You’re a working actor. We’re in a recession. So what do you do when you keep hearing no? Ask outrageous Cali cool kid Lindsey Reckis and funny people Reckless Tortuga.
After hours; long past midnight. A typical weekend. Candy wrappers and the packaging of other synthetic snack foods line the plastic bag of a trash canister. Blue smoke from cigarettes sashay in the wind, as an altitudinous bottle-blonde with sleek, flat-ironed peroxide flaxen hair brainstorms ideas among her various friends.
Trying to finding a gig as a working actor on The Golden Coast can be a little unsettling. Just ask tongue-and-cheek firecracker Lindsey Reckis, Punchinello gagman Eric Pumphrey and Jason Schnell, Lindsey’s satirical shutterbug fiancé. These youthful twenty-something artistes tapped the shoulders of their closest confidants and fan favorites to combine their efforts, forming Reckless Tortuga, a balls-to-the wall comedy troupe that spits in the eye of everyman.
Crafting concepts on her outdoor patio with fiancé Schnell, Pumphrey and other riff-raff eccentric denizens outside of their Valley Village home “into the wee hours of the morning,” they began to discuss race, politics, sexism, pop culture like the Beat Generation and DIY artists before them. They’d bathe in the fresh air “to keep the creative juices flowing.” And when it got a bit chilly, they’d go inside and sit around the fire pit. After all, trying to find a gig as a working actor in La La Land is stiff.
They aren’t your average internet pastime ersatzes, they are the real deal. Bringing a cerebral, maddening and provocative oomph to their off-the-wall viral sketch comedy webisodes that’ll make you laugh so hard your gums will bleed. They are the most politically incorrect bunch of misfits and luckily for us, they’re here to stay. Whether they are making fun of Jersey Shore Guido-machismo fabulousity, trivial egocentric-regressed Jewish American princesses, gung ho ultra-patriotic American idiots, office life, racially-insensitive black stereotypes, mail-order brides, Twilight fandom or online gamers—they hit a nerve every time like clock work. Now that’s real art!
Between editing skits for the web and filming new scripted material, bottle blonde chief writer Lindsey Reckis talks candidly about their humble beginnings, their side hustles as working actors, their process from brainstorm to YouTube sensation, and the future.
Marcus Scott: Reckless Tortuga has been a viral sensation on the internet! How did you form and is there some juicy behind-the-scenes story that influenced the start of your theatre troupe?
Lindsey Reckis: Don’t know if it’s juicy or not but we basically got together—we’ve all been friends for a long time and we all studied different things like acting, filmmaking, and edit. All of these skills and we were all kind of working on our careers and just cutting the pavement and having little [successes] here and there, but we just sitting there on weekends and one weekend we kind of just said, why don’t we just start filming stuff. I had taken a sketch writing class, so I was like ‘Oh, I can write sketches and we can film them, we can put it up. It can be real footage for the actors in it, and we can show our friends!’ And then we put it on YouTube, and after uploading only 5 videos, one of our videos went viral.
MS: And what video was that?
LS: That was “Racism in the Elevator.” We did a spoof of PSAs, public service announcements about funny things that annoy us or whatever and one of them was “Racism in the Elevator,” and that took off and we started getting this whole fanbase. So we starting going “Alright, let’s make more. We started coming up with series and doing it more regularly. Obviously, after that we had more [intra]viral. Two years later on, we’re at where we’re at, where we do this as a show. It’s been me, Eric Pumphrey and Jason Schnell as the main people. But we’ve had [people come in]. Rachel Miner was originally helped us write and stuff, then she got busy running off and doing films and now she shows up as an actress. So, that’s kind of how it started. Nothing too scandalous.
MS: Your partners Eric Pumphrey and Jason Schnell have helped formed this web site and the company YouTube channel with you. Do you guys have meetings where you guys get together to form ideas and concepts and how many times a month do you say you do that?
