The world has been waiting for a TV show set in the glorious town of Hollywood, Florida. It’s a town most are affectionate towards due to the fact that their grandparents live in or around the area. And for those who have no familial relation, it remains a mystifying city that oft lives in the shadows of its neighboring Miami.
Big Time In Hollywood, FL, which premieres tonight at 10:30 Eastern/9:30 Central on Comedy Central, centers around the life of two brothers perusing the art of filmmaking while living in their parents house in Hollywood. Creators and writers Dan Schimpf and Alex Anfanger based the story of these two delusional film-loving 30-year-olds on the experience many partake in when trying to make it in a particularly competitive industry. Anfanger plays the younger brother Jack, along with Lenny Jacobson who plays the role of his older brother Ben—when their parents [Kathy Baker and Stephen Tobolowsky] demand that they finally move out and stop using their home and garage to create their janky films with their friend Del [Jon Bass], they are devastated. Their efforts to remain dependent on their folks results in terrifying and hilarious scenarios, as you can see in tonight’s pilot episode, available to watch on Comedy Central’s website.
With stars like Ben Stiller (also the show’s executive producer), Cuba Gooding Jr., and Michael Madsen, to name a few—the series itself reflects the cinematic dream the two brothers wish they could create. Though he may be biased, Stiller said in an interview with Deadline: “Big Time combines the directorial style of Hitchcock, the acting prowess of Streep, the budget of House Of Payne, and the nutritional value of Velveeta. I think people’s minds will be blown wide open. For real.” I spoke with Schimpf and Anfanger about the their comedy relationship, teaming up with Stiller, and the birth of Big Time:
The Dormitory Connection
DAN SCHIMPF: Fortunately Alex and I were paired as roommates as freshmen at NYU. I thought he was really funny so I asked him to be in my freshmen year project.
ALEX ANFANGER: Dan has a dark sense of humor and I do as well. I remember the first thing he gave me [was] the script that he wrote. It was a digital still project but it was the most ambitious thing you ever could have done. I played a guy who was running for high school class secretary because that’s the best he thought he could do. He threatens the girl he’s running against, her family, and there’s just this brutal cutthroat election. It was funny, weird, and dark.
DAN SCHIMPF: We just had a really good working relationship from that point forward.
Bringing Two Shitty Filmmakers To Life
DAN SCHIMPF: Alex and I ultimately love comedy but we also have an affinity for all kinds of filmmaking and television making.
ALEX ANFANGER: We always push a dramatic structure on our work, usually. And then the comedy ends up filling everything out.
DAN SCHIMPF: Alex and I had made a bunch of different little shorts and sketches in college. After graduation there’s no real transition to the “job market.” Alex and I knew we wanted to try to make something. We didn’t know if it would turn into something. As soon as we got out of school we talked about writing a TV pilot and we did over the course of a couple months. We showed it to a couple people. They weren’t people who could actually help us make it, they were family and friends.
ALEX ANFANGER: We ended up going to my parents’ house in L.A.—I think sitting in my parents’ house not knowing what to do, just sitting there as failures, was definitely good fodder for bringing these two shitty filmmakers to life. The first script is a lot closer to us and then it became filling in the comedy. I mean, I love my parents very much. I’m not a monster to my parents. But obviously we thought it was incredibly funny to create this contentious relationship with their father.
DAN SCHIMPF: The main characters in our show just have a ton of ambition and the unfortunate thing is they lack talent. There are certain days where you can relate to that or at least you have a ton of doubts of yourself. And obviously it’s a much more heightened version of myself and Alex.
ALEX ANFANGER: Their skill level is set at the kinds of things Dan and I were doing when we were in middle school or early high school when we were making these videos that we love.
DAN SCHIMPF: The big tweak is we removed their self doubt. They have pure confidence. The doubt that keeps you in check and keeps you kind of reflecting and hopefully pushing yourself to get better. But if you replace that with just cockiness and confidence then there’s nothing pushing you to have any sort of introspection about what you’re doing.
ALEX ANFANGER: They’re kind of sitting on top of the world. They’re the kings of their castle and everything is going well and they’re on the road to be superstar filmmakers. And as the world crumbles around them, because of all of these mistakes that they make, they end up really starting to become more self-reflective.
DAN SCHIMPF: Growing up in the ’90s was an idealist time in America where all you’re told when you’re young is you grow up and be whatever you want. You get a trophy for just participating. Ben and Jack are a product of that. No one ever forced them to be better at what they do so they are left to their own devices.
Blessings From Ben and Selling the Show
ALEX ANFANGER: It really started with Ben [Stiller].
