Welcome to the production diary for Episode 4 of Comisery, our modest little Asian-American apocalyptic Science Fiction screwball comedy. Everyone is at home in front of their computers because we're still in lockdown. My partner-in-crime Quentin Lee and I are literally a writer's room of two as we concoct the story, often turning on a dime to put in something new each week to reflect something that was happening in real-life during the Lockdown. Quentin is also producer and editor, not to mention every other crew member – line producer, production manager, sound mixer, you name it. He and I co-direct the production.
I was looking forward to this episode. It highlights Sheetal Sheth and Nat Ho after their brief introductions in Episode 3. Bee Vang is back as Skylar, the character around whom all the craziness revolves, as is Harrison Xu as his friend Kel, the catalyst for kicking off the whole crazy plot of the series. Sheetal and Nat's characters get drawn into it and add another wrinkle to the story. Consider it adding more characters to be miserable together in the Pandemic, hence Comisery.
But first, there was that delay.
That Annoying Thing That Brings Every Production To A Stand-Still
This was inevitable. Every production ever has a day where an annoyingly basic technical glitch holds up the schedule for longer than it should When you shoot on location anywhere, it's often background noise like jackhammers, planes, traffic or if you're in Los Angeles, leaf-blowers. There's always going to be a sound issue. It was finally our time.
As we rehearsed, we started hearing sound artefacts and distorted echoes over our speakers. This launched a search for its source: was it a glitchy headset? Was it lag or latency in the zoom servers? Was it caused by having over four people on at once? Was it the cable company's bandwidth being squeezed? Most of the time, it occurred a second or two after someone spoke.
On a movie or TV series set, this stops everything dead while the actors wait for the director and crew to solve the problem. This usually leads to actors gossiping amongst themselves. It also pushes the production behind schedule. It put us over 30 minutes behind, and I had to message Harrison to stand by since he was appearing in the final third of the episode. We weren't shooting the whole episode in a single master. This time we could break up the episode into close-ups to provide coverage for the master in postproduction. While Quentin was trying to figure out the cause of the sound glitch, I tried to entertain the actors by telling them about E.M. Forster's 1909 novella The Machine Stops, a Science Fiction story about a future society that lived in isolation and anticipated emails, teleconferencing technology like zoom and Skype, and how everything goes to hell at the end. It was relevant to what we living through right now and also thematically to Comisery.
Eventually, we hit upon a partial fix since we couldn't solve the audio problem: when we shoot a take, each actor who wasn't talking would mute their own microphone. Since the glitch was a distorted, tinny audio echo that occurs after someone spoke, Quentin could at least cut out that glitch can cover it up with ambient sound.
Comisery: Like Characters From A Different Story
My mission when we decided to launch the series was to create specific characters rather than representatives of their culture like token characters of colour tended to be on most Hollywood movies and TV shows. Nat's character Nate is a Singaporean bohemian living in Los Angeles with a thriving career as a DJ who also wants to be a hitman. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, cool hitman dominated Hong Kong movies, then seeped into virtually movies from every Asian country. You can thank John Woo and Chow Yun-Fat for that. The John Wick movies wouldn't exist if they didn't make those Heroic Bloodshed movies of the 80s and 90s. Quentin's first feature-length movie Shopping For Fangs featured a blonde-wigged hitwoman character inspired by Brigitte Lin's character in Wong Kar Wai's Chungking Express. I just decided to continue that homage to Asian movie hitmen motif in Comisery but with a screwball comedy twist. Nat's character Nate is a wannabe-hitman. He really wants to be a killer-for-hire.
Sheetal brings a knowing, dry, sardonic edge to Anika that adds another shade of humour to the series. Her energy is completely different from everyone else's and she grounds the episode, pretty much carrying it on her shoulders with her reactions to the escalating absurdity unfolding before her. She becomes the audience's surrogate in this episode. Nat brings a subtle lightness to Nate that makes the character's oddness work. DJ Nate basically has a different relationship with reality than everyone else, and that's where the comedy comes from.
Sheetal instantly establishes a bond and sense of history with Bee's Skylar almost from the start. They bring a poignance and wistfulness in their scene together. That's the beauty of great actors – they come prepared and you don't have to give them much direction. Anika is Skylar's first love, an A-type personality and major control freak. She has a law degree and an MBA. She's Nate's manager and also his booker for his fledgling hitman career. I told Sheetal and Nat that Anika and Nate are like characters from a different show – an insane sitcom about a wannabe hitman and his savvy manager who keeps him from ever killing anyone – who get dropped into this nutty apocalyptic Science Fiction story.
And Harrison's character Kel is the one who brings this Science Fiction story into these characters' lives. Otherwise, they would just be getting on with their lives, slowly going crazy from boredom and limbo during the Lockdown. Harrison not only always comes prepared – he also often adlibs at least one new line that deepens both his character and the comedy. It shows his innate understanding of the character, a romantic comedy guy who's forced to become the hero of a dark, apocalyptic time-traveling Science Fiction thriller and the nuttiness that ensues.
Episode 4 marks the half-way mark of the series. We're in deep now. I guess we really are making a whole series. Quentin and I are even musing about what a second season would look like. But first we have to get through the first. Next week's episode 5 is the one that kicks the story into high gear. But first, you can watch Episode 4 at comisery.tv
Celebrate LGBTQ Pride Month with #comiserytv! Comisery is an apocalyptic science fiction comedy series told entirely through web chat sessions about a group of Asian-American friends living through an invasion by an alien virus now. Here's the forth episode starring Nat Ho, Sheetal Sheth (Hummingbird), Bee Vang (Gran Torino) and Harrison Xu (Shamless). Upon each episode, we partner with non-profit organization. Watch #comiserytv for free and donate to Visual Communications now!
Posted by Chopso on Sunday, June 14, 2020