Q&A: Almost Cool Films, The Company Behind “Wiener vs. Brain”

It’s got to be said: The boys behind rising YouTube series “Wiener vs. Brain” are definitely making good use of their own grey matter.

Tapping into the burgeoning market for free, online entertainment series, Chapman University graduate Almog Avidan Antonir banded together a bunch of promising young actors andafter dipping their toes in the oceanic ether of YouTubeAlmost Cool Films was born. What they created was a small set of smart, snappy comedy series that seamlessly blend together top modern comedy trends: toe-curlingly cringey situations, intelligent humor, and a generous injection of heart. Gone are the days of braying teenage boys cavorting around with misogynistic one-liners and practical jokes; Almog and his team have got something far better up their sleeves.

The Literally, Darling team loved “Wiener vs. Brain” so, naturally, when the opportunity arose to snag these lads for an interviewhow could we resist? We sat down for a chat with the brains behind one of the best viral comedy series of 2014.

LD: First things first: give us a little introduction!

ALMOG: My name is Almog Avidan Antonir, and I’m co-founder of Almost Cool Films (slash writer/director/producer/editor/composer). I graduated from Chapman University with a BFA Film Production, Advertising Minor. I lived in Israel for the first part of my life, until I moved to California at the age of 9. I can… lick my elbow?!

HESTON: My name is Heston Horwin and I’m an actor, writer, producer, and developer for the Almost Cool channel. I recently graduated from Chapman University in May 2014 with a B.F.A. in Screen Acting and a minor in Television. I’m also a current student at the Groundlings School in Hollywood where I’m training in Advanced Improvisation. I’m also a member of a comedy group called the Ignorant Minds that produces character based sketches that are posted on YouTube. In “Wiener vs. Brain”… I am Wiener.

TOM: My name is Tom Assam-Miller; I am co-founder and actor of Almost Cool Films. I play Tommy in both “Long Story Short” as well as “Weiner vs. Brain.” I just graduated from Chapman University in May with a BFA Screen Acting major and Advertising minor. I am both Mexican and American nationality-wise and culturally, but racially I am German and Lebanese. Flustercluck, I know. But it actually keeps life super interesting.

CHASE: My name is Chase Cargill and I am likely mostly recognized for my role as Brain… the ginger guy with the goofy British accent. I just recently graduated from Chapman University with a BFA of Theatre Performance. I’m from Houston, Texas, and I have a fraternal twin brother who graduated from Baylor University with a double major in Sports Marketing and Finance. We’re basically the same. *cough*

LD: So how did Almost Cool Films come to be? 

CHASE: Almost Cool Films came to be from an idea planned by our lovely, stunning, Middle-Eastern young director and founder, Almog Avidan  Antonir. He was able to squeeze in creative ideas when not working at his dream job as a part-time sales associate at DirecTV… I think that lasted a month… maybe two. He really loved it.

ALMOG: For a few years I’ve wanted to start a YouTube channel where I can post my short films, but never seemed to have enough time throughout my college career. When I graduated last year, in May 2013, I finally had some free time to write a few scripts, get some friends together, and make a few short comedic videos to start this channel, which at first was called “Long Story Short.”

CHASE: [Almog] came to a few of us with an idea he had about an average guy named Tommy who wouldn’t be able to catch a break from everyday situations … situations that people could indefinitely connect with. He wanted to create a series that revolved around the reactions viewers would receive when given a moment that prompted a “I’ve totally been there!” kind of response.

HESTON: … And when you know Almog and the kind of person he is and the quality of work he produces, you’d be crazy to say no to a chance to work with him. We did the pilot episode for “Long Story Short” in September of 2013. Four months and 5 episodes of LSS later… I couldn’t believe how quickly these videos were blowing up. I found out that someone had posted the second episode, “I Had a Movie Date,” on Reddit, which catapulted the series to a viral explosion. “I Had A Movie Date” now sits at #11 on the top videos of all time on Reddit.

ALMOG: We quickly realized that we want our channel to be a place where we can post various videos, not just the series “Long Story Short.”

TOM: … So we decided to give the channel the “Almost Cool” name and “umbrella” all ideas under it.

LD: Where did the idea of “Wiener vs. Brain” come from?

ALMOG: The idea for “Wiener vs. Brain” actually started with a picture. A few years ago, I can’t remember where or when exactly, I saw a drawing of a brain with fists, facing a penis with fists, and they looked like they’re about to fight. I thought it would make for a great movie with a Wiener character and a Brain character who are always arguing, so I wrote the idea down. Later on, when we were thinking of a concept for another series after “Long Story Short,” I referred to my list of ideas and we decided to go for it.

CHASE: Fortunately we were able to utilize [Almog’s idea] at the perfect time, when we had established a solid little fan base… we really needed another great idea to continue propelling us forward. We all started conceptualizing ideas for episodes for “Wiener vs. Brain.” We really wanted to target (again) an audience who could connect with the experiences that would be filmed. Every dude has dealt with the “angel and devil” on their shoulders when faced with a female, and the females have experienced it just as much, either watching the man fight his battle or fighting one herself. We thought, especially for our generation, this would be an appealing show.

