Sas Goldberg and Jake Wilson wrote, starred in and produced the feature film, Are You Joking? Wilson also directed the movie about Barb Schwartz (Goldberg), a NYC paralegal who decides to pursue her love of comedy with the help of an old friend, Billy Morrison (Wilson).
Guff spoke with Goldberg and Wilson about the process of making their first feature film.
Guff: I'm wondering how much of the film is autobiographical.
Sas Goldberg: I would say neither of us are Barb or Billy. I think we find ourselves personally within the characters, but we really wanted to tell a slice of life kind of story. That's where it came from more than, "This is exactly our story."
Jake Wilson: There are aspects of the story that we find in our lives. We love the world of comedy, I used to be a dancer, things like that, but we took overall themes that we wanted to talk about and kind of shaped it around that.
Guff: So, I know that you wrote the movie together. What was your writing process like?
JW: The original idea was about this girl who wanted to get her SNL audition tape to Lorne Michaels. We kind of started working off of that seed of an idea, and then pretty quickly we realized we don't want to have to call it "Friday Night Live" or not be able to shoot at 30 Rock or something. So we changed the idea into something more general that didn't make us lose the heart of the story we wanted to tell.
SG: As far as our writing process, we we came up with a really strong outline, and then we divvied up scenes, so, Jake would take the office scene and I would take the Passover scene, and then we would meet each other once or twice a week, read what we had, and then work on it together. And then we'd hold off on doing the really important or really huge scenes to do together. We'd probably start improving it and then sort of write down what we had and go from there. Now that Jake's in LA and I'm in New York, we still do a really strong outline and then divvy it up, then we meet on Skype to read it out loud for each other. Everyone asks us if it's changed but it's kind of stayed exactly the same.
I think the reason Jake and I work really well together is that there's no ego. We can say to one another, "That's not a funny joke," or, "I hate that part," and there's no one saying, "Hey that's my work you're talking about." We want the greatest product possible and know that if the other person's not feeling it, there might be something off with it.
Guff: This is your first feature together. Was making movies always the goal?
JW: It wasn't my goal. When I was a little kid, I always loved the entertainment industry, but I thought that I wanted to be like a Broadway dancer. It wasn't really until after I graduated college that I realized I wanted to be a director. Looking back now, I was always directing things my whole life, whether it be with my action figures and the camera that my mom had or sketches during college, and things like that. So I always was directing things, whether I knew that was actually what I wanted to do or not. But I never would have thought that I would be living in Los Angeles. If you would have asked me ten years ago, I would have always said, "I'm moving to New York!"
SG: I think being in film is something that was always on my radar. I always liked writing. I remember since first or second grade being into writing poems and things, but I certainly didn't have this idea in my mind. I thought I was going to be an actor for hire, in the sense that I would audition and get roles and that's kind of how it went. But once Jake presented me with the idea of writing, I feel like my world opened up. I get such pleasure from writing that I didn't even know I had. I never intended to necessarily write movies but now that we're doing it it's kind of opened up a whole new world. And we're working in TV right now, so we like any medium that helps us tell a story. We're open to it all. But I certainly did not think I was going to be writing feature films.
Guff: You didn't only write this movie, but you acted in it, produced it, Jake, you directed. That had to be stressful. What was the biggest challenge while doing all of that all at once?
JW: It was stressful, but honestly, I think that the joy of what we were doing outweighed the stress. It was definitely hard having to wear so many hats, to be in a scene and be directing it at the same time, then to have my producer hat on too because somebody's whispering in my ear about cashing a check.
But I think the hardest thing actually came once we wrapped the movie. Once the movie was locked and edited, there was so much more work that still had to be done. Getting into festivals and getting distribution and having to get a new format of the film for different festivals"”nobody ever thinks that you're going to still be doing the movie for two years after you wrap. That actually was the hardest part.
SG: We're still doing it.
Guff: Right! You're interviewing with me right now.
