Kasi Brown and Brandon Walter met at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre (UCB), a sketch comedy and improv house in Los Angeles. From the beginning of their Level 101 class, the comedic alchemy produced by the pair was evident.
“I just thought he was really funny,” Kasi said.
“Yeah, I felt like, Oh, where have you been?” Brandon interjected. “This is my best friend, where has she been for these 30 some years?”
And so, an instant friendship and comedy team is born.
Kasi and Brandon are also prolific writers, so this shared passion fueled the idea for a comedy sketch show.
“He and I have both written feature films, just scripts. When we met, we discussed this after class,” Kasi said. “Then we were like, hey, you're pretty funny, I kind of want to do a sketch show. So that's how that first came to be.”
Kasi and Brandon formed Buzzworm Films. Through this production arm, they wrote, starred in, and directed the Mother Approved Sketch Comedy Show, honing and shaping their skills in comedy and filmmaking. The short videos can still be found online, and they show the progression of the team’s improvisational skills and acumen, as well as their ability to create a visual product.
“We spent a few years making the sketches. You know, teaching ourselves our own filmmaking stuff,” Brandon said. “I'd shot a documentary before, and I'd shot a short, and she’d produced a short that got into Sundance in 2004. It’s really good. We got to a point where we made our last sketch, about a character that touches a dog's paw, and he can see into the dog's mind and we see that the dog is trying to kill the boyfriend—”
Kasi interjects: “Of his owner! Because he's in love with his owner woman! It's really weird.”
Brandon continues, “It is really weird. I think it's our best sketch.”
“Best Dog Ever” is indeed weird; but truly inspired, and laugh-out-loud hilarious. The alchemy had reached its apex. After that sketch, Kasi and Brandon decided it was time to make a movie. But during the process of writing their feature, Kasi—who on top of acting, writing, and directing, holds a day job as an EMT—developed a herniated disc. She was flat on her back, and unable to move.
“I literally couldn't walk so I was lying there all day long—talking to Brandon on the phone. I didn't want to take painkillers during the day, because I didn't want to get addicted to them, so I could only take them at night. So I'd just lay there with the pain and thought, okay, we've started this process. We had a comedy show for three years together, then we started writing this, we were going to do it. So I'm like, if I can get out of this, we're doing this, I have to do this.”
Brandon was also going through his own dark night of the soul after the death of a family member. “My uncle died. And after he died, I was like, what am I doing? I need to start a family, I need to make my movie, I need to just get this done. I have little time on this earth—I just gotta do it.
Napoleon Hill said, “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve,” and both Kasi and Brandon had conceived their movie and believed in their power to make it happen. Research into the correct treatment for her spine, and some radical therapy got Kasi back on her feet. Two and a half years later, Gone, Doggy, Gone was the achievement.
Gone Doggy Gone is a madcap comedy (Duh) about Abby and Eliott, a high-powered L.A. couple stuck in a lackluster marriage, who treat their dog like a baby. The couple leave little time for each other, and what free time they have they spend doting on the dog…until it gets kidnapped.
Another inspired dog concept, but this time the inspiration was Kasi’s toy Yorkshire Terrier, Laila.
“We had a dog sitter named Jill who used to watch Laila. She would call Laila her BFF, and then she started sending me pictures of her at the movie theater with Laila. Then she would call and go, ‘I have Laila at a waxing appointment, so we're going to be a little late.’ And then photos of her at luncheons with Laila, and then she brought her home later, and later, and later. Brandon finally said, ‘What if she doesn't bring your dog home?’ So, an idea was born.”
The execution of that idea, including a very tight 22-day shoot was, “exhausting,” Kasi opined. “We were out of our minds.”
“We were in it, which was—we were starring in it, and directing it, and it was really tough because we are a couple in the movie,” Brandon continued. “It would have been easier if we weren't a couple, because one of us could have been behind the camera!”
With the help of a stellar cast, including veteran character actor Richard Riehle, producers Adriane Zaudke and Rebecca Hu, and director of photography Garrett O’Brien, they managed to make it work. Production wrapped in January 2014, and Brandon started his family with the birth of his first child. A month later, the team moved into editing, rushing to get the film completed in enough time to meet film festival deadlines.
Gone Doggy Gone made its world premiere in Los Angeles to a sold-out house, at the First Glance Film Festival on April 4, 2014. Simply premiering is sweet in and of itself, but the icing on the cake is that the movie won the Audience Choice Award and Best of Fest.
In late April, the film screened four times at the Julien Dubuque International Film Festival in Dubuque, Iowa. All of the screenings were sold out, requiring the addition of a fifth screening. The movie then went home with an Audience Choice Award.
Gone Doggy Gone landed back in Los Angeles at the Dances with Films Festival, screening on Friday, June 6 at 5:00 p.m. On the East Coast, the film screened simultaneously at the Lighthouse International Film Festival in Long Beach Island, New Jersey. Synchronicity at its finest.
“It was weird,” Brandon said. “You could see us on both coasts at the same time!”
While Gone Doggy Gone did not take home any awards from either Dances with Films or The Lighthouse film festivals, it continues to make the rounds, and garner press. Four film festivals right out the box brought them to the attention of Circus Road Films, which has signed the Buzzworm duo. Circus Road is currently seeking distribution for the comedy.
“We'll see what happens,” Kasi said. “Our main goal is to sell it now, and hit some festivals to promote it.”
“The movie is like a zombie,” Brandon joked. “It just keeps going!”
Kasi and Brandon want their next project to be a comedy horror film that will no doubt require a bigger budget and special effects. But with Gone Doggy Gone under their belt, this could be the moment that the team gets to walk into their dream careers.
“I would love to be paid to write with Brandon and direct sometimes,” Kasi said.
Brandon agreed, “I'm the same, definitely. When it comes down to it, Kasi and I love writing the most. Because we're together, we can just come up with stuff, we make each other laugh. It's fun breaking the story, or taking an old story and making it fresh.”
“I think the best thing about us is that we never run out of ideas,” Kasi continued.
Yeah, it is just more efficient,” Brandon interjected. “We can really bounce an idea off. Or she'll top me! The best idea wins out, it's not about ego. I can't even remember the jokes I wrote in that movie—it doesn't matter. The best joke wins out.”
Kasi finished the thought, “And we can write twice as fast--two people, one concept.”
It appears Kasi and Brandon have found the secret to good comedy, and a winning partnership.