Bagged and Bored Celebrates Comics and Clerks
Written by Brandon Stettenbenz
During Matt Gaither’s senior year at JCTC, after completing film course work with outdated technology, he wanted to shoot something for his own reel using a recently acquired Canon T2i DSLR. The film was titled Zach Cooper’s Epic Speed Run and Matt recruited his friends Craig Williams and Aaron Patterson for the project. Matt had met Craig through the retro video game tournaments Craig hosted at Half Price Books on Westport Rd. In the film, Zach Cooper is a peeved gamer looking to settle the score with his high school rival. Utilizing comedic timing, nerdy film tropes, banter, and 8-bit sound effects, Zach Cooper’s Epic Speed Run set the tone for Pixel Brain productions, Matt’s indie film company.
“I had all these stories boards laid out… the hook was maybe they’ll help me out if it’s for school,” Matt said. “But, I didn’t need to do this for [the program at JCTC]–I just wanted to make a short film. They ended up helping me out.”
The film stirred interest in the local nerd community, which led to new opportunities for Pixel Brain. Matt’s wife met Brian Barrow, owner of The Destination comic shop in St. Matthews. Brian told her he liked Zach Cooper and wanted to retail it at his store. Being a student project, Zach Cooper had a lot of unlicensed material so Matt declined Matt’s offer to sell DVDs. However, Matt took Brian’s other offer to shoot in the store seriously and that was the beginning of the “Bagged and Bored” concept.
In November of 2013, Matt met with Craig and Aaron to hash out his idea. Craig is primarily a writer, and as a stand-up comedian he knew a lot of other performers. Starting with The Destination as a basis, Matt and Craig worked out premise and character concepts. Then, they met with Craig’s comedian and actors friends to cast “Bagged and Bored”.
In May 2014, Matt and company filmed episode 0 at The Destination. The “short”, not considered canon to the series, stars actor Jake Reber behind the counter insulting customers about their purchases. The lack of script allowed the actors to take character outlines and run with them.
The first six episodes of “Bagged and Bored” are available on YouTube, although Matt is planning some kind of DVD and/or Blu-Ray release eventually. There are five main actors dedicated to the series. A mix of stand-up comedians and stage actors, the core cast includes:
- Kent Carney as the store owner
- Jake Reber as “Jake”, an annoying customer who aspires to clerk
- April Singer as “Zooey Summers” the store’s resident manga expert
- Sean Keller as “Adam Shanks” the geeky assistant store manager
- Taylor Carden as “Veronica Bloom, romantic plot device”
Everyone that works on Bagged and Bored is a nerd. This creates a natural banter as they share quotes and references from their personal repertoire. Although each episode has a theme, the series overall relies on this nerdy interaction to carry the characters through each plot.
Episode 0 trusted Kent and Jake to be funny using the premise to jump off. The following episodes had full scripts, but according to Matt there’s still a lot of improv acting involved. Like Zach Cooper, “Bagged and Bored” leans heavily on nerdy references and banter. Matt said they aren’t aiming for everyone to get every reference, but they do want a casual viewer to get most of it. Adding references from recent, popular takes on comic book franchises like Nolan’s The Dark Knight in between deep cuts provides a sense of inclusion.
Banter and melodrama carry the show, and the characters thrive on dysfunctional relationships. Matt emphasized that the Jake and Kent characters on the show are exaggerated versions of the actors themselves, with “personalities turned up to an obnoxious 11 or 12.” Matt and Craig conceptualized and wrote out scenarios, but leaned on Jake and Kent’s interaction to kick it off. Other actors also shaped their own characters from day one:
“The Adam Shanks character was originally supposed to be a stoner but [the actor] showed up in a suit on the first day of shooting, ” Matt said. “He pitched this older guy who’s maybe there because he’s good at shipping and inventory, or whatever.”
Kent is the focus of the series, which opens with him preparing to respond to a condemning message from his ex, Josie. Kent is quick to anger and obviously upset, refusing to even hear her name. When Veronica shows up in episode 1 there’s obvious physical attraction, but Kent’s desperation to move on is also palpable. Kent hires Veronica on the spot, even though she doesn’t have any comic book knowledge.
