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BWW Interviews: THE RESIDUALS Creators Talk GAME OF THRONES, MAD MEN, Why Show is Their Child
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What qualities are required to make a successful web series on a shoe-string budget? Are they the same qualities required to make a successful marriage? Well, last year, newly-weds Michael Paul Smith and Gillian Pensavalle decided to find out. The two actors had been in the business for years when they decided to combine their creative talents and the product turned out to be The Residuals, a comedic web series about the perils of auditioning for commercials.
We here at BroadwayWorld are very proud of our web series baby, SUBMISSIONS ONLY, but I have to say, despite both being extremely funny while focusing on the world of auditioning, THE RESIDUALS has an unmistakable charm all its own. In episodes that range from six-nine minutes, Michael plays Pete, an actor, and Gillian plays Valerie, an audition auditor. Michael and GIllian recently spoke to BroadwayWorld about the creation of the show, amongst many other hilarious topics. Episode 9 will premiere on Tuesday, May 6th, and the season finale will come out a week later (I've seen the last two episode, and you aren't going to want to miss them). You can catch up on their website, or here on BroadwayWorld TV.
Let's start at the beginning. Where did the idea to do a web series come from?
M: The idea to do a web series came out of the need to be proactive. Gillian and I toiled around in the industry, did non-equity list EPAs, and we did little sketches. We actually met doing a web series years ago, for a now defunct comedy website, but we all along have been going to a lot of commercial auditions. And it's a part of the industry that I realized hadn't been mined for material.
G: And we would sit in auditions, and I remember texting Mike, this one time I actually recorded a video of this guy pacing in the waiting room being like, "Well you know when I went on tour with Phish," and all this stuff, and I was like, "This is ridiculous. I can't believe these people are real." It's just such an odd thing to be in the audition room. It's such a crazy experience anyway, so we thought we have so many friends that do it, and they're all so funny and great, so we thought let's just get together. And Mike decided to just write what we know and we just did it.
So a lot of the actors on the show are friends of yours?
M: Most of them are friends, or people that we have worked with, a couple of people are fellow Marymount grads, where I went to college. But we didn't hold auditions, so we managed to cast it just with people that we'd worked with, or we went a step further than that in some cases, and we had some people who were referred from other people in the cast. And luckily they all worked out really well, because we sort of just trusted the people who were referring people to us.
In the show, Keith (played by the very funny Nick Costa) and Pete are developing a web series, so I had to wonder if their conversations; whether they were show pitches, or about how much each episode was going to cost; were actually conversations that you two had in real life.
G: Yea, pretty much. We didn't crowd-fund for this or anything. We funded it completely by ourselves, so we had a lot of conversations like, "How are we gonna do this?", "Where are we gonna shoot it?" Luckily our friends really like pizza and beer and bagels in the morning, because that's sort of what we did a lot. We thought we don't really have the resources to do a 30-minute episode right now, but let's just do what we can and put it out there and see what happens next.
M: The totally fictionalized version of that arc was that I just thought it would be really funny to write a scene between two people and one of them doesn't understand irony. Keith's giving all these tragic scenarios (BWW: in Episode 2) and (Pete) is saying, "No, you can't write a comedy about that." That was just something that I thought would be randomly amusing.
G: No, I get irony.
So, that wasn't completely based on a real-life conversation.
G: No, but a lot of them are. The text message conversation that (Pete) has with his agent (BWW: in Episode 4), that actually happened.
M: Not the ending though. What actually happened was, I said, "I'm honored that we are now on texting terms," and he said, "This number is for business use only," and I left it at that, because I was so demur. But I played it out in the scene as my fantasy scenario.
You talk about the real-life situations finding their way into your writing, but, as absurd as these things are, they all seem so natural. Now, Mike, as the writer, you can take as much credit for that as you want, and I won't know the difference, but how much of what we see is scripted, and how much of it is improvised?
M: I'm happy to take all of the credit.
G: It actually was very scripted, because I did all of the editing, and it was my first real experience editing a series. So, for the sake of my sanity, we tried to stay on the script as much as possible. But Mike would always have a couple of takes where we could improvise and do whatever.
M: And again for Gillian's sanity, if someone said something in the moment that was good, we tried to do our best to replicate it exactly, so that she had more than one look at the scene. I tried my best to script overlaps and things like that. Originally, I wanted it to be more of a CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (improv) style, because I like that realism, but that really wasn't feasible, not only with the editing, but I assume that CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM has budgetary and post-production resources to streamline that kind of thing, that we just didn't have. So it was an interesting challenge for me to try to write something that felt improvised.
You both have talked about taking on roles that you didn't really have any experience with coming in, so what would you each say are the biggest things that you have learned throughout this process?
G: How to be married! We haven't been married that long. We got married and spent our first year of marriage doing this. So, that was a learning process too; just how to work together, and then be able to say, "No more show talk, now we're going to have dinner." It's like what people say, "When you have kids, you can't just talk about your kids." This is our kid.
M: Over the process, we did about a million jobs. We did all the jobs that we could, except script supervisor and director of photography, which we were very lucky to have help with. But throughout the process, Gillian and I were saying, "I look forward to the day when there's a staff of people doing these jobs, only because I will be able to look at them and say, 'I appreciate you. I can do your job, but I am grateful that I'm not.'" Whether it was costumes, or food services...
M: Makeup or location scouting, and a lot of that stuff was on the fly and trial by fire. Or is it trial and error?
G: I think trial and error is better.
Both probably could apply in this situation.
G: Mike would be directing a scene, and if I wasn't in it, I would literally be running around the space doing other things, and then I'd realize, "Oh my gosh, I have to change my shirt! I have to look presentable, because I'm about to be on camera. Oh wait, does everyone have their pizza. Oh wait, is everyone wearing the same thing that they were wearing the last time they were here?"