LR: Weekly, I say we probably meet three times a week and yeah, we sit and we [talk]. All of our sketches are based on true life stories that we experienced or maybe our families have experienced. So we kind of just sit around and go over [and] chatting about stories or things that happening right now in our lives that annoy us or pop culture things that annoy us, and then usually that’ll spark an idea for a video and we come up with a general concept and I go in and write a script. I usually go and bring it in the next day and we work shop it to get to that final spot and we’ll film it that weekend or two weeks later. We work at night for a few hours and come up with stuff, because we also have other jobs on top of doing this.
MS: Are you guys working actors or do you guys work in offices?
LR: We work in offices. Jason and Eric work in post-production and I work at a restaurant part-time. We are actors also, but not full-time working actors at this point. Hopefully, I mean, this was made for that.
MS: Was there ever a time where you guys debate over a concept or idea? For example, one idea might be better than the other or one person thinks this idea is better or if you have a third party that picked sides?
LR: Oh definitely! When we’re sit down talking, we definitely have our opinions on what is funny about something and usually we work with each other pretty well, but we had to kind of [assign someone] because we would get into these debates on ‘whose going to decide what we’re going to do.’ So, we ended up deciding that I would be the deciding factor if it came down to it. We definitely have certain sketches [that weren’t good], not that we hated or ‘let’s not do it,’ [but] we do have some sketches that after we made it were like, ‘Ugh! That’s good, that’s never going out.” But when we are sitting around kind of talking about it, we definitely all agree like “This is what’s funny about it.” We kind of just have to pick a direction and go with it, and everyone decides, we chose a direction and this is what we’re going to do and it works out. Usually the one’s we spend the most time argue about are the ones that are [new to] us like “Online Gamer.” We weren’t sure what was going to happen. We weren’t [content] with it. We like, “What’s funny about video games? What is the funny there?” And we couldn’t totally decide so we shot too fast and we edited it down and we weren’t actually totally happy with video so we put it up for a week where [we thought] people wouldn’t see it. We thought, “It’s Christmastime, people really on YouTube,” and it ended up being one of our biggest viral videos yet. So it just funny that you never know what’s going to and not going to [be a hit].
MS: Was there ever a project that you guys wanted to do but couldn’t do because of outside factors, finances, connections or backing?
LR: We definitely have script ideas that we have on the backburner until we do have some more funding. If we wanted to do this video like this kind spoof detective thing, we need to find a location, stuff like that, so we have those ready that if some one wants to [shoot it] or if we start making money through our YouTube channel, we’ll bust into that and we will eventually want to start it to. We have to have a budget, in order to it right. But that hasn’t really stopped us. Other than that, we’ve figured a way around it. We did this one webisode called “The Basement”. We wrote it before we realized that finding a basement location would not be easy. We needed at least a basement-looking location for four days so we could shoot out all eight episodes. We had no money in the budget for location fees so we were calling everyone we knew to see if they knew of a basement. Luckily at the last minute, a friend of a friend offered the basement of his art gallery called POVevolving Gallery in Chinatown. We could only use it at night and on the weekends. An artist was actually renting out the space to do his painting so we also had to take pictures of everything before we moved it and set it all back up exactly the way he had it after each shoot day. We threw tarps over the huge canvases and brought in a bunch of cardboard boxes and, voilà! It looked like an old basement. The space had no air conditioning and it was August so we were shooting ten hours, through the night and sweating our balls off. That was one of the most fun we’ve ever had on a production though, it’s probably our favorite series we’ve done so far. And we’ve managed to do everything we’ve done without a budget.
MS: Now, you’ve just talked about the PSAs. You’re also known for your sketch comedy webisodes, one of them, and my personal favorite is called “Office Party.” How did you guys get that concept and were you at all afraid that you were going to offend other ethnicities and races?
