FYIG recently had the opportunity to chat with actress Sofie Holland and producer Jeff Knoll about their new comedy project Coming Distractions. Find out more about this hilarious new take on life in a movie theater right here!
Jeff: Tell us about your background as a producer.
I have been making movies since I was 9 years old with my wind up 8mm keystone camera in Windsor and I started working in local movie theatres when I was 13. I studied Communications Studies at the University of Windsor and went on to working as a professional filmmaker in industrial films and local retail TV commercials. I left the production business in the late 80’s and focused on politics, the movie theatre business and raising my family. My youngest son, David, got the acting bug when he was very young and I started to accompany him to auditions and film sets. The more I hung around film sets, the more I got excited about the technological innovations in film and was bitten by the bug again. In 2013, I produced my first series entitled Kid’s Town, a tween comedy that has gone on to win awards and success online on Amazon. Hulu, iTunes and many more. After that, I helped other productions on an ad hoc basis with locations, marketing, etc. In 2016 I joined DVUS Film as Producer and became the Producer/Showrunner for two new series – 2nd Generation (Amazon) and Walking on Sunshine (in post productions).
Sofie: Tell us about your background as an actress.
I started acting in Vancouver when I was 4. My family and I moved to Toronto when I was 5, and I’ve been acting ever since! It’s definitely a process. I’ve done everything from short films to animated series to Network TV shows. My first major booking was when I was cast as a series regular voice on season 5 of Caillou (which was so cool for me because it was a show I grew up watching before I was cast). Most notably, I got to work with Anna Popplewell on an episode of CW’S Reign in 2016. A sci-fi feature I worked on last year called Grim Trigger is actually coming out very soon! I love acting because every day on the job feels different. One day it’s a suspenseful horror film and the next, a comedic web-series. You’re never stuck doing one thing until you retire.
Jeff: Where did the inspiration for Coming Distractions originate?
Having recently turned 53, I have officially worked in movie theatres for 40 years in every capacity from cleaner to owner. Over that time, I loved the jobs, have had a ton of fun and have “seen everything”. I realized that somebody needed to develop a workplace comedy set in a movie theatre. I approached my political colleague, Marc Reyer Grant, to ask if he felt he could write a pilot script for the concept show. I gave him a part-time manager’s job at my Oakville Cinema and he had first-hand experience with all aspects of the business and he was able to develop them into the hilarious Coming Distractions!
Sofie & Jeff: Some people may not think any interesting stories can come out of a movie theatre. What would you say to those people to change their opinion?
Sofie: I don’t know who these people are, but I have seen first hand many interesting things happen in a movie theatre (though perhaps not quite evil goose crazy.) Like any workplace comedy, some of the stories come from how these absurd characters handle more mundane situations, like having a new co-worker. Other stories are based on things Jeff and Marc have actually experienced. Our writer, Marc Grant, has written the entire first season and there isn’t a dull moment. You won’t be disappointed.
Jeff: Just watch Coming Distractions as most of the stories are based on real experiences!
Jeff: How difficult is it to film a whole series primarily in one location?
When you have a location as cool as a movie theatre, it is not that difficult as there are so many places within the complex that can each provide a different setting for the narrative. Having said that, we have our next 10 scripts ready to go and we will be venturing out of the theatre to help develop the quirky characters and provide backstory to enhance the storytelling. The only difficulty to working on location at an operating cinema is that we have to work overnight when the theatre is closed. That means call times around midnight until noon the next day. We have to keep our craft table full or sugary snacks and caffeinated beverages to keep everyone awake!
Jeff: Coming Distractions is full of a wide variety of different characters. How integral was it to have such diverse personalities for the series?
The personalities of the characters are really what dive the stories. While the setting is fun and the stories set the stage, the cast and their characters give the entire production life. What is interesting is that all of the cast are loosely based on real people that work at Film.Ca Cinemas, each of them were chosen for their ability to not only bring those charterers to life but also to develop personalities that would compliment the others. We went through a lot of potential performers to find the exact ensemble and then brought them back to a group audition to determine how they would all interact with each other to deliver the performance we needed to fully realize the potential of our show. One of the best examples of this is the character of Sonny. The character, as written, was sort of odd to be sure and was meant to be a minor role but Sofie developed the character into one that is a viewer favorite with lots of potential and has been written extensively into season one.
Jeff: Were the MegaFilmPlex employees always planned as the main antagonists or did you experiment with other antagonists?
