Featured Filmmaker ~ Ted Tremper
Taking his passion for improv and love of film, our Featured Filmmaker Ted Tremper creates a quirky (award winning) webisodic program called “Break-ups: The Series.” After immersing himself within the Chicago improv scene for 3 years, Tremper developed a web series featuring improv actors in the throws of emotional break-ups. Along with his talented group of fellow actors, as a Director, Ted delicately and playfully captures that moment in coupledom, when we all know, it’s over. “In improv, ‘finding the scene’ is a phrase you hear constantly. It refers to a breakthrough moment the performers have where both the audience and performers realize exactly what the scene is about and how to play it,” says Tremper.” To use a scientific analogy, you’re finding the Natural Frequency of that moment — the note, that when repeated, creates powerful resonance.” Not only a hit with the improv crowd, the series has captured the attention of numerous film festivals after it won the 2010 Vimeo Global Film Festival Award for “Best Original Series.” By using new media and social networking, Ted’s not afraid of “little screen” distribution and can artfully compete with network and cable television. For all who’ve loved and loss, come watch a few webisodes and have a few laughs. Enjoy!
What made you decide to get into Web Television?
Three years ago, I moved to Chicago under the auspices of pursuing an MFA in Writing at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). My real motive, however, was to study improv. I was a performer all throughout college, and everyone who knows anything about improv knows you go to Chicago to get better at it. After moving, my love of improvisation and the desire to share it with other people became an obsession. I stopped taking writing classes at SAIC and shifted into film. I began taping shows constantly as a way to get to know performers. All of my early film projects were just thinly veiled excuses to work with the performers I had been watching and admiring as I went through classes. It wasn’t until I had watched shows five nights a week for three years and performed at least 200 shows of my own that I felt really comfortable with the idea of trying to represent improv on film. It was during that time that I started watching test footage for the Canon 5D Mark ii on Vimeo. The moment I saw that footage, I knew it would be possible to create work that reflected my love of improv in a way that would meet my aesthetic desires on a production budget that was within my price range. “Break-ups: The Series” was the first project I shot after my 5D arrived. [ Screen grab above by Ted Tremper from “Break-ups: The Series” – Katy & Ted ]
What do you love about the process and creation of an improvisational series?
In improv, “Finding the scene,” is a phrase you hear constantly. It refers to a breakthrough moment the performers have where both the audience and performers realize exactly what the scene is about and how to play it. To use a scientific analogy, you’re finding the Natural Frequency of that moment — the note, that when repeated, creates powerful resonance. There is nothing on Earth that can express the joy one experiences when you find a scene. The wonderful part of filming improv is that we have the camera as our safety net. We don’t have just one chance to get it right as we do with a live audience. We can continue working together as a team to discover what our scene wants to be. It is the discovery of those moments, and imagining what people’s reactions to them are going to be, that brings me the greatest joy. [ Screen grab above by Ted Tremper from “Break-ups: The Series” – Tim & Emily ]
When producing a series exclusively for the web, how do you build an audience?
Originally, I intended on making ten episodes of Break-ups with the modest goal of getting 1,000 views per episode. There are around 2,000 people around Chicago who are affiliated with improv, so I figured I could get at least that via word-of-facebook. Winning the Vimeo award was by far the largest boost I could have imagined for the viewership of my work. Since then we’ve had over 150,000 views, and I’ve been invited to showcase our work at at least a half dozen film festivals in the US and abroad. [ Screen grab above by Ted Tremper from “Break-ups: The Series” – Katy & Ted ]
From where or from whom do you find inspiration?
I am inspired by people who leave me saying, “Damn. No one else could have done that quite like they did it.” On that list I would put the improv groups The Reckoning, TJ & Dave, Cook County Social Club, Middle Aged Comeback, and 3033 (among others too innumerable to list). I would also add the filmmakers David Lynch, Todd Solondz, and P.T. Anderson. Musically, I would add Radiohead, the rapper Lil Wayne — but only “Tha Carter III”, L’eternebre, and Beethoven. From writing, George Saunders, Kurt Vonnegut, Michael Patrick O’Brien, Tom Flanigan, John Hodgman, and Etgar Keret. Visually, Max Ernst and Francis Bacon. Additionally, two smells that inspire me are burning cedar and turkey dinner.
What do you like most about being a DP? Director? Actor?
The greatest joy I have in filming is being indulgent in the resources I am so lucky to have at my disposal. I live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, my friends are among the most talented improvisers in the country, and I have just enough technology at hand to combine those two properties to create work that I love. Every time I pick up a camera I feel both incredibly grateful and creatively free. [ Screen grab above by Ted Tremper from “Break-ups: The Series” – Kellen & Seth ]
Anything unusual ever happen on set or location?
On the morning of filming the “Tim & Emily” shoot, Emily Wilson called me and said that she had talked to her scene partner, Tim Robinson, and they wanted to know if we could change the location from The Second City E.T.C. to the Ferris wheel at Navy Pier. I had actually had a dream about filming an episode in there, so I was very excited to try it. When we arrived, Tim Robinson suddenly remembered that he is terrified of heights. He said he would give it a try, but when we got into that Ferris wheel car, he would begin improvising and then just start saying, “Oh shit, oh shit, what am I doing? What am I doing?!?” We went all the way around the Ferris wheel and only about fifteen seconds of the footage was usable. Tim collected himself. He said he’d be fine for another go. We got back into the Ferris wheel, and their second take was perfect. He didn’t have even a hiccup of fear. With Emily’s help, Tim’s engagement in the scene superseded his fear of heights. Watching the finished film, I don’t think you can tell at all. It was pretty amazing. [ Photo above by Nelson Carvajal ]
Improvised by Katy Colloton and Ted Tremper. Shot by Bobby Richards and Ted Tremper. Directed and Edited by Ted Tremper. To see more episodes visit: breakups.us.
Starring and Improvised by Tim Robinson & Emily Wilson. Shot by Ted Tremper and Jared Larson. Sound by Ted Tremper. Edited and directed by Ted Tremper.
Ted Tremper is an improviser, filmmaker, and writer living in Chicago, IL. Since moving to Chicago in 2007, he has amassed a body of work in film, television, and new media that has received numerous awards and critical acclaim. His film series “Break-ups: The Series” has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Onion A/V Club, and won the 2010 Vimeo Global Film Festival Award for “Best Original Series.” He has extensive experience in the development, production, and post-production of media projects that span platforms and include The Discovery Channel, History, TLC, Discovery Health, MSNBC, and ABC. He has toured with The Second City and performed improv and sketch at The Annoyance Theatre and iO (formerly ImprovOlympic). He is also a regular performer on The Second City’s House Company performing every Saturday in Donny’s Skybox Studio Theatre. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Official Page: www.tedtremper.com, www.breakups.us
Break-ups Channel of Vimeo: http://vimeo.com/channels/117029
Facebook Fan Page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Break-ups-The-Series/142390695777312