Five years ago, Dan Schimpf and Alex Anfanger were fresh out of New York University, living in Brooklyn, trying to break into film. They wrote a script -- a television show about two guys trying to make it as filmmakers -- but no one read it. So they started making YouTube videos to garner attention.
Fast-forward. Big Time in Hollywood, FL, their new show for Comedy Central, will premiere in March. It centers around two half-wits making short films to post on YouTube with the goal of making it huge.
"We wrote the pilot for this show in 2010, 2011," Schimpf said last week during a three-way phone interview with both writers. "We were sending it out and found that nobody read it and nobody cared. That spurred on the idea that we should make something to put online in the hope people could find us."
The duo created the web series Next Time on Lonny, five-minute videos that purport to be previews for the next episode of a show called Lonny. The series got some attention -- notably, from someone at Ben Stiller's production company, Red Hour, who passed it on to Stiller, who loved it.
"We were so fortunate that people had seen Lonny and liked it," Anfanger said, adding that Stiller immediately got involved -- both behind the scenes and in front of the camera.
The first season of Lonny had been produced entirely by Schimpf and Anfanger "guerrilla-style," but Red Hour funded the second and final season of the cringingly hysterical web series. Working with Red Hour and gave the team the ability to do a full production show, with lots of guidance along the way.
When shooting was over, the company asked if they had anything else. So they handed over the script for the pilot episode of Big Time.
The two characters at the center of the show, Jack and Ben, want nothing more than to make it in the movie business "but had no chance of actually getting into it," Schimpf said. "They're just sort of talentless but with really huge egos and big dreams."
Jack and Ben end up doing anything but making movies as they get roped into a story line of crime and drugs that Schimpf said is somewhat reminiscent of the Miami Vice-style high times of South Florida circa the 1980s. Although a setting for the show hadn't been contemplated when the original script was written, they knew they didn't want it to be set in Los Angeles or even California.
Schimpf thought back to spending summers with his grandparents in Plantation. His grandmother, "the sweetest person alive," still lives there, and the idea of using the East Coast Hollywood began to make more and more sense. A big, intense city -- Miami -- is nearby, yet Hollywood itself has the feel of a smaller town. Also, it's easy comedy gold to make jokes about losers who'll never make it in Hollywood coming from a place called Hollywood.
Anfanger said they really wanted to shoot in South Florida, but because it was a first-season show created by first-time network writers and directors, Comedy Central opted to keep them in California both for easy guidance and logistics.
"If we get a second season, I think we'll be able to make that jump," he said. "But I think they wanted to be able to see us and help us and make sure we got off the ground in the right way, which is easier in L.A. than from 3,000 miles away if something goes wrong." Also, superstars could drop by easily, including Cuba Gooding Jr., Keith David, and, of course, Stiller.
The team was able to re-create the look of Florida's single-story concrete houses and found locations in Long Beach that could pass as South Florida; there they shot a scene where the main characters try to steal a boat. They couldn't find the right grocery store, though -- another reason they hope to shoot here in future seasons. "We wish we could have gotten the perfect Publix," Anfanger said.
With only a few episodes left to edit and the premiere around the corner, Anfanger and Schimpf are happy that things have gone much better for them than for the characters they've created for TV.
"It's the craziest thing, but it went exactly according to plan," Anfanger said. "This doesn't just happen to people. We got very lucky, and we're very grateful."
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