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eGuider Exclusive — May 7th, 2009
An Interview with Dave Beeler and Tom Konkle, Creators of Safety Geeks: SVI
by Brian Rothe
1) So... where does the story of Dave and Tom begin? Tell us a little bit about your background.
Tom Konkle: Actually, Dave and I met through performing live on stage. Someone had put up a casting for the British sketch revue Beyond The Fringe, which was a major influence in shaping comedy in the 1960's and I had sent in a letter with a note about the fact I had performed Peter Cook's (one of the four men in the original play) material and characters for years and would like to do his role in the play.
The producer of the play was a man named Joe Dunn and he was a great connector of talent and very funny himself, even taking a role in the play and asking me to join the cast. I remember him telling me there's a guy you have to meet that I think you would get along well with named David Beeler.
He said Dave was in Germany for a bit but would be returning soon and that he had him in mind to play Dudley Moore's part. Well, anyone who knows the history of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore will know they became a comedy team out of Beyond the Fringe and, ironically, so did Dave and I playing their roles.
Dave Beeler: That was 1999. We had such a good time that Tom said to me, "You know Cook and Moore did a two hander that played on Broadway called Good Evening? We should do that." I said "All right." Next thing I knew, Tom called and said that he'd got a theatre and that we would be part of the No-Ho Arts Festival. So we did that show, it went over a treat and we had a blast doing it.
TK: So I said to Dave, "Hey what if we took some of these characters and scenarios and did our own version of them?" And that show became "Good Night: A Sketchy Tribute to Cook & Moore."
DB: I'd won some awards in England when I lived over there for my stage plays, but I always felt like writing was hard work. One of my goals was to figure out how I could write and make it easier and more fun. Well working with Tom, we just laughed our asses off and tried to capture what we were laughing about on paper. And it came together in a wonderful way.
TK: I'm very proud of the writing in that show. It has a very classic comedy feel to it.
DB: Not long after that Tom's award winning sketch troupe, Lester McFwap, asked me to replace someone who was leaving, so I said, "All right." And they said, "You're in."
TK: It was about that time that I negotiated the rights to the World Premier of "Owl Stretching Time," never before seen sketches from Monty Python, which I produced. I asked the guys in our sketch troupe, McFwap, if they would be in it and it was a rare privilege to be able to perform those sketches. That premiered at the Santa Monica Playhouse.
DB: The people at the Santa Monica Playhouse are lovely and when the theatre was in jeopardy of losing their building, we offered Good Night as a fundraiser and they agreed to co-produce the show with us.
TK: We got some wonderful press, helped the theatre, had a great time doing the show, and we realized that we did, indeed, have a unique thing going, working together.
DB: One of the things people always comment on about our work together is that we have great chemistry, we just "click" as performers. And that's like any relationship, some just "click" where others "stick." You'll see the Hollywood studios put together two mega comedy stars in a film and you'll think, "Wow, that's going to kick ass." And then you see it and it lays there like a big turd and you wonder why. It's that chemistry.
TK: Dave and I get along so well that it's like I have always known him. I am so comfortable with him writing, performing and all the business things we do because he is a close friend and a friend first, so in that way I am very, very lucky that Dave has chosen to work with me and that he enjoys it.
And one of the things which is great about working with Dave is that unlike many of the famous Double Acts, like Abbot & Costello or Martin & Lewis, we switch between being the straight man and the clown -- or white face and red nose, as I like to say. If you look at our series, Invention With Brian Forbes, Dave as Brian is the straight man and I'm the loon as Sir Bo-Hey No; whereas, if you look at The Audition (a live performance from Good Night), Dave is the clown and I'm the straight man.
We both have "paid our dues" in Hollywood and helped each other move up. We make a living acting and writing and now we've added our web production company, Pith-e to that mix.
2) How did you get involved in the creation of web content? Is it a world that you decided to enter yourselves, or were you brought onto a project that required you to work in this space?
TK: Well, we were already creating content that would years later be useful on the web before there was a platform for it. We had been filming short videos and even filming multi camera switched shows like our show, Good Night, which you can see in its entirety now online. Before, it was a bit of, well we have a 4 minute piece - what do you do with that? You can't take that to a network, you can basically do festivals. But we kept filming and learning and stockpiling ideas without even knowing the end game. Later, the web became a perfect forum for our type of creativity and productions, and though we were slower than I would have liked to catch the wave because of the steep learning curve, we are getting right where we should be before the "little" guy doesn't have a chance to jump in as an equal.
DB: In one of our McFwap troupe live shows, I wrote a sketch about a guy trying to get a mortgage and we shot the tag end of the sketch on video and projected it. Then we began adding little video pieces to our live shows. Tom's got a degree in film and actually came out to LA and worked as a director; he's drifted back to performing now, instead of the other way round like many people.
