What has red hair, lasers, ninjas, time machines, punches to the penis, Santa Claus, mint condition Rollie Fingers baseball cards, and all happens in three minutes? Sugarboy, a new web series created by writer and director Dan Opsal, does.
Opsal, a sketch writer and director for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, has been responsible for some of Late Night’s most memorable clips, including “The Jog Strap,””Celebrity Whispers,” “Real People, Fake Arms,” and the show’s terrific parody of the Downton Abbey series, “Downton Sixbey.” Opsal recently completed Sugarboy in what little extra time he has away from his day (and night) job. The series is produced in conjunction with Fallon’s Holiday Road Pictures, Above Average Productions, and Broadway Video.
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Sugarboy is a lot of fun. Is it autobiographical?
“Thanks! I came up with the idea one day talking to my wife, Lisa. I’ve always liked the idea of making a movie that only lasts about three minutes. The name Sugarboy just popped in my head and then the idea just kind of spiraled from there. Not a very exciting inception but that’s the truth.
“I love remembering things from my childhood and trying to think about the types of things I used to think about when I was a kid, what I thought was cool, how I thought things worked before I learned how they actually worked. So I guess Sugarboy is basically what I remember myself to be when I was eight. His stories definitely come from the types of things I thought about when I was his age and what I would write about when I would write stories at that age. Writing from that perspective is one of the most fun things I’ve ever done.
“I think part of the idea came from my job as a movie promo editor for Epix. Pretty much every day I would scrub through movies to try to find moments from the big scenes, so through the process of fast-forwarding a movie, I would get a quick sense of what was happening, ‘Okay that guy’s girlfriend just got kidnapped, now he’s mad, now he’s in his car, now he sees the bad guy in the corner, he kicks down the door, his girlfriend is tied up in the other room, he says some stuff to him, then they fight, then he unties his girlfriend and they live happily ever after.’ There was something kind of fun about watching a movie in that way.”
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In the second episode, Kung Fu Mom, your main character punches someone in the butt crack. Have you ever punched someone in the butt crack?
“I never have, but I’m a young man. There’s still time. Although, for various sound effects, I had to foley some of my own slaps and punches and eventually lowered the mic so I could get some genuine butt crack punches in there. I feel that a good director has to be willing to stand in a small, dark room and punch himself in the butt crack every once in a while.”
Noted. The frenetic pacing of Sugarboy is obviously the point of it, right? Does it make your job harder when you know you have so many locations to cover so much dialogue?
“Yes. The pacing is a big part of the appeal for me. I love doing things that have a momentum like that to give people a lot to look at and to hopefully make them want to watch a few times to catch all of the details.
“It was definitely really complicated getting prepared for all of the shots required and making sure I didn’t miss any. Making the shot lists was just as hard as shooting the thing but I loved the fact that there were so many shots because picking camera angles and designing shots is probably my favorite part of the process. So, to have to design a hundred shots for each episode was really fun.”
Between the illustrations, the way you film the action scenes, and the dialogue, this sort of has a comic book feel to it.
“I think the nature of a kid telling a story that he thinks is really cool will inevitably feel comic booky so I kind of knew it would have that feel, but I’m not a big comic book guy, actually.
“I’ve always loved the illustrations of this guy Sergio Gusella, who did the title cards for Sugarboy. I met him on the street one day in Astoria, Queens where I live and he showed me some of his illustrations. We became Facebook friends and I’ve always been looking for a way to use him and this was it.”
Reading the credits, it looks like Sugarboy is produced with a small crew, yet the finished product looks very polished. How do you go about producing an episode?
“It’s a very low budget, so I use all of my own equipment. A Canon 7D, a few lenses, tripod and a couple of kinos (lights). My wife Lisa was the production designer, so she would scour the thrift stores to get whatever props and costumes she could find. The Broadway Video producer Caroline Chewning and the Holiday Road producer, Cristine Mayer, would help with that stuff too, along with casting and location scouting. So it was only a few people spending all of their free time on the project.
“We definitely didn’t know how or if we were going to be able to do it before we started the first episode, since there are so many locations and actors and props and everything. We just broke it down into the smallest details and made a schedule and somehow got the first episode shot over the course of one weekend. Then, once we knew it was possible, we just produced the others the same way.”
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You make a living writing comedy. What do you think makes something funny?
“The short answer is I have no idea. It’s such an intangible, immeasurable thing. Even if there’s something that I think is hilarious, half of the people that hear it will not think it’s funny. It’s all a matter of opinion. But I guess when I’m writing something, it has to make me laugh and it has to be something that I think an audience wouldn’t expect. If they’re surprised by a punchline and didn’t see it coming, that’s a good start.
“The fun thing about Sugarboy is that I can throw a whole bunch of jokes out there and as long as a few of them stick with you, then that’s something. For the most part, though, I want Sugarboy to be fun to watch and to make people happy while they’re watching it. The ‘funny’ part is kind of secondary.”
You and the Late Night with Jimmy Fallon crew spent a week broadcasting the show from Indianapolis during last year’s Super Bowl. How’d you like our fair city?
“It was incredible. That was the first time the show had traveled anywhere, so we didn’t know what to expect. Everyone in Indianapolis was very hospitable and friendly–the kind of Midwestern values I know from growing up in Iowa.
“We did several giant production sketches in Indy that required tons of coordination, like filming a giant mob of people, including Jimmy, running down the streets of downtown Indianapolis with a giant jib swinging around outside the Hilbert Circle Theatre. I remember the night we were filming all of the big mob scenes downtown. It was forecasted to rain all night and somehow when we started it didn’t rain but the air was moist enough that it provided a wet, reflective look on the streets. The moment I said ‘that’s a wrap’ for the night, it started pouring. We couldn’t have done it without the coordination of some key Indianapolis folk. It was probably the most intense and stressful week of my life, but very rewarding.”
Click here for all Sugarboy episodes.