The first season of the web series “Next Time On Lonny” was a relatively humble affair — created independently by Alex Anfanger and Dan Schimpf, the show featured Anfanger as a reality TV star whose adventures springboard to all sorts of insane genre combinations, from murder to time travel to alien invasions.
For its second season, however, Lonny’s made it to the big time. It’s all thanks to Ben Stiller’s Red Hour Productions and YouTube distribution powerhouse Maker Studios, which have teamed up for 10 new episodes that span nearly every genre you can think of, from “Drive” to “The Wolf of Wall Street” to the post-apocalypse. There’s even an interactive episode, an installment shot entirely in the first person and a packed roster of guest stars, including Adam Scott, Patton Oswalt, Jerry O’Connell, Kal Penn and Stephen Tobolowsky.
“Lonny,” in short, is a stunning trip through pop culture tropes, while remaining original and unique thanks to an emphasis on pushing boundaries and developing characters. Below, Anfanger and Schimpf tell Indiewire via email how they moved from working independently to a more mainstream deal, their approach to satire, why it made sense to shoot some second season scenes in Tokyo, and why they weren’t able to include a tiger.
The second season of “Lonny” took some time to put together — what was the timeline of the production?
It’s definitely been an epic journey! We shot season one almost three years ago. About a year later, Red Hour partnered with us for season two, and then it took another year to lock in financing and distribution. Then add another eight months to produce and four months to edit. Granted we had to take a two-month hiatus in the middle, but still — it was basically a 10 month marathon. So obviously, we’re extremely excited to finally get it out…and possibly a little sad to let it go.
Why are you sad to let it go?
We’ve spent such a huge part of this year dedicating so much of our lives to making this season. So in a way, I think it’s like a slight postpartum depression.
Reality TV parodies are pretty popular in web content (such as fellow Red Hour series “Burning Love”). What is it about that particular genre that lends itself to that sort of mockery?
Where do you even start?! I mean, most of reality TV’s sole purpose is to give people something to universally make fun of. We actually don’t watch it often, but when we do, we’re usually shocked to find that it’s more ridiculous than any of the reality scenes we’re giving Lonny. They tend to drastically overdramatize extremely mundane situations, so for us it seemed like a natural fit to frame our show, which overdramatizes every situation.
After completing Season 1, did you have any specific goals for Season 2?
For Season 1 we had an insanely small budget. Our goal then, was to try and execute all of our ideas as resourcefully as possible. No matter what idea, whether Alien’s enslaving the human race, or 5 versions of Lonny, we used the best version of CGI we knew (no matter how crappy) to bring those ideas to life.
For Season 2, our goal was basically the same, only we hoped to push those boundaries by writing more complex and difficult ideas, and then use Season 1 as proof that, if given more money, we can still make it work.
Another big goal was to continue to stretch the series, conceptually and emotionally — to take risks. We have a lot more dramatic beats, including an entirely dramatic episode, an interactive episode, and an episode shot entirely from a first person POV.
What can you reveal about the budget for season two? (Especially given the amount of location shooting that you did.)
The budget was definitely bigger than Season 1, but we also tried to do so much more with it. Our mentality going in was to put as much money as possible into what’s going on in front of the camera. That meant we needed to keep the entire crew down to the bare BARE bones. At most we had a 12 person crew, usually it was about eight, and occasionally it was two or three. This was really the only way we could spend the amount of days we needed and afford the number of locations. Really, the biggest key to it all was the dedication of the cast and crew. We were so extremely fortunate to work with an amazingly talented group of people on this who put in so much time and effort way, way, way beyond the minimal amount we were able to pay them. It’s because of their effort that we were able to achieve the scope for this season and we owe a lot to all of those that were a part of it.
How did the location shoots in Tokyo and New York come together?
We knew from early on that we wanted to go to Tokyo to shoot a certain sequence in Season 2. We figured that if we got any sort of budget, shooting in Tokyo would be the craziest way to expand the spirit of Lonny. It required a lot of coordination from the whole production team, but ultimately, only four crew members went (including us). Luckily, the two others that came along were multi-talented producers (one of which spoke Japanese) and they were able to help us both coordinate getting around and physically shoot it with us (our EP doubled as our Boom guy for the trip). In the end, we only brought equipment that we could get on a plane and were fortunate to be greeted by a very understanding and helpful Japanese Film Commission when we arrived— Arigatou Gozaimasu.
