Over the past decade, web series have undergone a dramatic evolution on both sides of the camera. With the overall production quality of such shows increasing by leaps and bounds, along with the caliber of talent involved, original content for online audiences has further blurred the lines between it and traditional broadcast/cable TV fare.
With its first 5 episodes (of 10 total) now streaming on its official web site and Youtube page, the hilarious new sitcom L.A. BEER continues to defy those boundaries while achieving a significant distinction that no web series has ever accomplished before: it’s the first online series to be shot in front of a live studio audience.
The first 5 episodes premiered on May 11th, during American Craft Beer Week, and its final 5 episodes of season 1 are set to air during the week of June 20th-28th, during L.A. Beer Week.
Co-executive produced and co-written by veteran sitcom writer Sam Miller (staff writer for the hit CBS sitcom MOM), L.A. BEER focuses on a group of close friends and craft beer aficionados who work at Silver Screen Brewery, a fledgling Los Angeles microbrewery that’s struggling to stay afloat.
The brewery is led by its handsome founder, David (Sam Daly), whose infatuation with Silver Screen’s marketing chief Andrea (Alicia Ying) is constantly in doubt.Entering the picture is the brewery’s new intern, a young millennial named Sally (Sarah Stoecker), who does everything she can to win over her co-workers, and also, David.
There’s Patrick (played by Kevin High), Silver Screen’s primary financial backer, who works alongside his loyal assistant Michelle (Arianna Ortiz). A heavy consumer of beer herself, Michelle also relies on her BFF Ryan (James Lontayao), a talented, yet awkward brewmaster.
With ample experience in TV as both a staff writer for MOM, along with stints in comedy development at ABC, and as a writers’ assistant for shows on ABC (including DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES), Nickelodeon, and TV Land, Miller and L.A. BEER’s production team began to work on the concept for L.A. BEER upon meeting in a Yahoo TV writers’ email group back in 2013.
It was a concept born of Miller’s strong desire to create an original sitcom produced independently, and to deliver comedy written by young adults, and for young adults.
Miller and his team, including co-executive producers/writers Jessica Kivnik, Ali Chen, and Greg Machlin, plus co-producers/writers Andrew Orillion and Chris Wu, raised funds for the series (then called ON THE ROCKS) through a successful Kickstarter campaign in November of 2013. After significant retooling of the show’s concept, plus the new title of L.A. BEER, all 10 episodes were shot over Labor Day Weekend in 2014.
On the day the first five episodes of L.A. BEER premiered (May 11th), I talked to Miller about how L.A. BEER came to be, about the decision to produce it in front of a live studio audience, the production process of shooting a multi-camera sitcom for the web, and how his own personal frustration with the increasing age of TV sitcom writers and their influence on the characters depicted in today’s multi-cam sitcoms led him to create L.A. BEER.
How was L.A. BEER developed?
The first incarnation was ON THE ROCKS, which is what we (the writer/producers) did our Kickstarter under. We had a lot of great support from our friends and family, but we didn’t quite get the larger interest that we felt we should be trying to get. So, Jessica Kivnik (co-writer/executive producer for L.A. BEER) actually led the charge on trying to get our show to be more specific, and what we landed on was craft beer.
Instead of it being in a small liquor distribution company, we focused on a craft brewery. If we were going to do a multi camera sitcom for no money, we only had this set in one location. It became a question of what location where people could have relationships, could have work stories, could have friendship stories, get drunk and make mistakes. It seemed like a company that sold alcohol could be the place to do that.
What convinced you that L.A. BEER would be perfect to do in front of a live audience?
We kind of started with the idea of wanting to do it in front of a live studio audience. I like it (taping in front of a live audience) because it makes the writing have to be funny in an accessible way.
People have to laugh at it. When people laugh, the performers get really energized by that, and I thought, you know, kind of like Jimmy Fallon or SNL. A lot of that live audience stuff does well on the web, and I thought a sitcom would do well on the web.
Since this show is taped before a live audience (which you hear while watching the show), do you worry sometimes that some people think they should know when to laugh? Do you worry that the jokes can sometimes get telegraphed?
There’s a certain rhythm to multi-camera, and that’s just the way the form is to an extent. It goes back to vaudeville, so you are going to have those patterns. One of the things I borrowed working for Chuck Lorre (TWO AND A HALF MEN, THE BIG BANG THEORY, MIKE AND MOLLY, MOM) who used to be a musician, is that what’s interesting is when you break the rhythm, and when you can play with the rhythm.
Sometimes it’s really good to have the actors keyed in to a rhythm, and sometimes it’s really good to disrupt it. Hopefully we’re not too predictable, or too patterned. I hope some of the jokes are fresh. We’re trying to stay away from clammy sitcom constructions, and clammy sitcom punchlines. I hope that it works.
