Blog 20 – How To

Originally Published 9.15.08

If you’re like me, there’s nothing quite like a well placed unexpected f-bomb to make you laugh.  That being said, being me’s not all it’s cracked up to be, so take that for what it’s worth.  Get out of my head!

This blog marks the release of the presidential eighteenth episode of Franks and Beans, “How To”.  For those of you who are math wizards, you’ll notice that eighteen is divisible by six, which means that you are in store for another of Jeff and Larry’s “episodes that no one watches because they feel burned by the ‘Commentary’” episodes.  It’s okay – Larry and I don’t take it personally.  Honestly, though, if you’ve abstained from watching “How To”, you’re missing out on some of our best stuff.  And like we’ve always said, Franks and Beans is firmly against abstinence of any kind.

This episode wrapped up a long shooting week for Larry and me, but it had been planned for quite a while.  I tend to imagine the episodes in no particular order, and though it’s true that Franks and Beans doesn’t employ any hard and fast continuity, sometimes an episode is too thematically similar to the previous one to air it right away, or sometimes we run into minor issues like wanting to introduce “Hardcore Mark” in one particular episode over all others.  This episode remained entrenched in this spot due more to math than anything else, but you get the point – we film neither scenes nor episodes in order, at least not always.

One thing that I wanted to avoid, and try to avoid in a more overall sense, is too much of an overlap with previous episodes where we speak directly to the camera.  Beyond the familiar opening of “Hi, I’m…”, I wanted to make this style of episode distinct from “Commentary” and “Mailbag/Bloopers”.  With this in mind, the early line about receiving questions from fans was something I wasn’t entirely sure about leaving in, as it is rather reminiscent of the scene in “Mailbag” where we get a letter from the mythical Josh in Ft. Wayne, Indiana (as good a place as any to get mail from).  The two episodes do begin rather similarly, mostly by design, and I didn’t want people to think that we were just repeating ourselves…though we probably do plenty of that as well.  Still, the decision was made to leave the line in, because frankly I couldn’t think of a substitute that was better.  Sometimes simple works.

The premise of this episode is fairly straightforward – we start out with me making apparently outrageous claims that Franks and Beans is a collaborative effort, and Larry (not too tactfully) tries to keep his indignation to himself.  I really don’t want anyone to look to far into any of this.  While many projects that whisk members off to superstardom may end in bitter feuds and acid-laced barbs about the creative participation of others involved, Franks and Beans is still a friendly venture between all who take part in it.  Well, maybe that’s not always the case.  Larry’s parents sometimes get annoyed when we film and they want to sit down to dinner.  But other than that, this episode is very much a farcical look at such rivalries.

I’d like to point out that while I do think that swearing can be funny in specific contexts, it usually has the propensity to lose some of the humor by taking on a life of its own.  I think that sometimes movies or comedians (or whatever) who are known to use strings of expletives can sometimes get caught up in that to the point where it all becomes about shock value and one-upmanship rather than the joke.  And swearing without humor is just that – swearing.  But swearing with humor?  That’s just effing funny.

Something you may be interested to know about: okay, so that paper I’m seen writing on during this episode?  We did a few takes, and I’m actually writing what I’m saying, so I would just trace the words for subsequent takes.  At the end of the day I took the piece of paper, folded it up, stuck it in my pocket, and completely forgot about it.  I have no idea where it is.  I’m hoping that this doesn’t happen, but there’s a chance that my parents will one day soon find the sheet of paper, open it up and find nothing but my profanity scribbled over and over again, one on top of the other, bold and for all to see.  If this becomes reality, I wonder what the chances are that I’ll be able to explain that it’s not mine to any level of believability?

Before filming this episode, I explained the main ideas to Larry and told him that, at some point, he would grab me by the throat in a fit of anger.  I told him to make it look real and to not be afraid to actually choke me, and Larry didn’t disappoint.  This was pretty fun the first time we filmed it, but the luster wore off quickly, even though Larry was being rather gentle when squeezing the life out of me.  As we fall back, we’re landing on the soft support of every cushion on Larry’s basement furniture, as neither of us really wanted to get hurt during this episode.  As it was, there were some near misses with desk corners and other protruding objects.

There are a few sound effects to take note of here, the first of which is directly at the end of our main feature.  Larry winds up to punch me and seems to connect, but what actually happens is more blind luck than anything else.  Though we tend to forgo the choreography in this and any episode, our struggle was about as real-looking as, honestly, it’s going to get, especially with the smack to the face.  Larry actually took that very realistic sounding punch noise from another point in the fight an overlaid it quite masterfully.

I truly do wonder what other people think of this episode and those others like it.  While I thoroughly enjoy the regular Franks and Beans fare, these little side projects are things I take great pride in as well.  I realize that “Commentary” might not have been everyone’s most revered show (to me, that in itself is funny), but I do hope that people will give this and “Mailbag” a genuine try before rejecting it out of hand.  I said this before, but I truly do think that these are some of our best.

