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"Improv Tips Reaches 100 Milestone" by Jason Hensel

Congratulations to Paul Vaillancourt on posting 100 Improv Tips videos! For two years, Vaillancourt, co-founder of iO West and author of The Triangle of the Scene, has offered timeless advice for improvisers at all stages in their development through his short videos on YouTube.

Even more, he often brings in revered improvisers to offer their tips, which is great for students who don't get a chance to take workshops or classes taught by these esteemed performers. 

For example, Armando Diaz offers his advice on how to keep growing as an improviser, Molly Erdman shares her thoughts about therapy improv, and David Koechner explains how to hyper agree

Vaillancourt's 100th video features Del Close and advice about the art of improv.

"Del [Close] used to tell us that being funny is not really the sort of point of improv," Vaillancourt says in the video. "Sometimes, especially new students, want to say, 'Well, what's the point, or what's the purpose of improv?' and I don't think improv has a purpose. I think improv is like a medium like paint. Once you learn how to mix the paint and apply it to the canvas in certain ways where you have a command of that medium, then you can use it to express anything you want."

Sure, Vaillancourt says, you can get an audience to laugh.

"[But] what else can we get them to feel? Horror? Sadness? Joy? Happiness? Transcendence? All of these things," he says. "I think that if I had one thing to impart to you as we move on to the next step, it's challenge yourselves to let the work be more than just funny. I mean, funny is great and funny is a fantastic goal or a fantastic byproduct of what we do, but I think it's so much more than that."

As an example, he offers a clip (below) of Del Close "himself improvising a monologue about the suggestion 'Del Close.' It's like it's layers upon layers, but I think that when you see him do it, it'll really drive home this point."

Once again, congratulations Vaillancourt, and thank you for all of these tips!

Jason Hensel is a graduate of the DCH improv training program and performs with .f.a.c.e. and the ’95 Bulls.

"The Wit of Serafinowicz" by Jamé McCraw

English actor and writer Peter Serafinowicz might be most recognized from films and guest appearances on British TV for almost 20 years. An emphasis is nearly always placed on his character’s height, physical features, and vocal traits. He is an irritable roommate in Sean of the Dead and Tim’s ex-girlfriend’s new beau, who the protagonist just can’t quite measure up to, in Spaced.

In 2002, he and his writing partner, Robert Popper, created the satire series Look Around You, which was lovingly styled as an homage to schoolroom educational videos of the late 1970s and early 1980s. A seven-episode sketch series called The Peter Serafinowicz Show aired in 2007 showcasing the actor’s adept impersonations and absurdist characters in a carefully curated realm of commercially recognizable parodies. He was recently cast in a reboot of Ben Edlund’s series, The Tick.

Sassy Trump videos, a pet project of Serafinowicz, have been trending since last summer. The president’s exact words are repeated verbatim in an effeminate snarl that is dubbed over originally televised footage. He has been making and editing short video projects for years.

What follows is a list of my favorite bits of comedy, but I recommend further exploration.

Brian Butterfield Karaoke Bar Brian Butterfield is a portly, bumbling man who always manages to promote one failure or another. I like this for the sheer joy of seeing this character harmonize with himself while singing ABBA and Queen.

Basil Fawlty Impersonator Chat A late-nite chat service where you can be berated by a wound-up misanthrope without reservations.

Who Would Like To Win £100 This black-and-white WWII-era game show parody is slowly paced. Perry Rogers croons about suicide while the contestant “telegrams a friend” for help. The show is cut short by an air-raid.

Buy It Channel A QVC parody where the hosts (Serafinowicz and Catherine Sheppard) face unusual difficulties and are brutally honest about the quality of their products. In one instance, they go so far as to suggest the Sapharina ring, which costs much less to produce than they are selling it for, and resembles “a discarded boiled sweet in a nest of broken glass.”

Paul McCartney "I’ll Kill" Peter Serafinowicz has several sketches where he takes on the role of each of The Beatles and does song parodies, as well. In this morbid re-imagining of "I Will" Paul offers to murder for his new love admitting to her, “Although I’ll be in prison, I’ll be thinking of your kissing.”

