Taking a break from the usual weekly column, this week in Independent Review, I will be talking to Michael Brouillet of the Crave Online Network’s show Balls. Long before Comedy Central began airing Sports Show with Norm MacDonald, there was another comedy sports news show airing weekly called Balls.
Michael Brouillet is a writer and actor that has appeared in various TV shows and movies the past 6 years. From a guest spot on the popular Grey’s Anatomy and an appearance in the film Soul Men, Michael is now branching out into bigger roles, with roles in the upcoming feature comedy film Campus Radio, and as one of the main characters in the upcoming horror film Closing Costs, as well as the recent horror short For Rent.
With his co-star Nash Herrington, writer, actor, and touring comedian, Michael appears weekly on the CraveOnline.com show Balls, covering all the wackiness in the world of sports, and often sporting celebrity guest stars. You can see the most recent episode of Balls HERE.
In a diverse field like filmmaking, there are many different opportunities for exposure and career growth. With new media and social networking taking over as popular online destinations, we have seen the rise of the “Webisode” , weekly (or bi-monthly, sometimes even daily) episodes of a TV show that are aired online. Today, we’ll speak with a writer and actor that is involved with a successful weekly show to find out what his take on the process is, and what part of his career it plays.
The Daily Rotation: How did Balls start? What was the idea behind it?
Michael Brouillet: A friend of ours, Becky Young, contacted us asking if we were interested in shooting a pilot for a comedy/sports show. We had all been in an improv group together, so she knew we were into sports and comedy so it seemed like a perfect fit.
TDR: So Becky came to you, because you guys had been in improve together, but was she the driving force, or was it something that Crave Online was putting together already?
MB: Actually, I think she had just gotten hired by Crave Online at that point, when she was coming onboard with Crave, she had some new programming for the website and one of the ideas she had on her own was this sports comedy thing, and, as I said, she knew Nash through the improv group, so she knew we could do comedy, and she heard us talking about sports all the time, so she approached us and asked if we would like to shoot a pilot for it, so we shot a pilot for the website, or actually, shoot a pilot for the head of the creative department to review , and if he liked it, then try to turn it into a show. So we shot a pilot, and then we didn’t hear back for a month or two, it was a while and we all thought the project was dead. Then we got a call on a Thursday or Friday, and they told us “Can you come in to shoot this Monday? You would come in every Monday to shoot once a week.” We said yes. So we thought the whole thing was dead – now, we actually just shot our 51st episode last Monday, that will be the start of Season 2.
TDR: So that’s the beginning of the second season?
MB: Yeah, we figured 50 episodes can be counted as a season.
TDR: Yeah, definitely. That’s quite a few.
MB: We stick to shooting one a week, as long as there’s nothing big coming up. Looking at it now, I don’t even think we really hit our stride until episode 20. The first 20 episodes was just working it out – the chemistry, the personalities, and the con – basically, the format switched around a lot. It started off more improvy, then it became more scripted, then we went to scripted segments. Because we got a lot of feedback from the creative team over at Crave, they would give us feedback of what was resonating with their people – what they liked, what they didn’t like – they always – they’re such a great place for us because they throw it out there trying to get sponsors and stuff, we just recently picked up a new sponsor, so they’re going to sponsor a certain number of episodes that they’re going to pay for . That’s sort of the angle that everyone is trying to do over at Crave, and I think – as far as trying to bring sponsors in for a certain episode, certain chunks of episodes, or just the whole program, I think it’s cool they do that.
TDR: Even just a segment being sponsored has to help.
MB: Oh yeah. The great thing about it is – we cater – we have a segment called “You’re So Stupid It Hurts”, and it talks about something stupid some athlete does, and we make fun of it or whatever , but that can easily be like – you can work that into a million different sponsor spots. That could be like Axe Body Spray Presents “You’re so Stupid It Hurts”. I mean, it will work with almost anything.
TDR: Is that one of the ways webisodes benefit you over typical TV broadcasting?
MB: The benefit of webisodes is that it keeps our cost down, which gives us a lot more options for what we shoot. It also allows us to be hands on in promoting it to our friends which is great.
TDR: Definitely. It seems that’s just another benefit of the webisode format. Going back to what you were talking about before, you were saying Crave had some good feedback and tips on how to move forward with the show, is that something they do on a regular basis? Do they stay interactive? Or is it more that they just approve everything every week?
