There is a new web series that's keeping everyone laughing at their computer screens called "Headshots & Breakdowns". This wild comedy follows the life of the character John as he finds his way through New York City in his climb to make it to the top. StageBuddy had the opportunity to sit down for brunch with the dynamic partners John Graham and Dave Snyder (Vice President of Development at Jigsaw Productions) to get an insiders' look into the development, launch, and post-air reception of this fantastic new show.
StageBuddy: What is the inspiration behind "Headshots & Breakdowns"?
Dave Snyder: John would come home and he'd be telling these heartrending stories of things that had happened to him and it was like the worse his life was, the funnier it was.
John Graham: He was so supportive.
DS: It just cracked me up, because some of these things you couldn't believe people were actually saying -- and as your ears get open to that, you realize people are saying ridiculous things all the time. They're just so outrageous and they lent themselves to short format video because they were all concise stories.
SB: What made you keep the character's name as your own?
JG: Well, I guess I wanted it to be as autobiographical as possible. Since every episode was a little story of my life, I wanted it to be as true to me as possible -- essentially introduce people to me. Of course, that being said, John is a character and I couldn't just play myself, I had to think, 'What is John like?' [I had to think] back on what I was like when I first moved to New York.
DS: Thinking on the tradition of Seinfeld or Ray Romano...it provides a short hand. You can just say the person's name and it's the name of the character; and it grounds you in their world which makes gives it its authenticity.
SB: If "John" could be on any Broadway show, current or past, which would it be?
JG: I think John would like to be on "The Producers".
DS: I was thinking... What's the lead in "Chicago"?
JG: Velma Kelly. I was going to say "Gypsy". If we're really getting down to the real dream, I would say "Gypsy" or the lead female character in "Hay Fever". I just love ridiculous women. One of my inspirations in life is Charles Busch [the pioneer camp artist]; I'm a huge fan of his work. To make my own work and play ridiculous woman I find really amusing would be a dream come true.
SB: What was the collaboration process like on set?
DS: It was amazing how much the actors nailed their roles. They completely got it. They were saying things we dreamed they would say.
JG: So much of the parent scenes, so much of that was their improvisation. Angela Di Carlo improvised the rash bit, Jimmy Palumbo improvised the Mandingo warrior bit -- things we would have never thought to write down, but were so perfect for my parents who would 100% say something like that. We didn't even have to prompt them. It was a pleasant surprise to work with actors that were so spot on.
DS: Our Director of Photography Austin Steele was tremendous; he had great comic timing and really understood.
JG: His skill with the camera, he would pan and zoom in, he was on it, it was quick and it seemed at moments we were watching things from the office.
DS: It's very hard to do that kind of camera work where someone says something and the camera swings around. Your focus has to be dead on as you zip from one character to the other, and Steele has a sense of comedy himself.
SB: What is it like for you both to wear so many hats as part of the production?
JG: I really enjoy it. This was the first time I acted in something I helped to create/produce, and it was the most rewarding experience of my life. I'm so proud of what I got to do on film; I now have a reel. I'd done so many student films where I get these things back, and it's a half hour film and I can't use one scene, not a bit of it. I think creatively it's the most fulfilling thing I've ever done. I want to do more of this; this is the type of work I want to create, taking ownership for my own acting career.
DS: I have a lot of experience writing, producing, and directing and it's much more fun that way. You're so involved in each stage in the process, completely invested in it. If you can do it, if you have the luxury of creating your own work it's a treat.
SB: Are you already looking into the future of creating more episodes?
JG: We have a lot written; basically for Season 1 we picked our six favorites, picking the six we felt would make a good arc for an actor's first couple of months in New York.
DS: Each season can stand alone as an episode; it should have a beginning, middle, and end with a variety of experiences. We're looking to continue adding elements so that it grows and expands as the series progresses.
SB: How are you reaching out to your audiences?
JG: Promoting. Reaching out to as many types of blogs as possible.
DS: We're really studying the analytics of it. Our producer Colin Culligan has been all over this. We're doing Google ads, Facebook ads. We've decided to go on different platforms such as YouTube, Funny or Die, VideoBash. We're making sure it's out there, not being so precious about where it appears. That was a big decision.
JG: We knew we wanted the platform of YouTube so it could be easily consumed and seen by as many people as possible.
DS: We did a premiere party and sold out the People's Improv Theater, and that really helped to get the word out. We do old-fashioned, handing out postcards and things like that.
SB: When looking at your analytics, where have you found your most success?
JG: The YouTube ads I would say have been most successful -- and what's funny is originally they hadn't helped us out a lot because we were being very specific with our demographic, targeting young people 16-24. Our budget was still at $0 because no one had clicked it, and then our producer cleared everything opening it up to everyone, and that's when we saw a jump. Young people, older people, gay people, straight people -- across the board with race and culture it's fun to see a 45-year-old woman comment and then followed by a 13 year old kid. And in VideoBash we've gotten a ton of views overseas especially in places like the the Netherlands. It's funny to see how different platforms got us out to different areas.
SB: Do you have some advice for anyone attempting to create their own series?
JG: Just do it honestly. Just doing it is the first step: it's so hard to get everything organized to get it filmed, but making sure to follow through with it is my biggest advice to people. At the premiere party people were asking "How'd you do this? I want to do this." I mean, I don't have any money; we just reached out to people with the script and they helped us. Also realizing the work is never going to be done, even though we're getting views and people are seeing it, we still have to work for every person who sees it, every person who does a review or a shout out; it is work and it's going to be up to you from start to finish.
DS: I would say be genuine to yourself; the whole point should be to express yourself, so if you're going to go and do something unpaid that's your own creation, don't try to follow or imagine what will be successful. The whole point about what's great about the internet is it's all about experimentation; you should be doing something that reflects yourself, that really makes you laugh. If it's a comedy, you should be laughing at it. You're the audience. If you don't love it, no one else is going to love it.
And keep it in the family with the people that you know; bring everyone into it. That creates a great environment. It's really fun for people who have paying day jobs to work in a situation where it's like being with a bunch of friends having fun. If you're stressing out about it being a career move, then you're sort of missing out on what's really good about it.
SB: If "Headshots & Breakdowns" were a cartoon, what show would it be?
DS: To me there is a SpongeBob element.
JG: I was going to say "Rocko's Modern Life" but they are somewhat the same show. So I'll go with SpongeBob.
(This article has been edited and condensed.)
Check out the newest episode (Ep. 6) of "Headshots & Breakdowns" below, or start from the beginning here.