As the show progresses, Kent’s comic and not-so-subtle pursuit of Veronica evolves as he attempts to lead her into his nerdy world. Unshakably positive and stereotypically clueless, Veronica tries and fails to grasp the culture that her boss and co-workers thrive on:
“For Kent, we didn’t want him to always be bitter and cynical—we wanted some way for the audience to like him [unlike Jake who is unapologetically obnoxious],” Matt said. “Being damaged and pursuing Veronica gives the audience a reason to possibly like him.”
Each episode of “Bagged and Bored” has a different vibe. Matt explained that they pulled elements from a variety of genre’s including horror, 90’s dystopian, anime, and others. By episode 2, new minor characters and locations show up fleshing out the lives of the other employee characters. Matt noted that although his retail-based comedy owes homage to Clerks, he didn’t want the store’s appeal to wear thin.
For Episode 4, “Pog Club”, Matt reached out to friends outside of the current cast and crew to find a new location and extras. While Matt was editing Zach Cooper someone asked him what the metal discs collecting dust on his “nerd shelf” were. While he regaled them with his nostalgia, Matt’s buddy laughed and proposed a short about pogs. The idea resurfaced as they were looking to expand “Bagged and Bored” outside of The Destination.
“We had a guy named Adam already, so we had him have a special [pog] slammer called the ‘Adam Bomb’,” Matt said. “We shot [the pog tournament] at the Mammoth Warehouse on the 3rd floor because of exposed brick and [stuff] we wanted in the background, and being May it was really hot. The party scene was shot at the Time Faulkner gallery. We were going for [The Foot’s lair] from TMNT—that 90’s culture vibe.”
Matt fulfills the roles of camera man, lighting, director, and editor. Because of the limited time they can film at The Destination, and the availability of his actors, Matt admitted that he has to rush production. Like many independent film makers, Matt doesn’t have the staff or resources to operate like a movie studio. That means there isn’t a slate for each shot and filming is dependent on the unpaid actor’s schedules.
“By the second episode we found it it was easier to work at night,” he said. “No one’s getting paid for this project, so we have to make compromises. I want to make sure everyone is having fun, but we’ve had some long nights. We have catering, but at three in the morning salsa doesn’t always sway.”
Episode 6, “Kuso Kombat” relies on sound effects. Kent’s nemesis, Johnny Masters of the Comic Book Dojo (played by Jeremy Sapp), uses karate sounds for a commercial where he pummels stunt actors dressed as Kent, Adam, and Zooey. Their rivalry leads to the challenge of “Kuso Kombat”, a card game that’s something like Street Fighter meets Yu-Gi-Oh. Using visual effects, a natural setting reminiscent of a traditional kung-fu film, and comedic wardrobe, Matt gives the audience a look inside the players heads as they play “Kuso Kombat.” Karate and energy sounds punctuate a fight training montage filmed in the forest near Red River Gorge National Geologic Area.
“We thought if an ego-maniac like Johnny Masters was to make a commercial, it’d glorify his [possibly credible] martial arts skills,” Matt said. “His inspiration are those old, campy, 70’s Kung Fu flicks. Overall, we didn’t want to slow down the series with more effects, but we had an opportunity to branch out.”
Matt and company are hosting a FREE screening of the finale at the Clifton Center on June 10th at 8pm, with live stand-up comedy and behind-the-scenes footage. Raanan Hershberg, a local comedian who had an album at the top of iTunes recently, is also featured in the finale. Matt plans to have his core cast return for Season 2, and the finale screening also marks the beginning of a crowd-funding campaign with the goal of paying talent and covering expenses next season.
Matt teased the finale, appropriately titled “Destination Unknown”:
“[For the finale] we’re going back to the Destination, focusing on the characters that people are coming back for. Kent, Adam, and Zooey’s stories are going to intertwined. Kent has a plan for a new beginning, but it could end up being the end of The Destination, and their friendships.”
Want to hear some actual comedy from the Bagged and Bored cast? Listen to our latest Nerd Louisville Podcast ep13: Probable Nudity!