Rickshaw Rides, Guerilla Warfare and Craigslist Careers:1
By Ariel Nishli
The Sixth Wall Talks to the Filmmakers Behind KoldCast TV’s King of the List
“Okay… Let me check in on old Craigslist here. Oooh, so I got the perfect role for you! Do you like Shakespeare? There’s some stiff competition. It’s Macbeth… in space. It’s avant-garde. You think you can handle it? Great! Audition is in the village in 30 minutes. Think you can make it?”
So begins the day for Ron Barba, veteran Craigslist agent and star of KoldCast TV’s comedy series King of the List, written and directed by brothers Jason and Brendan Huza. Ron is sweet-talking one of his many actor clients, for whom he procures work by scouring Craigslist for whatever low-rent gigs happen to pop-up that day. Barba not only stars in the show, but also played an active role in the show’s conception and development.
The outlandish, oftentimes absurdist series speaks to the dominant role the internet plays in dictating how today’s unknown actors, writers, directors, and entertainers of all stripes really find work, especially in the growing sphere of made-for-Internet TV. As Ron tells one skeptical comedian client, “Don’t dog the list. It’s the life force.” The Huza brothers feel the same way. We caught up with them in the East Village’s theater-friendly Everyman Espresso.
THE SIXTH WALL (T6W): How did the idea of a “Craigslist agent” come about? There is a bit of mystery that Ron might actually do this for a living.
JASON HUZA: Not professionally. We first met after I cast him in a one-act play. We went for drinks after the show and started meeting more frequently. Slowly but surely I was getting emails from him – without any notice – with these opportunities. Submit this guy, use that girl, etc. And were like, “alright, this guy’s looking out for us!” Soon enough, a steady barrage of Craigslist links was being forwarded my way.
T6W: Were they for other film projects you were working on at the time?
JASON: When Ron was combing through Craigslist for his own acting gigs, he saw jobs that might work for other people, and he tossed them their way. For him it was a way to help out his friends.
T6W: Interesting evolution. When was the moment you thought this could be a big idea?
BRENDAN HUZA: Right. The moment we said, “this is a show.” We were all sitting down for lunch, and Ron basically pitched the show to us. He had an idea to do sketches – and I went to school for film, University of Maryland – a collaborative idea based on Ron’s experiences.
JASON: He just had these stories. One of my favorite ones – one that he would tell you, is that he went out for this one short – see, when you’re taking these Craigslist jobs, there’s usually no union, no protection. You’re doing your own stunts! You’re in fight scenes. He did this one where there was a fight scene at night. The filmmakers barely spoke any English, and Ron only knew the bare bones of what they were planning on doing. Next thing he knows, there’s this guy coming at him with an industrial strength flashlight, swinging at him in the dark, and he hears “Action!” All of a sudden Ron’s inches away from being slammed in the head with a Maglite, afraid for his life. That’s the type of work he was finding on Craigslist.
T6W: Guerilla filmmaking. More like guerilla warfare in this case. There’s probably no insurance on that type of film.
JASON: Oh no, completely Guerilla. No insurance, no professional training for that matter. Just “Run for your life!”
T6W: So if you can’t act, we’ll actually make you fear for your life.
JASON: Exactly. And that’s how it developed. And we had met Claudia Apicella, Ron’s client from the first episode. I’d met her that day in a play Ron was in. We were tossing ideas around and the first episode wrote itself over drinks. It introduces the characters and plot. I think we had the next two episodes written over the next two days, ready to go.
King of The List – Bully for You, Ron Barba
T6W: It seems so appropriate that the series was borne out of a Craigslist transaction.
JASON: King of the List really speaks to the incredible talent pool in New York City, a lot of which advertises directly on Craigslist. Ron is versatile. He works on many non-comedic projects as well. He actually worked with Malcolm McDowell through submitting himself for a Craigslist ad.
T6W: Wow, so it was business as usual for him. How did you and Ron initially meet? What was that Craigslist project?
JASON: It was a night of one-acts. I had written them all. Brendan directed one, I directed one, and another friend of mine had directed a third. The actor I had lined up cancelled on me two weeks before so I went to Craigslist. I needed an actor really quickly and Ron was perfect. As it turned out he lived a half a block away. He was on 50th and 9th and we’re on 49th and 9th.
T6W: How did you conceive all the eccentric clients that Ron has?
BRENDAN: People on Craigslist he had met. So let’s see, there was April Brucker, the ventriloquist for example. He would introduce us to her, and their personality types jumped out at us. Then we said ok, “Where can we go with this?”
King of The List – Ventriloquist, duh!?
T6W: So their real-life eccentricities were a launching off point for the fictional characters?
BRENDAN: Yeah, there’s a grain of truth to everybody. For some people more than a grain, maybe a hundred percent. But yeah, Ron knew all these characters from working with them, and since we lived so close he would call us and say, “Hey guys, come over to Starbucks. I have someone else you have to meet.” And it would be April Brucker, a ventriloquist. And there she was, larger than life.
T6W: So it doesn’t seem like you had to strain too hard to develop these characters.
