It’s a comedy about depression. A not so easy sell, but a paradox the world is more willingly aware of, particularly in the wake of Robin Williams’ recent passing. Embracing the adage that comedy is just tragedy with good timing, MY DAMN CHANNEL’S Matt and Dave are So Depressed is an episodic series detailing the lives of two roommates, Matt (Nick Burr) and Dave (Brandon Bales), who compete to see who is quintessentially more depressed. I had the chance to catch up with the series creators, and in some ways their own muses, Matt Warren (director) and Dave Zarif (writer). – TW Team Writer Erin Stegeman.
Q: So, Matt & Dave – why are you so depressed?
DZ: War, poverty, the ephemerality of life—none of that bothers us much. I joke, of course. We think that we’re depressed because comedy, to a degree, requires a certain level of insightfulness, and such insightfulness, while helpful at formulating jokes, often uncovers a dark side to things. Luckily, I’m not that funny, so commensurately, not that depressed. I could only imagine the sadness a comedic genius like Robin Williams felt during his too-short life.
MW: Depression is something a lot of people struggle with. I think a lot of it boils down to anxiety about the future: how am I going to make money, who am I going to be with romantically, all of that. We’re a very goal-oriented society rather than just living in the moment, and I think that’s the source of most anguish we all live with, and something we wanted to explore with “Matt & Dave”.
Q: How much of your lives are depicted in the series itself? Any particulars?
DZ: Well, the show is filmed in the actual apartment we shared and is based largely on our experience being roommates for two years, so there’s that. Obviously, there were some embellishments and exaggerations here and there; for instance in episode 1, when Dave tries to hang himself with a rope, it was actually an electrical chord.
MW: Pretty much everything depicted in the series is rooted in something that happened in our real lives when we were roommates for a particularly dark and upsetting two years about six years ago. Dave was constantly (and continues to be) extremely neurotic and obsessive about pretty much anything, and I had a serious drinking problem. Turns out you can’t consume 24 bottles of something that’s actively labeled a “depressive” per day and have the best mental health. We were plagued by too-chipper neighbors and romantic frustrations, and spent a lot of time pouring over the details of our wretched lives, just like in the series. The only difference is that neither one of us are as handsome in real life as Nick Burr (who plays me) and Brandon Bales (who plays Dave), so that’s a little bit of Hollywood gloss.
Q: Do you think, as a society, we are all just a bunch of over-stimulated mindless drones? What’s your solution for this?
DZ: I think we’ve uncovered too much about ourselves and our planet to really turn back the clock on anything. Nothing’s a mystery anymore. All of our continents and islands are mapped out. Everything from falling in love to deja vu can be explained with electrical impulses or serotonin or whatever. Maybe over-stimulation and mindlessness are the keys to not being depressed, at least until we have the ability to uncover new mysteries, to travel to other universes or to develop artificial intelligence that is smarter than us. Then we might find a reprieve.
MW: I think we’re all living in our own heads too much, or in virtual worlds we construct using technology and social media. We’ve all turned our lives into these little meta-narratives where we’re the main characters, which fucks up our ability to empathize with other people, which makes us all sociopaths in the same way robots are theoretically sociopathic. So I guess turning ourselves into actual fictional characters in some way was a pathetic, unsuccessful attempt to become less robotic. Honestly, I’m not sure there’s a solution for this. It’s a cancer of the modern condition.
Q: How did you finance your series? Mom? Dad?
DZ: We got most of our financing internationally. I have an uncle in Alberta.
MW: Aside from Dave’s possibly apocryphal Canadian uncle, I pretty much paid for most everything out of pocket myself. Which, ouch. But it was worth it?
Q: What’s your ahem “process” like? How did you create and film the
DZ: Matt and I hate each other a lot, so we try to stay away from one another as much as possible. If I had an idea for something, I’d write it down on a piece of paper and hand it to our producer, who would then hand it over to Matt who would then light it on fire while staring at me menacingly.
MW: What Dave describes is not too far off. We love each other, but we’re like bickering siblings, so a lot of interference was run by our awesome producer Lance Kirshner as well as our equally awesome DP/editor/associate producer Greg Hirsh. Dave is credited as the writer and I’m credited as the director, but really we both did both. On set, I primarily sat behind the monitor and coordinated with the technical crew while Dave worked with the actors. I’m not sure I’d do it the same way again, but it worked for this.
