The series is a raw portrait of city life following Dan and Kevin, two characters struggling to thrive in their new surroundings in Flatbush, Brooklyn. The show explores two longtime friends seeking to climb out of their heads and connect with others.
I had the great pleasure of speaking with Flatbush Misdemeanors co-creator and star Dan Perlman about creating a zero budget proof of concept that swept film festivals, collaborating with co-writer Kevin Iso and the collective humor that the behind-the-scenes team adds to this off-beat Showtime comedy series. Plus, Dan shares invaluable advice on taking life by the horns and shooting a low-budget proof of concept.
This interview has been edited for content and clarity.
Sadie Dean: Congrats on the release on the show. I really enjoyed both your and Kevin's characters and this sense of the rawness and realness of the struggling artists. Was this initially shot as a short film to be a proof of concept to then make it into a TV series?
Dan Perlman: Yeah, we wrote it as a pilot, initially. It was a 35-page pilot and then we showed it to some people. But they didn't really understand it, what we were trying to do was not conveying with what we wrote. We just sort of tried anything that would be within budget because we had no budget. And we were just left with 15 pages, which became the first short, and so on. So, we shot it piecemeal. We developed those sort of chapter titles, like the part one part two thing, because we would shoot one day and then shoot it again in three weeks, just because that's the next time we could borrow a friend's camera or something.
The goal was always we're going to make three 15-minute shorts and try to have that be a proof for a narrative half-hour series. Neither of us has a big internet following or anything, so we just kind of posted it. It just sort of existed. But then it started to get buzz on the film festival circuit. It played at Slamdance, which was very helpful, and then from there, it won the Grand Jury Award at the Florida Film Festival. And then it was at HollyShorts and LA Film Fest, a lot of these we couldn't even afford to go to. But you know, we sent the thing and it was playing and doing well. And so from there, production companies got interested and then we started working with Avalon, which produces John Oliver and some other shows. And then from there, we pitched it to networks, then we were lucky to have a few offers, but Showtime just seems to really like get it and be very supportive of the actual creative of the show. I think it was hugely helpful to have those shorts as the proof of concept for it because that sort of let them not just see it, but just be very onboard for what we're trying to do from the jump.
Sadie: Your background is mainly in comedy and as a comedian, was that how you and Kevin Iso linked up, through the comedy circuit?
Dan: Yeah, we met doing open mics when I was just starting out, it was 2013. And I was just going in and bombing at open mics. I think we just shared similar sensibilities, but also complimentary. And we share a drive to make stuff outside of stand-up. We started making sketches and videos together and working with other comedians, and that sort of slowly developed Flatbush with the tone that we sort of kept revisiting - the same kinds of themes or ideas.
Sadie: What was the inspiration for you two to kind of self-reflect make this the focus for Flatbush?
Dan: It was just sort of working with the comics that we were working with. Like, Kareem who plays my stepdad, Andrew Dowdey, who's in the show also, and Kerry Coddett, who was in the web series, and wrote and acted in the show as well. It felt fun to build out a whole world and I think for both of us that was always kind of our interest is to find these other characters and flesh out a world and a community. Showtime was always like, “we'd love to have more Dan and Kevin” and we’re like “more?” [laughs] It was because I think we both wanted to build out a whole world and shared that desire to make these characters that were all three-dimensional. And that sort of built up from there. And then some of the conversations like the mental health stuff, some of that is just lifted from conversations we've had in real life, but it starts out in that very real place. Then from there, we separate ourselves and the characters a little bit and let the characters be the worse or less developed versions of ourselves. Showtime is super supportive of that.
Sadie: That's great. It's the toddler versions of yourselves.
Dan: Yeah, exactly. [laughs]
Sadie: With the collaboration process, I'm going to start with your team behind the scenes - Justin Tipping who's incredibly talented, he directed those first few episodes, what was that collaboration process like with him especially?
Dan: Man, I love Justin. I mean, it was just cool because he has such an awesome visual sense, just such a creative and funny filmmaker. And so, you can make stuff funny because you have years of experience doing stand-up, but to have someone like Justin upfront, to add all this sort of visual sense, and these cool ideas he had, like the shot of Kevin when he knocks over the promethazine and the shot of the stuff going down the drain, it was a very cool visual of like, this is these guys lives going down the drain. And the boomerang shot of Zayna at the end of the first episode when Kevin's getting, repeats that sort of thing. It takes this serious moment and it extended what we were trying to do - there are stakes, but it's still a comedy, and we don’t lose sight of that. It's a tricky line to balance where it's like these guys might get killed, but it's also funny. All of the directors like Nefertite and Brandon, they all added something different and cool. And it was just super helpful and helped build the world.
Sadie: I'm sure that helps you expand your visual world as well in your writing, seeing what you're able to do.
Dan: Yeah, it helps. The coolest part of all of it is just seeing how every department is so additive to the world and funny. You take all of that and could incorporate it into the writing, seeing what Cliff our cinematographer was doing, or Katie our production designer, or Joel and the whole props team, just seeing how you can get comedy out of every single beat of it helps make the writing itself lighter from the conception. So that was an awesome thing.
Sadie: What is the writing process like between you and Kevin?
Dan: It's sort of evolved over time. I think one of the benefits of working with somebody, so long as you can, you kind of figure out how one another works, and how one another needs to work. We'll each take our passes, and you kind of know the sensibility of what the other person wants, so you get better at meeting at that middle point. And so we will navigate like I might go this way, and then he might take a few degrees the other way, you can kind of anticipate that a little better.
It was because of COVID, and a lot of us were isolated for a lot of it. But we just have years of experience developing this stuff together so we could kind of see where the other was going when going back and forth with versions, we could always kind of land on a place because we each know what the other sensibility is. We have a cool, creative, complimentary voice.
Sadie: Your voices definitely balance each other. Any general advice for filmmakers who are planning on shooting a proof of concept, kind of like you did and just getting out there?
Dan: I hope this OK advice, but our ignorance was definitely like an advantage for us about a lot of the rules. We kind of did whatever we had to do to get the thing shot. We snuck onto the subway, and we bribed the janitor to let us into a school on a Saturday, and we had all of our comedian friends show up and sort of spaced out when we could get it shot. We wanted it to be close and we kept it as small as possible, just out of necessity. And we had no budget for anything, but I think that actually helped us find a more creative tone for the show. Because you sort of have to out of necessity, and that's the thing you learn with stand-up, you're just put in all of these incredibly difficult spots that you have to just find a way to be funny in a vacuum and there was a little bit of that with making the shorts also.
That's what led us to find the parenthetical subtitle things and the chapter divides and the audio interstitials and a lot of this stuff that was just like, OK, how do we have it feel cool? We had bad sound and we couldn't really pay for good sound and it was just shot with whatever we could get, and we couldn't light it or color it. So yeah, to not be discouraged by that sort of lack of budget and resources and just kind of trust the process of it.
I've gone through that whole process of doing a pilot for a network once before. You work on every step, and it's very collaborative and cool, but that doesn't go, nobody gets to see it. There was some thought of like, alright, we're just gonna make this very guttural thing. And even if like, 50 people see it, it’s something and it'll exist.
Sadie: I like that. It reminds me of that quote from Mark Twain, “To succeed in life, you need two things, ignorance and confidence.” And I think you guys totally nailed that.
Dan: Oh, that's cool. Yeah. Twain has said everything. [laughs]
Sadie: Dan, thanks so much for chatting with me. Best of luck with everything. I hope you guys get to make many more seasons and then some.
Dan: Thank you so much!
Flatbush Misdemeanors is now available to watch on Showtime.