  "Ask him for a list of ingredients."  "Tell him what food allergies you have."  Etc.  We then replaced John and Merce with CHRISTY and LAUREN, and gave them the equally useful prompt: "Go ask Jeremy about the hummus."  And on it went.

Creatively, that has pretty much held as the system.  I bring in a one-line concept, and we take whoever is there, and we just go for it for about 30-60 minutes.  In terms of the technical side of production and the insanity of editing... well those call for future blog posts.

Origin Story, Part 2: Who Are These People?

The first Viertel/Lev production.  

The first Viertel/Lev production.  

Okay, there was one other reason I wanted to do all of this.  I wanted to hang out with my friends.  And, give or take, most of my friends are show biz types, most of them are funny, and I've already worked with most of them in one way or another.  I thought that No Plans would be a great way to get the band back together again.

So who are these people and how did I come to know them?  Deep breath... and...

I met JOEL VIERTEL when I was five years old at Hunter College Elementary School in New York City.  We went on to both high school (Hunter) and college (Wesleyan University) together, and have made the three feature films, DEVIL'S PONDCONVENTIONEERS and READY OR NOT.  Appearing in Conventioneers was WOODWYN KOONS whom Joel and I met in college, and whom I directed on stage senior year in Cloud Nine (for which Joel designed the sound), and again when she starred in Ready or Not.  Also in Ready or Not was TREVOR MURPHY (who had previously appeared in Coventioneers and also in Joel's short film, SUICIDE), CHRISTY MEYERS, and JEFF MEACHAM.  However Christy and Jeff were only cast after the original actors in the roles, LYNN CHEN and JOHN NEWMAN, both of whom I met at Wesleyan, both had to back out of the film.  Lynn recommnded her friend Christy to replace her, and Christy recommended her then-boyfriend-now-husband Jeff for John's role.  At school, I directed John on stage in Life in the Theater and - along with Woodwyn - Cloud Nine.  JONICA PATELLA had already graduated Wesleyan, and so couldn't be in Cloud Nine, but we did perform together at school, and I was her first American Sign Language teaching assistant, and we have both gone on to become sign langauge interpreters; oh and we dated for quite some time.  She was also in a stage production that I directed of The Vagina Monologues, performed in sign langauge and spoken English, and which also starred EMILY EIDEN, who is married to Trevor.  Speaking of sign language, I performed with JOSH BRESLOW in Deaf West Theatre's production of Flowers for Algernon.  On another Deaf West production, Spring Awakening, I met KATIE BOECKMERCEDES MANNING appeared in Joel's web series STRICTLY SEXUAL and in the feature film ZIPPER, which Joel produced and edited (directed by his wife, Mora, who went to Hunter with us).  Also from Hunter is JEREMY GUSKIN, whom I've also known since I was six, and who lived next door to me growing up.  JUSTIN ASHER also comes from the Hunter days, and once played a guitar solo with a dustbuster in a student-written play that I directed.  While JESSE ALSON-MILKMAN didn't attend Hunter, his sister did, and she went on to go to Wesleyan, where she met my friend, her future husband who went on to create HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER, where Jesse and I worked, producing new media content, DVD special features, and the HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER PODCAST.  Helping to shoot some of the DVD stuff was TIMMY VATTEROTT, whom I met when our kids attended preschool together, and he is is one of the videographers -- along with COLIN WEATHERBY, who used to date my cousin -- on a documentary I'm now directing.  CURTIS WILLIAMS is ol' buddies with Jeff.  MOLLY FITE works in an office with me.  REEDY GIBBS and LAUREN BROWN are both neighbors of KAY DAIGLE, who is a felllow sign language interpreter, who performed, a few years before I did, with THE NATIONAL THEATRE OF THE DEAF, and is married to MATT DAIGLE. The National Theater of the Deaf is also where I met SARA LEV.  We've now been together for 17 years.  We haven't produced any films together, but we have produced two children, included No Plans all-star ZACHARY.