The Hatchet spoke with Darren Miller and Kevin Mead of GW’s improv comedy group receSs about the upcoming release of their 25-minute short film, Charlie on Parole. The film was written and produced by beast.films, a group started in New York with Paul Briganti, who attends the School of Visual Arts. The short will premiere Oct. 11 at Betts Theater in the Marvin Center. Check the arts blog for the trailer, along with absurdly hilarious information on their next project – which involves thrill-seeking, identity and sandwiches.
How was the project conceived?
DM: We’ve been going to New York for the past two summers. We started a comedy group there called beast. and out of that we started beast.films. Originally Kevin started working on the idea for the short with Paul Briganti, the third person in beast.films. The two of them started work on the script, I then joined the project and it’s been a little over a year now.
So what is the film actually about?
DM: Charlie is this nice awkward guy who means well, and he just got out of jail for involuntary manslaughter.
KM: He’s basically trying to live a normal life after having been a convict. No one wants to sleep with him.
DC Pierson of New York-based improv group Derrick Comedy is a part of the project. How did you get him involved?
KM: Everyone at beast. is a student at the Upright Citizens Brigade. You just sort of get to know everybody – it’s a pretty tight community. We have (GW alumnus) T.J. Miller on the project. He was in Cloverfield, an ABC series called Carpoolers, he’s going to be a voice in a new DreamWorks animated movie. Joe Wengert, who plays Charlie’s boss, is also in Upright Citizens Brigade.
DM: Bobby Moynihan is also in it. He’s the newest cast member on Saturday Night Live, which is big.
Did your improv work translate into this project at all?
KM: I’d say in the writing stages of it a lot of the dialogue was written based off just improvisations that we would do. Also in shooting, almost all of the leads were improvisers, so that’s sort of kind of the whole feel on set – taking the story and improvising around it. So I’d say it was a pretty good portion of it.
How do you fund a project like this?
DM: We did a lot of fundraising, and friends and family helped out. We ended up raising $12,000 to shoot it, and it’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. There’s this company called Fractured Atlas that is like this service company to artists. We were able to ask for donations and make them deductible. We got a lot of small donations that way and they added up.
KM: We started with a little under $9,000 when we started shooting, and then we went over budget. We got three (speeding) tickets and broke a mirror on our rental van.
DM: Normally, it’s like, “Oh yeah, that sucks,” but when you’re budgeting a movie, you don’t write a broken mirror into the budget. And that’s a huge deal, so we went in the red and had a bunch of overdraw fees on our bank account. Pretty bad. Yeah.
Jukebox the Ghost is doing some of the music for Charlie on Parole. Why’d you decide to include them in the project?
KM: We’ve been friends with those guys since we met them two or three years ago. We got (GW alumnus) Ben Thornwell’s music too. What’s convenient is that they were making music that felt like it could match the tone of what we were making.
DM: We called in every favor we had for this movie. A lot of the crew did it for free. None of the actors were paid.
How’d you go about getting T.J. Miller to be part of the project?
KM: T.J. Miller went to GW. He was a member of receSs. When we got close to the second draft of the script, it was when the Cloverfield trailer had just come out and I remember I was just sitting around with Paul and we were up really late and I just threw it out there – what if we got T.J. Miller to do it. The second weekend we shot was when Cloverfield was released, and that’s like his first major film. He was doing 10- and 12-hour days with us.
DM: He’s sort of on his way to fame now, but when I was a freshman, one of the first things I learned about in receSs was there’s an alumni in our group, T.J. Miller, and he’s in Chicago at Second City Mainstage, which is big in Chicago comedy right now. And that year and every year since then he comes back to D.C. for the dccomedyfest and he takes receSs out to dinner and hangs out with us and gives advice and is really supportive. Having someone like that as a mentor has been really incredible.
How long did the editing process take?
DM: Paul Briganti lives in New York all year-round and we had to be in school, and since we shot during school we had to coordinate preproduction, postproduction and production itself for when we were in New York. We had to work on it while we were in two cities at once.
KM: Like I said, a good portion of the filming was improv. People say that for whatever you’re shooting you should have five times more than you use – I’ve heard that. We had like 15 hours of footage. The first cut we showed – it’s just not the same movie at all.
DM [laughing]: I’m not embarrassed that we showed that version but . almost.
What were your parts in the film?
DM: The three of us played T.J.’s old friends in a flashback that shows how he killed the guy. We snuck onto the subway in New York and illegally shot the whole scene, and it was really cool to do that.
KM: I want to qualify that. The reason we had to do that is because it costs two million dollars for insurance to shoot on the subway. So we didn’t do it illegally by choice, we did it by necessity.
DM: I would have done it by choice. I like breaking the law.
Final points on the project?
DM: Production-wise, being connected to the School of Visual Arts helped a lot. And then on the other side of it, this all came from our education and our involvement with improv – with Upright Citizens Brigade and that community there – and it all stems from receSs here. Being a part of receSs is where we learned everything about improv and everything about comedy at first.
KM: It’s kind of like the culmination of everything we’ve done up to this point.
DM: Meeting T.J. Miller through receSs was the first time when it was like this could be something that’s actually real. I just remember listening to this conversation (T.J. Miller and a student) were having about actually doing comedy in a career-oriented way. And I guess from that point on it was like – this is a base but it’s not it for what you can do and what you can do outside of school. So that’s when we decided we wanted to take the time and the effort to get a job, sublet an apartment for two summers in New York and make it work out there – to set up a new group out there in addition to what we have here.
KM: You’re a creative writing minor, I’m a creative writing major. That’s a help. There’s teachers that are in total support of what we’re doing – what we’re trying to do – but those same teachers are working professionals themselves, so it’s almost like being in the same boat. It’s not similar to something like political science or whatever where you have a network of people you can contact and as soon as you step out the day of graduation you have a job.
DM: There are a lot of professors here who have been really supportive of what we’re doing and have been such a huge help, but a lot of the time it’s like, yeah, I want to help you, I want to be really supportive – about doing it outside of school.
KM: From academics to practicality at GW, what we’re interested in is completely circuitous to actually accomplishing it. Say we were trying to make this movie for the school. We never would have been able to do it. We just kind of went out on our own and did it.
Catch Miller and Mead perform with receSs for the group’s first improv show Sept. 11 at midnight in Betts Theater.
Interview conducted and condensed by Amanda Pacitti.
This article appeared in the September 4, 2008 issue of the Hatchet.