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Nick and Brian Answer Whedon Questions with Shakespeare Geek

12 November 2011 Leave a comment

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 01, 2011

Nick and Brian Answer Your Whedon / Much Ado Questions!

Here we go!  Last week when news broke about Joss Whedon‘s no-longer-secret Much Ado Movie, I jumped on the chance to get in some questions with Brian McElhaney and Nick Kocher, two members of the cast (and better known as the comedy duo BriTANicK).  The announcement of that pending interview was the most popular post ever here on Shakespeare Geek!  (Take *that*, Bob Dylan!)  Special thanks for the link love to Whedonesque, who was clearly responsible for most of that traffic :).  And while you’re here, why not show a little love for JuliaGiolzetti who initially played connect-the-Twitter-dots and made this whole thing happen? Thanks Julia!

Without much further ado (ha! see what I did there?), here are Brian and Nick’s answers. I did my best to group questions into larger, more general topics that they could speak to rather than hitting them with dozens of little yes/no questions. My questions are in bold, their answers in italics.


First off, how did you two get involved with a Joss Whedon project? It’s pretty well known that he’s got a cast of regulars that show up in all his projects, and I personally have this picture of everybody getting together at his house for a regular Sunday dinner thing when one week everybody shows up and he’s got scripts for them.  Am I close? 🙂  How did you get the call, and how was the project pitched to you?

It was very lucky and a little bizarre how we got involved with this film. Joss had been a fan of our sketch comedy duo, “BriTANicK”, on YouTube. He had mentioned us in a blog post he wrote back in the Spring, but had never reached out directly until his assistant offered us these parts out of the blue about a month ago. Basically it was just “Joss is making ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ and wants you to play these small roles. You in?” And we tried to play it really cool and said we maybe could be interested in that (inside we were screaming like little girls). So without any audition, Joss basically offered the Watchmen to us. Within a week we were on a flight to Los Angeles.

Tell us a bit about your involvement in the process.  You’re playing two watchmen.  Did you come in, do a scene or two, and then done? Or was this more of a close-knit effort, where everybody in the cast was part of all aspects of the movie?

One of the best parts about this movie was that it was filmed literally IN Joss’s house, and everybody was encouraged to meet, hang out, drink wine, and relax on “set” even when we weren’t shooting. Both of us have been on other sets where we’ve had more lines and spent way less time on them, just because Joss’ house was such a great environment to exist in. Everyone was incredibly close-knit(most everyone besides us had known each other for a long time), and it definitely felt like we were all a bunch of excited kids making a project we all loved rather than working on a rigid film set.


Probably the most obvious question is how in the world did you all keep this a secret?  It’s not like the announcement came out that he wants to do Shakespeare, or is doing Shakespeare. Instead we got, “Here’s our movie,” and the world said, “Wait, what?”  Surely you saw the buzz – for those first few hours everybody assumed it had to be a joke.  How long was this in the works? Was this a typical movie  just done in a hurry, or was this really more a case of a bunch of friends getting together for a do-it-yourself effort?  To put it bluntly, since somebody did ask — did you get paid?

To be honest, I think it was so easy because it all happened so fast. Joss casted it really a week or two before we started shooting and asked everyone to be quiet about it. Once we were on set, he promised that right when the shoot ended(which was only 12 days), he would reveal to the world what we had done. So I think the fact that it happened so quickly and that we knew there was this cool launch plan at the end, we were all really on board with just shutting up and not tweeting for a bit.
 
The movie definitely wasn’t done like a typical film. Joss had stated from the get-go that it was to be more like a “filmed performance” rather than making a film. We shot on three cameras and moved through scenes like the wind. Lighting was minimal, if any sometimes, and all the actors wore their own clothes. It definitely felt like a DIY project, but because everyone is so talented and such a professional, it was like a very very polished DIY project. As for money, a little but really not much at all. But we’re pretty certain that everyone there would have done this completely for free if they were asked.