LD: “Wiener vs. Brain” is definitely more than just a bit of “lad humor,” and in many scenes it becomes incredibly poignant. How important is it to you to strike a balance between humor and pathos? Was this always intentional?

HESTON: Well, as you noticed the series begins in a much lighter tone and then begins to get more into Tommy’s insecurities and how it’s affecting his relationships. From the very beginning, Almog knew that he wanted the series to culminate into one giant unsolvable fight between Brain and Wiener, resulting in Tommy’s heart being revealed and leading Tommy to the girl of his dreams.

ALMOG: It was always the intention to avoid making the series “Wiener vs. Brain” your typical “dude comedy.” We try to find a balance between the vulgar humor that the title would suggest, and a more serious view of college relationships from a man’s perspective. The humor comes from the situations we place Tommy in, which we think are relatable and realistic in some sense. Of course, the situations are exaggerated to heighten the comedy, but they’re based on experiences many of us have had.

CHASE: I’ve always loved the concept of combining laughter and poignancy in an entertaining way… We all knew that the final episode should be a balanced mix of funny and touching so that the characters and world that were created could have a somewhat grounded sense of truth to them. Even though Wiener and Brain are clearly heightened representations of Tommy’s imagination, it was still important for them to have true intentions and feelings that would emulate the real situations going on in Tommy’s awkward and often stressful life.

TOM: At first glance “Weiner vs. Brain” most definitely seems like that typical kind of “brah” humor that only you and your buddies (considering only men are watching) would sit down and enjoy. But that’s one of the great twists that people experience from the series. There is a lot more depth added to the characters, and you actually get to ride the emotionally awkward rollercoaster with them, allowing the audience to relate at some points and invest in these characters that could originally seemed to be the stereotypical comedic figures. This allows both men and women to sit down and watch without thinking “well that was totally meant [for] dudes.”

LD: As far as the writing process goes: Who is involved? How long does it take? Do you have a script, or do you tend to improvise more?

ALMOG: I write the scripts for the series, and it usually takes me about two to four days to go from “What’s the next episode going to be about?” to “The script is ready to shoot.”

HESTON: We all get together and have brainstorming sessions to conceptualize the episodes.

CHASE: We’ll have meetings where we sit back in the living room with a few beers and toss ideas back and forth. We narrow down which ones are worth focusing on, and from there Almog fleshes them out and puts them into existence.

ALMOG: I’ll usually lock myself in a room with a very loose outline for a few hours, until the story makes sense and has a solid ending. I’ll revisit the script the next day and make changes. After I send it out to the cast, I’ll usually make a change or two based on their suggestions before we go into shooting. When we film, often times we’ll come up with ideas on the spot for line changes or added actions, and we always go with the best idea. Since the guys know their characters like the back of their hands, they’ll usually have awesome ideas to better the story and the comedy.

 HESTON: Once we decide on a concept, Almog writes out the scripts which we go by pretty closely. However, there is still lots of room for us actors to make some fun choices and Almog supports that sort of thing on set which is great. In the “Snapchat” episode, I got to improv a bunch of different poses and faces for the part when Tommy takes a snap of his Wiener to send to a girl he thinks is sending him nude snaps.

TOM: …I personally prefer not to [improvise], but Chase and Heston are all for it. They’re great. We call them Cheston.

ALMOG: So even though we tend to stick with the script, there’s room for improvisation when it’s needed.

LD: Which was your favourite episode in the first season and why?

TOM:  Ah gosh, I would have to say the 8th episode, “First Date,” just because it was the only episode where nobody was sweating. It was actually cool on set since we filmed at a park outside. *laughs* Just kidding. But actually.

ALMOG: Definitely the finale (Episode 9 – “First Time”). First, it was so freakin’ fun to write. I felt like I had a lot of freedom to change up the format, and to play with the viewers’ expectations. Tommy’s character completed his arch, as he gained more confidence and acted upon it in the end, and I was able to write in more clever jokes (at least I hope so) with the addition of a few characters. I also had the most fun directing this episode, because I had a stellar cast to work with, who aren’t only amazing at what they do, but are also my close friends. It was an exciting challenge to direct a larger cast, and it was definitely the most fun set we’ve had.

HESTON: Without a doubt, episode 4, “Rubbers”, is my favorite episode of the season. The concept, the twist ending, and the ponchos… how could you not love that combination?!

CHASE: My favorite episode of Season 1 was of course the finale. We had been talking about it ever since the first episode and were always extremely eager to do it. It came out even more moving than I anticipated… I was really proud of it. Even if my parents had a hard time watching it!

LD: And finally: Any hints at what’s to come? Will we be seeing a new series before you pick up Wiener Vs Brain again? Or can you give us any teasers for the new season?

ALMOG: Before we start a new series, we’re going to revisit our first series “Long Story Short.” We’ll be making a few more episodes of that, and then we’ll be making whatever content our inspiration tells us to make.

 HESTON: We’ve recently been asked to produce content for some other YouTube channels, namely the MEM channel, which has been really fun because we get to experiment with more sketch-based comedy. And hopefully you’ll be seeing a new series on our home channel very soon!

CHASE: Seasons of LSS and WvB will no longer be completely isolated just to themselves; they will instead be spread out. So there will be new ideas and characters coming soon… we just need to figure them out first.

TOM: Stay tuned!


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