TK: Well, in '03 after a live show, our sketch group, McFwap, was approached and we shot a television pilot directed by Kurt Vanzo.
DB: In '05 video began to appear online so we put up some sketches. We saw that any video that we uploaded could reach 10s of thousands of people in a few months, and that exceeded all of the people we'd ever performed for doing live shows. Tom and I kept motoring on with our "side projects" and in '05 we formed Pith-e Productions to produce video content for the web and new media.
TK: A failed meet-up with someone actually was the catalyst for the formation of Pith-e Productions. We had thought this person was going to come across with many promised opportunities for us and our work with web and mobile programming early on, and though they could not seem to deliver and disappeared on us, they did leave us with the knowledge and desire to get into the space that made a puzzling experience more than worth it. That strange first experience started us down a path of experimenting with writing, performance, technology and learning the "ropes" of the then fledgling web video world. It all changed fast, it still is evolving but we had a taste now so our forays grew exponentially in ambition and knowledge.
3) Tell us about the adjustments you have to make when writing and performing for this medium as opposed to live entertainment, television, or film. Are there any specific challenges that arise?
TK: Well you are still constrained by people's expectations for the medium; young as it is, there are already conventions in editing, length of program, and material. It is surprising how quickly the status quo has evolved. But it's all opinion. If it worked for you, it worked.
I have been acting for nearly 20 years now and every medium presents a particular requirement to convey your character to the audience in service of the story; the web was for a time about faces not places because the quality and size of the image dictated it. Now with HD, like the HD we are currently streaming on KoldCast, you have an image quality that can convey the subtleties of facial expression and details of place and character that is better than television in the 90's.
Aside from being shorter than you'd like to make something sometimes, because the technology isn't there to store and play the material, you really can deliver the kind of performance you have honed over the years in more traditional mediums with little difference on the web frankly. There is way more difference between how I play performance on stage versus TV or film than there is between TV and film and the Internet. Writing is the same, make it as good as possible before you deliver the production to an audience. Write what you want to tell and then you will find a way to do it in whatever medium you are doing it in. Good writing transcends its medium, but the writing is still the blueprint for the film, play or web production. That blueprint (the script) is the foundation which is ultimately made real with the actors, director, crew and post teams all bringing their skills and artistry to shape the story. And remember, a participle dangled is English mangled.
DB: The same basic rules apply here as in any medium: have a good story, create a good script and keep your production values and acting levels as high as possible. The biggest challenge remains monetization. To have the resources -- and not just money or gear, but time and skilled talent -- you have to find a way to bring money in because you can't give it away forever. Sadly, I am not Reginald Syngen-Smythe in real life. I am not a retired at birth trillionaire who can bankroll teams of people. And a problem with the Internet is that people expect it all for free. (And I am guilty of that as well.) iTunes is helping with that paradigm shift, but it hasn't hit video yet, and I don't think it will. I think a sponsorship model (think old radio like the Chesterfield Radio Hour) or ad based revenue is the way to go. And even though the web can allow for very specific metrics, advertisers are yet to value those "eyeballs" in the same way they do traditional media such as print or television.
TK: But the technology is going to force some changes as new and old media merge, things will get shaken up, but a model will emerge and when it crystalizes, I think you'll see another rush to online media.
4) Do you think that the Internet allows more freedom for creative minds? Why, or why not?
TK: No, I don't think the Internet allows more freedom for creative minds. There is freedom to be creative in a 99 seat theater and answer to no one. Write a book. The question is, will no one show up there to answer to? Versus the web which gives that same creative mind the opportunity to reach more people in a day than the same mind in different setting ever could.
It's not about creative freedom, it's about access. Already, the web is going through growing pains as the freedom to simply create without consequence or reward finally gets the bill - the realization that the Internet must be monetized if it is to be self-sustaining. It remains an expensive hobby otherwise, and no matter how free or creative it is it cannot continue because someone has to pay for something and people must survive.
I think the larger companies coming in is fine. I wish we could have our creative productions backed by them, but it also carries with it the double edged sword of "legitimacy". For example, look at the winners of the Webby's and The Streamy's and you see it's already emulating established names, companies, PR, money spent or traditional media stars and companies. Perhaps it all has to in order to survive, but this is more like television in its infancy under the movie studios' "eye", or perhaps when artists in the silent era had mini studios with access to distribution. But, even then that was a very small percentage of the creative people who wanted to get in.
