FCU: Fact Checkers Unit is a new web series from writers and stars Peter Karinen and Brian Sacca. Along with director Dan Beers, the three of them write each episode of the series that’s currently streaming exclusively on NBC.com.
The show follow Peter and Brian as they check each and every celebrity fact printed in the fictional Dictum magazine. In their adventures, they’ve fact checked Bill Murray, Donald Faison, Luke Perry and their idol, Alex Trebek.
I talked with the guys about the show, how they get the celebrities, the future of web-series and yes, Alex Trebek.
For the full interview, click onto the audio link above or download from iTunes.
So how would you describe your show? What would be the best way?
Peter Karinen: This is Pete, I would describe FCU: Fact Checkers Unit as a short form comedic web series as two overzealous fact checkers who take their jobs way too seriously. They work for Dictum magazine which is a men’s magazine and they are pretty much universally hated around the office because no one else seems to care quite as much as they do about their job.
Could you get into your characters, were these characters that you know of or could relate to?
Brian Sacca: I’d say our characters come a little bit from Pete and myself as comedians. We’ve been performing in New York for a long time and we’re now currently in LA. We started performing uptown and realized that wasn’t our scene and quickly moved to downtown to performing in the backs of bars because we realized that we’re more of the kind of self depreciating people that take ourselves too seriously. And so we kind of fed that into our characters. These are people who work as hard as they can at their job but almost too hard to a fault so you can see that it came us.
Peter Karinen: And what Brian didn’t mention is that it’s a really smooth transition from performing in the back of bars to performing on the back of the internet. So, we’re excited to be on NBC.com which is a bigger website. We definitely take our comedy very seriously much like our characters take their jobs a little too seriously at times. You can just ask Dan the director we pretty much make his life pretty miserable because we are super anal and meticulous and unreasonable.
Where did the original idea for FCU come from?
Peter Karinen: Well, first of all you should know that Brian and I started off as serious actors. We met at NYU in acting school. We switched to comedy when we realized people had been pointing at us and laughing for years so we decided to capitalize on that and become comedy companions. We started performing together and making videos and we hooked up with Dan and wanted to make a video with him and we came up with this fact checkers idea. I think because the phrase ‘fact checker’ is so fun to say, it sounds kind of dirty even though it isn’t. The same goes for the word ‘unit’ it just sounds really fun to say.
Dan Beers: You know what’s really nice too about it, is that these guys are in these offices and these jobs, some people out there that say it’s a little bit boring but these guys then take it to the next level. We get to go out and for each day they live out their adventures.
Peter Karinen: We also thought it was a nice idea for a web series because every episode is self-contained; you don’t need to watch the previous one to understand this one. If you watch episode 6 before any of the other ones you can hopefully understand exactly what’s going on.
How do the celebrities and the facts fit together? Do you get someone like Alex Trebek on board first and then create a story around him or is it vice versa?
Peter Karinen: It all depends on the celebrity. Like with Luke Perry, we heard that he had a beard so we thought ‘oh maybe he looks kind of crazy, maybe he’s paranoid and thinks his house is haunted.’ That’s how that story came about.
Brian Sacca: With Pauley Perrette, that one we had another actor first I think that was blonde and so when we applied it to Pauley we were like ‘oh well that can’t work because Pauly’s hair is black.’ And it turns out that Pauly actually is a blonde in real life so it did apply.
Peter Karinen: And with Alex Trebek, he was the one celerity that Brian and I absolutely insisted the producers try to get into this because in the original short film we worshipped his character as the father of facts and we thought it would be so cool if we got him in our series.
Brian Sacca: They did say too that when they called to ask everyone there at the office I think was aware of the first film too.
Peter Karinen: The Trebek camp was aware of this and he actually showed some interest in being in the series and we wrote the episode for him really quickly in less than 24 hours and sent it over to him because he was going on vacation. He responded within a few hours that he wanted to do it as long as he got to wear a Buddhist outfit-
Brian Sacca: Dalai Lama.
Peter Karinen: Which we quickly agreed to.
Newspapers and magazines have found their place online, do you think that’s the future for movies and TV?
