Blog 17 – Hats Off

Originally published 8.29.08

Our magical 15th episode of Franks and Beans is here in the way of “Hats Off”, the episode title of which I egregiously mislabeled in our last blog, and in it I think we’ve blown our entire graphics budget for the entire year (where did that zero dollars go?!).  The end result is, though, worth it in my opinion with the last ten or so seconds of this short sequence.

The premise of this episode came from a rather everyday phone call between Larry and myself.  The song “Hats Off to Larry”, the bubblegum break up/make up song from Del Shannon, has been something akin to an inside joke between the two of us since our college days (all the way back in the year…2002!) and my campus radio show.  Larry would call in and I’d pretend that he was an expert on some random subject and we’d talk on air – usually for to long for the station’s format – eventually devolving into television show ratings or news about comic books.  At any rate, when I would finally end Larry’s portion on the show and return to the regular music format, I would always lead us out with the Del Shannon hit of 1961.

Back to the recent phone call – Larry mentioned to me, in a rather offhand manner, that we might think about making a Franks and Beans episode similar to our fan favorite episode, “The Change”, but with the song as our main source of inspiration.  Larry would, he told me, walk through different settings, each time wearing and removing different hats.  The idea had promise, I thought, but I came to the conclusion that I’d rather point out that the joke we would be making would be almost 50 years old by this point.  Seriously, a lot of people can hum the tune to “Runaway”, but how many people know offhand who Del Shannon is?  I mean, I’m a big fan of music from that general time period and I don’t think I could name half a dozen songs from that particular group.

So the scene was set, and the result is what you see before you.  What I like most about this episode is the different, almost jarring feel you get with our two separate sequences.  When I take my hat off after the playing of the song, it seems like we just might end the episode there – and really, it would be a good enough, if not outdated joke if we had…very much in line with the Franks and Beans we’ve put out there before.  But when “Hardcore Mark” (remember when we used to call him this?  That was cute.) bursts through a side door into the scene (looking unabashedly dashing in his unbuttoned green shirt), even I have to admit that if I didn’t take place in the filming itself, I wouldn’t have seen it coming (if that makes any sense).

The line “Is it in the public domain?” was a late addition which I think underscores my general worst fear about Franks and Beans – getting the pants sued off of us due to all of our blatant copyright infringement.  In this episode alone, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the estate of Del Shannon might as well be holding a blade over our heads, as well as those performing the public domain composition of John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever.”  And while it would be fantastic to have this show become really popular and spread all across the country and the world, I’d also really hate to get a cease-and-desist letter in the mail, a la the great internet program House of Cosbys.  It’s something that, honestly, neither Larry nor I think about as much as we probably should.

The graphics and sound effects at the end of this episode, as I mentioned before, are well beyond anything we’ve tried before, but Larry managed to pull it off masterfully to give it the amount of over-the-top flash that it called for.  In editing and typical episode of Franks and Beans, we’re probably dealing with two or three layers at the most: a video track, and audio track, and the title and end graphics – all fairly simple in design.  In the final “congratulations!” sequence alone, we used: the video feed of the three of us celebrating; video and diminished audio of fireworks bursting overhead; “Stars and Stripes Forever”; a bell ringing (which consisted of me ringing…get this…a bell outside of Larry’s front door); two different takes played back-to-back of Larry’s family and me cheering and clapping; three different graphic layers rotating simultaneously.  The fact that it all came together as nicely as it did is probably a combination of luck and skill, but I’d like to imagine it’s more of the latter.

In all, I hope that we captured the unsuspecting feel that we were going for in this episode.  While Franks and Beans carries with it a healthy feeling of uncertainly as far as continuity or even a dedication to reality, I hope that the sight of someone jumping unannounced through a doorway was as shocking as we intended it to be.  While the graphics (how’d you like the sing-a-long aspect of the song portion?  It was harder to make work than you might think!) might steal the show – and deservedly so – I dare to think that the overall punch line here was just as clever.

