McCracken Live! (USA)

This interview with Brian Beacock, one of the creators of the Award-winning webseries McCracken Live! , was originally published on LAWebfest.com. A blend of Tootsie meets Carol Burnett meets Martha Stewart meets a martini, Carol Ann McCracken (played by Brian Beacock) is an all-new take on America’s Sweetheart. McCracken Live! Is an LA Webfest 2011 Grand Prize recipient. 

Brian and his production partner Susan Bernhardt (Miss Behave - interview coming soon!) are hard at work on a new web series called Acting  Dead, a semi-dark comedy about zombies, and the actors who play them--who ARE them. Shooting for the 8-episode first season begins on October 12. Learn more and support the Acting Dead crowdfunding campaign (until October 16) at  http://igg.me/at/ad 

Show Creator(s): Brian Beacock & John Yelvington

Genre: Comedy

Watch Online: www.mccrackenlive.com 

Synopsis: What started off as a joke at a drunken Halloween party has snowballed out of control into a new brand of modern American woman. Now Carol Ann McCracken, the crafty DIY goddess Tyler plays on television, is pushing him out of the most fabulously decorated closet and into the national spotlight. But if living a double life wasn't already a recipe for disaster, Tyler’s producers are convinced that the only way to “Heat Up Kitchens Across America” is to keep Carol Ann tap dancing around an absurd series of on-set catastrophes. As tempers blow up and ratings explode, Carol Ann keeps a cool head and a sharp tongue. But Tyler is finding out the hard way that renovating his life can be a real drag.

Year of release: 2011

Number of seasons: 1

Number of episodes: 13

Average length of episodes: 4-5 minutes

Currently in production?    No

Writer(s): Brian Beacock & John Yelvington

Director: Andrew Moorman/Nathan Haugaard

Editor: Andrew Moorman/Nathan Haugaard

Awards: 

  • Official Selection Marseille Web Fest
  • Winner LA WebFest  - Best Actor in a Mockumentary – Brian Beacock
  • Best Theme Song in a Mockumentary – Jamie Forsyth
  • Audience Choice – New Media Film Festival
  • Official Selection – Hollyshorts
  • Best Director – Andrew Moorman – First Glance Film Festival
  • Audience Choice – Show Us Your Shorts Los Angeles

 

Why did you create your show? What were your goals?

My writing partner John and I basically created the show to have a vehicle to show our acting, producing and writing talents.  It really fit that our show is all about D.I.Y. and here we were basically doing it ourselves in order to put ourselves out there.  The show was originally written as a half hour television pilot and we shot the 8 minute trailer for pitching purposes.  People saw it, liked it and suggested we continue to build an audience and turn it into a webseries.  We started production shortly thereafter. 

How do you run your show? (Do you have a showrunner? Do you work as a team? Who makes the final story decisions?) 

John and I were basically the team when we were shooting.  Consulting with our director Andrew Moorman, we planned out the stories, the shoot schedule, etc.  As far as final story decisions, we butt heads occasionally but ultimately and thankfully have the same vision for the show, its look and tone.  

How is your show structured?

When we did our pilot, we were aiming for TV, not a webseries. So the structure that we ended up with in the webseries was not our original intent. The structure of the show emulates a talk show or a DIY show. We wanted to blend more of a linear behind-the-scenes story somewhat along the lines of 30 Rock. We did a little of this, but not as much as we had hoped. It’s hard to fit it all in such a short format. Ultimately, what we wanted to create was an episodic show with series character arcs. If you missed an episode you wouldn’t be left in the dark, but if you watched the whole season you have a deeper experience.

How far ahead do you plan? 

When we shot the remaining episodes after the pilot, we wrote them all, included them all in our shoot schedule and shot them all together.  The only episodes that came later were the Halloween and French episode.  We also have a Christmas episode shot and are in the process of editing.

Do you break stories? Outline? Explain your process.

When we wrote the pilot we also wrote out loglines for 13 additional episodes for a typical television season.  When we decided to create a webseries, we looked at the tone and structure of a typical DIY show and wrote our episodes based on that.  The cooking episode, the decorating episode, the guest star, the terrible interview, behind the scene production meeting, etc.

How do you gather feedback? 

Feedback for the most part is via Facebook and Twitter.  However we (Carol Ann McCracken) entered the Paula Dean Real Woman of Philadelphia Cream Cheese competition and we shot an episode specifically for that.  The process of entering also included a Facebook type membership where all the ladies chatted and compared recipes during the voting process of the competition.  I had soooo many women who previously had no knowledge of our show or Carl Ann, communicating with her, asking for more recipes and videos and just got a kick out of her.  It was fun to see an unlikely audience really respond to our show.  I knew then that this show has legs (in heels) to go somewhere.

What is your rewriting process like? 