Guff: Yeah, that's something that you don't even think about when you decide to make a movie.
SG: Yeah. We both went to college; Jake went for musical theater and I went for theater, but I feel like making a film was more of a college experience than anything I really had those four years because there's so much stuff that nobody ever talks about.
JW: We learned so much.
Guff: Is there one piece of advice you wish you had going into it?
SG: I wish I knew a little bit more about the accounting side of it because it's something that neither Jake nor I knew. And if you're starring in your movie and writing and producing it, you kind of have to have an idea of how that all works. We were learning on the job and it probably would have been better if we didn't, but I can't see myself being interested in learning about it if I wasn't doing it.
JW: Yeah I would say to that note, hire an accountant from the beginning, one that you trust, so you don't have to do it, because I don't want to have to deal with that ever again!
Guff: I feel like a lot of the time in movies that explore improv comedy, those portrayals are so over the top and so crazy. You guys hit the nail on the head. It was very natural. Did you consciously try to strike that balance between keeping it real and making it funny or was that something that just kind of came naturally?
SG: I think the setting of an improv class is already funny. You get to class. Nobody knows each other. Everyone's from different backgrounds and are different ages. It's like the only time that you're in a class of people who are all so different. Usually in college or high school, everyone's kind of on the same page or in the same place in life. In improv, you have lawyers who want to take a fun class and the mom who just had a kid and wants to get out there. Everyone's coming from a different place so automatically, nobody has anything in common except this idea that you all want to do improv together. So that idea was kind of what set it up, and then we wanted actors in those scenes who really improvise.
JW: In terms of writing, I think we always write it to be real. We never write things to be funny because if you do that, they're never going to end up being funny. Life is so funny in general, so we try to write true to life. We put this character in this situation where she feels so awkward, so that's why it's funny, because she's in an acting class and so out of her comfort zone. That's where the humor comes from.
SG: That stretch and share moment is probably the one that makes me cringe the most because I remember being that way in improv class. I wanted to strike a balance between being funny, cool and not sharing too much"”you get so in your head.
Guff: In addition to these very natural scenes there were those little sort of surreal fantasy moments, like the I Love Lucy scene and the sad clown scene. They really fit seamlessly into the movie, which also had moments of slapstick comedy and real drama. How did those fantasy scenes come about?
JW: Those came about because we thought about the character of Barb and how Barb viewed the world. If something really started happening in her life, she related it to something in the comedy world. We thought that was something that brought the movie to life and really brought it into her point of view so specifically. And as the movie becomes more dramatic, those moments become more dramatic. I don't want to give anything away, but at the end something happens and you think it's one of those moments, and then you realize it's actually real life.
Guff: It worked really well. I don't want to give too much away about the ending, but Barb finds what she loves in improv and has some success in the realm of the Internet. It's this very modern take on finding success, so I'm wondering what your personal views are on this viral Internet sphere and the idea that anyone can put anything up on the Internet?
SG: I think Jake and I both come from a world where we know nobody's going to do it for you. And I think once you realize that and once you realize that your phone has a camera, it's liberating and it's also kind of like...there's a lot of crap out there as well. But we didn't want Barb to have a crazy success story where now she's like, Amy Poehler and everyone wants her. It was more of like a slice of life sort of story, of someone who's not happy who chooses to make a change. It explores what could happen just if you change your thinking.
Guff: It was a very short shoot right?
JW: Yeah the whole thing was 15 days. 11 days in New York and 4 days in Scarsdale.
Guff: How can people see the movie and how they follow you guys?
JW: You can watch the movie on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, and cable on demand. And it will also be on Hulu come October 20th. You can follow me at @jakewil on Instagram and Twitter and you can follow Sas @sasgoldie on Instagram and Twitter. And you can follow the movie on Facebook and Twitter as well.
Are You Joking? is available on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, and cable On Demand, and it arrives on Hulu on October 20th.