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Blog 16 – Sandwich

First published 8.24.08

Oh, man.  This blog takes some context to understand.  I’m not sure how to cut it down without taking out too much.  Let’s go with this: here are the things you need to know about Franks and Beans 2012 so you can understand this Franks and Beans 2008 blog:

– This was written after a fairly long break between website updates.  Anyone who knows us know realizes that I always update my websites in a reasonable period of time (cough).

– We decided to make 24 episode “season” instead of 13.  That’s really immaterial in general, though.

– Mark Moncheck would comment on every one of our episodes when they were uploaded to the Funny or Die website.  Now, we only wish he would comment.  C’mon, Mark.

– Rick Rolls aren’t as funny as they used to be.

– I often wrote (and, well, write) without a clear end in mind, and so these things can go on and on and on well beyond the point of interest for anyone in existence.  One day I’ll realize that the Internet doesn’t give you more, uh, Internet points for writing more words.  Perhaps I’ll even take my advice at some point.  Not likely though!  Enjoy this blog, Earth!

SCENE: A bleak and desolate landscape, where the sun beats down mercilessly on the desert sand.  The light shines overwhelmingly, bleaching an already preserved skeleton of an unfortunate steer.  Overhead, two similarly emaciated buzzards circle nervously in the clear, hot, bright, blue sky.  The sand seems to stretch on forever, uninterrupted except for the large boulders strewn haphazardly over the area and a few patches of withered and browned grass.

Off in the faraway distance, the figure of a man reaches the apex of a small hill, feeling as insignificant as he looks as he staggers forward toward some unseen goal.  We advance to the wispy visage, a shadow of his former self.  His shirt is tied around his head in a sense of futility; the sun treats him no less harshly.  His sunken eyes are bleak and his lips are as parched and cracked as the earth around him.  He ambles on, making no sound, simply mouthing the words to an indistinguishable phrase.  His arms hang dead at his side; his feet, covered in worn-through soles, drag through the grainy sand.

But then, on the horizon, something catches the man’s view.  He stops in his tracks and lifts his head.  Was he seeing something?  Perhaps he had been in this situation a hundred times before – distracted by a mirage or a flicker of cruel imagination.  A trick of light?  Another nothing to compliment all the other nothings?  But no – there it was again.

The man stands straighter than perhaps he has in all of his life.  He opens his mouth to speak, but the words devolve into a raspy unintelligence.  He clears his throat once, and again, and again, and he reaches up with his newly living hands to touch his face – a face into which hope now flows once more.

Walking forward with a purpose as never before, the man begins to speak, first barely an inaudible whisper, but soon he is shouting at the top of his lungs: “It’s back!  Franks and Beans is back!”

END SCENE

And after weeks of waiting, Franks and Beans is back with a (theoretically) highly anticipated season two.  (WHAT DID I JUST SAY?!?) Our first episode of this new undertaking is none other than “Sandwich,” named after one of the basic food groups.

Having returned to southwestern Pennsylvania after a lengthy hiatus, Larry and I got right to work and managed to punch out five episodes of Franks and Beans, the first of which is on display before you.  It’s a short episode, one without much plot and really only one joke, but an appropriate one, I think.  It calls back previous shorts such as “The Change” and “You’ll Never See It Coming”, and it continues a theme of quick, timing-based jokes that I think are so underrated.  The pause between “Is that my sandwich?” and the inevitable “…no” really determines if this works or fails, in my opinion, and I think that we hit it pretty well this time around.

How obvious is the joke from the beginning or the episode?  I don’t think that’s really an issue here, as the timing is probably more important.  But not knowing what Larry is looking for until I magically appear on the armchair does hold with it some risks.  When I think back to it, there probably should have been a shot of me sitting down with the sandwich after Larry walks into the room and before he asks his question, but hindsight and a limited list of filmed takes keeps us honest this way.  At any rate, our almost comical sandwich, complete with olive and toothpick (Larry’s idea) shows up and probably steals the show.  It was a good sandwich, and I had to keep from eating parts of it during filming.

