Andrew Harmon


 

Curtain Call:
The Corporate Brother

by Candace C. Smith

I first met Todd Inman at the Double Shots Espresso Bar in downtown Philly earlier this year, after answering a casting call for his brilliant web series, The Corporate Brother. I was the actress in search of a comedic acting role and Todd was the executive producer-director-writer in search of passionate actors who could fit the looks and personalities for his scripts. In this interview, Todd and I have come back full circle at Double Shots to talk about the evolution of his web series and how the journey of being a content creator for the web all started out for him.

Q: Hi Todd! Thank you for coming out and being a part of this interview with me for Urban/Suburban! How did you first get started with The Corporate Brother and how did the idea come to you to make a web series of this caliber?

A: The Corporate Brother is actually the first web series/show with an African-American set in a business environment, as the central character. There have been a lot of shows like The Office where theyíve had African-American characters, but it hasnít been told in his or her voice. So, when I decided on Corporate Brother because of my own corporate experience, you know there were a lot of things that took place that I thought at the time were really troubling even, but I thought there could be a comedic spin placed on it. I came from a stand-up comedy world before I got into filming and so forth, and so I just thought that some of these things that a lot of African-Americans could relate to. There hadnít really been a show set like that and I thought that there was a market for it. Thereís a lot of us in Corporate America wearing different hats and roles and thereís a lot of experiences that we all can relate to, and I thought that if you put a comedic spin on it weíd all kind of get a laugh over it, you know? So, thatís what gave me my initial thought about it, and then it was like, ďOk, how do I bring this to life?Ē Some of my jokes when I was on stage were about Corporate America, so thatís where it was birthed. Then I thought, ďWell maybe this could be a series!Ē  So [in order to bring The Corporate Brother to life], I had to teach myself how to use a camera, how to use editing software, how to cast people, how to get locations and so forth, and I said, ďWhy not try it?Ē  

Q: Could you please explain some of the main characters of The Corporate Brother, so that new and potential viewers of the web series can get an idea of whatís in store for them?

A: The Corporate Brother centers on Bill, who is primarily the only African-American in the office. Heís the marketing director. Bill is in a situation where heís the minority and there are [borderline racist] things said to him, but he has to swallow his tongueÖ he has to keep his job! He has to maintain his career. A lot of inappropriate, borderline racist things are said, and itís not so much that theyíre malicious; itís just that the people just donít know. Theyíve never worked with an African-American or socialized with an African-American, so theyíre just saying what they think, and they donít think that it bothers Bill. But Billís character is one in that he just kind of rolls with it. He doesnít fly off the handle. Heís able to accept things for what they are and sort of compartmentalize whatís taking place. 

You have the CEO [actor Val Uff] who is like the airhead CEO. [Laughter]  

You have Greg [actor Paul Oreal]; at the start of the series he was supposed to be the racist. That was the way it started. But with his look and the way that he comes across people thought that he just wanted to be Black. So we kind of just rolled with that.

Q: Do you mean from the first episode aired and the audience feedback that folks watching the show thought that he didnít look racist, but he just wanted to be Black? Thatís extremely interesting.

A:  It is interesting because that wasnít his character. But thatís what the audience accepted him asÖ with his look and the way he said things. A lot of us can identify with knowing that character, that White guy who wanted to be Black.  

Q: There is a world of casting out here and itís says a lot that Greg was written as a flat-out racist in the web series, but that, due to audience perception and ultimately, in a way, participation, that the character was fashioned in following episodes to be a White guy playing Black. What have you taken from that specific experience, as you were the sole casting director for your series?

A: What Iíve learned is that with some web series, youíre relying on people to work for free.  You can only do so much auditioning. You have to question if people are reliable, if they are passionate about what they are doing. You have to learn how to develop your character around that person- their look, their personality. Whereas, in this case, I just had a vision for who I wanted that person to be, and then Greg came along and I thought it was a good match. But then people didnít look at the episode in the way that I envisioned it. 

Q: How did the core cast of The Corporate Brother come together?

A: I reached out to people who either had some type of dream of being in comedy, not necessarily acting, but just maybe stand-up, or people who wanted to be models in the past and I said, ďListen, this is what Iím trying to do and I want you to be a part of it.Ē So that was how the core cast was brought together [for The Corporate Brother.] Then I met Val [Uff, who is one of the most professional and dedicated actors of the cast, as the character of the ignorant and racially insensitive CEO in The Corporate Brother] at an MPEG function, [Metropolitan Philadelphia Entertainment Group], and I told him what I was trying to do and would he join, and he said sure, and he became the CEO. So then I did one episode to see where it goes. I did the first episode and got a lot of good responses. A lot of people thought it was unique; they hadnít seen anything like this before. So I decided to ride the wave and turn it into a series. I started writing a few episodes. I was fortunate to get an office in Paoli, PA that was willing to let us film there, to give it that authentic look as if it were a real corporate environment. Theyíve been really great to us, allowing us to come in every so often and film. Then it was just trying to be creative on a very low budget. We try to keep each episode under a budget of $250.

Q: Are you influenced and inspired by the current wave of popular web series which feature Black protagonists, such as Issa Raeís The Mis-adventures of Awkward Black Girl or Brothers With No Game?

