WHAT STARRING IN A WEB SERIES TAUGHT ME

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My fortune cookie tells me all the important stuff…

As anyone incautious enough to read my emails knows, I star with Ross Marquand in The Impression Guys, a comedy which can be seen on the SoulPancake Channel on YouTube.

Here’s that link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fsZBaDaW7Nc#t=331

Over the course of the creation of this series, I had some experiences worth sharing, and from which I learned some important lessons.

PARTNER WITH PEOPLE WHO ARE DECISIVE

Ben Shelton, who writes, directs and also edits The Impression Guys is always under the gun to get things done, and yet he makes his deadlines and never seems rushed.

His secret: be decisive.

I think it comes from his experience as a basketball player.  I have never played much basketball, but I notice there isn’t a lot of time spent in a huddle. Most plays seem to happen in about a fifth of a second, too fast for any discussion, or even to take a quick vote.

If you’ve worked with professional people, you’ll know that they share Ben’s method; they quickly make a decision, which makes room for the next thing to happen, and the next quick decision to be made. Pretty soon, a lot of progress has been made.

This doesn’t mean they are always right, but they adjust quickly, too. Their rate of decision is just running at a higher velocity. It’s very refreshing. It’s a symptom of that rare condition, “Confidence”.

We’ve all experienced the discomfort of being part of a show or an activity where the people in charge can’t seem to choose. Even the simplest of assignments drag on indefinitely. It’s one of the things that makes the modern world so frustrating.

Of course, many things in life should be exhaustively worked over and over, with care taken to make the right choice. If it’s a murder trial, sure. Defusing a live bomb, definitely. But please, not entertainment!

USE THE OPPORTUNITY TO EXPERIMENT

I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing my name first on a callsheet lately, so it was nice to have something to do in nearly every scene of The Impression Guys.

With that fact came a lot more responsibility. Since our crew was limited, Ross and I had to wear extra hats, like doing our own makeup, hair, wardrobe and continuity.

In a big movie shoot, there are people reminding you all the time what shoes to wear, dabbing at your face with brushes and puffs, and straightening your collar when it gets flipped up in the back. Sometimes you have three people all doing things to your body at the same time, while you are trying to concentrate on the next take. Here, we didn’t have that luxury. Although Ross did flip my collar down a couple times for me.

To maintain continuity, we had to have a very clear idea of what was going on at any point in that whole first season, since we were shooting out of sequence; we had to think with what had just happened BEFORE the scene we were about to shoot, even if we hadn’t shot that prior scene yet.

That’s something that all big movie actors have to think with. For me it was a rare opportunity to dive in and see what I could do to take responsibility for creating the illusion of sequence in time, and to support the story.

By being responsible for all the action of my character, plus the wardrobe, prop handling etc, it helped me get deeply into the character’s viewpoint in the scene.

Also, since I was in front of the camera so often, and not waiting in a trailer somewhere for my one scene to come up, I was very comfortable with experimenting, which isn’t how I feel on a big budget shoot where I’m not going to be there very long, and don’t want to be remembered as the guy who tried something offbeat and slowed everything down.

It’s actually easier to have more to do than less; doing one little scene is much more stressful than doing an entire day of work– it’s the only chance to score!

Without the stress, I got more playful, and that in turn helped my performance.

LET IT BREATHE

It’s a kind of a hallmark of amateur actors that they seem to be in a big hurry to get their lines out, even to the point of cutting off the lines of the other actors in the scene. In The Impression Guys, we could take our time to play each beat and didn’t have an eye on the clock.

The important thing is, of course, telling the story believably and entertainingly. Since we weren’t in a big frantic rush, we could explore the moments more and really let the scenes breathe. That was something I quickly got used to.

I should mention at this point that the whole cast are all really terrific and honest actors that naturally strove to make the most of the material. I learned a lot from working with Ross Marquand, Dana DeLorenzo, Matt Jones, Piotr Michael, Amy Castle, Angela Kinsey, Christina Bianco and others in the cast and seeing the level of their involvement as characters. Pretty inspiring for me.

ALWAYS BE READY

Being physically prepared was a major factor in our shoot. Our shoot days weren’t murderous, but they were a good eight-plus hours. We had a lot to cover every day, and doing multiple takes due to fatigue would cost us.

By getting enough sleep, vitamins, and good food, and by keeping prepared with studying the script, rehearsing, (and in some cases, continue to write material for my celebrity impressions) I was able to accomplish what I needed to without crashing.