LR: We definitely didn’t know what would happen. We knew that we’d be okay because Eric, the star of it, and he’s the writer of it. He was probably the person laughing the hardest at the idea of this. So, we were like, alright if he’s not offended let’s go for it. We were worried. We were like, ‘Who knows?’ People could think this is awful. The response was just like, ‘This is the funniest thing ever! This is maybe a bit exaggerated, but this is how it is in my work; people trying to relate to me, as a black man or as a black woman.’ It’s so funny and the jokes in it, just made us laugh. And so far, it’s been amazing. No one has been offended by it even in the slightest. It’s also what led to us pushing the envelope with other things. People love to see that. They love to see these touchy issues being touched on in a really funny way and bring comedy to it and exposing it. That’s kind of what we’ve been all about since that video.
MS: Another thing that intrigued me about that clip the most s that you guys had a lot of props [and clothes]. Now how did you guys get those? Did you guys have a props designer or a props runner or a costume designer? There’s even a point where you come out dressed in a dashiki and headdress!
LR: Again, we went out to a friend’s, one of my good friends; [a friend of ours helps us] and is costume designer. So I told her, “Okay, how fun would it be if these characters literally come up in dashikis!” So she went with me and we found these different fabrics, we found a little YouTube tutorial about to make dashikis and head wraps. And to produce our own content, we didn’t have our own props, so we went around to stores and buy. We probably didn’t spend a hundred dollars for all of those props; they were just things to have around the house. One of those things was a darkie calendar, it was really. It was something a friend of Eric’s found traveling around in an antique shop or something. So he was like, ‘I have this stupid darkie calendar! It would be perfect for it.’ It happened to be something that Eric had around the house.
MS: There’s also another webisode “Office Douche bag.” How’d you round up all of those characters at once? And how did you find the location for that one?
LR: That was actually pretty funny. The character is actually based on real life. We won’t say who the character is based on. Jason and I kind of wrote this character out and we were hanging out with Tommy and he was imitating what we were telling him in the story and we were like “Oh my God! You’re perfect!” So, we just gathered a bunch of people that were happy to be apart of it, and they had saw that ‘Racism in the Elevator’ had kind went viral. We were pretty dedicated at this point to making more and more videos, so it was easy to get more friends and more actors aboard to be part of it. And Tommy dedicated time to work on and develop his character and what was funny is that we didn’t have an office at that point. We didn’t know who to contact. Erik, who plays one of the guys in scene, we used his apartment. We took out this blank white wall he had put a table against it, put a note on it that said “Clean your snack area.” Really, we made it look like a snack room, but it was just a wall in his apartment. I had a water cooler, so I brought one over from my house and put it over in the corner and made it look like an office. In later episodes, we did other offices. Friends of friends would be like, “Hey, do you need an office?” My mom, she’s let us use her place. We ended up being lucky to use great locations from the beginning.
MS: I actually saw your recent PSA about “American Pride.” Who writes these “…And Now You Know” PSAs? Are these just the ramblings of multiple actors or are these the finished product from the writing team between Jason, Eric and yourself? And most importantly, where do you find the space to that?
LR: It is Me, Jason and Eric. We write the PSAs. PSAs are fun, because we sit around just talk about pet peeves or just funny things that are happening. That one [“American Pride episode”] one was just based on the fact so many people at that time was so angry with America for this and that. We like, “Wouldn’t it be funny to make fun of it and be the American that everybody hates. But talk about how people should love America too.” All the other PSAs are written by us, but we try to give it to as many actors as we can in our group. There are probably twenty different actors that we [use] to try and keep it like a variety show with recurring actors. Based on that the fact that we shoot it late at night, it usually falls on me, Jason or Eric. We originally were shooting the PSAs this green scene that we were secretly using. Eventually we were able to buy a big green cloth and we’d put up lights and lit it. The American one was actually shot in our living room, with green screen, and then later, after affects just keying it up to make it a white background.
MS: How long does it take for you to do that?
LR: It took us probably a few hours to set it up. We have really tall ceilings which is great. We put it up, stapled this really huge fabric to the wall, had to make sure everything is flat—you can’t have any wrinkles or shadows in it. Then you have to have to make sure the lighting is right. It probably took us about four hours to set up and our whole living room is just useless because of this huge green screen.