This episode is significant probably more so than any plot point in that it introduces a new character, and this more than anything else precipitated the episode’s production order.  Mark Moncheck (who also comments on, like, EVERY episode as username hardcoremarkie18) was gracious enough to fill in as an extra character in several of our upcoming episodes, and I wanted to first introduce him in our loving homage to the Rick Roll.

In this scene, I wanted Mark to seemingly come out of nowhere, making viewers say “wait…who is this guy?!”, and airing another episode with him in it first would have really taken some of the humor out of that…even if I’m the only one who might find that funny.  Filming this batch of episodes actually served as the first time I’ve ever met Mark, who had to leave soon afterwards in order to fulfill his obsessive haircut fixation, and I have to say that it was a real treat to meet someone who uses the phrase “Mustache Buddy” in his everyday language.  There now arises the challenge of giving him a proper character name for the inevitable IMDB entry (HOW DO I GET THAT LISTED?!  COME ON, INTERNETS!!).  It will probably have to be Hardcore Mark: not very original on my part, but it just seems to fit.

Back to our previously mentioned Rick Roll – this internet sensation continues to astound me.  Well, honestly, the internet as a whole is a rather fascinating contraption, but you get what I mean.  Why anyone would choose Rick Astley to prank their friends is beyond me, but I can at least appreciate the humor.  Before this inevitably fades away into cultural yesteryear, Larry and I both agreed that we’d have to do something with it, and we wanted to sooner rather than later.  Having us all dance on screen was something of a last resort, but really – what else were we supposed to do?  It was worth it just to get a little extra mileage out of our ever-expanding collection of “NO!” endings.

Visit Franks and Beans on YouTube!

The Franks and Beans homepage is great.  I love it, in fact!  It’s more streamlined than the last one, but at the same time there’s more variety and we (sometimes) do more than just post videos and rambling production blogs.  And we’ve got a new masthead, an “about” page, and background images that have changed at least once!  Now that I think about it, the last homepage we had was dumb.  It was the worst homepage in the history of mankind.  I’d take a crap on the last homepage, if such a thing were possible.

The thing that this homepage lacks, however, is a fresh, clean feeling that can only come from current episodes.  While we wade our way, in numerical order, through episodes and blogs in a steady fashion, there are still a great number of Franks and Beans episodes that have been finished for quite some time but have yet to show up on this page.  Rather than despair, acting in a self destructive, even Oedipal manner, though, you can catch up on the future of Franks and Beans by simply visiting our official YouTube page at the following link: http://www.youtube.com/user/FranksandBeansOnline.

At the very top of this post is a screenshot of the YouTube page, and I have to say that I’m pleased with the overall layout.  Our previous attempt had a background of baked beans that made it difficult to read what was in front of it, and now it looks like something I wouldn’t be ashamed to show other people.

There are other videos on our official YouTube page that have nothing to do with Franks and Beans, and thus will never be seen here, such as a video of the Thunderbolt at Kennywood amusement park:

and a nosebleed seat view of a Steelers playoff game:

Oh heck…now I guess they are posted on this site.  Oh well, so much for that.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that the new homepage of Franks and Beans is awesome, but it’ll take some time before it gets caught up an has all of our episodes embedded.  In the meantime, our YouTube page is a good alternative.  So go there!  And leave some comments!

Blog 15 – iChat

Originally posted 6.16.08

Some things to ignore about this post: 1) my mention of episode 13 being our final episode of the “season” (however we define it).  It’s not.  Also, don’t worry about it.  2) My references to Wilmington, NC as the place I live.  It’s not anymore.  3) The strange “man boob” appearance of me without my shirt on.  I don’t have man boobs.  The camera lies.

It’s said that necessity is the mother of invention, and newly uploaded episode 13, “iChat”, bears that out.  This latest collaboration between Larry and myself came about due to the unavoidable circumstance of our distance apart from each other.  But don’t cry for us, faithful viewer – we get by just fine.

I am currently living in the wonderfully congested city of Wilmington, North Carolina (look me up sometime) while Larry hides out in Somewhere, Pennsylvania, which puts us roughly 600 miles apart.  We film our episodes on my sporadic visits, usually cramming in as much camera time as we can stand before eventually strangling each other.  After episode 12, though, the well was dry and another trip to lovely PA won’t happen for at least another week or so.