We only know about the ones who did get into the system because the system promoted them and made you aware of them. How many other "Buster Keatons" could not get a movie camera or distribution, but were equally talented and, for a turn right instead of left, never got access to a medium that allowed them to express themselves despite a lifetime of trying? I think I have a real vision for comedy and creative things, and I know I have the talent and skills and drive to do it, but the ghosts of those never heard from before artists are present in my life and I certainly can imagine how they felt.
You can put anything up on the web, but getting it seen widely is getting harder to do, and frankly most of it isn't very good because just the access doesn't mean what people put up is going to be great. The bad filmmaker simply cannot tell a story, a good filmmaker can competently put something up to tell; with a great filmmaker it's what they think to tell and that costs, ironically, nothing. It costs nothing to have a great idea, it does cost something, however, to make a great idea.
DB: I take Tom's point that anyone can be creative in almost any venue if they apply their creativity and yet, I would say, "Yes, the Internet does allow freedom for creative minds." We shopped SAFETY GEEKS: SVI to traditional and cable TV under a different title around Hollywood. We were met with a lot of compliments, comments about it being too edgy and requests to bring other projects back, but we did not get a green light. We even had an executive say, "I love this, but it's too smart for our demographic." Why? Most people in development are in perpetual fear of losing their jobs and they therefore make increadibly conservative choices. That's why you'll find so many investigative shows on television. Now I like those shows and there are several I follow but I don't think it is an accurate reflection of most Americans sitting around thinking, "If only there was another show about a group of experts solving crimes." Rather, it's a very accurate reflection of network execs looking at what is tried and true and playing off a formula. What the Internet allows is the opportunity to create your vision unfiltered and without satisfying a committee of gatekeepers who are looking over their shoulders more than they are looking forward. The internet allows a worldwide distribution platform that is accessible to all. That has never existed before. And the potential of that is very powerful. We have large fan bases in the UK and Australia. We get fan-mail from places like Norway and Iceland. The husband of a girl I went to college with got one of our videos forwarded to him in Texas from a colleague in South Africa. That's crazy cool. But without the internet Tom and I could have made SAFETY GEEKS, but we would not have had a worldwide distribution platform and we would have undoubtedly had to sacrifice parts of our vision to get it into a more traditional distribution network. It is a unique time and we are very thankful to be developing and evolving with the technology. Now, the downside is that online you have to move a lot of dirt to find a lump of coal, much less a diamond. The diamonds are out there, but there's a lot of dirt too. We're hoping enough people will find our work to be of gemstone quality.
5) How did you come up with the concept for your show "Safety Geeks: SVI"?
TK: Well, we wanted to do something we found funny. The device of the procedural crime drama was an over-saturated, shorthand structure and genre to hang our strange and surreal sense of humor on. When you make it about something silly like a safety team that is dangerous to themselves and others up against Darwin Award/OSHA accidents, you are on your way to something fun. We love digressions, and verbal comedy, messing with structure, slapstick, everything really. For me funny trumps all, and we love the characters and wrote in their voice. First there was a treatment and then we shot a fairly elaborate promo for it about a year and a half ago, which made the rounds on the Internet as well as screening and pitch meeting to all the media outlets. We puzzled more than a few people with that and made some more laugh or get excited about the unique video techniques involved in making it. We took the next step of breaking the traditional script into web series format and deciding to make it ourselves, and now we have a few episodes out with, I really hope, more to come... if the audience it finds will warrant it.
6) The Internet makes it easy for people to rate and post comments on content they are watching. Are you getting a lot of feedback from your audience about the show? If so, how are people responding?
DB: The response has been tremendous. We've already gotten a great review from Blogcritics.org magazine and some lovely press online and in traditional media as well as feedback from people we know.
TK: Well, I have a special email filter so...all good. No, actually the Safety Geeks: SVI feedback has been very positive which is a relief for me. Lots of messages, comments and in person, people are very kind. It makes me happy. The people who didn't get it, won't, through no fault of their own; it's subjective. On the same day, you can have one person say it's too many cuts in the edit and another say its too slow a cut so they cannot enjoy it, and frankly for them that's right and it's their version of things that they need to like our show. You can't make anything trying to calculate what everyone will like.
Do the best job you can, do what you like, remember it's for an audience and stay true to a clear vision. If some people agree with you, as they have with Safety Geeks, then it's a good day and that's why you made it. You have to like your show to make it worth the effort. Imagine making something you didn't even like in the first place and THEN hearing from a wide audience that they don't like it either - then what have you got? Nothing.
