Video & Graphic Design

GOP Jesus

Project roles: Actor / Writer / Producer / Editor
Location: Chicago Area

My comedy channel Friend Dog Studios released our latest video about a week ago on facebook and youtube.

I’m writing this entry in a bit of a hurry, but I hope eventually to come back and fill out the story of this project a little more, because it was a doozy. We’ve produced something like 60 public videos in the last few years, and, ordinarily, the time from when we first sit down to write to the day of posting is one to two weeks. In a few cases, 3-4 days. Not with this one, though. This was one case where our micro-budget clashed head on with our vision, and our time kept getting claimed by other, more immediate deadlines.

Each step of the process was repeatedly postponed, rescheduled, and reconfigured, to the point that we came very close to dropping the concept altogether. When you see the finished product, you may not immediately understand where the difficulty came from. There are no special effects, no grand sets, no complex editing, nothing that screams logistical nightmare. But I’m tellin’ ya, it was.

 Brian location scouting along the lake, north of Chicago

Brian location scouting along the lake, north of Chicago

Luckily, through a little persistence and a lot of amazing luck finding an excellent cast and crew, we got production done, and a few weeks after THAT, we finally uploaded it on Saturday morning, 11/10/18.

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I don’t want to spend too much discussing the thought process behind the writing. Partially because I’d like it to speak for itself and partially because with such contentious subject matter explanations often come out sounding defensive, and I’m not interested in that. What I will say is that it was clear to us from the very beginning that this was not a “new” concept. This is an idea that’s been in the social consciousness for a long time, and has reached new heights in the age of Trump. We didn’t invent it, we just wanted to do our take on it.

So, after all that, what was the response?

In terms of numbers; very good. Within a week the facebook upload had accumulated over a million views and over 20,000 shares. The youtube growth started slow but it now growing by a rate of 20-30 thousand views per day. I’m never sure when to call a thing “viral,” so I usually wait until I hear somebody else say it and then point to them as the authority on the matter. In this case, an article by the Christian Post about the video used the word, so let’s go with that.

(EDIT 11/16/18: The video continues to grow and has been picked up by several outlets including HuffPost and RawStory, and several notable tweets like the one from Mark Ruffalo at the top of this post, which I found particularly exciting.)

In terms of critical response, the majority of the feedback we received was quite positive, and seemed to be coming from people who, even if they disagreed with the thing, understood it. It also stirred up plenty of classic comment fights and a threat of hellfire here or there, but that’s the cost of being a citizen of the internet, so, no bones broken. We especially appreciated some of the more thoughtful takes on it from within faith communities, like this piece on churchleaders.com

Questions about this video? Feel free to email Friend Dog Studios at dogandfrienddog@gmail.com


Written, produced, and edited by Ben Auxier & Brian Huther

Directed by Brian Huther
Assistant DP Doyla LaCrua
Assistant director Erin Moreland
Sound Engineer Sarah Putts
Costume Designer Jazmin Medina
Colorist Cory Vetter

GOP Jesus…………..…...Ben Auxier
Sick Woman……..……….Caroline Lyell
Disciple…….......……….…Justin Parlette
Child……………....………...Amaya Tredway

Followers:
Sean Buckley
Alisa Goldberg
Johnathan Koller
Kaitlyn Nibbelin
Anne Ogden
Josh Patel
Sachi Patel
Sanjay Patel
Graig Tertulien
Marie Tredway

Special thanks to Michelle Leatherby

ALEX JONES' NEW SHOW!

Project Roles: Writer / Producer / Editor
Location: Written and edited in Chicago, shot in Kansas City

Ok, story time.

As I've mentioned in this blog before, Brian and I have resumed our work creating video releases for our comedy channel Friend Dog Studios. We've renewed ourselves for a season and committed to releasing something every two weeks at least through August, probably September.

There are a number of reasons why we've decided to do this, but I won't go into that now.

There's a big, production-heavy concept we really want to do here in Chicago. Unfortunately, we keep having to push that back because of the challenges involved in getting the necessary cast and crew.

