Editor's note: The following is a guest article written by SafetyGeek:SVI creator Tom Konkle.
Our path to the Streamys began with a well considered, but extremely chancy call to my business and performing partner, Dave Beeler. For the web, we had started Pith-e Productions a few years ago to do “one off” comedy films which were “short and pithy” or to make videos of the Dave and Tom live act, which we did as a two man British sketch comedy team. Also, we had been sporadically shooting more episodes of Invention with Brian Forbes as a series in the early part of 2009, and for the last six or seven months we had also been working very hard late at night on a script for a new show. We found that when we performed this script for each other it would have us laughing and imagining the show. We really wanted to see this show.
We shopped it everywhere. We tried everything, enduring rejection, after rejection, after rejection. The show was first called Is It Safe? a reference to a certain dentist in Marathon Man. We did a demo trailer, which was a Herculean effort, calling in favors, but nothing came. It evolved over time into Safety Geeks: SVI a title which sounded very much like the investigative procedural shows, which became the hook upon which the show was loosely hung. The show needed a shorthand method to ground the anarchic nature of the series. Whether or not it works is a matter of personal opinion; comedy is subjective, thank goodness.
After months of trying every other option to finance the series, we were forced to rely on the plan I had tried to avoid and now referred to as, “I got a Discover card today.” I had less than $7000 left on the card and was still recovering from the writer’s strike, which had devastated our savings. Our wives were not too keen to risk everything at this point, but to her credit, my wife said, “Go do it, you have to try.” Dave, the ideal business partner for someone with my wild leaps and flights of fancy, also agreed. He threw in what he could money-wise and off we went with a little over $8000 to make 11 episodes of a very ambitious show.
The show was as much a conceptual exercise as it was an exercise in storytelling. Everything was designed to give the feel of a surreal cartoon, from the not so convincing wigs, to the computer generated images as well as the cartoon violence, the overheated sexuality, and general scatological silliness as seen in the mind’s eye translated into this show.
Through the years working together, Dave and I have learned that we shared a very British sense of humor as well as an ability to do it well. We met years ago doing a theatrical production of Beyond the Fringe with Dave playing the Dudley Moore parts and I, the Peter Cook roles. We also learned that our writing style was similar to Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim lineup, which gave us the idea to do a live action version in the style of the sharp, surreal, anarchic cartoon world of Adult Swim. In fact, Adult Swim did look at the show and call back several weeks later with a perfunctory “No” and a good luck with future endeavors. They are a tight group there, but I felt it would be a good fit. At the time Adult Swim had nothing live action, so our show would have been a real first, but it was still a long shot. It seems every time we try to get financing it is a long shot.
When we started SafetyGeeks we didn’t have anything, and we barely had anything when it ended. However, we had friends with talent, and it turns out that is enough. So much was given, so many long days without sleep from filming through the eight months of post. Most of it made with the help of people who received no upfront money, who worked on the project because they liked it or liked us or just because they were up for a challenge. People like Brittney Powell, a professional actress who was kind enough to lend her normally expensive acting talents to this project just because she is cool and twisted. Brittney is amazing. I’ve said it before, she is my best friend and partner and it would take an entire post just to mention what she has done for us and me in my life. I am happy Brittney Powell is part of this and me. We laughed a lot together, the first time we met at an audition. I think it was meant to be.
I am a real actor by the way. I still have to say I am an actor to people in person and in print, which is probably a bad sign, at least as far as the vocational litmus test of success goes. I also went to film school and trained and worked as a director and writer, while I often acted in my own material to protect its intent. It was the same reason I spent years learning the craft of editing and post production. To ensure a vision was executable. As an actor, I went to the school of hard knocks, learning on stage performing everywhere, doing classic plays, original shows, radio shows, guest stars in TV, films, shorts, anything that forced me to learn my craft and continue the progress of discovering how acting works. I am reminded of the story of Laurence Olivier, when after a performance a fellow classical actor came backstage to tell him of his awe and amazement at Olivier’s performance. He found Olivier in his dressing room, his head in his hands depressed and near tears. The actor who had raced back to compliment him was stunned and confused.
He spoke saying, “I came back to say that was the most amazing performance I have ever seen. It was the essence of the character, utterly real, riveting and surprising.”
“Yes.” Laurence Olivier said quietly.
The actor replied more baffled, “Then why on earth are you so sad?"
“I don’t know what I did,” answered Olivier.
Actually, I don’t think I made a vocational error in being an actor in that I have actually made my living at it for a long time, it’s my day job, but I am that invisible chameleon you think you recognize: the eccentric old British guy, the sardonic business guy, the strange lady in the cat glasses, a crazed German Brahms crashing through a wall etc… I am not a name yet, not the star I always wanted and dream of being. In another time, I could have been a John Cleese, Orson Welles, Bob Hope, Peter Sellers, who knows. I sometimes think it just isn’t going to happen for me and it makes me sad, so I try not to think about it much.
With the script for Safety Geeks: SVI where we wanted it, Dave and I threw ourselves into the roles of Reginald and Budwin as well as the role of producer. We did literally…everything. From buying the costumes to finding the locations and running errands we did everything an entire production crew would do leading up to a shoot. You have to want it in order to one minute be working on your lines only to have to stop so that you can go open the front gate to let the sandwich guy in or to unpack the props and costumes only to return to the set at 1am to begin your day filming a lead part. While everyone else has gone home you must still have the energy and the focus to pull of the character at 4 in the morning after a 15 hour shoot. So Brittney, Dave, and I were there until the wee hours of the morning laughing, yet focused and dedicated to making the series.
