Art has the ability to transport us to different dimensions, allowing us to open doors within ourselves for exploration. There are infinite creative choices that can lead to infinite journeys, but when you incorporate both fiction and reality, the viewer ends up on a ride like no other. We’ve explored this before, but I wanted to take a deeper look at the creative choices being made on these projects.
That’s where Jonny Walls, and his new project Couch Survivor, come into play. Couch Survivor is a comedy about the behind the scenes happenings of a failing reality show and chronicles the mishaps and strategy present in such a show. The compelling way Walls uses these genre techniques to tell a story while still sticking within the indie-filmmaking bubble deserved to be researched.
One of the hallmarks of a mockumentary is the organic interactions that are created between the characters. Since it’s so important for this genre to have believable off the cuff relationships, the question of filmmaking choices comes to the forefront. For Walls, this was an equal part style as well as production restraints.
“It’s important to point out that making a creative choice because of budgetary constraints does not automatically equate to a compromise of artistic vision. In fact, it’s often the opposite. In my case, I didn’t start trimming away my artistic vision because of lack of money, I built the vision from the ground up with a MICRO-micro budget in mind,” Walls says.
Instead of looking at the downside of filmmaking, he used the barriers he had to produce a unique and fluid film. It’s in time of constraint that an artist can find a bold creative response, creating a better outcome than if there were no complications.
“It was a practical decision that led to some fortunate artistic results, which is basically how creativity should work, at least in a format like film where budget is so closely tied in to the creative process,” Walls adds.
With the genre settled, the next step was to evaluate the story Walls wanted to tell. The mockumentary allows for an endless possibility he could take with the story, but one always has to start somewhere. This genre has been explored, most notably with Christopher Guest movies, which is where Walls found inspiration first. That’s not the only form of inspiration, however, as Linklater played a role as well.
“To be clear, I don’t think Couch Survivor much resembles a Linklater film, but I did try to draw on his genius with dialogue, and the way he can construct a scene entirely around character rather than plot, where we take a break from the ‘plot’ and let the characters get to know each other through dialogue,” Walls explains.
As the story begins to unfold, and the film takes shape, one thing that became a concern was the pacing of the film. Pacing is such an important part, and at times can either make or break the quality of the project. It’s hard not to want to make the project explosive, but the creator also has to make sure that what is created remains comparable the original idea.
For Couch Survivor, there are times when the pacing wasn’t as quick as one would have liked, but you realize that it’s all part of the mockumentary style. Walls stuck to his guns about the type of film he wanted to make, and that says a lot about the type of filmmaker he is.
“One of my biggest challenges was making things interesting in the space between the end of act 1 and the moment when [the character] The Fox arrives. It was vital that there wasn’t too much interesting stuff happening on the couch during that period, because this is Jerry’s main challenge that needs to be overcome,” Walls says. “It’s the whole catalyst for the second half of the film. It was also important to create a contrast between how average, decent people actually treat each other, and how reality shows manipulate us into thinking they treat each other.”
Next up was casting. People tend to forget how important casting truly is to a project. There are times when a misstep in casting can cost the story, but the reverse is also true, it’s a slippery slope when it comes down to it.
Considering the film is based in comedy, comic timing was important for these actors to have experience in. However, you don’t want an actor to take over and deviate from the script too much. As the conversation continued between Walls and myself, it came to light that Couch Survivor was a blend of all the right elements.
“Every actor brought something to their character, without question. But the exact result of things like that can be intangible and hard to quantify. For example, David Foy Bauer and Drew Curtis (Adam and Charlie) had an instant rapport, they just started reeling off little extra bits of improvisation and playing off each other—it was magical. That was on our first day. That was actually the moment where I thought, ‘We’ve actually got something cool here,’” Walls says.
In the times that the actors did improvise, they never ventured too far off book. Their respect for the world being created meant that everything they invented helped the story along in the best way. It even allowed an extra layer to be built within the story itself, generating a “choose your own adventure” for the audience as they interpreted and processed what is happening in-between the lines.
Finally, once all the elements had been assembled, and the production had been filmed, the final step lies in the outcome. Artists have their passions that draw them to a particular story, something that they want say. For the biggest impact of such things, sometimes less is better, and that is exactly what happened with Couch Survivor. There is a hidden commentary on society and the way things are unnecessarily exaggerated, but it’s not forced into your perception of the story.
“Technology has given rise to a feeling that we’re entitled to widespread attention and see our lives as our own little reality shows that we hope people are watching,” Walls adds. “It’s just a new way to approach life that we’ve found ourselves in, and there are growing pains as we try to figure out how to acclimate. I hope Couch Survivor’s satirical elements can be seen as loving, pointing out how it can look when we take these things to a fault.”
In the end, Couch Survivor is an introspective look at the way we conduct our lives in the modern age, but with the humor necessary to poke fun at ourselves. Walls created an enjoyable film that embraces influences from others but lands in a realm all of its own. The journey we took through this production allows the student to become the teacher as we find inspiration through Walls work.
You can watch the trailer for the film on its YouTube page. The film is also available for digital purchase/rental on Amazon, as well as iTunes and GooglePlay. Come August, a physical DVD will also be available for more traditional viewers.
Written by Lisa Mejia
Images provided by Cineline Productions