How intimidating was it for you to tackle Shakespeare?  Did you (or any of the cast) have previous Shakespeare experience going into this? I see from IMDB that Alexis Denisof played Tybalt in a tv movie (with Jenny Agutter, who I see is in The Avengers. Small world!). How did everybody else handle the challenge?  A number of people specifically asked me about how Nathan Fillion tackled the role of Dogberry, in case you’ve got any good stories you can share 🙂  Does anyone have stage experience? It’s certainly got to be different doing a live performance versus putting your efforts onto film for people to critique for decades to come!
 
Everyone was at varying levels of Shakespeare knowledge and experience, which was so exciting. People like Alexis had done a ton of it and were very well versed, where as a number of people were tackling it, literally, for the very first time. Brian had done some plays in high school, and Nick was classically trained and had performed Shakespeare in high school and college, but neither of us had ever really tackled it professionally.

As for Nathan… What can we say? The man is a power-house. He moves and speaks as Dogberry with such hilarious gusto it was almost impossible to keep a straight face. When he tells stories it’s like listening to Gandalf explain the rings, everyone just shuts up and listens in awe. He’s a lot funnier than Gandalf though.
 
On a similar note, can you tell us a bit about the project’s overall approach to Shakespeare? Did Whedon know that he wanted to do *something* Shakespeare, an eventually settled on Much Ado, or did he always know that this was the exact play he wanted?  Is this a period piece, or more modern? I am assuming (ok, hoping) that we’ll be hearing Shakespeare’s original text – how much attention was paid toward getting that correct? By that I mean, getting both the pronunication and the …what’s the word, pacing? timing? … as you might experience when going to see a Shakespeare play?  It’s not enough to just say the words, after all. There’s a way to say them. When it comes to Shakespeare, you know that there are going to be people in the audience who hear and feel every beat between every word, and when something doesn’t sit right it’s going to stick out like a sort thumb. If the cast and crew themselves were not highly experienced in Shakespeare, were coaches and other experts brought in to help in these areas?
 
As we understand it, Joss had been toying with doing this play for a while. But as he always said, he had a hard time getting over the fact that the play essentially “was about nothing”. Once he finally wrapped his head around what he really loved about the play, which seemed to be the exploration of what mature love really is, it felt like he was just ready to roll. He wrote a screenplay using all original text, only cut down a bit, and decided to set Leonato’s estate in his present day house, where the characters use iPads and swim in his pool. Joss was a stickler for lines and pronunciation, and had a very clear sense of the timing he wanted in every scene. There weren’t Shakespeare coaches on set, but it felt like Joss intentionally really wanted the actors to bring parts of themselves into the roles. We were directed to play it very down-to-earth and real, much less theatrically than you would see on stage, and I think that let a lot of the actors explore Shakespeare in a totally new way. Some archaic references were cut, but others are played up to hilarious results.
 
Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 film version of this play is still fresh in people’s minds (then again, I hang out with Shakespeare geeks). Did that help or hinder this production in any way?  Do Amy and Alexis expect to be compared to Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson?  How about Nathan versus Michael Keaton as Dogberry?

It was definitely part of the decision to film the movie in black and white. Along with a few other reasons, Joss felt that filming in black and white would help differentiate the two films. In terms of the performances, to our knowledge, it was never really discussed. The overall feeling was that we were doing something that felt so interesting and our own, that nobody seemed to be worried about it.
 
Some general Shakespeare questions:  What’s your personal favorite Shakespeare play?   Villain?  Having now had him as a director, in what Shakespearean role do you see Joss Whedon?

Brian: I love Twelfth Night and Midsummer very much, and have become a Much Ado fan through this process. I’m definitely into the less “villainous” of the plays, so I’m not sure I could answer that with enough confidence.

Nick: I’m a huge Shakespeare fan, it’s really hard to narrow it down. I’m a big fan of Julius Caesar (I really want to play Marc Antony someday) and Othello, but my favorite scenes are in King Lear and Henry IV pt. 1. My favorite Shakespeare villain is Richard III. 

Joss’s Shakespeare character: Henry V, he’s charming, fearless, and having worked with him once we would happily follow him into war with France. If Henry V was alive today, Firefly never would have been cancelled.

Many people want to know about distribution. The press release says that it will be ready for festival season, but what we want to know is how and when will we be able to see it? Is this going to be some sort of web release?  Straight to DVD?  Where can a Shakespeare Geek put my name to get on the list for a review copy??

