The Director of Life
Something Remote's creator, writer, and director Alex Laferriere talks about the film and web series. Plus, an EMF scoop! What's the big news on the couch?
Last month, we talked with Alex Laferriere, the creator, writer, and director of the Something Remote film and web series, about Broken Wall Films and where it's headed. This week, we meet up with him once more to talk about Something Remote itself, and how it came together.
Rick Desilets: So let's start at the top. Where did the idea for Something Remote come from?
Alex Laferriere: Something Remote was the adaptation of a Kilroy Sketch Comedy show I directed the winter of 2007 called Sofa King Kilroy.
(Editor's note: Kilroy Sketch Comedy is Worcester Polytechnic Institute's sketch comedy troupe, which performs four shows per academic year.)
RD: Can you give us a timeline of how it went from a Kilroy show to the film and web series we see today?
AL: The premise I gave the sketch comedy group was: "I want to do a show about three guys on a couch, watching TV." This premise was devised from the format a typical Kilroy show was comprised of: filmed and live sketches. I wanted to encapsulate a logical reason why the audience was involved in the speculation of live and filmed sketches and wrapped it all up in a logical delivery method: a TV.
...I have to step aside for a moment and give some real deep meaning and symbology into the reasoning behind the premise. Living in my apartment (which became the inspiration for the premise) we had a TV without a remote... with this conflict I had the zany idea to become a show director of Kilroy, to propose the premise of three guys on a couch, watching TV, so we would have to buy a prop remote for the show... a remote that I would late procure for my own apartment... underhanded, sure.. but needless to say...
The format allowed individual ideas and concepts to reign true (aside from some live sketches requiring the main cast) but filmed sketches could have no boundaries as they were "TV shows". With a group effort, I guided the typical sketch show to a massive cohesive show, with threads, jokes, and logic to an otherwise normally chaotic show, elevating the quality of the show to new heights, setting new standards within the club.... not to boost myself up, but the recognition of all our work was noticed, especially the efforts of Caleb Wrobel, who created a lot of original sketch ideas in the "omni-script" that was the back bone for the live portion of the show.
With the completion of the show, an homage to my life in my apartment, I was brought back to the world of my production company, on the heels of showcasing my three shorts in a theater in Millbury. It was obvious we needed to do a feature next, but where to find the idea...
Kevin Smith's Clerks. was brought to my attention, I watched it in twelve parts on YouTube, sans dead man in the bathroom (go figure)... but when it wrapped, I was awestruck. "This is Clerks.?! I can do that!" ...Cocky words, sure. But I would find out much later in deeper research that Smith himself said the same thing about Richard Linklater's Slacker. I looked back to my history and felt I had something very similar to Clerks., in the sense that it was dialogue driven and "culturally relavant". I felt I wanted more discussion and analyzation of pop culture, something I thought was all Clerks. was (as opposed to vulgarity being the majority). Assisted by a month long trip to South Africa, I began to dissect the previous Kilroy show, coupled with Clerks., and began writing what I was jonesing for so far away: home, my apartment.
The result was the hundred-and-fifteen-page script, then titled Three Guys on a Couch... very original. With the $150 budget, we set off to make the next big thing, locking down my apartment for the next three months.
With the culmination of the film we shipped off to film festivals and began the long process of waiting. It was in this second life lull and graduation on the horizon that I felt we needed to do something bite size and easily obtainable, as people couldn't see the film (aside from it's premiere in the same theater we showed in a year ago). So with this new "web series" buzzword and my insatiable fascination with my Three Guys, I set off to tell more jokes and delve deeper into their being with a prequel... and also I was moving out and had to "film the shit" out of the place before we moved.
RD: There are (obviously) a substantial number of similarities between Sofa King Kilroy and Something Remote. What were the major challenges that came with rewriting the sketch comedy show as a feature-length film?
AL: I remember the biggest changes came in refocusing the characters: Mat used to flip-flop in the original stage show at trying to help Neil get back together with Lisa, while vying for his company... it didn't seem right. Also, having seen the performances and my slim directing in such, I saw what was working, and what wasn't. Erik became a stronger voice of reason, while maintaining his innocence, losing his video gaming interests, and gaining his laptop. Neil became more neutral, maybe more so in the acting than character, but each of the guys became more settled in their polarization.
I also remember strengthening some jokes, making them call back to things earlier in the movie... the other biggest epiphany that I came to me in South Africa... I saw exactly how I wanted my "pizza pie" joke to start, carry throughout the film, and end in the credits... and then come in with a stinger post-credits. Lame stuff, sure, but it was that completion that I was proud of and reveled in it when it was done a year later.
RD: So there were clearly quite a few revisions to be made from stage to film, but were there any major revisions to the script from its first draft to the final cut?
AL: In the original hundred-fifteen-page version of the script, I was keeping the story a little too close to real life, involving a "second tier" of three guys that came to visit. Needless to say it was bulky and needed a second opinion. That opinion came in the form of auditions. The first audition of the day was Sarah Neslusan, and did she blow us away. We felt that we needed to utilize her, but was unsure if we could commit her to a leading role of Lisa, that and Rebecca Davis nailed the role exactly how I wanted her to. Nick suggested I lump the second tier three guys into one character and give him a girlfriend, and have them double date. I remember initially rejecting the idea "I couldn't imagine a girl on Mat's turf. No, it just wouldn't work... Okay, I'll play with it." It was the best thing we ever did. Sarah played the part well, and her opposite, Matt Heron-Duranti played the daunting image of a girl-controlled boyfriend to the T.