I love it when people send feedback that they like it and absolutely hate it when they don't like it. It's someone saying, "No, your child is objectively bad or ugly," it's not an opinion to them anymore, it's fact when they talk about your art. Artists have one of the few professions that are always open to critiques from the unqualified. Imagine walking up to an accountant in an accounting office and saying, "Last spreadsheet I looked at was terrible, hated the font and you're not a very good accountant and I can say that because I've seen numbers before." Well, it's like that for an actor, writer, director or producer, who is often confronted about their work by anyone who has an option; because they are an end user, they are perfectly entitled. We make shows and we like it when people enjoy them, that's the point.
7) What can we expect from Safety Geeks as the first season progresses?
TK: Each episode has its own style and experiment in flavor of comedy and structure, the surreal and horrific in one, character driven comedy in another, from mostly audio and sound jokes in an episode to one that uses slapstick or entirely different cultural types of humor; each episode will hopefully be interesting and funny. You can expect that we are working together to do our best to try to show you something different and fun each time. Hopefully, it is diverting and you will grow to love the characters. I have grown to love playing Budwin and certainly love seeing the other writing I have done come to life in the hands of the capable actors who were kind enough to lend their talents to the show. There is a mystery to be solved this season, strange deaths, romance, and more than a few moments of playing with storytelling and genres to be seen coming up soon in Safety Geeks: SVI.
8) Any surprises in store?
TK: Oh yes...
9) People are still trying to figure out how to make money with Internet content. As more big studios are getting involved, where do you think this medium is headed?
DB: We sort of drifted into answering this earlier, but you can see with the release of the Webby's this week that almost all the winners were people who are already famous in traditional media. So what you'll see is the marketing might of bigger companies with substantial PR resources, lifting their projects out of the jumble of what's available. But, even so, if you create something that is good, compelling and in our case we hope very funny, people will seek that out. The audience will emerge, the cream will rise.
TK: It will be a hybrid of old and new. More difficult to play on an even field with big studios very quickly. Monetization will happen, but for whom?
10) What other Internet content are you watching right now? Are there any shows that have caught your attention? Viral videos?
DB: We're very honored to be sponsored by KoldCast.TV and not just because they are great guys to work with, but because they are taking some chances on new original content and are willing to partner with the creators on their network. There are some good shows to see there.
TK: Anything on Failblog or The Onion is great. Been watching shows on KoldCast.TV frankly because we have a business relationship with them and I want to know what's out there and who else we share the network with and they have some great shows. I will read Tubefilter.TV or Tilzy.TV or eGuiders.com because you need someway to collate and track all the shows to cut through the static to find the quality shows that aren't getting the high dollar PR and marketing campaigns. Some of those shows are deserving of those campaigns and are a high quality backed by stars, others seem to be what a company thinks an Internet series should look like or it's an afterthought or dumping ground for ancillary ideas still backed by big bucks. The shows I enjoy have heart or passion or connect with my tastes, and you know that when you see it.
"The Front Fell Off" or the video that morphs all leading actresses faces or leading men to music is amazing, and "All your base are belong to us" and "The Big Lebowsky F**cking Short Version" - I saw and loved them.
11) Do you have any other projects in the works? Tell us what we can expect from you down the line, Internet or otherwise.
DB: We're still posting, compositing and doing the effects for the rest of Season One of SAFETY GEEKS: SVI. If we can attract the audience then the resources will follow to do Season Two and we are very excited about where that will lead, not only with the characters, but with some of what we'll be able to do on the technical side.
We have a feature film, and we were gearing up to start a raise on that at the end of '08, but when the economy tanked we decided to hold off. So we're looking forward to getting that ball back in play. We continue to shoot our series, Invention with Brian Forbes.
TK: That series has become the little engine that could. It started as a sketch...
We have several more series ideas that would work for Internet or traditional media already written and we eventually, of course, want to make features starting with EMT's, a comedy we wrote a few years ago. Love to do a flat out two man sketch show.
DB: Yeah, I agree. A two man sketch show with guest appearances would be awesome. And we have several other ideas for web series and a televsion pilot that's ready to go, but it is a hard sell in traditional media, so that might get adapted for the internet..... Hmmm....
TK: What we expect downline is to have real budgets.
DB: Damn straight. A guy who helps sell TV shows was talking to me and asked what we would really want. I said, "Resources. Resources to do exactly what we're doing now but more of it with more talented, skilled people who we could remunerate for their time, talents and contributions to our silly flights of comic fancy."
TK: I want to perform live again after a mock retirement. We did our last live show, "Dave and Tom's A Tribute To Dave and Tom" and did a piss take on our live comedy careers which was fun and we haven't gone back after that wonderful purging. Many, many things left to do and with resources I hope we can do them.
Thanks, Dave and Tom!
To learn more about Dave and Tom visit DaveandTom.com.
eGuider: Brian Rothe
Director of Content, eGuiders
Recent west coast transplant and production expert.