Interview: NTSF:SD:SUV’s Rob Riggle, Curtis Gwinn and Brandon Johnson (video)

The guys talk over-acting, the expanding opportunities of video on the web and how no one cares about it when it's on your resume

: NTSF:SD:SUV‘s Rob Riggle, Brandon Johnson and Executive Producer/Writer Curtis Gwinn were at Comic-Con to chat about the new season of the Adult Swim show.

Created by Paul Scheer, the show, also known as the National Terrorism Strike Force: San Diego: Sport Utility Vehicle, is about a clandestine team of government agents working together to protect San Diego from numerous terrorist threats coming in daily from such evil countries as Mexico, Canada and Guam. The team are a group of highly trained operatives and has only one job: saving your ass so you can drive your Prius and see your movies in 3-D without worrying about living in a country run by no-good terrorists.

In the interview, the guys talk about the show, over-acting and the expanding opportunities of shooting things for the web and how no one cares about it when it’s on your resume.

How do you know when you’re doing too much of a over-acting in this show?

Rob Riggle: I really don’t even… I don’t even think in those terms. I only think in terms of are we having fun and is it funny. Honestly, if we’re laughing and the crew’s laughing, we’re on the right track. So that’s all I think about really.

Brandon Johnson: And the great thing is that the people that we’re parodying are already so very large in what they do that it’s… we can’t really go too far.

Rob Riggle: You can’t blow it out enough.

Brandon Johnson: Yeah. It’s very difficult to out Shemar Moore Shemar Moore. You know? That dude’s like “scrambled eggs!”

Do you guys have table reads or do you just show up like on Tuesday with a script in your trailer?

Curtis Gwinn: I am obsessive compulsive re-writer. So it’s… I’m sure they can’t stand this. They do get scripts in their trailers, but I am in the process of rewriting those.

Rob Riggle: We never take it too seriously. We’re like, “Oh, this is a suggestion for the day.”

Curtis Gwinn: Yeah. I’m handing them new scripts and Paul is too and John Stern, we’re handing them new scripts and new lines up until we’re shooting.

Brandon Johnson: The great part is when you can work and you’re like, “Now why is the dolphin in a shark tank with a rope around its neck?” “Because he killed the dictator.” You’re like, “Yes, because the dolphin killed the dictator. Ok.”

Rob Riggle: Now I get it. I’ve been in this situation before. We’ll all have muscle memory you can draw from for that.

Since the show is only 11 minutes long, is it hard for you writing the episodes that you can’t have filler?

Curtis Gwinn: It’s always frustrating at first. And then you realize later, it’s better. Because you wanna pad it out to 22 minutes, that’s your instinct or the thing you wanna do because you’re in love with every word you write and you’re like, “It’s perfect. There’s no way, we cannot lose one second of this.” And then you edit it down, you’re like, “It’s a million times better. This could not withstand being a minute longer than it is. This is the way it should be.”

Has it made you a stronger writer?

Curtis Gwinn: Absolutely. Although now when I write 22 minute shows I’m like, “Oh, I’m vamping. I’m vamping. Just vamp to the end. How do I write a 22 minute television show?” I’ve written a ton of shows like, “The first 11 pages are great. These last 11 pages are shit. Stalling. Stalling.”

One episode, how long does it take to shoot?

Brandon Johnson: No idea because we wash shoot. It could take… you might start with say episode 201 and then at the end of the season you’re shooting the back end of 201.

Rob Riggle: Just whatever set ups… you know, you knock out 3 different episodes in a day, you’d be shooting on 3 different things?

Curtis Gwinn: Yeah, we shoot every old… we did 13 this year, we did 14, and we shoot it all like an independent film. 28 days, 13 episodes, every day is mix and match based on location, talent, availability. You know, it’s just who’s available, what locations are available.

Do you find the opportunities for actors increasing with web series getting  more popular and having that outlet?

Rob Riggle: Yeah, I mean, there’s more venues. There’s definitely a lot more opportunities. But the whole paradigm is shifted now. Because there used to be a model that everybody understood. And now it’s all changing and all the power structures that are deeply embedded up there in Hollywood don’t know how they’re gonna get paid.

Rob Riggle: But it is changing. It’s changing and so no one knows how all this stuff’s gonna play out or how things are gonna work. But you’re right. In a way, yes, there’s more opportunity. Or it could be. It is the wild west. We’re like 49ers. We’re like, it’s a gold rush. Nobody knows if there’s any gold or not, I don’t know.

Do you find it kind of liberating that you can just think of something funny…

Rob Riggle: And go make it. I mean, that was never available, you know, like when I started, when I started that wasn’t available at all. We used to have those thoughts and ideas back when I used to be in New York all the time. And now you’ve got like Funny or Die or you’ve got this kind of stuff where you’re like, “You know what’d be a really funny bit?” And now you can actually go shoot that bit and get it out there.

