Blog 24 – The Sweater

Originally Published 1.18.09

Every time I watch this episode (not often), I reconfirm what a great idea it was, at least to me.  I don’t know that I did a great job with the execution, but there are a lot of weird, funny ideas buried in “The Sweater”.

Thinking back to it, “iChat” has been one of the more successful episodes of Franks and Beans.  That’s not to say that our 13th episode has garnered us fame or a huge increase in wealth (any more than our others have…that’s right, we’re rich…perhaps), but it seems to get more views than many of our other episodes.  Despite having a rather awkward pause in the middle of this episode, “iChat” continues to be both memorable and popular.  The question then becomes why this could be, and the answer seems to stand out – I take my pants off.  Yes, after thinking long and hard for a reason (get it???), this is what is certainly causing the upswell of interest (okay, enough of that) in the episode.  The next question, then, is simple.  How do we replicate such success?

To this effect, we find episode 22, “The Sweater”.  Although we come to the conclusion in a much different manner, the joke remains relatively the same – at some point in this episode, there will be people who are not wearing pants.

In truth, there aren’t many similarities between the two episodes in question, but there really doesn’t need to be to have the comparisons made.  Look, we’re talking about simulated nudity here, the rest practically writes itself, right?  Well, not exactly, but the point is a valid one.

Our scene dawns with what I believe to be the first appearance of my beloved Toyota Camry as a prop in Franks and Beans.  I don’t know if “beloved” is the right term to use here, but Larry loves his Jeep so much that I feel obligated to have feelings toward my primary mode of transportation.  I’m honestly just glad that the side with the missing hubcap is out of view, as it really brings out the auto negligence that many would probably otherwise accuse me with.  At any rate, when my car eventually breaks (possibly in half), I can look back at this episode and feel comforted that it has at least been captured for posterity in some corner of the Internet (this has since happened).

As we needed a driveway and we needed to have Larry do something other than aimlessly stand for this scene, the basketball hoop, sad and neglected at the Franks household, served a purpose and became a small joke in and of itself.  No one has ever looked at me and said “I’d be afraid to play basketball with that guy”, unless I had a gun or other weapon on me at the time, in which case the fear would be justified.  Larry at least has an edge in height, though neither of us are what you might describe as “skilled”, “competent”, or even “having a better than 50 percent chance of beating young girls at a game where the hoop is twice as wide”.  When Larry throws the ball over the backboard as I watch to see where it lands (it did actually travel pretty far), the underlying humor is that a game between the two of us would probably be pretty similar: I’d just stand there and Larry would throw the ball all over the place.

The main focus of this episode – the unsightly sweater – came to me as I was packing to return home for my Christmas break.  As I rifled through the possibilities of what I could wear for church on Christmas Eve, it came to me: what is appropriate one day out of the year is inappropriate in every other instance.

Think about it.  The sweater I have on in this episode (some of the detail of which is lost because it’s white and the sun is particularly bright) is a fluffy nightmare, and even though I’ve never been one to care much about fashion, I’d never think of wearing it outside of the house except for the stately once-a-year Christmas Eve church service.  Think about it – 364 days out of the year, people would look at me like I was from another planet if I wore that thing, but on the day before Christmas, no one would bat an eye.  It’s the incongruity of it all that I find funny.

The idea with this episode was to make it more and more ridiculous before finally revealing it to be a dream, which, hopefully came as a surprise without making everyone first write the entire thing off as too confusing.  This is why we get the applesauce comment and the no pants gag, culminating with the wonderful effect of Larry flying out of the scene.  This was one of the most difficult stunts to pull off simply because reversing film is usually so obvious that any humor is lost in the attempt.  The idea behind it is easy to grasp – we’re just taking Larry jumping into the scene and playing it backwards.  Quite often, though, it looks cheap and dumb, just like speeding up a scene (which the Munsters made famous or infamous, depending on the overuse) has the same effect.  I think, though, that we were able to do a pretty good job with this one, maybe because the only line of dialogue is “Wheeeee!”  I’d like to point out, though, that I was staring almost directly into the sun for most of this shot.  At then end of our various takes, I was seeing spots and my eyes were watering, but the end product is probably better than I originally hoped for.

This all leads up to the end of the episode, of course, where we’re dealing with not only the sight gag of a pantsless Larry, but the culmination of most of the visual lead up from the earlier dream sequence.  If this episode succeeded in its goals, there were a few things to take in at the end, and the buildup toward the shock of seeing my character’s nightmare become reality was that much more rewarding.  Plus, I just love jokes that end with uncomfortable stares and the line “…what?”  Seriously, much of the stuff I write ends with that.  I should probably try to be less of a one-trick-pony.  Whatever.

