Yesterday was the premiere of the Shane and Dave: The Epic Finale and I thought I would take a minute and unpack what it was to work on that project over the past two years. Most of my friends are writers and performers and comedians. All of us would like to have careers in comedy. For the most part I try not to be grandiose about my expectations. I would of course, love to have a Chris Pratt story and be an unassuming funny guy that suddenly gets in a bunch of oscar nominated movies and then suddenly gets recognized as a super sexy guy. That would be cool, but realistically all I want is to make enough money to give my future wife (we’re getting married in four days) and our future family a future house to live in with future food and future college.
I have no clue how to do that. I make a lot of plans and just as quickly let them go. I can wake up and tell myself I’m going to go out there and get my own tv show or make it onto SNL or get cast as the lead in some darling indie comedy. But things change constantly and as much as I try to make things happen for myself I’ve gotta be open to the unplanned opportunities that pop up.
Sometimes I make little side quests for myself. Things that seem oddly unobtainable but pushing for them is a nice little bonus. Freestyle rapping with the Roots is on that list. Acting with Jack Nicholson is on it too. Performing on the SNL stage sits there, but again, I’m open on how that happens.
I do know one thing, none of these plans happen if all I do is talk about the things I’m going to do or what I want to happen. I need to make a lot of work and act in a lot of things and write a bunch of shitty scripts and audition a million times to get all of the suck out of the way so when someone serves me up a big opportunity I’m comfortable with it cause I’ve sucked too much to suck anymore.
So about two years ago my best friend Shane came to me with the idea for a web series. And as he told me about what he wanted to make I started to think about what I wanted to make and wonder if we could make that the same thing. I wanted to make something that would be very hard for us to produce. I understand the urge many performers have where the idea is ‘lets just get together and get a camera rolling and see what happens’. And that’s an important step, getting motivated enough to make your first shitty comedy video. But we wanted to make something more polished and clean and larger than we thought we could. Shane and I decided to get complicated quickly. We shot things that involved illegal shooting in many locations and brought in multiple person crews. Small fries for any real shoot but we had never done any of this stuff before, not even PA work. I edited all of our videos and I had never edited before. We shot the first five episodes in September and we waited on the footage four months till my wonderful fiancee and my family pooled their money to buy me an iMac for Christmas so I could have something that could run my editing software.
At this time I was also working two jobs running a print shop and freestyle rapping for a tour bus called the Ride. On top of that I had just signed with a commercial agent and I was running to any and every audition he would send me on. There were days, periods of 48 hours, where I would be in my closet (where we had set up an impromptu office so I could work through the night while my fiancee slept and not bother her) and I would be swearing and crying at my computer because I couldn’t get a video to export. I didn’t know anything about compression or video file types or mastering sound or color correcting footage or how to use Final Cut or Premiere or Aftereffects. I called in sick to work so that we could meet our deadline of a new episode every two weeks.
That was crazy. Putting a new one out every two weeks. We put a lot of crazy expectations and restrictions on ourselves. We would have to have the episode written, cast, crewed up, schedule the locations, get all the props, shoot it, edit it, and throw it up on youtube every 14 days. On top of this we also wanted to pay our crew. The first three commercials I booked all of the money I made from it went into Shane and Dave.
By the end of the first year I was fried. The episodes were getting longer and more plot heavy. The production value had raised. When we started we worked with this really great sound guy, Jamie, who charged us next to nothing, mostly cause he could tell we were clueless and he was being nice. By chance we fell into working with a pro sound guy, Mike, who had a five figure sound rig and we were shelling up to 10 times as much to shoot with him. Worth every penny, but it was hurting. I was broke, tired, and also nobody was really watching the series.
Which we had agreed wasn’t important. Shane and I had agreed this was a learning experience, to make the best show we could as well as we could with the skills we had and fuck it if people watched it. But man, we really wanted people to see it. We knew it was long for the internet, we had some episodes over seven minutes. If Jesus Christ had a video outlining how to achieve world peace and it was online and over 7 minutes I would read the cliff notes. We paid money to promote it on facebook. MyDamnChannel picked it up for distribution. We made a website and bugged everyone we knew to watch it. But I started to question when this was ever going to end.
