In creative industries like entertainment, more actors and filmmakers have used Zoom’s virtual gatherings to launch new artistic projects directly from their own homes. One such project is the new comedy series QuaranTEAM!, created by Mike Feurstein and co-executive produced/co-directed by Feurstein, Bobby Chase (Welcome Home) and Greg Aidala. All episodes of QuaranTEAM!‘s first season can be seen on YouTube (link below).

Produced and filmed via Zoom, QuaranTEAM! depicts how work life during the coronavirus pandemic is as humorously unpredictable as the means of online communication (also Zoom) that links an inept group of employees at ad agency Bork and Hitchens with their increasingly overwhelmed boss/CEO, Dick Bork (played by James DiSalvatore). Struggling to meet his clients’ needs while trying his hardest to make sense of video conferencing’s complexities, Dick also has to attend to the needs of his separated staff.

In that employ are level-headed human resources manager Turf Maxwell (played by Aidala), exceedingly blunt copy editor/researcher Fran (Sheila O’Shea), Dick’s would-be successor/current assistant Anne Kopinsky (Angela Potrikus), agency marketing chief Dale (Jeaux Black), isolated intern Adam Craft (Aidan T. McKenna), versatile multi-department consultant Jenny Jenssen (Jen Lefsyk), exercise-obsessed creative department staffer Brad Gareth (Justin Alvis) and harried family man Jimmy Handler (Bobby Chase), whose five (or six) children make him easily distracted while at work.

As QuaranTEAM! concludes its hilarious first season, Feurstein talks to Snobby Robot about his goals for a possible continuation of the series, where viewers might find it next, and how Zoom’s video-conferencing system served both to unite the show’s socially distanced cast and crew while becoming the primary host for its production despite the platform’s structural and technological difficulties.

Nine key members of QuaranTEAM!'s cast: Jimmy Handler (played by Bobby Chase), Fran (played by Sheila O'Shea), Anne Kopinsky (played by Angela Potrikus), Turf Maxwell (played by Greg Aidala), Dick Bork (played by James DiSalvatore), Jenny Jennsen (played by Jennifer Lefsyk), Adam Craft (played by Aiden T. McKenna), Brad Gareth (played by Justin Alvis), and Dale (played by Jeaux Black).

Nine key members of QuaranTEAM!’s cast: Jimmy Handler (played by Bobby Chase), Fran (played by Sheila O’Shea), Anne Kopinsky (played by Angela Potrikus), Turf Maxwell (played by Greg Aidala), Dick Bork (played by James DiSalvatore), Jenny Jennsen (played by Jennifer Lefsyk), Adam Craft (played by Aiden T. McKenna), Brad Gareth (played by Justin Alvis), and Dale (played by Jeaux Black).

CH: How many episodes will there be? Is it an ongoing series?

Mike Feurstein (executive producer/director, QuaranTEAM!): We rounded out this collection of episodes with our 24th, tentatively titled “The F Word”, and then we’ll see how it goes.

Versus Media, a content app on Apple TV, has offered to host it, and we’re looking at other avenues (for hosting QuaranTEAM!). I’ve outlined a potential second season (for the show), but it will depend on actor availability and the condition of the country when we hit autumn. It still has a lot of potential.

We’d like to explore more tropes, as well as give each character another showcase, and introduce new ones to the mix (like) a trivia night. Some mentoring of college students. Maybe (we’ll) even check out what the rival company at Eckhart Klugman Group is up to. We ended this season in a way that could serve as a tongue-in-cheek ending, or (as) a springboard for more (stories).

CH: In what ways (if at all) have your experiences living and working while in quarantine inspired the concept and situations found in QuaranTEAM?

MF: Many of the plot lines in our episodes are based on real adventures in Zoom life. The producers (co-stars Bobby Chase and Greg Aidala) and I forward articles to each other when something fun comes up in the news. We incorporate anecdotes from our fans and commentary from colleagues. (The show’s 18th episode) “Captain James T. Handler…” was inspired by my brother’s off-hand comment about buying a new chair with his company’s WFH (work from home) stipend.

Other stories emerged from working with the amazing team of actors and (from) building out threads from their past performances. Stories like “Fran Can Cook” (episode 16) and “Roberto” (episode 20) didn’t exist until we saw the potential in those particular characters or story threads. Roberto was just a throwaway off-camera mention in (episode 7) “Sensitivity Training, Day One” but then we figured, “hey, let’s show the audience what the fuss is all about.” Fran has quickly become an audience favorite, so seeing her at home in her own environment was as much a treat for us as the viewers.

CH: Were the characters based on real people, or were they exaggerated for comedic effect? If so, how?

MF: When developing and writing the series, I tried to represent a cross-section of the personalities you might encounter in a real office setting (and also what you see in workplace comedies on television) – but the true dimensionality of the characters evolved from what each actor brought to the table, so by the end of the 24 episode run, what you see is a mixture of the writing and the creativity of the actors. The onscreen characters are an organic hybrid of that process.

James DiStefano plays the harried ad agency head Dick Bork in the hilarious Zoom-produced workplace comedy QuaranTEAM!

James DiSalvatore plays the frustrated ad agency head Dick Bork in the hilarious Zoom-produced workplace comedy QuaranTEAM!

CH: As a filmmaker used to working in close contact with cast and crew on location, how did you and everyone involved with this show adjust to the parameters of filming a web series at a distance?

MF: It made things a lot easier, in some respects. We could work with people in any city, more easily coordinate schedules, and of course film each episode in 1/100th the time it would take to film something in a studio or location. Actors in New York starred opposite actors in Australia, Ohio, Maine, and elsewhere without having to step outside! The concept of the series only “works” as a social-distancing virtual experience, so it was perfect.