RD: Now, originally the script stayed a lot closer to real life, but eventually shifted gears. How similar were the characters of Neil, Mat, Erik, and even the absent Alix to you and your real-life roommates?
AL: This is a most interesting question because of the concerns I always had post Sofa King. I always felt it was a labor of love, a sign to my friends that what we had was awesome, so awesome I wanted to share it to the world. The stage Erik came off as a little... feminized, more my fault for not directing the actor appropriately, but aside from the gross caricaturization of some very, very basic elements my roommates have, the final result of all the guys, blend many of our attributes. So in short, they're not like my real roommates, though you may argue that after the film, it seemed like they had to start to "live up" to their big screen counterparts, justifying certain actions/manners because that is what is "expected" of them...
It has been theorized that the three guys are actually fragments of my own personality, as I can emit Erik's innocence, Matt's brusqueness, or Neil's neutrality given the situation or issue.
RD: Obviously, your first role in Something Remote was screenwriter, but once it came time to film you had to switch gears and put on the director's hat (or vest, in your case). After writing and directing several shorts and short films in the year leading up to Something Remote, how did you transition into directing a feature-length film?
AL: The feature-film life was much more demanding than the short film life. The shorts taught me a lot about prep and the technical skills like editing, importing, lighting, etc., but now the feature required everything to fire on all pistons, consistently, and over a larger time frame. We tried to cover for a lot of the demands a feature-film require by locking in our set for eighty percent of the movie. There were days that I was the only crew, aside from talent, and having the skills of running and gunning on short films, a locked down set, and some quick thinking, solved a lot of the problems we faced (not flawlessly, but thus is no-budget filmmaking).
RD: Now as you said, nearly the entire movie (and about half the web series) was filmed in your apartment, specifically the livingroom. How was it spending months like that, both as a film director, and as the one living AROUND the film equipment?
AL: That was the beauty of the film. It cut our costs, allowed for seemingly limitless filming, and we could shoot at any time of the day (thanks to the added posters on the windows). It became a cave of production, as the lights swelled the temperature to well into the nineties. It was quite hilarious watching REAL TV through the light stands, microphones, and wires. When we broke it all away, the room instantly became huge and roomy thanks to the loss of volume and clutter. I remember the moment when it began to grate on Real Matt's nerves, about a week and a half before the end of the three-month production. I asked him if we wanted to keep the posters on the windows and he immediately barked, "Of course we don't!", the clutter of it all clearly weighing on him. I had the foresight to remove the easiest window blockage: the pirate flag and trash bags... Cut to the next afternoon. Matt: "Man, it does get bright in here..." and him hanging a shoddy blanket over the one exposed window. The posters would stay on the windows until we moved out... two years later.
RD: Not only do the Three Guys seem to talk almost exclusively about pop culture and its effect on society, but the TV shows and commercials in the film and web series seem to serve as a parody of it as well. What are your thoughts on pop culture "then and now"?
AL: It wasn't until we saw the finished product after the dust settled, but it really was a contrasting and satisfying thing to see the quick visual humor of TV sketches to the long, in-depth and convoluted discussions of the couch. I am no pop culture whiz, but I am influenced by the products of my childhood, and I wanted to invoke those fond memories in my audience, or give a look into a firm discussion of it for those who might have been too old for it. I think I am too far removed from just being a consumer of pop culture the way I was when I was a kid. It's tough to just let things wash over me now, but that is called maturity... or something like that.
RD: So there was the Something Remote film shot in 2008 and the Something Remote web series shot in 2009, totalling over 150 minutes of pop culture comedy. Are there any plans to bring back the Three Guys in future projects?
AL: Don't tease me. I am too connected to these characters to let them go, but I know for my own benefit as a creator and business man to let myself be mired in stagnation. If the demand is evident, I have a plethora of ideas and adventures to take our modern day philosophers on. Maybe I will be able to revisit them á la Clerks II in ten years... and be able to double the budget. I mean, think of all the pizza pies we could buy with $300!
RD: Or more Howies! Now, I understand there was an announcement you wanted to make about Something Remote?
AL: Yes, we have been given the great opportunity to showcase Something Remote at this years GenCon in Indianapolis! I have always wanted to go to GenCon in general, but now am so excited to trek out to the best four days in gaming with the chance to show off my film to an audience that I know is perfect for it! I hope to gain as much recognition and support at the convention, and want to work towards catering to my audience, giving them the respect, dedication, and hard work they deserve from a director whose purpose is to entertain. I am ready to roll my sleeves up and be the blue collar director of my crowd, acknowledging our grassroots and labor-intensive climb while providing entertainment and a good product for those who support us in our endeavors.
RD: I for one can't wait to schlep it on out there and see if we can't find ourselves a whole new batch of fans! Great talking to you as always, Al.
Alex Laferriere is currently directing Open Lounge, a Broken Wall Films podcast he co-hosts with producer Steve DiTullio. Gen Con Indy 2010 will run August 5-8, 2010 at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis, Indiana. Kilroy Sketch Comedy's YouTube channel is located here, and Sofa King Kilroy can be viewed here, complete with the original musical intro, an episode of The College Crew, a sketch featuring the REAL Neal, Matt, and Eric, and a full-on dance number finale.
Tune in this Sunday and watch Neil fall further into Lisa's web of control as Mat and Erik struggle to make him see the light in this week's episode, Something in Aisle 3!