This Week in Web Videos: ‘Breakdowns’

Breakdowns  is the kind of series that fucks with you. On a good day, it’s inspiring. Original, funny performances by creators and stars Evan Greenspoon and Brandon Scott Jones. Outstanding direction and photography pulled off on a shoe-string. These things give us hope that we haven’t seen or done it all, that there’s new terrain to explore. On a bad day, Breakdowns is infuriating, because these guys make a two-man band look so effortlessly fucking fantastic.

How did you get your starts in comedy?

Brandon: I pretty much started through UCB. I was looking for something creative in my life and ended up taking a class and realizing that I wanted to do comedy because it was way more fun [than drama]. So pretty much all of the comedy I’ve done has been through UCB.

Evan: I went to school for acting at NYU. I wanted to be a serious dramatic actor, which seems silly now, shortly after graduating my friends dragged me to a UCB show and then we started going every week to Cagematch. Then I started taking classes and then Brandon and I were on a sketch team together and that’s how we met.

How long have you guys been creative partners?

Brandon: We were on a sketch team at UCB together called Stone Cold Fox, so we’ve been working together for a while and then, when Stone Cold Fox ended, everyone kind of split off and started doing their own projects and so forth, so we ended up pairing off together and working on stuff. We’ve been working for a year and a half now individually.

What prompted you to make Breakdowns?  

Evan: We actually started working on a stage show together. We just wanted to do something. Brandon wanted to show off his terrible Elmo voice one day, and then we just started riffing and improvising.

Brandon: We both have these acting backgrounds and also, like Evan, I started off wanting to be a serious actor at first. Then the idea and the concept of auditioning is already very anxiety inducing, especially when you’re first starting out. Also the idea of auditioning for Elmo was insane to us, like what is the audition process like for a Muppet or for any kind of cartoon? Then we just started riffing on it, and thinking how funny it would be if you really took that audition seriously, which some people do. How in-depth would you go for it?

How much of this was improvised?

Brandon: The writing process came a lot from improvising. We had scripts that we rehearsed. Of what you see in the web series, about 90% is scripted.

Evan: Yeah 90% scripted. We rehearsed it a lot and tried to make it look as natural as possible. So I’d say it was maybe 10% is improvised. I was going through the script the other day to try and match it with what the actual dialogue in an episode was and it was almost exactly the same.

It’s so natural. 

Evan: We were very lose around the lines, but in terms of what we we’re saying, the script matches.

Brandon: Maybe we just hadn’t memorized the line. What comes across, as natural acting could’ve just been us flubbing lines.

Did you co-write or did one of you do a draft and then the other one punch up? 

Brandon: These were all co-written.

Evan: In the same room type of deal.

Brandon: We’d get up on our feet and improvise a little, then write that down, then look at it the next day and completely hate it and re-write it. It was written on its feet, in the room. Once we had it down, then we tried to just keep enhancing what we had in it.

Have you worked on other projects where you allow your improv to inform the script?

Evan: We started working on a pilot that we wrote for something completely different while also working on the web series. For the pilot, we used kind of a similar method of when we were in a scene, we would improvise how we thought the characters would act and then come down and type it out, so I guess we used a similar method.

Brandon: It helps to have someone else to bounce ideas off of to see where can we go with this joke. If we don’t have a joke, sometimes it’s nice to be able to improvise out a scene and come up with the best possible joke then write it down, so that’s an alternate way we’ve used this process. We used to do a similar thing with the sketches in Stone Cold Fox, the sketches would start it off and then we’d improvise it a little and the sketch would be informed by that as well.

That’s a great talent to have, to be able to improvise. Some people who write with writing partners–you’re just going back and forth asking “What if it was like this?” but improvisation allows you to actually live out what’s on that page, to test it by bringing it to life. That makes the writing easier and more authentic, I would think.

Brandon: Yeah I think that’s a great way to look at it. At the core I’m not that great of a writer so the more you can talk something out and hear it, the clearer it becomes and the more fun it becomes. And the more invested you become in it, hopefully.

Evan: We’ve worked together for a while and are also friends, so we trust each other’s instincts a lot. If I think something is hilarious but Brandon is on the fence I’ll trust him on that one. Working together feels easy; it never feels like a grind.

Brandon: And improv helps with that.

What’s next for the project and for you guys together, and respectively?

Evan: Well initially the web series was supposed to be like an audio-visual headshot resume kind of for us as a comedy duo. Then the idea is that we would then pitch ourselves as a duo, write spec scripts and try to get something off the ground. That’s what we’re trying to do with it now.

Brandon: We definitely have plans to make more episodes of Breakdowns, which we’re really excited about. And then we have other projects that we’re working on as writers. We also really want to get a live show up with some sketches and then maybe make some more video online sketches as well as working on other, larger projects.

What else are you guys watching online?

Brandon: I really like Don and Laura’s web series. I watched another series called Irregardlessly Trish that I thought was really funny.

Evan: The last web series I saw that I really responded to was the one Joe Pera did, How to Make it in USA.  I loved the pacing and how it was shot and everything. Joe Pera and Connor O’Malley are great.

What advice do you have for people looking to do what you’re doing right now in the digital space?

Brandon: I would say work with someone you like working with. I know so many people who have done amazing videos by themselves, but I don’t know personally how they can do that. I think it helps to have someone else to work with and who you think is really funny and trust. Having that as a base is a great way to start. Maybe you’ll make something nobody else will like, but if you like it then that means it was successful.

Evan: Our director and our editor were both spot on. I met them through UCB. I also looked at a lot of different web videos and, if something looked like it was shot really well, I’d write down the name of the DP or the director and, if I thought the editing was really slick or good, I made a note of who the editor was. Now, we have a list of editors and DPs that we really want to work with.

Here are your three reasons to watch.

  • Chemistry
  • Specificity
  • Accessibility
  • Episode #1, Elmo

    Greenspoon’s meditative blowhard is the perfect compliment to Scott Jones’s oblivious idealist. I suppose that makes me sound like a bit of a meditative blowhard myself. Oh well.

    Episode #2, Mummy

    Beating out scenes through improv clearly works, especially if you’re this adept at improv. The level of natural conversational detail presented here almost certainly needed to be spoken before it was written. It’s a good lesson for anyone trying to “bang out a quick script.” Read aloud what’s written on the page. Chances are, you’ll see many spaces to fine tune.

    Episode #4, Gin

    There are so many web series made by performers, about performers and, often, for performers. Performers only, that is. Not this show. Though those “in the biz” might appreciate Breakdowns on a different level, the series is accessible enough for a much wider audience.

    Luke is a writer/director for CollegeHumor and a watcher of many web videos. Send him yours @LKellyClyne.

    This Week in Web Videos: ‘Breakdowns’