March 25, 2012

Checking Out: An Interview with David Greenman and Gabriel Long

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Tom Moore ’13 got on the phone with writer David Greenman ’00 and director Gabriel Long ’09 to discuss their new web series, Checked Out, on

The Sun: Tell me a little bit about Checked Out.

David Greenman: Well, the first episode was actually a sketch I wrote for a class I was in. It was sort of inspired by a date I went on with a girl who worked at Trader Joe’s and [we] talked about Trader Joe’s almost the entire date. So I had this idea to play around with the type of people who work at that type of store, where people are a little more eccentric than the standard supermarket fare.

Sun: So why a web series? Why not other formats like a short film or a standard television show.

D.G.: It allows us to do something with a little broader scope without spending a ton of money to do it. I mean, shooting a feature film, you’ve got to fill at least an hour and a half. And a T.V. pilot, I think you have a more set structure that you have to fit with.

Sun: Do you see the web series as just a low cost replication of the T.V. form that reaches a new audience, or is it really an artistically distinct form that forces you to think differently about what you’re doing?

D.G.: I think it’s evolving, and it’s continuing to evolve. The market for web series is increasing, and people are figuring out how to actually make money from it, and it’s become a really viable way to make content. I mean, there’s a lot of it out there. A lot of it is, you know, one person with a camera in their living room making super cheap content, but I have friends who have made web series with budgets of $20,000. Which is crazy, but kind of cool.

Sun: Absolutely.

Gabriel Long: What it shares with T.V. is the serialization aspect. So I think it can be seen as a less expensive form of  T.V. But I would definitely say that, in terms of directing, one thing distinct from T.V. or short film is people’s attention spans. You’re clicked away so easily that you have to innovate a little bit just to sell people and make sure that those first, like, 15 seconds really are going to get them to continue watching. I think that’s why a lot of web media is comedy, because people don’t have the attention span for drama.

D.G.: I also think, you’re watching it on your computer, probably not even in the full screen window, maybe at work, so you’re giving yourself over a lot less than you would by sitting in front of your T.V. to watch Mad Men. So it’s got to kind of go out to the audience, which isn’t going to commit in the same way to a web series that they might to a T.V. show, or even a short film or something.

Sun: It seems that a lot of shows branch into web media to build the audience for the show itself. Is that your impression of things, or are they really looking at ad revenue off of the web media itself?

D.G.: I think now you’re getting a little bit of everything. I feel like this show, Checked Out, could turn into a T.V. pilot. And there are a lot of shows, I think to mirror what you just said, that are doing animated web series. But there’s also just a ton of content that’s just being made for the web, deliberately for the web, whether it’s people doing it as a sort of calling card for themselves as an actor or writer or director, or they actually just enjoy making that format of media.

Sun: There’s so much content out there, it must be hard to compete. Do you think the proliferation of content devalues real producers and directors who really know what they’re doing?

G.L.: I think we’re moving towards, with the Internet generally, more of a focus on websites that filter or websites that amalgamate stuff. For instance, YouTube: everyone just puts something on YouTube, and then the cat video with a million hits is kind of the one that everyone watches. But then there are sites like Dailymotion, or Funny or Die or Collegehumor, that are focusing people’s attention on that higher level content, where you have web series that are produced with some level of professionalism.

D.G.: And if you look at a site like Dailymotion, the site we’re launching on or Funny or Die, anybody can really put the content up there, but the people who do have some level of establishment in the industry, or content that the people who run the site see, that they really like. They’re able to take it and put it on the homepage and direct more people to that content. So you sort of get both worlds involved.

Sun: So it must be really essential to get on one of those big, popular streamlined sites. Do you have to make a pitch to those who run them, in a comparable mode to how you would pitch a pilot for a T.V. show?

D.G.: Absolutely. We thankfully had a finished product that we could send them to look at, so that’s the only real difference. We didn’t pitch with a script; we pitched with a finished web series.

Sun: That’s a really interesting paradigm shift, if people running video sharing sites are suddenly a pretty big link in diffusion of culture or art or something. They’re suddenly in a chair of power over artists.

D.G.: Yes, but I also think that some people who would probably, ten years ago, have been working at a studio or a network finding content for television are now ending up in the digital media realm. So it’s not necessarily people who love YouTube videos who decide the content, it’s actual people who are artists. You know, Hollywood artists, entertainment educated people who are interested in developing the field, which is still relatively new.

Sun: Tell me more about Cornell in Hollywood.

D.G.: Well, Cornell in Hollywood has been around for 20 years in various forms. Five years ago we started our internship program. Gabe was in the first group of interns, and Gabe and I have stayed friends since then. Gianna [associate producer Gianna Zoppi ’14] was in our group last year, and I really enjoyed working with her, and I said, “Hey, if you’re around later in the summer, in New York,” and she jumped right in. She was a real pleasure to have on set.Sun: For Cornell students looking to get involved in film production, it seems like Cornell in Hollywood really works.

D.G.: Definitely. I’ve been out here in L.A. for twelve years, and since the program has started we’ve had more and more young people who have come out during summer to check out L.A. and say, “Oh, this is kind of a cool place to work,” who then come and move out here and are now working. One of our interns just became the post supervisor for Warehouse 13, which is kind of exciting for a 25-year old to be in that kind of job. And that all started from her internship here.

Checked Out, starring Daniel Greenman, Zelda Williams, Vicki Lewis and Arjun Gupta, debuted on March 19.

Original Author: Tom Moore