Your guess is as good as ours. This whole thing is an experiment, even for Joss, but we recommend checking back with muchadothemovie.com for updates.

How much does the weight of Buffy/Angel/Dollhouse/Firefly weigh on a production like this?  When Amy and Alexis are cast in the romantic leads like this, do their previous roles together alter how they play it? Or do the actors go out of their way to make every role independent, even though they know fans will make the comparison?

The tension of past work was definitely there and exciting, but with a play like this we really wanted to respect the characters and the text before any thought of how the fans view the actors from past roles. That being said, it was really fun just knowing how much the fans would love all the connections in the Whedon universe, and putting people like Alexis and Amy together again.

I got a few questions about general back stage 
hilarity, bloopers, and other such antics.  What was the work environment like?  A constant struggle to keep a straight face?

Yeah, it was an absolute blast. Filming the party scene turned into an actual, raging dance party by the end of the night. Nathan Fillion kept showing us magic tricks with his iPhone and verbally sparring with Tom Lenk. Riki from Garfunkel and Oates would pick up guitars and just start singing weird little songs. Joss and his wife had a bottle of Chardonnay that was comically oversized that we all popped the last night, only to have Joss drink it from a wine glass that was comically undersized. People would sleep at the house, jump on the trampoline, slide around in their socks… It was work when it was work, but it was definitely play when it was play.

Let me see if I can phrase this question so it makes sense.  It’s always been my mission to take the fear out of Shakespeare, and to demonstrate through a wide variety of means that Shakespeare is for everybody.  Bringing Shakespeare to people, rather than trying to bring them to Shakespeare. I’m wondering if this is Joss’ way of doing something similar.  Did you get the feeling while filming this movie that everybody was “rising up to the challenge of Shakespeare”, or was it more a case of “Hey, let’s use this as a way of bringing Shakespeare to everybody.”  Does that make sense?  Many actors and filmmakers will express a desire to do Shakespeare as if it is a legitimizing moment, like “once you do Shakespeare you can do anything.”  I don’t see this crew as doing that, which is one of the reasons I’m so pleasantly surprised that this project just came out of nowhere.

We definitely wanted to show how Shakespeare had such a universal and wonderful story that was so easily accessible to all of us, well studied or not, younger or older. It seemed to be one of the reasons why Joss wanted to cast people from all across the spectrum of Shakespearean experience, and put it in a modern light. The idea that we could all have fun with this text, understand it, connect with it, and gain something from our understanding, and it feels like everyone surprised themselves with how true that turned out to be.

What do you know about future plans for Bellwether Pictures? Can we expect to see more Shakespeare? Are there other projects already in the works (or possibly complete and ready to be sprung on an unsuspecting audience)?

Your guess is again as good as ours!

Before we go, tell us a bit about BriTANicK?  What can I plug for you?

You can see our sketches online at www.BriTANicK.com. We perform sketch/stand-up/improv monthly at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theatre in New York City(ucbtheatre.com). We are also the voices of Cartoon Network, the ones who tell you what’s coming up next. We will come perform near you if you’d like… E-mail our manager, Brad Petrigala, and promise him something nice (b.petrigala@bep-la.com). Check out Nick in the upcoming MTV series “I Just Want My Pants Back” and Brian in his tiny role in Jason Reitman’s upcoming “Young Adult”.

Thanks!

A big thank you to Brian and Nick for doing this!  Go see BriTANicK!

Original Interview at Shakespeare Geek

BriTANick Talk to Splitsider about Much Ado

3 November 2011 Leave a comment

Talking to BriTANick’s Brian and Nick About Shooting Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing

By Adam Frucci

Earlier this week, Avengers director Joss Whedon made a surprise announcement: he had just finished shooting a previously unannounced movie, a version of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. The cast is full of Whedon regulars, but the cast list also featured some notable internet comedy folks, including Garfunkel and Oates’ Riki Lindhome and BriTANick’s Brian McElhaney and Nick Kocher.

I talked to Brian and Nick about getting asked to be in the project, what it was like shooting a movie in Joss Whedon’s house over the course of a couple of weeks, and about their own movie they’re in the planning stages of right now.

So how did you guys get involved in this project?

