An Interview with Jeremy Koerner – By Duane L. Martin

 Ok, first things first. Let’s have you introduce yourself to everyone and tell us a little bit about yourself and your background as an actor.

I am Jeremy Koerner, because nobody else will be. I began my acting career by driving most of my grammar school teachers insane and spent a fair amount of time in the third grade sitting in a closet. I later went on to become a main stage performer and am now the artistic director, owner and operator of Hit & Run Productions which presents Mysteries For Hire in addition to producing main stage productions with various theater companies in Northern California.

When did you first meet director Gary King and what was your first project with him?

In May of 2003 I received an e-mail from Gary inviting me to audition for his short film Favors. Gary’s e-mail was absolutely charming. He had done a pretty good job of trying to make a mass e-mail look like he was after me in particular. The tone of the e-mail had me intrigued so I attended Gary’s audition and fell for his big heart and earnest desire to be a story teller immediately. Gary didn’t end up casting me in role that he had me read for, but told me that he wanted me involved in the film so much that he wrote me into his script! We had a great time discussing his script, characters and story approach and had a pretty fair amount of fun on set. I think Gary just wanted to work with me again on Hubris because I opted to spend five hours in a dumpster with a bag over my head for him rather than have him use a body double.

Following the first film you did with Gary, he was so impressed with you that he actually wrote Hubris specifically for you and is now working on a series of films involving the characters from that film. What was your reaction when you first read the script for Hubris and what appealed to you about it the most?

What first attracted me to Hubris was just the chance to work with Gary again! It also didn’t hurt when Gary informed me that we was gunning to turn me loose as much as possible to improvise whatever I wanted. Gary’s idea to completely improvise the speed dating sessions was a fun, dangerous premise and I was hooked. I was also incredibly flattered to be asked to be such a pivotal part of the production.

Where did the whole "flingin’ the poo" thing come from and how did you get that arm action down so well? It looks like you’ve done that before!

At the Dances With Films festival in Los Angeles this last week, one of the founders of the festival asked me “What IS monkey sex?” and I had to tell him I have no idea.

To be honest, I was as surprised as anyone else as to what came out of my mouth in all of the improvised speed dating footage. Fred Goris and I went through all five women and “The boys” went through two women each. I sat down with absolutely nothing prepared ahead of time and as the first actress took a seat I had a moment where I wondered if I was going to be able to dredge enough material out of my subconscious to make the sequence work. I believe that Gary had 30 minutes of my speed dating footage initially that was his “must keep” from my sessions which was a problem since he intended to keep the entire film to 19 minutes. You should see the stuff that he didn’t have the time to put in!

If you look carefully, you can see where the actress sitting across from me loses it when I say flinging the poo. Gary did a marvelous editing job, but if you watch carefully, you can see her start to double over. All the women on set did a marvelous job of rolling with the punches through the insanity.

Gary was gracious enough to let my monkey fixation free range through his film including him stoking the fire by adding the monkey based t-shirts that Frederik Goris and I wear in the beginning of the film.

In regards to how I got the arm action down so well, due to pending litigation I must decline to go into any great detail, but I would like to say that I am part of the movement to urge the Olympic committee to allow more Monkey Events into the Olympics.

What were some of the more memorable moments for you during production of the film?

The entire shoot was nothing but memorable moment after memorable moment! The highlights, in no particular order:

Finding myself locked into the leg cuffs for real was a gas. The key wouldn’t work and there were members of the crew about to have a nervous break-down. Those boys need to toughen up. I figured I would just remain shackled for a couple of days until we were done filming. What else can you do? After a couple of hours, they did manage to get the cuffs of and I think I was a little disappointed.

You could have heard a pin drop on set when Jared Asato commented to Nina “You know what I mean, you’re a guy.” Gary has a marvelous clip in the “making of” featurette of everyone waiting to see if Nina was going to kill Jared on camera.

While I was filming the brawling with Nina Kate, Jason Varner, the DP, had a moment where he thought we were fighting for real! I felt very fortunate to have Nina for that sequence. Her upper body strength allowed us to execute the final punch of that sequence properly. If you watch the footage of the end of our fight, Nina is actually knocking me airborne in the final shot! She rocks.

Working with Brooks White is always like assisting Doctor Frankenstein. We actually created a commentary track for Hubris as done by the Lava Gnome (which is the evil red skinned, dressed in black statue in Jeremy and Mary’s house). Brooks gave me no warning. He told me to step into the booth to check the equipment and when I was in place told me “We’re doing the Lava Gnome commentary” and started the video monitor that very second. I did the entire commentary in one take and I have no idea where the Lava Gnome’s voice came from. It has to be the most disturbing, stupidest and funniest thing we have ever recorded.

I could just go on all day. The entire production including pre and post was just adventure after adventure!

