Squaresville Season Two is officially-launched. In the “things that make me giggle privately” file, Percy’s backpack from last season’s finale all through this season is mine. I use it for crewing and day hikes, and we were scrambling for one on the first day of this production block and I just volunteered mine. It didn’t have much in it but sunscreen, a notepad, and my phone charger; and that little oval of duct tape on the shoulder strap is there to cover up a logo we didn’t have clearance to show. Production design!
My friends have posted the official trailer for Season 2 of Squaresville. I am in exactly one brief shot of this trailer; with my face covered by the logo. Ah well, we did the math and decided that I’m officially the old man of Squaresville, and we do want to keep the kids interested
Season premieres this Friday, February 1st, at about 9am Pacific. And if you haven’t watched Season One yet, the whole thing’s only about an hour long and IT’S FREE (because it’s The Internet). Get caught up already.
I’ve been looking forward to sharing this news: there’s going to be more Squaresville:
We did it IN SECRET!
For those who don’t know, Squaresville is a webseries created/written/directed by my good friend Mr. Matt Enlow and shot and performed by many, many more friends of mine. It’s Matt’s third web series after Engaged and Mountain Man, which makes him a grizzled veteran by the standards of this medium. But it’s his first as a solo writer/director, and has a much more personal bent to it.
It’s made by a crew that was seeded during his years at USC and has grown in size and talent over the years as like-minded people (like myself) have joined up. Funded in part by a Kickstarter campaign, its first season premiered this year and included sixteen episodes along with many behind-the-scenes goodies, fan chats, and Q+A’s (“Q-and-Hey” in Squaresville parlance). It’s attracted a rabidly-loyal fanbase, some awesome and friendly mutual admiration from web colossi such as Felicia Day and zeFrank, and been nominated for a number of awards in the web media world, including 6 nominations for the upcoming IAWTV Awards.
It’s the story of teenagers in a small town trying to reconcile their outsider status and big dreams with their often-ridiculously mundane surroundings. In Squaresville, it’s the “popular” kids you’d see in other shows, and their soap opera dramas, that look the strangest in this context; and it has a way of emotionally-grabbing anyone who can remember what it felt like to be an awkward adolescent questing for true friends and a purpose and some amusement along the way.
I think it’s an exceedingly well-made show and a treat for consumers of web media, but my praise comes with a necessary disclaimer, because I work on Squaresville.
I got to know Matt through his wife, Chrissie Weatherup, who is a producer of the show as well as one of the regular cast members – she plays Sarah, the older sister of main character Zelda. Back when she was fresh out of college, she showed up at an audition for a staged reading of a play I had written and was directing at a little theatre in Hollywood. Not only did she earn a role and do a splendid job with it, we became fast friends and regular collaborators.
Chrissie at 21, not yet knowing for how long she was going to know the weirdo taking her picture
I became friends with Matt as well, which soon introduced me to a whole extended family of USC friends and others. Some of them I consider among my closest friends in LA.
I remember seeing references to Squaresville long before the Kickstarter campaign. Matt and his producing team worked for years developing the show, plotting out how it would use the web to create its unique and enthusiastic bond with its viewers; casting, and setting the look and feel of the show by creating trailers and “mini-sodes”. All their prior experience with new media, not to mention their considerable filmmaking abilities and resources, were hard at work before they asked anyone to give a dime, and it showed when the campaign started.
I previously worked crew on a short film directed by Chrissie, and while I didn’t attend film school, I had helped out on a number of other little projects around town in various capacities, and so when the time came to shoot Squaresville’s first full season, they invited me to lend a hand in whatever non-specialized capacity I could. It’s a job I’m well suited for on set, being the Need-a-Guy Guy. Matt calls me the official Factotum of Squaresville; and I accept that title with pride.
