|Interview conducted by Stefan Blitz|
A few weeks back I reviewed Ray Harrington’s documentary, Be a Man.
Having been raised by women and without a male role model, stand-up comedian Ray decides upon learning that his wife is pregnant, that he needs to experience and document the things he feels are necessary traits in a man before becoming a father.
The film is fantastic; funny and emotional and highly recommended. I recently spoke with Ray about making the film, comedy and where audiences would be able to see it.
Ray Harrington: I’ve always been a big fan of documentary films so it’s something I’ve wanted to try my hand at for a while. Derek Furtado (stand-up comedian and one of the film’s producers) and I had actually been discussing the idea of tackling an entirely different topic for a documentary for a few months when we were talking on the phone about where we were in our lives.
The conversation turned to my wife and I getting serious about having a baby and I was venting my worries and anxiety to Derek. I remember saying to him, “I don’t know what being a dad even looks like. I don’t even know what it means to be a man.”
That was the moment we both realized what we were struggling with and the phone call turned into a three hour brainstorming session examining all of the facets of masculinity and how I would want to explore them. I think it was because it was such a personal topic that it wasn’t even a question that we would do this. I think the sense of time as a factor, with my wife telling me she was pregnant about a week or two later, that sense of a ticking clock really made this take shape.
|Ray gets a close shave with Derek Furtardo and Joe Giordano filming|
In a lot of ways, it was my way of dealing with the anxiety of impending change and responsibility. I couldn’t be pregnant for my wife or make the unknown any less scary, but I would put everything I had into this project and leave all of my fears and vulnerability in it.
Were there any particular films that you looked at before starting this project, either as an inspiration for tone or style?
Having watched so many documentaries, there was a lot of lessons taken from other people’s work. A lot of what I wanted to try to achieve, but also a lot of mistakes I didn’t want to repeat. From planning to finished film though, I did have a tone I really wanted to nail in the film. I wanted the viewer to feel like they were involved with the journey, not just a passive watcher.
I had grown up watching Jackass and what I loved about it was the sense that you were watching friends filmed by friends. There was a sense of hanging out with the crew. I also knew that, with such a personal topic, I would want to be as honest and open as possible and I wouldn’t be able to do that if I had to pretend the cameras weren’t there. It was important to me to know that people I trusted were holding the camera and that would allow me to be as honest as possible and avoid slipping into too much stand up comedy persona and just making a genuine experience become a performance.
It’s heady, I know. But I just kept repeating the mantra, “If it’s genuine and real, the funny will come.”
Beyond that, I don’t know if this will make sense to anyone other than myself, but during the editing process I kept using the television show Roseanne as a reference point. To give the film almost a ‘comfort food’ feeling. I wanted people to feel like they got to know us and could revisit us again. The way I will watch a season of Roseanne over again when I’m home sick or something.
I wanted the film to be funny, but not at the expense of a single real moment. So there was a rule of never faking a second of footage, never repeating a line for anything, no reshoots, no manufactured scenes.
We ended up leaving a lot of funny moments out of the film because I wanted the heart to stay intact.
|Ray filming with Andrew Williams and Derek Furtado.|
A number of comedians appear in the film. How did you start as a comedian and who were your biggest inspirations?
I started doing stand up comedy in college off and on. I didn’t realize I would be a fulltime comedian working across the country at this point, but I love it. I was lucky enough to find something I adored and affords me the ability to meet some amazing people and allows me to be able to chase my other passions in life, like filmmaking.
Oddly enough, some of the comics in the documentary were huge influences on me. I mean, Back to the Future is my favorite movie of all time. And I don’t mean that in the way a lot of people say that.
On my honeymoon with my wife, while we were in California, we went to the mall where they shot the film. We went to Marty’s house. The tunnel in BTTF2. It was my own personal mecca. So to have Tom Wilson in the film was incredible. We hugged, I had a moment. It was good.
|“What are you looking at butthead?” Tom Wilson in Be a Man|
And I admire Kyle Kinane’s comedy so much, he’s my favorite comedian working today. When I first worked with him, I was overwhelmed with how great it was. Just to have him laughing at my set and enjoying my comedy was amazing. I had a moment recently where, a year and a half after shooting, I suddenly realized, “Oh wow, these people are IN my movie.”