A little over a week ago, it became clear to us that this bigger idea wasn't going to happen in time to keep with our release schedule. So we pushed it back. Now we needed something new to take its place. Something that could be shot by Thursday at the latest. And hopefully something, yanno, funny.

I had personally become fascinated with the current news stories involving "TV personality" and foaming-at-the-mouth lunatic Alex Jones. His legal cases, his de-platforming by just about every major company, all of that. And I remembered that our good friend Michael Foster had - maybe a year ago - mentioned that he thought it would be funny if he played Jones for us at some point.

I talked it through with Brian for a while. We formulated a concept. One big hurdle was that Foster was in KC, and we had to stay in Chicago. I'd have to produce this thing remotely and assemble a crew in a totally different state.

I am blown away to tell you that not only did that happen, but I actually ended up with more volunteers than we even needed. On Sunday and Monday I waded through a flurry of emails to get all the arrangements made.

 On set-shot.

On set-shot.

On Tuesday I wrote the first draft of the script. Brian made revisions.

On Wednesday I finished the script, created a shot list, and had a phone call with the director.

On Thursday, our incredible production team shot the whole thing in KC, then sent me the footage via Google Drive.

Friday and Saturday, I edited. For like, 20 hours.

And now, this thing exists.

The point of this story is that my mouth is kind of on the floor. I'm proud of myself for all the work I put in, but more importantly, I'm  b l o w n  a w a y  by the amazing artists who stepped up and made this happen in such a high-quality way, so quickly, knowing all along that we could afford to pay them little to nothing for their time.

Having friends like this is amazing.
Knowing artists like this is spectacular.
I am a lucky, lucky man.

Hope you enjoy the vid.

"ALEX JONES' NEW SHOW"
Michael Foster............Alex Jones

Directed by Jamie Campbell
Director of Photography Cory Vetter
Hair & Wardrobe by Nancy Robinson
Lead Production Assistant Dalyn Le Grand
Production Assistants / Audio Engineers Corbin Eaton & Drew McCall

Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart.  

Stay Chill

Project role: Writer, Actor, Producer, Director, Editor
Location: Chicago

My comedy channel Friend Dog Studios continued our new season with the release of a new sketch we called Stay Chill. We had an entirely different video planned, but were having difficulties getting the necessary crew together to get it shot in time for our release schedule, so we continued to work on that larger concept while swapping in this project for a more immediate drop.

The sketch was originally done back in October of 2017 in our live revue The Rough & The Precious, which played at the Blackout Cabaret at Second City. That show was developed and performed by Brian and I as well as our friends Michelle Leatherby and Molly Kessler, the latter of whom sat in on this shoot.

We changed up the script a bit from its original form. Swapped in our own names (originally this was performed by Michelle and I), made a few tweaks, and changed up the ending to something we thought would play better on screen.

Maybe the coolest milestone of this particular release was connecting for the first time with Chicago film dudes Doyle LaCrua, who served as Director of Photography, and Derek Nickisch, who served as assistant DP and operated a behind the scenes camera. Both were incredible and I can't wait to work with them again!

The next day, I put in maybe 10 hours of editing and it was ready for patreon early release by Saturday, as planned. Speaking of which, the support we've been getting on patreon lately has been astounding. When we returned to online content creation after a long hiatus, our numbers on the funding platform had understandably atrophied, but in the span of just a few weeks we've gained back something like $150 in pledges, and that's awesome. Thank you to all our patrons for their support and generosity. If you'd like to join them and get bonus perks, check out the info here!

A Brief History of April Fools' Day

Project roles: Actor, Writer, Graphic Designer
Location: Chicago, w/input from Kansas City

Friend Dog Studios emerged for a moment from our video-producing hiatus to present A History of April Fool's Day, a totes wrong mini-documentary that of course went live on April 1st, 2018.

Originally the concept was to present it as some sort of Ken Burns historical doc - maybe even faintly believable at first - to lull unsuspecting facebook scrollers into a false sense of education before releasing it was another dumb joke. But as it developed, we started favoring a more absurdist, rapid-fire approach, as we usually do.

