Catching up with 2011 Subway Fresh Artists winner R.J. Daniel Hanna


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With a title like “Jeff and Ravi Fail History,” it’s easy to assume that cowriter and director R.J. Daniel Hanna made a web-friendly version of “Harold & Kumar,” some serialized tome in which two slackers muscle through borderline failure powered by hipster wit and a succession of fast food entrees. But Subway Restaurants made a shrewd decision in choosing Hanna as one of last year’s Fresh Artists™, since the young filmmaker created a clever series of webisodes in which an overachiever and her doofus roommate find themselves lost in time – this time appropriately powered by fast food entrees.

IFC caught up with Hanna for a discussion about his experiences as an entrant in the SUBWAY Fresh Artists™ Filmmaker Series; in addition to discussing the challenges of coming up with an idea that was fun, clever, and appealing to judges, Hanna talked about the opportunities the contest afforded him, and explained how the experience influenced him as he moves on to his first feature, a low-budget comedy.

Find out about this year’s SUBWAY Fresh Artists™ Filmmaker Series by clicking here.

IFC: Just to get started, talk about how you got involved, how you became aware of it and how you sort of initially came up with an idea for the contest.

HANNA: There was going to be a competition to do a web series for Subway Restaurants. Coke used to do those student short films that they’d play at AMC theaters, so I’d done one of those the year before and I knew it’s a good opportunity to get money from a company and associate yourself with a brand and do something that you don’t have to fund yourself, that you can do on a bigger level. And it seemed really cool – three episodes of a web series, and maybe they would continue the web series down the line or something like that. So it just seemed like a really good opportunity; $40,000 for three episodes was more money than I’d ever worked with before.

So we just kind of got together with Brian Scofield and Ian Ward, and Brian and I kind of kicked around some ideas and what we wanted was something where we could use the money, which was $40,000, so we wanted to do something that could have some production value or do something we hadn’t done before. So we kind of kicked around some ideas and then kind of thought, well, there’s been a lot of time travel stuff, but not really on the web that we were aware of. Initially, we wanted to do it a little bit more handheld style, like a little more fluid in that sense, and do some more [improvisation] and that kind of thing. We thought that hadn’t really been done with time travel, and we knew that if we did get to do different episodes, we can go to a different place in each episode and this kind of opened up a lot of opportunities, we thought, to cover some of our favorite genres and stuff like that.

IFC: Once you came up with the idea, how much of it was developed by the time you entered it in the contest?

HANNA: But, initially, we had two episodes take place in the past – how we pitched it was they would arrive in the past and then you’d have basically one episode of them kind of arguing in the past and they meet a caveman at the end of the second episode. Then, after we pitched it and were selected based on that outline, we started thinking, why don’t we make a whole episode that is in the future and we’ll just really push ourselves to try and stretch every dollar and make that happen? So that was where that kind of came about.

It seems like kind of funny now, but at the time $40,000 was like so much money, especially in kind of school terms, where you can get a camera from school and get a bunch of resources from school, so it’s really $40,000 you can put up on the screen. So we just really wanted to try and make each one different, have like a different look and be in a different environment and explore a different genre, like sci-fi or the post-apocalyptic kind of movie.

IFC: Do you remember how you reacted when you found out you were chosen as a winner?

HANNA: Oh, yeah, I mean, I was extremely excited. When we were making it, like we knew it was kind of exactly what we wanted, because we got to make it during the summer, so we didn’t have class or anything like that. We were just focusing on making the movie. And I knew when we found that it was going to be an opportunity to really do something on a much more kind of real level and be able to hire people. Like we had a production designer from AFI who was great and being able to hire good people and really make something where we didn’t have to like cut every corner, and that was really exciting to think, okay, well, we’re actually going to make something that there’s no way we could have made this without their support. That was really exciting.

IFC: How reflective are the shorts that you came up with of the kind of content you want to create going forward? Do you want to go continue to do comedy, or was this sort of a fun platform to get to move on to sci-fi, action, drama, et cetera?

HANNA: I’m interested in comedy. But it’s funny – I have a definitive separation between what is more like commercial work, something for a brand, and then something that I really want to do. Like I’m probably more interested in like a Coen brothers kind of [comedy], more like Fargo or like Barton Fink, which has comedic elements but is primarily a dramatic storyline, and that’s kind of more where I would want to do personally, professionally.

But I’d actually really like to get into commercials and would really be interested in doing more web series and things like that that are comedies. So [the web series] is not, ultimately, what I’d want to do, but it’s something I would really like to do more of, because it is a lot of fun. It’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had on set, just because the actors really brought a lot and we just tried to keep it fun and keep it open to improvisation and that kind of thing. And it’s just kind of neat to be able to feel like we could try anything. In comedy, you can be a little bit absurd and kind of push things in that direction, which is a fun thing to explore.

IFC: Obviously, you’d had training beforehand via school and everything else, but were there different things that you learned from the competition or just the process of making the shorts themselves?

