Picture it…Sicily, 1922…err…the worldwide web, 2012. Bears as far as the eye can see starring in a hilarious, sexy comic murder mystery. It’s The Golden Girls meets Murder, She Wrote but hairier. Woof.
We’re clutching our pearls and wicker purses in antici…pation over the new webseries Where the Bears Are, created by friends Rick Copp, Joe Dietl and Ben Zook. (You may remember the three of them as, respectively, a Golden Girls writer/real-life mystery novelist, cute hubby in a ton of commercials and the star of Can’t Stop Dancing!)
Following the amateur sleuthing of three friends attempting to solve the murder of a dead (but conveniently naked) party guest, Bears consists of 26 four-minute episodes available at wherethebearsare.tv, premiering August 1.
We got our growl on with Rick, Joe, Ben and the ever-shirtless, ever-delicious Ian Parks to find out how grrrrrrrreat the series really is!
RICK COPP (Writer/Producer/“Reggie”)
INSTINCT: How did your stint writing for The Golden Girls shape you?
RICK COPP: I was very young when I worked on that show. It was my first professional writing job. I started right after my 24th birthday. The show was a huge hit at the time, in the top 5 in the ratings, so I obviously felt very blessed and extremely nervous to be there on the same set as those iconic actresses. I was so afraid of screwing it up. But our first script (I worked with a writing partner) went well and turned into a funny Rose episode and pretty soon I got into a groove. I learned a lot in that first year, especially how to construct a story and also how to write jokes that could only be spoken by a specific character. Luckily on that show the characters were incredibly well defined. I think the whole experience also prepared me for the ups and downs of your typical Hollywood career. When you start on such a big hit, you think it will always be like that, and then you realize just how special an experience like that really is. After that show, I worked on a series of bombs so I never took anything for granted ever again.
Since you, Joe and Ben are playing the “Blanche,” “Rose” and “Dorothy,” have you been channeling on what you saw those actresses really do?
I have to say, studying Bea Arthur’s double takes while working on Golden Girls was truly inspiring. I had loved her since her Maude days. Just watching her perform is like taking a master class in comedy. In fact, although some might say my character Reggie is the “Dorothy,” I borrow heavily—okay, steal outright—some of Bea’s mannerisms and looks when Reggie is exasperated or can’t believe just how dumb Wood can be. Not that I could ever do her justice. I remember when I was working on the show, the producers would sometimes send me down to sit in the audience because I have a very loud, distinctive laugh and if the scenes were just getting a tepid response, they were hoping my laugh would be infectious. But I remember I never had to fake it because those actresses just delivered every time. I had been watching those scenes in rehearsals all week, and by the time they performed the show in front of a live audience, it was as fresh and funny as if I were seeing them for the first time.
How much fun are you all having with this?
I’ve been working as a writer for almost 25 years and I can honestly say this is the most fun I’ve ever had on a project. We don’t have a studio or network drowning us in notes so the whole project is a reflection of us and our points of view. So if it sucks, it’s totally our fault. But if people enjoy it, then it means that much more. And it’s a dream working with close friends like Ben and Joe.
As a real-life mystery novelist, how many bizarre murders of your castmates have you actually imagined?
I picture them dying violent, horrible deaths all the time. No, seriously. It’s funny because I got my start in sitcoms and was trained as a comedy writer, but growing up I loved cop and detective shows. Especially the campy ones from Aaron Spelling, like Charlie’s Angels and Hart to Hart. In fact, my Actor’s Guide series of mystery novels are basically a gay version of Hart to Hart. So it was always in the back of mind that I wanted to write fun mysteries. I could never write for CSI or Law and Order—too dry and technical. I tend to go for the joke, which is why my books are more of a hybrid of sitcom and detective story. And Where the Bears Are fits right into that model.
How has it been working with Joe and Ben?
As the divine Jackie Beat says in one of the upcoming Bears episodes, “My dental implants were less painful. Ouch.” No, we’ve been trying to work together for years and one night in my Jacuzzi in Palm Springs we just decided to do it. We’ve never looked back and it has been like a party that hasn’t ended yet.
JOE DIETL (Director/Producer/“Wood”)
INSTINCT: You’re something of a commercial mainstay. How do you make an impression in, like, 15 seconds?
JOE DIETL: I don’t know if there is a secret. I’ve been lucky to have a career in commercials for 15 years now. I usually play the couch potato husband with the hot wife. I’ve learned a lot about comedy from doing commercials. They are the perfect medium for getting to the point, getting the laugh and getting out, which we have attempted to do in this series.
How would you compare co-starring with Ben and Rick to co-starring with The Suite Life or iCarly casts?
