August 11, 2013
Beginning in October of last year, the YOMYOMF Network, a YouTube channel based on the pop culture blog You Offend Me You Offend My Family (http://www.yomyomf.com), aired six shorts of a new comedy web series, Ground Game. The show follows the bumbling exploits of a mayoral candidate and his off-beat campaign staff. Organica Recording mixed the sound for Ground Game, but we also got a chance to speak with the show’s creator, Aaron Hilliard, about his history, YOMYOMF, and filmmaking in general:
You currently live and work in Los Angeles. Are you from LA originally?
AH: I’m from Des Moines, Iowa originally, but I’ve lived in LA for a decade.
How long have you been writing and directing for the screen? Did you go to school for writing or film?
AH: I did go to undergraduate film school (at Wesleyan), where the focus was more on film theory and production than on writing. But I wrote a lot of comedy while in school, and then it felt like a natural move to marry the film and comedy together with TV sitcom writing. I moved out to LA with a college friend who became my writing partner for a number of years, and we got our first TV writing jobs about 2 years later. In the meantime, we were writing a ton of spec (speculative) material, and shooting sketch comedy videos on our own. A few years ago, I picked up the indie video directing thing again, making short films and web series for my little production shingle, Yardhill Films.
How did you get connected with Andrew Crowley at Organica to mix Ground Game?
AH: Funny (and super-convenient) story: he’s my landlord. Like so many of my experiences in the entertainment business, it’s good to keep your radar up for people who might end up becoming helpful collaborators. Last year, my wife and I moved out to St. Paul, where she’s going to Vet School (I’m splitting time between LA and Minnesota). Andrew had an apartment for rent above the Organica space, and when I called him to discuss the place, we hit it off, talking about his audio background and my filmmaking. When I started work on Ground Game, I knew it would be a great chance for us to collaborate, and it worked out great.
How did you get connected with YOMYOMF?
AH: One of the creators of YOMYOMF, Justin Lin, is a movie director (Fast and Furious) who has a history working with some producers I’ve also teamed up with. Through that connection, the YOMYOMF folks read my script for Ground Game, which at the time was a half-hour sitcom pilot. They’d also seen some of my earlier web series, so they had a general idea of my style and sensibility.
What drew you to the idea of a show about an election? Have you ever worked for a campaign?
AH: I’m from Des Moines, Iowa, where every four years the nation focuses an absurd amount of attention because of the caucuses. Growing up in that, I’ve always been intrigued by politics, especially the behind-the-scenes aspects of a business that’s all about presenting a polished message to the public. In 2007, I started developing a web series about the Iowa Caucuses, but was too busy to film in Des Moines. That project eventually morphed into Grass Roots, a six-part web series I shot independently a few years back.
Your character, Miles, from Grass Roots makes an appearance in Ground Game. Can we expect to see more of Miles in the future?
AH: Ground Game was a sort of evolution of Grass Roots.I enjoyed the world of GR enough that I wanted to expand it into an ensemble workplace comedy for TV. That script became Ground Game. And because it was basically the same world, I was able to put Miles back in the show. As for future Miles… I think many of the characters I write for myself share a lot of Miles’ qualities. I like playing smug jerks who have no justification for their smugness.
Have you done any acting in anything else?
AH: I have an improv comedy background, and used to perform quite a bit. I enjoy it, but haven’t pursued acting as a career because it’s an even more brutal pursuit than writing, which in itself is constant disappointment. I enjoy giving myself roles in my own projects, at about the level of screen-time that Stephen Merchant occupies in his shows with Ricky Gervais. When you write/direct/produce, it’s exhausting enough without starring in the thing as well.
Speaking of Stephen Merchant, some would say that the style of Ground Game is reminiscent of The Office. Did you get inspiration from The Office? What are some shows or places that you draw inspiration from?
AH: The original BBC Office changed TV, and there’s no question it’s an influence on the stuff I’m doing. That said, I think another BBC show, Armando Iannucci’s Thick of It is much more of an inspiration and comedic touchstone for me. I am a huge fan of his, and brought some of that show’s “fly on the wall” docu-style and under-played comedic delivery to Ground Game.
What’s next for Aaron Hilliard? Do you have any upcoming projects?
AH: I am writing a pilot for AMC that’s been a ton of fun. There are a few pitches for new TV shows that I’ll be taking out, and I’m trying to finish a screenplay. I’d love to get another web series going as well. It’s fun to take a project from script to screen, and it seems much easier to do that online right now. It’s exciting to see how this new digital entertainment space is developing!
We spoke to Aaron again at the start of August, and he’s working on a new show called BETAS, set to air on Amazon Prime.
AH: I’m excited to be helping to write and produce one of Amazon’s first forays into original TV series. BETAS and ALPHA HOUSE are going to be full seasons of TV available on the Amazon Prime streaming service. Anybody with Prime can watch the shows for free on their connected HDTV, XBox, Kindle, Roku, etc.
BETAS is shaping up to be a very cool half-hour sitcom about the tech world in San Francisco. We’re writing 10 episodes this season and introducing a gang of characters who are trying to launch their own social networking app. It’s kind of a workplace comedy meets THE SOCIAL NETWORK movie. The show explores that world of Silicon Valley start-ups, and also what it’s like to be in your 20s, trying to get your career and social life started. It’s a very grounded, naturalistic comedy that has been a ton of fun to help produce.
Ground Game, episode one: