About a week ago, the trailer for Experimental Film: The First Success Story of Internet Video was released online. Experimental Film is a biopic on the Brothers Chaps, most famous for being the creators of the endlessly popular Homestar Runner Internet cartoons.
Charley Marlowe, co-writer of the script, actor (as Matt Chapman), and producer, reached out to us at n3rdabl3 to talk a little bit about the project.
Angela: So, how long have you been a Homestar Runner fan? How did you first discover it?
Charley: “I discovered Homestar Runner in November 2004! Right after [the Strong Bad e-mail short] ‘Virus’ came out, before ‘Animal.’ Meaning I have been there for Strong Bad a couple days longer than the Lappy 486.
“Prior to Homestar Runner, I never really thought about the process of writing a script. I obviously knew what a script was, but it didn’t interest me.
“Matt and Mike were brothers that just sat down and made inside jokes until a three minute script came out of it. That was something I could relate to.”
A: When did you get the idea to make a movie like Experimental Film? Have you been thinking about it or working on it for a while?
C: “My speech patterns before I started watching Homestar Runner in no way resemble the way I speak now. Looking back at old footage of me as a small child, I think I had no idea how to speak casually. I always over-enunciated and used unnecessary, big words. It was pretty creepy coming from a child’s voice.
“I feel Matt Chapman influenced the way I speak as much as my parents did, so every time I watched a biopic, I kind of half-mused, ‘I could pull off Matt Chapman if there was ever such a movie.’
“Earlier this year, an interview with them came out that reeked of three-act structure. It went from a role I anecdotally thought I could pull off to being something I would uncontrollably brainstorm in the shower or on the drive to work. I eventually worked up a pitch, and went to visit my friend Hayley Stewart (whom I had met at Sketch Writing Classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade). I knew if I was able to describe a movie that sounded good enough, she’d offer to direct; I wouldn’t even have to ask!”
A: Have you had any contact with the Brothers Chaps during the creative process for Experimental Film?
C: “I have not spoken directly with them, but they did meet Evan from the band The Forresters, who is friends with Alex Hauptmann, our actor for Craig.
“Alex told Evan to tell the Brothers Chaps about the movie, and then the Chaps told Evan to tell Alex to tell me that they’re really excited for it. So, me, Matt, and Mike are practically best friends.”
A: What did you base your screenplay on? Articles, interviews with the Brothers Chaps, etc.?
C: “I spent the summer reading what must have been every interview they’ve ever done. However, in every single interview, they just said the idea was conceived ‘when Craig and Mike were working jobs relating to the Atlanta Summer Olympics.’ They never mentioned what the jobs were, so I actually had to get that bit of information from Craig Zobel himself on Twitter.”
A: How long did the shoot take?
C: “The prequel short film was shot over the course of August, so the sun in New Jersey would look more Georgian… Alex (Craig Zobel) and Brian (Matt and Mike’s older brother Donnie) don’t live in NJ, so the scenes with them all had to be shot in a single day. Which was exhausting! Sixteen hour days, often.”
“For the short film, we had only written one scene where Matt and Mike were accompanied by neither Craig nor Donnie, so that one was done on a tertiary weekend.”
A: How did casting work? You mention in your “making of” videos that you had worked with some of your actors before in previous projects. Is your cast mostly made of friends and colleagues, or did you have to do casting calls?
C: “These are all people I had worked with before on various YouTube videos! I met Sean [Concannon] (Mike Chapman) when I held an open audition for Rick for a Rick and Morty comic dub I never wound up making. I found out later that he’s, coincidentally, from New Jersey.
“Mike Chapman has this weird quiet performance style where you can’t tell if he’s quiet because he’s camera-shy or if he’s quiet because he’s a DEADPAN GENIUS. And eventually you realize: it’s both. Every single word Mike Chapman delivers has an equal balance of ‘It’s weird to be heard acting so I’m not gonna get too loud’ and ‘if I stay quiet, I can get some really funny delivery in here.’ Sean is the only person I’ve met who quite comes close to that.
“Sean isn’t going to be at the DerpyCon panel, but if you ever run into him at any future screenings we might do, get him to do the Rick voice. He’ll hate you for it, but the quality is worth it. My favorite video I’ve worked on with him is this fanmade sequel to 1990’s ‘Cartoon All-Stars To The Rescue,’ where he voices Smoke (the evil marijuana cloud from the original film).
“Brian [Corbett] (Donnie Chapman) has done some spot-on covers of Limozeen songs. (Limozeen is the fictional hair metal band from Homestar Runner.) He used to submit them to my Homestar Runner fanblog, and that’s how he and I met. Knowing someone who can make instrumental covers is valuable to someone who doesn’t want their videos to be demonetized.
“Every mention of Donnie I have ever heard in the Strong Bad Email commentaries or in interviews leads me to believe he and Brian are very similar people, so I just wrote Donnie as Brian instead of trying to invent a unique character. Brian and I have worked together on many episodes of my show Real-Time Fandub, which are unrehearsed improvised dubs of popular media.
“It started with me promising him a guest starring role as Grunkle Stan in our dub of Gravity Falls [episode] “Scary-Oke” if he made the instrumental for that episode’s song, “Taking Over Midnite.” He wound up being hilarious and the whole cast and crew loved working with him, so we kept him on for a bunch of other dubs.
“Part of the reason I wanted to make this movie is because the skits that he and I did together during our live Real-Time Fandub of The Nutshack (language warning) gave me a yearning for more live action work.
“Alex Hauptmann (Craig Zobel), co-creator of Homestar Runner, is now a director of several popular Sundance films, the most recent of which (Z for Zachariah) stars Chris Pine and Margot Robbie. But he wasn’t back then. So all of the available photos of him are after his hairline started receding. How lucky I am to know a younger man with his hairline in exactly the same place. Otherwise I’d have to ask Craig what he looked like in 1996, which is a little weirder than asking where he worked.