Brian, Seth, and I sussed out the script over the course of a few writing sessions, with Seth phoning in from KC. Our biggest problem was narrowing down the ideas; this being a list-comedy video, the concepts kept coming, and we had to kill a few darlings to keep it under 3:00 like we prefer.

Once we had the script, Brian and I recorded VO (directing each other in turn), then I gathered up/created graphic resources and handed them over to Brian for editing while I skipped town to head to Colorado Springs.

This video is real dumb. But I like it a lot. I hopes you does too.

The Butcher's Son

Recently I've had the pleasure of designing some video projections for The Butcher's Son, a musical memoir by my friend and KC colleague Vi Tran - playing soon at the Chicago Musical Theatre Festival!

The show recounts the true story of a young Vi, his family, and their perilous and touching journey as refugees out of Vietnam. It is equal parts dramatization, story-telling, and song, and if you'll be in Chicago this month, I highly recommend you come check it out for yourself (see info at the end of this post!)

 A quick & dirty tech rehearsal for Butcher's Son. Photo: Mackenzie Goodwin-Tran

A quick & dirty tech rehearsal for Butcher's Son. Photo: Mackenzie Goodwin-Tran

A lot of my design consists of map animations illustrating various steps on the long journey the company describes. Other flourishes include text, emotional abstractions, and the integration of real photos. I think this is the third (fourth?) time the show has been performed,  and my contributions will appear alongside many elements from past productions, provided by director Mackenzie Tran.

 

While I don't consider myself an expert in this sort of thing, I do have a healthy background in video production, and I really enjoy diving into projection design now and then, as it gives me a chance to combine two different mediums about which I'm passionate. I try to be sparing in my own projects; as tempting as it is, sometimes projections in stage shows can come across as cheap, or be way more trouble than they're worth. However, in this case I think the use of images is a perfect choice by the creative team. Carefully selected bits of real photos and illustrative elements help tell the story vividly and immersively, and I'm quite happy to be a part of it.

If I'm remembering right - and I never am - this is the seventh time I've done this type of design. My first couples go's at it came during my undergrad; a trial-by-fire multi-screen fever dream production of Tommy and a prologue for Radioactive Man and One Eyed Electrical Socket, which is maybe the greatest piece of art ever made. Once out of school I made material for personal projects Fountain City Sketch, and surreal fringe-turned-indie show Our Author Died Today. The most recent three have been for Stuffed Buffalo Productions (Vi and Mackenzie's company); with staged charity readings of Finding Nemo and Eternal Sunshine (which I may have spent an obscene amount of time obsessing over) prior to Butcher's Son.

Anywho. Come see The Butcher's Son at The Chicago Musical Theatre Festival. While you're there, come see my show The Ballad of Lefty & Crabbe, which I'll be posting about soon! Dammit, just come see all the shows. I'm sure gonna try.

The Butcher's Son
by Vi Tran


Greenhouse Theater Center
2257 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago

Saturday, 2/10 at 3pm
Wednesday, 2/14 at 8pm
Sunday, 2/18 at 6pm
Friday. 2/23 at 7:30pm

ScienceLite!

Project Roles: Co-writer, Actor, Editor
Location: Chicago

Friend Dog Studios had its second release in a week with ScienceLite!, an absurdist, satirical sketch on pseudo-science, junk science, and the easy proliferation of bad information on the internet.

In other words, it's a video about sharing made up crap.

I hesitate to list myself as co-writer for this one because it was mostly Brian's work, but I contributed a line and edit here and there as well. The sketch was written for our live show The Rough and the Precious - currently playing at The Blackout Cabaret at the Second City Chicago, Fridays through October 13th.

We decided to adapt it to video for a couple of reasons. First, we liked it and thought it translated well to a social media format (since that's what it's about), and second, we thought it might make good cross-promotion for the stage show. Telling people in Chicago you have a sketch revue is like telling them you have a collection of oxygen; you need something more to catch their attention.