Production was scheduled for nine days in October, 2011. At the time I was not only working a full-time office job, but acting in a production of Dracula at the Long Beach Playhouse, so I was only able to contribute on three of those days. I helped rig lights, corralled extras, pushed a car, held bounce boards and reflectors, picked up set dressings and lunch, and did plenty of the general hoisting-and-wiring that a P.A. would do. My favorite part of the experience was driving the golf cart we made into a jerry-rigged camera dolly for scenes shot at and around the school location:
Check out those smooth camera moves starting at 2:11
Of course, I had my crazy hair/beard combo for playing Renfield in Dracula, so I was indistinguishable from a normal school groundskeeper:
Just a modern-day troll looking for his bridge to live under
It was many months’ wait for the show to be assembled for its premiere; but it felt, in a weird way, like it was already well-loved even though people hadn’t seen it yet except for some “minisodes” that snuck out to the Kickstarter donors. All that social networking did its job. The premiere was an amazing party at Meltdown Comics on Sunset Boulevard, during which we got to watch most of the episodes in-sequence with a jubilant crowd. When you add up all the minutes of story, you realize that we shot the equivalent of over half a feature film in nine days. And that we made something we can be really proud of.
There’s a balancing act that I think makes Squaresville special, and as a fellow writer I can appreciate just how damned tricky the thing is that Matt and his collaborators are pulling off. Because I get to see, first-hand, just how hard they all work, how much labor and ingenuity goes into getting this show made. Not to mention we’re all doing it for free. And yet the result never feels labored or histrionic like the shows so ruthlessly-spoofed in the Bizarro-world episode I Don’t Wannt Wait. It’s laid-back, cool. And fun; the way Matt wanted the show to be from the start. This world and the web medium depicting it are perfectly suited for a whole episode about talking to your best friend all day on the phone, and I really admire that this show knows that truth and runs with it.
The days I spend on the Squaresville set tend to be the most fun days I have on any project, because all that humor and nerdiness and sweet sincerity that suffuses the show is an absolute representation of the people who made it and the atmosphere in which it is made. The producers all work hard, while meeting all the insane demands of the show, to make sure that the set has that atmosphere, and I think it absolutely bleeds onto the screen.
As the final first-season episodes were starting to roll out on YouTube in late summer, and the audience grew in size and emotional intensity, word started to circulate among my colleagues that the producers had secured the funding we needed to film not only the super-sized season finale, but a second season even bigger than the first. But it had to all get done at once, in another nine-day block, very soon, and we couldn’t tell anyone about it yet.
So, in September and October, conspicuously not Tweeting or Facebooking what we were all up to, an expanded cast and crew ventured out to make Season Two of Squaresville. As soon as I arrived on set I was struck by just how much it had all grown. You know those sequels where you feel like the entire universe of the story has blossomed outward? That’s what Squaresville Season Two is – a bigger world, a bigger cast of characters, more nerdalicious tangents, and higher stakes for everyone platforming off of Esther’s surprise revelation and the repercussions of her “breakup” with Zelda in that tumultuous Season One finale. Season Two will be about dealing with all that and more, and yet from all I can see none of that growth has left behind the core of what the show is about – it’s still about friendship, and the characters the audience loves, and the strange and sometimes smothering oddities of growing up.
Also – body hair. Body hair is important.
A bigger crew still needed its Factotum, so I returned and was able to be there for the majority of production this time despite my commitments to act in my third stage production of Much Ado About Nothing. Again I did general work as-needed; but I enjoyed a bounty of added treats on my list of responsibilities. They stuck cameras in my hand to shoot behind-the-scenes video as well as to supplement the amazing production stills taken by Jessie Lucas. Apparently a lot of my footage (assuming it’s usable at all) will show up in supplementary/bonus material in the months to come, which means you may get to know my snarky voice, unsteady hand, and addiction to snap-zooming very well. I made sure to point out the irony that they were giving a camera to the one guy on set that didn’t go to film school.
But they also knew that 2012 had become the acting-est year of my life, and so they made an amazingly-gracious request that I actually step in front of the camera this time around. Not just once, but three times. That’s right – I play three roles in Season Two of Squaresville, although you’ll only see my weirdo face in one of them (the rest you’ll just have to be surprised by).
