Mac Montandon and Billy Kent on Their Innovative Zoom-Based Web Series, The Other Side.

By Michael Brown | June 12, 2020

Filmmakers use Zoom for new series THE OTHER SIDE.

Mac Montandon and Billy Kent and their innovative Zoom-Based Web Series, The Other SideLast year, filmmakers and friends Billy Kent and Mac Montandon began working on a new series called GREEN-WOOD, a coming of age story set in a non-binary world, inspired by the life of Mac's older daughter. When their June film shoot for GREEN-WOOD was postponed to the Fall, Billy and Mac put their heads together (while isolating at home) and, The Other Side was born. It's a series "shot" on Zoom about this crazy, intense, horrible, and absurd time we are all getting through together. And apart. They’ve enlisted friends, actors, editors, musicians, and talented people of all kinds from all over the world to help make the episodes. 


Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do when you’re not writing episodes of The Other Side.

Mac: I’m a dad and husband, normally living in Brooklyn, NY. My wife and I have two teen daughters, and actually their lives and friends have inspired the project other than The Other Side I’m most fired up about: a new half-hour series Billy and I are developing called GREEN-WOOD. It’s a coming of age in a non-binary world story. A teen comedic drama unlike anything out there. It does stuff I’ve never seen in a tv series and I can’t wait to start sharing it. I also work as a journalist, have written and edited books, written for the New York Times and New York magazine, and helped produce a podcast for the New Yorker Radio Hour.


Billy: I am a film director and like Mac, very pumped about our project GREEN-WOOD! My second feature film, HairBrained (2014) stars Brendan Fraser, Alex Wolff, Parker Posey, and Julia Garner.  My first feature The Oh In Ohio (2006) starred Parker Posey, Danny DeVito, Paul Rudd, Heather Graham and Liza Minnelli premiered at SXSW, and internationally at the Edinburgh Film Festival. Critic Wesley Morris of The Boston Globe called the film “one of the sweetest, smartest sex comedies I’ve ever seen.” My career began with a series of political satire promos for MTV and I have continued making funny commercials all over globe for all of the world's top ad agencies. My love of film, comedy and storytelling began the close relationship I had with my father who escaped the nazis in Austria. When he died I was 17 and while you never get over the loss of someone you love I have followed my passions to make work that brings joy and laughter. It is my way of remembering him. I live in Brooklyn with my girlfriend, her daughter, and my 18 year old son who is home from college. 

We love watching your new Zoom-based, short-form series The Other Side. For those who haven’t seen the series, give us a quick introduction.

Mac: Billy and I had planned to shoot part of GREEN-WOOD for our pitch materials in June. In March, when that became impossible, we talked about what else we could do during quarantine. Billy had the idea to make a series in the only way we could—shot on Zoom—and about the suddenly new world we were all living in. So we really hope to convey and dramatize the strange, horrible, sometimes beautiful experiences everyone we know is going through as we all try to negotiate this “new normal.”

The Other Side comes along at a time when we’re all going through this crazy shared experience of the pandemic. How did it all come about? (The series, not the pandemic)

Mac: It all happened very quickly. One day, Billy and I discussed it and about a week or two later we shot our first episode with a couple of actors I knew from different parts of my life. Billy has worked as a director for many years, so he was able to quickly get his brilliant editor, Paul Bertino, on board and another friend, this incredible and generous musician named Ben Davis, to write and record original music for each episode. When we started making the series, Ben had just returned from picking up his kid at college in Chicago, so he was self-isolating in an upstate greenhouse. Really made a great first impression on our first video chat! We figured a lot of talented people had time on their hands and would want to occupy their minds a couple hours a week with something fun, rather than the daily disturbing news. We both know a bunch of actors and many of them have been super game to be part of the series. It’s been a total pleasure to work with all these folks from literally all over the world to make it happen. 

Every episode has a different cast and storyline so you never know what you’re going to get from week to week. How did you land on that format and what is it like starting from scratch each week?

