Got some time on your hands? Come with us for a month+ of delightful diversions as we deep-dive into our vast body of work! Each day we’ll be spotlighting projects from D34’s past, present and future, with videos, galleries, and even a handful of live-streaming events. Stay tuned!
THIS PROGRAM IS INTENDED FOR MATURE AUDIENCES. VIEWER DISCRETION IS ADVISED.
We made it! Holy crappoli, was this a crazy flip through the scrapbook. Or, like, twenty scrapbooks. Yes, it’s Day 34 of our 34 Days, and in covering everything we’ve covered, as much as we’ve mentioned A.S.S. (Another Showcase Showdown), we haven’t really given the show its due. So let’s take a moment to place this project – which made a plethora of Drama 3/4 productions possible – on the proper pedestal. And let’s stop using the letter P so much.
The first whiff of A.S.S. began in the year 2000, when Alex Fox was working at the Stella Adler Theatre. He had secured one of their stages at no cost, for one night, to do an actor’s showcase of sorts, except that his version would not be pay-to-play. (If you’re unfamiliar with the industry, yeah, struggling actors have to pay hundreds of dollars to get scouted by talent agents. It’s kind of a horrible racket.) Fox called this evening of solo performance The Showcase Showdown and invited a select group of friends, mainly USC Theatre alumni, to come perform whatever they wanted. Most of them dusted off go-to monologues from their audition files. Some soloed on the cello or lip-synced a recording from a favorite humorist. But almost without exception, they all performed someone else’s published work. Then there was David Fickas.
At the urging of Ric Barbera, Fickas chose to recreate a little comedy bit that he occasionally trotted out after a drink or three. The scene involved a fuzzy, sloth-like puppet and some suggestive… see, what he would do is, he’d attempt to romantically satisfy… He fucked the puppet. That’s really the only way to put it. And despite what you’re probably thinking, the bit was extremely funny and went over very well with the audience.
Around the time that Fox’s Showcase Showdown came along, Fickas had been thinking about how he and his friends could get back onstage, now that USC wasn’t financially obligated to give them roles. This showcase that Alex Fox started on a lark had potential to become a regular thing. So Fickas called Fox the very next day, and before too long, they were setting aside their differences (that’s a whole other blog) to put on Another Showcase Showdown. And then Another, and Another.
Gradually, the show became exclusively comedy… then it became larger scenes of more than just one or two people… then it became exclusively original content written by the cast. In the blink of an eye, a bunch of theatre actors, most of whom had no improv or sketch background to speak of, had evolved into a sketch group. Fickas and Fox started integrating live bands and short films, billing Another Showcase Showdown as a variety show. They stuck with the title because of its convenient (and HILARIOUS) acronym, “ASS,” though most everyone involved simply referred to it as “the Showcase.” Whatever you called it, A.S.S. rapidly grew into its own LA comedy scene, separate from the improv schools and the standup circuit. It also became an invaluable testing ground for the core group of budding writers who were now submitting material monthly, including Ric Barbera, Brice Beckham, Zach Selwyn and the duo of Megahn Perry & Liam Sullivan.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve touched on a number of films that got their start on the A.S.S. stage. The Bulbar Method was first conceived as a Fickas monologue. Keller & Sullivan, which we’ll be revisiting tonight, solved more than one mystery before getting the black & white treatment. Deliverance, the Musical had two different live incarnations before we ventured into the actual wilderness. And the entire J.A.P.S universe, of which we’ve highlighted only a small part, had its big bang in front of a Showcase crowd. When we include D34’s later, stripped-down sketch show, Cue to Cue, we can add Dramatic Spam and Acting Out to the list of films that were performed live first.
As for the stuff you haven’t seen during these 34 Days… well, I guess you could say we saved the best for last. First is The Date Game, a horror short that will make you pee with laughter and fright at the same time. The screen version is considerably darker than the already-dark humor of the three “Patrice & Tran” sketches that preceded it onstage, for the simple reason that Fickas was in consideration to direct a horror film at the time, and he didn’t have any horror samples to boost his cred. Brace yourselves, Pam Cook fans, because this one shows a side of her you would never, ever expect.
Last, but certainly not least, is our faux-thriller classic, the undisputed king of our library, Buttfucker. What started as a three-part sketch in a 2008 Showcase was later immortalized on video, becoming arguably our most successful short film. Among many other triumphant screenings, it played at the American Cinematheque (like Basement before it), after which director Fickas sat on a Q&A panel with both the writer of Die Hard, and 007 himself, Timothy Dalton. Dalton was somewhat obsessed with Buttfucker and couldn’t stop talking about it, which just goes to show… some amazing things have come out of our A.S.S.es.
The Showcase created a comedy legacy that never stops giving. To this day, we’re still yearning to shoot sketches from those original live shows. We recently brought Noir Crossed Lovers, written by Alex Fox and based on James Mathis III’s “Gumshoe” character, to the Club BYOSS (Bring Your Own Short Script) staged reading night, and the overwhelming response reminded us yet again of what gold there is to be found in the A.S.S. treasure chest.
For watching our livestream tonight, for visiting us throughout these 34 Days, for your years of life-giving laughter and continued support, we would like to say, from the bottom of our hearts… “Thank you for selecting a fresh product.”
Join co-creators David Fickas and Alex Fox along with producer Brice Beckham, TONIGHT at 7PM Pacific, as we screen some of these classics LIVE! Watch in the embedded player right here, or head over to YouTube to chat with us during the show. This is the end! Let’s party!