They’re all very small roles, nowhere near the complexity of the characters our principal cast has worked so hard to create, but I was still insanely nervous and self-conscious, because this is essentially my first real on-camera role that isn’t just filling in the background or the goofing-off I did with friends in high school and college. But Matt wrote funny bits for me, and with so many talented people conspiring to make me look good at doing them, I’m optimistic that they succeeded, and so incredibly grateful that I get to now be “in” Squaresville.
You can tell, I’m sure, that I’m trying not to give too much away. I know what it’s like to be a fan, craving every little crumb of information that slips through; and if you like Squaresville then I am so excited for what’s coming for you. I would be tormented if I robbed you of the opportunity to really experience it in its best form – when Matt and the gang finish cutting it all together and start rolling out episodes in January. So get ready.
And do I want there to be a Season Three? Oh, yes, please.
This week’s episode of Squaresville is especially-enjoyable for me to watch because of a lot of the footage came from one of the days that I was working on the set. It wasn’t high-level skilled labor – when it comes to technical abilities, Matt has pulled together a really good crew and I am just about the last person on that set who should be handling the hard jobs under those circumstances – but you learn a lot about filmmaking even just by doing the unusual little menial jobs that come up.
Ep. 7 – Shelly at Large
In this case, during the “gym class” scenes, we actually took a golf cart that we had been using to shuttle equipment around and effectively made it into a camera dolly, with me driving either in front of or alongside the girls as they talked. Now, driving that over grass you were never going to get the smoothness of a real dolly on tracks, but when moving extra slow, for shots that only held briefly, you can get a nice shot that makes your movie look a little more polished and visually-sophisticated.
And in the final scene, where Esther’s brother pulls up to the curb to pick-up Shelly, that’s actually me and two other guys manually pushing the car into the frame. The reason you do this is because you’re trying to capture live dialogue from the actresses, so as to get as close to their natural, immediate performance as possible. And a real car engine in the background risks muddying up the recording of that for the sound mix – so, you push the car by hand, the extras all act like they’re talking without actually talking, and you get nice clean dialogue. Then you punch in the car engine later.
When you do it well (which Matt’s crew does), you’re not even aware stuff like this is going on, but every scene in a film, even super-expensive ones, often involves little low-tech tricks like this that help you assemble your project in the form people will find most digestible.
And besides that – it’s a funny and cute episode
My friends have officially launched their webseries, Squaresville, after a couple of years of patient development and fundraising. I am not as literate as some of my peers in the webseries world, but I have seen what half-assed (and full-assed) “webseries” look like, and whenever I look at this I am impressed by the amount of both production polish and confidence in tone/theme that has gone into creating this thing.
So many dear, close friends of mine have put their passion into this, and though they are always very gracious in thanking me for the contributions I made, it was honestly limited to a Kickstarter donation and a couple of days doing whatever needed doing on-set – in this case, driving a golf cart, pushing a car in neutral so dialogue recording wouldn’t be drowned out by an engine, holding reflector boards, setting up/breaking down/toting around tripods and C-Stands, and making sure everyone stayed hydrated on a hot outdoor day. Also, I helped brainstorm one joke – which did get a laugh at the premiere the other night. We filled up the back room at Meltdown Comics, and there were speeches and photos and drinking, everyone dressed up and looking fabulous. Then we were kicked out by an angry events coordinator to make room for a Brian K. Vaughn signing, and we moved down Sunset Boulevard to take over the back porch at El Compadre for flaming margaritas and lots of hugging.
They have shot the first half of their first “Season” and will be rolling out new content every Friday – 5-6 minute “episodes” along with 2-minute “minisodes” for bite-sized pleasure. All-in, they shot about half a feature film’s worth of content in just over a week, which called for incredible planning and resourcefulness considering the budget.
Watch, enjoy, spread the word! This is what we can do with a lot of elbow grease and no help at all from media companies:
Writer/Director: Matt Enlow
Starring: Mary Kate Wiles, Kylie Sparks, Austin Rogers, David Ryan Speer, Tiffany Ariany, Christine Weatherup, Shannon Lawrence, Tyler Sellers, Lisa Frantz, Brent Schindele, David Greenman