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February 18, 2020

So Many Options!

Christian A. Pierce just wants to create - no matter the platform.

Tom Knapp
  • The Real Bros of Simi Valley

    Courtesy Christian A. Pierce
  • Courtesy Christian A. Pierce
  • Courtesy Christian A. Pierce

Growing up, Christian A. Pierce knew people who were a lot like the characters on The Real Bros of Simi Valley.

He didn't like them much.

"They don't really have real problems, but they act real tough and they take their trucks so seriously," Pierce says. "They're really funny."

They became grist for Pierce's creative mill when he and writing partner Jimmy Tatro, whom he met in his first week at the University of Arizona, were chatting about the flood of reality shows being aired these days.

The budding young filmmakers started talking about making their own reality series. When they saw a sign for Simi Valley - just west of the San Fernando Valley, where Pierce grew up - the idea clicked.

They wrote and produced a four-episode parody series and released it on Tatro's YouTube channel, Life According to Jimmy, with Tatro as Xander, one of the titular bros, along with his brother Wade (Cody Ko), girlfriend Molly (Colleen Donovan) and pals Duncan (Nick Colletti) and Bryce (Tanner Getter), none of whom have matured since graduating from high school nearly a decade ago.

The series focuses on people who have pretty good, simple lives, but for whom every bump in the road is a major dramatic moment. The plot revolves around dating, babies, skate culture and soul patches, kick backs and throwing hands, trucks, boats and a lot of passive aggressive behavior.

It earned a following, as well as accolades from the LA Times, which called Real Bros "a very funny, occasionally pointed and essentially gentle-hearted satire of reality shows and Valley dudes." The series was picked up for a second and third season on Facebook Watch and earned a nomination for Best Web Series at the 10th Annual Shorty Awards.

The banter is both acerbic and vacuous, and time passes oddly in the show. Very little changes for Xander and his squad, all of whom have failed to evolve much beyond their high school selves, but Molly's pregnancy goes full term in a matter of weeks, and their son, Hawk, celebrates his first birthday a few weeks after that and is in kindergarten shortly thereafter.

"Yeah, I've always been a fan of the sketch comedy mentality," Pierce says. "The moment you think you're grounded in reality, something surreal happens. I mean, we don't want the entire show to be surreal - it's mostly Hawk's timeline, the baby's timeline. That will continue to jump sporadically."

Also, he says, "these guys are self-aware. They know they're in a show."

Bryce, for example, dismisses one of his friends off-handedly because he doesn't appear in the opening credits.

As the story developed and new characters appeared, Pierce joined the cast as Aldis, Wade's yogi college roommate and, perhaps, the first person of color Wade's circle of friends has met. His dynamic is wholly at odds with Wade's, and yet Aldis and his friends bond quickly with the Simi Valley expatriate.

He's not like Aldis in real life, Pierce insists.

"I'm a free spirit, but I'm not that much of a yogi hippie guy," he says. "We thought it was a funny character for one of these guys to encounter. Your first college roommate is always the exact opposite of you."

He pauses to reconsider. "Although I did start doing yoga," Pierce adds. "Maybe I'm becoming this guy."

Although the characters on Real Bros aren't based on specific people, Pierce says they're inspired by "real people, and real events" from his life in the Valley.

As for season four, Pierce says nothing has been confirmed. "But I can say that Jimmy and I have talked about it," he says. "We'll see how season three goes. I'm confident the fans will love it. All the stakes are up."

Even so, he says, "we have some funny ideas for what season four would look like."

They spend sometimes 10 hours a day processing ideas for the series, he says.

"It's just me and Jimmy sitting in a room," Pierce says. "We'll put 'trip' on the board. We'll put 'wedding' on the board. ... It's super natural for us. I've been making fun of these types of guys since I was in high school. Jimmy has, too. So there's no shortage of language and authenticity. And when we're writing the dialogue, we're laughing constantly."

So, while aspects of the characters are exaggerated, the show is grounded in real Simi Valley culture, he insists. "The thing we hear most from people is, 'Oh my God, I know these guys.'"

Season three premiered Feb. 14 on Facebook Watch.

But Simi Valley isn't all that's keeping Pierce busy. He and Tatro also are developing a scripted comedy called Junior High for Quibi, a short-form mobile video platform. The series expands on their long-running Sleepovers series, which they started airing on Tatro's YouTube channel in 2014 and since has drawn more than 35 million views.

The series will, according to promotional materials, "see Jimmy, Christian and their friends struggle to figure out the fast-paced world of middle school as they face some of life's biggest questions, such as 'Do I want to play in the NFL, the NBA or both?' and 'Did I clear the search history on my mom's computer?'"

"Junior High is so much fun to write," Pierce says. "We're so excited to go into production."

The series basically targets "stuff that we went through when we were going through puberty," he explains. "There have been times in the writing room when we've been literally laughing straight for five minutes. I've triggered my asthma from laughing."

He also is developing an animated project with ShadowMachine (BoJack Horseman) and has appeared on ABC's black-ish.

"We're going to develop a comic book as well as the series. We're super happy about that," he says. "We want to keep all cylinders running."

He's not sure what's coming after that - in part, he says, because the art of filmmaking is changing rapidly.

"I can't stop working and creating. It's what I love to do," he says. "But I don't know what films will look like in 10 years. The medium is changing so much."

Looking forward, Pierce says he'd love to have his own network to distribute films, games and "content that I love" to the world. Content, he adds, will continue to change, probably with options to satisfy the consumer who likes 90-minute movies as well as people "who can only digest content that's 3 to 5 minutes."

"I don't think short content is bad," he explains. "If you want to tell stories that way, do it. I'm all about storytelling. ... I'm along for the ride. I'm not picking sides."

A lot of people are resistant to change, Pierce says, and they "don't respect the YouTuber and blogger as much" as traditional filmmakers.

"But my love for creating overcomes that. Whether I like it or not, it's not going to stop. There's so much fun to be had," he says. "You can't stop evolving. Roll with the punches and find your place."

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