BWW Interviews: THE RESIDUALS Creators Talk GAME OF THRONES, MAD MEN, Why Show is Their Child
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?"
M: My biggest fear when I was directing was that I was going to be found out. Like, "Oh my God, these people that I love and respect are going to think I'm some sort of amateur, and think we were wasting their time." So, I was very conscious of the schedule, and I didn't want to take anyone's time for granted. I was very anxious, but I internalized it, because I wanted to preserve the "vibe" of fun on the set, which hopefully I did.
Well, as a viewer, it seems like you guys were having fun. I laughed more watching these 6-9 minute episodes than I do watching actual 30-minute network comedies. So...
G: Aww, thank you Matt.
M: Thanks Matt, that means so much.
Good, I say that, because I enjoy the show, so what has the feedback been either from your friends that were involved, or people who randomly found it online, like I did?
G: Um, really great feedback. That's weird to say, but...
Not to make you uncomfortable patting yourselves on the back, or anything.
G: One of the first comments we got was from a personal friend of ours and he said, "I can feel the pain in these auditions." He's been there. He has auditioned with a crazy person and thought it was hilarious too. And then there are people who have never auditioned for anything in their lives, and they think it's really funny too, and I think that speaks to the characters and the writing.
M: And when you get that kind of feedback from people that have no prior relationship with you, like our families are going to love it no matter what, but people who have no reason to tell us that they like it, it's a different level of authenticity. And when we get feedback from people in the industry, it just means a lot, because you know it is coming from a very real place.
I'm really glad to hear that it has been received so well, because that leads me to the most important question of all; are there plans for the show in the future?
G: Absolutely plans for the future. We're just not sure in what capacity. If something wonderful happens and someone says, "Here's money for Season 2," that's great. We're open to doing it the same length of episodes. We're open to reshooting Season 1 in 30-minute episodes for a little company called HBO or Netflix, or whatever. But we're open, and Mike's been writing, so we'll see.
M: The Notes app on my phone is filled with ideas. There are whole facets of their lives that I haven't gone into, because keeping the episodes in single-digit minutes was very important to us for the web, so there is no shortage of ideas. I'm especially excited, because we've established the relationships, so now that that's happened, we can really play jazz, if you will.
I'm really excited to see what happens next for the characters. Obviously there is chemistry between you two that definitely comes through the screen. There's a little bit of MOONLIGHTING, will-they, won't-they going on.
G: It's funny you say that, because we didn't think of it that way, but you are not the first person to say, "I can't wait to see if Pete and Valerie get together at the end of the season (BWW: You'll have to watch the last two episodes to see just how close Pete and Valerie get)." Like people think that's where it's going, so, of course, now we have to give the people what they want! So we'll see what Season 2 brings. Of course, poor Keith is going to be heartbroken.
And I'll be honest, at the beginning, maybe because it was the first interaction we saw between them, I thought maybe Pete and Ellen (played by the wonderful Kelly Warne) was the romantic endgame. So, whichever direction you guys choose to go, I am on-board.
M: I hope that the message boards are filled with all sorts of conspiracy theories. I want THE RESIDUALS to have a fan-base that scrutinizes every second of footage.
G: If only we had 6,000-7,000 page books before the series, we could have been the Game of Thrones of comedy web series.
Who knows, maybe after the first season ends, you will get all kinds of fan-fiction popping up online.
G: Yes, I mean, happily. And you know, the internet can be a little weird, but if they're talking about us, let them do their thing.
M: I want to see THE RESIDUALS Funko POP action figures with our heads.
If that does happen, let me know, and we will get pictures of you side-by-side so we can put them up on the website.
G: Absolutely, Matt. You will be our first call.
(Last week) we posted your really funny 10-Tips to Commercial Auditioning, and I was wondering what you thought was the biggest difference between commercial auditioning, and auditioning for anything else; whether it's on-camera or on-stage.
M: Well, the first thing that comes to mind is, nine times out of 10, when you go to a commercial audition you don't know what your lines are; you get the copy right there. If it's a legit audition for TV, you might get your sides in advance. If it's for theatre, usually you have a song and a monologue that you can choose and prepare. So that already adds to the level of stress (at commercial auditions). You want to get there and sign in, and hope you have a few minutes to look at it, but it is all very rushed, very last minute.
G: Sometimes you have an audition for "unnamed printer company," and it's like, "Oh, ok," and you don't even know what you are auditioning for. And then of course, you think you nail it, and you are the exact same type (that they are asking for), and you turn on the television, and it's a tall black guy. The audition room is filled with people just like you, then someone did something wrong, and they went in the complete opposite direction.
M: The Mad Men days of Peggy Olsen and Ken Cosgrove being the only people casting the voiceover for the Electrosizer, those days are over. There's a lot more cooks in The Kitchen now. There's a lot more people with opinions and job justifications, where they feel like they have to have input. So there's a lot more confusion that happens before, during, and after the audition process, and most of it is stuff that the actors never see, but it all affects them.
G: I know that actors probably don't want to hear this, but it's not really about them, because there is so much stuff going on. But it's not really about you.
M: It's comforting as an actor to know that. This wasn't about my performance.
G: I had an audition a super long time ago. This might be in Season 2, so I don't even know if I should say it.
M: It's a preview.
G: Yea, a preview, but a casting director said, "The client really doesn't like nail polish, so if any of you are wearing nail polish, you probably aren't going to get it." I thought, that's weird to say, but people are crazy. If your hair's too long, or you're wearing the wrong shoes, you're out of the running.
And nail polish, that's so odd. I've never worn nail polish, but it seems like that would be pretty easy to get rid of, it's not a face tattoo.
G: Believe it or not, there's actually a remover specifically for nail polish.
If you haven't been keeping up with THE RESIDUALS this spring, you have plenty of time to catch up before this week's episode. Head over to TheResiduals.tv and watch the first eight episodes. Episode 9 will debut at 1:00pm on Tuesday, May 6th. The Season 1 finale will come out the next week, Tuesday, May 13th. You can also follow the show on Twitter @TheResiduals or Like them on Facebook.