JASON: Right. For the nemesis character – the fellow in the third episode who plays Conrad Malloy, the rival agent – when we met him, we just saw his face and said, “This is gold! Look at that guy’s face. How scary?”
King of The List – Stick To What You Know
T6W: You didn’t say that to his face did you?
JASON: Well, Ron did. He has no filter. But we knew what we wanted him to be. And the same more or less with Johnny Rickshaw, who was a stand up comic before I met him. I had seen him on YouTube, and he is just as abrasive in real life as he is in character. You’ll see him on stage getting in fights with audience members. He’s awesome – one of the strongest people on the show. We wrote the character around Johnny without having even met him. And as soon as we did, I think he got it right away. He just said, “this works.”
T6W: The show opens up an entertainment insider’s world to people. Watching Ron handle his bottom-of-the-barrel clients the same way Ari Gold handles his in Entourage, it gives people an off-kilter glimpse into show business.
JASON: We like to think of ourselves as the “through the looking glass” version of Entourage, with Ron Barba as a Bizarro Ari Gold. Jugglers, ventriloquists and mimes. It’s so funny.
T6W: What about Little Timmy, the pathetic Dickensian character in the season one finale. What inspired him?
BRENDAN: That was me.
T6W: You played him?
T6W: Thought you looked familiar. Was he borne out of a love for Charles Dickens?
JASON: To me it was good closure. Denise – that’s my wife – came up with an idea to do a take on A Christmas Carol. The second I heard that, I knew it would be so much fun. And it worked perfectly.
T6W: It did. We mentioned that episode in particular in a story about off-screen Hollywood dramas. Ron’s spirit guides help him achieve the catharsis wherein he realizes he loves his job. The existential crisis he experienced about his work is the same that many in Hollywood go through. What is the day-to-day experience working with Ron Barba like?
Left to right: Jarrid Huza, Ron Barba, Jason Huza, Brendan Huza (as Little Timmy)
JASON: The thing about working with Ron and working with Brendan is that we are a pretty tight, cohesive unit. And it’s rare to find people who are on the same page as you 99% of the time. Our senses of humor are so in sync that you don’t really have to fight for consensus. It just comes about, and I think to the success of our show, at least being a viable show. The thing about Ron is that he’s larger than life. I mean, he understands the show too. What’s good about him is that he understands what works and what doesn’t work, and he’s not afraid to say it. That’s the best part.
T6W: So everyone’s able to speak their mind. Nobody’s walking on eggshells?
JASON: No, no, no. We all get it. We get the humor. We’ll sit there and just crack each other up talking about ideas.
T6W: So then who’s doing the writing? Is that collaborative too?
JASON: I’ve written about eight episodes. I think I wrote five and then Brendan came up with the concept for the “Craigslist Strangler” episode, then my wife actually came up with “The Craigslist Carol”. I wrote the others, but there were small things that made it collaborative overall. Like in the magician episode, Ron actually came up with the idea of the magician teleporting. We weren’t going to go that far, but as soon as he said it, I was on board. And it was so much fun. Because the guy – Eric Walton – he’s a very accomplished magician. We had seen him perform I think a week earlier. He’s traveled the world with his acts. He was very good. So we were going to use a lot of his real tricks, but Ron was like, “Brendan. Special effects. Can you make him teleport?”
T6W: That’s what’s so fun about the show. At face value, you wouldn’t expect it to go there, but it does, and it’s ok. Because it’s grounded, that absurdist undertone takes it to a whole new level.
BRENDAN: Yeah, let’s just teleport. Why not?
T6W: So it seems like the development process is getting together, having fun, collaborating, pitching each other storylines, and then Jason goes back and churns out a script. Do you then rework it? What’s the rewrite process like?
JASON: There are tweaks here and there. We went through a couple of episodes that I think didn’t work. Solid ideas, but for whatever reason we felt like we were forcing it.
T6W: What were some ideas that didn’t work? It’s interesting to know what gets cut.
BRENDAN: There was the street performer. We weren’t sure if it was a juggler or mime, but it was darker than what the show was. Ron had issue with that, so we went back and reworked it.
T6W: What made it so dark?
BRENDAN: The humor. It was a bit blue. We had a guy on the casting couch numerous times and he still didn’t get the job. Ron was forcing him back, yelling “Go get it!” and we said, do we really want his character to be… I mean he’s lovable, but he’s still creepy. That episode pushed him in a direction that was still creepy, but not lovable. He was genuinely a jerk and we didn’t want to go there.
T6W: Did that decision ultimately keep Ron’s character’s integrity intact?
JASON: Yeah. We describe him as a lovable loser, so that was one of them that got cut. We also had a struggling artist episode, where we just couldn’t nail down a time with the actor playing him.
T6W: That’s ironic. Was it logistical issues?