Our “No!” ending might be one of my favorites, and not just because I’m in it (although…).  Around this time I gave thought to putting an end to this style of ending, but then this one came from out of the blue, with really no preparation or forethought.  If we can come up with endings of this stature, we might as well keep them going until they really fall apart.  The physical humor of getting hit by a door, I think, is obvious.

Awards? BAH! Recognition? Fame? Who needs ’em?

Well, the Comic-Con International Independent Film Festival (*heavy breathing*) recently released its schedule for the 2012 show!  That’s exciting, because…wait, what the hell?

Wh…Franks and Beans isn’t on the list?  Franks and Beans isn’t on the list!  But that mean…Double Delivery…and…it’s not…

Heck.  Well, I guess the word is out and our much anticipated episode didn’t make the cut.  Looking at the list, it seems that the IFF went with longer films this year, as opposed to years prior, when there was more of a mix between long and shorter films.  I was hoping that the short length of our episode would help it squeeze in to a slot: if there were five or ten minutes out there to spare, hey!  Why not throw in Franks and Beans!  But it was not to be.

This is a shame, of course, but it’s not entirely unexpected.  The IFF has become increasingly competitive in recent years, which *actual* actors starring in some of the submitted films.  I suppose that’s the mark of a growing, successful film festival.  It’ll be interesting to see what some of the selected films are like.

Regardless of this disappointing news, Larry and I will still be at Comic-Con, flying the F&B flag.  I think we’ll be able to get a few more people to take a look at the website and check out some of the episodes.  Maybe someone will even (gasp!) leave a comment on this website!  It’s coming up soon…if you’re going to be at the show, come and say hello to your mustache buddies.  Best of luck to all of the 2012 Comic-Con IFF selections!

Blog 23 – Essence of Jeff

Originally Published 12.27.08

Now that Christmas has come and gone for 2008 (quaint!), it’s time to self-assess.  It’s time to think over the past year and assign meaning to it.  As I create my own personal top 10 countdown list (so popular these days!), I find that Franks and Beans, for me, falls under the category of “too fun to stop doing even if everyone would hate it.”  And so it is with great pride that I saw with a bellowing voice, “Eat it, world!  Franks and Beans is here to stay!”

“Essence of Jeff”, our 21st episode that just happens to sounds like it could possibly be the title of a soft-core pornographic movie, definitely covers some familiar territory.  Even when factoring in that all of our episodes hold at least some similarities in thematic events, this most current offering still probably ranks on top of that particular list.  This isn’t to say that there’s anything wrong with “Essence of Jeff”, or that it’s at all unimaginative (I’ll leave that for others to decide), but if nothing else, there’s a familiarity to it that probably makes it hard to find many distinguishing characteristics.

Let’s start at the beginning.  We open with a shot of fried eggs in a skillet, one of my favorite euphemisms for breasts.  It seems that any time we highlight food in an episode, which is fairly often, we have a really tight extreme close up of it.  Specifically “Grapes” and “Mustache” come to mind.  There are a couple of reasons why this is, though it probably comes back to the fact that I have a strange sense of what constitutes a creative camera shot, because I do enjoy a good, detailed close up…and our camera’s electronic capabilities lend itself to just that (even if it doesn’t always show up in the finished online product).

Another reason is for continuity, that warm, comfortable feeling you get when watching a show and the same thing happens over and over again.  It’s like a friend – predictable, assuring, and non-judgmental!  Or…at least predictable, depending on your friends of choice.  I find myself falling back more and more into some of the patterns we’ve established before, and I like those subtle nods to what has come before.  I don’t think it takes anything away from the actual joke, and it might itself become part of the joke after the pattern has been adequately established.

So…eggs.  If you’re quick to notice, we’re showing one solitary egg in our opening shot.  The next shot isn’t as accessible to viewers, but if you’re really observant (and can make use of that handy “pause” tool), you’ll see that Larry is in fact later cooking two eggs when I go ahead and throw the concoction into the mix.  This was strictly an editing decision, because for whatever reason, I completely botched filming the second egg dropping into the pan.  There was no real excuse for it – I was filming the shell, the pan, the crack, and then…nothing.  Maybe the stove behind the pan.  Why is this?  I can think of two reasons, and the more serious involves a brain tumor that distracts me and my concentration abilities from time to time, so I’m hoping that I just slipped up this time around.

