And so, Quentin Lee and I reached the end of production on all 8 episodes of Comisery, our Science Fiction Comedy webseries about a group of Asian-American friends on webchat living through an alien virus invasion. I still haven't come down from it. There's a feeling of withdrawal whenever production ends. You've been at it for so long that it becomes a habit or your life. When it stops or goes away, there's an absence, an emptiness. When you're having a good time, you don't want it to end.
We set aside a whole 3-hour chunk to rehearse and shoot Episode 8, "No Misery", the finale of the series, or possibly the finale of Season One. Our last chance to bring Bee Vang, Amy Hill, Harrison Xu, Nat Ho and Sheetal Sheth together. Jennifer Field couldn't make it because she was rehearsing another webseries that day and I had written the script to account for that. Her character Camila had to be back for the end, so we would shoot her part in the final scene as an insert separately from everyone. Richard Anderson had shot out his final scenes the week before because he was having surgery the day after that and was recovering this week.
The Unplanned Payoff
Verton R. Banks came in to play his one big scene with Bee as his boyfriend. I hadn't consciously planned for Verton's character Danny to show up in the series, but I suppose when I mentioned him since the start, I'd set up a promise that he would appear. Quentin had that instinct too and told me he wanted Verton to play Danny, which prompted me to think of a way to bring him in. Quentin and I went back and forth about how Bee would see Danny again and figured out the best approach. I didn't want Bee's character Skylar to die or go back in time. I wanted him to stay in the present because he was the one character whose role in the story was the witness the present and its unfolding. This became the first time I wrote a tender love scene between two men. Quentin thought a love scene involved making out, but here, since Verton and Bee were not in the same place, it would be about what they say to each other and the expression of the history of their relationship. This scene that I never planned when I wrote the pilot episode became the payoff to Skylar's arc in this series.
The next scene, Skylar's therapy session with Amy's character Mary was also a follow-up to her arc as she summed up his story.
I wrote the final scene to bring the cast together. Sheetal wanted a chance to play a scene with Amy. I'd been planning for Nat to have a speech about Quantum Physics, Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle and The Observer Effect and now that Amy's character Mary, a scientist, was in the scene, the two of them could banter about that. The Observer Effect is the perfect metaphor not only for the series but how we'd been writing and making it. The Observer Effect states that to watch an experiment is to change its outcome. By leaving the writing of each episode of this series to chance, the availability of the actors, whatever real-life incidents might influence the story, each script would become quite different. It would have been nice if Jennifer was able to be there to interact with everyone, but since she couldn't I wrote her part in the final scene so we could film her separately on another day but make it seem she was calling in at the same time they were there.
We shot Jennifer's bit a day or so later with her walking outside her apartment and calling in from her phone. Quentin recorded the video call and would intercut it with the close-ups with the other actors to make it part of the same scene. This was the culmination of her character Camila's arc as well as the arc of the whole series with a punchline and an ambiguous ending. Since Camila had become the main antagonist in the series, she had to come back to pay off the story.
Comisery: The Movie
Quentin wanted to cut all 8 episodes into a feature-length cut to submit to film festivals and sell and asked for additional scenes that would only be in the movie version. I wrote a new prologue featuring Bee's character that Quentin shot in exterior locations in Los Angeles that's different from the footage in the episodes that all took place indoors on a computer screen. I wrote the epilogue featuring quick cutaways to each of the characters after the end of episode 8, including an ambiguous final sequence featuring Camila.
As I type this, we've finished the final cut of the movie version and Quentin has begun sending it out. So we actually made a movie during the Lockdown, and for no money. We literally had no budget for this thing.
A Well-Deserved Thanks to the Actors
As we wrapped, Quentin and I thanked the actors for giving their time and commitment. I had written the characters specifically for them, nobody could have played those parts the way they did. This was the Observer Effect in action. Harrison's character Kel became a put-upon time traveler whose desperation became funny because Harrison played him. Bee's Skylar became the observer who's not sure everything is for real and walks the line between skepticism and bemusement. Richard's presence turned Dave from Florida from a troll to a nuanced person and the creation of Camila's unhinged boss Howard Hapman.
I could only write Mary as an outwardly calm and rational therapist who had layers of chaos going on underneath because Amy played her. I would never have created Nate the Zen wannabe-hitman if Quentin had never gotten Nat onboard. Sheetal's character Anika became the dry, sardonic pragmatist who feels she's surrounded by lunatics because of the way Sheetal played her. Jennifer's body-snatched alien was different in pretty much every scene she showed up in. Comisery would not have become this story if different actors had been cast. This was the first time I worked with a whole cast that was good at comedy. It was an honor and privilege to work with them.
Comisery: The End… For Now?
So what next? The end of production always leaves everyone feeling a bit untethered after the concentration and commitment for the past 8 weeks. When we started this series, it felt like a perfect remedy for the Lockdown Blues. It gave everyone something to do rather than sit around at home. We also assumed that by the time we got to the end, things might open up again. Little did we know that infection rates would spike in Los Angeles county. This week, California has gone back into shutting down. The rest of the country is a mess with rising numbers. New York is bracing for a rise in the next few weeks that might slow things down again. We thought this series would be a one-off, but the characters are talking in my head again, new ideas are popping up again. First, we have to see what happens with the series and the movie version, not to mention what's going to happen in the pandemic, before Quentin and I make a decision.
You can watch all 8 episodes of Comisery here.
Don't let the summer slip by and celebrate 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 eigth episode starring Verton R. Banks, Bee Vang (Gran Torino), Jennifer Field (9-1-1), Harrison Xu (Shameless), Amy Hill (Magnum PI), Sheetal Sheth (Hummingbird) and Nat Ho. Quentin Lee, the co-creator of the series, would like to express his gratitude for Visual Communications, the first place he interned at 18. Watch #comiserytv for free and donate to our non-profit partner Visual Communications!
Posted by Chopso on Sunday, July 12, 2020