Talking to BriTANick’s Brian and Nick About Shooting Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing
Earlier this week, Avengers director Joss Whedon made a surprise announcement: he had just finished shooting a previously unannounced movie, a version of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. The cast is full of Whedon regulars, but the cast list also featured some notable internet comedy folks, including Garfunkel and Oates’ Riki Lindhome and BriTANick’s Brian McElhaney and Nick Kocher.
I talked to Brian and Nick about getting asked to be in the project, what it was like shooting a movie in Joss Whedon’s house over the course of a couple of weeks, and about their own movie they’re in the planning stages of right now.
So how did you guys get involved in this project?
Brian: It was incredibly serendipitous and we had no part in it really. Joss Whedon was basically a fan of BriTANicK and he had written a blog post back in the spring about us. Just sort of out of nowhere one day it popped up and we were like, “Whoa! This is kind of crazy.” And so either our agent or us wrote him back and was like, “Hey! Saw you like BriTANicK. Well, we’d work with you in a heartbeat if you ever wanted us to.” We never heard back from him until about like a month ago and we his assistant was just like, “Joss is doing this super secret Shakespeare project and wants to know if you guys would like to play two parts? As you know, he loves you guys…” and it was basically just offered to us via email. And we were like, “Is this a joke?”
Nick: Our jaws dropped and we were basically like, “Yes, absolutely. We will pay money to do this.”
Brian: And then that was it. The script got sent out and we flew out the next week. It happened very quickly.
That’s awesome. So were you guys both Whedon fans before?
Brian: To be honest I didn’t know much about Joss Whedon. I had never really seen any of his work. And it wasn’t like I had seen something and I didn’t like it, I had just never thought it was something I would like. And now since knowing him I’ve been watching his stuff and loving it. But going into it I was kind of like, “I should catch up on this guy, see who he is,” and I get it now. I get why he’s so popular and is like an icon. Nick, however, was a fan.
Nick: I’ve been a longtime fan of his. I was a huge Buffy fan, I was a huge Firefly fan, I had read his comic books, I was very well versed in Whedon. When he made the blog post, body kind of started trembling and I was so excited. I didn’t believe that it was happening.
So what can you tell me about the movie itself? It’s Much Ado About Nothing obviously but how is it different from other movies or productions of that play?
Brian: It’s Much Ado About Nothing and it’s Shakespeare’s original text, but it is cut down. Joss Whedon kind of abridged a little bit, but he did it very well. Everything is still in there; all the meat is on there. So it’s the original text and the original language, but it is set in modern times. Like the way Leonato…
Nick: He changed the gender of…
Brian: …Of Conrade.
Nick: One character, yeah.
Brian: But people use iPads and stuff in order to send messages, so it’s still takes place in modern times all in Joss Whedon’s house, which is an estate from however long ago. But it’s shot in black and white, we shot on three RED cameras and basically it was all shot in twelve days so we had to move really fast. The way he described it before we started it was that it’s gonna be more like a filmed performance, rather than a film. It wasn’t necessarily like that, we got to do a lot of takes and stuff, but they were just flying on set. And it was cool, it was like performing Shakespeare but it wasn’t big and theatrical and Shakespeare-like. He wanted to keep it very real and almost intimate. Nick and I have scenes as two policeman and he wanted them to be very C.S.I. or very… what’s that other show?
Nick: Law and Order.
So if it was all shot in twelve days, how long is the movie?
Nick: It’s 83 pages so probably about like an hour or an hour and a half? I don’t see it being much longer than that.
Brian: Yeah probably around there. Its pretty dense of dialogue so I’m not sure, but it’ll probably be an average feature length film. I assume.
So what was working with Whedon like? Especially for you Nick, who has been a fan of his for such a long time? Did working with him meet your expectations?
Nick: It was really great. The thing that was really cool about this was that he had rehearsals beforehand, which with most TV/film stuff you’re not really doing. But we would come to his house and there’d be some wine and we would rehearse and then we would just sit and chat a lot with people. And that was really great. The rest of the cast was so awesome and fun to hang out with.
Brian: Yeah, we were even talking about on set how there’s a famous quote that’s, “Don’t ever meet your idols or your heroes because they never turn out to be what you think they’re going to be.” But I think Joss is an exception because he is, like, the nicest, most humble, most incredibly self-deprecating… there’s not an ounce of ego in him, which is what part of what I found so interesting about doing this project. He had just done The Avengers, which was this huge, hundred million dollar movie, and then he was just sort of like, “Fuck the studio system, I just want to do something for me and my friends and do this right now. No money, I’m just gonna pay out of pocket for a little bit of cast and set that we have…” It just felt like I was doing something with a bunch of friends in one of their houses. It didn’t feel like the pretention of the industry was there, at all. He was a really, really great guy to work with.
