Hey everyone who gives a crap, it's me Dan Milano. I directed this episode of Warren the Ape and I also perform your pal Warren. You know, the ape. Quick word of warning - if the formatting in this blog seems off, or font sizes change, then I really apologize and I have no effing idea why. :)
This was the ninth episode to air and one of the last of our twelve episodes to be filmed. As a director of this and three other episodes, it was the first time I really felt comfortable in the role, considering that most of the time my directing on this show was being done from underneath tables and other awkward puppeteer positions. It's a collaborative effort because I share a creative vision of the show with my co-creators, rely heavily on the input of every department, conspire with writers, coordinate with camera operators and ultimately bring the show to life through the actors. But being a director means filtering all those relationships down, making final choices and doing your best to keep everyone focused.
Out With the Old was an original outline by BILL FREIBERGER who is our supervising producer and one of our writers. Bill was greatly responsible for this entire story - I think my only contribution to it in the writing stage (aside from Warren's dialogue) was to suggest a garage sale for Warren, and give a few notes on the Cecil/Daryl relationship. I met Bill as a writer on our FOX series. Bill has written for shows ranging from Pee Wee's Playhouse to the Simpsons, and had worked for many years on Drawn Together at Comedy Central. I thought Bill would be able to bring some structure to our show and he certainly knew the tone of Warren's character. He also ended up playing the Dungeon Master in "Abstinence." And because of one line in that episode, "He owns the store," Bill would return in two more episodes, including this one. (This is the only episode where our comic book guy actually got a name, "BILLY HAYNES.")
By this time in the production run we'd all become so fond of JOSH SUSSMAN and his character Cecil that we really wanted to feature him more on the show. Two episodes were created that really focused on the relationship between him and Warren - this was one, and "Black Lotus" (which as of this writing has not yet aired) was the other. I directed both episodes and have a very good relationship with Josh. We love working together and I really enjoy his work as actor. I marvel at how much subtlety he can put into what is seemingly a very broad character. Josh and Cecil are somewhat similar - I think they both have the same heart, and it's that heart which makes Cecil lovable. In a show that is arguably about a total bastard, having someone lovable provides a nice contrast.
When casting the character of Daryl, STEVE LITTLE was actually my first choice because of how much I loved him in "Eastbound and Down," on HBO. But there was some concern (even on Steve's part) that the role he played on that show might be too similar to the character of Daryl. We flirted with other casting choices but ended up going with Steve, assuring him that he could interpret this role in any way he wanted, and not have to rehash his "Stevie" character from Eastbound. Steve was literally thrown into the mix on day one, the garage sale scene being the first one where he worked with us.
So when Daryl walked up to Cecil and Warren and said hello in that first scene, in many ways we WERE literally meeting him for the first time. That kind of real-life energy has a way of working itself into the scene, and hopefully makes it better and feel more real. When Josh and Daryl square off, they really ARE sizing each other up.
Speaking of the garage sale, I have to take a moment here to really acknowledge the amazing work of our set department, led by NATASHA GERASIMOVA, and our graphic artist RHYAN TAYLOR, who designed nearly all the posters, board games, mugs, CD cases, etc. Standing there on set and looking at all that STUFF from Warren's life and career was just amazing to me. It all felt so real, and had such history to it. Some of those items go back to the IFC days, some were costumes and props from other episodes, but most was original items made specifically for that garage sale. One of my favorites was an old PLAYBOY MAGAZINE cigar ad that Warren had done. There was also a Japanese poster for anti-fungal cream. :)
We shot a TON of footage of Warren explaining each item - from the jock strap in CHUBB SCOUTS (the porno from our "Gay Ape" episode), to his collection of porn, in which Josh improvised some really funny stuff as he pretended to read from old VHS tape labels. ("Full House... of Sluts!" and "This one just says, "toilet cam." etc.) Originally, Daryl was not supposed to be the only customer. We'd shot footage of some guy rummaging through the porn, an elderly couple who scoff at Warren's prices, and finally, one of the hardest sequences to cut...
...The return of Mark & Merkle, Warren's puppet neighbors, played by DREW MASSEY and VICTOR YERRID. There was a fun sequence in which Mark and Merkle argue with Warren about his selling items that belonged to them, such as their lawn mower and turkey baster, etc. Unfortunately, we had to cut it for time. We also liked the idea of making it look like Warren didn't have ANY customers until Daryl showed up to buy everything.
