The Andrew Martin Report
FastFilms on Fast Track to Fabulous Success
In this modern age of the Webseries and broadcasting oneself, only a mere handful really rise to the top and gain a quickly-growing following with seemingly no fanfare (these include Jack in a Box and Submissions Only). To this group must be added FastFilms, a series of short black-and-white movies released with a speedy vocal synchronization that are grabbing YouTube viewers right and left. The brainchild of creator and star Danny Cohen, an openly-gay and devoutly-Jewish standup comedian of some renown, who copped a 2010 MAC Award besides other honors throughout his impressive career, usually find the gentleman as a textbook sad-sack thrust into hilarious situations, most often at the mercy of others, be they a woman who leaves him at the altar, a car full of Mafioso, a pimp out for blood, a mean boss at a bakery, and, of course, his cloying and hateful mother. In point of fact, Cohen emerges as rather a Buster Keaton for the new age. A core group of standup comedians and actors round out the cast and in guest appearances, including Shecky Beagleman, Jodie Wasserman, Danny McWilliams, Gary Michaels, Yamaneika Saunders, Kelley Lynn, Ted Alexandro and Marion Grodin, and all appear to be having the best time imaginable in the process. At least two new FastFilms are already in the can although as yet unreleased, namely The Funeral and Mafia Two (a sequel to The Mafia One) and are scheduled for a premiere at Planet Hollywood in Midtown at a mid-May date TBA. And this humble writer couldn’t be more honored to get the buzz.
The first and most obvious question is, how did the whole idea of FastFilms come about? “It was right before I got fired from my waiting job,” Cohen tells me, “which was a first firing for me. I had never been fired in my life, and I was very upset with the way things went down at work. While collecting unemployment, I decided I was going to take advantage of this free time to learn everything I could about iMovie. I had discovered how to speed up videos, and I started making little thirty-second videos and speeding them up. And I loved it! I thought these fast videos would be great in scenarios in which I was always beaten up or abused. So it all started from there,” he finishes.
Is there a specific process to the scriptwriting? “Well, no,” Cohen says, “because the
first four FastFilms weren’t scripted. That was Sakaroosi, Please Don’t Take My Baby, Is Danny There? and The Artist. But by the time I shot The Artist, my casts were growing and I realized I would have to script these FastFilms in order to have a more organized shoot. So now, I write the scripts and then send them out to the cast and crew. The stories come very easily to me; I write them in an hour or so and dwell on them in order to fine tune them. And I like to write in noisy places, places were there are people. To be honest, I generally write at Starbucks.”
And Cohen explains that casting is never a particularly difficult issue. “Most of the cast members are my friends, comedians and actors I already knew. A few were acquaintances, and a couple I brought on because of their FastFilm enthusiasm. I really like to work with people who love the work. Because if they love FastFilms, then I know they’ll bring it to the shoot.” It’s at this point that other members of the company speak up, first and foremost Shecky Beagleman, who often plays Danny’s clutch-purse-wielding tornado of a mother. “I was a FastFilms fan already,” she says, “so when Danny asked me to be his mother in Once You Go Black, I was very excited.” Yamaneika Saunders agrees. “I ran into Danny at a show at ‘Eastville’ Comedy Club a year or two ago. He was on the show after I had already gone on, and I remember watching him and saying, ‘He reminds me of my aunt Cheryl. I like him.’ He was incredible funny, but there was a kindred spirit there as well. Flash forward about six months after that; I was watching a FastFilm that had two of my favorite comics in it (Jodie Wasserman, Ted Alexandro and Greer Barnes) and I was overjoyed that Danny was involved. A few days after that, I got a call to be a part of their next project!” And Ted Alexandro concludes, “I was aware of Danny’s FastFilms because I’d seen a few of them on Facebook, and loved them. I love Danny, and I’ve known him for basically my whole comedy career. So I was excited to be part of his creations. Danny is such a funny guy, with a unique sensibility. I was willing to do whatever he asked.”
One of the supposed difficulties of shooting a project like FastFilms is making sure that the actors keep to a slow rhythm and a low vocal pitch while shooting. “I always have to slow down my actors and remind them to keep it that way, especially right before we shoot,” Cohen says. “We’ll rehearse two or three times, and then we shoot two or three times. And since I like to shoot in one continuous shot without cutting, the actors have to remember to speak slowly from beginning to end. Also, my girls usually have to speak in a lower register, or otherwise they sound too mousy, and it’s hard to understand them.” This, however, isn’t a problem for everybody. Saunders explains, “I’ve studied acting since I was a child; I was a member of the Workshop Theater in South Carolina, and I graduated from the Los Angeles County High School for the
Arts. I am used to having to adjust my voice. It’s a part of the job to be able to transition. I’m also fortunate that I was a singer in a gospel choir that only had a few members, so I would have to switch between soprano and tenor all the time.” Alexandro adds, “It’s definitely something I had to adjust to and keep in mind throughout. It’s not difficult, but it’s different. So you have to be mindful of what will play well when it’s sped up.”
