The (comic) media push

Franks and Beans Magic Bullet adThe Franks and Beans media push is go!  We’ve got an ad in the recently printed, recently released and recently mailed-to-me sixth issue of The Magic Bullet, a Washington, DC-based large format comic newspaper.  The Magic Bullet is a semi-annual publication that is given away absolutely free to thousands of eager readers, and also perhaps to crazy people who want to make hats out of it.  Here’s the cover!

Magic Bullet #6 coverYou may, of course, be wondering just what demographic Franks and Beans was trying to reach by advertising in a DC metro-area free comic newspaper, but this is the result of some pretty heavy market research.  And also I published a one-page comic in it, titled “The Naked Man at the Edge of Time”:

Naked Man comic

And then, you know, things just kind of came together.

You also might be asking if this ad buy has had any effect on the site’s traffic.  Well, not that it’s any of your business, and it’s kind of rude for you to inquire into such structurally sensitive matters, but as a matter of fact, there has been a slight bump in the numbers in the last few weeks.  This might be a result of the ad, or it might just means that Franks and Beans is slowly working its way into the zeitgeist and the ad was completely unnecessary.  But there it is, for all to see.  It’s not the only mention that F&B is getting in a publication, as it turns out.  I’d tell you about that now, but I can totally just make a brand new post about that in a couple days and feel good about updating the site more than once a damn month.  And what fun that will be!

Visit the Magic Bullet online here:

Buy a copy (hang it up on your fridge!) of The Magic Bullet #6 here, for only 99 cents:

Oh, and the Magic Bullet website has a nice outgoing link to this very page.  Hooray!

Franks and Beans Magic Bullet link screen shot…yes, I clicked my own link.  But I can confirm that the link does work!  Take that for what it’s worth.

Blog 41 – Naked Chicken Dead

Naked Chicken Dead screenshot 01One day, either Larry or I (probably not both at the same time) will have a job that we will be unceremoniously fired from for the above image.  I imagine myself called into an executive office, high above the bustle and din of the New York City riffraff.  I’ll be escorted in by a no-nonsense, 34-year-old receptionist (other role: to run after an angry client yelling, “Sir, you can’t go in there!  I told you, he’s in a very important meaning!  I’m sorry, Mr. Peterson, I tried to stop him!”) with bangs and full-length sleeves as the man in charge, a straight-laced William Daniels-type character who stands by the floor-to-ceiling windows, peering out over the landscape that he feels a part of as much as his own family, folds his hands behind his back and waits, exuding the power that befits one of his position.

“Sit down, Mr. McClelland”, the silvery gentleman will say to me, if it is indeed me who is employed in this corporate giant that I am apparently destined to join, despite having no background or interest in business.  Unsure of the nature of this meeting, I sit but nervously shift in my leather-bound seat.  “I want you to do something for me, Mr. McClelland.”

“O-of course, sir,” I respond, my pulse rising as I adjust my uncomfortably constraining necktie, my actions giving away the uncertainty I feel, the quiet desperation I keep inside bubbling to the surface.  Still looking out of his window, a private balcony on the other side, he responds.  “Turn around my computer monitor, if you would.”  The words are spoken with a cold courtesy.

“The monitor?” I stammer, unsure of the purpose to this exercise.  “Yes, the one on my desk,” he answers, a hint of frustration welling up in his voice.  I lean over the desk, kept neat and tidy in a manner that belies the many responsibilities that are dealt with there.  I notice a picture of a dog, a cup full of golden paperclips and a hastily-written phone number of one “C. Clinton”.  I take hold of one of the corners of the paper-thin monitor and slowly swivel it toward me, and I see the picture.  The Franks and Beans “Naked Chicken Dead” picture.

“S-sir, I…I can…” I begin, trying to formulate a response that can explain the purpose behind the all-male, all-nude scene.  “I expect,” Peterson answers before I can finish, “that you’ll have your desk cleared out by noon.  Security can see you out.”  He then turns, for the first time, from his position overlooking the city.  In a moment of introspection, a crack in the foundation, he removes his glasses and looks at me – and through me.  “You know, Mr. McClelland, I was just about to make you partner.  But now…” his voice trails off, the rest left unsaid, and he turns back to his window, his city in the clouds.  An elderly, uniformed man enters and I leave, my shoulders slumped, my dreams dashed, my career in a spiral from which it may never recover.

