“This is a special moment. Enjoy it. You won’t see too many of these in your lifetime,” Hollywood Heard said to me in his Texas baritone. Hollywood was a mainstay in…well…Hollywood. He’d worked on just about everything and knew just about everyone in this business and even though I knew that he had more wisdom in his pinky than I did in my whole body when it came to the film business, deep down, I didn’t quite believe him.
No, more than that. I rejected the very idea.
This was our second to last day on the set of Range 15, a zombie comedy that I had produced, co-written, and acted in with a bunch of my friends. We had beaten all the odds to get to this moment. Our script was rejected by the Hollywood production companies, so we raised the money ourselves on Indiegogo. We wrote letters to big actors to try and convince them to join us and most of them said yes, despite “professionals” telling us this wasn’t the way to do things. We broke all the rules. Every time someone said this isn’t going to happen, we found a way.
So as I was looking at my new friend, Hollywood, I had to think he’d simply been in the business too long to see the possibility of what filmmaking could be, rather than what it had been. Jarred Taylor, Tim Kennedy, Jack Mandaville, Mat Best, and I were a great team, and this was just the beginning. And we had found a great comedic talent and director in Ross Patterson in the process. We’d be back here having just as much fun in a year.
That was seven years ago. At that time, Tim Kennedy and I owned Ranger Up and Jarred Taylor, Mat Best, and Vince Vargas owned Article 15.
In those seven years, we all went out and did great things. Jarred Taylor, Mat Best, and Evan Hafer started Black Rifle Coffee and took it public! How incredible is that?! Jack Mandaville joined them and is a creative genius, who has put out several great acting and writing performances since Range 15. Tim Kennedy grew his businesses tenfold and he and I wrote a New York Times bestseller, and started a nonprofit with our friends to help refugees. I sold Ranger Up and started Diesel Jack Media. Vince Vargas became a bigtime Hollywood actor who starred in Mayans FC on FX for five seasons!
But even as I objectively know every one of us is fortunate, that moment that I felt on the set of Range 15 - that we were making something special - continued to elude me.
In June of 2023, Danny Maher, AKA Donny O’Malley, visited me in NC with Mike Lavigne, and at the end of the visit, I was inspired to make a television series. As with Range 15, where I didn’t know how to make a movie before we made it, I did not exactly know how to make a television series, though I was much closer to knowing how than I was with Range 15.
Luckily, in addition to the phenomenal advice that Danny provided, I was now working with the very man who told me to cherish these rare moments - Hollywood Heard.
Hollywood, supportive as ever, was all in. He gave me three pieces of advice:
- Limit the sets. The fewer the moves, the less crew friction, the faster and cheaper we can shoot it.
- This isn’t the Revenant. Let’s light it well and make it look great, but let’s not try to win the Emmy for Cinematography on every shot or we will be so slow this thing will never be done. Pick 3-5 moments and make them magical and let the rest be good. Find a DP that can deliver an amazing look without 2 hour set ups.
- Keep the speaking roles down to 12-15 people. Season one is all about introducing the main characters. Save the universe building for season two where someone has come in and given you a budget to do more.
Point one made total sense to me. I decided the show was going to be about a veteran who left the military and drove across the country just in time to start his job as a designer at a boutique marketing firm. With that plot in mind, we would use our Chapel Hill Office as the main set and built out most of the other sets at our stage in Durham.
Point two also made sense. Given this was my directorial debut, the desire is strong to try to make something majestic in every scene, but you know what else is majestic? Finishing on time and on budget, and you can’t do that if every shot requires special lighting and 43 flags. Our talented director of photography Steven Lemieux and his sound consiglieri Josh Collins were an unstoppable force in bringing the show to life, and I cannot possibly thank them enough.
Point three I ignored entirely because I’m me and if I don’t break at least one rule, I feel like I’ve failed. Season one of Office Joe - the new show is called Office Joe, by the way - has 47 speaking roles. While the show revolves around 10 principal characters, I strongly felt that in order for season one to be good, I had to take the time to build a universe with a lot of relationships that could expand in future seasons. So I did.