As we near the end of our 34-day asset appraisal, we turn our attention to the future, and try to imagine what our industry will look like when the non-essential workers (us) get back to their non-essential work. It’s not an easy thing to predict. The paradigm is already shifting, and this campaign has even been part of that… Our online premieres of Marisa Coughlan’s Fulfillment and Leonora Pitts’s Like Holy Wine have attracted curiosity as a new path for short films in the absence of a traditional festival scene. (Speaking of which, both of those shorts won’t be available for long once our 34 Days are officially over, so if you’ve been meaning to watch them, you’d better hop to it!)
In a nutshell, the future is uncertain. Shocker, right? But while we may not know exactly how or when we’ll be moving forward, we do have a tall stack of projects on our proverbial plate that we can’t wait to bring to you as soon as possible…
Let’s start with one that’s already in the can: the six-part digital series Down the Middle, created by Michelle Barton & Heather Dowling. It’s about two women of completely opposite dispositions who are hurled, kicking and screaming, into a joint business venture. A successful crowdfunding campaign on Seed&Spark last year made it possible to wrap production shortly before lockdown, with an awesome cast including Heather and Michelle, Devin Kelley, James Lesure and Daniel Montgomery, not to mention appearances by Brice Beckham, Pam Cook, Christine Lakin and Leonora Pitts. But the icing on the ice cream cake (inside joke, sorry) is that we also have America’s Funniest Home Videos and Dancing with the Stars host Tom Bergeron playing our multimillionaire patriarch, “Rex Gregory.” We’re neck-deep in post production now and hope to have the show available soon, although we wouldn’t mind waiting for a real theatre screening to give it a proper debut. In the meantime, keep an eye on Down the Middle‘s socials – Twitter, Instagram and of course Seed&Spark – for updates!
Next up is another successful Seed&Spark crowdfunding project that has also wrapped production and is also currently in post. Twinsies! 👯♀️ Spell It Out in Neon, from writer/star Samantha Lester and director Tammy Minoff, tells a story inspired by Samantha’s wonderful street art, about a woman coming to terms with the idea that her best friend (played by Daniel David Stewart) may not be the Prince Charming she hoped he would become. Check out the Seed&Spark page and learn more about Samantha’s art for a taste of what’s in store when this finally hits the street!
Continuing with post production, D34 had the pleasure of editing Erin O’Shea’s short film, Meet Cute, directed by Jason C. Brown. This is Jason’s third short, and we were honored to be brought onboard again after our previous post work on Panic Button. Stay tuned for more on this co-production between Erin’s company Serious Child and Natalie & Tara’s Sneaky Pineapple.
…Which segues perfectly into projects that got caught in the pre-production phase. Right before we all went indoors and never came out again, Drama 3/4 was working with the ladies of Sneaky Pineapple (Natalie Lynch and Tara Jayn of Natalie & Tara Try Stuff) on recording a parody song for a comedy video. Shoot dates were even set before God laughed at our plans. We don’t want to give anything away, but we’re sure Natalie & Tara fans will enjoy the music video when we finally get back to it later this year.
From the “So Close We Could Almost Touch It in Violation of Social Distancing Guidelines” Department, Drama 3/4 was mere DAYS away from starting production on a little pilot we call Batshit, starring Marisa Coughlan, before one of our co-producers briefly came down with the coronavirus and flying Marisa out to Los Angeles suddenly seemed like a very bad idea. As you can probably glean from the title, this one truly is Batshit crazy, taking us back to our stupid parody roots in a way that even surpasses the absurdism of I Hate My 30’s. It’s a project that’s been a long time coming for Drama 3/4, and we’re literally guano-ing our pants with excitement to get it onscreen.
And that’s not all by a damn sight! 2020 has even more in store for D34 (rhyming). We’re talking more full-length HousePlace episodes, which are currently being written by Kirk Zipfel, between substandard home-school lessons. We’re talking a short film collaboration that Brice and David are drafting with Esma Kirim. We’re talking next-level ambition with Fortune Rookie‘s Kara Morgan to bring more of the Bigs & Tinies universe to life. We’re talking continued crowdfunding campaigns to get more A.S.S. sketches on your YouTubes (more on that tomorrow). We’re even talking 20th Anniversary talks for A.S.S. 20 in 2020 (also more on that also tomorrow). And we’re talking top, TOP, top secret development that we probably shouldn’t even mention, so forget you ever saw this sentence, please.
It’s true, we keep a lot of balls in the air. But whaddaya gonna do, drop a ball? Drop all the balls?!? Then they put you in juggler jail, and that the worst jail you can be in. Really, picture it.
Only one day left until this particular “34 Days” ball EXPLODES in midair, hatching a beautiful eagle that soars away into the eternal sunset of history. So, it turns out the ball was actually an egg all along. Maybe all the balls are eggs? …Yes, all the balls are eggs. And someday soon, all our balls will be broken so that you may partake of the chirping, flapping vision-birds inside. Is this making any sense? We might need a nap.
Chaplin said this some years after the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, when the silent film industry was booming. Maybe all of us entertainers should think of this as a light at the end of the projection booth.
Fast forward over ¾ of a century (that’s three-quarters, not three-four) to the year 2000 when Drama 3/4 (that’s three-four, not three-quarters… it’s a common mistake) had received some attention for Anakin Auditions. The sketch show A.S.S. (Another Showcase Showdown) had just been born. And filmmaker Eduardo Cisneros (co-director & gardener of T2: The Good Version; DP & producer of The Basement and the Kitchen) was working in a film lab, cleaning digital print transfers, pixel by pixel. It was during this painstaking work that Ed thought, “If we have the technology to clean up digital footage… why couldn’t we unclean it?”
