A chat with the writers of Truly Excellent
With the first episode of Journey Home's original web series Truly Excellent set to release soon I sat down with the writers Tristen Stafford and Adam Gale. Among other things we discussed how the series was created, what goes into shooting an episode, and their motivations behind the plot.
(The text has been edited for clarity and contains explicit language)
Where did the idea for Truly Excellent come from?
Tristen: I moved to New York City and I was working a job I didn’t want to be working at at all. Not like it was a bad job or anything but it was just a... I don’t know... a kinda a lonely place. I didn’t really feel like I belonged and it was just kind of strange around me because of it. It’s weird, it’s like one of the densest, most populated places on the East Coast and I felt very alone. I think Truly Excellent came from a place like I needed something to do. I needed to write something, make something. With Truly Excellent the whole idea is to shoot and do it as quickly as possible. Just put it together, make it very rag-tag, and get it done. It’s supposed to be very aggressive and I think that came from the fact that I was very desperate to do anything while I was just living in New York City kinda bored, kinda lonely. I think that’s where it came from.
Where were places that you drew inspiration from to come up with these ideas?
Tristen: I mean, just the insane people you see on the street and on the subway and on the train. I remember one time a guy with two hook arms, two hook arms, talked to me on the subway and uh, late at night too. We were in Manhattan and he’s like ‘Hey man, can you write down some directions for me from Staten Island to Mount Pocono? I’m driving a car later tonight.’ And I was like ‘sure’, but then I’m thinking ‘this guy has no arms and he’s driving a fucking car.’ So, yeah it comes from the insane people you meet and see in New York City.
Adam: Remember that time we just stepped outside and that guy was there and I was like ‘what’s up with this guy is that normal?’ and he was just peeing all over a car. You were like ‘he probable knows that guy’ but no he was just peeing on a car. And then a skateboard with an engine just shot up the street right at us and it was going uphill. It was like ‘what is going on?’ It was like the second we stepped outside.
Were there any other TV shows or movies that you were able to draw inspiration from?
Tristen: Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Adam: Maybe even Always Sunny - the zaniness of it.
Tristen: The fastness of Always Sunny, and Curb your Enthusiasm just because of how miserable everybody is on that show. I wanted to be a young curmudgeon because I’m always so upset and annoyed with everything I see that is inconvenient to me that I really identified with Larry David you see. So, I thought I could be a young curmudgeon.
Adam: And just that fast paced sketch comedy vibe of Derrick Comedy or any original sketch comedy. At least for me, when I’m writing that’s what I'm going for.
Tristen: And then Atlanta has these weird alternate reality scenarios and things that are wild. Like I think Justin Bieber is a black kid in Atlanta. So, it’s taking these really abstract things and applying them to real life. What’s the word for that . . . magical realism? Or absurd, it’s supposed to be absurd like Atlanta not necessarily LIKE Atlanta, but you know what I mean.
Who are the writers?
Tristen: Adam and I. I have written . . . have I written all three that have been shot?
Adam: No, I wrote the Blom one, I wrote the magician one that has to be reshot.
Tristen: Did you? I thought I wrote that one?
Adam: No no no no.
Tristen: Are you sure?
Adam: Yeah. I’ll find it.
Tristen: Please . . . Anyway, I wrote a bunch and then I reached out to Adam and he wrote a bunch and then he edited some of mine and I edited some of his. We also have Emma Grace Myers writing some and Kara Kind writing some.
How do you come up with each episode plot? Is it a collaborative effort or are you each just coming up with something and then writing it? How does that work?
Tristen: No, it’s kind like I’ll have some shit and I just have to get it onto paper real fast. And then I write it down and then it’s there so I’ll talk about it and realize it sucks so I’ll reedit it and then talk to Adam and get his notes and he’ll come to me with stuff he’s written.
Adam: Literally vice versa, it’s the same stuff from one end to another. Like, If I have an idea, I have to write it down right away and then if it turns into something really cool or we’re laughing about it. If it makes us laugh then it’s like ‘fuck it let's write it’ then if it turns into something a little bigger, then the other one edits it then we’re like ‘OK, let’s do it’.
Tristen: But really it starts with us just writing it down first then talking about it after it's been written.
Adam: Usually real-world scenarios where we see something zany like that or just things from the past that come to us or any funny idea. Really whatever is going to make us laugh or think.
Tristen: Yeah, the show is not always supposed to be funny. But it's not supposed to evoke anything and I think that’s why it’s funny sometimes. Like sometimes it’s just supposed to be nonsensical bull shit and I think making that dark and almost unfunny is what makes it so funny. Because it has no genre sometimes – it just kind of exists – and I like that.
What’s the thought process on not changing your names?
Tristen: We just wanted to be heightened versions of ourselves.
Adam: Yeah, we love ourselves.
