For too long imaginary friends have been relegated to Emmy Award-winning children’s stories and career-ending Phoebe Cates films (if you can call the best topless scene ever and a supporting role in everyone’s favorite cute-gone-terribly-wrong franchise a career). In the new online series Invisible Friend, LA-based comedy group Very Angry Neighbors takes your favorite childhood playmates out of the juvenile tales genre and into the realm of dark comedy crime drama.
Produced by Independent Comedy Network, the five-part series builds lightly on the invisible theme and channels Very Bad Things (pretend you can’t see the blood, money exchange, and Kobe Thai and it’s about the same premise) far more than Drop Dead Fred.
No zany, off-the-wall antics. No mumbled conversations with the unseen while confused on-lookers question a character’s sanity. In fact, if everyone was visible, the series could easily be scenes from last week’s CSI (that’s praise for both the production quality and carefully grounding an absurd premise in reality). The hook of the Invisible Friend murder mystery comes with a clever twist – only certain people can see the star of the show, and we’re not quite sure who or why.
The story begins after a heavy night of drinking, when Gabe (played by The Totally Rad Show‘s Jeff Cannata) turns Allison (played by blank space) from a friend into a friend-with-benefits. He wakes up beside her and quickly discovers she’s no longer living. In a panic, he calls BFF Gabe (played by Ryan O’Quinn). The two decide what to do with the body, and we’re left wondering wtf they need to conceal something that (we think!) no one else can see.
I recently spoke with Very Angry Neighbor, Ryan about how the series and his comedy group came to be and whether or not he has any invisible friends of his own.
Tilzy.TV: How’d you come up with the idea for Invisible Friend?
Ryan O’Quinn: One of our writers, Chris Fisher, came up with the idea about trying to bury an invisible friend and that spawned long discussions about childhood invisible friends, who can see them, what it would be like to have one as an adult, etc…
From the beginning we were adamant about making the series something that the web has not seen before. We worked hard to make it look like an hour-long episodic along the lines of CSI or Dexter with an overlay of a ridiculous premise. We used special effects, elaborate lighting, green screens and dolly shots to achieve the effects.
Tilzy.TV: How much is the series inspired by your own invisible friends?
Ryan: Michael Steinbach, one of our writers and directors, has many stories about his childhood friend. I’m pretty sure his friend was on set the whole time! We also had long intra-group debates and conversations about maintaining continuity with who can see whom and what the whole series means.
Tilzy.TV: Did you hook up a bunch of mics and fall on the floor to get the right sound effects associated with dead bodies? Do you have experience with handling corpses?
Ryan: That was all post-production magic from our editor, Steve. He added it all in post. We did, however, do a lot of practicing with lifting AmyJo and Danielle to try to emulate exactly what it would be like to lift a human body.
Ryan: VAN had received praise from a variety of web portals and won several contests. [Editor’s note: Check out some of their shorts – The Sex List Game, Explaining Abstract Concepts to an Alien – to see why.] We had also been featured on various sites as well as Good Morning America. I received an email from James Grace, the Artistic Director of IO West saying ICN was actively seeking new series. I sent them a press kit which led to our first meeting.
Tilzy.TV: How long is the series?
Ryan: So far there are only 5 episodes in the can, but we have ideas about what happens next. Episode 5 was our favorite. There is a major cliff hanger to look out for.
Tilzy.TV: Very Angry Neighbors is a big bunch. Who’s all involved? How’d you come together?
Ryan: Most of us have been friends for years. Steve and Jeff went to college together. Michael directed a movie and Andrew was a producer. Ryan and Danielle worked on live sketch comedy and improv shows together. There were less than 2 degrees of separation between all of us. We mainly just wanted to get together and make each other laugh and send the videos to our friends. The rest is history.
- Ryan O’Quinn – Professional film and TV actor in Los Angeles and voice actor for cartoons, film and TV. I also perform regularly at IO West in Hollywood.
- Jeff Cannata – Professional actor and star of the podcast Totally Rad Show from Revision 3.
- Danielle Weeks – Professional film and TV actress with regular performances at IO West in Los Angeles.
- AmyJo Steele – Professional actress of stage, film and TV.
- Steve Koncelik – Owns a film editing company and also works at Entertainment Partners in software programming.
- Michael Steinbach – Producer and production manager for TV series at Universal.
- Andrew Zilch – Producer and director. Also is a producer for HBO New Media.
- Chris Fisher – No longer with VAN but is a production manager for various TV series.
It is a lot of people and one of our biggest hurdles has been to find time to meet in person to write and shoot. We have mastered the art of the conference call at this point. I have the conference call line and our 6 digit code saved as a favorite on my phone.
Everyone has roles for sure. We all write and offer suggestions. There are four actors and three producers. Steve is a director and our main editor and a genius at what he does. Michael and Andrew are brilliant producers and directors. The actors, well, you can see their talent on screen.
Tilzy.TV: What’s next for VAN?
Ryan: VAN tries to get together at least once per week to brainstorm and we have a goal to shoot something at least once per month. The next video stars the real babies of 2 VAN members. We are very excited for their web debut as well as the concept of the video tentatively titled Baby Switchers.
We had great success with the video Father’s Day of the Future for Celebrities including articles in Us Weekly and receiving top honors from Yahoo, YouTube and others. We are going to try to follow that trend by releasing videos for other holidays. We have a great idea for a Thanksgiving video, so keep your eyes peeled…