As I am now the happy owner of a brand new MacBook, complete with the iChat application, and as the character known as “Larry’s Mom” has a similar model, we knew that we had the possibility for a long-distance episode.

Larry did a tremendous job, I think, of hiding the camera in this shoot.  Because don’t let his fancy disguising techniques fool you – we didn’t magically record the computer images on the new program iRecordmycomputerscreen.  No, the angle is just right to capture the action without the pesky camera sitting behind Larry’s shoulder or anything like that.  So kudos go out to Larry for his work here.

The episode starts out innocently enough – I once again admit my apparent ignorance of technology, in which I must disclose that here I channel a little of my dad’s prevailing sentiments.  “Why would anyone want to use something like this?!”  It’s an honest question, I suppose, but I imagine that many technological programs that are used today, at least the ones used primarily for communication, are their own answer.  You use them because you want to use them.  But I digress.  For whatever reason, my character is growing into one with an unavoidable fear of technology, and I accept that.

Larry and I filmed a good number of takes with this episode.  Most often we’d have to stop because unlike some other episodes, “iChat” is really just the one shot and takes several minutes to get through.  I’d usually get tripped up on a word or forget what to say and fall back into my regular routine of laughing at my own jokes – and we can’t have that here.  But every time someone would screw up, the next take would get longer, incorporating something from the previous take that worked and/or was funny.  Larry’s out-of-the-blue “So, they’re prosecuting tomorrow” is genius and every bit unintentional.  It started out as “So, I’m getting a hysterectomy tomorrow” and worked its way to the more acceptable.

Another pat in the back goes out to Larry for his job in editing in that pesky black censorship bar.  No matter how much I embarrass myself with these episodes, broadcast online for the whole world to see, I don’t want to show up naked on the Internet.  I just don’t.  And even though everyone else would probably like to, it’s just not going to happen.  At any rate, this is just another example of how censorship can actually be funnier than if I had been shown free swinging on camera for all to see.  If that were the case, the shock value would have been there, but that would have overshadowed anything else in the episode.  With that saintly black bar, we still maintain some façade of humility while letting the overall joke – “Jeff’s taken his pants off!” – slip through.

Our ending scene, the familiar “No!” that accompanies every episode in some way or another, was also a difficulty considering the distance between Larry and myself.  We discussed a number of different ideas, many of which will be kept and used later, but it seemed that every one involved me intervening in some foolish way.  We ended our conversation without reaching any conclusions, but then, late at night as I hung on the edge of sleep, I said to myself, ‘say it in Spanish.’  And thus this ending was born.

I’d like to point out that I don’t speak Spanish, nor do I know any second language well enough to use it in any meaningful way.  So take that into consideration when watching my butchery in interpreting “Next time on Franks and Beans.”  It’s interesting when I think about the programs being implemented in schools today, focusing on teaching a second language early on.  In forty years, when both Larry and I will be pushing seventy, I imagine that my monolingualism will be a source of ridicule and probably rightfully so.  Of course, I could take the initiative and learn a second language any time I’d like, but…maybe tomorrow.

You’ll notice that Larry’s sombrero is teetering carefully on top of his head in this cut.  This is, I’ve been promised, not because Larry’s head is so big (though it is), but because this hastily borrowed sombrero was much too tiny.  But Larry does a good enough job of pulling it off, big head and all.

With this episode, we’ve officially come to the end of our backlog of completed features.  It is a shame, because we’ve been having so much fun these past few weeks with the continuous stream of new material.  There may be a lull, but Franks and Beans is far from gone.  My hope is that filming of new episodes will take place in as little as two weeks, and July will bring that elusive 14th episode and beyond.

In the meantime, thank you to everyone who has taken their time to watch our stupid little internet show, and a special thanks to anyone who has taken extra time to comment and give feedback, which is what we thrive on.  Well, that and sandwiches.  Mmm.