Acting Masterclass with Michael Caine Did you know that sausages look like cigars on camera and vice versa? The Acting Masterclass series of videos feature lessons from Kevin Spacey, Ralph Fiennes, and Al Pacino, as well.

Markets of Britain A marketplace where you can buy discarded weapons from an old murderer and giant pencils.

Jamé McCraw is a current student at DCH and performs with Watermelon. She enjoys watching squirrels through the windows of her little old house while holding hands with her cat, Stanley.

First Look at Our Newest DCH Student Short Film

Exciting news for aspiring film makers at the Dallas Comedy House! We are now offering a Sketch for Screen class and our students' first short is now streaming. The program is taught by our very own Grant Redmond and Michael Bruner. Redmond is a graduate of the sketch program and provides the writing curriculum, while Bruner is a graduate of the improv program and, since he works in the film industry every day, is able to provide insight as to how video production works. The Sketch for Screen program consists of three levels and spots are limited. So sign up soon!

Our first class consisted of Christian Hughes, Mark Jacob, Susie Falcone, Jon Patrick, Tyler Simpson, and Nkechi Chibueze. Their first sketch "Name In Vein" is below. Check it out! (NSFW)

Name In Vein from Dallas Comedy House on Vimeo.

You Won't Believe What Happens When You Watch These 7 Videos

Dallas Comedy House (DCH) performer and tech Scriven Bernard was a teacher assistant this past term for a Level 1 class led by Sarah Adams. The assistants are instructed to send follow-up notes reinforcing what the students learned in class each week. Scriven changed the note-giving game by turning them into music videos.

I recently sat down with Scriven in his Plaid Park studios to learn more about the project.

How did you come up with the idea to produce the videos?

I came up with the idea to produce the videos during the first class of the term. Sarah Adams and I recognized that the students had a lot of energy and seemed like a really cohesive group, and we really wanted to capitalize on that. So she turned to me and said, "We should do some sort of bit with them." I wasn't sure exactly what to do at first, but I knew it would involve music and costumes because I love both of those things. I told Sarah I'd think about it and that I'd draft something when I did the notes. The next day, I recorded that first video during my lunch break and sent it over to her. She loved it and insisted that I share it.

I also tend to get bogged down in the structure and rules of everything and forget that after all, we are improvisers. We are all here because we love spontaneity and supporting other people. So, these videos are another way of sharing that spirit with the students and reminding all of us that while there is a structure to the program and while there ARE higher-percentage choices, we can still let loose and have fun.

What kind of reaction have you received from the students, teachers, and other T.A.s?

The students seemed to love the videos. They were excited each week to see what I'd come up with next, and I think it made them feel more comfortable about coming out of their shells. And they were absolutely thrilled when I told them I wanted them to be in the last video with me.

I've only spoken to a small number of teachers about it, but a majority of the reviews have been positive. For the most part, the teachers love the idea and the energy that the video notes bring. The teachers with reservations about them value the structure, consistency, and neutral energy of the traditional note-taking system. One of the fears expressed is that a shy student might feel out of place when confronted with such strong energy in a Level 1 class, but I have not yet had that experience, and I will continue to make sure that all students feel welcomed and comfortable regardless of how I'm sending the notes.

Fellow T.A.s have loved the idea, but some have expressed concerns over its sustainability. And yeah, I definitely had that fear at first. I thought, "Oh, crap, what have I gotten myself into?" But, you know, I'm having so much fun with it. I love doing the videos, I love getting the students involved, and until someone tells me to stop, I'm going to keep finding fun ways to enhance students' improv experiences.

How can you top what you did this term?

I learned a few valuable lessons when writing the lyrics to the music videos. The first is that I can't choreograph to save my life, and the second is that things are better when I let them happen naturally and don't try to force them. When I'd write out the notes first then let the natural rhythm of the words inspire a song, the end result was far better than when I picked a song and tried to force the words into it.