New York was a slightly larger operation and a lot easier because we lived and shot Season 1 there. In a way it was like getting back to where Lonny began.
How important was it for you to shoot on location, as opposed to creating what you needed in Los Angeles?
Shooting on location is so important. It adds that level of detail and authenticity that is extremely difficult, and very expensive to replicate. A funny thing we learned was that between location and permit costs in LA, it was actually less expensive to fly to Tokyo than it would have been for even one day on a backlot.
Interview continues on next page, but check out the exclusive clip below:
Are there distribution plans for “Lonny” beyond YouTube, especially as Season 2 is long enough to work as a feature-length project?
We’re really excited to just get Lonny back online and see what people think! Making it was such a great experience and we are so proud of it, so we’re open to anything down the line that offers a good experience to viewers.
What inspired the interactive episode? And will there be a “director’s cut” of it?
This episode actually came out of the fact that we basically ran out of money, and I guess we’re grateful because it’s definitely one of our favorites. The same thing happened in Season 1, which led us to create “Lonny Jerks Off.” It required one location, no props, and a little extra attention in post for some green screen effects that brought five Lonny’s to life.
Similarly, for Season 2, we figured that since we were out of money on an episode, we should at least try and think of another way to creatively match the epic-ness of the other episodes. For better or worse (better for the budget, worse for the actors), that ended up meaning a “Choose Your Own Adventure.” It took place in basically one location, with a total of 60 different video clips, an hour of content, and only two days to shoot… There will be no “director’s cut.” No particular path chosen. It’s all there. It’s a lot of fun. And it’s entirely for the audience to decide.
What’s your process behind writing episodes — do you start with the genre you’re interested in parodying and work backwards, or is it a more story-based approach?
It’s really always different. More often it’s story-based, and then we’ll infuse genres into it. But sometimes it starts with a genre. And occasionally it’ll start with a character or a scene.
Is there anything you considered trying in Season 2 that seemed too extreme or out there?
We really didn’t filter ourselves and were amazed that Red Hour and Maker were so supportive of the ideas. However, at one point we had a draft where Gangster Lonny is cuddling with a Tiger. That was quickly shot down by an animal handler, who said the best he could do would be to let us bottle feed him. Then we went back and asked, “Can we have Lonny breastfeeding him.” It was a pretty resounding “no.”… So I guess that was too extreme.
What genres would you still want to tackle in a potential Season 3?
We still have a lot of different episode ideas, but it’s also important to us to keep pushing the boundaries. We think it would be fun to do something totally different for Season 3, perhaps a longer format or maybe set Lonny in a different country?… Not sure yet, but if it happens… It’ll have to be epic.
Parody can be tricky to execute — you want to mock the source material, but don’t want to get too close to the source material, and also tell a story of your own. How did you go about finding a balance between all those elements?
We really don’t look at Lonny as parody, which has kind of a negative connotation. If anything it’s sort of genre parody, but hopefully more an homage to those genres and films we love and respect. For the most part, we always think about building the story, and from there infusing elements that excite us. That being said, I guess the frame of the reality portion is parody.
The structure of the series is an intriguing one — sometimes events totally reset at the end of the episode, sometimes they have consequences for future episodes. Were there specific rules to guide that part of the process?
We certainly have some jokes and small things that run through, but almost always everything resets. We try and reserve the reality portion for most of the minimal through line. However, for Season 2, there is a two-part episode, but that’s basically a joke in itself.
What’s next for you guys?
We’re currently in pre-production on our Comedy Central show called, “Big Time in Hollywood, Fl”, which we also have the privilege of producing with Red Hour. It’s different from Lonny, but certainly shares in its epicness. Plus, we’re very lucky to have some extra help, so hopefully we’ll have this one done a little sooner.
“Lonny” stands out as an example of an independent web series finding real success, thanks to the Maker/Red Hour deal — what tips would you offer other digital producers looking to make a similar move?
It’s so difficult to give advice for people making things online, because there are so many different ways and possibilities for building success. We’re both kind of perfectionists, so in all of our projects we always try and push the boundaries as much as possible and obsess over every detail. So, for the most part, we never really had a strategy for moving Lonny to the next level, we just wanted to always make the best possible version of the idea. When Red Hour and then Maker came on board, we were just insanely fortunate to partner with people that loved the idea. Ultimately, I think the best advice we can give is to work with people you love. And try. Hard.
The first three episodes of “LONNY” are now available on Maker.tv and YouTube — two new episodes will be released every week.