Now, Ed was a cinema history buff, and he and David Fickas were always talking about their silent heroes, particularly Chaplin and Harold Lloyd. So Ed brought up this idea of using modern tech to make something new old again, and the two friends set out to shoot a movie that paid tribute to a bygone era. They concocted* a story, gathered up the Showcase players, grabbed a few mini-DV tapes, racked some incredible wardrobe thanks to Molly Grundman, and weaseled their way onto the 20th Century Fox lot.
They used their one-day pass to the fullest, running around to any set that still looked like the ’20s, shooting as quickly and frantically as they could, just like the greats did back then. Ed yelled out direction to Fickas, Megahn Perry, Luiggi Debiasse and Michael Cornacchia like he was Mack Sennet egging on Chaplin. Everyone brought their A-game and exhausted every favor they had, including pestering Jeremy Sisto to use his roof for its view of the Hollywood sign.
After production was complete, the movie went into editing and FX. And here is where this starts to get really interesting.
Around this same time, while all-around-extraordinary-talent Kenn Michael was editing Silent Story, he had also been hired to direct some other videos… videos designed to go on giant screens… giant screens at the giant concerts of a little band called *NSYNC.
We’ll give you a second to take that in.
You good? Good. Anyway, while Kenn was in the trenches on these display videos, Justin Timberlake was over at his place – roll with it, keep it together – and Kenn showed him the latest cut of Silent Story. JT was so impressed with the concept, THEY MADE A SILENT MOVIE OF THEIR OWN FOR THE TOUR. Part of that movie, in turn, was used to bookend this music video. Compare it with our Silent Story and you can see the influences at work. The extended version contained even more similarities.
With all that clout, the Silent Story team thought it might be possible to win an Oscar. But at that time, eligibility for the short film category required at least a three-day run in a public theater and, ironically, it had to be projected on film. So the movie that was supposed to emulate film in an affordable medium was transferred back onto film at exorbitant cost. Ah, the good old days.
In November of 2000, Silent Story premiered at the Silent Movie Theater – where the film’s composer, Michael D. Mortilla, was the regular pianist – to three (almost) sold-out crowds on three fabulous nights. And although it got several Academy screenings, it did not win an Oscar… until eleven years later when The Artist took home Best Picture. Once again, we were just too far ahead of our time. Or something. Maybe it was political.
Enjoy Silent Story below, along with a collection of excellent BTS photos, shot on real film!
*Spelled it right this time!
We’ve spent the last month (although, what is “time” anymore, really?) digging back as far as 1991 to reflect on the history of Drama 3/4, but today we only have to dig, like, a small, uh… like, scrape off the top layer. This is not a useful metaphor. What we’re saying is, Fortune Rookie came out just two years ago (which is basically yesterday) and gave us an opportunity to work with some of the biggest comedy talents of our career to date, namely series creator Janet Varney (Stan Against Evil, You’re the Worst, The Legend of Korra).
When you look at all the ways we’ve crossed paths with Janet, it seems we were destined to collaborate. Way before we had mutual friends in Chris Hardwick and The Thrilling Adventure Hour, Janet’s father went to University of Arizona with David Fickas’s parents. On top of that, we eventually found out that her high school prom date was none other than D34 regular and freestyle rapper Zach Selwyn! Later, D34’s Brice Beckham went on Cole Stratton’s podcast, so Drama 3/4 became a natural thought when Cole and co-founder Janet were looking to do promos for their San Francisco comedy festival, SF Sketchfest. We’ve taken several shows and short films to SF Sketchfest since then, as well as been responsible for seven annual promotional trailers. All of that is why, when Janet and co-writer Brandon R. Reynolds struck a deal with IFC to bring Fortune Rookie to life, Janet reached out to us to help her breach the veil to the spirit realm.
Fortune Rookie takes place in an alternate reality where “Janet Varney” (played by Janet Varney) has given up acting to find fame and fortunes in the fortune-telling trade. When we read the scripts, the cast list of all-star guests and cameos was astounding to behold… and also a potential nightmare for scheduling. It included heavy hitters like Scott Adsit, Steve Agee, Fred Armisen, Laraine Newman, Timothy Omundson, Gary Anthony Williams and a substantial arc for the very busy James Roday, to name just a few. Yet, against all odds, everyone made themselves available! In fact, the only scripted character who didn’t make it into the show was the raccoon. Oh well, maybe for Season 2. (If there is one. This is not an announcement.)
Some standouts in the series include Janet’s Stan Against Evil co-star, Deborah Baker Jr; Kara Morgan’s animated Bigs & Tinies takeover, in an episode she co-directed (stay tuned to Drama 3/4 for more Kara Morgan news!); Jessica Makinson SLAYING in the role of “Jessica Makinson”; walk-on appearances from WorkJuice Player Mark Gagliardi, our own Brice Beckham, and of course, some strong Pam Cookness. For us though, one of the most special moments was getting to work with another USC School of Theatre alum and an incredibly talented, wonderful human being, Timothy Omundson. Tim had suffered a major stroke in 2017, only months before we asked him to join us for the season finale of Fortune Rookie. And although his official return to television came late last year with an arc on This Is Us, his first return to on-camera performance was when he was gracious enough to appear on our little digital show. We, like all of his fans, everywhere, had been eagerly awaiting the day Tim could go back to work. Being part of that monumental step on his road back to acting, watching him crack up Janet and Scott Adsit, was an experience that made everyone on the production feel extremely lucky and profoundly grateful.