I'll adopt that second lesson with figuring out what to do for this next Level 1 class. The idea for the video notes came naturally from my desire to have fun with the class, the energy dynamic between Sarah and me, and the overall chemistry among the students. So, just as in an improv scene, I'll listen to the situation before I respond. I'll let the ideas form naturally, then I'll see where that takes me. Perhaps I'll do another round of video notes. Perhaps something even better will happen. I don't really know yet, and that's the beauty of it.

If I had to give advice for how everyone can top the notes, I'd say this: Adopt the teachings of improv in everything you do. Follow the normal structure, but support the moves of everyone around you and have fun. Listen to the things happening around you and respond honestly to them. Be spontaneous. Make each other laugh.

A rundown of the song list. 

Week 1 - "Uptown Funk" by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars Week 2 - "Africa" by Toto Week 3 - "Price Tag" by Jessie J Week 4 - "Hello" by Adele (Fun fact! Rob Howe subbed in for Sarah during this week, and before we'd talked about choosing a song we each independently wrote our own lyrics for "Hello." I ended up combining them.) Week 5 - "MMMBop" by Hanson Week 6 - "Dragostea Din Tei (Numa Numa)" by O-Zone Week 7 - "Bye Bye Bye" by *NSYNC

Find Your Role in Life; Support This Series

Supporting Roles I'm sure you've heard the phrase, "It takes a village." Well, if you're in the movie-making business, that village consists of directors, camera operators, script supervisors, production assistants, grips, actors, make-up artists, etc. In other words, to make anything of consistent quality needs a whole heck of a lot of people to create and support it.

The theme of support is what runs through a new Web series created by Dallas Comedy House (DCH) graduate and teacher Sarah Adams and Brandi Hollsten. Supporting Roles is described by them as the story of "two aspiring actresses helping emotionally support each other's ridiculous lives and ridiculous auditions. Loosely based on ridiculous real people."

The well-made series is off to a good start, and the cast and crew are ready to produce more content. That's where you come in, so we recently spoke with Adams to learn more about the series and how others can help support more episodes.

How did this project get started and what was the inspiration behind it?

Brandi and I first met when we were paired up together at a callback in Austin. I believe my first words to Brandi were, "Hey, don’t f*ck this up," she looked at me and laughed. We went in and crushed the callback AND wound up booking the spot together (here’s the magical spot https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bz24swEhlRY). A few weeks later, we were back in Austin at another callback together. It was those chance meetings and auditions that stated the thought process of, "Hey, we like working together, we should do something about that." So we met up after an audition for lunch, like real friends, and took inspiration from our crazy life as women and actors. We loved the idea of women supporting women and placed in a world that doesn’t necessarily encourage that.

How long did it take to get from idea to completion of the first episode?

We had our first brainstorming meeting in August 2014. I believe we had the final draft done by end of December, secured our fantastic director, Travis Aitken, March-ish, shot the first episode end of April, and posted the first episode June 3. And now we are here, almost exactly a year later. Wow - I think this might be the first time I wrote out that timeline - that’s pretty incredible if I do say so myself.

What is the biggest challenge you and the crew face filming each episode?

Challenge? Oh man, if I’m being honest, filming the first three episodes was the easy part. We had a great director (Travis) a fantastic DP (Jake Wilganowski), and support from NameTag Films that made shooting a breeze. The real challenge came when we had to eat the barbecue sandwich over and over and over and over …. #actorproblemz

What advice do you offer for others seeking to produce a Web series?

Keeping with the honesty trend, this is hard. Like, really hard. The only reason we are able to do any of this is due to the support we’ve received along the way - there is no way we could do this alone. I’m pretty sure Brandi and I touch base/send dog videos at least three times a day. Then the support we’ve received from Travis, NameTag, Post Asylum, and Pure Evil Music & Sound Design to get this from script to screen has been beyond anything we ever expected. And the support we’ve received from the DCH community - from volunteering to be PAs on set (Joseph Delgado and  Isabel Lopez) to being on camera (Lindsay Goldapp, Alicia Sherrod, and Joseph) to now contributing to our Seed&Spark campaign … well, that just takes the cake. So my advice? You can’t do this alone, but you can do this with support …. dare I say a Supporting Role (see what I did there).

