I woke up Sunday morning, slid into my skinny jeans, a low-cut, tight black shirt, and stilettos; and slipped on a pair of shades. There’s something about going to visit the set of a series that has been labeled “slick,” “sexy,” and “dangerous” that just makes a gal want to look good…even at 7:00 a.m.
And just why was I dragging myself out of bed at such a god-awful hour on a weekend? To get a first-hand glimpse of the shooting of The Bannen Way, the highly anticipated new web series from Sony Pictures Television set to debut on Crackle.com this January. In case you missed the story: Jesse Warren and Mark Gantt debuted the trailer last August, the cybersphere went wild over the racy action series, ICM signed the duo and then Sony snatched up the project based on the strength of the trailer and the scripts the pair had written. Plus, they landed a group of high-profile sponsors, including Jaguar, Ray-Ban and Apple.
Fast forward to October 6th, 2009. It’s the second to last day of the 19-day shoot near downtown Los Angeles. As I head into Lacy Street Studios, the door to the stage is slightly ajar. All I can see is a plaid-clad arm in flannel stretched across the opening, beckoning to a dark space beyond. My blood starts to race in anticipation of what I’m about to see. I expect cool, sexy, high stakes…instead, I get the most mellow action shoot ever.
U.P.M Shea Farrell walks me through the maze of a stage over to the monitors where director Warren is watching a hospital scene play out between Gantt, who plays title character Neal Bannen, and Michael Ironside, who plays Chief Bannen, Neal’s father. Extras in hospital scrubs and stethoscopes chill on the side while Warren calls out direction to the dolly crew and the actors. It’s one of the simpler shots – no sassy vixens or Jaguars here – but both Warren and 1st AD Andy Flinn are quite particular about the framing and movement. Flinn has earned the right to be specific – he’s AD’d hundreds of hours of episodic television, including The Practice, Gilmore Girls and Hawthorne.
While I’m bummed that I’m not going to get to see them shoot a fantasy seduction or an action sequence, it means I’m actually able to grab some quality time with the director and actors. Despite being at the tail end of an intense shooting period, Warren is focused and energized. His spiky hair, big eyes and lean frame from years of running and now martial arts combine to create a somewhat pixie-like appearance. If he’s exhausted or worn down, he’s doing a good job fooling everyone.
Perhaps his energy is fueled by gratitude. He’s still feeling incredibly fortunate regarding the progression of The Bannen Way, and is thrilled that the project will debut on the web. When he and Gantt started this process 2.5 years ago, he could not have predicted that he’d be the one calling the shots on an all-union set. Yep, that’s right – DGA, WGA, IATSE and SAG are all on board for this one via their new media contracts. On a break between takes, standing amidst a sea of cables, Warren tells me, “We originally envisioned this as an idea for a TV show. But if it went to television, I wouldn’t have been able to direct and Mark wouldn’t have been able to star in it.” It is still undetermined as to whether or not Warren and Gantt will have to join the DGA and WGA; ultimately, it will depend on the length of the episodes.
Prior to this project, Warren had only directed a maximum of four people at once. On set today, though, a cast and crew of 65 surround us, and Warren is shooting with the coveted RED camera. In fact, they’re only using one camera for the scene I’m watching, but for much of the shoot they’ve shot with two REDs in order to move more quickly. Though the size and scope of the project could have been intimidating, Warren found himself relying on a former teacher’s advice: When you’re afraid, just take the first steps forward and begin to create. He says, “I focused on what I had to do on that first day, and from there it just flowed.”
As Gantt steps away from the hospital room set, I grab him for a quick chit-chat. Tall, dark and handsome, he seems a perfect fit to play the conflicted leading man. Therefore, it’s a surprise to find that on television, he has so far only played co-star roles. A quick glance at his IMDB resume shows he has a particular affinity for playing Bartenders. He tells me that the opportunity he’s had with The Bannen Way to go from #89 to #1 on the call sheet has been an incredible experience for him.
