Monday, September 24, 2012

'Thoughts from Actual People' - Vol. 1, September 2012 - 'Rejected Pitches' Star and Writer Dan Klein

Today we are talking to Dan Klein who, along with Kelly Hudson and Ben Ramaeka, stars in the webseries ‘Rejected Pitches’ on YouTube - a great new comedy web series made by Lorne Michaels’s short form production company Above Average Productions.

For those of you too foolish to have seen ‘Rejected Pitches’ yet: it’s a weekly internet series of 4-5 minute shorts about a group of film executives who turn down a real-life classic movie each week, fully assured that they are saving the world from a box office bomb as they send the likes of Orson Wells, Stanley Kubrick, and Quentin Tarantino packing.



Dan, thanks for agreeing to participate in the first of this new, monthly feature on my blog - ‘Thoughts from Actual People.’

When I first heard about Above Average’s Youtube page, the ‘Back to the Future’ episode had just been posted. I think it was a couple days before ‘The Shining’ went up.

The idea of ‘Rejected Pitches’ instantly resonated with me, but when I actually watched the clip, I was even more impressed. Judging from the amount of views your videos receive, I'm not the only one who thinks this is hilarious.

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So, tell me, Dan. How did you initially conceive of the show?

Dan Klein - Actor, Writer, & Creator of 'Rejected Pitches': The idea started with me randomly thinking about "Look Who's Talking," and how weird it is that someone thought of that movie, pitched it, and actually made it. The idea is so bizarre on paper and, in the wrong hands, it could have been terrible.

Somewhere along the line, I realized that's true for most movies--good ones, at least. Most good movies are considered good because they do something new or unusual, but it's hard to convince people to believe in your new or unusual idea since they don't have much to base it on.

So I first thought to write a sketch about the executives who rejected "Look Who's Talking," and then the rest just kind of followed.

I didn't conceive of it as a series, but in terms of production, you get a lot more bang for your buck if you shoot six episodes over the course of a weekend as opposed to just one.

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This somewhat bungles my second question about 'Back to the Future' being your first script. It was the first episode to 'air' online, how early was it in your production schedule?

Dan: "Look Who's Talking" was first but "Back to the Future" was an easy second.

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Dan, you write the episodes. How long does this process take? Is there any point at which collaborative elements creep in before you film?

Dan: I wrote the first six in a week (when I was unemployed last October), and then got together with Ben and Kelly to go over them--mostly to make sure they made sense and to improvise together. So some new ideas and lines came out of those rehearsals. Then, during the shoots, we all improvise a lot. I mostly just want the structure to be there with some specific lines, but overall, I like to keep it loose so it feels like an "actual conversation."

For the second six, I consulted with Ben, Kelly, and our director Greg a little more. I think Ben was the one who thought to do The Sixth Sense, which, I have to confess, I actually never saw until I decided to write the script.

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That's very interesting. At this point in the film's life, you probably couldn't have avoided knowing the 'twist' of the movie without dropping out of our culture a decade ago.

The hair and makeup really add a lot to this series. It would be a lot harder to have your brilliant idea rejected by someone with that ridiculous shock of blonde hair than someone who didn’t already look so damn punchable. Did you guys spend a long time on your character’s looks? I notice Hanna El-Assad has started doing your makeup now that you are in your new locale, how did that come about?


Dan: I got a blond wig because I thought it'd be weird to have three brown-haired people sitting in a row, especially when it's supposed to be L.A. At the time we shot the first six I didn't know Ben that well, so I was too embarrassed to ask him to wear it. And Kelly's hair is too long. So I became the blond by default.

We didn't spend too much time on the look. I just bought a bunch of ugly ties from Goodwill and told Ben to bring as many jacket and pants options as he could. Kelly also bought some of her outfits at Goodwill.