Speaking of our best, how about the “No!” ending for this week’s episode?  As with many visionary ideas of mine, this one came to me while I was in the shower.  It’s as if I was asking just how we could spice up our cliffhanger endings, and lo, someone from on high answered, “put Jeff in it!”  Well, okay, I don’t want to be in all of these, or, really, many at all (that’s not the point of them), but this was one that I couldn’t pass up.  Even though you can’t see it, I’m actually sitting on a toilet in Larry’s house, and that is pretty funny on its own merits.  Larry again surprised me by digitally adding in the ‘call waiting’ sound that I react to, and it is Larry’s Dukes of Hazzard hat that actually looks pretty good on me here in this scene.  The split screen, Larry tells me, was a rather difficult effect to render here, but it does look rather effortless as a finished product.

Blog 06 – Commentary

Originally posted 7.19.08

Episode six, “Commentary”, is the start of a theme in Franks and Beans that I love but perhaps no one else does.  This is evident by the fact that “Commentary” and similar episodes (such as “Mailbag/Bloopers”) are viewed only half as much as episodes uploaded in a similar timeframe.  Does this mean that we’ll stop making episodes like these?  NEVER!  Does this mean you’ll have to deal with it again and again?  We’ll, kind of, but not as much as you, our faithful viewing audience, apparently fears.  Let me explain.

Franks and Beans follows a very loose set of rules.  The show is loyal to the joke above all else, but beyond that there are only a few simple themes that we try to keep in place.  The show has continuity – not a very strong sense of it, but it is there.  It deals with Larry and me in a very “third person” kind of way, in that we both inhabit our own “universe” when the camera is rolling, where characters can return and leave between episodes and there is some notion of the passing of time.

When we break the “fourth wall,” then, is in episodes where we talk directly to the camera, such as in “Commentary”.  Because I don’t want this style of episode leaking over into the “real” Franks and Beans universe, and because I don’t want to bore everyone with every single episode, I made the unbreakable rule that Larry and I must create five “regular” episodes for every one that plays out like episode six.

This has become more difficult to keep with than I had anticipated, but we’re sticking to it because of our strong moral upbringings.

The idea behind this episode came from the many DVDs I’ve bought.  I admit that I’m something of a sucker for bonus features on movies and TV shows; I’ll watch featurettes and listen to episode commentaries even if they are boring or have nothing to say.  Maybe I’m trying to get my money’s worth, I don’t know.  One thing that always catches me by surprise, though, is when actors providing commentary are so obviously completely different than the characters they portray.  This should seem apparent because this is what actors do…they create an illusion and memorize scripts they had no hand in writing.  Of course Nathan Fillion will be different than Mal Reynolds.  Of course the cast of Entourage won’t be as cool as they are when the cameras are rolling.  But I still get caught off guard when something like this happens.

Larry and I tried to create something like this in “Commentary,” and because we didn’t do any actual speaking (other than a quick introduction and conclusion), and because you had to actually see us during the entire episode, we had to get that across in the way we looked.  All Larry had to do to change his entire appearance was pull his hair back in a ponytail – which worked better than I could have ever imagined.  When one sees Larry with a ponytail, the obvious question of why he doesn’t do that all the time is raised, because he instantly becomes more intimidating.  Larry’s answers to this have all been shallow and unsatisfactory, so we may never know for real.  My own looks were altered with two methods: the first was a turtleneck sweater, the second was a beard.  The turtleneck, I think, makes me look oddly intellectual, but the beard just looks awesome.  I had been growing it for episode seven, “Mustache”, but it served a great purpose here.

The difficulty in editing this episode is in the double shot we employ for most of the running time.  Because of Funny of Die’s size restrictions on files, Larry had to cut down on the picture quality more than he would have for other episodes, as playing the “High School” episode on top of the screen took up more space than either of us had anticipated.  There’s not much we can do to prevent this, except maybe lobby FoD for more space, but that might be like looking a gift horse in the mouth (or, perhaps, beating a dead horse, to use another horse metaphor.  Man, I love horse metaphors).  Still, Larry did a great job with the overlap.

The sheer length of this episode is probably to its detriment, but commenting on any episode other than the first just didn’t make a lot of sense to us.  This is not saying that four and a half minutes is a long time, but when the two of us say absolutely nothing for three and a half of those, it does tend to run on.  Even so, I really do hope that people got the joke – the episode is titled “Commentary”, the whole point of the episode is for us to comment, we SAY that we’re going to discuss it, but in the end we don’t say a thing (yeah…I bet that wasn’t lost on anyone).  Not one word while the episode is playing.  There’s something – at least to me – inherently funny about that, and if you look up the definition of irony in the dictionary, well, we followed it pretty closely (as opposed to that Alanis Morissette song…which doesn’t).

So, like it or hate it, this episode remains a part of Franks and Beans.  I, for one, like it, and that’s why we’ve got episode twelve, “Mailbag/Bloopers” and why episode eighteen will again follow in this direction.  It’s already written, as a matter of fact!  Be afraid.