The entire series is available on IFC.com and IFC’s YouTube channel, or on our Drama 3/4 YouTube channel… but there’s no need to travel that far, because we’ve gone ahead and gathered everything for you, right here: the Season 1 trailer, a playlist of all eight episodes of Fortune Rookie (about an hour in total), and TONIGHT’S LIVESTREAM Q&A with Janet! She’s carved out some time in her seriously busy quarantine schedule of VO recording, podcasts and writing to come chat with us – and you – so click through to YouTube to send us your questions during the show! We’re… sensing… you will have good health and financial security… and a hell of a good time if you join Janet Varney and director David Fickas, TONIGHT at 7PM Pacific. It’s in the cards!
We’re collecting for the American Stroke Association (a division of the American Heart Association) in honor of Timothy Omundson! Please consider donating at gf.me/u/xy6ux8.
Before he made The Basement and the Kitchen, David Fickas was honored to collaborate with Spiritsmanship Productions and the “Hands and Words Are Not for Hurting” Project to make a gripping, moving, educational short film about the ultimate price of domestic violence. The filmmakers chose not to approach the issue academically, but to let viewers truly experience the problem from the perspective of a victim, her family members and loved ones – even the anguished killer – all caught in the tragic snare of an abusive relationship.
The Hands Project, as it’s known, was founded in Salem, Oregon by self-defense specialist Ann S. Kelly in 1997. She and her husband Bob, an emergency physician, routinely worked with victims and survivors of abuse. When domestic assault cases appeared to be on the rise in her area (especially involving children), Ann felt more needed to be done in the way of education and prevention. To that end, the Hands Project set out to make a film that focused not on statistics, but on the harsh interpersonal realities of domestic violence. Ann enlisted her son, Mark Kelly, and Eldon Asp to write the screenplay, and they in turn teamed with David Fickas and Drama 3/4 to produce.
Directed by Fickas, Loves Me, Loves Me Not was shot in a docudrama style on multiple media, including 16 mm, Super 8 film and Hi8 video tape. Opposite Mark as the abuser, Emily Rutherfurd (Van Wilder, The New Adventures of Old Christine) portrayed the victim, in a relationship that characterizes several common aspects of abuse such as jealousy, emotional manipulation, isolation, oppression/control, unpredictable outbursts, denial and justification. The incredible supporting cast included Pam Cook, JJ Snyder, Michael Uppendahl, Jeff Wiens, plus USC Theatre professor Raye Birk and professors Paul Backer and Allan Hendrick (RIP), both of whom left us only recently, and far too soon.
Loves Me, Loves Me Not premiered at a Hands Project conference in Salem before making many more festival stops, including the Boston Film Festival. Then it went on to serve as a training tool for schools, police departments, government agencies, advocate groups and shelters across the globe. Drama 3/4 is immensely proud of the film’s achievements and aspires to create more works in the future that give insight, hope and support to those who need it.
Exactly how the stars aligned for Drama 3/4 to have its first TV show is hard to say. It was partly due to our past work, especially Deliverance, the Musical, which had ended up on desks around MTV networks; our live show, A.S.S. (Another Showcase Showdown), which had recently relaunched bigger and better after TV development talks went south; and the restructuring of the company into something that looked as professional as it was skilled, rather than a bunch of sketch comedians running around with their heads cut off. We were finally an entity that a network could buy from, and VH1 did!
At that time, VH1 wasn’t really in the business of doing scripted content, but the president of the network really wanted to break into that space and had opened a whole department to make it happen. So they acquired the Tori Spelling series So Notorious and greenlit our pilot presentation, The AfterWork Special, along with a few others on both coasts (you can read all about that on Day 15). Even though they were pleased with the result, there was still a lot of resistance. VH1 mainly trafficked in reality programming and the occasional TV biopic. They just weren’t accustomed to spending the kind of “scripted dollars” that narrative production requires, despite our willingness to keep the budget to an absolute minimum – which we soon discovered would become the norm, with shows like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia setting the bar (a “bar” we shared for the party scene in AfterWork Special 😉) at remarkably-high quality for ultra-low cost. But AfterWork became the little pilot that wouldn’t die, and when it continued to test well, VH1 gave it an 8-episode pickup under a new name, I Hate My 30’s, to capitalize on the popularity of their nostalgia “strip” shows such as I Love the ’80s. This technically made us the first live-action scripted series ever developed in-house at VH1.
While 30’s was underway, it overlapped – at the same soundstages, no less – with VH1’s next scripted show, Acceptable.TV, from producers Rob Schrab and Dan Harmon (later creator of Community and Rick and Morty), based on their Channel 101 web screening series. An audience voting element in that show required immediate turnaround, so even though we wrapped production first, Acceptable.TV was already hitting the airwaves while we deliberated with the network through another several months of post. Finally, after a long and winding journey, I Hate My 30’s premiered on VH1 in the summer of 2007. It was a dream come true for us to work on a real television project with so many of our Showcase friends, and amongst those in the know, the series remains a cult favorite to this day.
I Hate My 30’s is written and directed by Brice Beckham & David Fickas, starring themselves along with Mark Kelly, Rachael Lawrence, James Mathis III, Megahn Perry, Jill Ritchie, Michele Specht, Liam Sullivan and Ric Barbera as Dr. Rod. Go ahead, spend your Saturday soaking in all 8 episodes (and a handful of the 22 additional web extras, and the pilot again, if you like). We’ll be over here, brainstorming reasons We Hate Our 40s… just in case.
