Harmontown, the documentary about Community creator Dan Harmon taking his podcast on the road, opens in theaters and VOD this weekend. After speaking with Harmon about his experiences on the road and Community’s sixth season, I also got a chance to speak with Harmontown director Neil Berkeley.
Berkeley followed Harmon and his cohost Jeff Davis, girlfriend Erin McGathy and Dungeon Master Spencer Crittenden on the road, and kept the cameras rolling when Harmon and McGathy had a spat. So Berkeley gave us an inside look inside his own inside look at Harmontown.
Nuke the Fridge: Dan seems very forthcoming, but what can you share with us about Dan that he might now know about himself or we might not get from the movie?
Neil Berkeley: Honestly, I made a movie about him in an emotional time with a personality that was very fitting of that time. I find him to be very pleasant to be around. We get along really well. He really likes the movie and even working with him, he’s a producer, he gave me final cut but working with him he was very collaborative, very supportive. People might find that interesting.
Nuke: Now with the news of Community getting a sixth season, does that only help the film?
Neil Berkeley: Yeah, thank God. I was really worried about that because the ending sort of revolves around him getting his job back. I was f***ing bummed when they cancelled it for selfish reasons.
Nuke: Well, he still got to do the fifth season on NBC but the fact that he’s getting a sixth is only free publicity for Harmontown.
NB: Yeah, I’ll take it.
Nuke: Kevin Smith just made a movie based on a podcast and of course has a lucrative empire with his podcasts. Now here is a movie showing how Dan Harmon podcasts. Do you have a sense of the podcasting industry, or were you just hyper focused on Harmontown?
NB: I was pretty hyper focused on Harmontown although I am a huge, huge fan of podcasting. I think podcasting, especially the way Dan does it, he doesn’t take any money for it. He doesn’t do ads. It’s a very pure thing. As far as an editorial art form, I think it’s as pure as it gets. You can say whatever you want, do whatever you want. You can say f*** all you want and it’s up to the audience to decide if that’s good or bad. We really don’t have any other medium like that. Newspapers, music, movies, they’re all editorialized at a certain level that changes them. Then especially Dan’s podcast where there’s no structure or script or form or narrative. He’s just walking on stage and going for it, is to me very pure, almost performance art. I think podcasts are vital to our medium. They’re very important.
Nuke: I feel like even the ones taking ads and sponsorship aren’t necessarily making a profit. Unless you’re Nerdist, it’s just enough to break even so is there a profit model for podcasts yet?
NB: Guys like Adam Carolla can make a sh*t load of money going on the road. Then there’s also ancillary stuff like Adam Carolla [promotes] any product he can get his hands on. Kevin Smith makes TV shows and movies so they find ways to make money. I know Dan’s got a plan for Harmontown to do a subscription model. It looks to be pretty exciting, so his empire is only going to go. The ones that are really good at it, really get a real fan base, they find ways to make money. I’m sure Adam Carolla’s making a lot of dough.
Nuke: How were Spencer Crittenden and Erin McGathy on the road?
NB: Great. Erin, we really didn’t know each other and she’s a really sweet person. We got along great. Spencer’s an interesting story because no one knew him. He’d only been on the show a few times and it’s hard to tell, but he would walk on stage, do his bit and go home. There wasn’t a lot of gettin’ to know ya’. On the road, none of us knew hardly anything about this guy. We kind of discovered him, learned about him as we went along.
Nuke: Did he end up taking a break from being Dungeon Master?
NB: I heard that too. He took a couple weeks off maybe. I don’t think he ever really did. In fact, he’s probably more involved than ever.
Nuke: Did you find that the podcast changed when it went on the road?
NB: Yeah, it did. It sort of took on a structure. There was a little bit more performance. The best part of the podcast for me is when Dan brings someone up on stage and has a very honest conversation. That stuff happened but it looked different. It was a little bit more entertainment, I guess you’d say. Literal entertainment. That’s not good or bad.
Nuke: Did you have any favorite or beloved moments from the podcast or on the road that didn’t make it into the movie?