MB: Basically, we write it, shoot it, and then they have an editor that chops it together. The editor is also the cameraman, so he wears multiple hats. He’s an integral part of the show too, honestly, he’s – we’ll be shooting something we wrote, and he’ll say “I wonder if we did this?” and we’re like “Let’s do it!”
TDR: Because he can see it with the editing in mind already?
MB: Yeah, because he’s editing and shooting, he’s shooting – since he’s a funny guy, he’ll say “It would be so funny edited if you did this –“ so we try that.
TDR: Do you feel you reach a wider possible audience being online?
MB: I think we are more in control of the audience we reach to a certain extent. If the show wasn’t released through the web, we probably wouldn’t have any where close to as much control as we do over the product.
TDR: How long does production take on an episode? I know you air weekly, but is the show produced quicker or longer than that?
MB: Usually, shooting an episode takes about 2 hours. We usually shoot Monday mornings at 9:30, although we on location shoots and special guest shoots sometimes take longer depending on where and who we’re shooting with.
Nash and I do all the writing for the show. We are the writers and the talent, so we have a ton of input. The executive producer and original content team over at Crave basically review the finished product to make sure it didn’t get too wild and is appropriate for release on their site. They also play a key role in special edition episodes, but Nash and I handle most of the day to day writing and comedy.
TDR: What has your experience on Balls taught you about filmmaking, if anything?
MB: Working on Balls has taught me a lot about how content is developed and a fan base is grown. It’s a long process and involves a lot of people, but it’s really rewarding when people dig the final product.
TDR: In what ways does Balls help or limit the other acting jobs you get?
MB: I think Balls has only benefited other acting jobs because it gives us a platform to show different characters we can play as well as different styles of comedic writing we’re capable of. We do get pretty goofy on the show, but somehow I don’t think it cost me the lead role in The Hurt Locker.
TDR: Do you find performing on Balls harder or easier than preparing for a role in a narrative film? Why?
MB: I think performing on Balls is much easier because we’re doing the writing and the acting, so we make sure all the jokes resonate with us. When the actor thinks what he’s saying is funny, it’s always a lot easier to convey the humor.
TDR: So how many people are usually working on these episodes? What is your crew like on a shoot?
MB: It’s a super light crew, I mean, we shoot probably about 80% of our shows green screen, and maybe like 20% on location somewhere. Yeah, having a small group like that, you have pros and cons. I mean, the benefits are we’re very flexible with a lot of stuff. Maybe you can’t accomplish some of the things you would with a dedicated sound guy, two grips, that sort of crew, but for what we’re doing, it works really well. It’s usually – Nash and I hosting it, and a lot of the times there’s a guest on – not all the time, but we’ll have a guest, we’ve had some Playmates, we’ve had some models, we’ve had on some actresses. Usually we try to make it a girl, because Nash and I are both guys, so it looks a little weird if it’s all guys.
TDR: And I imagine your audience is mostly guys.
MB: Exactly. And it’s going out on Crave, which is a lot of gamers and other young guys, so having a girl on the show, it only helps. (LAUGHTER) If we don’t have a guest, it’s two people in front of the camera, Alex behind the camera, and that’s pretty much it. That’s basically it. Once in a while Becky will be down there, she’s the producer, she’ll come down and pop her head in just to see what’s going on, but usually it’s just us.
TDR: Something I didn’t know before was that you and Nash actually do all the writing, is it something where you guys sit down and figure out, or do you guys more rely on your improv backgrounds for that? Do you just try to run with it, or come up with concepts, or do you write fully scripted episodes?
MB: It started really, really improvy, but then one of the directions we got from Crave was that they wanted to see it go more scripted, because they felt like the improvy stuff – it works sometimes, but sometimes it didn’t, it was kind of hit or miss. So we went to the scripted style, and now most of the episodes – unless we somehow get lazy – 95 to 99 percent of the episodes are 100 percent scripted. It’s pretty much “on script” these days. It’s been like that for a while, it’s been scripted since like episode 8 or something. So usually what we do is I just write a bunch of sketches and stuff during the week that I think are funny, that are relevant to what’s going on in sports that week, Nash does the same, then we get together the day before – or the morning of (LAUGHTER) – we read through everyone’s stuff, we figure out which ones we think are funniest. Sometimes, that means one of his, one of mine, sometimes that means two of his, or two of mine, and we usually just go with whatever is funniest, that’s what we do.
TDR: So it’s like a mini-writer’s room meeting?