Between wrapping photography on The Basement and the Kitchen and finishing post, a little movie came out called The Blair Witch Project. The handicam-horror smash changed the conversation in Hollywood, and suddenly, David Fickas’s independent feature – which he had gone to great effort and expense to shoot on 35 mm film – looked “too good” to sell to distributors. So, that was one variable. (Bear with us, this will all be relevant.)
At the same time, Fickas was impressed by his friends at USC, Tim Dowling and Joe Nussbaum, who had received lots of attention and praise for their short film, George Lucas in Love. The clever mashup supposes that young Lucas, like his counterpart in the Oscar-winning Shakespeare in Love, might have drawn inspiration for the Star Wars universe from the people and situations around him… including one special girl with big side-braid-buns. This smart and funny concept had opened more than a few doors for the filmmakers straight out of college. So, that was another factor.
Thirdly, Trey Parker and Matt Stone inked a deal to produce their own animated TV series after sending a VHS “Christmas card” all over town, featuring characters we would all come to know as the cast of South Park. So, that was something to consider as well.
Finally, in 1999, Lucas had released the first of his Star Wars “prequels,” and there was much speculation about who would play the grown-up Vader-to-be in Episode II.
All of these ingredients combined in Fickas’s brain and gelled into a recipe for success: Anakin Auditions.
Using the offices of Quality Film Entertainment on Wilshire Blvd. (a company run by Gary Bryman, Steve Hein, director Trevor Sands, and Eric Kripke, the future creator of Supernatural), fake auditions for the role of Anakin Skywalker were held by the equally fake GKB Casting Unlimited. Fickas’s improv friends were handed atrocious sides written by Ric Barbera, then asked to give the worst reads they could muster to “Ginger” (Megahn Perry), “Kenny” (Kenn Michael) and “Billy” (Fickas). But the ace in the hole (SPOILER ALERT) was that Eduardo Cisneros had figured out how to do lightsaber effects. 😵 Since this was before Adobe After Effects was readily available to any editor with a laptop, that dazzling detail had the potential to captivate a wide audience.
A 14-minute video was cut. Fickas set up a second business line with an answering machine (yes, we still used tangible machines) to take incoming calls to our fictional casting office. Ric Barbera wrote a cover letter from “GKB intern Terry Linderman.” And with that, 300 “bootleg” VHS tapes were “leaked” to producers and studios across the industry, to everyone we could think of… even Lucasfilm.
To say that the prank worked would be… an understatement, but also a tad misleading. Calls began flooding in. Some people got the joke. Some people were confused by the unsolicited package and feared legal repercussions. Regardless, Anakin Auditions made the rounds. We would be asked to show it at parties; one screening at Renée Zellweger’s house had now-head-of-Paramount Wyk Godfrey in attendance. We saw Namey Dropperson there too.
It wasn’t long before someone said, “You guys have to put this online!” This was a suggestion that hadn’t occurred to us, mainly because watching videos online was not a thing yet. Those of you who are old enough may recall waiting 48 minutes to download a 2-minute trailer for The Phantom Menace the size of a pixelated postage stamp. Still, internet video did seem to be the wave of the future, so we gave it a shot. Fickas secured a domain, Eldon and Michelle Asp built us a website, and Anakin Auditions was available to watch on screens around the world.
When Chris Gore from the web-zine site, Film Threat, reached out to say they were doing a story on Anakin Auditions, he warned Fickas to “get ready.” Fickas did not know precisely what he meant by that. But, oh, did he find out. As soon as the story hit, Anakin went what we now call “viral.” MILLIONS of people visited anakinauditions.com, and the insane internet traffic caused the site to crash repeatedly. Trying to keep the lightning in the bottle, Fickas frantically called his hosting company, only to find out that the increased bandwidth required to stream video to that many visitors had jacked his bill up somewhere in the neighborhood of $3,000! Considering the whole movie had been made for less than $50 (literally the cost of three mini-DV tapes and dinner for Kenn and Megahn), Drama 3/4 did not have money in the budget for this kind of overage. Fickas screamed at the service rep to “TURN IT OFF!!”
Luckily, although we were still years away from YouTube or Vimeo, the first few proto-video-hosting sites began to pop up within weeks of Anakin‘s release. iFilm and Atom Films were the Blockbuster and Hollywood Video of the internet at that time, and Anakin eventually landed at iFilm, where it had a pretty successful run.
The little movie that broke the bank would pave the way for many of Drama 3/4’s future endeavors. Nearly everyone in the cast became regular members of A.S.S. (Another Showcase Showdown) when it took the stage in 2000. A sequel was made a couple years later (Pearl Harbor Auditions, also available below). The GKB concept was revisited during development talks at VH1, and elements of it went into the D34 digital series Chestnut Casting. Then, for the very first Offline Movie Night, Drama 3/4 went back to the galaxy far, far away with a supercut of “screen tests” for the as-yet-untitled Episode VII, this time teaming up with the Schmoes Know crew, and featuring a few cameos, including stuntwoman extraordinaire and Quentin Tarantino’s favorite Kiwi, the incomparable Zoë Bell. We’ve posted those below for your viewing pleasure as well.
It just goes to show, sometimes the simplest ideas are the farthest reaching. May the Force be with you, Darth Steve.
