Raw, unbridled creativity may be the stuff of pure genius, but it’s rarely what we see on screen. Somewhere in between a creator’s hatching a wild idea and wide dissemination of that nugget of would-be beautiful, groundbreaking insanity, brilliance becomes watered down vanilla fare. Flickers of original concepts are barely visible, trapped beneath think packaging slapped on to make the whole shebang more marketable or salable or more like Bridesmaids (love Bridesmaids, of course). This is almost always the case in TV and film. In web media, it varies. There are ample opportunities to be left-of-center, but tiny (if existent) production budgets and fear of losing clicks usually steers content creators toward some incarnation of the insipid security favored by larger outlets. In Broadway Video and Holiday Road’s new series Sugarboy, there’s no trace of convention. Thank God, and Dan Opsal for that.
Created, written, and directed by Late Night with Jimmy Fallon sketch writer/director, Opsal and produced by Opsal, Amy Ozols, and Jimmy Fallon, Sugarboy chronicles blue streak narratives told by a 7-year-old protagonist (Anthony Lumia) who’s sent to his room for being too hopped up on sugar. Visuals are stunningly varied and impressively filmic. Storylines are inspired. How, you wonder, did a full-grown man capture the mind of a child with such fearless accuracy? Dan can tell you all about that.
Tell me a little bit about what came before Sugarboy and how your career in comedy got started?
Around my senior year of high school, I started making goofy videos with my friends, using my Dad’s video camera. I grew up in Iowa and the University of Iowa was the only school that had a cinema department and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life but I knew that I liked making videos, so I applied there and got in and once I got into Iowa and majored in cinema that sort of started me in that direction, and my parents didn’t object to it. If they had not been supportive, I would not have ended up going there. Once I started school, I made lot of short films and started doing a late night talk show with some friends. We had access to a studio, and we did the full opening monologue and sketches and had guests from around college that would come in, musical guests, everything. I guess that was sort of a training ground for my eventual job. After graduation, I got started in TV just logging tapes for this extreme sports network and sort of worked my way up to editor and eventually started shooting and editing some of the shows that they did for the network and then I was freelancing off and on, doing shooting and editing and some motion graphics. And then the big thing that got me to Late Night with Jimmy Fallon was a web series that I did a couple years ago just for fun, for Channel 101 New York called Acting Reel Master Database. The idea was that it was different fake acting reels for different fake actors and each episode was about five minutes and 6-10 short scenes from fake movies or commercials or romantic dramas, stuff like that. When the people at Fallon asked me to submit a packet, I submitted that web series too and I got the job the next day. It changed my life. I’ve been there about a year and a half now.
Are you loving Fallon?
Yeah, it’s great, I love every day there. So much fun and so challenging too. I hadn’t done a ton of writing before, aside from writing so that I could have a script to shoot. This job is so much more writing than it is directing. It’s just been really helpful to have been thrown into it.
As a director who hadn’t written much before, how did you learn the ropes?
That’s a good question, I don’t know, I think they did trial by fire. Anybody coming into that office has to very quickly figure out how things work and adapt but once you go through the process of see what it’s like to be there for the week and how to write in the voice of the show, you learn how your voice can mesh with other writers and become part of the whole. There’s a lot of collaboration that goes on. It was a pretty quick process because of the nature and the pace of the job; you kind of have to roll with the punches.
What’s the origin of Sugarboy? This is such a wild idea, where did it come from?
I think I was just trying to think of a weird idea one day and it wasn’t for anything specific, it wasn’t even for Above Average at the time. I’ve always wanted to write and direct a movie so I was thinking of a way I could do a movie but have it only be about 3 minutes long. I thought it would be a fun format to have a voiceover describing the whole thing, something really fast paced that pushes everything so quickly and that’s where the name Sugarboy came from. I loved the idea of a kid who’s super hopped up on sugar and is excited to tell this story. And then part of the fun of writing it was being able to go back to my seven-year-old mind and think about what I thought was cool or what I thought would be fun to talk about then. It’s kind of a combination of all of those things, the nostalgic feeling of what I liked when I was a kid and what I remember from my childhood and also being able to make a mini-movie, or in this case, six movies.
The sheer amount of work that must have gone into capturing each of those shots and the fact that you only see them for a few seconds is so impressive.
Yeah that’s the craziest part, but luckily we have an awesome team at Above Average. Going into the project, I didn’t really know how we were going to pull it off because it’s this thing that takes tons of props, tons of costumes, tons of locations, even more actors, and everyone was like, “OK, let’s try it and see how it goes”. And after we got through the first episode, we were like, “OK, it’s possible. Let’s keep going and see what we can do.” They’re all really large-scale productions. When I pitched the first episode to Above Average, they asked for 5 more. Knowing that it was going to be a big production, I thought that I probably shouldn’t write them as epic as that one, but that’s the only way I knew they’d work. I just decided to go for it.
What’s the methodology for making web videos that are A. funny and A. get lots of clicks? What do you think is the best way to be successful in this space?
I can only speak from my own experience, but when I’m going into a project I’m really thinking in terms of what I think would be the most satisfying project for me and what I want to be doing, and ultimately what I would want the final cut to be. Otherwise, it would be a lot harder to get motivated to spend all these endless hours planning and shooting and editing stuff, but it’s so much fun because it’s like a dream project for me. No matter how successful it is at the end, that’s why I’m doing it—because it’s coming from a place that I’m really passionate about.
Here are your three reasons to watch. Sugarboy premiered yesterday on Above Average. New episodes will be released every Tuesday for the next 5 weeks.
1. I’m always talking about how web series must be fast moving because they don’t have long to capture audience attention. Operating at breakneck speed all the way through, Sugarboy was tailor made for Internet success.
2. Cute kids, puppies, hot girls. Featuring these in web productions make products widely accessible, because lots of people love all those things. The fact that Anthony Lumia is fantastic at bringing to life material that’s seemingly and believably penned by a hyperkinetic child turns the accessible into the magical.
3. If Opsal had pitched this idea to most producers, they would’ve had a heart attack. All the locations, props, costumes— “All that work for the Internet?!” Because he had confidence in his vision and the foresight to involve two of the most innovative creative engines in the business (Broadway Video and Holiday Road), Opsal’s risk may be the newest, weirdest addition to the annals of web series history.