Gary has expressed to me that he wants to do a series of features with the characters from this film. Any thoughts on what sorts of adventures would you like to see Jeremy and Barry go on in the future?

Gary and I have actually been working separately on two different scripts for the continuing adventures of Jeremy & Barry. Gary has been working on what he’s been calling a “neighborhood noir” piece where Jeremy & Barry get involved in investigating a disappearance in their hometown. I think he has a pretty good hold on sort of The Hardy Boys gone wrong.

I have been scribbling away at a script titled The Perfect Gentlemen. It involves Jeremy & Barry on a road trip to Uncle Lou’s funeral where they are mistaken for a pair of mythical perfect spies called “The Perfect Gentlemen”. They end up in a very rural setting tangling with the Russian Mafia. With the work that Gary and I have put into it so far, I think it a great mix of adventure and comedy.

Since we are already working on the two scripts, Gary has joked about there being a trilogy of Jeremy & Barry films with the third film being titled “Once Upon a Time in Suburbia” which conjures all sorts of silly images into my head like Barry in the Clint Eastwood man-with-no-name poncho! I have to try hard to keep that title out of my head since we haven’t even finished the first two scripts that we have been working on!

I think that the real gold to Jeremy & Barry is that unlike most other comedy duos (Abbot and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, Hope and Crosby, etc.) Jeremy and Barry are truly looking out for each other and get into trouble through their being out of their element and poorly-thought-through choices instead of hanging each other out to dry. Anyone who looks at even their relationship in Hubris and doesn’t recognize that it is a very different dynamic than is usually used is not paying attention very well. A lot of that credit has to go to Fred for trusting me and to Gary for letting Fred and me do our thing.

 Your wife Mary appeared in the film as…uh…your wife Mary. Was it a little awkward working around so many beautiful women with your wife looking over your shoulder? I’m always lookin’ around at different womens, so I know my wife would be smackin’ me up the back of the head every five minutes.

With a wife a beautiful as mine, other women just don’t exist. I am just so madly in love that I can’t stand it! Mary is an absolute super-star and makes the crooked path of the rest of my life seem worthwhile. She may have kept her maiden name, but Mary Nitschke is mine, mine, mine! She is beautiful, an incredible actress, can cook like nobody’s business and she thinks I’m funny. I am a very lucky man.

Have you been surprised at all with how well Hubris has been received?

Not really. Gary was nervous due to Favors not being accepted as well as he would have liked, but I have had faith that audiences would enjoy what we assembled.

The story is really very uplifting and a great accomplishment for Gary’s second film. I am very proud of Gary and hope that we get to cause more trouble together as time goes on.

You and your wife run a very cool company called Mysteries for Hire (http://www.mysteriesforhire.com). Tell us about the company and what you guys do.

Mysteries For Hire is an improvisational, interactive Murder Mystery Event company. We get hired by corporations and private individuals to weave a real-time murder mystery around their event and their guests.

We are the commandos of the theater world.

How long have you been doing the mysteries and how did you guys get started with doing that?

The company began as the Hit & Run Players in 1992 as a group of performers providing mingling characters with some sketch work involved. The company was put on ice when my main stage work took off and I just didn’t have the time to commit to selling events. In the late 90’s a number of Bay Area murder mystery dinner companies went out of business for various reasons and I started getting calls from people asking me to produce Murder Mystery Events and waving money at me. I was weak. I shifted the format away from the standard scripted murder mystery dinners and created a fully improvised format which I was sure would fail as I was driving to our first event. It was the greatest murder mystery I had ever been involved with! The company name changed to Hit & Run Productions and we were ready to take on the world! With the help of Brooks White and Manx Web Solutions (www.manxweb.com) our website was created and off to the races.

You’re known for your improv. The foundation of your mysteries includes audience interaction, so how does that work out story-wise? Are your mysteries largely improvised and based on a structure of events that are scripted out, or are they pretty heavily scripted with room for improv depending on the level of audience interaction?

The performers are gathered the day of the event – maybe two hours before the attendees arrive. They are told who they are and what they know – they may not know anything about any of the other characters. Then we’re off to the races “follow me.” They may not know who’s going to die, they don’t know who the murderer is.

They are all so talented that attendees come away thinking that everything has been planned to the last detail.

The evening is a living breathing organism. Since the attendees are present at the scene of a crime, they are all suspects as well. We have had some evenings where we have nearly run out of time to question the suspects we have brought because so much time has gone into questioning the “real people” who have been getting themselves tangled up in the evening’s proceedings.

I am the only one who knows what “the plan” is when we start out. Depending on how involved everyone becomes, the event can take an immediate left hand turn and start running in a different direction. We have had attendees who have become so involved that one of them becomes the murderer, we had one client who asked that one of their own guests be the murderer without them knowing, we had someone confess unplanned once, it is a wild, wild ride for everyone involved!