Yes, as an independent movie theatre, the chain theatres are our arch nemesis in real life so it was a natural extension to include them as part of our narrative as well. We love the classic summer camp storyline where the cool camp is always at odds with the creepy across the lake and this natural rivalry works well … and we didn’t even need a canoe to make it work!
Sofie: What appealed to you about Coming Distractions to sign on for the pilot/series?
I worked with Jeff on another series in 2016 called 2nd Generation. When he approached me and my agent about this new series, and I read the hilarious script, I was immediately interested in auditioning. I auditioned first for Rebecca, along with Felicia Simone (who plays Rebecca) and Torri Webster (who plays Hayley). Basically, all the girls read for the same role, and we were cast based on our dynamic with the other actors. Sunny is such a fun character, and when I was offered the role, I was really excited to see what I could do with it.
Sofie: Tell us a little bit about your character Sunny.
Sunny is… odd. And a little off. Sometimes she seems mostly normal, and sometimes she can’t suppress her dark (mostly harmless) thoughts from coming to the surface. I love to play up the juxtaposition. She’s one of the long-time employees of Cinema Six, so it’s really funny seeing how Rebecca, the new girl, reacts to her when everyone else on the team is so used to it. Still, I think I can manage to throw even them a curveball. Maybe we’ll see in the next few episodes.
Sofie: How difficult was it to keep a straight-face playing a character with such a split-personality?
Keeping a straight face was hard. Mikelle, our awesome director, let me ad-lib some of my lines, and I’ll be honest, I kept making myself laugh. It was really nice to be given that freedom because it allowed me to make Sunny a little more my own. She’s a hilarious character. One of my favourite things about her though is how unashamedly creepy she can be. I drew a little bit of inspiration from Miranda Sings. Sometimes I cry laughing at her videos, and that’s the kind of character I want Sunny to be, too.
Jeff: How did you come up with some of the running gags in the pilot like the goose and the mysterious 6th theatre? Can viewers expect more running gags as the series goes on?
The gags will keep on coming and the goose is going to return! The goose is based on a real one that haunted our cinema parking lot for several months chasing guests, pecking at windows and adding a bit of danger to everyone’s day. The real George has, “flown the coop”, but he lives on in Coming Distractions. The mysterious 6th cinema is not real but that is much as I can say… we don’t really talk about that. And yes, the pornographic video game is based on a real incident too!
Jeff: A lot of sitcoms tend to feature unrealistic situations, but Coming Distractions seemed pretty realistic during the whole pilot. How important was it to be funny while still making everything believable?
I love the fact that the bulk of our stories are based on real incidents and situations and that has always been one of the most important aspects of the show. There will be lots of fictional stories and characters, but it is important to us that we keep it as realistic as possible so that people can identify with the show from their experiences as a guest a staffer or even as a member of the opposing “big box” team.
Jeff: How else did you try to set Coming Distractions apart from other sitcoms out there?
I think our biggest differentiator is our setting in a movie theatre but the factual basis of the stories also sets us apart. I think we have a more authentic look and feel being shot in an actual cinema and not on a sound stage. Our single camera shooting style also gives the show a more cinematic look and feel.
Sofie & Jeff: What’s the best way viewers can help out to make sure that this series gets a full season?
Sofie: Jeff and Marc know much better how exactly to get this show made, but honestly, there are so many ways viewers can help us out. Watching the pilot on Youtube, like and share the video, subscribe, like our facebook… The larger a platform we have, the easier it is to pitch. Look at Letterkenny. Hater’s Back Off. Buzzfeed Unsolved. All these small-scale web videos blew up because people online were loving them! You can now watch them on Netflix, CraveTV, and so many other high-profile platforms. It’s possible. We just need a hand getting from point A to point B.
Jeff: We are in the midst of two campaigns to develop a full web series season right now and those interested can help in two ways. First of all, they can contribute to our Crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. We have some incredibly cool perks and even on-set experiences. You can find the campaign, and the hilarious pitch video, at https://igg.me/at/backCD/x/
The second is help us get more social media attention to our pitch trailer for funds from the Independent Production Fund. A big part of the adjudication process is support from the community in the form of views, likes, comments, and shares on the IPF trailer at https://youtu.be/IqCOhO0OHI0
Sofie & Jeff: Where can people find both of you and Coming Distractions online?
Jeff: You can watch the pilot, trailers and behind the scenes video on our YouTube Channel at http://www.youtube.com/ComingDistractions
You can also see the pilot on Amazon Prime in the USA.
Remember, likes, shares, views, and subscriptions are fantastic but make sure you show love to the IPF Trailer particularly!