On the process of making A Show About Coworkers
By: Darida Rose
A Show About Coworkers is a brilliant webseries about a group of painfully over-qualified people working at a boring job stocking shelves. The series takes place during their coffee breaks. The dialogue here is hilarious and, apart from the very nice coffee shop where they take their breaks, anyone who’s had a lousy job will be able to relate. We’re happy to be able to ask the director and writer, Ian Brodsky, some questions.
Darida Rose, Phoenix Journal (PJ): First of all, I’m assuming the inspiration for this is one or more awful jobs. Could you tell us about them?
Ian Brodsky (IB): I’ve worked mostly customer service jobs throughout my adult life, plus several odd jobs in between. Luckily, most of them have been good jobs that have treated me very well. I’m grateful for that. I’ve worked in or alongside logistics departments, and I’ve formed relationships with some amazing people who are so unlike me. That’s primarily where the inspiration came from - being part of a tight-knit group of disparate people who somehow end up working together like a well-oiled machine. These people are funny, passionate, talented, caring, and I could go on. That being said, part of that bonding does come from taking a lot of flack from people outside your department. I remember one time when three different supervisors were all talking at me at once and giving me contradicting directions. I remember processing merchandise during a flood, then again during a fire that was caused by a different flood. I spent a summer doing 8-hour days in a box office with one of my best friends. Barely anyone called, and maybe three people bought tickets in person. I’ve been able to travel to help open new stores. I might have designed a closet for Rihanna.
(PJ): Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
(IB): Hi! My name is Ian Brodsky (he/him), and I’m an Actor/Musician/Dancer/Writer/etc. I’m a life-long New Yorker, raised right outside the city by parents who were from the city, so moving to the city with artistic ambitions was par for the course. I’m one of the founders of Dapper Devil Productions, where we produce web series, podcasts, and short films. In addition to Dapper Devil, I’ve performed Off-Broadway, in Regional Theaters, developmental theatre projects, and in film. If I’m known for anything, it’s probably my appearance in John Carney's Begin Again, alongside Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo. I have a podcast where I, a theatre kid, am watching Glee for the first time called Glee Aggressive, and I’m working on an album that should be out this fall!
(PJ): Are you trying to make a point here about the hordes of overly qualified GenZers making coffee and stocking shelves?
(IB): To an extent, yes. I think Millennials and GenZers are still dealing with the aftermath of the Great Recession, not to mention the financial strain caused by covid that we’re living with currently. While I’m definitely not the most qualified person to talk about that, it is clear to me that the younger generations were dealt a rough hand, making it harder to make your way in the world. So, perhaps, you take what you can get. Perhaps it is a job to pay the bills while you set your sights on something else. Perhaps you end up liking the work and finding yourself in these jobs, or work your way up. Both are valid. The larger point in making this show, though, is to celebrate the people you meet on the job. Even if it’s not the end goal, you can get really lucky with the bonds you form. I feel very lucky that way, and even luckier to be able to pay tribute to them.
(PJ): Do you think there’s an upside to young people working these kinds of jobs?
(IB): I’m a believer in the idea that everyone should work a service job. Yes, there is character building that can come from it, but more than anything, I think you learn and re-learn empathy. Jobs can be rough, customers can be rougher, and you never know what kind of day the person in the uniform is having. It’s important to know how to have grace for each other.
(PJ): There are two obnoxious IT co-workers in the first episode, but they don’t return. Did you have more plans for these two?
(IB): Absolutely! Especially when you have performers like Tommy and Tim, who took what I wrote and ran with it in ways I could never imagine. I’d love to explore how they continue to interact with the Stock Room team, and how those relationships evolve. I can only imagine it would be super fun.
(PJ): Can you tell us about producing this? Did you shoot these all at once? Did anything unexpected happen?
(IB): I mean, the biggest unexpected happening was a global pandemic happening in the middle of post-production. It’s by no means the worst result of covid, but we didn’t expect to delay our release date so long. I’m incredibly proud of this production process. It was the first project with Dapper Devil Productions where we didn’t use one of our apartments. Cindy, who I worked with at a customer service job, owns the coffee shop and was gracious enough to let us rent her space for filming (shout out to Urban Backyard in SoHo, NYC! Go check them out!!). We shot over two days, in four-hour chunks, so we had to be incredibly organized and work quickly while getting the quality we needed. Luckily, I’m very good at organizing, and everyone we hired is incredibly focused, so we were able to execute everything smoothly. During filming, construction was happening across the street, so we had to figure out that adjustment in the moment, which was unexpected. Honestly, most of this process feels like an unexpected happening in that we actually made it happen. It was the most work we’ve had to put into planning the actual filming, primarily in scheduling the most people we’ve had on set, and then adjusting and re-scheduling when hiccups happened along the way. It was also our first time coordinating with SAG-AFTRA. I still feel like I owe a kidney to Jenny Paul, who I met super briefly on a project, and right away agreed to sign on as an Associate Producer to help us with anything we needed. A lot of incredible people stepped up to help me out, do me favors, keep me sane, etc. All unexpected in a wonderful way. I still can’t believe we pulled it off.
(PJ): Why do you think bosses always want to bother people on break?
(IB): God, I wish I knew. I think some make honest mistakes. But I think some are so focused on their agenda, they disregard others around them. Some are just profit-driven monsters. I once had a boss that when asked if I could take my company-mandated fifteen, responded with, “Well, sometimes we don’t get our breaks.” A downside to having a good rapport with your coworkers can be that the boundaries get blurred and people may think it’s okay to bother you off the clock, especially when you work on a small team. Again, the majority of my bosses have been great, but that doesn’t make a good story.
(PJ): Are you planning to make more of these? Or to make it into a longer form show?
(IB): I would love to make more of these! I know what season two would look like in the web series format, but I’m starting to have the audacity to dream bigger. I’m currently collaborating with a trusted friend and we're working on developing this idea into a full series. We’ve been mapping out how these characters develop and what their lives look like, we’ve received input from the actors, and pulled ideas from the people these characters are based on. At the end of they day, our goal is to celebrate this crew and that camaraderie, regardless of what happens on the clock. And just the prospect of continuing to share their stories is incredibly exciting and inspiring.