FOOTNOTE: Bringing it back around… The premiere of The Basement and the Kitchen at the Seattle International Film Festival introduced Fickas to fellow filmmaker Matt Leutwyler. Once back in Los Angeles, their social scenes began to overlap, and they soon found themselves playing at poker nights with a handful of Hollywood pals. One night, mutual friend Tove Christensen brought along his kid brother who’d just come down from Canada… his kid brother Hayden.
After shooting Anakin, but before sending out the tapes, Fickas and Leutwyler were stunned to hear that Hayden had actually booked the role of Anakin Skywalker. Fickas lobbied to shoot a cherry-on-top tag for Anakin Auditions, with Hayden showing up to deliver a pizza only to catch the eye of the casting associates. But alas, Lucasfilm wasn’t having it. Hayden was not allowed to appear in anything Star-Wars-related apart from Star Wars, and pop culture perfection slipped from our grasp. Even so, it’s fun to marvel at the meta moment that might have been, and the one degree of separation between Anakin Auditions and Anakin himself.
If you love handyman Kirk Zipfel‘s bite-sized tutorial videos… then you’ll love HousePlace EVEN MORE as a full-length home renovation show!
It was just about a year ago that Drama 3/4 first premiered this HousePlace pilot with a major screening event at the Garry Marshall Theatre. There were, like, a hundred people in the same room, talking face-to-face and everything. It seems crazy now, but it’s true. The audience was treated to some live music from Wynchester (Mike Bray & John Konesky), and we prefaced the show with a couple new shorts and a HousePlace retrospective, which we showed you way back on Day 2 of our 34 Days. All in all, the night was a wild success… then, immediately afterwards, the pilot was safely tucked away where only agents and potential buyers could see.
Now we’re bringing HousePlace home with a livestream of the full-length episode, in which Kirk & Ted begin a Venice Beach renovation where the home needs less work than the homeowners, including all the appliances for the kitchen, and for thos who love their kitchen appliances as much as we do then we suggest them to get a really good kitchen appliance warranty as that way they are covered for several of them so have much more protection. Presented by series creator Kirk Zipfel, co-host Matt Corboy (Ted Siegert himself), director/co-writer David Fickas and co-writer/co-star Brice Beckham. The pilot also features Jessica Makinson (look for her again in the upcoming livestream of Fortune Rookie), Kristina Hayes, Ricky Rojas, Mark Kelly, Pam Cook, and young Charlotte Furie making her D34 debut.
Come with us on a walkthrough inspection of the totally-refurbished HousePlace, with new wiring and plumbing, a fresh coat of paint, and triple the square footage!
Here’s one we know you haven’t seen… because few people ever have. While D34 was developing The Iceman Chronicles at Fox Television Studios in 2008, FTVS was also looking to adapt a Bolivian series for American TV, a sort of Curb Your Enthusiasm about a former child actor trying to escape his outdated image.
All Drama 3/4 needed was for Brice Beckham (Wesley from TV’s Mr. Belvedere) to deliver one “famous kid” story and the job was theirs. Just one story that had all the elements of a SPECTACULAR celebrity fail.
So Brice told the tale of how, at age 14, he…
1) broke his thumb (physical pain ✅)
2) at a charity event (public humiliation ✅)
3) racing against a Special Olympian (unwitting villainy ✅)
4) at the urging of his well-intentioned father (pressure to succeed ✅)
4) in a downhill slalom (mortal terror ✅)
5) when he’d hardly been off the bunny slope (hubris ✅).
Needless to say, the pilot gig was in the bag.
Weren’t You Mitchy Cook? stars Brice as John Mitchell Cook, a former child star craving relevance and respect as a full-grown adult. When he’s sick to death of reliving the past, it’s all anyone wants to talk about. But when he tries to use that notoriety to his advantage, his cachet is juuuust shy of helpful. No matter how you slice it, poor Mitchy Cook cannot catch a break.
The pilot presentation also stars Mary Elizabeth Ellis (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The Santa Clarita Diet) and James Lesure (Las Vegas, Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce, Ad Libbing). There are a number of– sorry, what was that? You want to see the son of Norman Bates? And “The Boy Who Lived” himself, Harry Potter?! That’s very specific, but okay. We’ve got Oz Perkins (Legally Blonde, Six Degrees of Separation) as a neurotic director, and future Broadway star James Snyder (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) as a naïve Hollywood newcomer. Rounding out the cast are D34 all-stars James Mathis III and David Rothblum; funnyman Barry McLaughlin (co-creator of Game Night in a Can); plus early roles for Devin Kelley (also Ad Libbing), Clay Elliot and Mickey Meyer (Iceman). Of course, we must give special mention to Evan Helmuth, our dear friend who we lost in 2017. He can be seen here, opposite Brice, in a small homage to a more-absurd “bank loan” scene of theirs from an old Showcase short.
This show was a ton of fun to put together, mainly because we got to dig through teen magazine spreads and publicity stills for some AMAZING shots of Brice, and write a Belvedere-knockoff theme song for Mitchy’s old sitcom, Life’s a Drag (sung by time-traveling Josh Uranga). Unless you were at the cast-and-crew screening over ten years ago, this pilot presentation is definitely new to you! So get ready to cringe with embarrassment at the comedy of errors that dares to ask… Weren’t You Mitchy Cook?
Look, you know our M.O. by now. Clearly, parody is right up D34’s alley. We kicked off this whole 34 Days with Arcadia High Drama 3/4’s version of Terminator 2. We got Offline Movie Night rolling with a sendup of Catherine Hardwicke’s Red Riding Hood. We gave a whole day (well deserved, we think) to Deliverance, the Musical. And that one, like so many other shorts, came out of A.S.S. (Another Showcase Showdown), a veritable breeding ground for parody gags.