“Alex Hauptmann is a massive fan of Homestar Runner. He and I improvised a song together as Homestar and Strong Bad (respectively) in my second-most popular video, ‘What Probably Happens In Gravity Falls: Roadside Attraction.’ Alex doesn’t live too close (all the way in Indiana!), but considering his familiarity with the source material, and Craig Zobel approving the casting on Twitter, it was worth the 12 hour drive.
“Joe [Sullivan] (Jamey/”James Husband”) and I were in a play together in New York City and it was… an odd experience. They had an extremely difficult time finding actors, so I wound up having to play two roles.
“One of my characters was the father of Joe’s character, and my other character was dating Joe’s same character. If I couldn’t make the characters different enough and they were obviously the same guy, this would be a very different play. But much like how Homestar and Strong Bad are both played by Matt Chapman and I still can’t tell it’s the same guy, I fooled the audience! [Joe is] very fun to work with.
“Matt and Mike’s friend Jamey later went on to become the drummer for the popular indie group Of Montreal. There is only one interview of Jamey without the rest of the band present. I can’t tell if he’s awkward because he’s new to being interviewed solo, or he’s just awkward in general, but it’s an awkwardness that I remembered Joe exuding every day in the dressing room.
“For inspiration in writing of Jamey, me and Anthony, one of the co-writers, binge watched IFC’s Portlandia, a show exclusively about awkward people from the indie scene.”
A: It seemed like you had to travel a lot to collect your actors and find the best shooting locations. Out of curiosity, how many hours would you estimate you traveled during the entire shooting process?
C: “Oh gosh, I really don’t think I can even count that high. The prequel (please refer to the final question) spans the Chaps’ entire childhood and college years, which led to no two scenes taking place in the same shooting location.
“Pile on also that Alex Hauptmann (Craig) lives in Indiana, and Brian Corbett (Matt and Mike’s older brother Donnie) lives in Massachusetts, and Experimental Film probably singlehandedly increased the fuel emissions of the United States by at least a percent.”
A: Was there anything else that was particularly challenging about the shoot?
C: “Airplanes kept flying overhead when we were shooting outside, costumes would get ruined and we’d have to make new ones or work the scene around it. Shooting was stressful enough that by the end of August, I was on a first name basis with my local bartenders, if that means anything.”
A: What were some particularly memorable moments of the film shoot and/or creative process?
C: “When I first got into scriptwriting, I would write with my cousin Zach. He got into Homestar Runner at the same time as me, and always considered me more of a brother.
“Writing a movie about brothers making inside jokes and Homestar Runner, who better to help [than Zach]? I hadn’t talked to him in years, but I decided to reunite with him for the writing process, and now we’re close again.”
A: Who drew Homestar and Strongbad for the poster? Can we expect to see any animation in the film itself?
C: “Cathy B (http://sleepless-letter-c.tumblr.com/) drew Homestar and Strong Bad for the poster! She’s one of the first people I followed on Tumblr, and she helps a little with my show Real-Time Fandub. I picked her because I admired how expressive all the Homestars she draws are, in a way [Homestar] can’t really achieve in Matt and Mike’s ‘manipulate existing models rather than drawing new frames’ animation.
“The opening credits of the prequel are going to be animated by Anna Marker (http://tvguts.tumblr.com/tagged/animation), who worked this summer as an animation intern for the Brothers Chaps themselves! In Matt and Mike’s series of shorts ‘Panda Bractice’ for Disney XD (a part of their series Two More Eggs), Anna did the short moments with more complicated animation that required drawing several unique frames.”
A: Why did you choose to premier your film at DerpyCon 2017?
C: “DerpyCon has small hallways that will take you within earshot of every panel room individually. Half the attendance of every panel is just someone popping in wondering what all the noise was about, and my Strong Bad impression can get loud.
I’m going to be introducing the film in character as Strong Bad. I do a pretty killer impression, so get ready.”
A: What is the actual date and time for the premiere? Will you be doing anything special (like a panel) at the live premiere?
C: “DerpyCon hasn’t gotten back to me about which day the panel is going to be yet! Within the next few days, they will.
“If you’re at DerpyCon, look for ‘An Oral History of Homestar Runner.’ I’m going to be telling the anecdotes the prequel (please refer to the final question and answer) covers in character as Strong Bad before playing it for everyone. It’s not advertised on the schedule as being a movie premier, so some people are going to be very surprised.
“If you can’t make it to New Jersey, it’s going to my YouTube channel the weekend of November 17th!”
Note: At the time of the original interview DerpyCon did not have a time or date listed for Marlowe’s panel/premiere. The panel has since been scheduled for November 18, 3-4 PM.
A: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
C: “The movie we’re premiering in November is actually a short film about Matt and Mike Chapman’s childhood experiences of the 80s and 90s that would eventually lead to Homestar Runner. It’s going to take us all the way to Mike and Craig drawing Homestar for the first time.
“We’re going to use this prequel of sorts as a way of advertising a crowdfunding campaign to making the mid-2000s stories of Flash Animation that we know everyone would want to see: making Trogdor, getting reached out to by They Might Be Giants, making enough money from t-shirts to quit their day jobs.
“I really hope we’re able to get this film funded. I want to make a film with the quality that all the fans Homestar has gained these past two decades deserve.
“I have the story laid out in a really compelling way, and I’m very enthusiastic to see where this takes me.”
Further updates on the project can be found on Marlowe’s Twitter account, and more videos regarding Experimental Film and Marlowe’s other projects are available on Youtube. At this moment there are no Kickstarter or similar campaigns for the film’s full funding.