Curtis Gwinn: Yeah, it’s kind of amazing.

Brandon Jonson: Especially with flip cams. The smaller and smaller technology means that this is a two camera shoot. It’s not great, but it’s also being put on a very small screen. So, you know, it’s great.

And it seems it’s also more legitimate because being on your resume to have web series.

Brandon Johnson: No, not at all. Not at all. [laughs]

Rob Riggle: You would think, but no.

Brandon Johnson: Isn’t that strange? You would think that those people who make those decisions watch all sorts of media, but no. They go home at 3:00 and walk in their huge backyards.

Curtis Gwinn: I’ll say, I work doing NTSF and then I just started working on something for NBC. And I love it, but it is 180 the other direction. I mean, it is truly a… you can’t just be like, “Let’s put on a show. And let’s go do it and let’s go get my friends.” It is, you know, this is network stuff. You really… every inch is approved and that’s… it has… it cuts both ways. That’s good in some ways and it’s bad in others. It’s very liberating to do a show like this where it’s your pals, you make a lot of decisions, it’s all amazing, they go, “Yes.” They go, “Put your friends in it. Have it be fun.”

Rob Riggle: “We trust you to do comedy.”

With a guest cast, do you have to get a casting approved or anything? Or do you just say, “Hey, why don’t you come over and shoot this scene?”

Curtis Gwinn:  If it’s like… yeah. I mean, you definitely do out of respect. You say, “Hey, we wanna put…” Yeah. Courtesy. But very rarely are they gonna say no to that. Unless there’s a really good reason.

Brandon Johnson: Like that person would cost way too much. “Can you get Tammy Tiegs instead of Sheryl King?”

Curtis Gwinn: Yeah. I mean, they’re just like… they’re not worried about that stuff. You know? If you do a good show they know you do a good show and it’s funny. They’re excited for your ideas and the people you wanna put in it. You know? As long as it’s funny and weird and cool and an audience likes it, whatever. It’s fine.

How do you reign in the cast when they start to kinda go a little crazy on each other? Get a little slap happy?

Curtis Gwinn: We had to do an episode in one day. We had to film and entire episode in one day. It was a Paranormal Activity type of parody. It’s our Christmas special and I was directing it. And I’m… this is my second time directing anything ever. And it was so complicated and so hellish and everyone had to be there. Like, almost the whole time.

And probably about two thirds of the way through, these guys were just like… the life was out of them. They had given up. They’re just like laughing and sitting like, “Whatever. Whatever.” I was trying to direct and I’m like wearing my hat and my bucket.

And I’m like, “Come on guys! We gotta…” They’re just like, “Shutup.”

Brandon Johnson: Yeah, it was like the last day of school. But also it was like the last day of school and here’s your test and you’re like, “Ok well we’re done. We don’t have to do this test.”

Curtis Gwinn: But you don’t have to worry about it because everybody is there for fun. There’s no bad attitudes and everybody is like, you know, you’ve got guys like Brandon, Rob, Rebecca. I mean, they’re doing this basically out of the kindness of their hearts to do this. And that means they’re there for fun.

Rob Riggle: Most of the cast, I mean, we’ve all known each other for years. So we all go back. So we’re all friends. And that makes it real fun and easy too. And we all have an improv background, so we know how to play and so that’s how we kinda self police. To get back to your original question.

How much improv is in the show?

Curtis Gwinn: A good amount. We always get what’s scripted and then, you know, it’s like 10, 20% extra improvising.

Brandon Johnson: It’s funny because I think that Curtis is… we’re super kind to each other because, you know, that question… the actors will tell you, “No, we trust them.” And then they will say, “We trust them. We let them go.”

Curtis Gwinn: They make it better. They make it better, these guys.

Brandon Johnson: So I feel like you have to improvise sometimes when you get a script that’s not that great. But on these shows, every script we’ve gotten I’ve been like, “I just have to say the lines.”

Curtis Gwinn: This is the best liar in the world. This guy’s a smooth, smooth operator.

Brandon Johnson: Because my boss is right here. Why would I improvise? It’s gold!

Curtis Gwinn: No, they’re awesome. I mean, we definitely wanna get like what we wrote. Sure. You always do, you wanna get what you wrote down. But then as soon as they start improvising, you’re like, “Damn. That’s better. Damn. I stayed up 3 nights.”

Next year that’s gonna be it. I’m just gonna be sipping a little pina colada the whole time. “Say whatever. I don’t… say whatever you want.”

Click here to watch the full interview on Youtube

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