Making Depression Funny – Interview with Matt Warren and David Zarif of MY DAMN CHANNEL’S Matt and Dave are So Depressed

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
episodes? 
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-244 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.

Making your FIRST web series? Read this interview with Courtney Rackley, creator of Web Series FIRSTS

Your first ANYTHING can be daunting, and making your first web series is no exception. More daunting than your first STD? You decide.

Web series FIRSTS, created by Courtney Rackley (In Gayle We Trust) follows the relationship of Chuck and Sally as they go through their “FIRSTS” of everything. First Date, First Kiss, First Sick Day, First Meet the Parents… Over 200 people worked on firsts!  Each episode had a new writer, director and crew! So it was a first for them too.

Here’s my interview with Courtney about making the show. You can check out FIRSTS at www.FirstsTheSeries.com.

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Steph’s L.A. Weekly Web Series Pick of the Week: Oh, You Pretty Things

Young aspiring artists and the growing pains of youth are hardly fresh territory for filmmakers. But Oh, You Pretty Things, the first dramatic scripted series from multi-channel YouTube network Maker Studios, in partnership with fashion/lifestyle brand Nylon, is worth a binge-watch marathon.

Director Rico Martinez’s voyeuristic cinematography beautifully captures the L.A. indie art and music scene through the lives of lifestyle blogger Olivia Jones (Francesca Eastwood) and a group of 20-something creatives stumbling their way to success via downtown loft parties, practice sessions and the Echo.

Read my full review of Oh, You Pretty Things for the L.A. Weekly HERE, or keep reading for my interview with Sarah Malkin, Vice President and General Manager, Life + Style for Maker Studios and OYPT Executive Producer Jessica Gelt about creating the show.

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Steph’s LA Weekly Web Series Pick of the Week: Bad Timing – Full Interview with Andy Goldgenberg

You’re the nebbishy, bumbling IT guy. She’s the hottest girl in the office, maybe the planet. Under no circumstances is she ever going to have a candlelit romantic dinner with you. OK, maybe one circumstance: You both survive the Zombocalypse.

Check out Steph’s full review of Andy Goldenberg’s refreshingly blood-soaked take on the “odd couple on an island” web series in her LA Weekly column HERE. And continue reading below for her full interview with Goldenberg about making the show.

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Howie Kremer (Community, Trophy Wife) Throws Down Mad Knowledge about Making His Latest Hilarious Web Series: Uh, Hey Dude

After working in the writers rooms of shows like Community, Hello Ladies, and now Trophy Wife, comedy writer Howie Kremer now has his own series – on the Internet: Uh, Hey Dude. Betsy Sodaro (Animal Practice), Joe Wengert (Playing House) and Tracy Meyer (Hello Ladies) in this slice-of-life, female-centric comedy about three hilarious friends and a whole lot of relatable ‘nothing’. Ala Seinfeld, Uh, Hey Dude explores the small awkward moments that affect us all — like universal experience running into a mutual acquaintance with your friends, and NO ONE being able to remember their F*%#* name. And then they invite you to their birthday party.

Check out Kremer’s hilarious, insightful answers below as to how he created and executed the show and all the steps in between. You can watch more at www.Uhheydude.com

You’ve worked a lot in the TV world. What did you learn from the writers’ room or on set that you carried over into creating your own web series?

EVERYTHING. EVERYTHING and EVERYTHING!

Being in a writers’ room has helped my writing tremendously. Not only have I been lucky enough to be in writers’ rooms, I’ve been in the funniest, weirdest, craziest, smartest, and most lovely writers rooms ever. Each experience has helped me unlock something that has led me to be able to make UHD.

Doing my episode of TROPHY WIFE also helped SO MUCH for UHD. Being onset as a writer, and working with KEN MARINO who directed my episode, was such an incredible learning experience. It helped me with so many things: writing ON THE FLY — when a scene wasn’t working and me and Sarah Haskins had to rewrite a speech for Malin, or when a joke could be beat and you had a few minutes before it shot to write an ALT to camera set ups, lighting, sound, editing and more.

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AMERICAN KOKO – Web Series Spotlight by TW Guest Writer: Lorelei Ignas

Ever wonder what would happen if Spike Lee and Christopher Guest had a brainchild who wrote a character-driven procedural web series?  Meet Diarra Kilpatrick, creator, writer and star of American Koko, a web series that follows Akosua Miller (Kilpatrick) and her fellow gumshoe “Race Detectives” at the E.A.R. (Everyone’s a Little Racist) agency.

On the surface a procedural about sleuthing out racism and racial ignorance in everyday political incorrectness, American Koko uses its equal-opportunity offensive sense of humor to highlight the many ways in which racism is pre-programmed into today’s American society — an objective that’s flipped delightfully on its head when Main Character Akosua falls for (gasp) a white guy.  Using the microcosm of an 8th grade musical to earnestly yet satirically ask “what’s the appropriate level of blackness?” — and then actually waiting for an answer — is no easy feat.  But, as Diarra so succinctly says, “you can talk about anything if it’s clever and it’s funny, and if you approach it with some irreverence.”

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Diarra and director Miles Orion Feld (both repped by CAA) to drink iced tea, discuss TV, race, making a web series, and the inspirations behind this exciting new serialized-procedural web series, whose humor manages to somehow be both irreverent, indeed — but also equal-opportunity offensive.

How would you define your use of the term “post-racial America” for dumb white folks?

D: When Obama was elected people were trying to peddle this idea that there was no race issue anymore, this was a cornerstone of how far we’d come.  a) we haven’t’ gone that far, we still have a long way to go b) I’m not actually interested in a “post-racial America.”… people’s culture and ethnicity is exciting information about who they are… it’s all a way in which we celebrate life.  Everyone’s culture shapes how they specifically celebrate life… I’m interested in how people do that in their own particular way.  I don’t want to live in a world that’s just beige.

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Jacqui Rego Talks With the Ladies of Hit NYC Web Series – Hot Mess

If schadenfreude came dressed in a yellow mini-dress and heralded from Kansas it would be Amy Kersten at the season three premiere of her digital-series, Hot Mess. Hot Mess is scripted non-fiction, the real stories of real NYC women keep together one post-it note at a time. This post Sex in the City, pre-Lena Dunham series was first hatched in 2007, and it’s come a long way baby.

NYC 2007 – Amy and I were roommates: two straight girls, two gay boys and two cats in a one-bedroom railroad apartment in a 4th floor walk-up in Brooklyn. We kept our sanity and the bed bugs at bay by playing “Enya cover band” with wooden spoons and pots in our kitchen. We laughed, because here’s the thing that can’t be conveyed in an HBO show. NYC is so inconvenient, physically uncomfortable, hot, sticky, and deeply human – that the only way to keep it together is to embrace the ridiculous. Community is forged in “Fire”, literally – I did a turn in an episode of that same name when our oven exploded.

Now ingrained in Hot Mess lore is the story of the seed money that birthed season one, compensation after a giant television fell on Amy’s head on Halloween while working at NYC’s poshest health club. The universe seemed to be whispering (loud enough to shake televisions from the sky) real life is funny. Soon Amy hooked up with co-conspirator Cheri Paige Fogleman and the series took off.

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