A: I do admire Issa Rae and a lot of those folks, and they do give me inspiration to keep going. But I also recognize that my content is a lot different than theirs. Not everybody is going to understand Corporate America. We are the minorities in Corporate America, so not everybody is going to get the jokes. So sometimes I catch myself wanting to get the numbers, views that they have, ďsheís got [Issa Rae] a million views I want to be there! But I also recognize that sheís reaching a broader audience with her web series, as mine is more of a niche. Also, sheís been to film school, sheís out in LA, she has a lot of advantages that I have to remind myself that Iím not going be there right now. I have to continue to grow, continue to refine my skills, and then maybe other projects to reach a broader audience, depending on the content.

Q: Itís interesting that you mention that, because there are people who are trying to be filmmakers, web series producers and, just as in other industries, these creative content makers want things now, they donít want to take the time to cultivate their talents and their art. So I find it amazing that you recognize that it takes time to make art and to refine and define your skills as an artist. Even while you have help with your actors and the crew that you collaborated with on The Corporate Brother, it appears that you are doing a lot of things on your own. How hard has it been to realize this web series from its inception, as a person who hasnít gone to film school or lives in LA/New York?

A: Itís sort of like peaks and valleys. Itís certainly not a steady or linear progression, where you keep going and going. There are periods where weíre fortunate to get some press. Thatís been helpful and encouraging. We get spikes of views, like on another website that will carry us for weeks. Thatíll give us a spike in views for a week or so. But then there will be periods where you might only get two or three in the course of a month, and youíre thinking, ďWow, whatís going on?Ē [Laughter]

Q: I think many people still believe that if you put a video up on YouTube youíre just going to automatically receive one million views that same day, but they donít realize that it takes time to gain views, especially if you arenít already famous or really making a complete fool out of yourself. Thereís magic in the marketing. You have had success with, in particular the third and fourth episode viewership of The Corporate Brother.  [Episode 3 of the first season of The Corporate Brother has amassed 37,399 views to date; episode 4 has gained 11,269 views.] What do you do to market The Corporate Brother?

A: Definitely reaching out to established blogs that already have an audience. One, in particular, Fox Brown Fox (www.foxbrownfox.net).  I also try to reach out to blogs that specifically cater to the Professional African-American audience, such as the Young Black Professionals network (www.youngblackprofessionals.org). They carried episode 3 and they also have a blog radio show that I was on to talk about minorities and corporate America. So that helped to give me a spike in views. I reached out to a local newspaper in my area, and they carried a story on us. I then obviously I reached out to Urban/Suburban magazine. George put up an episode on the Urban/Suburban website. So Iíve just been trying to get as much exposure for the web series as possible. I was naÔve and thought that all your Facebook friends would look at it and share it with their friends and all of a sudden it would just go viral. Thatís what I thought! But, thatís not the case! [Laughter]

Q: It doesnít happen like that at all! Very rarely.

A: So, Iím like, ďDo these people like me?Ē [laughter]

Q: Were there any screenplays that you read or movies that you saw, especially in your childhood, that sparked the fire in you to want to pursue a career in writing and in film and entertainment?  

A: HmmmÖ thatís a good question. Well, I am inspired by shows like Seinfeld. [Laughter] I just feel like the writing is so clever. I still watch Seinfeld and other shows like it to this day. Also, comedians like Chris Rock. He inspires me. Heíll talk about a lot of topical issues, some issues that you donít expect comedians to really talk about, in terms of race relations. Iíve always admired that, so that was kind of the inspiration, to see if I could put a comedic spin on serious issues that we deal with in the Corporate World [as Black Americans], or just race relations period. How can I put a comedic spin on that and try to straddle the line between funny and un-offensive? Itís a real delicate line to walk. 

Q: Now that the first season of The Corporate Brother is wrapped, do you have any other projects lined up at the moment?

A: I want to make a short film out of The Corporate Brother and shop that around to film festivals, and then weíll see where we go. I have a screenplay, itís a love story. Iím a big fan of Love Jones.

Q: One of the best movies ever! People are still waiting for Love Jones 2.

A: Right?! I know. I wrote a love story- itís probably about three quarters of the way finished. I still need to go back through it and refine and revise it. But I want to bring that to life one day.

Q: How have you grown as a filmmaker, artist, and person, starting as a stand-up comedian to creator of The Corporate Brother?  

A: Oh my goodness, to wear all those hats, you canít help but to develop in all those areas. Iíve gotten better as an editor, a casting director, producer, doing the press releases and marketing, contacting all these different organizations and blogs, and just staying hungry in that area and understanding that you have to be aggressiveÖ. all the hats that the people wear in production, Iíve learned. I wouldnít say Iím a pro at anything, but Iím more evolved since the first time I ever thought about it. 

Q: Is there one role that you prefer to do more than any of the others?

A: Number one, writer, and number two, I would say, overall, producer.

Q: No love for directing?

A:  [laughter] I did like the directing! I think I am a control freak anyway. [Laughter]

Q: Youíve passionately expressed that you love writing and itís the number one form of art that you prefer to do above all. For those who are thinking of creating their own web series, what advice can you give?

A: Just do it. Donít delay. Donít let the fact that you donít know how to do something stop you. Just go out there and do it. Donít worry about people being critical of the lighting. Just produce your first one, and take it from there. Youíll learn things as you go along. I believe that where thereís a will, there will be a way. Donít make your perfection your goal. Donít look at Issa Raeís series and let that be your standard where youíre thinking, ďIíll never match thatĒ. Donít worry about that. Just produce what you have in your heart and grow from there.

Q: What youíve achieved with The Corporate Brother is inspiring and Iím so excited to see what the future has in store for you, as Iím sure many of your fans are as well. Thank you for your wisdom and good luck to you Todd!

A: Thank you!

 

 

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