If we make each other laugh, we go for it. Part 1.
Review by: MiamiMovieCritic
Added: 4 years ago
Founded by two sons of the Jersey Shore, Manic Attack Pictures is a two-year-old production company focusing on comedic series and shorts. At its best (Mommy Menthol, Katie the Coked-Up Waitress), the company’s output takes inspiration from the oddball characters and eccentricities of the place where the creators grew up. The creative team is headed by Christopher Burke and Tommy Walsh. FilmNet caught up with Walsh to talk about improvisation, influences and where the chain-smoking, cross-dressing Mommy Menthol came from.
You guys have been working together for almost a decade. What are some of the films you made before forming Manic Attack Pictures?
We both started out in New York as actors. We were in the same theater companies around town, and we did a lot of theater in NYC before starting to get serious about writing and making movies. Our first project was a feature film called Shooting Johnson Roebling, which we will be streaming on Manic Attack as well as other online platforms later this year. Roebling was a beast of a project. We spent two years writing and raising and saving money. It took an additional two years and 45 days of shooting to finally complete. We almost drove each other insane with the hours we were putting in. It was pretty crazy, but we finally got it done and premiered it at the Hoboken International Film Festival in June 2007. We took it to three additional festivals: The Indie Gathering in Cleveland, The Red Bank International Film Fest in Red Bank, NJ, and The Independent Features Film Festival at the Tribeca Cinemas in NYC. We learned so much from the entire process.
Talk about the writing process. Are you guys into scripted comedy or do you like to improvise?
We definitely like to have a scripted outline of where we want to go. All of our actors are such good improvisers that it's exciting to see what they will come up with next. The downside to non-scripted material is that it makes the editing process much more difficult. The improv-based work is better for our shorter content, but when we start dealing with the Web series and longer form, we always like to have that scripted. But we're open if an actor comes to us with an idea about what they may like to add or change. We're not that anal when it comes to our written word.
Bob Manus is comic gold. What can you tell us about Bob?
Bob Manus is in a league of his own. Bob has been a New York performer for all of his adult life. He had a small role in the cult classic The Warriors, and co-wrote the film The Force Within. He has been doing theater in NYC, and has written many stage plays. Bob can make pretty much anything funny. We're lucky to be able to work with him.
Mommy Menthol is a great show. How did you come up this character?
Mommy Menthol was inspired by a woman driving a car on Shrewsbury Avenue in Red Bank, NJ. She was smoking with the windows up, and her daughter was in the back in a car seat, inhaling all the smoke. I pulled up alongside them in my car with my friend, Matt Crowley, and it was after a long day of shooting, and we were both fried, so I just started pretending to be her and riffing. Matt started laughing and there it was. I think what Christopher, Casey (Webb) and I do is basically see if we can make each other laugh, and if that works, we know it's funny. We're not ones to give reassuring laughter to each other. If we make each other laugh, we go for it.
Some of Mommy's back story is explained in the first season, but is there anything else you can tell us about this character?
Mommy is a mystery even to me. She isn't without redeeming qualities, though. Mommy's problem is that she thinks she doesn't have choices. She's uneducated, and she blames her children for her unhappiness. Truth is, she's just not that happy being herself. She feels money will solve everything, and we all know that's not true. The funny thing about her is that she thinks she's pretty, which is where a lot of the jokes come in.
You play Mommy in the series. How do you get into character?
I usually just start improv-ing with other cast and crew members while Lindsey Novotny, our makeup artist, is working her magic. I like to be around people and test stuff out on them. If I can make the crew laugh, then I know I'm headed in the right direction. If not, I better go find some energy. That's pretty much it. I don't require that people refer to me as Mommy on set. That would actually be quite frightening.
Name some filmmakers/comedians who inspire you.
A lot of our influences are pulled from many places for different reasons. The Coen Brothers and Farrely Brothers both use the camera and editing to get a lot of their comedy across, and for the lunacy of the short-form "sketch" format, you can't beat Monty Python, or SNL's first cast, "The Not Ready for Prime-Time Players." A lot of really smart comedians like George Carlin and Bill Maher, too, in-your-face guys like Sam Kinison. We grew up on Howard Stern every morning. Then there are the bad ‘80s movies and television shows that were not supposed to be funny at the time, but ultimately made us laugh. (I'm pretty sure Eight is Enough was not a comedy.) But really, the biggest influences were those around us growing up on the Jersey Shore. Older brothers and sisters, the culture that is the Jersey Shore, is great fodder for laughs. Our families, growing up in the ‘80s, the list is endless. Like I said before, if we can make each other laugh, we'll go for it. If it ends up making others laugh, then that's a bonus!
Many of your movies, especially I Deserve It and Katie the Coked-Up Waitress, are very pleasing to the eye. Why is the technical side important when you’re doing comedy?
I don't think the technical side can be removed from the equation when speaking about comedy or drama. Overall, it's just too important to overlook. Making comedy look good was never an issue until everyone was able to afford a video camera and post their stuff to the Net. Now it seems that the "norm" is to see a funny video with really terrible production value. It's accepted, and maybe even to a point expected a little. I think that we see ourselves first and foremost as filmmakers, rather than comedians or a sketch comedy group. We like to incorporate camera movement, slashes of light for mood, fill the frame with interesting things to look at other than the subject. We like to create little films the best way we can, and make them look the best that they can be. I guess there are some "technical" tricks to editing comedy, but it really depends on the specific piece, and the approach we took to shoot it. We try to change up our angles, camera moves, etc, from one video to the next so that each one has its own identity.
What are your goals for Manic Attack Pictures and how do you hope to meet them?
I think that we are realizing our hopes for Manic Attack Pictures in small doses every day. Our intention when we started was to become a full-service digital studio that can deliver you a product from concept all the way to a marketing strategy, and we are doing just that, with every project, whether big or small, that we come up with.
To hear more about the Manic Team, click here.