JASON: Logistical issues. Then we kind of mixed them together. “The Last Poor York”. He was this passionate Hamlet, Macbeth type actor and Ron finds him work. You know, actually I did like this one… He was going to get the guy work, who was really big into Brando – he was going to do lines from Brando. And Ron says, “I found you something just as good as anything Brando’s ever done.” Then he sends him to something like a Hanes underwear commercial, except he’s dressed as an apple. Then the apple costume gets stuck, but he has an appointment to go get his headshots, which get done in the apple outfit. Then he’s banging on Ron’s door, still as the apple, yelling, “I could’ve been someone! You made me an apple!”
T6W: I wish I could’ve seen that. What other logistical issues have you had to navigate?
BOTH: New York City.
BRENDAN: There is so much. We just came into it very green, like, let’s make a show! A lot of it was supposed to be shot on the streets of New York, to get the locations right. We just weren’t expecting everything that comes with that. Just walking down the sidewalk, the traffic, the noise, and everything became such a huge issue. The sounds of the city. Then there are certain areas we started filming in, only to get kicked out.
T6W: By Police?
BRENDAN: Yeah, police and security. We had an idea of where we wanted to shoot, but didn’t know whether or not we could. There’s the Times Square episode. We wound up using the scene but security surrounded us from three angles, yelling, “Get out!”
JASON: It happens at every level, too. We were in Grand Central Station once and saw the cast of The Amazing Race running through the main terminal. Behind them were the cameramen, and behind them were the producers. Chasing everyone was security, yelling “Stop! Stop!” And the producers, in turn, were yelling, “Keep going! Keep going!” boom mikes following them. Even NBC needs to get the shot.
T6W: Somebody wrote a check that day. How many people are involved on set?
T6W: Both of you and Ron?
JASON: Yeah. I do the boom mike on almost every episode. Brendan films everything.
T6W: Is the boom mike usually the give away for security?
JASON: Yeah. Oh yeah. It sticks out. We tried to film in a Starbucks once – it’s a popular coffee house – and we took the mike off of it and literally had it in Ron’s suit coat. We tried to film him as he was whispering into the mike. It just didn’t work. People were looking. We were resigned. We said, “Ok we just can’t film in here.”
T6W: Do you ever try calling ahead, or is it all guerilla filmmaking?
BRENDAN: Oh, it’s super guerilla. I mean every once in a while we’ll get a space, like for the magician episode we rented out a theater. We filmed on the roof of our apartment building twice, also the basement of our building. Our apartment, Ron’s apartment twice. April’s apartment. Even the garden in the picnic episode – we didn’t have a permit. I mean there was nobody that could really kick us out, but people came up to us complaining, “You know this park is for everybody. You shouldn’t be hogging it.”
JASON: And in that episode too, when Brendan was filming through the fence, we were interrupted – we’ve been interrupted a few times actually – by homeless people. This one homeless guy, he got right in the scene, and was looking into the camera. He was basically like, “Are you guys filming a movie?”
T6W: Well, not anymore.
JASON: Right. “We are filming it as we speak. As you speak. You’re on camera.” We had to pay them to get out of there. They wouldn’t leave. They just stood there and made a real nuisance of themselves.
T6W: Any other financing that goes into King of the List aside from paying off the homeless? Equipment? Rentals?
JASON: No. No budget. If we had any money it would go towards lighting. Lighting and body mikes.
T6W: Fancy. And the show’s distribution? What was your experience working with KoldCast TV?
JASON: Ron did most of the hunting for distributors. Web series seem to be popping up everywhere so when he found KoldCast we were very interested because of their content-specific format. On other sites we really would be a drip in an ocean of content. Ron sent KoldCast the first three episodes and he [David Samuels, CEO] reached out personally almost right away. We all had a few phone calls with him and loved his particular enthusiasm for this type of content, and his particular enthusiasm for our show. He got the humor right away which was a small vindication for us as we had until that point only really showed it to friends and family.
T6W: As independent filmmakers who can often get lost in the shuffle, what was your experience working with KoldCast?
JASON: KoldCast has been great to work with. David is a genuine guy and a solid businessman who answers the phone nine times out of ten which is rather unprecedented in almost any business. New ground is being forged and KoldCast is at the head of the pack
BRENDAN: Yeah I’d have to agree. My experience with KoldCast has been such a fun ride. When we first signed, we had three episodes done but we weren’t sure what we had or how it would play with viewers. David Samuels was very encouraging from the start and gave us the confidence to do a full season, and push through five more episodes. It’s really to his credit that we are where we are with the show. And it was such an exciting process to see how David and KoldCast would push the show and get it out there. Garnering a million plus views is such a blessing, and we are eternally grateful to David Samuels, everyone at KoldCast, and to the viewers for making that possible.
T6W: What do you have in store for viewers in Season Two?
JASON: Season two of King of the List? We’ll have to plead the fifth. It may just be Ron Barba picking up clients along a cross-country trip, in a rickshaw.
Ariel Nishli is the Editor-in-Chief of The Sixth Wall. He’s got a big apple in his heart but moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. After graduating from Vanderbilt University in 2007, he worked in the motion picture literary department at ICM then moved on to feature film development at Parkes MacDonald Productions. Ariel’s wardrobe has steadily devolved from designer suits to worn out slippers, as he now focuses on screenwriting and journalism when he’s not obsessing over this blog.