CH: Each episode was produced using the increasingly popular video conferencing app Zoom. Describe how you used that platform during the production of QuaranTEAM!, and what you did to overcome the technical difficulties that often occurred when you used Zoom.

MF: One of the biggest technical aspects, aside from getting everyone familiar with the software and dealing with connectivity issues, was learning how “not” to step on each other’s lines. In a scripted argument, actors need a beat before each line of dialog or else Zoom’s programming would muffle or mute the incoming line. That’s just how Zoom works.

So in editing, I close up those gaps using overlapping audio tracks to simulate cross-talk without pause. We all joke that, once actors return to on-screen or on-stage roles, they’re going to have to unlearn this and go back to the immediacy afforded by those mediums. The other technicals are lighting, sound, and set design.

Each character has their own unique setting, some ever-changing, but for the most part devised by the actor with minimal direction. I also think adhering to the medium in each episode is important, so we try to work the technical foibles of virtual meetings into the plot.

Jeaux Black plays Dale, the head of a fledgling ad agency's marketing department in the new comedy series QuaranTEAM!

Jeaux Black plays Dale, the head of a fledgling ad agency’s marketing department in the new comedy series QuaranTEAM!

CH: In working with the cast, were you hoping to achieve a specific kind of performance from them during production of the episodes or did you give them more room to approach their characters as they saw fit?

MF: Each actor was giving a short blurb about their character, which we later used in the press materials. From there, and from the first episode onward, the producers and I were excited to see how the actors developed their own characters.

As you watch the 24 episode run, you’ll see how evolved the depth of each character becomes. That was a marriage of the actor’s creativity blending with the writing. (It was) symbiotic. Even early on, it was hard to imagine anyone else in the roles they inhabited.

CH: Was there a lot of improvisation during filming, and if so, how did that ultimately make the episodes and your actors’ performances even funnier?

MF: Improvisation and ad-libbing is welcome during the rehearsal portion of each taping. Many great lines are a result of the ensemble working together in rehearsals. One of our most relatable episodes, “Lag”, is almost entirely improvised, a huge credit to the actors involved. For “Logout Face”, the actors were asked to create their own derp-faced pictures. The scripts read like radio plays, without much body language or physical direction. So when you see an actor physically react, it’s most likely in the moment, and directly playing off the others in the scene.

CH: Who do you think would like to watch QuaranTEAM!, and how can people who’ve been in the same living/working situation relate to every character/situation that the show features?

MF: We aimed to make it light and fun so that people who were experiencing fatigue from their own Zoom meetings might have something to enjoy. Seeing our characters experiencing the same frustrations with virtual meetings (and dealing with them in a less elegant way than most real people might) hopefully provided a refreshing perspective. We hope that each character touches on a familiarity: the too-serious office mama bear (Anne), the clueless executive (Bork), the burned-out parent (Jimmy), the office enigma (Fran), etc.

CH: How has making QuaranTEAM! ultimately helped you and your cast/crew to be better actors and filmmakers?

MF: The first great thing this project has done, as one actor pointed out, is put gigs on the calendar! At a time when there were zero productions in process around the world, we were still producing scripted content. As a writer/editor, it made me more aware of comedic timing, including the necessity of the “reaction” shot, and how to quicken the pace of a dragging scene even within the confines of only having one angle.

I substituted over-the-shoulder shots and closeups for single screens, side-by-side screens, or the full mosaic, and used the mock virtual interface as a set of “rooms” (the share space for pics, the aside for chats, etc). As actors, I can’t speak to what they may have taken away from this other than the camaraderie and togetherness we felt while sustaining our quarantine miles apart. It felt great to collaborate on something new!

Sheila O'Shea co-stars in QuaranTEAM! as Fran, an ad agency's no-nonsense copy editor/researcher.

Sheila O’Shea co-stars in QuaranTEAM! as Fran, an ad agency’s no-nonsense copy editor/researcher.

CH: Based on your experience making QuaranTEAM!, what tips do you have for your professional peers to effectively work under the same conditions that you filmed this series in (especially since the coronavirus is already upticking)?

MF: Don’t take yourself too seriously. That’s advice I think we need to bring back into the physical workplace and day-to-day. While stuck in virtual meetings, I think one tip might be to relax and forgive others their accidents or misunderstandings. Digital life and social media don’t come naturally to everyone.

Sometimes an “ALL CAPS” message isn’t them shouting at you, it’s them forgetting to turn off the caps-lock. We also should remember there are still beating hearts and thinking brains on the other side of the screen. We’re still people, even if we’re not “in person” – maintain the same level of respect you would expect in real life. Oh and also, don’t eat Fran’s casserole. Top advice there.

CH: What do you hope people take away from watching QuaranTEAM!, and what are your hopes for its success?

We all hope that our show adds levity and smiles to long work days otherwise consumed in digital frustrations and virtual limitations. People will always be people, no matter if they’re sitting across from you or delivered through the internet. It’s our interactions with each other, plus our understanding of each person’s quirks and personalities, that helps keep us human. We also hope people laugh, share, and watch again. Let us know your stories, and maybe one day you’ll see the team at Bork & Hitchens dealing with the same!

NOTE: Regarding closed-captioning/subtitling of QuaranTEAM!, Feurstein says: “(Adding closed-captioning/subtitles to the series) would be a great goal. It’s a bit of work, but one we’d be happy to address once we’re finished with the season! YouTube provides some standard (closed-captioning), but we’ll aim for keeping it across the board on whatever platform we end up.”