Brian: Another cool part about being on set was, because it was all his house you were encouraged to just stick around, and that happened. People would just stay on set after they finished shooting, which never happens on film sets, and just jump in the pool, play with Joss’s kids, or there was wine open every day all day. It turned into a party, most of the time. The set was more like a gathering or a reunion of sorts, which it was for most of those people because they’re all part of the Joss Whedon universe. But for us we’re kind of the new kids there, but it really turned into a lot of fun nights.
Wow, that’s a pretty awesome opportunity. So you basically had a two-week party that he happened to be shooting a movie in the middle of.
Nick: Yeah, pretty much.
Brian: Like if we weren’t shooting we’d go down to Joss’s theater and watch Coneheads on Laserdisc.
Wow, that’s amazing. I’m sure that’s something a ton of people will be jealous of. “Oh you know, just hanging out at Joss Whedon’s house while he’s shooting a movie upstairs, swimming in his pool.”
Brian: [Laughs] Right.
Nick: And he was just so approachable. Like I had a half hour discussion about comics with him and like, that NEVER happens. It’s like how many times do you get to talk to an expert in that field, just casually?
Brian: Yeah, or it’s like when we had our dance party the last night and I was in jeans and I was really hot and Joss was like, “C’mon wear some of my shorts, it’s okay!” And he took me up to his walk-in closet and everyone was just drinking wine and having a great time and we were just fidgeting through his clothes, trying to find shorts. It was just such so weird and surreal sometimes, all the things that happened on that set. Just the idea of us making a movie or being in the “business” was out the window and we were just friends having a good time together.
But you guys are both definitely going to be in Avengers 2, I assume?
Nick: Yeah, definitely. I made a deal with the Devil, yeah.
Brian: We definitely thought about it during the production. Nick and I kept telling ourselves like, “You know he works with people over and over again, that’s his thing. So we’re definitely in line to be in his next project!” I don’t know, you make lies like that to yourself a lot.
Hey, you never know! So now they’re basically cutting it and then they’re gonna bring it to festivals next year?
Brian: I think so, that’s what he said…
Nick: Yeah that’s the plan right now, is for festivals.
Brian: Yeah and I remember Joss saying something like, “Yeah, we’ll try for festivals, I don’t know if festivals will want this kind of thing.” Which is sort of like, ”Yes they will, are you kidding me?” They accepted Eagles Are Turning People Into Horses, they’re definitely gonna take Joss Whedon’s Shakespeare film.
Hey, don’t sell yourself short.
So what do you guys have in the works now that you’re done with this?
Brian: We are basically trying to make our own feature, The BriTANicK Movie, in the spring. That’s sort of our big thing coming up. Nick’s on the TV show I Just Want My Pants Back premiering on MTV in January and I’m in Young Adult with Charlize Theron coming out December 16th nationwide.
Nick: We also have the monthly show at UCB that we’ve committed to having one new video for a month. So that’s keeping us busy as well. This week’s show we’ll have Joss Whedon in the video.
Brian: He did a sketch and it’s great. It may be our most insane sketch yet. So that was really kind of him. He didn’t ask any questions of the pitch, he just showed up and said what we wanted him to say, which was really, really cool of him.
So that will premiere at your show and I assume you’ll put that online after that?
Brian: Yeah, yeah probably the week after the show.
So what’s the deal with the movie, the BriTANicK movie? Can you talk about that at all, or are you guys still kind of in the planning stages?
Nick: It’s from our live show from two years ago, The Infinity Prison.
Brian: A science fiction farce. And we’re aiming kind of high with the cast list so we’ll see what happens. But yeah, that’s really all we know right now, or can say.
Are you guys financing it yourselves? Or are you working with anybody else?
Brian: Right now we’re not working with anybody else. We hate the idea of anyone having any kind of control over our work in any kind of directorial or editing, whatever process. Because we’ve worked with that before and the whole thing about what makes us, us is that we have complete control of everything. So we are gonna probably shop around to companies and if they want to work with us and give us complete creative control then that would be how we’d do it. But if not, then we may just go the Derrick Comedy route and just do it completely ourselves from scratch.