In other news, IT’S OUR 39TH EPISODE!  NAKED CHICKEN DEAD!  And what a fun, unique episode it is.  Despite a few issues, I think that it’s one of our best.  It’s got shock value and lots of strange humor that really sings to me.  It may not flow or have the plot that some of our other well-recieved episodes do, but what this episode lacks in plot it makes up for in punch and effect.

Naked Chicken Dead screenshot 02

There are a few things to note about this episode, starting with the “please stand by” graphic.  This is, of course, a slightly altered image that was once commonplace for stations that would go off the air at night, of which a solid tone would be played over.  Larry and I are just old enough to vaguely remember that this would happen on a few stations, though this particular graphic is a few more years before our time.  If I had my way, I probably would have just left it as is, but Larry pushed to have our pictures overlaying the image as well, and it does have a certain effect that makes it work, I think.

Both of the pictures we used were taken at the wedding of none other than longtime fan Mark Moncheck.  I’d show one or both of them, but I’m fairly certain that they also contain Larry’s girlfriend in them, which means they will never be posted to this site.  As an interesting aside, Larry, Mark and I also began filming an episode the night of Mark’s wedding (at the reception, even), but due to certain restrictions, such as the fact that IT WAS MARK’S ACTUAL WEDDING, the episode was never finished despite having a pretty good joke attached.  Maybe one day we’ll release the footage as something of a “lost” episode.

In this episode, Larry and I fall back on some of our traditional themes – namely, nudity.  There’s something inherently funny about naked people in different contexts, especially when there’s a censor bar present (though I’m unsure as to why it takes up nearly half my body in the scene).  Everything else plays upon this absurdist theme, with chickens and death following in a pretty natural order.

If I had one issue with this episode, it’d be in the sound quality of the voiceovers.  I suppose that sound recording is my biggest source of consternation with the series in general, as the in-camera microphone often doesn’t cut it.  It’s sometimes especially noticeable when we’re recording voiceovers.  There are times when it works perfectly, but others when it’s a real hindrance.  I’d love to get a shotgun microphone for the camera and maybe one day we will have one.  Watching this episode, though, convinced me to address the voiceover problem, at least, and a few days after I posted the video to this site I went out and bought a desktop mic…I’ll show pictures of that shortly – I’m pretty happy with it and I think that it’ll bring a better audio quality to the show, at least in some capacities.

There’s an embarrassment of riches on display when it comes to this episode, and the “NO!” ending is no exception.  Taking a cue from…well, Hanna-Barbera cartoons in general, Larry gives his best overly-expressionist performance in this great sequence.  Music and sound effects can really add something that might not come across otherwise.  Audio isn’t something that we think of very often when we consider some of the programs we watch, but I think it plays a bigger role in our enjoyment than we might think or realize.

Well, that’s it for this time.  Back to my nudity.

Blog 32 – Rip Off

Originally Posted 5.17.10

Much has been made in my comments on the last few episodes of Franks and Beans on the subject of parody and just where it fits in with the concept of comedy.  While I’ll qualify my claim by saying that when it comes to parody, there can certainly be too much of a good thing, but as a general rule, I’m comfortable with making the assertion that all good comedies have at least an element of parody in them.  Really, I defy anyone to name a good comedy that doesn’t have some parodic content to it.

Let’s take a recent example and look at last year’s comedy smash “The Hangover”.  While certainly laying its own groundwork, where would it be without its nods to “Rain Man” and “Three Men and a Baby?”  Going back 20 years to one of my favorite movies, “UHF” is chock full of parodies, musical and otherwise.  If you really want to go back to the early days of film, all you have to do is look to the Three Stooges – lost among the eye pokes and face slaps is a parody of the social class structure that 1930s and ’40s America was struggling to break free from.  I don’t claim that Franks and Beans holds much of a candle to any of these cinematic gems; I merely want to point out how important a concept such as parody is to comedy in general.  When used properly, it’s a tool that really can’t be matched, because parodies are built on information we’ve already assimilated into our own cultural lexicon.

Self-parody is just another form of this type of comedy, and our wonderfully self-referential 30th episode, “Rip Off”, plays right into this concept.  What separates self-parody from regular forms of parody, though, is devotion.  Self-parody doesn’t come along without a substantial store of very specific material.  While parody lives off of the never ending supply of popular culture, self-parody relies completely on the singular body of work it parodies.  Franks and Beans could have its ever popular “No!” endings from the first episode, and we did, because we’re mocking overplayed cliffhangers and those have been around as long as there have been cliffs to hang from, but for us to use self-parody, we had to have enough material to serve as a solid foundation.  Thirty episodes in, the result is “Rip Off”, an ambitious and context-laden episode that, in many ways, highlights some of our better moments while making fun of everything we do.