Brian: It was incredibly serendipitous and we had no part in it really. Joss Whedon was basically a fan of BriTANicK and he had written a blog post back in the spring about us. Just sort of out of nowhere one day it popped up and we were like, “Whoa! This is kind of crazy.” And so either our agent or us wrote him back and was like, “Hey! Saw you like BriTANicK. Well, we’d work with you in a heartbeat if you ever wanted us to.” We never heard back from him until about like a month ago and we his assistant was just like, “Joss is doing this super secret Shakespeare project and wants to know if you guys would like to play two parts? As you know, he loves you guys…” and it was basically just offered to us via email. And we were like, “Is this a joke?”

Nick: Our jaws dropped and we were basically like, “Yes, absolutely. We will pay money to do this.”

Brian: And then that was it. The script got sent out and we flew out the next week. It happened very quickly.

That’s awesome. So were you guys both Whedon fans before?

Brian: To be honest I didn’t know much about Joss Whedon. I had never really seen any of his work. And it wasn’t like I had seen something and I didn’t like it, I had just never thought it was something I would like. And now since knowing him I’ve been watching his stuff and loving it. But going into it I was kind of like, “I should catch up on this guy, see who he is,” and I get it now. I get why he’s so popular and is like an icon. Nick, however, was a fan.

Nick: I’ve been a longtime fan of his. I was a huge Buffy fan, I was a huge Firefly fan, I had read his comic books, I was very well versed in Whedon. When he made the blog post, body kind of started trembling and I was so excited. I didn’t believe that it was happening.

So what can you tell me about the movie itself? It’s Much Ado About Nothing obviously but how is it different from other movies or productions of that play?

Brian: It’s Much Ado About Nothing and it’s Shakespeare’s original text, but it is cut down. Joss Whedon kind of abridged a little bit, but he did it very well. Everything is still in there; all the meat is on there. So it’s the original text and the original language, but it is set in modern times. Like the way Leonato…

Nick: He changed the gender of…

Brian: …Of Conrade.

Nick: One character, yeah.

Brian: But people use iPads and stuff in order to send messages, so it’s still takes place in modern times all in Joss Whedon’s house, which is an estate from however long ago. But it’s shot in black and white, we shot on three RED cameras and basically it was all shot in twelve days so we had to move really fast. The way he described it before we started it was that it’s gonna be more like a filmed performance, rather than a film. It wasn’t necessarily like that, we got to do a lot of takes and stuff, but they were just flying on set. And it was cool, it was like performing Shakespeare but it wasn’t big and theatrical and Shakespeare-like. He wanted to keep it very real and almost intimate. Nick and I have scenes as two policeman and he wanted them to be very C.S.I. or very… what’s that other show?

Nick: Law and Order.

Brian: Yeah.

So if it was all shot in twelve days, how long is the movie?

Nick: It’s 83 pages so probably about like an hour or an hour and a half? I don’t see it being much longer than that.

Brian: Yeah probably around there. Its pretty dense of dialogue so I’m not sure, but it’ll probably be an average feature length film. I assume.

So what was working with Whedon like? Especially for you Nick, who has been a fan of his for such a long time? Did working with him meet your expectations?

Nick: It was really great. The thing that was really cool about this was that he had rehearsals beforehand, which with most TV/film stuff you’re not really doing. But we would come to his house and there’d be some wine and we would rehearse and then we would just sit and chat a lot with people. And that was really great. The rest of the cast was so awesome and fun to hang out with.

Brian: Yeah, we were even talking about on set how there’s a famous quote that’s, “Don’t ever meet your idols or your heroes because they never turn out to be what you think they’re going to be.” But I think Joss is an exception because he is, like, the nicest, most humble, most incredibly self-deprecating… there’s not an ounce of ego in him, which is what part of what I found so interesting about doing this project. He had just done The Avengers, which was this huge, hundred million dollar movie, and then he was just sort of like, “Fuck the studio system, I just want to do something for me and my friends and do this right now. No money, I’m just gonna pay out of pocket for a little bit of cast and set that we have…” It just felt like I was doing something with a bunch of friends in one of their houses. It didn’t feel like the pretention of the industry was there, at all. He was a really, really great guy to work with.

