We had the opportunity to sit down with Barbara Gray and learn a little more about the emerging writer, as well as hear how development is progressing for The Wrong Guys for the Job – the first film from the Lionsgate Incubator partnership.
Tell us a little about your background and how you came to film and comedy?
I was always performing or creating something as a kid. I used to subject my family to long improvised puppet shows and my friends and I made countless videos. After doing theater in high school, I went to the University of Utah and completed the Film Studies program which was great because I got to try everything – screenwriting, acting, directing, editing. This was around the time when I really began my love affair with comedy. I started to just consume everything I could, shows like Mr. Show, Strangers With Candy, Arrested Development, and the standup of Patton Oswalt, David Cross, and more. This later moved onto British shows like the UK Office, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, The Mighty Boosh, and many others. (I maintain that if I can ever make anything as great as Darkplace’s opening credits, then I will die happy.)
When I moved out to Los Angeles at the age of 24, much of it was because I’d have the opportunity to immerse myself in the comedy community. Three weeks after moving, I was taking classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, and I landed an internship at Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s production company, Gary Sanchez Productions, so I was face to face with my comedic idols on a daily basis which was hugely inspiring. I started performing standup a year later and that’s when things really came together – I had crossed over from being a fan to doing comedy myself. And I couldn’t be happier. I’ve just completed the script for my first original TV pilot with some fellow comics, and I have various other projects in the works.
What are some of the comedic films that have inspired your work?
My favorite comedy of all time is Wet Hot American Summer. It’s the perfect blend of funny, random, and weird. Judd Apatow’s films have also inspired me, I was a huge Freaks and Geeks fan, and I love the style of comedy he’s made popular, like The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up. I would say my favorite of these types of films in recent years was John Hamburg’s I Love You, Man. Great characters and story, awkward and referential humor, loved it.
Can you tell us a bit about the origins of “The Wrong Guys for the Job”?
I’ve had the idea bouncing around for years. A while back, I was trying to find a job and found myself in a lot of interviews. One, in particular, was going terribly and there was no way I was going to land the job. I remember thinking that maybe I should just do something super crazy so the next person would look amazing in comparison. (I was too scared to do it but now I kinda wish I had). I also haven’t worked for several months myself, so writing something involving being unemployed is a subject I know a lot about. It’s a time to really evaluate the direction your life is headed. And eat a lot of ramen noodles.
While you are developing the project into a full-length script – how do you envision the story and characters evolving from your original synopsis?
When my concept was selected, it was only about 15 pages into the first draft of the script. That was the great thing about the Lionsgate contest – it kicked me in the butt to finally get this idea outlined. So I have quite a bit of work ahead of me, and I imagine that the characters and story are going to evolve in various ways.
In the first few pages, I’ve written Cole as a player who uses his (insignificant) role on the sci-fi show to get chicks. Although it’s been turning out pretty funny that way, I don’t want to make it seem like it’s a movie about guys trying to get laid, so that may change course as I continue to write. Nate is still yet to be discovered in many ways, but for now I see him as someone who has just gone along with his life in a ho-hum manner, he’s sarcastic but resigned to his life, and with “BJs”, he finally finds himself in a position where he has some responsibility, and he is surprised to find he really enjoys it. Both of them are affable guys, but Cole is more egotistical and willing to take risks than Nate. Though Nate slowly gains more confidence throughout the process, in a way that his old life never afforded him.
The characters from the unemployment group will be a great opportunity for comedy, as they are going to be from all walks of life and are now thrown together in this situation. As far as the story itself goes, there are lots of little questions to answer along the way, such as how they really iron out the whole business model and get into the interviews in the way they want. I’ve answered a lot of them but I’m sure it will take a bit more time to work all the kinks out. Also, it remains to be seen how large of a part the character Tasha will play – if she is what makes Nate reevaluate this scheme, or if the scheme itself starts breaking down as they realize they aren’t going to be able to pull this off forever.
Have you thought about how this film would look and feel? If you could cast anyone for the roles of Nate and Cole, who would you choose?
I’m not great with the technical side of things but in a perfect world it might look and feel like a Judd Apatow film. What I love in a film are small details that tell you mountains about a character or place – how someone irons their shirt, an old car door that hasn’t been fixed in years, the buzz of fluorescent lights in an office. Ideally, I would cast someone like Justin Long or Paul Rudd as Nate and then as Cole, I’d say maybe Paul Rust, who isn’t too well known yet but is an amazing improviser in the LA scene. Or maybe a younger Vince Vaughn, with that great frenetic energy he has. They should both be able to pull off some great physical comedy, Cole more than Nate.
Tell us a little about your creative process: how do you come up with stories? Comedic moments? how does writing for standup and film differ?
Real life never stops giving up the good stuff. I am always trying to observe the people and situations around me, and that lends itself to more than enough fuel for both standup and film. Also, I’ve worked retail, so I’ve run into a lot of characters in my life. And I love absurd, random stuff. I will just have little thoughts throughout the day that make me giggle, or I’ll make goofy voices or characters when I’m by myself. What makes me laugh the most is something absurd and smart at the same time. I just go with what I find funny, and then put it out there to see if other people do as well.
I like to go to various places to write, instead of just a coffee shop, I will go to the mall or a touristy spot, because the environment can lend itself to different inspiration. Writing stand-up is easier for me than film in that you can write a small chunk, perform it that night, get instant feedback, and then go home and change it bit by bit. So the evolution of the jokes can be quicker and easier to get a grasp on. With screenwriting, especially being on the newer side of it, it takes much longer to form the story and characters, and then get it to a point where I can receive feedback on it. Improv training has really helped in writing dialogue and various characters.
What are your plans for the future?
Writing comedy for TV and film is my ultimate goal. I hope to write and produce some of my own original TV series, maybe even in Britain, since I love the way they tend to format their shows with fewer episodes and seasons (then all the good stuff is condensed and it leaves you wanting more). I love performing standup too, but making a living at it requires being on the road consistently, and I would have to see if I’m up for that.
Barbara Gray Writer, Producer
The Wrong Guys For The Job
Gray has written and acted in more short comedies, including Would You Rather Lady to Lady (2016), #TBT by Comedy Central (2015), Captain Kidde and the Legion of Space Pirates (2010). She co-produced the 2012 TV movie Lady to Lady.