“Rip Off” welcomes back old friend of the show “Hardcore” Mark Moncheck, who is getting sincerely less hardcore the longer I know him.  Seriously, the guy’s married, has a steady job, gets regular haircuts…it’s a misnomer, I tell you.  The perfect role for Mark in any episode of Franks and Beans is that of the obsessed fan, because it’s not much of a stretch from who he is in real life.  Sometimes I think that Mark, Larry and I are the only ones who watch Franks and Beans – perhaps I’m not too far from the truth with that thought – but even if that were the case, Mark has the enthusiasm to simulate dozens and dozens of viewers.  Hell, it got him a recurring role on the show, so I guess it’s working out for him, too.

Joe Kromer is new to the show and, at ten years younger than both Larry and myself, newer to life in general.  Another fan of the show who was granted entrance in through our golden gates, Joe has since disappeared from the face of Brownsville, never to be seen again.  Seriously, I have no idea where to find this guy.  For a one-time character, though, he sure picked a memorable episode, and did a decent job with the “next time on Kielbasa and Kraut” line.  It probably took us all of five minutes to come up with that new title.

One of my great joys in working of Franks and Beans is writing lines that other people – of their own free will, mind you! – speak and act out.  Recreating the episode “The Sandwich” scene for scene, as short as it is, was great fun, even more so because we were using different actors.  Mark’s take on the “No!” ending was especially fun, because Mark couldn’t – for the life of him – not burst through the door of the room without looking really excited.  He was just playing it natural, I guess.

The premise for this episode is fairly simple – Larry and I find people stealing our ideas, and we decide to kill them, but then we end up doing the same thing they did in the first place.  Violence, another great comedic element, certainly has its part in Franks and Beans the series, and perhaps never is that more evident than in this episode.  I’m not sure how effective our out-and-out “I’m gonna kill them!” lines were – you’re supposed to show, not tell, after all – but even those served as means to an end.

Speaking of killing, Larry’s poor, wounded Jeep has finally been put out to pasture, though it still has a few more appearances before we give it its proper sendoff.  One of the reasons for its demise, however, might have come from the filming of this episode.  If you look for it, you’ll see it – as Larry is frantically backing up out of his driveway, the car makes a grinding sound, a thin waft of smoke can be seen, and then it kicks into gear.  I’m not saying that the Jeep wasn’t on its last legs as it was, but…oh, how we suffer for our craft.

The house Larry and I eventually burst into, breaking up the beginning of the famous “Mustache” sketch (keep an eye our for fake F&B’s crappy camera in the background…because they’re filming another rip off episode, not just going about their daily lives in a way that just happens to synch up with an episode of Franks and Beans), is actually Larry’s grandmother’s house.  We knew that we couldn’t film their scenes in Larry’s house (“the studio”), and our other options were fairly dim, and I think this new setting worked out really well.  It didn’t look like a house an 80-something-year-old woman lives in, did it?  That’s the magic of Hollywood, baby.

The fight scene that ensues was fun to do – so much fun, in fact, that I apparently had a hard time not smiling the entire time I’m physically assaulting Joe.  You can look at this in two ways: either I am a sadistic bastard who takes joy in causing others physical pain, or I should really be more aware of what I’m doing as I’m acting out a scene.  Pick your favorite!  It’s like a “Choose Your Own Ending” tale where one choice covers up my mental lapses.  The ‘punching’ sound effects make their return in this episode – they’re favorites of mine, and, for better or worse, I use them in a good handful of upcoming episodes.  There’s just something about them.

Tearing up a comic book is something I never thought I’d do – I’m more of the bag and board type – but I have to admit, tearing up the Punisher 2099 issue I bought for, oh, 15 cents or something ridiculous, was lots of fun.  It was like eating the forbidden fruit, only you weren’t REALLY eating it, because it was just for a show.  I hope that Stan Lee doesn’t revoke my Merry Marvel Marching Society card.  Yes, those exist.

The real humor in this episode takes place after the big fight scene, which is unusual for us.  Usually the punch in the face IS the joke, but this time it’s in turning the tables and doing exactly what we got so mad about in the first place.  I think it works, and even the line “I can’t find the Internet!” is pretty amusing.  We’ve set up the possibility for future conflict as Mark, nursing his black eye with a frozen bag of peas (a popular television remedy), expresses his hate for us.  Perhaps we’ll look back in on this theme one day, if only we could find Joe to make it happen.