MS: Another famous clip of yours is “Psycho Girlfriend.” The thing that I find amusing about that is the editing. When you guys are sitting down to edit, how long does it take?
LR: Our editor is Jason. He’s really good. We’re lucky that we have somebody who knows what he’s doing. I would say it takes him four or five hours to edit a typical three to five minute episode. He does it all himself. He does the assistant editing. We watch the finished product and give him notes on it, if he wants them, and then he uploads it.
MS: On the website, there are 18 members on the site that contribute material. Is there like a casting process that you put actors too go through in order to be cast in a website?
LR: We’ve been really that e know so many talented actors. We have not yet gone through the casting process or cold casting so people can come in and read. Normally we write our webisodes with our actors already in mind, but sometimes we have to go through our list and see who can play the part the best and if they are not available, move on to the next person. We don’t write actors that we don’t have, but in the future, that’s 100 percent what we plan on doing. If we have to cast like a mom or an actor in age range, we might have to go outside, put something up on LA Casting.
MS: How long does it take to write a script? Does it go through a editing process as well? Do you have multiple people read it beforehand?
LR: For the record, I write all of the scripts and it usually takes me anywhere from two to fours, if it’s a little longer. When we sit around to talk about the idea, I take a lot of notes and funny things to come up with or what the character would say. After it’s done, either I’ll call a meet with Jason and Eric, I’ll read and they’ll give me notes or things like ‘It’s perfect, it’s exactly what we were talking about,’ or ‘What if we add this element or that element.’ Sometimes, I’ll e-mail it out to them and they’ll e-mail me their input or ideas. Maybe I’ll spend another half-hour on it, to make it as funny as I can, and that’s that. Sometimes, we brought Tommy Savas, the guy who plays the boyfriend in Psycho Girlfriend and Office Douchebag, we have brought into the writing process also. Sometimes we’ll e-mail him when he’s going to be in a script to get any notes he has because he is such a great comedian and actor. Sometimes, he has a lot of great feed back to give.
MS: You guys are known to be very in your face with your content. One of the most in your face is the “Mail-order Bride” webisodes. You actually play a mail-order bride that’s been brought here to the states, looking to make it big. What’s the name of your character?
LR: Akalina. [It’s] pronounced aka-leen-a.
MS: How was she created? Did she spawn from a conversation? Or was she someone who just kind of developed over time?
LR: I had been doing a Russian character for fun for awhile. One night, Jason, Eric and I were just hanging out and we started riffing and making up this horribly dark story for the character and because we have sick minds it had us on the floor laughing. We decided to make it a series and if you can believe it, it’s a toned down version of what we laughed about that night. We also love that with Akalina we are able to use comedy to shed light on some pretty touchy issues.
MS: She currently has four episodes; will we see more of her?
LR: Most likely. We have plenty more brutal situations we can throw her in while she continues living her “American dream.”
MS: Who’s the camera man?
LR: For Akalina, it’s whoever she can get to help her send videos home to her mama and papa in the Motherland. At first it’s her husband, then she has some of her fellow “coworkers” aka prostitutes hold the camera for her. But in reality it’s…. Jason Schnell. He’s is our director, editor and camera man. He’s also one of the three founders, producers & writers along with Eric Pumphrey and me. He’s a filmmaker… He doesn’t like to get in front of the camera, but he’s done it a few times in some PSAs [like] “New Yorkers,” “Modern Warfare 2” and “Beware of Dirty Talk.”
MS: Will we see wackier first-person confessions from other Reckless Tortuga members?
LR: Absolutely. If we come up with more characters or if one of our cast [members] comes up with a great character, the first person confession is a great way to present it. It’s really fun to do and probably the easiest and fastest way to shoot a video.
MS: Has there ever been a time where you guys just winged it. No script. Just idea, just an idea in your minds and just went for it?
