Heading to Irony Point
A production company’s “lesser-heard” voices may have their say in the next wave
"We try to create an environment - from preproduction, to the set, to post - that is respectful," said executive producer Daniel Powell, "The goal is to bring as much diversity and different voices to the table as possible."
Powell and producer Alex Bach have been doing just that at Irony Point, their independent productions company. They focus on bringing more underrepresented talent in front of and behind the cameras.
"We start with the talent and their ideas and our belief in them - as opposed to working backward from what we think is going to be financially successful," said the Emmy and Peabody-winning Powell, "Ultimately, no one ever really knows how that part of it will work out."
Powell met Bach when one of the Inside Amy Schumer producers, Tony Hernandez, introduced them when he was nearing the end of executive producing the 2017 series.
"She could do such an amazing job executing a feature film on an extremely low budget, I was so impressed," he said. "I felt there was a little bit of a vacuum in New York City in terms of a production company that could be focused specifically on budget comedies."
[Powell and Bach] formed Irony Point specifically to represent the unrepresented in comedy, animation and drama.
They formed Irony Point specifically to represent the unrepresented in comedy, animation and drama. But they leave the sledgehammers in the garage, as Bach makes very clear. "The messages are there, but they come out of the story and the characters."
A recent example can be seen currently on Netflix. Astronomy Club: The Sketch Show features eight African-American cast members: Shawtane Bowen, Jonathan Braylock, Ray Cordova, James III, Caroline Martin, Jerah Milligan, Monique Moses and Keisha Zollar.
The title is paid off with interplanetary graphics that transition one segment to another, but as Zollar also adds in the opener, "We're black and we're all stars - and like most stars, nobody knows our names."
Astronomy Club is tied together by a faux "Big Brother" grouping of disparate performers creating comedy in a suburban "home base."
Astronomy Club puts the comedy first and makes absurdity the art form.
This provides humorous sequences, reality-style "confessionals" and comic conflict among the players, as expressed through the individual lenses of their life experiences. There are inherent points to be made, but Astronomy Club puts the comedy first and makes absurdity the art form.
Because it streams anytime to millions of Netflix subscribers, Astronomy Club is not tied to a programming strategy by specific cable channels or funneled into a network's target market and sponsor-designed programming flow.
It's available to a wide audience - everyone who enjoys sharp, inventive sketch comedy. With so many viewers in search of something different and relying on home entertainment selections, Astronomy Club could have a more impactful reach than expected.
Another Irony Point success on Netflix is I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson, the kind of sketch show that bears repeated viewings just as the original NBC's Saturday Night and SCTV episodes did.
Robinson's persona, or those around him, somehow mines laughter from mild discomfort on its trajectory into madness and epic resentment.
Contemporaries as well as the innovators who preceded Robinson (himself a former SNL writer/performer), make guest appearances on I Think You Should Leave including Tim Heidecker, Andy Samberg and Will Forte. The second season launches soon on Netflix.
Coming this fall on AMC/Shudder (an add-on Amazon Prime service) is the horror-comedy Scare Me, which had its World Premiere at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.
Scare Me is set in a remote cabin, where an insecure, aspiring horror novelist (played by first-time director/scenarist Josh Ruben) faces off creatively with the brutally honest author of a chilling bestseller (Aya Cash).
This "battle of best scares" combines suspense, humor and social commentary in a way that can haunt long after the story ends.
"Scare Me is another way we're addressing the need for encouraging underutilized talent in independent film,' said Bach. "There are only four people in Scare Me, but we focus on the two leads in the cabin. It's bizarre and frightening.
"He's got this toxic masculinity, and she is more capable, so it sets up this mounting rivalry."
Streaming is a new frontier allowing viewers to seek out Astronomy Club and I Think You Should Leave. "We're hoping that people check out our shows instead of letting Tiger King automatically cycle on next."
The entertainment and talent that producers like Bach and Powell nurture could conceivably lead a sea change in which viewers aren't segmented by narrowcasting and an independent, lower-budget production business model can play on an even playing field with the big kids.
The concept of modest budgets showcasing ideas and talents that could click if given a chance seems viable as the industry faces undeniable changes, not the least of which is financial restructuring.
"We're great business partners," said Bach. "Dan's not in it for the ego. He's a very hard worker and likes to empower people and give them opportunities."
"If I wanted to make money, there are many other things I might be doing besides this," Powell said. "I like to be able to come to work and laugh a lot. We can just have fun and make stuff that we're proud of."
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