Milwaukeean Jack Packard channels online laughs with FunnyOrDie.com
With the digital revolution we've seen every kind of technology and media format get smaller, while lending more empowerment to the average person.
The advancement of technology and reduction of cost gave us gritty sketch-based comedies like CKY and the "Jackass" series, which began as small-scale operations and were launched into the stratosphere after their combination and debut on MTV. With the invention of YouTube, people across the world can now be linked to a video, taking the once local artist to a potentially vast, international sea of eyes.
Seeing a need for a website that was specifically dedicated to comedians and sketch makers, Will Ferrell and some friends created FunnyOrDie.com, which aims to give a voice to those who can't get enough laughs in their lives.
One local filmmaker and his band of brothers – one actual brother and one cousin – set out to turn their dream of making people laugh into a reality. Jack and Nick Packard and their cousin Jake Szymanski took their talents to Funny Or Die, and based on the hits their sketches get, they've delivered.
After debuting their latest "Bowling Trick Shot" video on Funny Or Die last week, I talked with director Jack Packard about their beginnings and about where they want to take their silly sensibilities.
OnMilwaukee.com: How did you get into film and sketch making?
Jack Packard: As I'm sure your readers can see, I am an overly attractive man and felt I would shine too bright in front of the camera, so to give other actors a chance I thought it would be best to do work behind the camera instead of in front of it. Really I'm just an old A/V nerd who found Comedy Sportz in high school. Comedy came naturally to me because I was socially awkward and I found that putting myself on stage revealed how weird I felt in crowds. Performing gave me a sense of control, so I felt more comfortable on stage than off.
Outside of school my cousin – and Almost Twins partner Jake Szymanski (director at FOD and SNL) – and I would watch movies and do all we could to make each other laugh. I remember we even made an awful Adam Sandler-like comedy tape full of sketches and songs that we recorded in his basement. We sent it out to local radio stations. It was pretty sad but we loved it.
Then in 1995, Jake and I saw "Clerks" and said, "We can do this." He got a camera soon after and we just started shooting, and haven't stopped since.
OMC: What about comedy and telling funny stories is so appealing to you and your crew?
JP: I've thought about this question a lot and all I can come up with is, "We're just a bunch of assh*les."
Seriously, it's about amusing ourselves. The greatest thing that Comedy Sportz taught me is that it's not about you being funny it's about the scene being funny. Eventually you find this group of people and you start riffing and realize you've been laughing for hours. It's like a drug; who can keep the bit going, who can get the biggest laugh? And, that's just for comedy videos.
When you get into the weirder "viral" videos, like the "High Five Montages" or the "Trick Bowling" videos, I think those are funny but they're also just weird and awesome.
Then the thinking is just, 'What can we do today that no one else has done?" How can we be awesomer – yes, that's a word – than our forefathers. I love seeing what we can build and what weird things we can do, even if it's as stupid and getting a strike while bowling outside. It's so satisfying, you know, in that 4-years-old-building-a-cardboard-box-fort kind of way.
OMC: You've been doing videos for FunnyOrDie.com since it started. How did you get involved with them?
JP: Well, I was there almost since they started. The story goes like this: Jake – remember him, my cousin and Almost Twins partner – and I, with our friend Devon Jackson, shot a "Friday Night Lights" parody called "Friday Night Nights." Brilliant, right? We shot this in 20 minutes in Jake's parent's backyard. We uploaded it to YouTube and thought that would be the end of it. Then, we heard about Funny Or Die and rumblings that Will Ferrell, Chris Henchy and Adam McKay were starting a "YouTube for comedy" and we got in as fast as we could.
We uploaded "Friday Night Nights" and then the website crashed. That's right, we broke the internet with our greatness. So, after the site crashed, our video was still on the homepage for almost a full day and everyone was coming to the site to check out "The Landlord" so we got a good number of hits because of dumb luck.
Chris Henchy actually brought Jake in to audition for a show he was doing pre-production on – "EastBound and Down" – but, spoiler alert, Jake didn't get the part, but he got talking to Henchy and McKay about "Friday Night Nights." Boom! Jake works for Funny Or Die. A short time later on a trip back to Milwaukee I pitch Jake a very stupid idea: two guys high-five, A LOT. Pow! After a few more successful videos I'm hired onto Funny Or Die as a video producer and content supervisor. It's my job to watch user videos and filter out the crap in hopes of getting quality, user-generated content features on the main page.
OMC: How long does it take to make your average video?