The subsequent conversation plays on many familiar themes that have become a staple on Franks and Beans: my harebrained ideas, Larry’s curmudgeonly mentoring, an ultimate failure on my part.  The episode that most springs to mind is the first, “High School”, which probably ended with a funnier outcome, in all honesty.  This one hinged mostly on my ability to make pathetic crying noises, which can really only go so far.  But the conversation at the beginning, with Larry’s “skin-scraping” comment and my “herbs and spices” line, is one of my favorite and at the very least serves as a pretty good setup for the clash to come.

The crying that you hear as I run out of the room and Larry reluctantly follows, now that I think about it, shares some of its influence with Julia Sweeney and any number of Adam Sandler movies.  In this particular scene it’s extended in the editing stage by Larry – so that’s why it seems I’m wailing on for such a long period.

Why I chose the chewing gum/sock reference is really anyone’s guess.  I do think “chewing gum” in a nasally whine is a little funny, and the sock leads to the initial confusion, but why exactly I put that in the episode is not exactly clear.  Is it funny?  It has the potential to, at least.  Whether or not it delivers is up to others to debate, but the fact is that it’s not the primary focus of the episode – the punch line of sorts in “Essence of Jeff” comes from the running away and crying.  The second time it happens, it’s a matter of repetition and predictability; we’ve calmed Jeff down, we’ve taken control of the situation one more time, and then it happens all over again.  That inability to keep control of an extreme situation is what makes or breaks this joke and, by extension, this episode.

Our “NO!” ending is one of my favorites, at least in theory.  The idea of Larry falling down only to reappear with blood streaming down his face is not only visually distinctive but also pretty damn funny, in my opinion.  The problem with the execution is that I wasn’t allowed to break Larry’s nose to finish the effect – not even a little.  The question then became what could be an acceptable substitute, and I originally settled on ketchup.  In addition to being disgusting to have smeared all over your face (Larry assured me that he could still smell it lingering in his nasal cavities hours after washing it off), ketchup isn’t as red as it might appear in the bottle or your memory.  In fact, it comes off a little orange on film, or at least on our film, and that would do little more than confuse anyone watching – and this is beyond the initial confusion of what the endings mean in the first place.

We kept the ketchup, for its liquid consistency, on Larry’s hands for the final shot, and ended up using some Halloween costume makeup for the blood on Larry’s face (and thus the Joker costume played a new role in the show).  The results, as I’m sure is obvious, are so-so.  I’ve learned that it is challenging to show realistic-looking blood on film, meaning that I may have to scrap a future episode where one of us kills the other on screen, only to be sprayed in the face with blood from the stab wounds.  Well, maybe we’ll just have to go through with it for real.  Save the date on that one!

Happy June!

June is already upon us, and you know what that mean – pretty soon, Comic-Con will contact us and let us know that Franks and Beans didn’t get selected for their film festival! What’s that?  I’m being overly negative about the chances of “Double Delivery” showing in San Diego?  Well, PROVE ME WRONG, COMIC-CON!  That would be a pleasant surprise.

By the way, what’s going on with those red jumpsuits?  Those looks pretty awesome and pretty film-able.  I’m just sayin’.

Blog 22 – The Slip

Originally Published 12.22.08

(This retro blog talks a lot about the Funny or Die website, which is a great site if you happen to be a celebrity.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t as kind to those of us who didn’t have a network presence.  Not to dump on FoD, as they don’t owe anything to anyone not named Will Ferrel, but being lost in the crowd was frustrating at times.  On the bright side, it did give us the ‘oomph’ we might have needed to start our own site, TO ASTOUNDINGLY SUCCESSFUL RESULTS!  So there’s that.)

This should come as no surprise to the vast number of you who follow this show on a regular basis, but as our magical 20th episode “The Slip” proves, Franks and Beans continues to hang precipitously on the forefront of new technological advances on the Funny or Die website.  You may have noticed the upgrade in aspect ratio over the last few weeks – most evident in the black bars on the sides of most videos that shamelessly plug the very website you’re visiting.  That’s because Funny or Die now broadcasts in widescreen, and Franks and Beans was the first to usher in this new change with the debut of “The Slip”.

To think, Will Ferrel, Will Arnett or even Will Rogers could have started the show with one of their own videos of babies cursing or something equally funny, but no – they chose us.  And what an honor it is!  At least it is in my fantasy world where I am friends with Mr. Ferrel and we hang out to trade ideas on great new comedy sketches and he even lets me drive his car.  But really – Funny or Die broadcasts in widescreen now, and so does Franks and Beans.  Who did it first is unimportant.  But it might have been us.

