A Grandma, desperate to de-gay her 16-year-old grandson, turns tricks in order to pay for surgery she believes will make him straight. If someone came to you with this film pitch, what would you do? If you were writer Justin Palmer, you’d make it into a TV series, or rather, a mockumentary.
Along with Nathan Adloff and Danny Rhodes, Palmer is working to create a Chicago-based sitcom centered on Marcuss (Rhodes), a spoiled trust fund wannabe filmmaker, attempting to cast a film with just that wacky premise. Says Palmer, “Danny Rhodes brought [the idea] to the table and made us die laughing. We built it from there.”
Focused on the ongoing casting of Marcuss’ film, and featuring a weekly guest star, the series entitled “Bad Sides” has already managed to draw some famous names and a lot of community attention, but according to Palmer, that’s just the beginning.
Our Town: You’re from Los Angeles, why move to Chicago to work?
Justin Palmer: Well that's exactly it, I wanted to work. Being from LA, I [understood] the pitfalls, things get too expensive, things get talked about more than actually tried, and there’s a lot of risk producing new work. Chicago is dripping with insanely talented people who are broke. [We] lose tons of talent to Hollywood, and that's a shame. I have this local-pride/chip-on-my-shoulder about using Chicago artists and having a show the quality and caliber you'd see from Hollywood, but made by us, for us, shown to us, right here in Chicago.
OT: Describe Bad Sides’ inception.
JP: Bad Sides started as a six-eight minute per episode web series. But we quickly realized we had enough [ideas] to make 22-minute episodes just like the pros on TV. Danny and Nathan are gay and I'm not, so as a team we like to make jokes about those differences. Of course we needed to come up with a conceit for the movie-within-the-show that had a struggle between gay and straight. We work pretty collaboratively, sit around together over coffee and break story for each episode. Then I take all the random bits and form them into structure, theme, episode arc, all that important stuff. All three of us like to film a lot of improvised takes. Even though I'm the guy writing it, I like to think of the written dialogue as the worst-case scenario. The script we give the actors is just a breakdown with the beats laid out. Whatever is funniest gets in.
OT: How did you attract guest star and “Roseanne” alum Natalie West?
JP: We just got lucky. I've worked with her in the theatre scene, but she has a similar sense of humor, and could instantly see the value in the pilot script. She never got offended or treated these wild ideas like anything less than totally legit episodic comedy writing. In fact, she came in with suggestions that were more out there, which only proved she was a perfect match for our first episode.
OT: Any dream guest stars?
JP: People everyone knows and knows are from Chicago, funny people who get this kind of humor like Vince Vaughn, Tina Fey, Laurie Metcalf … Oh god I can't believe I even just typed names that huge.
OT: How are you raising funds?
JP: Grassroots, all the way. We want people [to] feel ownership of this show. To that end we are fundraising on indiegogo.com, spreading the word on our Facebook page and hosting viewing parties in bars, in theatres on dark nights, in people's houses; [we] show episodes, get people to come together and watch something with members of their community. We’re hoping the viewing parties will help us raise enough to make [each] episode. The beauty is it doesn't take much, and after we shoot we still get to take the Red Line home.
Sarah Terez Rosenblum (@SarahTerez) is an MFA-holding writer, teacher and Spinning instructor. She's also the Theater Listings Editor for Centerstage Chicago. Look for her posts twice a week.