The trivia contest went on forever - we had dozens of questions that both Josh and Daryl had tried to memorize (with some success) and eventually we cut it down to what remains in the episode. Some of the trivia is real. They refer to Warren's band "PLUSH," which was featured in two of our IFC episodes (Check out Plush's MUSIC VIDEOS in the videos section of this site). And they also refer to "Warren's 2002 series," which is our only overt reference to the FOX show. It's a true fact that only 11 episodes of that show were aired, but 13 were made.
The Gravity Bazooka was made by BRAD ELLIOT - Prop Master from our FOX series, Puppet Captain of our new series and 10th level Druid in my real-life D&D group. :) The Bazooka was "kit bashed" from a telescope and some toy guns - it had to be big enough for Warren and Daryl to hold but small enough for Warren to use in his movie, ESCAPE FROM SPACE PRISON.
As originally written, ESCAPE FROM SPACE PRISON was just supposed to be a quick movie clip of Warren firing the bazooka. But MTV executive Brent Haynes was such a fan of the BAD PO FO trailer we'd done, he wondered aloud if we might shoot a SPACE PRISON trailer as well. The only problem was that we had little to no budget left for such an undertaking.
So here's what we did - While on the set of our "Anger Management" episode, I wrote a trailer script with the help of Bill Freiberger and his assistant, Alan Denton. Spencer and Sean gave some input as well. We'd all agreed that we wanted to send up movies like THX-1138, LOGAN'S RUN, etc. I decided that we'd shoot almost the entire trailer on GREEN SCREEN, and superimpose background plates into the shots to make it look like we'd built elaborate sets. At the time we figured these background plates could be photo-shopped by Rhyan Taylor.
But then Sean Baker, a total B-movie buff, told us that he knew of a director named FRED OLEN RAY who owned the rights to one of his own movies, a cheesy Sci Fi flick called STAR SLAMMER. For a fee, Fred would license us two minutes of material from his movie to use on our show. So not only did we get to use shots of space ships and laser fights, we also got to take stills from his movie and use them as our background plates.
I story-boarded each shot, extras were hired to play soldiers and citizens, NANCY FISHER (head of our wardrobe department) found some hilariously fun and cheesy costumes and finally we hired our old friend BOB GUNTON to play "Warden Prime," the bad guy. Bob is a brilliant character actor and is best known for his amazing role as Warden in "The Shawshank Redemption." He also played JUNCTION JACK on the FOX version of "GREG THE BUNNY."
Then we got into the editing room and tried to make sense of all the elements, as well as Fred's clips from Star Slammer. RICHARD SANCHEZ did the amazing and painstaking job of compositing each shot, and helped cut the trailer together along with Bill Freiberger and myself. I performed the deep-voiced trailer narration, which was later modulated to sound even deeper. In the end, I decided to put the HOWITZER FILMS logo that Sean Baker had used for BAD PO FO at the top of the trailer, as if the same studio had released both films. I figured maybe Warren had a 3 picture deal with some bizarre Italian production company who was financing these cheesy "Puppetsploitation" films. They'd done a vietnam flick, a space flick, and... (well, let's hope there's a season two to find out what other movie they made...)
We were very proud of the result but unfortunately did not have the time to put the entire trailer in the episode. So we settled for more clips in the garage scene, and decided that we would show the UNCUT TRAILER, which shows a lot more of the movie's plot, exclusively online after the episode aired. (sorry, it's not up yet...)
There were so many fun moments in this episode - having Steve Little drive that Mustang up Vermont Street with nobody but me in the back, our cameraman RADIUM CHEUNG in the passenger seat and our sound man IRIN STRAUSS in the trunk!!!
There was the hot tub - which was an amazing idea that Bill and Natasha came up with during a location scout. I remember Natasha was very nervous about approaching me with it. "We'd put you in the tub, seal it with plastic and cover it with suds, but we can pump in oxygen every ten minutes or so..." I loved the idea. I'm fortunately not very claustrophobic but it is a very surreal thing to lie in the bottom of a tub with a sheet of plastic stretched above you and to slowly see suds covering you up and leaving you in total darkness.
I had a little monitor with me (as I always do) that showed me the camera feed, so I could see and perform Warren. Having that monitor kept me sane, because as long as I looked at it I did not feel any anxiety and I was eager to keep performing. As promised, cool air was pumped into the tub between takes, through a slit in the plastic. It was very cool to see Warren sitting in that tub surrounded by bubbles. Totally worth the hassle.