Tristen: Yeah, too much. A little too much. We just wanted to be heightened versions of ourselves. We’re writing a heightened version of the world; an absurd version of the world why would we hide our names you know? Originally, we wanted to have character names but at the end of the day who gives a shit this is supposed to be fun you know? I don’t even know if we really say our names in the show. Nobody knows the names of these characters. They can be anybody they want.
Adam: Also, just with the way things have progressed with the rest of the work we’ve been doing it’s like let's just be unapologetically ourselves and if people like it alright, if they don’t like it I don’t really care either.
Take me through the production process of a typical episode. How much goes into and what’s involved in the shooting?
Tristen: Nothing! No, it’s all scheduling. We don’t have anybody else doing any crew stuff its somebody with a camera with a microphone on top. And then it’s me usually shooting it if I’m not in the episode and then two other people in it as cast. It’s just about finding the time to schedule it with everybody involved. That’s pretty much it.
Pretty easy stuff.
Tristen: It’s really easy. Well, it’s easy in the sense of you just have to get out and fucking do it. Because sometimes I just take a while to actually do it.
Adam: We’ve been working on this for a while. We have a million ideas that where if we were living in a perfect world – if everyone had the same schedule and the pre-production stuff was easier – it'd be great because we could just go out and do it. Because there's not that much involved in just going out there and doing it.
So, the episodes are all pretty short. Why did you decide to keep each episode as such short quick hitters?
Tristen: You gotta get in and out real fast. Nobody pays attention to anything for that long anymore, you know.
Adam: Last to the party first one to leave
Tristen: That’s the same thing I told you earlier about getting in late getting out early.
Adam: I came up with that.
Tristen: You did not
Adam: I just came up with that.
Tristen: You really – do you really think you came up with that? . . . Anyway . . . I said that earlier.
Adam: I know, God.
Tristen: The original show when we were first writing it it was one episode with two chunks. Like the first episode was two minutes the second part was two minutes and the idea of each part was that we’d state a thesis in the first part and then answer it in the second part and usually it would be by a stretch that we’d answer it. It wouldn’t always be an obvious answer, like maybe the answer is so fucking vague that it doesn't mean anything and that’s kinda where the jokes came from. But we realized that nobody wants to watch anything on YouTube for more than three minutes so we’re like fuck it lets make stuff for a minute and a half and go from there.
Adam: Well also with most things that come out of New York is New York becomes a character in itself. New York is so fast paced that just with that as a location it lends itself to being wild and zany and fast and even when we try to get out of New York we can’t escape it because it’s like a virus of craziness.
Tristen: Enough of saying zany. You’ve said it every other answer.
So you are using New York as this intertwining and weird landscape setting of this show. Is that the only thing that intertwines between each episode?
Tristen: That’s definitely the driving force of everything is that there are so many weird people living in this crazy place and each episode we’re just dealing with it not really coming to terms with it - we’re just fucking involved in it. Even the current last episode of the Truly Excellent stuff that we’re releasing – it’s about us having to get out of the city for a second and realizing it's just as weird everywhere else.
You’re almost done with the first season which is coming soon. Are there plans on a second season?
Tristen: The content for the season is so loose for this that it’s like we’re just out there making it.
Adam: It only became a season when we realized there are a couple threaded ideas in each episode that almost coincide.
Tristen: Yeah but for season two, to even call it anything like a season is rough, it’s a stretch. But we’re always going to be writing, we’re always going to be coming up with stupid little sketches and putting them into this weird little universe that we’ve kind of created.
What if anything are you hoping the audience takes away? Hoping they laugh or do you hope they feel something?
Tristen: I don’t want anybody to feel anything. I think it’s funny when they laugh but I want to over stimulate them. That’s kind of why we use the music we use and the shooting style that we use. You know, to be over stimulated for 90 seconds and then be like what the fuck just happened to me, that’s funny. And if you laugh along the way that’s cool, but also sometimes I don’t want to make anybody feel anything because I think that’s - I mean without getting all deep and philosophical here – that's kind of the biggest thing that nobody ever talks about is that sometimes you just can’t make sense of anything and you’ve just got to go elsewhere, you know, onto the next thing.
Adam: Yeah sometimes you just make something because it’s your brain leaking out onto the page and then onto video.
Tristen: Adam loves a leaky brain.
Adam: Yeah, soft and pillowy.
Any other comedic content coming soon from Journey Home?
Adam: Well we have a horror comedy short.
Tristen: No not yet.
Adam: Well we don’t
Tristen: We have a horror comedy short that’s coming out later than we thought. It’s just a funny thing. It’s kinda Sean of the Dead style comedy. We’ve got sketches and stuff coming out. We’ve got more Truly Excellent; we’re still making more of those.
Adam: And also, well my roommates and I – Brandan Blom and Mackenzie Gale – we decided that we are going to start making our own content because while the rest of the crew is out in New York, the Big Apple if you will . . . the Big Cherry . . . so why not make stuff out here while we can.