Have you ever thought that history seemed a little dry? Ever caught yourself pondering how much more interesting it would be if it only had some cursing and the guy who plays Spock in Star Trek? Probably not, but thanks to ingenious filmmakers Victor Quinaz and Anna Martemucci, now you can look at historical events and classic literature in a very different way.
Their new film PERIODS. collects a number of comedic shorts that skewer everything from the Vikings to John Steinbeck in the most delightful of ways. All the laughs come courtesy of a gifted troupe including Victor and Anna themselves, as well as a couple of recognizable faces: Zachary Quinto, Penn Badgley (Gossip Girl), Pablo Schreiber (Law & Order: SVU) and Willie Garson (White Collar).
We spoke to Victor and Anna on Wednesday to ask about how this all got started, their different approach to making the film, and how they started something without even knowing it.
“We basically just picked our favorite classics and history stories to adapt,” explained Victor. “These shorts were just a way to get together the best talent we knew, and it wasn’t just the celebrities like Zach and Penn. We have Mary Grill, who was on The Mindy Project, and Matt Hobby, her husband, is just an incredible performer. And then there’s my brother [Philip], who we didn’t even know could act.”
In total, there’s more than a dozen actors involved, all of whom are making a lot of stuff up on the spot. So who’s the best improviser amongst the group? “Brian Shoaf pops into my head,” Anna said.
“I’d say between Brian and Phil,” Victor agreed. But really, everyone has their moment and then some in this smorgasboard of comedy that’s all the more impressive when you consider they’re coming up with it then and there.
But unlike other historical comedy projects, they weren’t just lampooning the past for the sake of maximum amusement; there’s something else going on along the way, too. “In each sketch but now it’s a feature, we’re making fun of something that has a larger context,” Anna told us. “It’s the state of reality TV in our culture, or it’s the Catholic faith, or whatever.”
And the feature version of PERIODS. isn’t simply an assemblage of the existing footage. “There’s about 35 percent new material in there. There’s stuff people have never seen before,” Victor said, and that includes the narration from none other than a certain higher power. “We basically took this kind of glue, this God interview as he narrates, and it was done after we felt we had all the pieces together.”
Even if it took them a while to get all the pieces together. “It was kind of crazy, because we would have to schedule some shorts,” he explained. “We knew we wanted to do the Genesis story with Adam and Eve, and we had to wait for the summer for the snow to thaw.
“And then our jobs dictated it. We stopped for about eight months to go make [their first feature film] Breakup at a Wedding.”
The success of the shorts opened many doors for a number of people involved. It led to the production of two other films, Breakup at a Wedding and Hollidaysburg. If the latter title sounds familiar, that’s because national TV audiences got to watch Anna make it when she was one of two featured directors on the Starz documentary series The Chair earlier this year. Multiple movies and reality TV probably didn’t seem like side effects when Victor, Anna and their friends were sending up Ethan Frome.
But they had something special, in part because they always treated their short-form comedy as if they were already making a feature film. “I would say from the director’s side of it, I’m most proud of the performances,” Victor reflected. “How real and natural everyone is while also being incredibly silly.
“There are some real and grounded performances, but they’re wearing the silliest costumes or enacting the most ridiculous novel plots in the history of humanity. I love that,” he continued, “and I love the production quality, and I love the cinematography, and I think the editing is pretty impressive for sketch comedy.”
Even the way they chose to distribute it was different for its time. “We got to test our material online and build our audience ahead of it,” Victor explained. “We might be the first people to make a sketch comedy movie this way. And that way was to put it online and see if it worked.”
“There’s a ton of good work being made on the Internet right now. There’s just great, great material,” Anna continued, pointing to an evening when they were at a recent film festival with other online content creators.
“When we kind of got in a room with all these people that we were huge fans of, we realized that we had made [the short film] ‘Pilgrims’ a few years before people started making stuff.
“And that felt really cool. Because at the time we didn’t know what we were doing. It just wasn’t a thing yet and now it’s totally a thing. It’s really cool to be part of that and to be one of the earlier of the group.”
“Just the innovation of all of this,” Victor agreed. “The approach of our style, using improv, using the cinematic style and using this core group of actors…We really were testing out material online and building this movie.”
“And it was so much fun,” he added. “We would do it all again in a heartbeat.”
PERIODS. is now available direct from the filmmakers, as well as on iTunes, Amazon, and Vudu.
For more on Victor, Anna and their current and upcoming projects, visit PERIODSfilms and follow them both on Twitter (@VictorQuinaz and @AnnaMartemucci).