WORDS BY ARIEL JACOBSON '15, FILM EDITOR
IMAGES FROM "THIS OLD THING" BY CAROLINE FOX '12 AND DANIEL OBZEJTA '12
What if I told you two Wesleyan alums just scored a major development deal with Comedy Central? You might say that's "chill" or "dope." However, what if I told you these alums graduated less than 3 years ago? Chill and dope, sure, but insanely impressive, absolutely.
The project titled THIS OLD THING is written by and stars Caroline Fox '12 and is directed by Daniel Obzejta '12. The series is about a manipulative young woman and drug-addicted nurse who form an unlikely alliance, wreaking havoc on a sleepy nursing home. Funny or Die hosts the three episodes already released: "Pilot," (watch below, you'll be hooked) "Gout," and "Gays."
The two were kind enough to let me interview them about their time during and after Wes, giving some insight into what it takes to get the ball rolling on making it big. Take some time to live vicariously through these up and coming success stories here:
I'm going to take a wild guess and assume you guys met at Wesleyan, but how exactly did that happen (bonus points for a “meet-cute”) and did you collaborate throughout your time here?
CF: We met when we were Sophomores – we were the newest members of Lunchbox, which was Wesleyan’s one and only sketch comedy group (is it still?) So Dan and I were really creative collaborators first, and then we became friends through that.
DO: Working with Caroline was always easy—and more importantly—fun, so it kind of seemed natural that we’d work together again on something after Wes. When she first approached me about This Old Thing, it was a no-brainer to jump on board.
What were each of your paths post graduation? Did you move to LA immediately? Why LA?
CF: I moved to LA two months after we graduated. I came to LA to write (for TV or film, I wasn’t sure), but my first job was in reality TV…I “logged” for two months – that is, I watched and summarized unedited footage – on “The Bad Girls Club,” Season 10. Why LA? I wanted to try a new part of the country, and this also is one of two cities in which you can conceivably make a living writing TV/Movies. NYC (the other one)… overwhelms me. How embarrassing.
DO: I was in New York the summer after graduating, tying up loose ends with family and doing freelance videography. I moved out to LA that fall, partly because I heard it would be easier to get work in film production, and partly because I’m the type of person that needs a change of scenery to feel like I’m turning over a new leaf.
Is the Wesleyan mafia real?
DO: In short, yes. There is a large network of Wesleyan alumni out in LA who at the very least will grab a cup of coffee with you and give you career advice.
CF: There are a ton of us out here. It’s wonderful, because you realize that beyond a great education, Wesleyan really provides you with a wonderful professional network.
Daniel, can you tell me about the pros and cons of working on a big budget television series like Boardwalk Empire as a relative newcomer?
DO: I was really lucky to work on Boardwalk—it was kind of like big-budget production bootcamp for me. Although Film Studies at Wes gave me a good grasp on film theory and production, seeing a large-scale well-oiled machine operate from both the production office and the set was invaluable.
What advice do you have for Wes grads who plan on coming to LA/ getting in the industry?
CF: You’ll learn very quickly that if you can, you should be the assistant to whomever it is you want to BE professionally.
DO: If you’re really thinking about making the move out here, do it sooner rather than later. You have a lot of momentum behind you as a recent grad, and you can use that to your advantage. Industry professionals place a lot of value on “hungry” newcomers.
Do you wish you had done anything differently?
DO: I guess I wish I had shopped around for jobs a bit more before snatching one that guaranteed I could stop crashing on my friend’s couch. Crash on your friend’s couch as long as they’ll have you.
CF: I lived in Pasadena for a few months because I misunderstood what “Los Angeles” is.
Has your Wesleyan career been influential for your post-Wes career? In what ways has it been good and in what ways has it been bad?
DO: Every time I’m on set, whether I’m directing or taking coffee orders, I’m utilizing the tools I was given at Wesleyan. The voices of your professors stay in your head way longer than you’d think.
CF: I learned a lot about writing at Wesleyan, and I also became interested in things – ideas, people – that I wasn’t so interested in or aware of before, which I think is important as a [wannabe] writer. Professors Greene (Anne), McCann, and Elphick in particular made me a better researcher and writer. Wesleyan was only “bad” in the sense that it sucked to leave. They also don’t teach you how to pay your taxes. And it’s not easy to go to medical centers (read: “hospitals”) in the “real world” once a week to make sure you don’t have mono. Sometimes they are impatient with you.
Caroline, can you tell me a bit about how sketch comedy plays into your work?