Also there until the wee hours of the morning was Roger Tonry, a professional Director of Photography who wanted to expand into directing and a kind and generous friend. Roger frequently found himself holding the camera and the boom mic as the only crew person in the middle of the night in an un-insulated aircraft hanger at 3 in the morning in February filming us, acting silly. He created an atmosphere for us to play as actors and allowed our writing and execution to capture the spirit, which made Dave and I laugh back when we first would read the script to each other in character.
Roger went from having crew and telling people where to put the lights and showing up with stuff already done to entering our world and finding out, “Oh my god, there is no help, nothing, it’s guerilla, and there is no one to turn to and say can you do that?” Nevertheless, Roger stuck with us as a friend and pro through the shooting phase averaging two pages an hour for five days in a hanger in front of green screen with our revolving crew of tirelessly patient friends and soon-to-be friends, who shot all eleven episodes of Safety Geeks that week.
Roger and his friends like DP’s Angie and Vinnie were the polish the show needed. Friends and people, who became our friends through working on the series, all became active parts of the creation of the series. I hope they know how much their time and talents meant. They each did the work of dozens to make it a proper show (Angie was even pregnant, I believe) and they were pros. If you could make them laugh under these conditions then you knew you had the take. In fact, I would go home and log the takes into my edit from memory that way sometimes. The fact that they stayed for the next day, proved they are worth every penny they earn when they do get paid because the crew of this series had a sense of craft, pride and professionalism beyond those on many of the paying gigs I have worked on.
When the show was finished eight months later, it was almost an hour and a half of original programming end to end. If you look at the cast and crew list on the web site, these are all people you want to work with in the future. People like Benton Jennings, Marie del Marco, Mark Teich, Mary Cseh, Ransford Doherty, Frank Payne, Jim Woods, Adria Tennor and all the other people listed there on the site who over-delivered and were a joy to have make Safety Geeks: SVI. It would not exist without them.
Safety Geeks: SVI was very much a product of technology and the Internet in general. A post on Facebook led directly to Liz Paulson casting the show. In addition to the online casting, there were thousands of texts about post-production questions and answers, emails, stealth cell phone pictures, and even the final video files were impacted by the Internet. In fact, creating the show without the Internet and social media would have been impossible.
My facility with the technical end of filmmaking paid off in working in the post production of the visuals along with two people who use computers with the eyes of poets as I say, they are Thor Melsted and Mike Smith. I stayed up right there next to them working on the comps and effects on every single shot and it was like spending time with a friend laughing and enjoying each other’s work. We talked a technical shorthand, but more importantly a comedic shorthand. They are filmmakers like me. We love to laugh. There is mutual respect and we admire each other’s work, but most importantly it is fun to create. No other reason really. It is friends getting together with a purpose of making a show the best we can as three guys who are working after day jobs until the early morning then back to our day jobs repeated over months and months. If that isn’t friendship and pure artist passion then I do not know what else could be. It's dangerous talking about something like this as art, it's SafetyGeeks, let’s not get too full of it, but it's still a passion and a craft and we want to entertain people so unless a better word can be found it is our “art.” The self-discipline and motivation of Mike and Thor working with me on making the show is extraordinarily humbling and I am grateful.
We need a good digital agent, one who believes in us and will pitch us and pick up the phone and create opportunities now while there is something happening. We would do better if we had a publicist, or a brand or sponsor, and a distributor who really pushed for us now and champion us with enough money on the barrelhead. We have none of those things despite doing everything right, trying it all and being open to it and it breaks your heart, if not your spirit, sometimes. We moved out here for this, paid the price, and sacrificed everything including precious time for a chance to do what we love. We so surely know what we need by now, but still cannot seem to get it. We want to make more shows; we don’t want to live in “Favor-ville” anymore. We do love doing productions; we will do it. That’s the truth of it. It’s what we do. At the end of the struggle, even if it ends back to zero, we still love doing this. We just lack the right person or company to make it possible to do this show or a show for a living. We do something we think is really funny and if we find one day no one agrees with us, we’ll just get out of the business.
Like so many web shows out there, we do wish we’d gotten a chance at a few of the “bigger” Streamy awards, but that’s only because I know everyone worked so hard. Truthfully, more recognition would be nice. It would help now. We need it and some real support if we are to go on doing this show again or any show again. Sure, it’s disappointing that it was not fully recognized by things like the Streamys, because we do think it turned out well and it is an exceptional comedy series unlike anything you’ve seen. I worked so very hard like everyone, we gave everything and the people on this show really need a break as most are struggling to get by, trying hard to get even closer to their dreams and it would mean something to them to be recognized for excellence or popularity. We are so very grateful to have been nominated for the visual effects work we did. We earned that nomination; Thor and Mike deserve to win. I oversaw all aspects of the visual effects for many sleepless nights and I know they deserve it. That three guys who are working their off hours on home equipment, completely self-motivated, could produce these results is an accomplishment and ultimately we didn't do it for other people’s awards, we did it to make you laugh.
Was this it? Is there more to come? Was that our shot? Time will tell. We will be happy to be at the Streamys as nominees this year, to cheer on the winners and other nominees and to think of those that deserved it and did not get recognized.
Even the happiest moments are bittersweet, because they end. Shows end and you start all over again trying to find a way to get another made. You need people who help you, who help you break in, who give you a boost. We know that happens, we see it in those who seemingly pass us by on the way up and we see it clearly through “bank thick” glass, we reach out every time, but just cant touch it yet.
I want to close this mere scratch on the surface of this simultaneously exhilarating and heartbreaking journey that brought us to the Streamy Awards this year with a simple, thank you. Thank you to everyone who helped and worked on it. I appreciate all the people who gave their time and effort to make this series. And most of all, Dave thank you for first saying “Yes.”
- Tom Konkle