Again, decisiveness was a factor; Ben would drive us hard, but not beyond a point that was practical. Can you tell I’m a fan of his work ethic?

Mainly, pacing myself and getting food and rest were key things that helped me get the job done.

TELLING THE WORLD

It’s no good doing a wonderful series if you haven’t gotten the word out. Thankfully, our producers at SoulPancake have done a wonderful job of letting their subscribers know about The Impression Guys and spreading the word.

But there is so much product out there that you really have to get fast, clever and busy to get attention. I’ve done everything from contact radio, press and blog people to Tweeting to Shakespeare societies, inviting them to have a look. Happily, I had some success and we have a growing fan base of pretty passionate viewers.

I posted a lot of daily videos from the set of The Impression Guys so that we could share the experience with others.

I’ve had postcards made and am sending them to casting agents. These people I definitely want to know about this show.

And even then, it’s a struggle to let more of the world know, at least the English speaking world, who have Internet access.

So, how much promotion is too much? I’ve never even come close. You have to make noise when you have something to make noise about, right? 

And with the proliferation of digital filmmaking technology and a renaissance of ideas, it’s only going to become more competitive.

Have YOU seen The Impression Guys yet? Here’s that link again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fsZBaDaW7Nc#t=331

Will we have a Season Two? I hope so. It sure looks good right now.  Hope some of this was helpful to you.

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GRACED

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I’m just taking a brief breath between days of shooting some additional material to flesh out Season One of The Impression Guys, our soon-to-be-released web series, and I’m marveling once again at the serendipity of my life.

We are very fortunate in this latest set of scripts to have some really amazing guest stars, which are bringing the quality of our story and the general mood way, way up.  First, Erika Christensen agreed to do a funny cameo, and she is wonderful.  I have known Erika for years, and she graciously made time in her busy life, in between shooting the popular TV show Parenthood, to play with us.  She may not be an impressionist, but she always leaves a memorable impression.

Then, feisty, funny and talented Christina Bianco happened to be out here from a break in her busy Broadway career and accepted our invitation to play–what else?– an amazing impressionist!  I’ll be singing with her in various voices in an episode we will shoot tomorrow, (you can see us rehearsing part of it when you click this LINK.)

There is another very exciting bit of “stunt-casting” coming up… but it’s too soon to let that cat out of the bag.

But with Erika and Christina, plus our current cast which is already top-heavy with talent, including Dana Delorenzo, Matt Jones, Melissa Villaseñor, Angela Kinsey, Angela Hoover, Eamon Brennan, Jason Lewis, Tom Ayers, Tamra Meskimen, Portis Hershey, Piotr Michael, Amy Castle, Skylar Caleb, Dylan Mooney, Brandon Routh and others, The Impression Guys is shaping up to be an embarrassment of riches.  Which is my favorite kind of embarrassment, frankly.

I’ll keep on keepin’ you posted.  Thanks for your patience.

Back In Production

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Well, the new year is already speeding ahead like a car you left in the driveway of your old house (after you’d been drinking) without putting the emergency brake on, and it rolls down the driveway until it piles into the bushes of the house across the street and… not that I’ve ever DONE that.

Anyway, we are about to launch into ANOTHER five days of shooting for season one of The Impression Guys, a new web series that I have been told will launch in the beginning of February.  Of THIS year.  So that’s very exciting, because I think, based on the edit I watched last year, it’s pretty doggone entertaining.

As usual, the writer/director, Ben Shelton, who works best under mammoth pressure, has pulled off a miracle and given us some scripts that are full of marvelous opportunities for myself, my talented co-star Ross Marquand, and an amazing group of guest impressionists, actors and even a few celebrities to really have some fun.

I’ll be taking lots of photos and posting them to my Facebook page, so you can keep tabs on us.

The Impression Guys is produced by Rainn Wilson’s production company Soul Pancake, which has its own very popular YouTube Channel, and where I speculate you will be able to watch the entire eight episode season of the show in the comfort of your own laptop or 76” Smart TV. 

I can’t say much about the show, except that I really think it will show off both my and Ross’s talents very well, it will be very entertaining, and… there will be Shakespeare.

Please help us spread the word, if you like.  Here’s a link to the pilot episode: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v4RGvLnhvfo

If you enjoyed it, pass it along to others in your world.

Little by little, we build our massive following… Or not.  But we ARE having fun.

Thanks!