If you know me, you know that I’m not one for spontaneity. Sure, I’ll occasionally write a new project on a whim and end the week with two short film scripts called “Potato” and “Douchecanoe.” But that’s writing. Writing requires no exterior commitment, and at this point in my life it barely requires any other kind of commitment. It is as natural a process to me as pushing the snooze button on a Saturday. “Five more minutes.” “Three more pages.” Etc.
So this makes it even more absurd that I just finished production on a short film, before the behemoth that is Brains season 2 even premiered. A short film called “Ace and Anxious” that is incredibly weird and funny and deeply personal in so many new and scary ways. It also marked my first time directing for traditional filmmaking, where I have to pick multiple angles for a scene and panic if we need to cover more than three pages of material in a day. After Brains, where we’d film from a single angle and call it good when we got a single good take, or film 11 pages of the script while hiking around Prospect Park all day, Ace and Anxious seemed both completely insane and completely doable. Turns out, it was both.
The first two seasons of Brains I wrote two posts thanking all the people involved with production, because filmmaking is the opposite of a solitary pursuit and because it would not have been possible without the incredible people who volunteered their time, effort, talent, and sometimes blood/sweat/tears. Brains was much bigger than Ace, but the people working on Ace are just as wonderful, and so let’s consider this the… Aces behind Ace and Anxious. Ey? Eeeeeey?
First up, my rock, my perfect angel, my pocket boo Brandon Smalls. Brandon was the DP for Brains season 2 and, as you’ll see tomorrow, it changed everything for us. It took us to a whole other level. And on Ace, he did it again. Not just that, but he met with me multiple times to exhaustively pour over storyboards, shooting orders, and never once complained. He offered his home as two locations, answered [most] of my insane texts and emails about production, and kept me focused on our shared goal. He is patient when I am spiraling, consistent when I am confused, and funny and kind when I am so deep up my own ass I forget what the real world looks like.
Next, Dana Shiree, my brilliant lead actress, and the first person I asked to tentatively join up. She accepted, then added that she was moving to LA in October, so it would have to film before then. I had zero plans to work on this film before winter, certainly not before Brains season 2 premiered, since I still had so much post production work to do on it. But I also knew that this film would not be the same without her, so I pretended like it was totally the plan all along to film within the next two months. Dana is one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met, and one of the smartest actors I’ve had the pleasure to work with. Her portrayal of Emma made me emotional at every turn, and lent a genuine spin to Emma’s crazy plans that balanced out the film perfectly. While I’m sad to see her go, I’m thrilled that I got to work with Dana one last time, and I can’t wait to see what amazing things she’s sure to do out west.
Colin Hinckley was the first person, somewhat inadvertently, to want to work on this film. I had submitted the script to a film festival because I had a coupon code, and they picked it as an official selection for best short script. I posted about this on Facebook, and he commented, “Hell yazzz, want in.” This was pretty fortuitous, since I actually sorta kinda wrote the part of Kevin for him. After Colin stepped into Carl’s shoes on Brains season 2, I knew this was a guy I wanted around, and I can’t wait to show the entire world what an incredible, charming, funny, warm, wonderful performance he gave.
Rachel Casparian came to us highly recommended, and she was incredible. I’m always worried about new people coming onto our tiny weird sets and hating us, but she fit right in and took us to task. She also has some of the best comic timing I’ve ever seen, with a quiet confidence that makes the timing even funnier. She’s got great stories, she’s kind and patient, and I hope this isn’t the last time we work together, because I need more funny, smart people in my work and in my life.
I met Tai Collins in a bar a little over a year ago, back when he was still Brandon’s roommate, and we got along and then never spoke again. Then Brandon brought him on board for the film because I had no intention to ever run sound and direct ever again, and, in the words of Lin Manuel-Miranda, my world will never be the same. Not only is Tai a brilliant sound person with a sensitive and highly trained ear, but he is also an incredible presence on set. He’s patient, funny, full of crazy stories, a sharp dresser, and best of all, his work ethic is unparalleled. He also stepped in when we had a bit of a last-minute casting snafu and improvised a variety of door gags with zero preparation. I asked him to marry me almost immediately, and he politely declined, but I won’t hold that against him.
Lauren Wells is someone else that, if I haven’t already, I fully intend to propose to. She graciously stepped into the often thankless job of assistant director, and I want to work with her forever. We met at a school networking event and immediately recognized in one another a kindred workaholic spirit. Lauren is meticulously organized, which I love, quick with her work, which I love more, and the perfect partner in crime. The best thing about Lauren, though, is that while she was helping me pull this film together, she was pulling her own together at the same time, which is a level of commitment to art that without a doubt proves she’ll go far.