Have you ever had anyone in the audience get so involved in the show and do such an awesome job that you wanted to hire them on the spot and make them a permanent part of the mystery crew?

We have been blessed with attendees that become, at times, insanely involved! There have been some that I have approached and made the offer to come join us, but to date no one has stepped up to the plate. What we do is really insanely impossible and I think that the civilians that I have extended the offer to get frightened once their inhibitions kick back in during the light of day. We have and have had performers that are so very, very talented that it is easy for people to get swept up in their energy and enthusiasm, but I can see that once someone’s feet touch the ground again they pull their shell back on. We hear all the time what an insane ride our events are and they are taken as very life affirming. If someone is given the ability to step back into their own world with a wider smile and a kinder word for their fellow man, our job is done. I hope that maybe one of our past attendees will read this interview and be guilted into joining our ranks.

What about any sort of nightmare events where someone jumped in and was so horrible that it made it hard to complete the performance?

Trouble makers actually just become chum in the water. With how fast and furious our performers are, your run of the mill trouble maker doesn’t stand a chance. We have had some absolutely spectacular take-downs in our history, but it probably wouldn’t be appropriate to go into too much detail. We have to take steps to protect the not-so-innocent as well since they are our clients.

We have overcome obstacles that few performers in the world could survive; power outages, missing performers, murder weapons accidentally dropped by the murderer in front of the attendees and a pair of severed Achilles tendons sit at the top of the list, but if we get started on that particular avenue of conversation we will be here all day. Suffice it to say that I never cease to be amazed at the level of talent that we are able to enlist for Mysteries For Hire.

 Between film and theater work, do you find one or the other more satisfying or do you prefer one over another?

That has to be one of the most difficult questions ever. At
this point in history I have to say that I am finding film work much more satisfying.

There was a time when this question was asked that I would proclaim that live theater was the only venue for me. My work with a live audience is akin to a cowboy riding a bull at a rodeo and I make it to the bell every time. John Ribovich of Calaveras Repertory Theater once commented that he had never seen anyone “feed” off an audience like me. Subtly changing every performance in imperceptible ways to connect with each audience individually is one of the greatest thrills of my entire life and each audience’s reaction has affirmed for me that my ability to entertain people compensates for me being so completely stupid otherwise. Film seemed to be almost cheating since you don’t have to create your character to the level of being able to try to take an audience with you night after night after night. The luxury of being able to have as many attempts to film a scene as many ways as you might like and then to never have to do it again seemed like no challenge at all.

However, you are asking the question today.

After years and years of main stage theater work, I pulled the plug in February of 2005. Live theater is a tricky business. There are many hurdles and obstacles in the way of presenting a cast’s very best work, but I finally reached a point where it was just too much of a heart ache to work like the Devil himself to create a seamless character only to have nothing to show for all of the hard work once a run is over. Film offers the ability for a character and a performance to have an eternally growing audience and to be able to send entertainment incredible distances to people who need the brief escape from the horrors of the world.

I still perform for insanely appreciative live audiences via Mysteries For Hire, but I suppose as I get older that I would like to be able to have some work that I can revisit in its proper format instead of the fleetingly existing soap bubble that is live performance.

What projects are you currently involved with and what do you have coming up? Also, has there been any indication as to when the sequel to Hubris will begin production?

In addition to taking over the world through Mysteries For Hire, I am finishing details on getting to be a vampire bat sidekick in an upcoming video game, Brooks White and I have a list of audio projects the length of your arm (www.hotelinkstudios.com) and of course somewhere I have to make more time for my beautiful wife Mary and my daughter, Samantha!

Gary is ready to get started on a feature immediately! The real factor is money. So I guess the correct answer is that the gear will really get moving as soon as we figure out where the budget is coming from. After this last week, there is the possibility of putting Jeremy & Barry on the shelf and first stepping into the exploitation arena with a little project that Gary and I have temporarily titled Grit.

Before we can even figure out our dilemma of what to film first, Hubris is screening at the Rhode Island Film Festival in August, the LA Short Film Fest in September and back in Los Angeles for the FIAF festival in October. Gary and I are still trying to figure out how to convince our wives that we just HAVE to be at each and every festival we can!

I would eventually love to figure out a way for Gary to make a full mainstream action/adventure film with an Asian American lead and maybe I can be his side kick or the villain.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention before we wrap this up?

I think that Brooks White’s score on Hubris is sensational and I have been surprised that it hasn’t received more praise. I would like to thank Susie King for empowering Gary to make both Favors and Hubris. I absolutely have to thank Gary King for all of his respect, faith and hard work. And I have to thank you, Duane for helping to promote Hubris and Gary King’s hard work.

*****

You can find out more about Hubris by checking out the film’s website.