Shane was getting busier at work and was having a harder time fitting shoots in and I was getting busier too. I told Shane that if we couldn’t make the time for the series we were going to have to hang it up. Shane agreed it was time. But, we wanted to have an ending for the series, so the most masochistic part of my mind decided to make it another learning experience. We decided to make the finale larger in scale and production than anything we had ever done before. We put together a kickstarter to raise 6k and ended up pulling in 8. I had just done a commercial for a southern Fish Fry joint and took the 2k paycheck and dumped it into the Finale. I wanted to write a script to match, and my fiancee had planted the idea of taking the series in a hard twist back when we were editing episode three.
What came out was a two episode arc that was 24 minutes. We hired three dp’s, rented three C300’s, sliders, monitors, lights, a music venue, got almost a hundred talented performers and friends, hired a composer, and shot and shot and shot for a month. It was a crazy, sleepless, expensive blur where we worked on a larger films schedule with a itty bitty films crew.
And then things stalled out. It didn’t take long for me to put together a cut, but there were still two scened we hadn’t shot yet, we still needed music to be scored, and I had a two minute cartoon to illustrate and animate for it and I had never animated before. On top of that we wanted to get the final project sound mixed and color corrected by professionals. This was hard, because we were out of money. I also got on Maude at UCB around that time, and I started consistently booking commercial work. We got busy and Shane and Dave took a back burner. At Christmas that year I quit my day job. I had left the print shop shortly after we began work on Shane and Dave and now I was leaving the Ride as well. I didn’t have a plan or any money coming in, but I thought the Ride was distracting me from making moves towards the sort of work I really wanted to do. I taught myself Flash at that time and began animating. Really simple, ugly stuff, but it kind of fit for the series.
We had no Shane and Dave money and I had no other money to pay for services so it wasn’t until February, when I booked a bunch of work all at once, that I was able to schedule a shoot, pick up the missing shots we needed, pay our composer for music, and then compose some myself. We did our own sound mixing and color correction, as anyone with any film experience can painfully hear and see, and by March we had Shane and Dave done. And it was good. I showed a few friends, they loved it. I had spent two years setting up one very large bizarre joke with that ending and it payed off. But at this point, I hated it. I had watched it thousands of times and all I could see was all the awful stuff I had done wrong or all the things that would be better if I knew how to do more stuff, or if I was better at acting/writing/editing/animating/producing. I kind of wanted to bury it at the bottom of the sea.
By July I had some offers to develop some new series, to be a part of some other projects, and I realized that I couldn’t focus on undertaking any new large tasks until I finished this one. It was the monkey on my back. A lot of very good people had given us a lot of money to make it, and I hadn’t delivered any of the Kickstarter incentives or, you know, the film they had paid me to make. It was Shane who finally pressured me to put together the last shoot, get our final pickup shots, finalize the cut, and premiere it last night.
Last night, at the PIT theatre, with a small and intimate crowd, we heard their reaction to seeing this series, which was in spite of our work, very average, middle of the road, and unremarkable, change in the final two episodes into something hugely different. Hearing the audience lose their assuredness to the style of humor they were seeing, and then eventually stop laughing altogether was so exciting. I realized that even though the execution was a little all over the place we had made something I would be genuinely interested in seeing.
The audience was having a reaction, an honest reaction, to what was happening. Fifteen years of doing comedy and theatre and they only thing I had ever gotten out of a crowd was laughter, mostly cheap, but some clever, and here was an audience getting confused and sad over something we had made.
And I had to think of how far I had come since I started working on this series. When we began I was working two jobs, taking classes at the UCB, and hoping that this series would be my break. Now I was acting for a living, performing on a house team at the theatre I moved to New York to be a part of, and was marrying my the girl of my dreams in a week. I’m not a lunatic. I don’t think Shane and Dave was the ‘reason’ for all the good things in my life. No one saw Shane and Dave and said ‘this is our guy!’ But the things I learned making it, how to conduct myself and make things happen and collaborate with others, set me up.
I don’t know when I’ll get something like that again because I don’t know the next time I’ll pour so much of myself into a project so stupid. But I’m so proud of what we made, and if you are ever thinking of making anything in the future I will say this:
Do it. Do it better than you think you can and commit more time and money than you have. Say yes to something you can’t even conceive of how to see it to fruition and then don’t stop until it’s done. What you end up with from working this way is invaluable.
Thanks for watching Shane and Dave.
It’s just that this wood/bone window blind chest thing makes me feel a lot safer in battle. Like, more confident, ya know? Cause I’m protected on both sides. Cause the shell, obviously, but like…the front too. The other guys don’t think about the front… But me, with this homemade chopstick dental floss thing…I’m always thinking. I guess that’s why I’m the leader.