CF: I only started doing sketch comedy at Wesleyan. I did some theatre in high school – to meet boys (sincerely) – but I only played old ladies. Being a part of Lunchbox at Wes was the most wonderful experience and taught me a lot about collaboration. We’d read and critique each other’s scripts in front of and with each other, so I learned how to be constructive (and kind) with my criticisms and also how to take criticism gracefully (I hope) and for what it is – a useful second or third opinion. Dan and my experiences together in the group were invaluable as we started working with each other on “This Old Thing” – it sped up the process of note giving and taking and we didn’t have to start our comments to each other with “no offense” or “in my opinion” because it was inferred.
What’s your ultimate goal for yourself?
CF: Ultimately I’d like to be paid to write. Right now, I am paid to make phone calls and appointments for someone else.
In which ways are you like your character Caroline and what is the writing-acting process like?
CF I don’t consider myself much of an actress – “Caroline Huff,” isn’t too different from “Caroline Fox.” I style my hair a little differently, and I don’t sit in a wheelchair…or live in a nursing home. I’m pretty theatrical in my day-to-day life, and I do lots of little voices (on purpose and not) and hers is one of mine. So the writing to acting process was very easy – I had said the lines a thousand times as I wrote them, tested them, and the ones I wasn’t saying quite right, Dan helped me with. Like “Caroline,” I am a major hypochondriac and I am a Slytherin according to Pottermore.
What did you major in at Wesleyan? Do majors even matter?
CF: I was not a film major – in fact (yikes), it would not have been possible for me to be a film major as I did not earn an acceptable grade in my intro to film class. I was an English major. I really loved being an English major. The point of going to a liberal arts college, in my opinion, is to get a well-rounded education, and for your future career not to hinge on a decision you made when you were 19. So I don’t think majors matter post-college.
Daniel, you are sick at graphic design—how does that impact the way you direct/ make films? What’s your process like for THIS OLD THING?
DO: Thank you! I’ve always been drawing and painting. I guess at some level I’m obsessed with the power of the image. For me, making films that tell stories with those images was the natural extension of creating them. So I definitely come at directing from a visual standpoint—I try to embed the narrative, the emotion, and conflict into each frame. Where I put the camera and how I block the actors needs to first and foremost serve that plot and the emotional arch of the piece. This is all easier said than done though, and simplicity and clarity are priorities I still struggle to achieve.
For This Old Thing, I wanted the visuals to be part of the joke. Caroline and Prudence are misfits and intruders into an otherwise pristine and placid world, so we carried that over into the production design, the lighting, and the camerawork. The more delicately composed and painterly the image, the more Caroline and Prudence stick out like sore thumbs when they rant about filthy colons and snort painkillers.
What was it like to get THIS OLD THING from an abstract idea to production, to playing a festival, to winning at a festival?
DO: It was a big decision to make This Old Thing a series of short episodes in web-series fashion rather than a full-blown 22-minute pilot. There aren’t too many models for success at this scale, so we were wading into uncharted waters with this production and hoping our gamble would pay off. Having the pilot episode play well at the New York TV Festival was a real honor for many reasons, one of them being that it confirmed there is place for short form, serialized content in the digital media sphere.
CF: It took lots of time and lots of favors. I wrote the first draft of the first script in October 2012, and we ended up making them in October 2013 and releasing them in June 2014. Our budget covered insurance and equipment rental and location fees, but it wasn’t enough to pay people, so everyone who worked on the series was INCREDIBLY generous, giving their time and effort for free.
How did the pilot you submitted to the NYTV festival differ from the videos on vimeo/ funny or die (if it did?)
CF: We had to change the music so we didn’t infringe on any copyrights. So no Nas.
Can you tell me as much as you can, without getting sued, about the development deal with comedy central?
DO: We’re talking with Comedy Central’s LA development team about This Old Thing’s future, and seeing what platform Caroline and Prudence’s antics are best suited for.
CF: We really have no idea what might come about, but we're excited!
Why aim for TV over features?
CF: Television writers have more creative control than screenwriters – the writer who conceives the pilot of a television show is often the EP/showrunner during the pilot shoot and if the show goes to series, and therefore the top dog. In a feature, the director is the big decision-maker, and often the writer’s job is done when they finish the script (which may even be rewritten after and by a number of different writers). Also, writing for TV even on a lower level – as a staff writer, say – is more social (you’re usually not alone in a room), a steadier source of income, and a 9-5-ish job for a few months. Also, TV is so cool now that a season of a great show might as well be a great 8 to 24-hour movie…in my opinion. I still love the movies.
DO: I agree that the line between TV and features is becoming blurred nowadays in a really exciting way. With epic, one-season-long stories like True Detective and The Knick, we’re basically making 10 hour long movies that are written and directed by the same team from start to finish. That kind of sprawling approach to storytelling is very attractive to me. But I think I’m mostly gravitating towards TV right now because it’s easier to make short form content. Especially if it’s something being independently produced, it’s easier to finance and put a crew together for something 8 minutes long. If this happens to lead to making feature-length material down the line, then that’s cool too.