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Noah Applebaum first became a blip on the FXhome radar while attending Miami University in Ohio (no, we’re not sure why Miami is in Ohio either). As chance would have it, FXhome legend AJ Rickert-Epstein was also attending Miami and had already established his filmmaking credentials by setting up the MAFIA filmmaking group. “Knowing nothing of film, we came to him with a twenty page pilot,” recalls Noah, who had devised an idea for a comedy show with his friend Christopher Martin. The project was known as Komikarate.
The Fingerman connectionAs AJ told us in interview last November, Noah’s ideas rather outstripped his capability at the time. “I told him my honest opinion of the script and that it would take a lot more work than he probably thought. Later, I wanted him to be involved with Fingerman somehow and learn more about what actually goes into the process of making a movie.”
“We didn’t fully understand how hard it was to realise a pirate ship, a mining town filled with old prospectors and countless other scenarios that were damn near impossible to execute,” admits Noah. The Fingerman experience provided a steep learning curve for Noah and also introduced him to AJ’s regular cohort and fellow FXhomer Chris ‘CX3’ Cowan.
“I knew what it took to start bringing some of our ideas to fruition,” Noah says of his post-Fingerman revelation, “which I did completely on my own – camera, sound, editing, effects etc. It was the most unfunny thing I’ve ever seen, save for the part where I shot myself in the face with my own nipple milk.”
With many of the Fingerman cast and crew subsequently relocating to Los Angeles, Noah decided that teamwork was the future. Joining forces with Chris and fellow filmmaker Jon Dicks, they set about translating some of their comedy ideas from brain to screen.
Diggers“The skit that kicked us off happened when a close friend and I were walking through a grocery store and found a bag of chips called ‘Diggers’,” explains Chris. “Right after that I put a script together, called up Jon and Noah and at the end of the week Diggers was born.” Not only did they have their first sketch completed, but the foundations for the Komikarate team were in place.
“People take themselves and the industry way too seriously, especially here in Los Angeles,” says Noah. “The Komikarate mission is simple: laugh or else you suck. We should have a blast from pre-production all the way through post and we feel the audience definitely picks up on that positive energy.”
The team rapidly ballooned to 15 cast and crew, with the exact composition shifting about for every production. “If the skit calls for certain people, we’ll pull those specific persons from the roster and get to making,” says Chris. “For Komikarate, selfishness is out, selflessness is in.”
Spreading the wordGetting the word out is always difficult, especially in LA where the competition is fierce. Networking, as always, is crucial. Chris elaborates: “Most all of us are working on sets doing different jobs from DPs, ADs, PAs, ACs etc – from there it’s all about networking and word of mouth. We also like to hand out sampler DVDs which others can take home and show to friends.”
The Internet also plays a big part, providing an immediate audience that would otherwise be impossible to find. “Sites like YouTube and Funny Or Die are a great tool to pass out our work for instant feedback,” says Noah. “Also, when people understand the technical aspect of our work, you get the best of both worlds. That’s why I have a ton of respect for FXhome – you guys are definitely a big part of our momentum. Conversely, if we crash and burn it’s all Tarn’s fault.”
Making a pointMuch of Komikarate’s early work focused on issues of race, from the word-play of Diggers and Ninja to the social and media satire of Triple K and The New Black Plague. “After those skits we kinda took a step back and said ‘wow...’” recalls Chris of the realisation that Komikarate had almost subconsciously shifted its focus towards such serious themes.
“For us, being able to play on those stereotypes forces everyone to really take a look at their own fears or prejudices,” says Noah. “Hopefully, through comedy, they can realise just how ridiculous it is to harbour ill will towards someone for an absurd, abstract idiosyncrasy that has absolutely nothing to do with an individual’s merit or value. Plus it’s just really funny to us.”
Jon agrees, hoping that “in some way we essentially take the power away from those who would use those words or feeling to cut and hurt others. It’s all love here.”
Of course, intent and interpretation don’t always go together, with socially charged material sometimes sending the wrong message to less enlightened audiences. “People are always going to be offended by certain things,” continues Jon, “but comedy is supposed to be a shock and a wake-up call at times. We pull on topics from our own world views and then string them together. It’s culture in general that we find so damn funny and it’s all open season.”
Noah has a similar no-surrender-no-retreat mentality. “You can’t please everyone, so why compromise? You either get it or you don’t – no hard feelings. If you don’t like it, no-one is forcing you to watch Komikarate...yet.”
ProgressionMoving on from the early days of single shot gags the team is now regularly producing far more elaborate sketches, such as Teen School: The Musical, Mario and The Wrap (an entry for FXhome’s own VideoWrap contest). “I am proud of Teen School: The Musical,” says Noah. “We did everything from start to finish, including writing and recording the songs, in less than three days. During that time we also filmed the 300 sketch.”
“We do feel like we have progressed down the line,” says Chris. “You’re usually always better in the present than you were in the past, excluding George Lucas. That being said, we are still always going to be the same goofy group of people. The main thing we’d like to improve on right now would be upping our equipment. Many are making the jump to HD and we’re looking to do the same.”
“Given a higher technical capability we can really hit the gas and push ourselves to deliver,” promises Noah.
An important step forward came with the creation of Baby Cribs for an online competition run by Schick. Not only is the sketch their best written, acted and edited to date, it also reached the Top 20 finalists list, with Komikarate receiving 20,000 YouTube views in just over a week.
“We were surprised that Baby Cribs even made it into the Top 20 of the Schick competition,” says Noah, “especially since we had just gotten hosed on Teen School in a separate contest. Online contents seem nice for some publicity but I don’t expect much past that. And some douchenozzle won the Schick contest! Not saying we should have won, but at least give it to someone that doesn’t completely suck.”
Paying the billsDespite its successes, Komikarate has yet to become a self-sufficient entity. “There comes a time in every man’s life when he has to do something that he is completely and morally against,” admits Noah. “For me, that was being a paid audience member of American Gladiators. It sucked, but they gave me 90 bucks. Living in LA is all about finding a way to survive but not letting it eat you up and take your integrity. I find that every job I work where I see the dark side of Hollywood only makes me hungrier to keep our projects going.”
A rapid production cycle enables Komikarate to function in spite of the pressures of everyday living to their rapid production cycle. “It’s not really that time consuming,” says Chris. “On average our turn around for sketches is usually within one to two days. And now I’m sounding like FedEx.”
The next step“We would love to be able to pitch a show to Comedy Central or G4,” says Chris, pondering where to take the group next, “reason being some of our more racier skits would fit right at home on Comedy Central and our sketches revolving around video games would pull for a good audience on G4.”
Noah is also determined to take the team to the next level. “We just want a chance to prove we can play with the big boys. I know we have a few great seasons in us. Who knows if the name will be around for decades, but certainly the passion for filmmaking and the drive to push ourselves to raise the bar will continue.”
“New and creative comedy sketches, a feature film, world domination,” muses Jon. “We are collaborating right now on a new movie script that we are looking to shoot at the beginning of 2009.”
Before that a TV pilot needs to be finished and thrust in the faces of unwary studio executives. “Chris is a phenomenal editor and we are trying to take the funniest and best technically executed sketches to a few networks in the US and Canada,” says Noah. “Chris is chained in the basement editing right now. He gets a handful of red hots and some grape soda for his daily rations. If he’s lucky, we give him Diggers on Sundays.
“Our goal is to be shooting HD very soon with at least some costume and production design,” says Noah. “Stay tuned and thanks again to all the FXhome crew for all the support. Now if you’ll excuse me, there is a piping hot bowl of Cap’n Crunch cooling on my windowsill.”