This was one of the easiest shoots we've ever managed; just a few shots on green screen in our apartment's dedicated office space. With some assistance from Michelle Leatherby (another collaborator on the live show), we managed to finish up in about 3 hours from set up to tear down. The post-production process was considerably longer for reasons that will be obvious from watching the video - along with the usual steps of timeline building, color-correcting, and audio-tweaking, every second of every shot was passed through After Effects CC for some fun, albeit kinda cheesy extra visuals. Lucky for me, I've had similar experiences editing various projects such as our Jones-Forrester installments ("Taxes" and "Payday Loans"), so I've picked up a technique or two that help with my efficiency. The result was about 13 hours of staring at my PC to get the final product below:

Making a Masterpiece - Part 3: The Product

Project roles: Improviser / Editor
Location: Shot in Kansas City, edited in Chicago

The long awaited (??) finale to the Friend Dog Studios series Making a Masterpiece was finally posted on Oct 3rd, 2017 to our YouTube and Facebook channels.

This series is bonkers, and this installment is a special kind of stupid that a joy to put together. If you're confused, of course you are. If you'd like some clarify, you can see the series from the beginning here.

Making a Masterpiece: Part 2

Project roles: Improviser / Editor
Location: Show in Kansas City, edited in Chicago

Friend Dog Studios released our second installment in the Making a Masterpiece mini-series. The series was improvised on set and I've been having an interesting time creating a story line out of the odd pieces in editing. See my previous blog post for part 1 and more information!

Making a Masterpiece: Part 1

Project roles: Improviser / Editor
Location: Show in Kansas City, edited in Chicago

After a hiatus of about three months to focus on stage work, my comedy channel Friend Dog Studios has returned to creating patreon funded online content! Making a Masterpiece premiered on our facebook and youtube pages this morning, and I tell ya what, it feels good to be back.

We took a premise based, no-script approach to the production of this one. While still in Kansas City shortly after the closing of our musical, we co-opted The Living Room stage and essentially improvised for about two hours while Director of Photography Joe Carey rolled camera. The result was a hilarious mess that I've been picking through from my editing bay for the last few days, ultimately forming the experience into a multi-episode story arc about three colorful playwrights.

I think there will probably be three episodes in all. Look for the next one to premiere in a couple of weeks.

The Ballad of Lefty & Crabbe

Project role: Co-Writer / Co-Composer / Music Supervisor
Location: Kansas City, MO

"Playwrights Ben Auxier, Brian Huther, and Seth Macchi have put together an absolutely enjoyable evening at the theater. Dialogue is tight. The jokes are funny."
- Alan Portner, Broadway World

I don't even know how to begin writing about this. This has been one of the single greatest experiences of my life, both professionally, and personally.

The Ballad of Lefty & Crabbe is a musical comedy that began its life as a 55 minute piece in the 2015 Kansas City Fringe Festival. I co-wrote it alongside my Friend Dog Studios collaborators Brian Huther and Seth Macchi, and the response we received was so wonderfully positive that we all came away knowing we weren't done.

Rusty Sneary and Shawnna Journagan at The Living Room theatre produced that fringe original as well as this new, expanded version. Their trust and support have been absolutely integral to the existence of this piece; it simply wouldn't be around without them, and I'll never be able to thank them enough for that.

 A poster design I created for the show.

A poster design I created for the show.

So, sentimental blubbering aside, what is this show? The Ballad of Lefty & Crabbe is the story of a comedy duo who find themselves down on their luck as the vaudeville circuits die and give way to the early popularity of film. Determined to stay in the entertainment business they love so dearly, the two follow a fast-talking agent to Hollywoodland, and are soon dizzy from the rapidly changing industry landscape around them.

