Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Steve Royall and This Indie Thing - Comedy

Steve Royall (center) and the cast of This Indie Thing

In a town where getting noticed can take you a lifetime, the ones who want it the most don’t want to wait so they go out there and do it themselves. Instead of taking a turn at the roulette wheel by standing in line at an audition with the rest of the mob some players take the hard route and invest the time, effort and talent to create their own show because they know that if it’s done well the industry will come looking for them.

Steve Royall knows this because for a few years now This Indie Thing, a comedy web series that he writes, directs and stars in, has been a project the artist has done for himself, telling the stories of four young men trying to make it or break it in Hollywood and the odd characters and situations they encounter on the journey.

At first, This Indie Thing was a series of jokes served up improv-style. The situations were comical and the moves the characters all made were done for laughs. As time went on the jokes didn't stop, but we got to know the protagonists, to understand their motivations and figure out who they really are.

In the last season, though, the situation has changed for the four friends. Now, Sean (Steve Royall), Teddy (Sacaar Williams), Kevin (Joshua Kwak), and Antone (M. Devon Dunlap) are more than just fishermen, throwing a pole into any harbor they sail to. They've been in Hollywood for a while now, so being new to the game isn’t an excuse, and old errors come back to blow them off course.

That's what makes This Indie Thing so unique in comparison to its contenders. The show has soul. These characters have grown-up together, and the experience shows. We care about where they want to go because we've seen where they've been. The story isn't just about being funny, anymore.

In one scene, when one character tells another that maybe the girl he’s seeing isn’t right for him (dangerous conversational territory for any man) the sentiment is real because the tension is there. These guys have a history, one Mr. Royall has carefully written for them over the last few seasons, and because of that background, the sentimental discussion between the two has more resonance than the usual combination of one-liners.

Mr. Royall’s cunning use of suspense is a hallmark of both humor and horror. During one scene in the third season, Royall’s character, Sean, encounters the rather large and intimidating new boyfriend of the upstairs neighbor he failed successfully hook up with. When Sean and his friend look up, and up, at the new date who certainly doesn’t respect them, there’s a very real feeling that someone could catch a genuine beating over the encounter.

As a trained director Mr. Royall knows what he’s doing. Horror and humor hinge on the what if, the unexpected shock that makes us laugh or scream. Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, Woody Allen and Mel Brooks knew how to shock you, whether the results give you laughter in the air or blood on the floor.

With season 3 wrapped up and staring down the barrel of season 4, Mr. Royall is ready to finish the job. At this point the challenge is to gather the funds necessary to do so. The young director has serious aspirations for the finale of his series, but that takes money.

I spoke with him about This Indie Thing, what’s scary, what’s funny, and what’s in the future for Steve Royall.

Halloween is around the corner, so tell me about a horror film that really inspires and/or influences you as a writer and director.

I always thought that the The Shining was pretty good. I liked the psychological aspect of it. It wasn’t just a slasher flick with a bunch of blood. The film really shows a man losing his mind. It’s also unpredictable. With a lot of horror movies you know what’s going to happen. When one guy separates himself from the group, you are not surprised when he gets killed.

“I’ll be right back!” Yeah, I hate that. 

You’ve seen all the plot points before, and because you know what’s going to happen there’s no tension so it’s not scary.

What aspects of the film do you appreciate from a technical perspective?

One of the shots I really liked in The Shining is when the camera is following the kid on the tricycle in the hallway before he runs into the two girls who are the ghosts. Its shot in one long take from his perspective, too. When he sees the two weird twins, and then they are suddenly dead and covered in blood, you know what it’s like to be that kid.

I love that part in the film. I also like how you never really find out too much about what happened in the hotel. The director doesn't just hand the story over to you.

I noticed in the last season of This Indie Thing, when you and your friend run into the girl upstairs and meet her monstrously huge, slightly threatening boyfriend, you employed a similar technique to create tension as well. When the angle moved from his perspective back to yours, I really felt like that guy was gigantic.

He was actually 6’10”. It was basically an over-the-shoulder shot so you could see I was looking up at him. Then I used a side shot to show the difference in our heights.

I like how the scene is funny, but it’s also frightening, especially when you realize that the girl’s new boyfriend doesn’t like your character because of your history with her. There they are in this lonely, dark hallway, and he's just immense. The silence is unsettling. You just let the angles build up the tension without laying it on too thick with music or excess dialogue.

Thank you. I took a lot of advanced cinematography classes. (Laughs.)

How did you get all four of the characters in one shot as the guy and the girl are going up the stairs? That could not have been easy.

We just tried a lot of angles until we got the right one. She was on the tallest step so he could talk to her directly. I did my best to make sure you could see our reaction to the conversation the girl and her boyfriend are having.

Considering your training, does it bother you when a horror movie sucks? It seems like you’d notice the mistakes a lot more than the average viewer.

It doesn’t really offend me. When I’m watching any horror film, I try to respect what the director is doing. If they choose to do not to do something, that is their choice.

Compared to The Shining, what other modern horror films use cinematography to achieve the same effect?

I don’t compare those other films because they don’t compare.

(Laughs.) Yeah, you’re right…


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