Why did you guys make this series?
Andy: These days, Mars is a source of fascination for a lot of people, including the two of us. When it comes to the idea of colonizing Big Red and interplanetary travel, Steve and I are as excited as anyone (except maybe JJ Abrams or Elon Musk). But while we’ve been following coverage of Mars, we noticed that every article and story is extremely serious and filled with gravitas. We just thought there’s room for a funny take.
Steve: I think at some points in every sci-fi enthusiast's life, you want to get a chance to launch yourself into a rocket or be part of some awesome space adventure. Sadly, opportunities like that don’t come up very often, so we decided to write out our own space adventure.
How did you find your cast?
Andy: Our principle cast was a combination of funny people we had already worked with before and equally funny people that we really wanted to work with. Benny Elledge (Rufus), Eleanor Boddie (Bree) and Yedoye Travis (who plays a Russian coincidentally also named Yedoye) were all in our short film, Going Public. Gregory Korostishevsky is a longtime friend who worked with us in our first web series (CO-Operation) and one of those memorable character actors who make you say, “I know that guy!”
Steve: Andy Bustillos (Klint) and Ike Ufomadu (Hal) are huge comedic talents from UCB and Joe’s Pub. I was familiar with their work and had a feeling they might be right for this. Once we had a chance to read with them, it was immediately clear we’d found our cast. Finding Jessica Damouni (Maddie) took some research into some local NY comedy teams, but at the casting, when we discovered Jessica could lay into her Australian accent, we were sold.
What’s the hardest part about working independently?
Andy: For me, it’s making sure that the final product lives up to your original vision. Because you’re independent, you have to be thoroughly organized and prepared at every step of the process. And that requires being surrounded by really talented people who can help you solve problems creatively and quickly. One of the greatest aspects of living and working in New York City is that you’re surrounded by so many talented people, at every phase of production. The independent film scene is filled with passionate, talented individuals who just want a chance to practice their craft. And they’re the reason any project will succeed or fail.
Steve: I think the hardest part of working independently is believing you’re not kidding yourself. Every step is a personal mind battle. There is, after all, no one pushing you to continue creating. All the choices to persevere are of your own making. Yes, you have all the creative control, but you also have all of the decisions and all the work and all the self-doubt. Fortunately, the further into the process you go, the more attached you become to the characters and the world. And the promise of bringing it all to life ultimately drives you to finish.
What’s the best part about working independently?
Steve: I’ve always been a DIY sort of person so there’s nothing I like more than figuring something out on my own. For instance, we knew we wanted to have some space suits for the astronauts to wear when they left the habitat to simulate “space walks.” But we had a hard time finding a company who would rent us a space suit that wouldn’t completely bust our budget. Fortunately, Andy had a buddy who's a firefighter and he had some fire hazmat suits. I’ve always enjoyed putting together costumes, so I spent a few hours assembling a helmet out of plumbing parts from Home Depot and between the two we had a space suit all on our own.
Andy: I find independent projects really empowering. And exhausting. They’re definitely something that starts with an “e.” It’s great to have a vision for a project and then get to chase after it, particularly when you’re in an environment that’s positive and collaborative. There’s a different level of gratification when you’re done because you are acutely aware of how difficult it was to get there and all the challenges you had to overcome along the way.
What about the financial reality of an independent production?
Steve: Of course resources play a role in whatever you’re trying to make. There aren’t a lot of people out there who would spend their own money on a series that literally dives into the abyss without a clear return. You have to think about paying for it from the moment of inception. How many characters? How many locations? How expensive is it to make?
Andy: It’s not like we were “against” some wealthy financier who was looking for a creative way to spend his or her money. We just weren’t approached by that person in time for the shoot. And, at the end of the day, Steve and I couldn’t accept the idea that this show could only get made if it was greenlit by the right people. Despite the mountains of content being produced right now, we thought this idea felt unique, and we really wanted to see this show come to life. So we dissolved our kids’ college funds and greenlit ourselves. (Just kidding. Kind of.)
Andy: We think that the most exciting thing about this show is how broad it can get. We have so many plans for expanding the Team Mars universe -- in space terms, it's called Hubble's Law -- and there are some amazing comedians and actors we’d love to work with as we do.
Steve: And just reassembling our cast again would be fantastically fun. The energy on set was incredibly dorky. People were happy to laugh and dig into their own personal Sci-Fi geekdom. When you have that kind of atmosphere, the sky’s the limit. (Space pun!)
Did either of you ever imagine being an astronaut or apply to NASA?
Steve: I used to like math, especially geometry. But the notion of floating alone in Space and doing a lot of non-geometry math never really attracted me. Did I mention my astrological sign is Cancer? We’re Earth’s natural homebodies.