The show is lightning quick, blissfully silly, 100% heartfelt, and designed to be a piece of pure entertainment. In many ways, it's a simple show, but in many others, it is fiercely and fascinatingly challenging, and I couldn't possibly have asked for a better team to pull it off. The casting consists of Lefty (Michael Hudgens) and Crabbe (Seth Macchi), surrounded by an ensemble of six actors (Brian Huther, Molly Denninghoff, Mike Ott, Ellen Kirk, Joshua Gleeson, and Elise Poehling) who portray some 46 additional characters throughout the show.

The piece was directed by Rusty Sneary of The Living Room, with choreography by Kyra Weinberger, costume design (no small undertaking here) by Nancy Robinson, lighting design by Lacey Pacheco, and dashes of sound design by David Kiehl. A very special kudos to the stage management team as well - led by Ellyn Calvert - who juggled more elements than I could possibly count in a stunningly flawless manner. I could go on and on about this cast and creative team, but there's too much to cover, so I'd invite you to read the reviews (below) to hear more about the incredible fruits of their labor.

One of the best things to come out of this experience was a new partnership with musician Ryan McCall, who acted as both our music director and our arranger, converting our chords and melodies into fully-fleshed out numbers that are better than I ever could have hoped. Ryan had to leave the production as accompanist after the first week, replaced by the incredible Eryn Bates, but we at Friend Dog Studios know we want to work with him again, and in fact are already getting started on our next collaboration!

"The writers and actors won me over with the sheer joy of performing and love of theater. And that’s something you can’t fake. The Ballad of Lefty & Crabbe is part of the Living Room’s mission to produce original work by local or expatriate artists. Other theater companies should take note. I suspect this show has a future."
- Robert Trussell, KC Studio

"Playwrights Ben Auxier, Brian Huther, and Seth Macchi have put together an absolutely enjoyable evening at the theater. Dialogue is tight. The jokes are funny."
- Alan Portner, Broadway World

"The team is also able to tap into some kind of immediacy — whether it’s the small theater, the local talent or the 1920s nostalgia — that makes this production something to savor. (And don’t forget to stay for the post-curtain call sequence.)"
- Christine Pivovar, The Kansas City Star

"The heartfelt performances and unbridled silliness add up to an affectionate evening of escapism. The Ballad of Lefty and Crabbe is the stage equivalent of a summer blockbuster..."
- Liz Cook, The Pitch

"Hudgens and Macchi absolutely carry the show with their singing and acting. They are a joy to watch. The interaction and camaraderie amongst the cast sends electricity to the audience. ★★★★★"
- Bob Evans, KC Applauds

The Joy of Memeing with Bob Ross

Project Roles: Writer / Video Editor
Location: written & edited in Chicago

"Bob Ross really memes what he says." - George Takei on facebook

We tried something a bit different in the latest Friend Dog Studios release; an anachronistic little parody/tribute to Bob Ross and the world of dank memes, both of which have a special place in my heart.

The sketch was posted to our youtube and facebook accounts on 3/13/17, and as of this post three days later, it's accumulated over half a million views altogether, thanks in large part to crossposting by Did You Know and our BFF George Takei. The reception has been almost universally positive and it's been a lot of fun to see the joy this silly piece is bringing to many.

I did most of the writing on this one - and I gotta say it's one of the easiest things I've ever done. It's a comfort to know that hours and hours of watching an instructional show on something I'm never going to try finally paid off somehow. I also handled the post-production with input from Brian and Seth. That step provided some interesting challenges, such as creating a convincing false screen, giving the footage an outdated feel, and not being lulled into a pleasant slumber every five minutes by the soothing voice.

KC actor John Rensenhouse graciously loaned us his dulcet tones in the role of Ross. The video was shot in Kansas City by Vetter Brothers Filmworks, directed by Seth Macchi. Wig and beard were played by a wig and a beard, expertly applied by our good friend Heidi Bowles.

Fake News Now

Project Roles: Co-Writer / Actor / Co-Director / Co-Video Editor
Location: Chicago, additional footage shot in Kansas City

"How do you spot fake news?
By watching this. This is literally Fake News."

Friend Dog Studios embarked on a new project with the release of Fake News Now; a parody news and variety show released March 1st, 2017 on their youtube and facebook pages.

