From the time we’re itty bitty small, we’re told to reach for the stars. “Impossible is nothing,” various faceless teachers assure. “Where there’s a will there’s a way.” These sentiments may hold true in some facets of life, but they’re certainly not applicable in the merciless world of web video, no, no. In this space, the heroes are those content producers who are acutely aware of their concept and cost limitations, the ones who focus on all the stuff they definitely can’t do before focusing on what they can. The quicker you establish a realistic project scale housed in a comedic wheelhouse with which you’re intimately familiar, the more likely it is that your content will be feasible, authentic, and funny.
My Damn Channel’s Sing-A-Gram — created and directed by Kristopher Knight, produced by Lou Gruber, shot by Nolan Maloney, and starring the queen of sardonic bubbliness, Mamrie Hart — does a great job of hitting its mark precisely because its producers had a clear sense of vision and their own capabilities before they ever thought about letting the cameras roll.
Tell me about your backgrounds in comedy prior to Sing-A-Gram.
Kristopher: I have been working in comedy since college. I graduated in 2004, came up to New York, and have been shooting ever since. I dabbled a little in the UCB but mostly I’ve been doing comedy on my own time and with my own people.
Lou: I started out as an actor about 7 years ago and one day just got frustrated with it, bought a camera, and started pitching in and helping out on various productions. I had a lot of funny friends and whenever they were doing anything I would be there. I slowly learned how this stuff is made.
What was the first project you worked on, Lou?
Lou: The first project I ever worked on was something Orin Brimer produced and directed called Kid Farm; it was a six episode web series that was a parody of 17 Kids and Counting. It was for Atom Films. That was the first thing I ever had a big role in. I was the production coordinator.
How did you guys meet?
Kristopher: We met in 2009 because, at the time, we were both working for Current TV, the now bought and sold second-tier cable network. It was a point in our lives when we were really committed to making our own content. Lou and I happened to be in the right place at the right time and we’ve been doing it now for going on 4 years.
How did the idea for this series come up?
Kristopher: We met with the folks at My Damn Channel and we were really interested in making a series that you didn’t have to watch in order, we wanted something you could pop in and out of. We had this idea of having music somehow incorporated in it. I did a series before this called Delivery, which is about a delivery guy going to miscellaneous customers and it was a very similar format, kind of a “who’s behind the door” and then letting the scene play out. And then mixing that with meeting Mamrie Hart, who I absolutely adore and is so much funnier than I will ever be, it just seemed like the perfect fit idea. It all came together nicely.
How did you go about pitching this to My Damn Channel? Was this an idea that evolved organically with them or were you fully set up when you went into the pitch?
Kristopher: We came into the pitch with a couple ideas, but we were feeling pretty confident about this one. It was right around the time they’d gotten their initial YouTube funding and they had an agenda planned for the type of content they were looking for. I had this idea for quite some time and once I heard what they were looking for, which was very in line with Sing-A-Gram, it just made sense. It wasn’t until we shot the pilot that Mamrie was even incorporated in it so they were sold on the idea and then when Mamrie showed up they were even more excited.
What web series are you guys watching now, what content is inspiring you?
Kristopher: Sugar Boy. We love the shit out of Sugar Boy. We love Dan Opsal.
Lou: Everything he does, we just love it.
Kristopher: I do a lot of Channel 101 shows with him so I know Dan from there. We really dig him because he has a real sense of what his voice is and he knows how to execute it in a really competent way. You never see a mess up. All his shows are A+. So yeah, we’re watching a lot of Sugar Boy and Lou is also involved in High Maintenance.
Oh really? I profiled High Maintenance last week.
Lou: I just read that. Ben and Katja are really great people. I’m starting to line produce that show and it’s really a pleasure to work with them. They’re just really excellent folks.
More and more people are turning to Netflix, HBOGo, and Hulu but are web series a real threat to cable TV or will they ever be?
Christopher: I think web series can fill in a lot of gaps. The stuff we’re seeing on Netflix is amazing and will keep being amazing but I wouldn’t say that’s going to define what web series are. I think people are going to develop that content synonymous with television content. The shorter form stuff I think is gonna keep growing and growing but I couldn’t tell you where it’s gonna be in 5 years. I’ve been doing mostly web content for my living now for 3 years and each year it seems to be different than the last. I’m just happy to hop on this rollercoaster and enjoy the ride.
Lou: I think it will all just be stuff. And people will watch good stuff and you’ll be able to choose what you watch. No matter what budget it’s on, or how it’s shot. Content is king. Everyone says that, but it’s really true.
Kristopher: So much of it is story based telling now. Even the stuff on YouTube that has low production values and high views, it’s successful because people really identify with the story being told.
So, you’re thinking web series’ job will be to figure out what is it that we’re missing even if we don’t know we’re missing it?
Kristopher: Absolutely. I think web content can turn into the putty that fills the holes. Like using a spackle to cover up cracks in a wall. Web content can fill in spaces that we don’t even know about yet. The cream’s gonna rise to the top.
What advice or wisdom can you share for those who aren’t in as an advanced a stage as you are, but want to be?
Kristopher: You always hear people say keep making stuff, keep making stuff, and I would take that a step further and say start making stuff in other people’s sandboxes. Being in your own sandbox is great if you want to really iron out your voice, but getting onto someone else’s radar is really important. For me that’s been Channel 101, which I think is one of the best New York spaces to make fun content. I’m gonna be doing content there 6 years from now because I love that environment so much. A large part of the work that I’ve been getting has been because of content that I made there, from people that I have met there. Just being on someone else’s radar helps a lot.
Lou: The only thing I would add to that is: Be aware of what you’re able to do perfectly and then do those things. If you have an idea and don’t think you can do it perfectly or to your satisfaction, then rework it into something that you can.
And I assume when you say “perfectly” you mean both in the quality of production and the quality of content and humor?
Lou: Absolutely. The fact of the matter is we are making web comedy. This stuff is made very cheaply, without exception. So think about what can you do cheaply, perfectly.
Kristopher: That’s definitely an element to keep in your mind at all times. We’re now done with our five-episode order of Sing-A-Gram and we hope to do more soon. We already have to the formula so we’re really able to focus on details and always making the next episode better than the last.
And, of course, your three reasons to watch.
If you’re hoping to collect a respectable viewcount in the comedic space, a wittily written song with a catchy tune is always a good place to start.
2. Pathetic characters
Sing-A-Gram’s juxtaposition of ostensibly festive music with characters who are in the midst of grappling with some heavy stuff hits just the right note.
It’s not that we don’t love web series with narrative arcs (we absolutely do), but nothing’s harder than coming up with a strong container idea with episodes that stand just as well on their own as they do as part of a whole.