Big props go out to Larry for all of the design work he did this episode, most notably the Funny or Die website parody “Laf or Perish”, which he created from electrons in the air.  It got me thinking that we should buy the domain name, but that’d be foolish.  Unless it’s be a BRILLIANT MARKETING TOOL!  Hmmm…

How could we top this blow-out-the-walls episode?  Why, it’s simple – with nudity.  Really, it had to happen.  Ever since iChat and its level of success (it continues to be the one episode everyone remembers), it was only a matter of time before we brought the big square censor bar back, and its effect is obvious.  Seriously, you didn’t think we’d do it eventually?  Well, here it is.

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.

Blog 03 – The Change

Originally posted 11.02.08

I know that times are tough.  The economy is in the tank, the doldrums of winter are fast approaching, and chances are that you’re alone and nobody loves you.  Oh, and Franks and Beans has been conspicuously absent from your Internet-viewing lineup for what seems like years.  But you’re strong – you can take a little hardship.  Just like in Communist Russia, you’ll wait out this long dry spell, huddling under blankets in your small, one-room house with only your picture of Joseph Stalin to keep you company and offer what consolation he can.

Just like a squirrel scavenging over the icy tundra, you’ll gleefully take a quick snack if you can get it – in this case, the squirrel is you and the tasty acorn is an impromptu blog about our surprisingly well loved and remembered third episode, “The Change”.

This episode is something of an anomaly not in the fact that it tells basically one single joke or that it employs a relatively simple storytelling style, but in that I never expected the overwhelmingly positive response it got from anyone who decided to tell Larry or me their thoughts.  I can usually gauge the type of reaction a particular episode will get while we’re still shooting – it’s not that I don’t like “The Change” (I do, by the way), but to me the whole thing plays out in a very straightforward manner.  You probably get the joke after Larry gets out of his beloved Jeep and walks inside, and that’s…what?  Ten seconds into it?  Naturally, the timing of the joke plays a part in it – the long pause between Larry sitting down and me finally saying a line of dialogue is, I think, funnier than the actual dialogue, but what people seemed to enjoy more than anything was the fact that Larry had a different outfit on in basically every shot.

And really, I just don’t get it.  I mean, something like this might be cute to, say, someone’s aunt or people who enjoyed naming all of the animals running across the screen in “Jumanji”, but is there really any inherent humor in the fact that Larry is wearing something different?  It leads up to the joke, yes, but are the clothes by themselves funny?  I guess they are, because people loved that part of it.  And you know what?  If that’s what gets them to laugh at one of our episodes, then so be it.  I’m just happy that people had an opinion.

This episode also highlights Larry’s incessant need to add some aspect of product placement into random scenes of Franks and Beans.  Larry the person is a big fan of lots of different properties.  This influences Larry the character to toss aspect of those properties into episodes for everyone to see.  I can understand the urge – in the first episode I wore my Thing “You Rock!” shirt and in “Mustache” I can be seen holding an issue of the Fantastic Four comic, but Larry does it with much more gusto than I could hope to.  Larry’s Rocky shorts (I believe these came with a box set of DVDs) made me cringe when he showed up in them for one of the shots, but again, people loved the cameo.  Was it funny?  Apparently so!

What I found funniest about this episode – so funny that we took the concept and turned it into a whole episode – was the sight of Larry without a shirt on.  I don’t know what it is that I find so amusing…perhaps Larry’s nipples is what gets me chuckling?  But regardless, seeing Larry with his mail (yet another aspect that unexpectedly finds its way into subsequent episodes) and nothing else always makes me laugh.  The future episode I’m referring to is, of course, “iChat”, where I took the concept further to (as far as anyone can tell) complete nudity.

Keeping with the wardrobe theme, you may notice that I’m wearing my faithful Pirates hat while sitting quietly on the chair.  This was obviously before I had decided to wear the hat only on the episodes in which Larry and I speak directly to the camera, so this is a little piece of continuity that doesn’t necessarily line up with the rest of the show. (What the hell am I rambling on about?!)

To be honest, we tell a lot of jokes on Franks and Beans that are purely physical, and this episode is a good representation of that, from the shirtless Larry to the Rocky shorts to the strangely alluring Hawaiian shirt Larry sports on our “No!” ending.  For whatever reason, it seems to resonate with our audience on some level, and I’ll take that whenever I can get it.  For a 90-second episode, our third feature was, I think, pretty straightforward.