Interview with Jeff Knoll of Coming Distractions

A while back, I got to see the pilot episode of Coming Distractions sent out to me by a cast member. I loved the series and thought it was a lot more interesting than most content I’ve seen. I decided to contact Jeff Knoll, the executive producer himself for a little more insider info and what went into making this inspiring little gem of a movie. We’ve all had first job experiences and they’ve all been a bit nerve-wracking but interestingly fun at the same time when you look back on them. But maybe not as outrageous as what you’d expect in this series. There’s more to be on the way and I hope a lot more of this hilarious little series that we can enjoy or even relate to.

 

HNMAG: What was it like shooting in a movie theatre and how did you arrange the hours to shoot in it? Where did you get the set from?

Jeff Knoll: Well the biggest challenge was where we shouted in, of course. Because the theatre is my business as well and we operate 12 hours a day, from noon to midnight. So finding the perfect time to shoot it without interrupting my current business was one of the biggest challenges. We literally shot overnight and in the morning. Our cast call and crew was 11pm, and we shot generally until 11am. It was challenging to keep everyone energized through their scenes but they all did a great job. There was a lot of coffee consumed, and a lot of sugar products.

I’ve done movie shots before and I’m a producer, so I’ve got this cool shooting location that I’ve done before. Somehow we always incorporate a scene or two in the movie theatre, so my kid’s show, KidsTown there is an entire episode shot in the movie theatre. We’ve done this a few times, it’s such a cool location. We’ve also cheated the theatre a few times. It has been featured in different shows, purposed for different uses like a restaurant, arcade, or an office, a backroom, an alley, or something like that. That and being in a town you share with a college, where it has one of Canada’s premiere film schools, we’re making the space available to film students for their projects as well. This theatre is well-utilized in film and television.

HNMAG: Where did these ideas for characters and plots develop from? Were they based off people and incidents you knew?

Jeff Knoll: Interestingly enough, I didn’t write the show. I came up with this concept a long time ago, I always wanted to do a workplace comedy about a movie theatre and I’ve been in this business since I was 13. In that period of time, I’ve seen everything happen. From Birthdays, and first dates, and I’ve actually had somebody die in a movie theatre. It’s been an interesting career, so I’ve done other things over the years, but I’ve always had an interest in the movie business. I linked up with a friend of mine who’s a professional writer named Marc Grant and he really wanted to get into film and television and he had written a show for another workplace comedy about a city council which I thought was pretty cool. I suggested this to him saying it’s got a lot of interesting material and it’s something I’m really interested in trying, and I sent him away. He actually started working at a theatre as a manager to sort of learn the culture and everything.  We even asked our staff to tell us stories about what’s been happening, and we have pages and pages and pages of great stories of things that happened in theatres to our employees, even MY stories. So he wrote a pilot script, and I was blown away. This became our primary focus, not just developing a pilot, but developing a bible for our initial series.

The characters are based on composites of real people we know, I guess I’m probably the David Darvis character, though I’m not quite that eccentric. There’s a general manager in our theatre who doesn’t have quite the similarities himself, but he even looks a little bit like David, which is ironic. The character of Jordan is a composite of all of our snack bar staff, from the super vain wanting-their-hair-to-be-perfect-kind of kids to the kids that are just too goofy for words. Rebecca probably is like my daughter, but she’s got a very different role.  She’s the audience proxy. I don’t think there’s one person here that she represents, but all the characters have some sort of composite features. George the goose, in particular is based off a goose that we had at the theatre. This goose would peck on the glass at the school house right next to us and bother the students and we would have to warn customers to watch out for the geese. Just like in the show, when our staff was leaving, he would be around and just ready to pounce.

HNMAG: What was the best part of the whole shoot?

Jeff Knoll: The way that the whole thing just meshed. When you go on set and you spend the first couple hours or days, you sort of fumble around figuring out who does what and developing collegiate relationships which sometimes never happens. You meet egos that are too vain or too meek, and there’s all kinds of stuff on film sets. It was literally the most fun and most seamless experience I’ve ever had on a film set. The cast and crew came together, even though they were all exhausted and based on the time of day we were working, everyone just had so much fun. Even post-production and trying to get this to a broadcaster, the cast and crew are all over it. They’re talking about it all over social media. It’s just been such an amazing adventure. This has become a passion project, because it’s the story of my career and it’s a terrific cast and crew, and we just love working together. Best moment in the show, was Ethan dealing with the goose as every moment was funny. Finding the goose was difficult as there are so many rules with Canadian geese, what you can and can’t do with them. You can’t actually interfere with them. So we actually had to search for a different breeding goose. George is actually a female goose named Bella who is a Toulouse goose.

HNMAG: Where did you find the cast and crew? Were they people you knew for a long time?

Jeff Knoll: I have a group of people I work with. I constantly work with Mikelle Virey, the director. We build around the crew of people I know and always hire from a crew of people that we know. I went out to my colleagues. Those who were available showed up and those who didn’t gave references for us. The crew was handpicked. Some of the crew were picked from a Facebook forum called ‘Find a Producer’. In terms of the cast, it’s a full-on cast so we did an audition. Matthew Edmonson was in two of our other shows and we knew him but we still auditioned for that role. We had 5 or 6 people that we really wanted, but he just nailed it so well. The lady who plays the upset mother, she’s been in everything I’ve ever done. I met her years ago, I always cast her and she’s awesome. The kid in the arcade is actually my next-door neighbour. He’s a professional actor who’s been in a lot of commercials. We went through a pretty gruelling process. We cast Nathan McLeod as the antagonist. We also discovered his sister Torri Webster for the Rebecca role which was interesting because we didn’t think she was suited for the Rebecca role, we wanted someone who was plausible, had been managing and working in a theatre for a while. So we actually created a role for her, because we really wanted for her to be part of her show. There’s actually an easter egg in the show Nathan’s character Harvey says that she’s like a sister to him. Sofie Uretsky was originally supposed to be a goth we were going to bring later on in the series, so we decided to advance it. When she actually performed the role, she was actually just amazing. She developed the character better than we expected. She carried off her psychological character very well. We picked our actors over who provided the most compelling interpretation of character and then how to deliver them.

HNMAG: Any plans other than just a series? How much further are you planning to take it?

Jeff Knoll: We’ve got stories that could run on for a long time, I mean this could be a long-running series. We have a lot of interesting stories, we have a lot of interesting ways to make it unique. One thing we’re doing is adding a trailer in between the episode. Every episode will have a phoney trailer for a movie that will never be. So that’s how we come up with interesting ideas for trailers and then finding a way to put them in the show that it’ll make sense as well. It’s one of those workplace comedies where the narrative string can go all over the place. With different staff, with different customers, different locations, it’ll be centered around Cinema 6, but we can establish into further places depending on the budget. I think it’s got a bunch of potential. Since we’ve been actually going out with releasing the pilot, people have contacted me sending goofy stories and ideas. This series gives you an identifiable work experience, which I really think is compelling and the feedback we have been getting is that people can really identify with the scenarios, even the characters. Even though these stories seem very far-fetched, but people have had similar experiences. A lot of the things are very much what happened. You look at sitcoms and they’re so outrageous you know the things will never happen. But the thing about ours is that these things actually happened. You’ll find a lot of story structures similar to those in WKRP in Cincinnati. But even some of those scenarios are so ridiculous that they couldn’t have happened, unlike in our series where things have happened in real life.

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