Finally, how can someone get involved with the production, whether that be as a actor, production crew, funding, etc.?

Right now, we would love for folks to share our series, support our Seed&Spark campaign, and like the Supporting Roles Facebook page. ALSO! We have a really cool Live Script Reading and Fundraising event on Saturday, August 8, at DCH. The event is 100 percent free to attend, starts at 3:30 p.m., and everyone who contributes financially to the campaign by 5 p.m. on the 8th is entered to win a walk-on role. RSVP via this super cool Facebook Event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1484466171848056/.

How to Do Good Video

Hi, I’m Alex Wagner, and I shoot video for a living. I’ll be contributing weekly posts to a new column on the Dallas Comedy House blog titled, “How to Do Good Video." This week, we talk about sound, mannnn.

sound

Easily THE biggest giveaway in amateur video-doing. Bad sound just about ruins your short film or video. Yeah, that is my opinion, but I think you can ask just about any grizzled filmmaker and they would agree: BAD SOUND IS BAD. VERY BAD.

There’s something innate about our response to bad sound. The urge to kill rises, and this results in whoever’s watching your video closing it after 10 to 20 seconds.

Bad sound is bad sound usually because noise. More, scientifically, noise drowns out clear, deliberately captured sound. Kinds of noise include: traffic, AC, refrigerator, and airplanes, are the big four, but you can also record noisy audio by turning up your microphone too much or down too little.

In this post, we’ll discuss some basic audio gear and how to use it.

Your Tools:

A decent shotgun boom microphone and an audio recorder. You have a variety of options for how to acquire said gear for your shoot(buy/borrow/rent/steal).

There are also wireless radio microphones, but those are beyond the scope of this 400-word blog post.

Let’s start with that boom-boom-boom technique.

The Most Basic of Basics:

1. When recording sound indoors, turn off the fridge and the AC. Yes, it does suck, but the quality of your sound will improve 10-fold.

Kill sources of noise, and then record your audio. Your viewers will thank you for it.

PRO TIP: Keep the fridge closed while it’s off to keep your food from spoiling.

2. Sound blankets (“furnie pads”) are your friends. Use them to quiet noisy footsteps or to block out road noise when hung out of frame on windows or stands or whatever you can find to hang them on.

Basic boom technique:

Hold the microphone over your head like this:

Using a shotgun mic on a boom pole.

Next, aim the microphone at your performers’ mouths. Seems simple right? You’d be surprised how many novice boom ops don’t think about this or are just plain bad at it.

AIM IT AT THE MOUTH! FOR CHRISSAKES! JUST DO THAT ONE THING!

Also, when you’re recording, make sure your levels are good.

Between -12 and -6. See? Good.

You want the audio to be peaking between -12db and -6db (the highest is 0db). If your audio is peaking over -6db, you run the risk of recording distorted (read: bad) audio.

Some Thoughts on Gear

The cheapest boom microphone worth owning in my opinion is the Sennheiser MKE600($300). The Zoom H4n($200) is decent for recording audio. Rode makes a decent boom pole and mic holder (about $200 when bought together). You’ll also need XLR cables to connect it all up.

But you can also buy an all-in-one microphone and boom pole kit from Amazon, like this one ($124.95). It’s cheap gear but the results are going to be worlds better than using your on-camera mic.

In my opinion, if you’re going to buy something, try to buy quality. But don’t ever let not having the right gear stop you from shooting a project (and, by extension, don’t let gear be an excuse for bad sound).

Work with the budget you have, rent what you can’t buy, and borrow what you can’t rent.

If you’re looking to rent gear, I’d suggest www.lensrentals.com or, in Dallas, www.mldvideo.com, or www.mpsfilm.com.

Happy shooting!