What inspired you to come up with the idea for the film?
I’m lucky to have a gaggle of very talented actor friends, and we were all eager to strut our stuff, to do something we weren’t yet being hired to do; in their case, acting in meaty roles, and in mine, writing and directing. I love writing for a large ensemble, so I came up with “Master Class” as a showcase that would house us all, and allow them explore these crazed characters. As long as it felt challenging, made us laugh, and made us scared, we knew we were on the right track. Like, “what can we get away with?” This being a web-series, the answer is “almost anything.”
How do you relate to your characters or subjects?
I feel their frustration. It gets harder and harder every year to be seen in this industry, but when you want it, that’s it. The acting students in “Master Class” have this drive, just no self-awareness. So essentially, a frustrated writer got this big ensemble of frustrated actors together and said, “do you want to send ourselves up, send this industry up, and do it in the most ridiculous way we can?”
These characters are really modeled on ourselves, but also taken to this outlandish degree. We respect them, even love them, and also wonder what they must get up to when they’re not in class, which leads to lots of bizarre and elaborate back-stories.
What aspect of the story changed the most during writing and production?
I had originally conceived of the show as a more naturalistic and observational comedy, but it quickly became apparent that these characters would just not be contained. People with nothing to lose and a lot of delusion can get themselves into some fantastic trouble, so everything had to go off the rails or it wouldn’t make sense. When your teacher is willing to bury a body for a drug kingpin to keep a classroom, or break into a pre-school just to “teach” his class and make his little $250 for the week, this group is not going to go in a good direction together.
What influenced the visual style of your film?
Arrested Development, Party Down, The Office. Big ensemble comedies where there’s a lot going on. I’m not the most well-versed in film history and visual theory, so I can’t give a knockout answer. I wanted a loose, handheld look that felt natural, like you were just another participant in this class.
Our DP Zac Sprague knew how to translate my bumbling explanations, get coverage on all of these people (frequently sitting in a circle) and make it feel both intimate and kinetic.
Hire a great DP and sail along on their expertise.
What was the most courageous decision you or your crew made during writing and production?
Practically, in terms of real danger, the answer is blowing up a car in our ninth episode. In the story, it’s after a huge party where all hell breaks loose, and writing it I thought it would be great to just cut to “later,” and there was a car burning in the background, just the aftermath that left you guessing.
While wondering how to pull that off, a pro stuntman and pyro coordinator reached out to us via our Facebook page saying he liked the sample episode he saw on our Indiegogo, and if we ever needed anything to contact him. So my producer Nick Toti and I just looked at each other and said, “well, it doesn’t hurt to ask: how would we go about blowing this thing sky-high?”
Of course, it was done with the fire department monitoring and all due precaution, but when that thing went up, it was like the intro of “Apocalypse Now.” We were in awe. And it’s built into the episode as a punchline, so it’s both spectacle and laughter.
Were there any risks that you faced during writing/production and how did you find a way to embrace them?
The biggest risk was financial: that what started out as a spec, 30-minute pilot we financed ourselves grew to six episodes of a web series.
We had to decide if we were going to stop there, mid-story, and maybe never pick it up again, or go ahead and finish our show at an even bigger loss.
At that mid-point, we got a lot of the old adage “never use your own money,” which is good advice, but we were also very frustrated at not being able to finish a story. You start a series, do a pilot or a couple of episodes, and always just end on a “dot dot dot.” People say “so what happens then?” and you say “we ran out of money and it didn’t get picked up.” Sort of like “Cinderella got hit by a car and died. The end.” Everyone involved really wanted something whole.
That’s where a fair amount of “screw it” attitude came into play. My producer asked me how many episodes it would take to wrap up a nice first season arc, and I settled on ten. I wrote four more, we financed them from both Indiegogo and a couple of friendly investors. We got to tell something that made sense, that has an arc across ten episodes and a sense of closure. It was satisfying not only for all the creatives involved in making it, but it gives an audience a sense of satisfaction as well. The whole story is building to something, and we give them a payoff they probably weren’t expecting.
What risks does your story take?
We pushed ourselves to be outside of the normal realm of what we thought of as the traditional web-series. There’s a lot of “buddies in a coffee shop” or “buddies in a car” or “buddies on the couch” out there, when in reality, there should be no rules in terms of taste or content on a web-show.
We just thought of ourselves as a show with an established audience and a network budget, and though we have neither, that really exploded the “what can we make?” thought process and allowed it to be “what do we want to make.”
We take a lot of risks in terms of taste and content. We love our characters but pull no punches in how ridiculous some of their endeavors are. It’s a fairly explicit and raunchy show, but it’s got a heart in there. Somewhere.
How would you encourage others to tell their story or manage through the process of screen writing or film producing?
In my experience, when you make yourself uncomfortable, you get more creative. So find that project that frightens and challenges you, that only you can tell. Make demands of yourself to make it bigger and better than you think you can. You may only get one chance to make something, so stick out like a sore thumb.
Not only that, but the amount of personal energy required to bring something into existence is astounding, so it better not be something that you get bored with and/or grow to hate.