Here’s a case of me prioritizing making it fast over making it right. It’s also a case of me still struggling to shake off my old sketch TV style.
The idea for Dudley and Frank: Bathroom Inspectors is fairly obvious. The problem is that political ideas have an expiration date. I first thought of making it a written piece, something goofy for the blog. But the comedy here is too visual. It simply wouldn’t translate. You had to see hands in pants. You had to see the discomfort.
Live television can handle such a tight time frame – think of it Wednesday, write it on Thursday, put it on air Friday, move on to the next sketch. You also get the element of urgency, a “now or never” vibe, that breathes extra life into the material. And if you’re lucky to have a studio audience (or at least a very vocal crew)? Bingo.
But I don’t have a TV show these days, so I must adapt. Cinema, however, lacks the urgency and can’t handle that same frame – think of it Wednesday, spend months planning and months editing.
Online videos fall somewhere in between – you lack the urgency of television, but the raw quality of viral video allows for faster turnaround. But that’s only if you can plan quickly.
Knowing the argument over transgender bathroom laws could slip out of the public consciousness any day, I knew I had to fast track production. I gave myself a deadline, all else be damned.
This meant I was without a crew, as most of the usual Argo One team was unavailable within the tiny calendar window. I went into live TV mode. Couldn’t I shoot it cheaply, crudely, without bothering with the sort of set-up a short film requires? You know, just kinda make it on my phone? Sure, why not?
I also had to throw myself at the mercy of a few volunteer cast members who had to drop out at the last minute. Rather than reschedule, I simply rewrote on set, adding and dropping dialogue based on who was available.
(Kudos to the extras, by the way. Jim, the poor fool, got stuck with the “two-fister.” Stu, an old friend from Friday Night Fu, offered his office as a location and was quick to jump in, no questions asked, when we needed another actor. And England signed up during filming, driving across town to help out after Brad called her from the set, looking for a last minute replacement.)
The limitations are all there on the screen. With no boom microphone, we rigged an adorable, if not quite as effective, substitute: my phone on a selfie stick, recording audio via an app. With no light kit, we had to dance the actors out of the hot spots of the location’s fluorescent bulbs; the result was uneven tones color correction couldn’t hide, but desaturating to black and white gave it an oddball look that adds a weirdness that makes me simultaneously cringe and laugh.
Luckily, the cast was willing and plenty able. The whole sketch was built on Brad and Josh, and I knew I could trust them to deliver comic weirdness where the production value could not.
Camera guy Mike Z also helped guide my eye, reminding me to get enough coverage and to avoid the death zones of the badly lit set, all while my brain just wanted to keep moving.
They got right what I got wrong, and they’re to credit for what works here.
As for me? This was a good reminder to myself to slow down. Film, even the short variety, isn’t TV. It’s definitely not Friday Night Fu, which itself was barely TV. Film requires more time, more planning, and a better eye for interesting visuals. I can still run-and-gun, but within limits. I can’t make “it’s just an online thing” be an excuse for lower production quality.
But still. It’s funny where it counts, it makes its point, and it got done on time. Which is all I really wanted.
copyright 2016 David Cornelius all rights reserved