TDR: Talking about the sketch format of the show, as far as the acting goes, getting to play different characters, doing different segments each week, is that something you look forward to more? Or is it something you dread because it’s something you have to spontaneously come up with?
MB: No, I think because we both have backgrounds in improv, and comedy and things like that, we love doing character work, we love doing different characters. I mean, if you watch the show you can tell we pretty much love doing wacky characters. Some of the stuff we do is just really out there. A lot of actors would ask “You want me to do WHAT?” (LAUGHTER) We’re like “So you’re going to dress up like a woman, and then what we’re going to do is you’ll have two bowling balls under your shirt…” you know, we create these ridiculous things. We have a lot of fun doing it, so for us, we definitely don’t dread doing it. We have a lot of fun doing it. A lot of it is just the chemistry of Nash and I working together, just having a good time. You go in there and create characters, and sometimes characters are written ahead of time, obviously, but some characters sort of evolve on set. We do this – I’m not sure if you follow football at all – but Bill Belecheck , coach of the New England Patriots – he’s super hardcore and strict, so we did this crazy character with him where he’s in the locker room with Tom Brady, and we had Blecheck have this really crazy food fetish, like he can’t stop talking about all these crazy things he wants to do with Tom Brady’s wife with food. I don’t even know where that came from, but it was absolutely hilarious, one of the funniest episodes we’ve ever done. It was one of those episodes where it was difficult to shoot it because we kept cracking up. We were in there for like 4 hours just shooting it, we couldn’t get it done. Normally, we probably get done in about 2 hours, and half that time we’re probably getting coffee.
TDR: Just having fun?
MB: Yeah, I mean, it’s a comedy show, if you’re not having fun, you’re not shooting a comedy show right.
TDR: Exactly, something is definitely wrong at that point. You talked a bit about how the show kind of helps you find out how content is developed, how it moves through the channels – in this case it’s not a studio or a TV network, it’s an online network – at the same time, you said that helped you see how they grow the show and how everything moves forward, how does that relate to you personally? In regard to your own career? How do you translate that to what you’re trying to do with your career?
MB: I think it’s good for our own careers because we get the opportunity to write and act out our own Saturday Night Live. Where else do we get to come up with crazy characters that we think will be hilarious, get the experience of writing these types of characters, love the writing experience, and then all this experience acting them out. We’re 50 episodes in – I was editing together a comedy sketch character reel for myself. If I was going to try to get on an SNL or some other type of sketch comedy programming, I have some type of reel with all these different wacky characters. And it’s shot very professionally, and it’s really funny stuff because you have all these episodes to pick from, so I think it’s really beneficial to us because it acts as a trial ground, or a practice ground for all these things we want to do.
TDR: I also touched on, a little bit, would Balls be harder or easier than a narrative film? And you said Balls is easier because you get to create the content, you know what’s coming up. At the same time, I imagine having to do that every week, it would be a little bit different to go walk onto the set of a narrative film, and having to do that. Could you talk a little bit about that process of kind of separating the two and doing both at the same time? As an actor/comedian would do, I’m sure Nash has the same thing, trying to walk that fine line.
MB: You mean the two things of writing and acting in it?
TDR: Yeah, and the difference between acting in other projects, or acting in narrative films that you didn’t write? Serious stuff, as opposed to comedic stuff and the prospect of pursuing both at the same time, maybe talk a little bit about that?
MB: It is kind of split, I’ve heard people say you should really pick one and go after that – I don’t know what to say to that, exactly. I think you never know what’s going to pop off, what’s going to work, you know? I’m kind of going after both, I guess. I’ve kind of had a little bit of success with each one. If one or the other started to become so successful, I’m sure I would focus more of my energy there. But right now I’m just going through the doors that open up. If a door opens up in front of me, if someone offers me to do a web series, a comedic web series, I’m like “Heck yeah, I’d love to do it”, you know? It’s almost like “Hey, do you want to audition for Grey’s Anatomy where you’ll come on as a guest star?” I’d love to do that too, you know what I mean? Let’s be real: For people lower on the totem pole in Hollywood, it’s not like my calendar is so busy with comedic or theatrical that I have to choose. The reality is just, like a lot of people in Hollywood, grinding — trying to stay active, trying to make things happen — and where there is opportunity, you have to attack them and try to make the best of them.