LR: We only did that one time and it was in the beginning, in a video we don’t even have up anymore. We did this kind of parody on a band that played Rock Band, and for that we had no script, we just improv-ed. We had a green screen at the time; we did a band interview, and filmed it like we were on the set of our music video and it was interesting because it was really funny to us and a few friends. But it didn’t really hit with people who didn’t know us. After that, we wanted to be more about scripted content and not have it be just winging it. We find that it’s funny, and we can do more with the funny by scripting it. So with that being said, we didn’t want our actors to rift and come up with characters that weren’t in the script. But it’s never really been like ‘Ok. Here’s an idea….go!” Actually, we did one thing which we haven’t actually put up. We found actors, we put them together, and we had them come up and play a character that was based on a 80s stereotype and we interview them like they’d be on a dating web site. While we got some funny stuff from our actors, we don’t know how we’re going to release it and how its going to make sense to people. We have some funny stuff, but it really didn’ have a place to put it, to have it make sense. So it was like, ‘Scripted content is the way to go.” Knowing what we’re going for, to make sure it’s in the right format for the internet. You can’t necessarily have longwinded random things up there. People want to see funny stuff, see it fast and be as funny as it can be.
MS: Is there anything that the troupe could work on, in hopes of getting better such as comedic timing, actor selection, [or] content?
LR: We are always working on improving our content in general to make it the best it can be. One thing we do work on constantly is making ourselves as internet-friendly as possible for our web fan-base. Right now we are working on releasing our content more often, which we’ve seen that internet users really like, while maintaining the high quality videos that we’re known for.
MS: You guys have a reputation for writing really funny content in your webisodes. Is there by chance a way we will see more sitcom or serious sketch show feel in the future?
LR: Well, yes. That’s our ultimate goal.We definitely want to go in a new direction. When we come up with webisodes which he will be releasing over the summer and into the fall, they do have an idea in mind where they could essentially be TV; rather it’s for a network or HBO, cable network or whatever. Also sketch variety show would be great. We have tons of sketches that are online and tons of ideas that would be made into a TV. That was our intention when we started this, to see how far our careers could go in TV and movies.
MS: Is there anything similar out there that you’d like to emulate? Like a ‘Friends’ or ‘Saturday Night Live’?
LR: We definitely like the Saturday Night Life thing, but we do more video, so more along the lines of Human Giant. So, that’s more of our style. We wouldn’t necessarily do live theatre. Well, it’s more of a variety show, but for us we’d like to do more video.
MS: You guys have covered race, sex, politics… any other things you’d like to see covered?
LR: Some of the things we were thinking about were the immigration things that are going on. That’s very controversial. But other things, is that we like working with relationships a lot. We’re always watching what’s going on in pop culture and the news! We talk about racism a lot, but we’re going to expand on. Right now it’s been kind of racism normally having to deal with African-Americans verses white people. So, we want to have it expand and go to other races like Latino, Asian, all kinds of people. We have fans out there that are pressed like “Make fun of my race!” So, we are going to expand that without Racism in America webisode series we have. So, the point is, we’re not going to make fun of a small group of people, we want all of them races covered.
MS: Any advice for people who can’t find work as actors?
LR: Do web series and internet shows! A lot of web shows bring in viewership numbers higher than TV shows. Our numbers right now are comparable to cable shows that are on HBO and FX. It’s a great way to be seen. You can look into acting in these various web shows or start your own group. That is one of the reasons we started our group: To be able to constantly be creative as actors and filmmakers instead of waiting around for auditions.
MS: And lastly, advice for people looking to launch webisodes?
LR: Get your video promoted by as many blogs, forums and other websites as you can. Find forums related to the topic of your video and post your video there or a link to it. Contact the people who write popular blogs, they may feature your video. There are a lot of websites like break.com where you can submit your video to be featured by them. Most importantly, keep making videos. Many popular internet shows slowly built up their audience by constantly putting out videos.