CRAFTY: THE WEB SERIES AS STORYTELLING DEVICE
Mark Haapala and Adam Tunney talk to us about storytelling with the new web comedy titled Crafty. Haapala created the show with writing partner Morgan Mead.
Three years ago Mark Haapala and Morgan Mead, long-time stand-ins on HBO’s Entourage, paired up to create a pilot script entitled Life in the Shadow, a half-hour single-camera comedy based on life as a stand-in on a fictitious movie set. Haapala says the script didn’t generate any strong interest.
A year and a half later, Haapala happened on a behind-the-scenes documentary about the origin of the show Always Sunny in Philadelphia. The developers of Always Sunny had bought a Panasonic DVX-100 SD video camera, shot a 20-30 minute pilot, and shopped it around. FX Network president John Landgraf got interested, and Always Sunny took off.
Haapala and Mead purchased their own DVX-100 and developed a concept for another comedy, this one more mainstream, centered on the craft services crew of a production set. Since the Crafty project was low budget (read “no funding!”), the duo wanted a minimalist set. They chose a single location: the craft services table where characters gather and gossip.
Their original goal called for a pilot and a dozen 5 to 10 minute episodes. While they had no set idea for an ending when they began, they did have a rough idea where they wanted to go with the show. They recruited actors willing to work for no pay. After shooting the pilot and one episode, they lost an actor to out-of-town relocation. Losing the actor meant losing a character. Shortly after that several more actors dropped out to work elsewhere. More characters lost.
At that point, Haapala and Mead paused: money invested in a camera; time spent shooting episodes; actors investing time without pay. Enough roadblocks to discourage most. But undaunted, Haapala and Mead reshaped the remaining scripts. “It forced us to raise the stakes in our show,” says Haapala. “It was a blessing in disguise.”
The actors on the project stepped up to contribute ideas for characters and story lines. Adam Tunney, one of the original Crafty actors, joined the writing team. Tunney and Haapala, friends since college, had always talked of writing together. Tunney says he sat with Haapala and Mead one evening, listening to them develop a script. Caught up in the creative process, Tunney jumped in, “Can I come up with a joke too?” Tunney says, “This is Mark and Morgan’s baby, and it’s great to be part of the process.”
Later Jon Donahue also came on as a writer. As they added characters and actors, the project grew into more of an ensemble piece.
Because Crafty’s concept involves strong use of celebrity cameos, each script had to be written around the individual celebrity available at the time of a shoot. Scripts also had to be written around whatever talent was available. Each episode was originally conceived to be a stand-alone piece. This changed as the show evolved, but there is, says Haapala, a through-line to all the episodes.
Haapala says the writing just got better as they went along. The enthusiasm became infectious. Says Tunney, “Mark knows where the writing is going, and as director he knows how he wants to capture it. He’s been exceptional,” Tunney continues, “at keeping the writing consistent and going with the original vision of the writers while also getting his vision as a director across.”
While working as stand-ins on Entourage, Haapala and Mead sparked enthusiasm for Crafty among the HBO show’s cast. Several of the show’s actors, notably Kevin Connolly and Adrian Grenier, agreed to cameo roles in several episodes. Actors Diane Delano, Keith Coogan and Daniel Roebuck appear as well.
“It’s so rewarding just to see everyone be so receptive to trusting in the project.” Haapala
Haapala attributes the improv abilities of many of the Crafty cast, including Tunney, as helping to make the shoots even better. “It’s so rewarding,” he says, “just to see everyone be so receptive to trusting in the project and going along with it.” Most of the actors haven’t seen any of the footage being shot, yet perform week after week in front of the camera with “blind trust” in the writers.
Tunney adds, “The concept was so exciting when Mark and Morgan pitched this whole thing. They assembled a team with great actors, people they’ve known for a while.”
Tunney goes on to say, ”Nobody’s seen any money from it. It’s really exciting to see how many people are willing to commit their time without seeing a cent. It’s especially inspiring”, he says, “to see how these celebrities, like Kevin Connolly and Adrian Grenier, as well as Keith Coogan, Diane Delano and Daniel Roebuck, give their time because they believe in the concept.”
Along the way Haapala had to become a SAG signatory producer as well, in order to work with celebrities. Because the show is an internet-based (“new media”) project, the signatory status offered greater flexibility than television or film projects when shooting on location.
“It’s especially inspiring to see how these celebrities… give their time because they believe in the concept.” Tunney
Most of Crafty has been edited on an Avid platform. A friend got them started in Final Cut, but Haapala says he himself had only rudimentary knowledge of FC. They found professional editors who were willing to work with them, and these pros cut on Avid.
Crafty is 95% complete. Haapala says they need to shoot a few more scenes. Then, when they close a distribution deal, they’ll shoot the season one finale. The finale will need financial backing; so far all the episodes have been shot with ambient light. Remember, no budget! They want to attach big name talent with extensive film experience to the finale, which is set at night, and shoot it “correctly” with proper lighting.
So where to from here? Haapala set up a company, IN the FLOW Entertainment. They are pitching the show to a major distributor with a strong web division. Haapala says they are reluctant to go the YouTube path. They feel Crafty is a natural fit for a distribution site. The target demographic for their R-rated comedy is 18+, with enough appeal to attract older viewers and those who understand how the industry works.
How many times have we heard it said, content is king? In the case of Crafty, it might be more accurate to say, writers and characters are king. This show is all about the writing, and by extension, the character development contributed by the actors. Tunney says it’s a testament to the characters created by Haapala and Mead that others want to write for the project and create additional characters.
Haapala feels extremely empowered working on Crafty. He and his collaborators are now excited about the possibility of writing a second season, this time, they hope, with funding.
You can see the trailer (R-rated for language) on Crafty’s Facebook page. We’ll keep you posted on the project’s release date.