As with many Friend Dog Studios productions, I wore a lot of hats on this one; actor, co-writer, co-director, and co-editor. The hope is that more installments of the show might be created in partnership with an interested producer.

The video was shot entirely on green screen in two different cities; Sam Ott of Peace Frame Productions was director of photography in Chicago, and Brandon Durkes of Rellitray Studios DP'd in Kansas City. Special thanks to voice over artist Sam Williamson, and to Ashley Osborn, Bobby Miller Jr, Brandon Durkes, Coleman Crenshaw, Jenny Holden, Michelle Leatherby, and Tosin Morohunfola for their cameo appearances!
 

Couples Charades

Project Roles: Director / Actor / Video Editor
Location: Kansas City, MO

"At some point in your life you've probably been the third wheel, so we can all relate to this video to some degree. Friend Dog Studios displays this awkward feeling in a more than true way..." - Right This Minute

The 2017 Valentine's release from Friend Dog Studios is all about what it's like to be surrounded by all these damn couples.

I directed, edited, and co-stars in this sketch which was penned by our brilliant guest writer Jonathon Chase. Seth Macchi takes the featured role alongside guest stars Ellen Kirk, Brianna Woods, and Donovan Woods.

The video, posted on February 11th 2017, was shot by Vetter Brothers Filmworks with audio engineering by Adam Doria. Hair & makeup by Heidi Bowles, assistant director Sam Findlay.

TV program Right This Minute did a feature on the sketch which you can see here!

2016: The Movie (Trailer)

Project Roles: Co-Writer / Actor / Director
Location: Written in Chicago, shot in Kansas City

"It’s a been an exceptionally bleak year. So dark, at times, that many have wondered whether we were all living in a real-life horror movie. But now the idea has been taken to the next level by the amazing creatives at Friend Dog Studios who have imagined the trailer for the movie of 2016. And it’s almost pant-wettingly scary." - The Huffington Post

Our comedy channel Friend Dog Studios had our biggest viral hit to date with 2016: The Movie (Trailer). As of this update on February 22nd both the youtube and facebook uploads have surpassed three and half million views, with shared copies by UniLAD and LADBible reaching tens of millions more.

I got to direct this one (with a good amount of help from Brian), as well as co-write and co-star in the trailer parody which playfully sends up the running joke that 2016 itself was out to get us. The video was uploaded December 28th, 2016 and received a flurry of media attention in the days following; getting featured by Entertainment Weekly, Cosmopolitan, Us Magazine, AV Club, Huffington Post, The Independent, NY Daily News, and many more.

It was shot and colored by the generous geniuses at Vetter Brothers Filmworks with invaluable audio engineering by Adam Doria. Along with Friend Dog Studios co-owners Brian Huther and Seth Macchi, the video features the talents of LA actress Anna Gilchrist, KC actor and improvisor David Martin (as 2016) and the voice talents of Salem Deel as the obligatory creepy-singing-trailer-kid.

To contact Friend Dog Studios please email dogandfrienddog@gmail.com
For any inquiries on using this video, please contact licensing@storyful.com

 "Guys...they shot a gorilla."

"Guys...they shot a gorilla."

Did You Know?

Project Roles: Co-Writer / Actor / Video Editor
Location: Kansas City & Chicago

"What 'right thing' will you do today?" - George Takei on facebook

My writing partner Brian Huther and I have been writing and starring in a series of fun fact videos for online informational channel Did You Know.

Did You Know, the content company behind these ultra-shareable little tidbits, has contracted us to produce comedic video renditions of some of their most popular fact sets. Actress and frequent collaborator Ellen Kirk also stars in several installments. As of the writing of this update (2/22/17), over twenty of these videos have been posted, with topics ranging from money to Star Wars to orgasms.

The videos are featured on the Did You Know and Did You Know - Video facebook pages, which have a combined reach of 5.8 million followers and growing. You can also check out all the videos in playlist form via their youtube channel.