DAN SCHIMPF: The biggest part of pitching the series was Red Hour’s attachment—Ben Stiller’s company and Ben Stiller himself. Debbie Liebling, Michael Rosenstein, and Stuart Cornfeld, who are all executives at Red Hour, they were the biggest help in term of getting the show made. We had been working with Red Hour, we had a webseries called Next Time on Lonny and they were helping us produce the second season. We had been working on this pilot in the background. We hadn’t been telling them about its existence because we were trying to work on it and make sure it was better and at a place where we felt comfortable showing them. But somewhere during the process of showing that script, we didn’t know how they were going to feel about it and then they really liked it.
ALEX ANFANGER: Ben really liked it. We asked if he would be interested in any world where he would be interested in playing Jimmy Staats. And he wrote back, ‘I would be honored to portray Jimmy Staats.’ It was that moment where we were like, oh my God, that’s insane.
DAN SCHIMPF: Once all those pieces were in place was when we said, okay, let’s take it out to some networks. One of the biggest challenges with the idea is that Alex and I were pretty adamant that it had to be a serialized show. There’s not that many serialized comedies that exist. We were extremely surprised to find that Comedy Central was interested in the show because they have never made a serialized comedy show before. Everyone at the network there, I think they just got us from the beginning.
ALEX ANFANGER: Now there are so many. It was definitely the right time to go in with that idea. It’s essentially a big misunderstanding that sets into motion these huge consequences for the boys. The fun part is that we get to experience those consequences along the way. That there are repercussions for their actions but that they’re able to keep covering up until their world starts to unravel. But it’s really one horrible choice that spirals into many. We’re so used to seeing shows that will restart after a really insane episode of intense comedy. You’re used to it resetting. But for our show it never ever resets. It builds and keeps building.
DAN SCHIMPF: Intense things are happening and they’re trying to keep their head above water and keep making terrible decisions. But also trying to achieve the goal they’ve always been after. All of those things are what the series is focused on.We were really fortunate and lucky to find Comedy Central as a partner. Somebody who saw what we wanted to do and were just really supportive. When you have that feeling of people listening to you and you’re speaking the same language and they’re interested, that’s the best feeling in the world.
Populating Their World
ALEX ANFANGER: We were so crazy lucky with casting. We had Rachel Tenner and Lauren Grey as our casting directors. They’re really incredible, Rachel just won an Emmy, they were very involved. When we sent them scripts they developed all of these lists of actors. I thought they were going to be templates for the kinds of actors that we would ask to see. I didn’t think we were going to be going out to any of them, let alone getting our first choices in all of the categories.
DAN SCHIMPF: When we were writing that character Harvey Scoles we thought, okay, somebody who could bring the intensity like Michael Madsen. But I think for us, we never actually imagined that we would call up Michael Madsen and he would be interested. You don’t see Michael Madsen doing that much comedy like this.
ALEX ANFANGER: It was so crazy. It’s so insane. We have Cuba Gooding Jr. and Michael Madsen, and Stephen [Tobolowsky] and Kathy [Baker] and Paz Vega. All of these really incredible actors, which is a mixture of casting, and Red Hour, and Ben [Stiller] being behind it. And the actors liking the characters.
DAN SCHIMPF: With cinema being a theme in the show, in a way that’s why we thought that bigger movie actors help populate this world a bit better. On a meta level it feels more cinematic when somebody like Michael Madsen is in that role.
ALEX ANFANGER: And the drama is really important. To make the ridiculousness of the brothers and those story-lines work better, populating the world around with them with these incredible dramatic actors was going to help tell the story best.
Finding Yourself In Hollywood, Florida
DAN SCHIMPF: Initially we had set it in the suburbs of actual Hollywood. But then we just thought the show was too much about the entertainment industry and that was not the story we were trying or wanted to tell.
ALEX ANFANGER: There’s a small town vibe of Hollywood and it presented the opportunity for us to build Hollywood as a character in the show as well.
DAN SCHIMPF: My grandparents live five to ten minutes outside of Hollywood, Florida so I would always go visit them once a year my whole life. I really love the look of Florida—it’s very bright, it’s very poppy, it’s very colorful. A lot of the times the show tends to be a little bit darker than that so it’s a nice contrast in terms of having a lot of poppy, bright, warm-feeling images contrasted with the dark material.
ALEX ANFANGER: As we keep going forward—hopefully we get more seasons—we like the idea of building out the town they live in and expanding on the world that way, but keeping some mystery.
DAN SCHIMPF: We loved the idea that both literally and geographically they are as far away from their dream as possible, and they don’t even realize that. [And] Kent [Alterman, Comedy Central’s president of development and original programming] just likes the idea that we chose a very particular place. That’s just amusing to him.
ALEX ANFANGER: We spend months trying to figure out what Kent is thinking because our jobs depend on it. And I couldn’t tell you at any point what Kent Alterman is thinking.
DAN SCHIMPF: Right, all we know is he liked Hollywood, Florida. So we said, ‘Yes, Hollywood, Florida. Fantastic!’
If you want to see how all their hard work panned out, you can watch the pilot online right now, or tune in tonight at 10:30/9:30 Central on Comedy Central.