Michele Austin, my roommate and work soulmate and all around perfect person, is someone I can’t wait to present with a big, important award someday. In every random conversation I had with or around her regarding the short film, she offered to help out with something else. Every time I panicked in her general direction about something (and everything), she watched me patiently and then said “you know, I can do that.” Michele is the kind of person I want to go into battle with. She’s organized and neat, keeps up with my insane process, and keeps my spirits up not by commiserating with me, but by giving me practical solutions. A woman after mine own heart, truly.
Marshall Taylor Thurman is someone who I don’t think I’ll ever stop waxing poetic about. I’m always worried that, with his jetsetting lifestyle and fabulous potential, Marshall won’t be able to (or want to) help me out with new projects. Thankfully, so far, he seems to like me and, apparently, enjoys being involved in the various insanities I rope him into. His enthusiasm for “our first traditional filmmaking project” was infectious, and as always, knowing Marshall will be on set is enough to calm my anxiety, because Marshall is talented, charming, and committed as hell. He also offered us his apartment as a location- though we didn’t end up needing it- which was a gesture more impressive than helping someone move, because he is the best.
Ever since Andrew Williams managed to fake a window with a cool lighting trick for our roommate Chris’s web series, I’ve wanted to give him free, uninterrupted access to lighting on a project. On Brains, he and I were always doing so many things at once we didn’t get to focus on anything, so for this project, since I was directing, I asked if he would help make it look pretty. And holy crap did he deliver. Andrew also broke his foot between the first two days of shooting, but did that stop him? Nope! He just propped himself up on a rolling chair and sailed around set with efficiency and even a little style. Let me repeat that: he broke his foot and still came to set, because we needed him and because he wanted to. What a guy.
Giancarlo Chico is my hero. When another actor slept through his call time and we didn’t know what to do, Giancarlo traded in a no-lines bit part for a one-line bit part at the drop of a hat and was fantastic. He also showed up not once, but twice to a Brains shooting day, just because we needed bodies in the background. He’s always game to help out in a pinch, has hilarious facial expressions, and showed up to the Brains cast party inadvertently dressed like the Hamburgler. I mean, how could I NOT be a little bit in love with him?
Aidan Wallace is insane. He is also one of the most consistently funny people I have ever met, and that’s impressive, because I spend a lot of time around comedy writers. Aidan loved the script when I sent it to him, and when I asked him to be the final person on screen for a truly insane one-liner, he graciously accepted, and was exceptional. In his wardrobe notes, I told him to wear something that he would murder someone in, and he showed up to set literally looking like he’d just dumped a body, complete with makeup on his face that looked like he’d been rolling around in a dumpster. It is genuinely upsetting that I can only use one take of his scene, because they were all gold.
Ian Boswell was a perfect douchebro zombie in Brains, and a perfect creeptastic douchebag in Ace and Anxious. I should probably stop casting him as a douche, because he’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, but he does it so good. Lauren was the one who originally recommended Ian to me for Brains, and I’m so glad, because Ian has been a constant bright spot on set, and I hope that someday I can bum around one of his sets because he deserves the world.
Chris Cherry, sadly, wasn’t able to be on set with us because of stupid work, but he was absolutely instrumental during the writing process, as he often is. When Chris thinks something is funny, that means something, and Chris thought Ace was funny, so… where’s my Oscar? Chris has become my go-to writing mentor, because he’s very different from me as a person and as a writer, and that’s invaluable. He is great at the things I’m terrible at, and strikes the perfect balance critiquing my work without trying to rewrite it for me. He also puts up with more crazy from me than anyone else has to, save for maybe Quinn, and I hope he realizes how cool that makes him.
Quinn Ramsay, speaking of, didn’t really do much in terms of helping me on this script, but he’s kind of the best person alive or dead ever and is so supportive and always yells at me when I tell him that I’m too stressed to eat dinner. Then he makes me dinner. He’s the greatest.
Thea McCartan and I met when my graduate program was producing a script we wrote back in January. She was an actress on the project and she and I bonded because at the time we were both freelance VO artists. Thea has been on Difficult People and will be in the upcoming season of Orange is the New Black, and lives ten minutes away from me. Though she had a scheduling commitment that didn’t allow for her to play the part of Jenny, she was the one who sent us Rachel, and was so warm and wonderful and kind when she definitely did not have to be, and I hope that someday we get to work together again, because she’s awesome.
Kmur Hardeman gets special mention here, because she procured me a location at Steiner Studios at the last minute even though she was on vacation and could have honestly just ignored my emails. But she didn’t ignore my emails, because she’s great and supportive and thinks I’m crazy but helps me with stuff anyways.
I don’t know when this film will be ready for release, because right now my focus is on Brains season 2, but I do know that I will do everything in my power to make sure it lives up to the perfection of the people who helped me make it.