Stupify

Paul Thomas

1) How did you get into directing?
I’m a comedian, first and foremost, and had been performing live sketch comedy for five or six years when I had the idea to shoot a sitcom pilot called Being Civil, which is a reality show set in 1866 with a Union and Confederate soldier living in the same log cabin. My friend Jeff and I co-wrote and directed it with another friend shooting it. Those two had already filmed a lot of professional-looking sketches before the YouTube generation of comedy creators hit, so the bar started higher for me. That experience got me addicted to being on the other side of the camera as well, and since then I’ve been consistently writing and directing comedy content. Fortunately a lot of skilled people have helped me along the way on the technical end. I had worked with actors and comedians for a while, so that aspect was second nature.

2) What is your most recent project?
My producing partner Chad Wilson and I are in postproduction for five episodes of Real Good Drinking with Dan Peff. It’s a mixology web show hosted by standup comedian Dan Peff, who’s a character and a bit of an odd duck. We believe it has legs, so if all goes well it will find a place that allows us to make more of them.

3) What is the best part of being a director?
Being responsible for the precision of it all, which includes casting, performances, timing, and consistency of tone. As a live performer, the litmus test for me with filmed content is screening it in front of an audience of strangers and getting the laughs right where you wanted them. That’s exhilarating because performing live you can work it out until the laughs are pretty consistent. With filmed work you can’t get those reps in, and what you shot is what you’re stuck with, so you’re watching and listening to an audience to see how sharp your instincts are.

4) What is the worst part of being a director?
Not knowing what you don’t know. I’m good about not pretending to know what I don’t know, but no matter what, you know that there’s going to be something you can’t control, and you just don’t know what it is. That’s my Rumsfeld answer. But as long you keep creating and working, you keep learning, and I love that. I’m fortunate enough not to have had a heinous experience where I wanted to throw a small appliance out of a moving vehicle, but one can hope that all of the experience along the way helps to avoid those days.

5) What is your current career focus: commercials & branded content, TV, movies? Do you plan to specialize in a particular genre—comedy, drama, visual effects, etc.?
I’m always writing for our own production purposes, but also for TV and performance. My genre will always be comedy, and my focus is to move forward on all fronts with great projects that come my way and with my own ideas that are executable. The newest development is that Seed Media has brought me on to cross over to the advertising world, which came about from an appreciation for my other comedy work. That’s exciting—it’s something I’ve always wanted to try my hand at, but didn’t think I had the pedigree to break into. I’m aware there is a glut of comedy directors, so I need to bring more value to the table. Much of that will be in the conceptualization and writing.

6) Have you a mentor and if so, who is that person (or persons) and what has been the lesson learned from that mentoring which resonates with you?
Most of what I’ve learned has come from being hands-on, and in that regard my output ramped up when I met Chad Wilson, my producing partner. He’s been working in independent film for a long time, and if there’s something he doesn’t know how to do, he learns it. He can produce, direct, shoot, edit, do sound, color correct, make graphics, you name it. His work ethic is insane and he keeps an even keel. He would never throw a small appliance from a moving vehicle. The most valuable lesson overall that I’ve learned from him is that there’s always a solution, but also not to dwell on mistakes. It’s important to soak those up and suck those up to get better on the next project.

7) Who is your favorite director and why?
Is it sacrilege to say I don’t have one? I tend to be drawn to movies from a writer-director. Even if it’s a bit of a dud, at least you know that they created and shaped the story. Dramatic movies are usually more interesting to me because big budget comedies almost always end up being too saccharine, and there’s not much satire to be had there. Christopher Nolan blows my mind, writing and directing on such a large scale with much more challenging content. Side bet: Ben Affleck is going to be one of our most revered directors in 20 years. On a television note, what Peter Atencio has done visually on Key & Peele has been fantastic for sketch comedy.

8) What is your favorite movie? Your favorite commercial or branded content?
The movie that I wouldn’t call my favorite but that I have a deep affection for is Some Like It Hot. I’ve probably watched it more than any other movie because I’ve shown it to so many ESL classes, partially for historical reasons and partially because it’s very easy for second language learners to understand. I’m amazed how it still works and how the rhythm and pacing of it is so great. The commercial that’s on the top of my brain at the moment is the K-Mart “Ship My Pants” spot. I’ve seen enough commercials and sketches with tired double entendre puns, so if that spot had been in lesser hands, it easily could have ended up being very lame, but they nailed it.

9) Tell us about your background (i.e. where did you grow up? Past jobs?)
I spent my formative years in La Crosse, Wisconsin, home of the world’s largest six-pack, with no intent or knowledge how to do something creative for a living. I wanted to be a high school English teacher/basketball coach, but then just got an English degree and was the sports information director at my alma mater while I went to grad school for sports administration. I ended up at ESPN working in commercial operations after interning in their PR department. After a year I realized I needed to be doing something in comedy, and I gave my six weeks notice and moved to Chicago, jobless with a backpack full of comedy dreams. After doing my fair share of temping, I worked in B2B online marketing somehow before being laid off (Web 1.0!), and then fell into teaching ESL to adults, all the while working on my comedy. Pretty cliched, I know.

Contact

Roy Skillicorn
Executive Producer
Seed Media
roy@seedmediaarts.com