Friday, July 29, 2011

Producers/Directors/Editors Joke and Biagio

Wife and husband team Joke and Biagio are best known in the unscripted world for executive producing "Scream Queens" on VH1, "Commercial Kings with Rhett and Link" on IFC (currently airing Friday Nights at 10pm 9 central) and the upcoming documentary series "Caged" on MTV. Other credits include "Beauty and the Geek" and "Oh Baby, Now What?" The duo earned their documentary wings under acclaimed filmmaker R.J. Cutler ("The War Room," "The September Issue") and honed their reality TV skills working with luminaries like Mark Burnett. Their company, Joke Productions, Inc., is growing fast. They blog and tweet about making film and TV at http://www.jokeandbiagio.com and @JokeAndBiagio. You can see their Kickstarter campaign for Dying to do Letterman, featuring Jon Reiss' book "Think Outside the Box Office" here: http://kck.st/r7rDZP

What is the current project you are working on?

Right now, we're bringing our six-year passion project, a feature-length documentary Dying to do Letterman, to the world. It's just been invited to compete for an Academy Award by the International Documentary Association at this year's prestigious program DocuWeeks. The movie's about stand-up comedian Steve Mazan, whose life-long dream was to perform comedy on David Letterman's show. However, his quest gets far more urgent when he's diagnosed with cancer and told he might only have 5 years to live. We self funded the film, and right now we're trying to raise $100,000 on Kickstarter to put the movie in theaters ourselves. We're at about $47,000 with a little over a month to go in the campaign. People can help bring the movie to a theater near them by joining our campaign here: http://kck.st/r7rDZP

Did you always want to be a filmmaker?

Biagio: No, I wanted to be an actor at first, but after a brief stint on Nickelodeon's Kenan and Kel (while still delivering pizzas for Pizza Hut as a main source of income!) I decided I wanted to be behind the camera.

Joke: I thought I would become the president of Flanders. Long story.

What inspired you to become filmmaker?

Biagio: I'd written a play that had won a Young Playwright's Festival in Cleveland and been produced. I wanted to make that play into a movie, and it all began there.

What is the best thing about being one?

Joke: Finishing a movie like Dying to do Letterman and seeing Steve's amazing story touch audience's everywhere.

What is the worst thing about being one?

Biagio: Wondering if it will be another six years until we finish our next film!

What is the estimated number of projects you have worked on?

Joke: Oi, a lot. Our first project together was a feature film called "Me and Grandma" based on Biagio's play. Next was a feature documentary we produced about the Star Wars phenomenon called "A Galaxy Far, Far Away" which had a small theatrical distribution. Our foray into unscripted television began with two pilots we made on our own (just the two of us.) We produced, shot, directed, edited, and did the graphics for two pilots we sent blindly to Food Network. One was a wacky cooking show called "Cooking with Beer" and it starred my parents! The other was a cooking / dating show called "Quickest Way to the Heart." Eventually we were able to break into unscripted TV. Some of our big shows were Beauty and the Geek and VH1's Scream Queens. All in all, I guess counting feature films, tv series, and pilots a little over 20.

Who is your favorite filmmaker?

Biagio: I plead the 5th.

Joke: Ditto.

How has your life changed since you became a filmmaker?

Biagio: We've met so many incredible people, and been to places we'd never dreamed we'd end up -- the jungles of Guatemala, the secret tunnels underneath Caesar's Palace in Vegas, the back room of a comedy club with Arsenio Hall and Jay Leno -- places we would never dream of seeing. Becoming a filmmaker has allowed us to experience life on a hyper-real level, and we're grateful for every moment of it.

What is one piece of advice you can give to someone who also wants to make it in the movie business?

Biagio: GO MAKE STUFF. We have an entire blog dedicated to breaking in to the business at http://www.jokeandbiagio.com We call it "Hands-On Producing." I don't care what your ideas are, I don't care what you are "thinking" about doing, I care about what you've done. Walk into my office and show me a kick ass piece of tape you've put together. Something you're so proud of you'd show it to Spileberg himself. Otherwise, don't waste anyone's time, especially your own. Too many "wannabes" talk about making movies. Aspiring filmmakers are not "wannabes." Aspiring filmmakers go make films.

Joke: Ditto.

What do you like to do besides filmmaking?

Biagio: Believe it or not, I was a star basketball player (in 8th grade, anyway!) I love to get out and shoot some hoops when I can. I've also been learning to program iPhone apps and mac apps, and hope one day to release some of them. We're also going to be self-publishing some books on the Kindle platform soon.

Joke: I love photography, traveling to small towns and discovering new places, and watching Battlestar Galactica.

Have you had any other jobs before you decided to become a filmmaker?

Biagio: Crazy jobs! I performed singing telegrams for Eastern Onion in Ohio, dressed up as Tweety Bird and the Talking Christmas Tree at the mall, Barney and the Green Power ranger at kids parties, washed dishes, bagged groceries, delivered pizzas, and once tried to sell cigars at a telemarketing gig that lasted 56 minutes. I also edited actor's demo reels out of our one bedroom apartment in Hollywood, and actually met Steve Mazan (subject of Dying to do Letterman) when he hired me to edit his comedy reel.