We had our premiere party (on Sunday, May 10th). We had at least 150 people show up. It’s interesting to watch these shows in a room with people, because not everyone laughs at everything. You get different pockets that pick up different jokes here or there. I think that’s part of comedy. Not everyone’s going to think that everything’s really funny, but different people will respond to different jokes, and we have enough jokes in there that hopefully everyone gets a good laugh in.
What was the casting process like?
Casting was led by one of our writers, (co-executive producer) Ali Chen. She did a fantastic job of posting notices to a lot of acting boards, and a lot of actors sent videos. We had over a thousand submissions for one of the roles. She led the charge of whittling down those options.
Then, she started meeting people in person, and we had callbacks. We had a chemistry read for some of our top choices. Based on the chemistry read, we were really able to get an ensemble together that really gelled. It was really fantastic.
What was the production process like for L.A. BEER?
Our production designer, Fernando Marroquin, had a friend who operates the Keystone Art Stage in Eagle Rock, California. That’s just sort of a warehouse they converted into a stage. They had a bunch of sets from a classic soap opera, I forget which one. They unloaded all of their sets at one point.
We were able to go in there and build an office set from the ON THE ROCKS version. We kind of figured out that we liked to have three distinct areas in the one set, so that you could actually have some kind of semblance of movement, and that it wasn’t too static. We had three areas of the stage, lit it, turned on the cameras, and shot the show.
What sets L.A. BEER apart from other web series comedies, including (if at all) TV sitcoms?
One of my frustrations working in television right now is that the average age of a TV writer has gone up 10 years in the last 10 years. You don’t have a situation like FRIENDS where it’s people in their ‘30s working on a show about people in their ‘30s. A lot of these shows are people in their 40’s and 50’s writing shows about people in their 40’s and 50’s.
For me, I wanted to do a young ensemble series like FRIENDS, that I really enjoyed. I just didn’t think that there were really any opportunities to do that. The last successful one was HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER, and that was written by two guys who were 29 at the time, and were coming off of Letterman.
I wanted to do a FRIENDS-like show, a young ensemble, what’s it like for people starting jobs after they’ve been told they’re special their whole life, with a little bit of that millennialism.
We really tried to be professional. We have professional actors, we have professional cameramen, we have a professional production designer. There are a lot of really good web series that are able to do things that are really good, but then there are web series that don’t quite have the funding or the resources or the knowledge necessarily to get there.
One of the reasons why I wanted to do it (the multi-camera format) is that I feel like a lot of comedic web series aren’t necessarily laugh out loud funny. Some of them are really good, and some of them are really funny, but (on) a lot of them, sometimes you don’t really know if you’re going to laugh during the five minutes. I wanted to do something where you would know that you would laugh as you watched it.
What do you hope to accomplish, both artistically and financially, through L.A. BEER, and how would you describe the show’s overall theme?
I was so frustrated wanting to be a TV writer, and just being told to write another pilot, and write another pilot. You never get to explore the characters very deeply in a pilot.
A TV pilot is like a genre in and of itself. Almost all TV pilots are kind of the same in their own way. They’re really hard to write in a fulfilling way. I didn’t come out here to write pilots. I came out here to produce shows, and to write shows, and the only way we could do that was if we did it ourselves, basically.
What I hope people can get out of this is that if they want to do something, and if they can find a lot of collaborators, and (if) they really try to be professional about how they can do it, they can create something that looks as good as anything on television. They can create a series that they can be proud of, and they can do it with the money from their friends and family, hopefully.
Financially, I’m very pessimistic about the chances of someone who’s not a high level television writer selling something to television. There have certainly been some great exceptions in the web series world, and I think that’s very cool. For me, from a realistic standpoint, I can’t say that was the goal with this show. If anything, I was hoping that it would be sort of a calling card for me, for the other writers, and for the cast.
I would consider it a success if one of our cast members booked a role because someone saw them in this and thought they’d be great for something. I’ve tried to learn a lot about the web space.
It just seems that the high budget, scripted narrative series has not quite gotten to a place where you can make that money back very well, unless you’ve already built an audience generally through unscripted stuff or low budget kind of stuff. I don’t expect to sell this and make our money back, but I am very pleased with the buzz it seems to have created, and hopefully it might turn a couple of industry heads.
(Note: The series is not currently closed-captioned or subtitled.)
(Full disclosure: LA Beer is a client of Snobby Robot Multimedia’s graphic & web design services.)
Episode 1 of L.A. BEER can be viewed here:
ON THE WEB: www.labeer.tv