Brian: Another cool part about being on set was, because it was all his house you were encouraged to just stick around, and that happened. People would just stay on set after they finished shooting, which never happens on film sets, and just jump in the pool, play with Joss’s kids, or there was wine open every day all day. It turned into a party, most of the time. The set was more like a gathering or a reunion of sorts, which it was for most of those people because they’re all part of the Joss Whedon universe. But for us we’re kind of the new kids there, but it really turned into a lot of fun nights.

Wow, that’s a pretty awesome opportunity. So you basically had a two-week party that he happened to be shooting a movie in the middle of.

Nick: Yeah, pretty much.

Brian: Like if we weren’t shooting we’d go down to Joss’s theater and watch Coneheads on Laserdisc.

Wow, that’s amazing. I’m sure that’s something a ton of people will be jealous of. “Oh you know, just hanging out at Joss Whedon’s house while he’s shooting a movie upstairs, swimming in his pool.”

Brian: [Laughs] Right.

Nick: And he was just so approachable. Like I had a half hour discussion about comics with him and like, that NEVER happens. It’s like how many times do you get to talk to an expert in that field, just casually?

Brian: Yeah, or it’s like when we had our dance party the last night and I was in jeans and I was really hot and Joss was like, “C’mon wear some of my shorts, it’s okay!” And he took me up to his walk-in closet and everyone was just drinking wine and having a great time and we were just fidgeting through his clothes, trying to find shorts. It was just such so weird and surreal sometimes, all the things that happened on that set. Just the idea of us making a movie or being in the “business” was out the window and we were just friends having a good time together.

But you guys are both definitely going to be in Avengers 2, I assume?

Nick: Yeah, definitely. I made a deal with the Devil, yeah.

Brian: We definitely thought about it during the production. Nick and I kept telling ourselves like, “You know he works with people over and over again, that’s his thing. So we’re definitely in line to be in his next project!” I don’t know, you make lies like that to yourself a lot.

Hey, you never know! So now they’re basically cutting it and then they’re gonna bring it to festivals next year?

Brian: I think so, that’s what he said…

Nick: Yeah that’s the plan right now, is for festivals.

Brian: Yeah and I remember Joss saying something like, “Yeah, we’ll try for festivals, I don’t know if festivals will want this kind of thing.” Which is sort of like, ”Yes they will, are you kidding me?” They accepted Eagles Are Turning People Into Horses, they’re definitely gonna take Joss Whedon’s Shakespeare film.

Hey, don’t sell yourself short.

[Brian Laughs]

So what do you guys have in the works now that you’re done with this?

Brian: We are basically trying to make our own feature, The BriTANicK Movie, in the spring. That’s sort of our big thing coming up. Nick’s on the TV show I Just Want My Pants Back premiering on MTV in January and I’m in Young Adult with Charlize Theron coming out December 16th nationwide.

Nick: We also have the monthly show at UCB that we’ve committed to having one new video for a month. So that’s keeping us busy as well. This week’s show we’ll have Joss Whedon in the video.

Oh, Nice.

Brian: He did a sketch and it’s great. It may be our most insane sketch yet. So that was really kind of him. He didn’t ask any questions of the pitch, he just showed up and said what we wanted him to say, which was really, really cool of him.

So that will premiere at your show and I assume you’ll put that online after that?

Brian: Yeah, yeah probably the week after the show.

So what’s the deal with the movie, the BriTANicK movie? Can you talk about that at all, or are you guys still kind of in the planning stages?

Nick: It’s from our live show from two years ago, The Infinity Prison.

Brian: A science fiction farce. And we’re aiming kind of high with the cast list so we’ll see what happens. But yeah, that’s really all we know right now, or can say.

Are you guys financing it yourselves? Or are you working with anybody else?

Brian: Right now we’re not working with anybody else. We hate the idea of anyone having any kind of control over our work in any kind of directorial or editing, whatever process. Because we’ve worked with that before and the whole thing about what makes us, us is that we have complete control of everything. So we are gonna probably shop around to companies and if they want to work with us and give us complete creative control then that would be how we’d do it. But if not, then we may just go the Derrick Comedy route and just do it completely ourselves from scratch.

Original Interview at Splitsider

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