Mac: I think the form, in many ways, was born out of pragmatism: we asked ourselves who we knew and what we could ask of people. We didn’t want to over-burden anyone, so it seemed to make sense to ask actors to be in only one or two episodes. We usually have a prep call with actors a day or two before we shoot, to go over the outline or script for the episode. Also at work was the fact that we wanted to catch a range of experiences and stories, since we kept reading about all these incredible and inherently dramatic things happening. Like the episode called Ghosted -- we knew we wanted to do something with a regular, weekly happy hour with a group of women friends. Then I read about someone stuck at an Airbnb during the pandemic and then we combined those ideas into a fast, three-act episode. 

My favorite episode is Win/ Win. I can’t get it out of my head! So how is Luka doing? Will we be seeing anymore of him in the future? I kind of want to sign up for his class.

Mac: I love that that is your favorite -- they are all our babies so it’s hard to pick one myself, but I loved working with James Coker, Clea Alsip, and Danny Binstock and they were so, so great and funny, cracking me up with each take. Good thing my mic was on mute! As for Luka (James) -- he’s definitely had a rough patch. Can’t seem to get out of his own way. He means well, though, and has a big heart! We’ve talked about bringing Luka back but we also have an idea for another character for James we love -- it’s a story of competitive brothers who are both either magicians or actors and one is having much more career success than the other. I think you will love this one, too! Until then—expand your chakra! 



Where do the storylines for the episodes come from?  Are they borrowed from any real life experiences that you or co-creator Billy Kent have had? 

Mac: It’s a combination of pure invention, stuff we read about, and our own experiences. And stuff we hear from friends. So again, with Ghosted, I knew people who were having weekly happy hour hangs and then we grafted that real-life story of the Airbnb person woefully surviving on their own onto that idea. The John Prine episode is maybe the best example of me and Billy injecting our own lives into the show. We were both really devastated when he died and knew we wanted to do some sort of tribute.

In episode 4, In Spite of Ourselves, you delivered a beautiful musical tribute to John Prine where eight musicians perform live on Zoom as part of the storyline. How did you put that together?

Mac: That was our most ambitious episode so far. Billy had the idea to get real musicians to be part of it, so we both emailed a bunch of amazing musicians we know to see who might be into it and we were lucky to very quickly get together like truly a kind of super group. Not even kidding -- those are some world-class players! We were insanely lucky to have them. To take just one example, even Terry Gross loves our accordion player, Will! But then there was the question of how to deal with Zoom delays, which is one thing when working with dialogue but something else entirely with music. We couldn’t make these wonderful musicians sound like shit! Ben was the brains behind all that and figured out a way to record individual tracks while also shooting all the musicians together. I still don’t fully understand what he did to make it all work, but bless his heart for it! 



What should we expect next for The Other Side for the remainder of the pandemic and beyond?

Mac: Well, for sure many more episodes! We have a bunch of ideas for stories we want to try. And part of the fun is doing some genre-hopping: from music to drama to comedy to light horror. I’d love to try a mini biopic and have an idea for an episode about German tennis legend Boris Becker and what his time in isolation is like. We also want to expand the universe of people involved -- Billy and I have been very conscious of trying to have diverse casts in all ways, but I think we can obviously do a better job of that, and would love to diversify in terms of our actors’ ages, too. And this pandemic ain’t going anywhere, so we can imagine making episodes for some time to come. Unfortunately. 



Any other projects in the works we should have on our radar screen?

Mac: I mentioned GREEN-WOOD and that is really the one. Who knows what the worlds of film and tv production will look like on the other side of all this, but I just love that story and series so much and I know it’s special and I hope and believe there will still be a home for something like that when the world begins again. We are writing the pilot now and I think we will be ready to pitch the series later this year. 

Billy: Fully agree, GREEN-WOOD is something that is a must see and we must make it for that to happen.

 


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