Local musician turned filmmaker returns with the second season of his impromptu web series
Local musician Jason Dove is having a bad day. Entourage star Adrian Grenier is trying to kill him, his girlfriend dumped his cocaine down the sink, he accidentally killed a few people, and his car has been stolen. At least that's the predicament Dove's fictitious alter-ego finds himself in during season two of The Jason Dove Diaries, a series of short videos. The series began as re-enactment of Dove's actual experiences, but in season two it has morphed into something a bit more complicated.
The 32-year-old Dove, who spent his childhood bouncing between Georgia and Maryland's Harford County, moved to Baltimore in 2002, having met local-music mainstays like Roman Kuebler while playing in bands in Atlanta. He formed the Jason Dove Band a few years later, playing pretty indie rock in a town known more for jangly guitars.
Dove has a penchant for finding himself in bizarre situations. In the summer of 2007, he decided to put some of his odd anecdotes on digital video, acting them out and, on occasion, embellishing them with help from his friends. He had no real acting experience and had only done one other short, but he grew up in comedy clubs. His older brother was a comedian and when Dove was a teenager, he went on the road with him, spending late nights learning about comic timing and cultivating his off-kilter humor.
Stand-up didn't interest Dove, but he loved telling stories, and movies seemed like a good way to share those stories with a wider audience. "If you're just making people laugh it doesn't matter what background it is," Dove says during an interview at a local coffeeshop. "I think the movies have a way bigger audience, because some guys like trannies and don't like soft music."
In the first episode, Dove adapted a true story about him and a friend running into a guy who "accidentally" picked up a transvestite and couldn't get her out of his car. It was a pretty off-the-cuff production, but it went so well that Dove set a goal for himself: Make 20 episodes. "By the end of 20, I would hopefully be good," he says.
After the first episode, Dove hooked up with Chris Harring and Ian Corey, who do video production work as Red Star KGB, but the first season was nothing fancy. They used the in-camera microphone, which picked up ample background noise, and grabbed whichever friends happened to be free as actors. At first Dove wasn't even writing scripts. "I would get the guys together, feed them their lines," he says.
The episodes weren't long--the longest one is less than four minutes; the shortest is 40 seconds--but that was ideal for a project that's main life would be online, where a 10-minute short is considered an epic. "You can get a joke out and if it's done right, you'll only need 40 seconds," Dove says. "So why take 10 minutes reaching?"
As well as putting them up on YouTube (youtube.com/user/stonedonbeer), he also did a screening of the first season at the Windup Space. "All these people came that I didn't know," he says. "It started to become something that was bigger than my circle of friends." The most viewed episodes from the first season have fewer than 2,000 views--not much by YouTube standards--but Dove says the site has featured a few of them.
Dove originally planned to do season two much like season one, a series of stories from his life. He figured it would be funny to do some over the top promos for it. "I grabbed the wig, I had the prop gun, I had the outfit, I had fake blood, so I just came up with these ideas," he says. Those ideas found him burying a body and watching in dismay as his girlfriend dumped a huge bag of cocaine down the sink, among other things. "They were just supposed to make no sense," he says. But he liked the scenes so much, he decided to form the season around them. The only problem was he then had to write a story that connected and explained very incongruent scenes while doing a cohesive narrative for the first time.
The magic throughline ended up being Grenier. Dove opened for Grenier's band the Honey Brothers in January. It was a strange experience to see this Hollywood star in the Talking Head signing autographs. And Dove began to invent scenarios: What if Grenier had been a complete asshole? What if I had done something during that show to piss him off? What if Grenier was out to get me?
"I turned this nice guy into this total psychopath," Dove says. And a psychopath played by Jordan Kopke in a curly black wig at that. Grenier didn't join the cast, but Dove ended up with a noted actor on board, Mackenzie Astin, brother of Sean and son of John. Astin came to Baltimore in 2005 to visit his dad, who heads the Johns Hopkins University theater department, and never left. "I got trapped here" Astin says by phone. "I got sucked in--in a good way."
Dove and Astin met through mutual friends, and Dove realized Astin would be a perfect fit for a scene. And Astin turned out to be a very willing participant. "It was an opportunity for me to appear in a manner that I hadn't necessarily played before, because the character I was playing, even though it's me, has a little more edge than any of the characters I've played before," Astin says.
The scene features Astin in his underwear in a disturbing-looking lair, gleefully clutching a gallon-sized bag of blow, mocking his days as a child star on The Facts of Life and rhapsodizing about an upcoming TV movie called If These Walls Could Tweet. But Astin says he had no reservations. "I immediately had total confidence in Jason," Astin says. "He's so comfortable in his own skin, he makes other people comfortable in their skin as well."
The admiration was mutual. "[Astin is] a really talented guy," Dove says. "He makes it fun to write stuff because I can imagine him stepping into the character. When you work with non-actors that's harder to do."
Still, Dove has found he has a talent for casting his friends, such as Drew Dolinger. "Drew had never acted before, but he's such a character that you kind of just let Drew do his thing," Dove says. Dolinger actually ends up stealing much of season two as Sam to Dove's Frodo--if Frodo had a gun and a big bag of coke and made many really bad decisions.
Dove isn't above some Hitchcockian antics to get the performances he wants either. "The girl that plays the girlfriend character?" he points out. "When we did the cocaine thing, she just didn't look like she just found out her boyfriend has a big bag of cocaine. She just wasn't delivering it. So I said, 'Listen, I'm going to shake the shit out of you really quick.'"
Despite all the drugs and violence, season two is very much a comedy. And Dove continues to play the hapless Charlie Brown-esque version of himself he cultivated in season one, a guy that no one takes seriously, who gets the shitty end of every stick. He thinks that the character is the series' key. "It's not really [about] me," he says. "It's everything around me and how it affects me." And it allows him to keep his character sort of sweet and innocent despite the madness.
In real life, Dove is anything but ineffectual. He's a guy with ideas and enough drive to make sure a funny idea most people would leave at the bar actually comes to fruition. "You end up working with a lot of people who think they know what they want, but the difference with Jason is not only is he positive what he wants, but he wants to learn how to do it himself," Harring says of Dove. "When we started, he really knew next to nothing about editing or even shooting or even thinking how a filmmaker would think, and I think that he's really picked up and keyed in on it."
Dove plans on doing a third season, but he has a few other projects he wants to bang out first. He's working on a short that would marry his passion for music and film and offer a story that, while still comedic, would be darker and more realistic. He's not rushing into features, though. "I want to feel confident enough in the shorter stuff, feel like I've really got the technique of the storytelling down," he says. "I don't want to suck. I'd rather take baby steps."
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