Actor-cinematographers Shauna Lane and Eddie Marini, besides photography director Brian Friedman, are the team behind which Cohen’s cinematic vision is most often brought to life with FastFilms. “When I asked Shauna if she would like to be my camera girl, she loved the idea,” Cohen tells me. “I’ve known Shauna for years, and we get along great. She’s just so easy to work with, and she’s always available for me. I couldn’t have done all of this without her; she’s been a hero for FastFilms. When I wanted Shauna to play certain parts on screen, Eddie Marini (he
plays one of the boxers in The Janitor) fills in as my video guy, and has also shot two videos, namely Clown and Sisters.” But several members of the company are the first to defend the fact that it’s Cohen and only Cohen who could possibly make this happen in so brilliant and expedient an artistic manner. “Danny is a great director, he really is,” Beagleman says. “I am in awe of him every time I watch him work. First of all, he writes the scripts. Second, he stars in them. Third, he directs them. And not necessarily in that order. I don’t know how he does it. He’s so calm and focused, I can’t even remember my two lines half the time, and he’s acting, remembering his and everybody else’s lines. Then he’s telling everybody where to go (literally), plus he’s directing Shauna Lane or Eddie Marini on camera! He knows exactly what he wants to capture, and he’s very thorough. He always goes the the location beforehand, so he can get a clear idea of the shots he wants. Oh, and he also is very specific about everybody’s hair, makeup and wardrobe. If people don’t have what he needs in the shoot, like a 1960s platinum blonde
bouffant wig (and who wouldn’t have that? You’d be surprised!), he goes out and gets it, baby! He’s not foolin’ around!” She continues, “So, yeah, I love watching that man throw down, because he really does. But he does it in a very calm, yet frenetic, way, which only Danny Cohen can. When you’re in a FastFilm, you are a very integral part of the ensemble environment that Danny creates. No matter how how much camera time you might have, Danny makes sure everybody gets their moment. It’s so much fun. It’s controlled chaos, and his scenarios are nuts. Everybody wants to be in a FastFilm, and that’s a testament to Mr. Cohen. If he were a rotten bastard and his films stunk, or if he never bathed but yet his films were still passable, I don’t think they would be as popular as they were in the earlier part of the decade.” Saunders adds, “What I love about Danny and Fast Films, is that Danny is Fast Films. He takes control, he writes, he directs, he develops. He makes the production very comfortable and fun, and he is always open to letting the actors
run with their instinct, but also very committed to his vision for the film. He is an amazing talent, person, and friend. And,” she adds, “its fun just being around other comics and trying to one up each other. I love when Marion Grodin is on the project, because she is always interjecting and being very ‘Method Acting’ with the films. And you’re looking at her like, ‘Marion, come the hell on.’ But she is always on point and super-hysterical. I love Jodie, because she’s ultra-relaxed and cool, and we can talk between takes about anything and then get right back in there and work. I love everyone, the entire cast! It’s just fun! Its so much fun, and you don’t mind. I love Shecky, and her wigs, and what she is doing and how she always has a different character. Of course, Danny, I love him and watching him switch hats from actor to director. It’s always a good time, and its amazing how many people love and want to be a part of projects with Danny; it shows what an amazing person he is.”
Does the cast have any particular aspirations for where they’d like FastFilms to be five years from now? Alexandro replies, “I would like for FastFilms to be legendary. I want whatever Danny wants for FastFilms. They are all precious little gems.” Saunders says with a chuckle, “In five years, the only Fast I want to be associated with when it comes to films is Fast and Furious VII. In all seriousness, though, I would like to see Danny to have a lot of success with FastFilms, I would love to see it go as far and beyond Danny’s wildest imaginations. And I hope that I’m so busy with my own career that I’m not available when it calls me!” Beagleman finishes, “I would really like to see, and I know FastFilms should and will, get produced on a larger scale. They would be great as “bumpers” as lead-ins and outs for television shows. Also, corporations should pick up on them and have Danny write, act in and direct FastFilms for product promos, or anything along that line. I think they should evolve into the next step for Danny in his writing, directing, acting and stand-up comedy career. As long as I’m still in them beating the hell out of him with my clutch purse,” she finishes with a grin.
But it’s Cohen himself who offers the clearest prophecy and ambition for FastFilms, of course.”Now that I shot The Funeral, I have completed twenty FastFilms that run between two and four minutes long, I want to sell them as a Web series. To a Website, or to find some sort of home for them. I have hundreds of storylines in my head.”
Whatever the future may hold, Danny Cohen and the FastFilms company have carved themselves a place as an online presence rarely achieved; they’ve brought art back to comedy and comedy back to art. This writer is certain that we all await their next offerings amidst succulent anticipation.