Andy: The closest I ever got to space travel was eating freeze-dried ice cream, and I seriously love freeze-dried ice cream. In fact, we had freeze-dried ice cream on set for episode one and I gladly ate all the leftover crumbs. Even the crumbs that didn’t make it into Benny’s mouth. Big shout out to Cosmik ice cream for providing the treats, by the way!
Tell us about your set.
We have an amazing producer named Artisha Mann Cooper. She was able to reach out to several sites and studios to ultimately connect us to Windmill Studios. Windmill sort of took this project on as a labor of love. Our budget couldn’t have been tighter, but we asked them to embrace the lunacy of living in Antarctica in a geodesic dome. They worked tirelessly to create an amazingly functional and livable space for our shoot. Even polar bears could have lived there.
Steve: Well, for one thing, as someone with a background in audio, I’m very used to being in a hermetically-sealed soundproof room, so the notion of creating a show that exists in a bubble wasn’t that far from my own experience. I think Antarctica was both in the ether because of Climate Change and melting icecaps, but it also seemed fitting for a group of dip-shits to be living in the “worst habitat” in the world for a sitcom.
What was your favorite part of filming?
Steve: There was an argument at one point about how to create electricity from our bike that was pretty hilarious. Benny Elledge, who plays Rufus, is a man of many talents, not the least of which is having a background in electrical circuitry. He really wanted to make sure the ohms and wattage from the bike to the car battery were legit in episode 4. Andy and I were like, “Whatever. Does it really matter? Movie magic, no? We only need a 3 second shot in the dark.” Before long, all the guys at Windmill Studios were frantically running around looking to hot wire the exercise bike, that someone had left on the street in Bushwick I might add, to NYC code.
What about the video applicants?
Steve: We’ve been very lucky to have a cast of people that have been so generous with their time and their talent. Andy and I would reach out to NY comedians that we loved and pitch them this weird idea. “Wanna be in our show about bunch of wannabe astronauts trying to go to Mars?’ I think Lane Moore, who had been on my radar for a little while with her TINDER LIVE” show, and my dear friend James Bewley (from our Dale Radio Days) were the first to join the team. We’d bring them into our studio for an hour and give them some starting places like “Why would you be a great candidate to go to Mars?” or “If you had a Martian song, what song would it be?” and then we’d just go from there. When you work with funny, sharp people, great things happen. Also, many applicants were UCB regulars who knew Andy Bustillos (KLINT) and were happy to help him and any project he was working on. Before long, Andy Ferguson and I were pinching ourselves with how amazing our cast turned out.
Who is your favorite Sci Fi character?
Andy and I are both huge Star Wars and Star Trek fans, so that’s just a given. I definitely sympathized with Bill Paxton when he says, “game over man, game over” in Aliens, or maybe Jodi Foster- “I’m ok to go” from Contact.
When do you think humans will settle on Mars?
Depends on humanity. How many of us are the type of person obsessed with guys like Magellan and Sir Francis Drake? How many are interested in learning how to brine pickles? There’s your answer. It’ll be a while.
Tell us about your Martian research?
We used search engines mostly. Once you take a deep dive into MARS SPACE exploration on the internet, via NASA’s site, MARS ONE, Space X and the New England Journal of medicine, you are bound to find more astro-jargon than one needs for any show.
How do you know the Gregory Brothers?
That’s an interesting story. We were at Joe’s Pub supporting Ike (HAL) who was doing his residency at Joe's Pub. Evan and his wife performed a Christmas duet and Andy Ferg leans over and says “we should get them to join TEAM MARS.” Anytime you are able to work with a huge YOUTUBE influencer like Evan Gregory and the Gregory Brothers you’re going to be psyched. What we didn’t realize was that Evan had such a lust for talking about mathematics and Space. His recall for terms and legit mathematical equations was astounding.
What do you hope happens with this series?
I think the big HOPE would be to get to make more. It is a funny idea -- going to Mars. And we got a funny group of people who are all enthusiastic, talented and committed, so getting to continue on this journey would be a “giant leap” (forgive the multitude of space puns but they’re everywhere) for us.
How did you create?
Oh I’m so glad you asked, there are too many photographers to thank. But the amazing curators at unsplash.com have a wealth of royalty free photographs that we are forever indebted to. We also want to thank the guys at cinecom.net, footagecrate.com and videoblocks.com for providing tools and helpful tutorials that we used on the regular. We couldn’t have really gotten this going without these resources.
What did you shoot on?
Damien Drake who was director with Andy and I on two of the episodes knew from the beginning that he wanted to shoot with Canon C300s. It was just the right size for our two camera shoot. We had one C300 II and one original C300. We did all of our editing on Premiere Pro CC.