Rick and Ben are much more demanding to work with. You should see the riders they attached to their contracts. They wouldn’t work weekends, they needed on set masseurs, and one of them, I’m not saying which, demanded that I not make eye contact with him unless we were on camera. But seriously, starring on The Suite Life and iCarly was a blast! The casts were all really nice and easy to get along with. I got to do some really over-the-top acting, which warmed me up nicely for some over-the-top acting on our series.
What’s it like directing a roomful of bears to do whatever you want?
I thought there would be a casting couch in there somewhere, but unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. This whole process has been extremely rewarding and challenging. When you are making a series with no money, you have to rely on the help and generosity of others. We were very lucky to have so many talented people donate their talents and time to helping us make this series. We couldn’t have done it without them.
What’s it been like putting this all together with your partner, Ben?
It’s been pretty amazing. Ben and I purposely didn’t work together on projects because we have heard horror stories of couples breaking up over creative differences. Luckily, we have been together for 18 years and we aren’t worried about our relationship being that fragile. We have had a few heated debates, but all in all it’s been great. Plus, having Rick in the mix is helpful. We have a voting system on big decisions and the majority rules. We also have a deal while editing: If it is your line of dialogue, you get to pick which take to use. So if you really hate the way you delivered a line, but the other guys like it, you get to use the version that you like.
How did this all come about?
This project originated out of a frustration of not being able to find financing for projects we would like to make and also not feeling creatively satisfied. When the idea for this came up, we made a conscious choice not to let lack of financing stop us. We knew the limitations we had, and in a way that was very freeing. We knew we had to get everything for free: locations, crew, actors, photographer, web designer, art direction, everything. So you have to make choices that work under those limitations. We live in a house in Silverlake, so that became the main location. We knew we wanted to film at the Eagle. We go there all the time and know the owner Charlie and he was super accommodating, even letting us film during business hours so we could have a crowd for a Bear Chest Contest.
The other thing that happens when you are working on a limited budget is what I call the “Happy Accidents.” In one scene, we had a character who is supposed to have an extensive collection of porn featuring my character. We didn’t have the resources to Photoshop me on all kinds of older porn mags and I wasn’t interested in posing for pictures. So we came up with a line that’s actually in the trailer. The guy thanks my character “for signing his authentic Wood Burns Dildo.” I say, “Is there somewhere I can wash my hands?” Much funnier than actually seeing me autograph a stack of magazines or a dildo.
BEN ZOOK (Producer/“Nelson”)
INSTINCT: Of the three of you, who’s the most Jessica “Murder, She Wrote” Fletcher?
BEN ZOOK: Rick! His character Reggie is the driving force to find out who the killer is.
What’s it been like putting this all together with your partner, Joe?
We’ve had lots of fun. We have a chemistry and a shorthand that shows up on screen. Like he said, we put off working together for a very long time, just to make sure that we didn’t damage our relationship. Making a series or a film can be very stressful and we didn’t want to bring that kind of stress home with us. But we are very happy with the result, and love working together.
Many readers may remember you as the star of the spoof Can’t Stop Dancing! Are you still, in fact, unable to stop dancing?
My dancing days are long behind me. But who know, maybe in season 2 we will include a big dance number for our characters. That would be fun.
One of the most fun parts of the show is the catchy-as-hell theme song. How did it feel to hear it for the first time?
I was thrilled. Loved it instantly. We think it’s gonna become a huge bear anthem. The Temperamentals are so talented and generous to donate the song to our series.
IAN PARKS (“Hot Toddy”)
INSTINCT: How insistent were Rick, Joe and Ben that you appear shirtless as much as possible?
IAN PARKS: Well, when I saw the casting call, it mentioned that whoever was auditioning for the Hot Toddy part should be comfortable appearing shirtless and/or pants-less for the camera. So I knew that going in. And actually, half the time I would turn to Joe or Ben at the start of scene and say “Has Todd put on clothes by this point?” They would pause, think, and then with a shrug say “Probably not.” Who am I to argue? I’m trying to stay in character, and I’m a team player like that! However, when they asked if I’d show my bare ass for the third time, I started to raise an eyebrow... :-)
What did it mean to you to be a part of this series?
It was a great experience and reminded me how much I enjoy being in front of the camera, rather than behind it. When I was younger, I used to take acting classes, do local theater, play a character in some of my own short films in college...but since moving out to LA, I’ve been so focused on working and making a living that I never had much time to act or even audition. So when I came across the casting call while searching for freelance gigs, I thought, “This looks like fun, it’d be nice to get back in the habit of making films for fun instead of work.” And that’s exactly what happened! We had a great time filming, my enthusiasm for my own film projects was jump-started and my interest in acting was reignited. I couldn’t have asked for more!
Where the Bears Are premieres August 1 at wherethebearsare.tv
Photos by Jay PG Photography