Our A.S.S. sagas – wraparound films that punctuate the live show – have always been a grab-bag of pop culture references. The “Who Killed Mark Kelly?” saga nailed everything from Se7en to JFK to Hannibal. Other sagas have taken aim at Lost, 24, Alien, E.T. and The Thing. Musical opening and closing numbers have included a struggling actor’s slant on Annie, a Dirty Dancing spoof with Fickas as Baby, and the legendary Vaselina (that’s Grease en Español). But it doesn’t stop there! Allow us to present still more satirical shorts:
- Old Looper – D34 and Funny Or Die teamed up to rib our buddy Rian Johnson on his sci-fi smash (the one before Star Wars, that is). We even went so far as to get colored contact lenses to make Fickas’s eyes look as fake as Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s.
- No Football for Old Men – Luiggi Debiasse’s killer impression of Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh earned this short a nomination for an honest-to-goodness MTV Movie Award. (Seriously. We were shocked too.)
- Sweeney Todd Bridges, There Will Be Brown and Lars and the Really Real Girl – No Football originated from an A.S.S. sketch about the Academy Award Nominating Committee, which necessitated a whole slew of tiny shorts based on notable films of 2007 & 2008, including Cloverfield and Juno*. Unfortunately, some of them make absolutely no sense out of context of the live show, so you only get these few. How about a little gratitude, huh? (There Will Be Brown comes to us courtesy of Franco & Billy.)
- Locks of Gold – Finally, in case you missed it, we’ll give you another chance to see Alison Haislip in our lampoon of the fairytale horror(??)/romance, Red Riding Hood. It wasn’t until later that we learned Billy Burke, star of Red Riding Hood and the Twilight films, would’ve been down to play if we’d only asked. C’est la vie, c’est la vie, that’s just the way it goes.
We hope you enjoy this meager sampling of Drama 3/4’s prolific parody portfolio!
*Our Juno spoof featured an animated title sequence, made with an assist from the same people who did the original, our pals at Smith & Lee. They presented animator Brice Beckham with a souvenir for reference – one of their actual photocopy “cels” of Ellen Page. It still lives in a place of high honor on his refrigerator door.
“It’s March 23rd. Something bad is going to happen.”
…Okay, it’s really April 20th. But that’s still a good opening line.
Until he graduated from USC, Drama 3/4 was just a name behind David Fickas’s student stage productions and grade-saving short films. Afterward, however, Fickas began looking for a way to put his Theatre degree and Film minor to work. What started as an idea for a play became a script for an independent feature instead. And when the opportunity to actually make a movie presented itself, a coin toss ultimately decided between The Iceman Chronicles or… The Basement and the Kitchen. That’s how, in the summer of 1997, a modest budget and a can-do attitude initiated Drama 3/4 Productions as a legitimate company, and put it on the road to shooting a feature on 35 mm film.
Written and directed by Fickas, starring himself along with Pam Cook, Ric Barbera, Luiggi Debiasse, Jeff Wiens, Terence Paul Winter and sketch veteran Mo Gaffney of “The Kathy and Mo Show,” Basement was designed to be shot almost exclusively in only two rooms (you can probably guess which ones). Despite this, and even though principal photography was completed in just two weeks plus a few pickup days, Basement‘s crash-course in film production proved to be an arduous process that took almost two years to complete. It was a journey that resulted in brushes with future auteurs Darren Aronofsky, Rian Johnson and Christopher Nolan before finally arriving to an official premiere at the Seattle International Film Festival in June, 1999.
Two sold-out shows in Seattle led American Cinematheque to invite Basement to be one of its first screenings at the newly-renovated Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. It went on to win an award at the Santa Monica Film Festival and got Fickas recognized as a Top-20 “Filmmaker to Watch” by Filmmaker Magazine. However, it wasn’t until years later, in 2005, that Basement saw any kind of distribution. Still, a small home video deal and a new title (Angels & Aliens: The Basement and the Kitchen) was enough to dust off the film and get it polished up for DVD. Using vastly-improved digital technologies, Drama 3/4 could now redo and enhance some visual effects at almost no cost, and master an HD-quality transfer from the original film negative. It is that version which we are proud to present to you now.
In the era it was made, most of the industry couldn’t fathom what “shelf” a science-fiction/comedy/thriller like Basement should go on. Well, movies don’t go on shelves anymore, and the hybrid nature of the film – and our company – has become a much more attractive trait. Once upon a time, at some festival panel, Fickas heard a distributor say, “You’d better love your film, because it will be with you for the rest of your life.” 23 years after the start of principal photography, there’s nothing we’d love more than for you to see The Basement and the Kitchen one more time.
Although we were not able to watch the film along with the audience, please enjoy our livestream introduction and reminiscences with the cast, after which we invite you to watch all of The Basement and the Kitchen posted below. Then be sure to hit us up on social media to tell us what you think!
BONUS FEATURETTE! We’ve got a supercut of DVD extras, including scene comparisons from rehearsal to screen, outtakes, Q&A at the Egyptian Theatre and Lloyd’s Video Journals!