Joke: I was an assistant to Gale Anne Hurd (producer of Terminator, Armageddon, and AMC's The Walking Dead) and worked at a talent management group for a while. A little more tame than Biagio's work history.

What are some of your favorite American films? Foreign films? Television shows?

Biagio: American: Pulp Fiction, Tombstone, Raiders of the Lost Ark Foreign: Cinema Paradiso TV Shows: The Wire, Psych, Game of Thrones, season 1 of The Shield, Boston Med

Joke: American: Braveheart, Foreign: Daens (Flemish) TV Shows: Friday Night Lights, The Wire, Rome, The Good Wife, Hard Knocks

How would you describe your film education?

Biagio: Learn by doing. Period. Film school was basically useless. See http://www.jokeandbiagio.com

Joke: Varied.

How would you describe the film "scene" where you live?

Biagio: Well, we're lucky to live in Los Angeles, so they do make a few movies here. But to us, the film scene is really the internet: Twitter, Facebook, our blog, places like Kickstarter -- that's where the action happens, people are getting noticed, and we're making real relationships every single day.

How has social media changed the independent film industry?

Joke: Well, it's built a community of people who want to make movies no matter what, and could care less about traditional models. I think that's a good thing. More interesting projects are getting made, filmmakers are finding new audiences, and people are finding creative ways to network and get themselves noticed.

What's your opinion on crowdfunding?

Biagio: Well, clearly, we're all for it! We're in the middle of a great experiment, using Kickstarter to actually distribute our film. We're a few weeks in and have raised almost $47,000. We hope the community will come out and help us reach $100,000, which will allow us to follow the plan in Jon Reiss' book Think Outside the Box Office, and put the movie in theaters across the entire country.

What is the casting process like?

Joke: grueling, whether for a scripted film or a competition show like Scream Queens or Beauty and the Geek. You see thousands of people. So many are great. So few spots are available. And unless you're making an indie film where you get final say, you're casting by committee. There's between 10 and 20 people that need to sign off on a final cast. By the end, your drained, but hopefully you've found the best cast possible.

How does independent film differ from the mainstream?

Biagio: Upside: You get final say on everything. Downside: Everything's on your shoulders. A lot of indies tend to think less of the studio system -- but it's not without it's perks! Sometimes you just want to make a great project and not worry about marketing, legal, distribution, craft service, holding a boom pole yourself. Then again, nothing beats taking a project from the very beginning to the very end and knowing it's the truest manifestation of your original vision for the film.

You could go back in time and see any classic film being made. Which film would it be and why?

Biagio: Raiders of the Lost Ark. No movie has inspired my imagination more. Fight scenes, vintage airplanes, the wrath of God, and Harrison Ford stapled a hat to his head! Who wouldn't want to see that?

What's your favorite movie quote and why?

Joke: "You're gonna need a bigger boat." Sums up how you're never as prepared as you think you are -- especially in our line of work.

You could have any super power. What would it be?

Biagio: Convince Joke I'm always right.

What is your opinion on movie remakes?

Biagio: I'm all for them if they're good. Too many times the film is just "product" made to tap into a pre-existing audience. But give a remake to a real filmmaker and magic can happen. Look what Scorcsese did with "The Departed" (Based on Hong Kong crime-thriller 'Infernal Affairs') and "Cape Fear" (Based on J. Lee Thompson's thriller from 1962.) A remake can be great -- but it's up to someone to decide they're making a real movie. And don't forget John Carpenter's The Thing -- pretty good remake!

What is your opinion on book to movie adaptions?

Joke: same as movie remakes -- someone has to go in and make the book into a motion picture. We can name a hundred movies that were poorly adapted, but then you have filmmakers who make magic like A Clockwork Orange, The English Patient, and one of our favorites, L.A Confidential.

What are the pros and cons when it comes to working with your spouse?

Biagio: Pros -- with as hard as we work, we'd never get to see each other unless we worked together, and I simply couldn't function without seeing Joke for most of my waking life.

Cons: Every time I see how awesome Joke is it reminds me I married out of my league.

Joke: Pros -- My parents worked together, my grandparents worked together -- I never knew anything else. For me, there's nothing better than sharing my life and dreams with Biagio knowing everything we do we do together.

Cons: It can be hard to get out of "work mode" -- we're always working. When we go to bed at night, get up in the morning, have lunch or dinner, the conversation is usually work related. It's important to remember to take time for us.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Biagio: We're so grateful to the community for supporting our Kickstarter project in such a big way. No matter when you read this article, please head on over to http://kck.st/r7rDZP. Even if you think the campaign might have ended, it hasn't. We're trusting the community to help us put Dying to do Letterman in theaters, and anyone will always be able to donate at least $1, whether at Kickstarter, or another site we'll set up. Whatever the deal, we'll let you know at the Kickstarter page.

Thanks for doing the interview. I will spread the word about your campaign for Dying to do Letterman.  On a side note: I heard Joke does a really good impression of a Cylon. I'm a big fan of BSG as well.