A week. That was how fast it took to put our new web series Comisery together. I know. I'm a bit surprised, too. But I haven't even had time to feel surprised. We've been going full steam ahead all this time. Comisery is a Science Fiction Screwball Comedy with an all Asian-American cast. It's about a group of friends living through an apocalypse, an alien virus invades the world while everyone is stuck at home.
The Secret Origin of Comisery
It started when I was taking a break from writing to check in on friends during the lockdown. It had been a while since I spoke to my friend Quentin Lee, a producer and filmmaker with a young son out in Los Angeles. Quentin and I had been friends since we met at the Vancouver Film Festival more than 20 years ago. God, we were so young, then. We were premiering our thesis films, he from UCLA, me from NYU. We'd kept in touch all this time.
When I called him up to see how he was doing, I said I was thinking about pitching a web series that could be shot on Zoom. We could cast all those brilliant Asian-American actors who deserve to be seen more often. Actors are currently sitting at home in lockdown like everyone else, unable to go out on auditions, or even film any movies or TV shows they're in. Actors gotta act. This could be low stakes. We shoot it on zoom. Nobody needs to leave their house. We could stick it online. It could be a showcase for the actors as well.
Since Quentin and I have very similar tastes in Science Fiction movies and horror, especially Asian horror, I proposed we made it Science Fiction with tropes from J-Horror. And it should be a comedy because everything is so grim right now, people could use a laugh, and what's happening in the world is utterly surreal. World War III is happening. Humanity is facing a common enemy again. Except that enemy is already here. It's invisible. And the way to fight it is to stay home and chill. It's like World War III written by J.G. Ballard! That's why this should be a comedy.
On a side note, I'd been hearing from producers and executives that this pandemic has pretty much killed any hunger for dark, grim post-apocalyptic stories. It might finally kill off the zombie genre. And I'm too snarky to take any apocalypse story with a straight face anyway.
How We Put Together A Web Series In A Week During Lockdown
Let's make an Asian-American story where the characters aren't ciphers or thin stereotypes. Asian-Americans are as culturally diverse as the rest of America. The characters in our story should be very specific people, not a symbol or representation of a culture. They're more than the Asian-American characters on Network TV shows who are terribly normal people that happen to Asian. I always found that boring. That's why this should be a screwball comedy. Screwball comedies feature characters that are never stereotypes. They're too hyperreal and bizarre to be stereotypes. Characters in this genre are at best eccentric and at worst totally nuts! And always in a specific way. Asian-Americans have a unique perspective on this pandemic, so let's reflect that and how weird it feels to live through this apocalyptic event with drinks and giggles.
Quentin, whose mind runs like a bullet train when he has a target, got very excited. I pitched the idea on Wednesday. We brainstormed the characters and story in an afternoon. I wrote the 10-minute pilot script by Saturday. By Monday, Quentin had cast our three leads. We also engaged Asian Cinevision as our nonprofit partner on the project. By Thursday we had our full cast of six actors – Amy Hill, Sheetal Sheth, Bee Vang, Jennifer Field, Harrison Xu, and Nat Ho. Their roles would be written especially for them, and these would be unique, very specific, and wacky characters they would be playing. All in a week. And a week after that, we would shoot the pilot. Everyone from their homes in front of their laptops. Quentin and I co-directing. All shot in one afternoon. Then premiering on Memorial Day, May the 25th. I've never seen a project come together this fast before, but that's what happens when you accidentally create a bullet train.
Who would have thought I'd be directing without having to leave the house? It's an experiment in filmmaking. This could be our New Normal. Or one of them, anyway. Comisery will premiere online at comisery.tv on May 25.
[Ed. Note: Adi Tantimedh is also a contributing writer and columnist for Bleeding Cool. Coming up, Adi will be posting his thoughts and perspectives on what went into pulling the project together as well as some behind-the-scenes perspectives on the pilot process]