You also might notice an improvement in the picture quality beyond the new 16×9 screen image, and that’s simply because the new format was preceded by a hefty boost in the file size we’re allowed to upload.  This has been in effect for a little while longer, if I’m remembering correctly, but you might just be noticing it now…because I’m telling you about it.  Check it out, really!  It looks nicer than before.  So we’re shooting in widescreen to accommodate the new parameters, and the quality is sharper because of the resolution we’re allowed to keep.  What’s next for us – high definition?  NO!!!  But not because we couldn’t – oh, no.  The ability and the desire is there, but unfortunately the file size that would create is still over the website’s limits.  Maybe one day, though…if we all pray hard enough. (People!  Your prayers have been answered!!)

“The Slip” is more than just a technological breakthrough that we will all be benefiting from well into the next century, though – it’s also chock full of interesting back-story that you, the discerning viewer, crave so ravenously.

The ideas behind most Franks and Beans episodes generate spontaneously, which I’m sure comes as little surprise, but “The Slip” was really a 4th-quarter miracle, and it owes its creations to the fact that I was hungry for breakfast this chilly morning.  Running out the door toward another full and enriching day of filming, I managed to grab a banana that was about one or two days from being too brown to eat (unless you like to eat bananas with a straw).  I needed to eat it, as I feel sad if one lonely banana has to get thrown away rather than fulfill its destiny of becoming nutrients for my insides.

Now, despite what any cartoon of a man falling into a trash dumpster may tell you, I don’t think that banana peels are inherently funny.  What we have here is an idea that has its moment, what, 200 years ago?, and ever since we’ve been beating the same horse to death over and over.  Yes, the inside of a banana peel is relatively slick.  Yes, given the ABSOLUTE IDEAL CONDITIONS, a well-placed banana peel might cause someone to slip a bit.  So what we’re playing with here is not the idea that banana peels are funny, but society’s unnatural preoccupation with this simple sight gag and what might really happen if anyone actually tried to pull the stunt in real life.

What we’re left with is at least a variation of the trick of misdirection – instead of going for the obvious skull-busting slip, we’re hopefully making the more mundane ending funnier because of that.  There’s the anticipation, the build up, the waiting, and then…! nothing.  And I love it.

This isn’t to say that something like this is new or original to Franks and Beans, as it harkens back to the ultra-short “An Old Joke” episode, where we basically did the same thing but in verbal form.  What’s funny about the feedback I received is that some people actually expected Larry to say “He didn’t say!” in that particular episode, and I got some of the same reactions with this newer episode – a few called it beforehand – “oh, you’ll slip on the banana peel.”  It’s hard for me to believe comments like this, because really, why would that be funny?  In any remote way?  Is Franks and Beans that unimaginative that we’d do the equivalent of reading a knock-knock joke online?  Oh Lord, I hope not.  If anything, people should get bored by saying “oh, you’ll do something other than slip on the banana peel.”  I mean, I guess that leaves someone disappointed either way, but at least this way I can live with.

If you didn’t quite enjoy the ending to this particular episode, take heart!  For your deliverance is at hand.  Or at any rate, there’s a second chance for this one to be funny, as I had two endings in mind when I thought of the basics to “The Slip”.  Rather than pick the strongest ending like a serious filmmaker, Larry and I decided to film both – the second of which will be released with the much-ballyhooed alternate ending!  See, Hollywood is rubbing off on us more and more every day.  Which will you prefer?  Think of it like one of those “Choose Your Own Ending” books that were popular 20 years back, except there’s no chance of you falling into a snake pit this time around.

Lastly, I’ll admit that coming up with 19 different “NO!” sequences for the end of episodes has been challenging, even if the first five or so were just the same thing over and over (what was with those?!).  That’s why I’m always dumbfounded when something as brilliantly simple as Larry gargling takes me this long to figure out before we use it.  We did two takes of this ending, and between them Larry had to change shirts because he got water all over the first one.  What I’m saying is, I didn’t want to give the impression that he was lactating or anything if we went with the second shot, which we did during the editing stage.

That was inappropriate.  I shouldn’t have insinuated that Larry has the mammary glands of a woman, which release a milky fluid in times of stress or extreme concentration.  Why would I put something out there like that?  It could lead to the spread of vicious, hurtful rumors that probably aren’t true, and I don’t want that to happen.  Not even a little.