Local filmmaker works with Michael CeraWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | email@example.com
Filmmaker Derek Westerman would like to make something clear: He has an incredibly supportive and loving family. He speaks with affection and gratitude for all of them, his mother, his brother and — importantly — his father.
The last part is especially significant, lest people think his new project, the CollegeHumor.com Internet series “Bad Dads,” is autobiographical. Far from it. But for Westerman, it’s a culmination of years of training, hoping and dreaming — all of which he endured with his family by his side.
“They were always extremely supportive of what I wanted in my life,” Westerman said in an interview with Toledo Free Press.
Born and raised in Sylvania, Westerman had a passion for movies from an early age.
“Just certain films, just watching a lot of films late at night, renting a lot of VHS tapes,” he said, “I dunno, it was just really, really exciting at that age. I mean, I’m still discovering stuff with film. There’s no limit to what exists out there. And that was really exciting when I was a teenager.”
As a child, he also dabbled in making his own movies — well, more like dove in with both feet. In grade school, Westerman would make small-scale epics with his friends and a hand-held video camera. By high school, he had made a film that won a tri-state film festival. He attended film school at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles.
Westerman attended graduate school at NYU, graduating in May. It was there that the seed of an idea took root, one that would eventually grow into “Bad Dads.”
He had been living with three other displaced Toledoans in the Big Apple. While kidding around in the apartment, “somehow, we kept gravitating to jokes about really bad fathers. And my father’s, like, amazing, so it definitely doesn’t come from that,” Westerman said.
“It just kinda was based from that, to make these improv-based sketches — they’d be like two minutes long, three minutes long, depending — and each one would have a different character.”
He made about 20 of these sketches during his final year of NYU. While he was working on them, he considered getting an old friend from the LA days involved.
“I thought, oh, I should contact Michael Cera,” Westerman said.
In 2005, he had been hanging out with Clark Duke (“Hot Tub Time Machine”) when he learned that Cera, then known for “Arrested Development,” was living in the same apartment complex.
“We met just pretty randomly and became pretty good friends, wrote a lot of comedy together and played music together. It was nice, and we hung out for a couple years,” Westerman said.
Cera had appeared in a few of Westerman’s films as an undergrad, including his senior thesis. In the years since Westerman left LA, Cera had exploded onto Hollywood’s A-List thanks to films like “Superbad” and “Juno.” Now, as Derek ramped up his “Bad Dads” project, he thought of enlisting his old friend.
“So, I sent him a bunch of scripts — each script is like a page long, these little sketches — and he liked it and he said yes. So that was a pretty exciting day for me,” Westerman said. “I’m still pretty shocked, and I’m still pretty grateful that he took a risk on ‘Bad Dads.’”
Last summer, Westerman flew to LA with his girlfriend (the producer of the project), Will Hines (Upright Citizens Brigade Theater veteran and “Bad Dads” other lead actor) and his director of photography. The price of the plane tickets is “still pretty much the biggest production cost of the whole thing,” Westerman joked.
They arrived two days before the shoot, but it was hardly fun in the sun for Westerman. He still was working feverishly on the script.
“I was kinda going crazy, trying to figure out the best way to utilize the situation. So I just did a lot of writing in two days, and I kinda arrived at something that I liked a lot,” he said. “And I knew that when we started shooting the next morning, there’d be a lot to work with.”
The production took place all in one fast-paced 12-hour session. His crew was largely made up of friends from his undergrad days. Each take was full of improvisation and inventiveness from his lead actors. Westerman said the production was probably his favorite day of the year.
“The amount of jokes we had, they could have run 10 minutes each,” he said of the wealth of material Cera and Hines gave him. “But basically, with these sketches, because each sketch has like one scenario, or one problem or whatever, if it had lasted 10 minutes — which it could have, with the amount of jokes that I had — it would just feel really strange and drawn out.”
The films, five short films running about three minutes each, came together in one marathon editing session, finished before Westerman left LA.
“I didn’t expect it to happen this way, in terms of being released online. My plan was for it to get into film festivals, and then eventually online. But CollegeHumor.com stepped in.”
One of his “Bad Dads” actors, Elaine Carroll, was watching the sketches one day when her boyfriend, who happened to also be in charge of original content for CollegeHumor, caught a glimpse of the films and liked what he saw. A deal soon followed, giving the website four-week exclusivity to show the sketches.
“Normally, no one can make money off of viral videos. Pretty much what we made is only paying for the production itself — like, the plane tickets,” Westerman said, joking.
And the future holds a look at even more “Bad Dads.” “After the four weeks on CollegeHumor, it would be disseminated online — YouTube, Vimeo, Funny or Die. And then, I am planning with CollegeHumor to do more ‘Bad Dads,’ with, like, different comedians and stuff like that.”