“There’s a huge sense of accomplishment as we near the end of shooting. This is by far the best crew I’ve worked with,” says Gantt. “They’ve got the best attitude. Everyone – from make up and hair to wardrobe to the grips – has a passion for the project. I’ve tried to lead with energy, and it really feels like everyone here wants us to succeed.” Gantt isn’t imagining the support for Bannen.
As Farrell and Flinn release the actors for a break while they get ready to turn the camera around to shoot the reverse angle, I join veteran actor Michael Ironside outside in the sunshine. He’s known to most for his portrayals of villains and tough dudes in movies such as Starship Troopers and Total Recall, but today there’s no sign of the badass. We make grab a seat on top of some ice chests in the craft service area, me in my stilettos and Ironside in his self-described “semi-naked” state: bike shorts and a hospital gown that opens in back. When he notices that the sun is directly in my eyes, he suggests moving so that I’m more comfortable. He just may be the nicest villain I’ve ever met.
I tell Ironside that I’m curious as to why he got involved with the project – at this stage in his accomplished career, he doesn’t need to do a web series. “The writing is exceptional,” he explains. Then he jokingly adds, “Certainly not for the money.”
After hearing about the project from his manager and responding to the script, Ironside met with Gantt and Warren, which sealed the deal. “They’re good guys. Plus, I know Jesse’s agent, which made me feel safer about doing a project like this,” says Ironside. “I’ve been on every size project, from $250 million to $250,000, and this is an incredible group of people. For example, with Mark, you can’t tell who is important by how he talks to them. Jesse gives everyone the same level of care and attention, which is at it should be.”
The fact that it’s a web series as opposed to a television series hasn’t affected the way Ironside has approached his role. He says, “The way it’s delivered doesn’t affect creativity on set. Whether it’s a movie of the week, a DVD release or a web series, that’s just the way it’s chopped up afterwards.”
Gantt is grateful that this project has given him the opportunity to work with talent such as Ironside and Robert Forster, who plays his mafia boss uncle. “Working with Michael and Robert raised my game. They are mensches – they care about the work. The bring 150%. It doesn’t matter to them whether it’s on the web or on TV.”
While shooting for the web may not change the creative process, it has certainly expanded the opportunities and responsibilities available to Warren and Gantt. Throughout my conversations with both of them, we are politely yet constantly interrupted by members of the crew who come over to consult on details about the shoot. Warren and Gantt may be newer at this, but there’s no doubt about who is in charge. They are both relishing their roles as producers and the chance they’ve had to be involved in every aspect of the project from marketing meetings to hiring the crew to procuring that nifty Jaguar.
As I look around the busy yet calm set, I can’t help but root for the series to succeed. I haven’t read the script. I haven’t observed a flashy, high stakes day of shooting. Rather, I’ve been privileged to observe a dedicated, passionate group of artists coming together to create a project they all believe in. A project that, without the web, might never have seen daylight. A project that, if developed for television, most likely would have shed its creators at some point because they would have been deemed too green to handle such an ambitious endeavor. Instead, they are getting an incredible career opportunity as a result of their hard work, talent and dedication.
Being as it is a web series, though, with a considerably smaller budget than that of most television episodes, the crew moves fast. Producer Bailey Williams comes over to tell Ironside they are ready for him. The actor graciously thanks me for my time, and heads back to his hospital bed. Gantt resumes his brooding pose. Warren heads back to the monitors, Diet Dr. Pepper in hand. I exit the stage, slide on my sunglasses and smile. Sometimes, getting up early is worth it.
Tamara Krinsky is an actress, journalist and new media producer. She has appeared in web series such as Back on Topps and The Shaman, along with a variety of film, TV & theater projects. As a reporter, she focuses on entertainment, science and tech news. She hosted the weekly tech show THE SPOTLIGHT for TomsGuide.com, was a correspondent for PBS’s WIRED SCIENCE, and was a Webby honoree for the independent film series AT THE FEST, which she produced and hosted. She is currently the Associate Editor of DOCUMENTARY Magazine. In addition to her adventures on camera, Krinsky became intimately acquainted with the business of web video while working for 2.5 years at the entertainment marketing firm Crew Creative, where she strategized and produced online content for clients including the Discovery Channel, TLC, Warner Independent Pictures, Picture People and Overture Films.