Actually, that’s not true. My staff writers: Dan Mercer, Theresa Romaniec, and the man himself, Hollywood Heard, and I built out storylines for multiple characters you barely see in Season 1 so that every interaction isn’t forced, but natural. We know who every character is, what motivates him or her, and where their story arc is going to go in the future. It was painstakingly time consuming, but it also made for some great character development.
To be honest, the months we spent getting the show right on paper would have been worth it to me. Creating the Office Joe world was a blast!
But anyone in the business will tell you there are three films: The one you write, the one you shoot, and the one you edit. I felt pretty damn good about our writing, but it was time to shoot. And this was the moment that was most special for me. I called my friends from Range 15 and asked them if they’d like to be involved.
And they all said yes. Not all of them could make it given their schedules and our tight production timeline, but they all tried.
Jarred Taylor, Tim Kennedy, Jack Mandaville, Vince Vargas, and Mary Dague came out and performed their assess off! They were absolutely hilarious. They were joined by incredibly talented newcomers like Austin “Mandatory Fun Day” Letkemann and Ashley Gutermuth, who absolutely crushed their roles.
None of these people needed to be involved. They’re all doing big things in life. But not only did they say yes, but they came out and made the cast and crew feel amazing. They helped where they could. They were gracious and kind. They made the moment special.
Before we started filming, at the formal read-through with the young cast of newcomers that you’re going to be introduced to soon, I told them all that if we have fun and have each other’s backs, we’ll make something really cool, because the best works of art come from good people who trust each other and bring positive energy to each other’s work. And I liked all of them so much that I had no doubt they would deliver just that.
What I didn’t count on was Jarred and Austin coming in and complimenting the team on their professionalism and set work, making them laugh all day, and injecting energy into the set on our 14th consecutive day of shooting.
I didn’t count on Tim Kennedy excitedly donning a fat suit and going full method until everyone on set was laughing, and telling everyone there what great work they all did.
I didn’t count on Jack Mandavillle hanging out for two extra days when his acting work was complete to help out the crew.
I didn’t count on Ashley Guttermuth praising and motivating my friend and first time actor to give the best version of himself when he started doubting his ability, even when that was not remotely in her job description.
I didn’t count on Mary Dague showing up in a full bright blue Mohawk because “it was time to be in character” and for her to crack jokes for two days, motivating the crew while we somehow decided to give her the most physical scenes in the entire show.
And I definitely didn’t count on was Vince Vargas, who filmed on our final days of shooting and is used to being on shows that cost $2 million per episode, getting up unprompted and giving a speech that had the cast and crew laughing the entire time that ended with “I’ve been on a lot of big sets, and this one was as professional and fun as any I have ever been on…but you know…on Mayans I got my own trailer!”
But at the end of the day, Hollywood Heard was right. Office Joe wasn’t special in the way Range 15 has been. In 2015 it was a handful of friends against the world with something to prove. This time it was a handful of friends showing up and inspiring our cast and crew, day in, and day out, to find a little more magic than we thought possible.
It was a handful of friends making sure I didn’t fall on my ass. And I’ll be damned if we didn’t make a really cool little show. I want to thank them for that.
I think you’re going to love it.
And thanks to the Amazing People Who Supported Us
I also have to thank our incredible sponsors. The American Legion, the most venerable and powerful of all Veteran Non-Profits endorsed the project and came in as our title sponsor, almost immediately. They knew the positive impact of the arts on the veteran community, and even they knew they likely wouldn’t agree with all of our jokes, they thought it was important for veterans to have this show.
Main Street Bond is a force for good for small business, and they wanted to ensure that this project got off the ground. The sister businesses of Fjul and Kinetic Force labs deliver cutting edge app technology and they actually made the ridiculous app we fabricated in the script. I won’t give it away, but when you see it on screen, know that it is available and fun to use.
The Worst Responders have been looking out for first responders for years and we were honored to have them on board. Salvation Coffee is delicious and Weapon Works has the best cerrakoting on planet Earth and we appreciate their support. Lastly, the fine people at Cold Zero spirits were an absolute blessing and inspiration. The list of things they did for us is too big to list without boring you.