HANNA: Yeah, definitely. The experience of having to just sort of make the scene work and figure out a lot of the blocking stuff right there in the moment and kind of working with the actors while everyone else is setting up and coming in and just trying to work on the spot instead of being able to plan every little thing out. Because we didn’t have the sets built until like right before we were shooting and we couldn’t really get all the locations much before we were shooting. It all happened very quickly, so in films where you’re kind often used to being able to focus and find out every little detail before it happens, it wasn’t really like that. We had to figure a lot of it out on the spot and adapt a lot more on the spot. And it really taught me how to delegate, I think, because then you’d let the crew do their thing and trust that they were going to get it right. Then you’re trying to do what’s really important, I think, which is getting the actors ready and making sure that it’s not just people standing there the whole time not doing anything.

IFC: How do you feel like this contest sort of laid the groundwork for what you’re doing going forward, be it in terms of opportunities or creatively shaping the direction that you might go in?

HANNA: Well, obviously, it was a good opportunity to do a fun project with a good budget and stuff, so it’s a really good reel piece. I think it definitely helped to have worked for Subway Restaurants or Coke or brands like that, because it’s something people recognize and kind of legitimizes me a little bit. It’s like here’s something I did for a major brand and they trusted me with it and paid me money and this is the result – people were all happy with it.

IFC: What sort of opportunities has winning created since then, and what are you doing now?

HANNA: Well, actually, I am going to edit like this indie feature, like a $1.2 million feature. A friend of mine recommended me, it’s a comedy, and then they really liked the web series and that’s why I got hired, ultimately, so that seems like a pretty direct correlation. But in terms of really direct things, that’s probably the most direct like job.

IFC: What has this experience sort of meant for you personally, much less professionally?

HANNA: I mean, it’s always really validating to pitch an idea that you think is good for somebody and having it be accepted and fun to just have people support it and like it enough to try and associate with South by Southwest and play it at IFC and stuff, because those are really critically respected brands. South by Southwest and IFC is really something that’s really important to filmmakers starting out, to not just be associated with big corporations but also organizations that support art, even if it’s not like the most artistically groundbreaking thing.

So that was really important and a really good feeling that helps think, okay, well, I’m not crazy, people maybe do have good ideas and we can kind of push the boundaries in terms of what we could do with the money and the time and stuff and actually get this thing done. Because there were definitely a lot of, not doubts, but they were kind of like, great, I hope you guys can do this. It’s really ambitious, so I hope you pull it off. That was kind of the – I don’t want to say attitude, because that’s how I’m thinking of it, because they were very positive the whole time, but kind of the feeling. And we were very proud that we felt like we kind of obtained the level that we wanted.

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Bro and Tell

BFFs And Night Court For Sports

Bromance and Comeuppance On Two New Comedy Crib Series

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“Silicon Valley meets Girls meets black male educators with lots of unrealized potential.”

That’s how Carl Foreman Jr. and Anthony Gaskins categorize their new series Frank and Lamar which joins Joe Schiappa’s Sport Court in the latest wave of new series available now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. To better acquaint you with the newbies, we went right to the creators for their candid POVs. And they did not disappoint. Here are snippets of their interviews:

Frank and Lamar


IFC: How would you describe Frank and Lamar to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Carl: Best bros from college live and work together teaching at a fancy Manhattan private school, valiantly trying to transition into a more mature phase of personal and professional life while clinging to their boyish ways.

IFC: And to a friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Carl: The same way, slightly less coherent.

Anthony: I’d probably speak about it with much louder volume, due to the bar which would probably be playing the new Kendrick Lamar album. I might also include additional jokes about Carl, or unrelated political tangents.

Carl: He really delights in randomly slandering me for no reason. I get him back though. Our rapport on the page, screen, and in real life, comes out of a lot of that back and forth.

IFC: In what way is Frank and Lamar a poignant series for this moment in time?
Carl: It tells a story I feel most people aren’t familiar with, having young black males teach in a very affluent white world, while never making it expressly about that either. Then in tackling their personal lives, we see these three-dimensional guys navigate a pivotal moment in time from a perspective I feel mainstream audiences tend not to see portrayed.

Anthony: I feel like Frank and Lamar continues to push the envelope within the genre by presenting interesting and non stereotypical content about people of color. The fact that this show brought together so many talented creative people, from the cast and crew to the producers, who believe in the project, makes the work that much more intentional and truthful. I also think it’s pretty incredible that we got to employ many of our friends!

Sport Court

Sport Court gavel

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Joe: SPORT COURT follows Judge David Linda, a circuit court judge assigned to handle an ad hoc courtroom put together to prosecute rowdy fan behavior in the basement of the Hartford Ultradome. Think an updated Night Court.

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Joe: Remember when you put those firecrackers down that guy’s pants at the baseball game? It’s about a judge who works in a court in the stadium that puts you in jail right then and there. I know, you actually did spend the night in jail, but imagine you went to court right that second and didn’t have to get your brother to take off work from GameStop to take you to your hearing.

IFC: Is there a method to your madness when coming up with sports fan faux pas?
Joe: I just think of the worst things that would ruin a sporting event for everyone. Peeing in the slushy machine in open view of a crowd seemed like a good one.

IFC: Honestly now, how many of the fan transgressions are things you’ve done or thought about doing?
Joe: I’ve thought about ripping out a whole row of chairs at a theater or stadium, so I would have my own private space. I like to think of that really whenever I have to sit crammed next to lots of people. Imagine the leg room!

Check out the full seasons of Frank and Lamar and Sport Court now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”

Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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GIFS via Giphy

On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”

But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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