For the second six episodes, we had the money to pay a makeup artist, and it was awesome having Hana there. She's great at what she does. We knew it'd be helpful, especially for Kelly's hair and makeup, to have someone there who could simply focus on our look. My wig comes undone a lot less in the newer episodes. Hana also does some cool special effects makeup in an upcoming episode.

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You guys, as far as I can tell, are based in NYC, which is the live comedy capital of the country unless there is some crazy underground thing that I – a comedy outsider – know nothing about. You also work on web videos, which become instantly international and accessible to anybody, anywhere.

Is it hard for you to find a balance of live and web work that satisfies you, or is that an absurd notion? How does it feel being part of the first real generation of comedians who have access to these electronic resources without thinking of them as anything weird or unusual?


Dan: It is hard to strike a balance because producing a show for the stage or for video is so much damn work and for the most part you don't get paid. Luckily, we had Above Average produce the last six episodes (which we could not have made without their help). I made the first six with my own money and peers who were kind enough to volunteer their time and skills.

New York is a good place to be because there's not a lot of work. That sounds like an oxymoron, and it is, but there's a big community here of people who work hard and are doing it knowing they won't make much, if any, money from it. So most webseries and live shows are driven by passion.

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I notice that Kelly edits the episodes. What kind of software/hardware does she use, and how long has she been doing that?

Dan: Kelly is the best comedy editor there is. She uses Final Cut 7, and her previous work (especially on "Teen Wheels") helped land her a full-time editing job at Collegehumor. She previously edited for vbs.tv and recently won a Webby for editing the Collegehumor sketch, "Siri Argument."

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Are there a lot of outtakes, bloopers, or crackups that you have to work around when you’re filming, or is the deadline so tight that you don’t have time for hijinks?

Dan: I would say 80% of shooting is hijinks. If we really wanted to, we could probably shoot an episode in an hour, but I like to get multiple takes because we end up saying insane things we would never have thought of if we just nailed it on the first or second take.

Sometimes the hardest part of editing these is cutting out all the extra funny stuff in there. We had a whole throughline about steak sandwiches in the first six, but they made the videos too long so we had to cut them out except for that one joke left in the E.T. episode.

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How do you find the experience of working on one of the first series on Above Average?

Dan: I feel very, very, very lucky to be doing it. Everyone there is helpful, hardworking, and nice. Above Average is producing content with awesome people like Sue Galloway, Neil Casey, Dan Opsal, and Paulilu--people who I find funny and admire, so it's cool to be a part of something I would've liked independently.

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I know that Kelly will be appearing on Fuse for the next few Fridays on 'Special Videos Unit: Video On Trial.' Any other appearances you folks might like to mention, or projects you’d like to ‘put on blast?’

Dan: I'm currently writing for The Onion Digital Studios, which is a branch of The Onion that produces webseries strictly for Youtube. It's been fun and has one of the best writing staffs I've ever worked with, so everyone should check that out at youtube.com/theonion.

Kelly and I also worked with my friend Arthur Meyer (a writer at Fallon) to produce a fake takeout menu. Sounds silly because it is. But it may become a cookbook. You can see that at fudsmenu.com.

Also, if you ever want to see any of us on stage, we all perform at the UCB Theater in New York.

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Finally, do you think ‘Turds in Space’ could possibly do worse than ‘John Carter’ or whatever that expensive caveman in martian Egypt movie was?

Dan: "Turds in Space" will be a huge hit.

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Thanks so much Dan, and remember to get all your Rejected Pitches action right here on their official Above Average playlist!


5 comments:

  1. This sounds right up my alley. I think I'd heard you mention it before, Troy, but now I'll be sure to go watch. Cheers!

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  2. sounds like my kind of humour. will be checking this out soon, thankd for the headsup

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  3. I LOVE THIS! Definitely my kind of stereotypical,incongruent humor--a little too real. LOL:) Keep doing what you do!

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  4. Thank you! Will go and check it out today!

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  5. paintergirlny@yahoo.comJanuary 10, 2013 at 2:06 PM

    Hysterical!

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