Have you ever wondered what goes on during an average weekly poker game among friends? POKER NIGHT, an Australian-based comedy web series written, produced and created by David Cooper (and not to be confused with the American web series of the same name, which debuted afterward and which has been covered on this site) revolves around four friends: Derek (played by Simon Acok), Robert (played by Thomas Xavier), Trevor (played by Patrick Carrick), and Gary (played by Alex McArthur), who, according to Cooper, gather each week “in theory to play poker, (but) in reality to joke about and mess with each other.”
The show was inspired by Cooper’s own real life poker nights with his friends, but it also grew out of his desire to be more of a creator of content, as opposed to working for others.
“I was tired of working, and being rejected for work, because I was less than thrilled with the finished product. I’ve long been forthcoming with opinions on other peoples’ work, it was time I stopped playing the critic and started creating. And once I started writing I discovered a story and characters too good not to be shared.”
He began writing the series’ first four episodes late in 2010, while working as a grip for other productions, before continuing to write episodes in January of 2011. A year later, after he returned to college, he then completed the scripts, after several re-writes and some constructive feedback from friends.
With the scripts written, the task of finding a cast for the four main roles began in earnest. “I wrote the role of Gary with actor Liam McIntyre in mind – who I’d worked with on a life and fund draining project called Niflheim: Blood & Bullets (an Australian horror/war film); however between writing and making, he went and landed the lead role in Spartacus,” says Cooper (referring to the Starz cable network series Spartacus: Blood and Sand).
McIntyre was personally chosen by the late Andy Whitfield to replace him as the series’ title character, after Whitfield’s cancer resurfaced. Twenty actors were whittled down to ten, before Cooper made his four picks for the cast, while a fifth actor, a friend of Xavier’s, was cast in the show, after several other actors didn’t pan out.
The process of filming the series’ seven episodes, which began shooting last January in Australia (during their summer) proved to have its own set of challenges, from a very tight schedule (having to shoot seven episodes in one weekend, including four on a Sunday in only 12 hours, each episode being shot out of series order), to scouting locations, and redressing the locations that were chosen: in this case, Cooper’s parents’ house and garage, and a friend’s apartment that was re-decorated with Australian football paraphernalia, an apartment that his friend was willing to be kicked out of in order to film the show’s second and sixth episodes (Grumpy Young Men and Man Meat Fire, respectively).
The cast was flexible in many ways during filming, often with hilarious (and painful) results (among them, Carrick being repeatedly kicked in the shins in one episode, taped to a chair and being hit over and over by a door in the third, and having his hair messed up and cheeks grabbed in the last episode). The four actors also proved to be flexible when it came to the writing process. “What distinguishes the show is each script was rewritten, honed and then adapted to suit each of the actors, episodes being able to stand alone but there is an underlying plot if the viewer pays close enough attention.” The show is distinctively targeted towards a young male audience, Cooper says, but it also has its share of female fans. “It has a very male, very Australian sense of humor, although some girls I know who have watched it have enjoyed it.“
Despite the great lengths Cooper has gone to to produce and promote the series, which was posted to Reddit and various other web series websites, and despite some positive reaction from viewers, as well as a boost from a retweet on Liam McIntyre’s Twitter page that was seen by 10,000 of his followers, the show hasn’t exactly been as successful as he had hoped, yet he still tries to get people to watch, any way he can.
“I facetiously offered up a 5 cent bounty the other day to anyone who watches and doesn’t laugh (it has to be collected in person though, and five cent coins are as popular in Australia as pennies are in the US).”
However, despite his best efforts, a second season doesn’t seem likely, although he’d like there to be, says Cooper, mainly because while fellow filmmakers, friends and other people were willing to give meaningful advice, “actual assistance was hard to come by and the show was a huge drain, both financially and effort-wise.” Nonetheless, Cooper’s main goal for the series is this: “If I can get a laugh, if someone somewhere watches Poker Night and enjoys it, I call that a win.”
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