Our rewriting process is usually done on-set when we’re all saying to each other “That’s…..not working.”  Ha!  The two of us are pretty good with coming up with alternate dialogue on the spot.  I wrote one of my favorite lines for the Halloween Episode (using a Schindler’s List reference no less!) on the day of shooting.

Of the following storytelling elements which 3 are most crucial to your show and why?

Our characters are so strange and fun, especially Tyler and his alter ego, Carol Ann McCracken, that I try to make character the focal point.  And to me, dialogue goes hand in hand with character.  The look, tone, genre of the show fits perfectly in the world in which these kinds of wacky characters live.   We’ve said it’s Tootsie meets Home Improvement with the feel of 30 Rock.  Lots of people have compared it to the classic Mary Tyler Moore Show as well, which is an enormous compliment.  When we shoot another season, we’ve got an episode that pays homage to that show.  Look for Carol Ann to throw her hat in the air in Times Square. 

How did you navigate production limitations (e.g. budget, cast, locations, shooting schedule)? How did these concerns influence the storytelling?

Ugh, budgets.  Budgets affect everything!  Locations, cast, schedule.  We had talent that worked for peanuts fortunately and gave so much of their time because they liked the project, and I tried to really give each actor something that they could use for their own reel.  I wanted people to show up not only because they wanted to help John and I, but because the roles also gave them something they could sink their teeth into.  The show was self financed between John and I and we lucked out on a few locations (favors, friends homes, etc). But if you look at the pilot, it looks pretty darn expensive!  And oh…some of it was.  We spent our money wisely I think.  And we had a damn good director/editor who performed lots and lots of magic to increase the scope of the show and make it pop.

How did non-writing team members contribute to the direction the writing took, even if inadvertently?   

Lots of the cast were our friends whom we had worked with for many years.  They’re all smart, experienced and so while on set they had lots of opportunities to suggest bits or lines.  Time and money is always a factor so often the quickest and best idea wins. 

At what point in the process did consideration of your target audience come into play?

Well our show was conceived as a pilot so we wanted to leave a lot of things open to discussion for the pitching process.  Things like how blue will the dialogue be, etc.  It’s a show about a recently gay man with an ex wife and son who now finds himself dressed as a woman on national television.  But how gay did we want to be?  So we tried to be as edgy as we could to be funny and specific but not rule out the possibility of pitching to the major networks.  I always said I wanted Carol Ann to be more like a Dame Edna, Mrs Doubtfire, Toosie, than a RuPaul.  Not that there’s anything wrong with RuPaul!  It’s just not the kind of show we were going for. 

Have you integrated any fan feedback or other interactive components into the storytelling?

We have opened up questions on Facebook for McCracken Live! fans.  Ask Carol Ann about cooking tips, craft dilemmas, etc.  Of course Carol Ann is all over Twitter!  We’re going to be doing some raffles and contests to give away our show merchandise as well.  We have awesome McHats and McMugs!

From a writing perspective, which episode is your favorite and why?

Ha! Is there ever anything easy to write? I think my favorite episode is “Mail Bag with Carol Ann,” which wasn’t actually written, it was improvised.  The whole production crew and cast wrote letters and questions to Carol Ann and I answered them in character and we just let the cameras roll.  Quite a challenge and it was lots of fun.  And the questions were….really odd.  We’re a strange group over at McCracken Live! 

Which episode was the hardest to write and why? 

Oh I think the hardest to write was probably the Halloween episode only because it involved a cooking demonstration, trick or treaters, magical costume changes and the Heimlich Maneuver. We wanted to show all of these different things and yet we needed to make it quick and concise. So the challenge became to figure out a way to make a crowded episode flow.

What was the biggest or most surprising storytelling lesson you learned? 

I wouldn’t say it was surprising necessarily but it was interesting to experience what a skill it is to be economical with words, what words are funny, what sounds are funny, etc.  Some lines just zing! and some you have to shove and push into that little funny space until it works.  Once you’ve written and produced comedy and you know how hard it is, it’s a joy to watch well-written television and movies.  There’s a joy in it, knowing how smart and skilled it is.

 

Do you have any short format writing tips to share?

There is a rhythm and music to comedy. I don’t know if this is a tip or my struggle, but to me everything is about the sound. The text doesn’t matter as much as the musicality of the line, the rhythm.  Try focusing on using fewer words, smarter words, and on finding the pace of the funny. I don’t believe that comedy always comes in threes. Comedy is a look, a well-placed word, a sound, a rhythm. That’s what makes writing snappy and quick.

What’s next for you/your show?

We are working with a producing team in New York and even talking about a Broadway Musical version of the show/story.  Looking to do more live events with Carol Ann and hopefully even a McCracken Live! cookbook.  911 Ways to Burn Water With Carol Ann or something like that. 

Anything you’d like to add?

I’m grateful to the web community for their continued support of the show.  It’s been an amazing year for us at McCracken Live!  I’ve been exposed to some great new people who are producing terrific, interesting shows and I’m honored to be a part of it.