TDR: Especially lately, it seems comedians are coming out with more dramatic roles, and people are figuring out that comedians do make some of the best dramatic actors, just because they’ve seen the whole spectrum of everything — from funny to sad — a lot of times it’s all played for comedy, but at the same time, you have to really understand those emotions to really get something funny out of them.
MB: Absolutely. It’s kind of one of those things, also, where everyone who does theatrical wants to do comedy, everyone who does comedy wants to do theatrical. And everyone that’s an actor wants to be a musician.Everyone kind of — the grass is always greener sort of thing — everyone wants to be the next thing. I see a lot of them going to the theatrical side of things, and some of them knock it out of the park, and some of them struggle with it, but I think it’s a natural progression. People aren’t one-dimensional. Most people have abilities to — they may be funny people, but it doesn’t mean they can’t be a very powerful theatrical actor as well. I’ve heard people say nothing is harder than comedy. I’ll tell you what — I don’t know. I think it’s a tricky thing to write, and to write well. You gotta find talented people that can bring that sort of thing to life, because there’s nothing worse, and this has happened with a number of different guests on the show — we have a whole spectrum of people that come onto our show, and some of these people are just naturally funny, they’re hilarious, but other people, you have to write the scene so that they’re the straight person. Because there’s no other way around it. Sometimes they’re going to say it how they’re going to say it no matter how you write it.
TDR: They’re just incapable of funny.
MB: Some people, it’s just not in their nature, I don’t know. I tend to believe everyone has different humorous sides. Everyone is hilarious one way or another, you just have to find the right situation to put them into to be funny. Sometimes I’ve found that very difficult.
TDR: It’s like the Christopher Walken thing — he’s hilarious when you put him in the exact right situation, and once they found that — it’s some of the funniest stuff they’ve ever done on that show.
MB: The whole cowbell thing — it’s like “Oh my god.”
TDR: Anything else that you’re up to currently? I saw you said the “For Rent” short that premiered in May at Cannes, and you’re prepping for Balls in September, anything else on the docket that you have coming up.
MB: The only other thing, I was — this summer — I had a commercial summer, so not quite as glamorous, but hey, it helps pays the bills. Shot a few commercials this summer, very happy. Very grateful to be doing that, because there’s real money involved, which you don’t see in some of the other projects I do. Balls is one of them, but it’s not paying anyone’s rent.
TDR: I think a lot of people underestimate the exposure of commercials. It’s something that people don’t really — it’s kind of subconscious, but at the same time there’s about 10 people that you just always see in different commercials.
MB: Oh yeah.
TDR: In fact, just the other day, I was watching TV and there was Two and a Half Men on, and some guy guest starred — I forget his name, he’s a comedian — but he was guest starring as a pizza guy on Two and a Half Men and then throughout the breaks of the show, he was in two different commericals as well. That guy got paid 3 times within the half hour. You can’t really –
MB: That guy is making more than anybody. (LAUGHTER)
TDR: And he’s getting his face out there three times within that half an hour. A lot of the time, it’s just about exposure, once people know your face and know you, there’s no turning back from it.
MB: That’s true. Half the battle is having people know who you are and wanting to bring you into projects that are meaningful projects. They’re like “we have a guy who would be great for this role”, boom, you’re in, you know?
TDR: I think that’s another thing that not enough people — and not even just acting per se, every job in Hollywood from modeling to graffiti artists — everything and beyond — I don’t think enough people understand there are a million different ways to do what you want to do. A lot of people come out, they want to be an actor, in a Scorsese film, they want to be the lead — too often, that’s how people ruin themselves, pursuing that one thing so doggedly that they lose track of the fact that there are a million different websites, web series, TV shows, Netflix shows, things out there that I think too many people forget that there are a million different ways to go at it, and it results in disappointment in far too many people.
MB: I think that’s true. I’m always amazed when I run across people that are very small minded about it, thinking “I’ll be the next DeNiro” — believe it or not I’ve heard people say that — and I just look at them like “Good luck with that, let me know how it works out”, it’s difficult.
TDR: In film school, people would say the same type of thing “How did Michael Bay do it? Because I want to do it like he did it.” When the answer is that he did it by doing it like no one else had every done before.
MB: That’s true. You have to do what no one else has done before.
TDR: Anything else that you’re up to that you would like to mention at this time?
MB: Yeah, I just starred in For Rent that premiered at The Cannes Film Festival which I’m really excited about and getting ready to start shooting season 2 of Balls in September, so that should be fun.
Balls airs on www.CraveOnline.com every Monday.