This was an important one for Drama 3/4. After the success of The Iceman Chronicles stage play at USC, David Fickas decided to take it up a notch and mount his elaborately-original, somewhat-musical and mostly-abstract Alex in Wonderland. It was an ambitious undertaking, using the familiar world of Wonderland to tell the story of Alex, a college freshman, coping with the suicide of his best friend. As Alex struggles with his own depression, he tumbles “down the rabbit hole” (in this case, through a picture frame) and finds dreamlike Wonderland in the midst of a civil war.
Alex premiered at The Massman Theatre on February 29th, 1996 and starred TJ Thyne (from TV’s Bones), Jason Peck, Jennifer Siefert, Alex Fox, Andy Hungerford, Greg Sanders, Pam Cook, Kelly Potts, Scott Deguzis, Jeff Wiens, our dear departed Evan Helmuth, and so many more amazing School of Theatre talents.
On a personal note, this was also the first project on which Brice Beckham and David Fickas ever worked together. David will never forget painting the entire Massman to transform it into a massive chess board, toiling away in black & white until 4:00 in the morning, then looking up to discover that the only other cast member crazy enough to stay up that late with him… was Brice.
This is the magnum opus that David has always been most passionate about. When we can all crawl out of our rabbit holes again, we look forward to resurrecting Alex in Wonderland in some form… Whether it be on stage, film, television miniseries or immersive experience, this production will return.
Not too long ago, David Fickas joined the USC School of Dramatic Arts (previously School of Theatre) Alumni Council, with the goal of connecting more people from across all eras of the school’s 75-year history. Among other ideas for uniting alumni, such as the “SCene Partners” social events, he wanted to reassure current and recent students that their experience at the school would prove to be invaluable. He wanted them to know that, whatever paths they should find themselves on after college, whether they pursued acting or not, their time studying Theatre at USC and the relationships they formed there would be profoundly useful and – quite possibly – enormously beneficial.
So David proposed a candid interview show in the style of Off Camera with Sam Jones, to highlight some of the many alumni success stories, and to hear directly from these talented individuals how that success might have been shaped by their Dramatic Arts education. For the first (hopefully not last) three episodes of Ad Libbing, David sat down with his friends James “Jazz” Lesure, Devin Kelley and Terence Paul Winter, delving into their unique career trajectories and personal takes on “the business.” Covering topics like first jobs, finding representation, favorite memories and biggest lessons from the college experience, each 40-55-minute episode gives an honest overview of how Theatre school factored into their post-graduate lives.
As 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the Dramatic Arts program at USC, David hopes to create more episodes and more alumni awareness with projects like this one.
What kind of person would be best friends with famed acting coach Billy Bulbar? The kind who doesn’t do anything resembling real work and engages in criminal activity. In other words, a casting director. (We joke, we kid! Love ya, casting director friends! 😉)
Chestnut Casting spins-off from the world of The Bulbar Method, following two sincere casting associates (Genna Ryan and Jeff Wiens) attempting to do their job in spite of an unscrupulous, intervention-worthy, absentee boss named Dorian “Chestnut” Abernathy (Ric Barbera). Co-starring Christine Lakin as Jilly Jane Prescott and the incredible Kristina Hayes as talent manager Tanya Purse. You’ll get to see how some of Bulbar’s students fare outside of class, including Kate Maher, Pam Cook, and Scott Pitts reprising his role from the original Bulbar stage productions. The entire cast delivers an awesome performance, especially considering that Chestnut Casting, like The Bulbar Method, is one big structured improv! And hats off to Jeff Wiens for also providing us with the show’s rockin’ music score!
It’s a day in the life of a casting office at the bottom of the Hollywood barrel. Please sign in and slate your name for… Chestnut Casting.
There’s nothing like a live D34 event. The stage, the crowd, the afterparty… the celebration of an artistic community, sharing their art and having a great time doing it. That’s exactly why we started Offline Movie Night, to get people away from their devices and out of their homes to watch some great short films on the big screen, in a packed theater, shoulder to shoulder with a warm audience.
At this moment, that sounds terrifying.
Therefore, Offline Movie Night is going back ONLINE to
put the “quorum” back in “quaramtine” bring the festival screening to YOU! It’s the livestream version, hosted by Fickas & Beckham and featuring a little D34, some D34-adjacent, and some D34-approved shorts! The lineup includes films by Charles (Chuck Armstrong and Charlie Stockman), Franco & Billy (Peter Blomquist and Jeff Wiens), Michael Horowitz, Colin Lynch, Natalie & Tara and Jason C. Brown, Jordan Rader, Lia Richardson and Sean Hamrin, Smith & Lee, Liam Sullivan, and of course Drama 3/4.
P.S. It was a fun show! We went dark a couple times due to the bots flagging some of the videos, but that’s all been worked out, and the dead air has been removed. Links to most of the films – including the ones that got cut out – are available below!
You can help the artists and see these films in top quality by going to watch them where they normally live, at the following links:
Locks of Gold – by Drama 3/4
Don Dimmel, “California Dreamin'” – by Colin Lynch aka Flozzlsnoff
Dirty Scrabble – by Liam Kyle Sullivan
Quarantine Chronicles – by Lia Richardson & Sean Hamrin
Stickbone12 – by Drama 3/4
Dead Ted – by Rader Film
Panic Button – by Natalie Lynch & Tara Jayn, directed by Jason C. Brown
Powerline Dance – To Be Free – by Smith & Lee (Gareth Smith & Jenny Lee)
One For The Books – by Franco & Billy (Peter Blomquist & Jeff Wiens)
Jaguar – by Charles (Chuck Armstrong & Charlie Stockman)
The Hopefuls: Olympic Hopefuls – by Drama 3/4