NB: Yes, a ton and I believe I’m going to put out a masturbatory ego driven long cut later this year that 32 fans will buy. If you listen to the podcast, Dan and Jeff wrote a song called Chicken Noodle Dick. There were conversations between Dan and Erin that are just hilarious. There’s a bunch of moments that are just really funny and I was really thrilled to be there while they’re happening.
Nuke: How long will that run?
NB: It’ll be a three or four hour cut.
Nuke: Really? That long?
NB: Three, yeah. It’ll probably be unwatchable.
Nuke: I figure if we listen to the podcasts from the road we could figure out what didn’t end up in the movie but we wouldn’t know what happened on the road. Was there great stuff that just didn’t inform Dan’s journey?
NB: Jeff is sort of an enigma. Disappears all day, shows up to show and then sort of disappears again. He let me go follow him around one day and there’s a little bit more about Jeff that’s very touching and poignant. It didn’t work in this movie but that was off stage. That was a really great moment. There’s a few things, little nuggets that you’ll get to see.
Nuke: Did you ride with Dan and his crew on their bus?
NB: Yes, there were 12 of us on the bus 24 hours a day. It was great. I loved it.
Nuke: How did that get after long hours?
NB: It was great. That was the thing. We all thought oh man, we’re going to be sick, we’re going to be tired, we’re going to hate each other but day two, we were like living on a bus is the greatest thing in the world. You sit around and laugh, talk to people that are interesting. You get the best sleep of your life. You wake up in a new city. It was the complete opposite of what anyone thought it would be, in a very good way. So it was fun. I loved it. I always tell people, if Dan calls up tonight, I’ll get my camera and I’ll get on the bus and I’ll tour the world with him.
Nuke: So you slept well on the bus?
NB: Yeah, like a baby. There’s these little twin bed cocoons that you get in, this drape that shields you from any noise the world might produce. You just get rocked to bed with the hum of the engine. It’s wonderful, your own little bus womb.
Nuke: Were you a fan of Dan from Community before you got involved with Harmontown?
NB: No, not really. I had seen it a couple of times. I hadn’t heard any of the podcasts. He called me and asked me about his idea, we went back and forth on what it would be, what it would look like and finally came to an agreement. It happened very, very fast though. That was around Thanksgiving. We hit the road January 9.
Nuke: You interviewed the whole cast of Community and I understand there’s only time for snippets of them in the movie, but would extended versions of those interviews be in your epic cut?
NB: Possibly. John Oliver’s is particularly wonderful. I’d love to get more of him in there because he’s really great, but we’ll see. We’re going to dig through it all and see what we have but mostly it’ll be more of the show, just little snippets that got cut out. It probably won’t be a lot of in-depth detailed storytelling, which is mostly what they were giving me.
Nuke: Were the fans unobtrusive while you were filming?
NB: Yeah, they were great. We interviewed maybe 140 fans and they were all very forthcoming and honest. When they liked Dan and then they didn’t like Dan, they were very revealing.
Nuke: There are fans who don’t like Dan sometimes?
NB: It’s rare but there’s a couple.
Nuke: Do any of them end up in the film?
NB: There’s people in the audience who make it clear they’re not too happy with what’s going on. None of them outright say, “He’s terrible.” There are fans that did say that but when the movie gets darker, you’ll notice we stop cutting to the fans because we do have cuts where they’re in there, but it became a distraction. There’s a really deep moment where you want to just settle in and float there for a little while. To have this person come in and tell you how to feel just felt weird.
Nuke: What are you doing next?
NB: I don’t know. I’ve got a couple irons in the fire. There’s a sports thing that I’m really curious about that I’d like to get going. I really want to do something in music and I hope that happens but this sports thing might happen first, and I’m not allowed to talk about it.
Nuke: Aesthetically, do you think covering athletes would be different than covering artists?
NB: No, they’re also artists. To me it’s about the person. If they dig ditches or they fly to the moon, I’m curious about the person, who they are. Their craft is really window dressing for a more important story about a person.