Dan Beers: I definitely think it appears to be going that way. With films, you will always have the bigger budget movies that will be played in theaters. But for things like this, I think we have an opportunity for things like this where guys can make ourselves and TV shows will definitely be going that way too.
Brian Sacca: You’re going to see more self-generated content come out like this. Obviously Samsung helped us out with this and we couldn’t have made the show without them and made it look as good as it does. But before that, we generated our own work and I think that’s going to be an increasing trend. People getting out there and having the equipment and means to make professional looking quality work. I think that will translate over into television as well. You’ll see more shows getting made specifically for the internet because people are watching them on the internet now.
Is it harder or easier to be funny in 6 minutes versus a full hour show or a 2 hour movie?
Peter Karinen: I’d say there are pluses and minuses. I think the pros are you can follow more of a sketch comedy format where you can have shorter jokes and your story lines don’t have to last very long. But I also think you can’t develop the characters enough to really mine the humor that can you get out of a character in an hour long show.
Dan Beers: What’s hard about it is pace. Trying to find the right pace for all the jokes in a short period of time because you throw in like, ten jokes a minute, you want to give the jokes time to play as well. So it’s a little hard to try to find the right pacing for it as well.
Do the guests know ahead of time what facts are going to be checked?
Peter Karinen: They all knew what the facts were ahead of time but we also came up with some fun stuff on set. When we were shooting with Alex Trebek he was saying a few phrases in Latin and spouting all this information and Dan asked him, “Alex is there anything you don’t know?” And Alex responded with, “What I don’t know is not worth knowing.” And so we said that has got to go in the episode. We ended up incorporating that line into the show.
From the time you start writing the script to the time you finish shooting how long is the process?
Peter Karinen: I’d say we wrote all the episodes in about six weeks. And then we had 12 days of shooting, we were actually in production for 12 days. Editing probably takes another 10 weeks or so. But pre-production lasted longer than 6 weeks because we had to figure out locations and try to get all the celebrities attached. Pre-production was a few months, but it probably took a month and a half to write all the episodes and get notes from the powers that be and change them accordingly.
Brian Sacca: I was just going to say one of the things with writing these, is that certain celebrities will be free at one point but then will get another commitment and we’ll have to replace celebrities. So a lot of it is writing an episode for a certain celebrity and then that celebrity books a movie or has to go back on the TV show and the schedule won’t work so we’ll have to scrap that and write a whole new episode for another celebrity.
Peter Karinen: And Brian and Dan and I write all the episodes together. And a funny anecdote, when we shot the original film with Bill Murray and he showed up to the set and started looking at the script and said, ‘9 pages huh? It took 3 of you guys to write this?’
Dan Beers: The overall process – I think that we start from mid April and we’re going to be ending the process this week. So say in April through to mid-August.
How difficult is it, or how easy do you think, to get more actors to jump into this?
Brian Sacca: I think actors love getting involved with things like this. Whether its lampooning themselves or just having fun getting to do something that they’re not normally doing. We had a lot of talent that was excited to do this and it wasn’t necessarily a major struggle to go out there and find people who would want to get involved.
So who would you like to get a hold of now?
Peter Karinen: I just want to get Bill Murray back.
Brian Sacca: He was the greatest to work with. It was like a 6, 7 hour comedy lesson. He’s such a professional. He’s been doing it for so long, he just knew what needed to happen to make it the best it could be. It was a real treasure to work with him. He’s hilarious. Even in real life his dry sense of humor just lights up the room.
Peter Karinen: We improvised with him, he directed us a little bit. We had a little brain storming sessions with him it was so incredible. But the first thing we shot with him is where he finds us in his bathtub and that is definitely real terror you see in mine and Brian’s face looking up at this comedy God. We were definitely a little intimidated at first but he made us feel comfortable and it was certainly a dream come true to work with him.
Dan Beers: And even as a director, Bill Murray’s amazing. You literally can’t tell Bill, “Let’s do that one again but let’s try this instead.” It’s kind of like, let him do what he wants cause he knows better than everyone else.