The hotel room scene was another sequence that took a very long time to shoot. A LOT of stuff was cut out. Originally the camera saw that Daryl had packed his stun gun, among other torture devices in his suitcase. We cut this because it didn't seem real for the camera to see such a thing and not say anything about it, and also because we didn't want the audience to think that Daryl was a murderer. It's funnier to see that stun gun come out of nowhere in the comic book scene.
There was also an eternally long improv between Daryl and myself that was so fun I was hesitant to ever yell cut. Steve, like Josh, will go on forever if you let him. And that leads to some very exciting moments. I tend to let takes run on very long, which can be frustrating once we get to the editing stage, but at the same time I like that strange place of feeling like we are off the script and anything can happen.
In the case of this episode, that kind of moment happened when Steve Little (as Daryl) dropped his pants and tried to get into the hot tub with Warren, which was something that surprised the crew (and me as Warren) and made for a hilarious run that ended up in the episode. There were many more such moments - so many that they had to be cut out of the episode. I like having choices. I think it's better to choose from many possible moments rather than settle for just a few, though the downside is that every cut you make feels like agony.
Finally, there was the comic book store scene, shot at MELTDOWN COMICS, where we had also shot the D&D scene. This was a tricky one. I took the time to rehearse and choreograph the basic action of the scene - how Daryl would address the fans, have them step up to get frisked, when Josh would enter, when the fight would begin, how it would end, etc. I wanted everyone to have the basic geography of the scene down, so that we could shoot the entire scene as a series of long takes, from beginning to end. Radium and our good friend ANTHONY SAVINI would cover the scene with two cameras.
First takes are usually a mess of awkward geography, actors trying to remember story points, taking first stabs at lines, etc. If not rehearsed, you might have some false starts and mistakes, but at the same time you also find great spontaneous moments that are completely unplanned.
Second and third takes are usually a bit more streamlined as actors find a rhythm with each other. They are no longer worried about where they are physically and can concentrate more on just being in the scene, listening to the other actors and living in the moment. Notes are given from the director and any writers on set between takes, with suggestions for alterations to the lines being said, etc. All actors are different. Some are better in first takes, some are better after many takes, most find a nice sweet spot in the middle.
The one thing I did not choreograph was the actual fight! The only thing I told the actors was for Steve Little to say, "YOU WANNA DO SOME LARPING?" (LARP is short for Live Action Role Play) and for Cecil to get the upper hand at the end. It was in the outline that Cecil would say the line about the "Gaffi stick," but mostly the physical fight was entirely up to the actors. I just begged Josh not to hit anyone too hard with that lightsaber. (Lucasfilm approved our use of the weapons, by the way!)
They guys did a great job with the weapons. Josh had a store-bought Hasbro lightsaber and Steve had a custom-made Gaffi Stick replica made by our Associate Producer ERI HAWKINS. I later had Steve and Josh sign it for her. Our editor did an incredible job of using footage from every take to make the battle seem longer and more ferocious.
ROSANNA PANSINO is a friend of Josh Sussman's and was working as an extra in the scene. I also knew she was a huge Star Wars fan. It seemed perfect that she be the one to throw the lightsaber to him. It had a very "Princess throwing the hero his sword," feeling to it, and I thought Cecil could use a good hero moment. This of course led to a great moment where Cecil almost kisses her, only to be interrupted by the store owner. We named Rosanna's character "Leia Finklebaum," and created a very sweet moment that left a thread for her to reappear as a love interest for Josh. Rosanna did an awesome job and gets a laugh every time.
Several of the fans on line for the signing are wearing costumes from ESCAPE FROM SPACE PRISON. The guy in the motorcycle helmet is wearing the same costume that the guards are wearing when Warren fires the Gravity Bazooka at them.
Our show has the potential to be very chaotic - and it's hard to organize chaos. You want the show to have a very loose, improvised feel - but it would be dangerous (in my opinion) to just wing the entire show without any script, or show up on a set and not know how long it was going to take to shoot a scene. We had to have a very tight schedule and a limited amount of time in each location in which to shoot what we need. So in order to be responsible, keep the crew sane, and make the most out of every penny in the budget, you need to find clever ways of keeping things loose while also being as efficient as possible. This is where our amazing production team shines.