BWW Interviews: Mitchell Jarvis of 4 a.m. Productions' IT COULD BE WORSE
4 a.m. Productions presents it could be worse, a wildly dark comedy starring Wesley Taylor (The Addams Family, Rock of Ages, and the web series Billy Green). it could be worse is all new original web series penned by Taylor and Mitchell Jarvis, the guys who brought you Rock of Ages Productions, Rockwork Orange, Sardi's Redemption, Ken Burns Softball, Network General-Los Angeles, and Billy Green.
Actor Jacob Gordon (Taylor) can't seem to catch a break. Victimized by the grueling rejections of an ugly business, horny parents exploring their mid-life crisis, and a delusional boyfriend who needs constant babysitting, Jacob is lost.
He tries to be "good" and not give in to temptations. He tries to be "open" and have an understanding of the people around him... but at the end of the day, Jacob Gordon is a doormat.
In the wake of their four We Love Soap wins on April 3 (Best Indie Series, Best Actor, Best Actress, Favorite Online Couple), Mitchell took some time to answer questions via email for BroadwayWorld.com about it could be worse.
BroadwayWorld: How do you describe it could be worse to someone who doesn't know what you do?
Mitchell Jarvis: it could be worseis the story of Jacob Gordon. A young New York City actor trying to find his way. His family life is strained, his love life is complicated, and his social skills are moderately challenged. it could be worse is about that part of all of us that wants to be better than we really are.
BWW: Where did the impetus for it could be worse come from?
MJ: Wesley was developing a pilot episode for a series he called "Veronica". While waiting for funding to shoot a dummy pilot of "Veronica", we decided to shoot a series of short sketches based on personal stories of humiliation. The first sketch would be Wes' true story of humiliation that later became the "Ladies Room". A short that later became the pilot episode for it could be worse. At that point our dummy pilot funding fell through, and so we set out to merge those ideas. "Ladies Room" and "Veronica" would merge to create the world of Jacob Gordon and it could be worse.
BWW: As writing partners, how to you and Wesley work?
MJ: Wesley and I wear so many hats in making this series happen. We have learned that we are a solid partnership not only artistically, but as a production team as well. Wes' strengths as a producer are so vast. He plans and organizes location, cast and scheduling. While my strengths lie more in technical preparation. I serve as Director of Photography and plot the shot lists.
As writing partners, we write as we go. We like to think three episodes at a time, without knowing quite where the story goes from there. Wes is the nuts and bolts of the operation. He writes the scripts. I am more the structure police. I'm there to steer the arc of the story from a big picture perspective.
On the set we serve as co-directors. Wes blocks the scene, and I set up the shots for camera. We are both comfortable directing actors, and tend to agree with one another's ideas and adjustments.
Editing is a joint effort. Wes tends to lay the groundwork in choosing takes, and laying out the script. I then take over and focus on cutting, pacing and styling the edit. I color correct and master the sound.
Casting is a collaborative effort, but I have to say, Wes has a talent like no one else when it comes to getting who we want. It's quite remarkable really.
BWW: it could be worseis flooded with recognizable faces from Broadway and television ... including a smattering of Wes' Smash co-stars. What's the key to bringing such star-power on board?
MJ: Like I said, Wes is the driving force. He is persistent, and usually gets his man... or woman... I think our guests, and cameos enjoy working with us. I think they appreciate that we work fast, we know what we want, and we try and have a lot of fun while we shoot. We love the communal element of this process.
BWW: Many old friends and co-workers have joined you for the series. Is there someone you thought you already knew who completely surprised you in terms of what they brought to the table? Did they change how their character was written or portrayed?
MJ: We try not to bring those kinds of expectations to shooting scenes. We find that if you really go with what someone's bringing, more often than not, it's much more interesting and more complex than what you had in mind when you wrote it. Alison Fraser is the chief example. As written she was cold and rigid. Alison brought such a girlishness, and a sexiness that wasn't on the page, and it has influenced the writing of that character completely.
BWW: On the flip side, is there someone you didn't know very well who completely blew you out of the water?
MJ: To be perfectly honest, I'm amazed at every single performance. I am regularly blown away by how talented and fearless everyone involved has been... Right down to the two guys we got to dance on the furniture in episode 10.
BWW: When did you first fall in love with Alison Fraser?
MJ: I've loved her from afar since I did The Secret Garden at my high school in 1997. I listened to her on that album no less than 100 times. Then I met her at my agencies' Christmas Party last year and thought she'd be perfect to play the role. Wes worked with her on Smash the following week, and we knew it was fated to be.
BWW: Lauren Molina's musical accompaniment seems to fit effortlessly into the episodes. How do you work with your musicians in scoring the series?
MJ: Lauren's writing partner on the score is a gifted musician namEd Scott Bradlee. He is the MD at Sleep No More, and he and I have collaborated on a number of other projects. We wanted a feel similar to the music of the great Andrew Bird, and he and Lauren ran with that concept and composed a beautiful and poignant score that Wes and I are so proud of. Rob Morrison, Lauren's lovely boyfriend, and very talented musician in his own right, was good enough to produce two featured songs for the show as well. Another artist featured in the score is a good friend of mine from my Carnegie Mellon years named Davitt Felder (DW Brandt). Again, we are so tickled at the collaborations we have been able to foster through this series.
BWW: With the success of your past web series Billy Green and now it could be worse's growing exposure within gay and theatrical pop culture circles, are you and Wes planning what's next?
MJ: We are not. But we will at some point.
BWW: What draws you into watching a good web series? Have any favorites?
MJ: We both love parody and have a taste for the absurd. I know we have both been fans of the soap opera parody "Horrible People", and the recent parody of The Batchelor; "Burning Love".
BWW: Have any advice for writer or director types who want to begin their own web serial?
MJ: In the words of the great Lloyd Kaufman; "Make your own damn movie..." We have found that if you are passionate and talented, you mustn't wait around for other people to give you work. Make your own. Be passionate. Have a point of view. The cream will rise to the top, and you have to put yourself out there to find out if you are the cream.
New episodes of it could be worse go live on Fridays at itcouldbeworse.tv.