It’s such a beautiful thing to have these great comedians be a part of something that’s so personal to me and represents a very important time in my life.
This was obviously a very personal story to tell. Besides finding answers for yourself about what it means to be a man, what else did you learn while making the film?
It’s funny, but the biggest lesson I took from the film was making the film.
I learned things about myself and others through every segment of the film, but it was making it. Actually taking this project on and completing that makes me feel the most ‘manly’ of anything I did.
I wish I could show people the other side of the camera. Being a first time director with a very small crew and an even smaller budget was crazy.
Add the fact that my son was born and we were still shooting and had the entire editing process to go through, it was insane. There was my newborn son and all of the emotions and life turning upside down and sleepless nights, then he got sick and was in the ICU for weeks at a time over the course of a few months.
That was the most awful and terrifying time in my life and all the while, we were building this film in the edit. When we were done with the edit, it was like I didn’t know what to do with all of this new space in my brain. But now my son is healthy and wonderful and the film is finished and it’s on to the next step and getting distribution.
But what I’m most proud of is that I’ll be able to show my son this film in the years to come and I’ll be able to show him that you can make something.
You can work your ass off and make something you’re proud of and you don’t have to ask permission to do it.
There’s a moment in the film that features the DeLorean from Back to the Future. If you could hit 88 MPH and go anywhere, past or future, where would you go and why?
This might be the hardest question to ask a time travel geek like me.
I would try to avoid the future because that knowledge could drive you insane, though I would be tempted for sure. Immediately, a few eras in history come to mind. Victorian England, the late 1800’s (preferably avoiding the Civil War), the 50’s and 60’s have an appeal to them. But in each case, when you really think about it pragmatically, it’s all pretty awful.
I mean, just the smell of London before the advent of plumbing would have to be horrible, let alone the hygiene of most of history. I think you want to stay in the realm of when soap was widely used. Nothing like hard science to ruin a good time.
That said, I think if I had a time machine I would abuse it for the most minor of things. Sure, there are plenty of things on my Time Machine To Do List, but let’s say you’ve done them all. You’ve seen the moments, met the people, punched Hitler.
I think I would just start abusing it for my own minor problems. No more setting your alarm. You’d never have to wait for a movie or book or videogame. Now I’m starting to realize I might just end up being Biff. Oh no.
What else do you have coming up? Where can people see you perform?
Right now we’re screening the film around New England to try and raise more funds for the film. We were able to make the film for just $11,000 and that’s just insane. So now, we’re broke!
So these advance screenings are great for us because we can raise some money to submit to film festivals which is an expensive process. It’s also wonderful because we’re finally able to show this film to people. The response has been overwhelmingly positive and I’m just so thrilled to see people truly connecting with this. It existed in a vacuum for two years and to finally have people see it and enjoy it is wonderful.
We have two screenings coming up in August. One in Portland Maine on August 19th and one in Schenectady NY on the 26th. We’re really excited for that and I’m in the process of locking down a venue for a Boston screening as well. We should start hearing back from festivals in the coming months as well so we’re really just at the beginning of this all. As for stand up, I’m all over the place!
What are you currently geeking out over?
Ah! This is a question I love.
With comics, I just finished catching up completely with Astro City and it’s absolutely wonderful. Such a great book.
I’m really excited that Brian K. Vaughan has a new book starting because I love Brian K. Vaughan and am pretty much guaranteed to adore whatever he writes.
As for videogames, I just got my Batman fix with Arkham Knight and it was a great game, though the ending left me a little unsatisfied. I’m really just trying to fill the void until Fallout 4 comes out in November.
For movies, I’d like to call an armistice on all superhero movies for 2 years… though I’ll go see Batman V. Superman. At least that’s not an origin story!
And for TV, I’m really loving a new show called Humans. It’s airing in the UK now, but I think AMC is going to start showing it. It’s fantastic scifi. Like a series that lives in a Black Mirror episode. (Black Mirror by the way, one of the greatest things I’ve ever watched). I could do a weekly column on my media intake so I’ll just leave it at that.