If you asked Lee Piazza if his rat-infested basement apartment was ever going to give him anything but a headache, he'd probably tell you no. But here we are 11-episodes later in what he calls his, "crash course in filmmaking." Check out what Lee has to say about his baby that is The Oracle of Bellwoods and his production company, Motel Genius Productions.
netTVnow: Tell me about The Oracle of Bellwoods and where the idea came from.
Lee Piazza: It all started in a sweltering, rat-infested basement apartment. Very sophisticated!
Basically, I had only written comedic sketches and wanted to challenge myself to write a full narrative. I started plucking a few elements out of my reality at the time. I had a bad case of tennis elbow from typing, I felt like I was in a bit of a rut with the day job I had and, yes, our basement apartment really did have rats. Not one or two. There was literally a pipe coming up from the sewer and going directly into our walls. It was God-awful and we were consumed by it daily. Our pest man was a character, he was articulate and quoted Winston Churchill which surprised me!
At the time I was reading this book on Greek mythology and the Oracle of Delphi came up a couple of times, so that's where the story started.
My hero was Ray, the pest man, and he met an oracle...in Trinity Bellwoods, the best park in Toronto. Oracles, of course, required offerings to the Gods as payment for their visions of the future. I decided that The Oracle of Bellwoods would require obscure offerings that would send Ray all over the city and lead him to daffy, conniving people. Once I had that premise figured out, scores of possibilities opened up and the rest of the story came naturally.
netTVnow: What made you decide to create a web series over something like a short film?
LP: I basically wanted to teach myself how to make a film and liked the idea of starting with something ambitious so that I would develop artistically. It was important to me that my first significant project be DIY. I had a big story to tell so making a full series made the most sense for me.
netTVnow: You founded Motel Genius Productions, what made you want to create your own production company?
LP: I think my work is original and unique and I like the idea of it all being released under one trademark. It's an extension of the DIY spirit of the series.
netTVnow: You directed, wrote, edited, created the music, produced and starred in the series as Ray. How did you survive that?
LP: (laughs) Yeah, that was fun. Kind of an insane thing to do. I don't think that's common at all. Again, I wanted to teach myself every aspect of filmmaking, so I took it all on. This also was a no budget production so it also ensured that everything got done in a timely fashion.
In a way, it was the most practical way for me to do it. I actually would have preferred to have had someone else star in it and given myself one of the smaller roles. But starring in it allowed me to shoot a lot of dialogue whenever I wanted and for things to move at a steady pace.
I always tell people that I don't regret having done it that way but I would never do it that way again. My focus now is primarily on writing. but having done the series that way, I find that when I'm screenwriting now, I'm able to picture exactly how scenes will be shot and am generally a lot more thorough.
netTVnow: What sorts of challenges did you face when it came to filming the series?
LP: All of the scenes with Ray and the oracle take place on the same bench in Trinity Bellwoods' park, which is pretty much the most active park in Toronto. Matt Rubel, who plays the oracle, and I had to start at 7am each day for shooting and even then, we got interrupted all the time.
Runners; cyclists; moms and dads with mochas and babies meeting other moms and dads with mochas and babies. I never knew how many cicada there were in the park until we started filming! By mid-morning, their mating songs were in full force. There was also this older man who, it turns out, is a regular at the park. He was walking around with a small boombox attached to his waist, blasting "The Doors" and intermittently blaring a horn whenever he pleased. Needless to say, no dialogue was filmed while he was strolling about.
netTVnow: What's your background in the industry and is this your first series?
LP: Yeah, this was my first series. It's essentially now my background in the industry. That was part of the idea. i'm working as a production assistant in Toronto now and am finally getting more conventional experience as well.
netTVnow: Where do you hope the web series community will be in a few years?
LP: The single most important thing that could happen in the web series community would be a sort of Netflix of web series. With a budget cap, so it could remain a site for fledgling filmmakers. There are so many people making web series right now and it all feels a bit too noisy. Consolidating these independent artists on one site as a way to showcase work to bigger producers would be absolutely phenomenal.
netTVnow: Can you describe the series in one word? And what would it be?
LP: Absurd. Through and through, this series is completely absurd. The characters are daffy, the dialogue is off-beat and as the story progresses, my hope is that the viewer further and further absorbs just how absurd the whole thing is. It's somewhat detached from reality but not entirely. It's kind of straddling the line between the world we live in and the otherworldly.
netTVnow: Any upcoming projects we can share?
LP: I'm currently writing a film noir feature and will soon begin writing another absurdist comedy. So screenwriting galore!