Q: How did you come to collaborate with My Damn Channel?
DZ: My Damn Channel came to us with an offer we couldn’t refuse—homemade sugar cookies. Seriously, I’ll do anything for them if they’re still warm—and they were the warmest.
MW: I’d already been working at My Damn Channal as a producer for a few years, so it was pretty much a no-brainer. MDC was looking for content for Modern Primate, one of our subsidiary channels, and I was like, “Well, there’s this web series I’ve been working on…” Being a rusty cog in the internet video bone-grinder occasionally has its perks.
Q: What’s next for the series? A trip to Machu Picchu? Yogaworks membership?
DZ: A second season is in the works, set to debut early next year. There’s an episode where Matt “Inceptions” Dave’s sexual fantasies, and another where Matt develops mutant powers.
MW: Dave is writing more episodes and we’re trying to find money, since I can’t really afford to go out-of-pocket on another season like I did for Season One. We’ll see, but if there’s one thing we learned it’s that doing something right, with the right crew and post-production infrastructure, takes a lot of time, effort, and money. But stay tuned!
Q: What’s been your biggest challenge with the series (ie filming, funding, viewership)?
DZ: Not falling in love with the wardrobe girl, especially since she’s my cousin.
MW: In Dave’s defense, his cousin is pretty cute. It’s hard to get eyeballs on something like this, since there are about a billion web series and most of them are terrible. You can only have the “no, but ours is really good!” argument with people so convincingly before you just have to trust that if they sample it, they’ll realize it’s the real deal. But a couple of thousand of people have, and the response has been great, so it’s nothing to sneeze at. But truthfully, no part of making these episodes has been easy.
Q: Any hopes and dreams for the series? What’s been the coolest thing the show has done for you, your careers, your love life?
DZ: At first, I thought coolest thing I got out of the show was the blind deal that Warner Bros. offered us after seeing the series, then I realized it was the hallucinogenic drugs given to me by the prop guy when we wrapped.
MW: We’d like to make another season and implement the lessons we learned this time. The dream is always that the show gets in front of the right people, whoever those are, who can either A) finance more episodes or B) give us a chance to do something else, like option one of our feature scripts (we have a few) or staff us on a show as writers. But again, I’m trying not to be too goal-oriented and just enjoy having made a really great show. That’s enough of a reward in and of itself.
Q: Have you started monetizing the series yet or is this more a labor of love?
DZ: I’m not sure, Matt handles most of that. Every time I call to ask about it, he says he’ll “call me back after he finishes shredding receipts.” He’s also really hard to track down ever since he got that new BMW.
MW: We’re running ads against all episodes right now on YouTube, but honestly I haven’t done an audit to see how much we’ve made. Probably nothing. But yeah, I think this definitely qualifies as more of a “labor of love” than a get-rich quick scheme.
Q: Biggest hurdle you’ve had so far?
DZ: Covering up the death of one of our stunt guys. Deaths are just really hard to cover up.
MW: Just finding a way for me and Dave to work together without murdering each other. It’s a pretty classic “can’t work with him, will never do as good work without him” type creative-partnership. We’re like Ray and Dave Davies in that way, only less obsessed with English country life.
Q: Single best piece of advice for someone looking to get their comedic series on a channel.
DZ: Go to law school. At least take the LSAT, man.
MW: Make a good show, and don’t half-ass it. Get real actors, a real crew, and be prepared to spend a little bit of money. Good work speaks for itself.
Erin “Queenie” Stegeman is an actor/writer/fan of slashes. She has done a multitude of projects that her mother pretends to love. The worst and most character-defining moment in her career was undoubtedly a 2-hour long audition for a traveling dance-puppet show, in which she had to wear a 3ft wide pig head and equally long clown shoes – all while lip-syncing about her house made of straw. She did not book the job and cried for 3 days straight. Erin blogs at QueenieWasABlonde.blogspot.com. Check out her Once Upon a Time Spoof Web Series: Once Upon A…Anonymous http://www.OnceUponATimeSpoof.blogspot.com And her professional site: www.erinstegeman.com. You can check out Erin’s reviews for Tangled Web HERE.