JP: Most projects take about one to two weeks. Working for the internet has forced me to work super quick, and a Comedy Sportz/no-budget filmmaking background has taught me to think on my feet. I love it when a shoot can be wrapped up in one day. For example the first "Bowling Trick Shot" video was shot in about four hours. My brother Nick and I took an afternoon to shoot and I had a rough edit by the next day. But, the latest "Bowling Trick Shot" video we had weeks in between shoots because Wisconsin was having such a mild winter. While working on other projects, Nick and I would obsess over the weather report and have all the equipment in a car just in case it snowed.
Overall, I usually like to have them shot and edited within a week, and that's something that I think is really important.
One of the advantages of having a small crew and no budget is flexibility. There's no way to have the quality of a big studio picture so you need to have more creativity and put out more content. The other advantage is that when I make sandwiches for "the production crew" I can eat all eight sandwiches. Why do I make eight sandwiches knowing I am the crew, you ask? Because sandwiches are amazing and I had extra peanut butter.
OMC: What is your overall dream job? Do you hope to have your own show someday or be a writer for a show, or do you want to get into doing movies?
JP: To be honest I'm kind of doing my dream job now without the dream money part of it. I would just love to be creating more. Right now a lot of my day is sorting through other people's work and that is pretty mentally draining. There are only so many "my roommate is masturbating" sketches you can watch before you lose faith in humanity. So, my brother Nick and I started up Packard MGMT in hopes of translating our viral video success into some commercial work. We're trying to bring creativity to online commercial content. I call them "micro-branded entertainment pieces" or M-BEP for short. For an even shorter version you could call them MBPs or the shortest version, you could call them Ms.
I'd love to make movies. I've written a couple that I still really love and one day hopefully I can get them made. Really, my only goal in life is to provide for myself and my family through creative means. It's been about two years now that I gave up the "day job" and have been strictly freelance. With a little luck and some good ideas, hopefully, we can keep it going.
OMC: How many people contact you saying "I have a great idea for a sketch. We should...etc.?"
JP: Almost everyone I talk to says that they have a great idea for a sketch and most of the time I tell them that I will help them make it. Then, they never get a hold of me to make it. They say they have a great idea, then they never take the next step to get it made. That's a common theme.
OMC: What is the biggest fail that you've had throughout your filming career, and what has been the biggest success thus far?
JP: Oh man, have I had some failures. My first attempt at a music video was for Milwaukee's own noise/rock band IfIHadAHiFi. I had this big ambitious plan for a one-shot music video; one continuous shot with no edits, with them playing and these weird ski mask people all around them and fireworks and sparklers and it was so boring I couldn't show it to anyone. It was way ahead of me. That failure taught me the importance of pre-planning. If I had done some dry runs without the band or anyone there I would have known how slow and uninteresting it would have been.
Oh, then there's Poopagain P.I. on our FunnyOrDie page that shows my personal philosophy, which is that no one will find me as funny as I do. So, I know full well that most people may not like my work, but I do. I had this idea for an homage to Columbo and the other old detective serials called "Poopagain P.I." and the joke is that at the end of every scene someone would say "It's Poopagain" and we would cut to the detective and he would poop, again. Get it? When I would tell people about it, and while I was writing it, I was laughing so hard that I was crying. It spent maybe an hour up on Funny Or Die before going to "The Crypt." If a video receives too many "Die" votes it lands there. It's pretty terrible and it was 100 percent my fault. I recommend watching it if you would like to see a big failure.
The problem was that I wrote, shot, directed and edited the project with no one else's input. I was so blinded by my idea that I didn't see how bad it was which was a great learning experience, and now I have people I always consult with for my projects. It's always good to have another opinion even if I don't like it.
So, how about some wins? I would have to say my most recognized work was "Real Life Angry Birds." This video was so fun to make. My brother Nick and I built a giant sling shot and recreated the levels of Angry Birds, then shot bowling balls at them. It was the greatest day. At the end of the video you can hear me laughing, all real, it was great fun and with over three million hits it's been a big success.
Another big win for me was a recent project, shooting a music video for Logic & Raze. While I love their music, it was different from other music videos I had shot with The New Loud or IfIHadAHiFi. This one is significantly more surreal. Logic and Raze gave me complete creative control and the final product turned out exactly as I saw it in my head, and those two guys were super fun to have around on shoot days.
Overall, the thing I consider success is getting to work with the people I have over the years. From the big name celebrities – not to name drop but Joe Bays was really a pleasure to work with – to my brother Nick and my cousin Jake. Spending that kind of time with people I enjoy being around is the greatest success. Well, that and hugging Raven Symone. She's a firm yet tender woman.
To check out the video that Jack and his crew have put together, check out his Funny Or Die page.
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