Etta Devine and Gabriel Diani are award-winning actors, writers, and comedians who are often compared with classic comedy teams like Nichols and May and Burns and Allen. They have performed at comedy festivals all over the country, raised over $30,000 on Kickstarter to replace the “N-word” with “Robot” in Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and garnered over 1.4 million hits on web series Mary Olson. Now these creative dynamos are trying to save independent film making and crowd funding! ‘Diani & Devine Meet The Apocalyse is a feature-length comedy film about a struggling comedy duo who discover that surviving the apocalypse is almost as difficult as surviving in Hollywood. It’s like one of those old Bob Hope/Bing Crosby ‘Road To…’ movies meets Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road.’ It’s ‘The Road To The Road!’ Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon caught up with this inspiring duo in the midst of their fundraising efforts to discuss their careers, the inspiration for their latest work, the challenges involved in funding the project and what the future holds for them!
They say a career in the entertainment industry isn’t for the faint of heart. How did you get started on your journey and what made you pursue it as a career?
Gabe: It is not for the faint of heart! You really have to do it because you have no choice. There is no choice for us. I always knew from a young age that I wanted to tell stories. It used to be I wanted to be an animator and then a comic book artist when I was young. Then when I was in junior high we started making movies with my grandfather’s video camera in our backyard and I found I loved filmmaking and acting. Haven’t looked back since!
Etta: It was either storytelling or Archaeoparasitology. I could have been neck deep in a pit somewhere seeing what kind of worms some ancient person had growing inside them. Instead I’m neck deep in a completely different kind of pit with slightly different kinds of parasites. I got started very early, I have been acting since I was very little. It’s one of the few things you can start to work on seriously as a child. There is nothing more serious than comedy so that’s where I’ve ended up.
Who would you cite as your biggest influences or inspirations along the way?
Gabe: I have a long list of inspirations ranging from Charlie Chaplin to Joss Whedon. The biggest ones for this particular project would be those great Abbott & Costello comedy team films I grew up watching on the weekends,the british post apocalyptic TV show “Survivors,” and stuff like Louis CK’s “Louie” or early Woody Allen films.
Etta: Just the whole world basically. In terms of stuff I’d like to steal from: the way Harold Pinter crafts the status of a situation, the sense of adventure in movies like Romancing The Stone or Willow, the versatility of Elaine May, and the sharpness of Betty Davis. I’ve got her goldfish eyes so her career is basically mine for the taking.
How did you two originally cross paths and team up?
Etta: Gabe saw me in a Checkov play in college and we knew all the same people.
Gabe: We started dating. Five years later we decided we could probably handle working together too!
How has “Diani & Devine” as an act evolved through the years?
Gabe: When we started out we were experimenting with sketches that flowed into one another so that we didn’t have to have blow line and a blackout to indicate when it was time to clap. It was kind of like “Mr. Show” and a bit more theatrical. We started doing little introductions over the years and the audience really responded to our relationship so we started putting more in. So it’s become kind of hybrid of Nichols and May and Burns and Allen.
Etta: My line when he said that used to be “but Gabe isn’t going to work me to death like George did to Gracie” but it’s entirely possible that he will so… I guess I need a new line.
What has been the most rewarding part of your collaboration?
Gabe: Etta is my favorite person in the world. So I get to spend most of my time with her.
Etta: We are both very exacting and have strong ideas about what is and isn’t good or funny. Usually those ideas are similar and when they aren’t something even better usually ends up happening. I think that’s what couples are supposed to do. Make each other better. It’s also nice to have your partner work with you. If we didn’t work together we would never see each other.
Your latest project is “Diani & Devine Meet The Apocalypse.” What sparked the idea for this latest film project?
Gabe: We wanted to do a two-hander, a movie where we were co-leads and the idea of doing a modern take on the old comedy team movies where we got to do some of our act really appealed to us. We’re also huge fans of genre stuff, including apocalypse stuff so thought it would make a funny combination: us playing ourselves as civilization was collapsing. It’s a fun way to work through our deepest, darkest fears.
How did you approach this Kickstarter campaign differently than you did with previous projects?
Gabe: Well, this one is much bigger and more ambitious than our previous projects. In the past we raised money to publish a book and to have a limited release of our first film that was already finished. This time we’re trying to four times what we’ve raised in the past because we’re want to make and deliver a movie.
Etta: We worked full time for about 5 months putting the campaign together. We knew we had to so something spectacular to cut through the universe’s general apathy so we made 35+ videos to release throughout the campaign featuring not only us but people like Barry, Armin Shimerman (“Quark” from Star Trek Deep Space Nine), Harry Groener (“Mayor Wilkins” on Buffy the Vampire Slayer), and Janet Varney (the voice of “Korra” on The Legend of Korra).
“Diani & Devine Meet The Apocalypse” has some great people behind it. How did you go about selecting your cast and what do they bring to the table?
Etta: Because we have been actors in Los Angeles for awhile we have collected a sort of company of amazing talent. We basically just cast our friends. Sometimes it seems like it’s the only way we ever get to see them because since there are only two of us and so much to do we are always working.
Gabe: When you work with your friends you know it’s going to be fun and the work will be better because you have chemistry together.
How do you feel you have evolved as a filmmakers/writers through the years?
Etta: Filmmaking is a slow and exacting process. I think I’ll have a better answer for this when our sample size is a little larger. Hopefully the answer is that we are getting more awesome.
Gabe: That’s the problem with making a feature. It takes so long to make one and so long to get the next gets off the ground that it’s hard to hone your craft. But in the interim we’ve had a lot of experience with these short form internet videos that I think we’ve grown and changed. All the time we’ve spent in the editing room on our first film really impacted the way we planned our shots for the campaign videos. There’s also a certain level of confidence the more you do it. You get less scared of making mistakes and realize you’re always going to make mistakes and sometimes something amazing can come from that. I’m excited to take the lessons we learned on our first film ‘The Selling’ and all the videos we’ve made in between and apply them to this next feature.
They say everyone learns a little something new about themselves on each project. Obviously, you are deep in a whirlwind of fundraising and promotion but what is the biggest lesson you have learned so far?
Etta: Gabe will eat anything when we’re doing a kickstarter. I caught him drinking a jar of nerds the other day. I think that for me personally it’s that I may never become comfortable asking people for things. As a filmmaker with few resources it seems like that’s all we ever do. I’d like to be in a position where people can get something more than a Trader Joe’s salad out of collaborating with me. I just have to get over that.
Gabe: I’ve learned that I’ve got amazing friends that will go to the mat for me and that I have the best partner in life a person can have. Also, I’ve learned that Nerds candy taste better when drunk from a mason jar.
What other projects are on the horizon for you in the short and long term?
Etta: Tons. We have a lot of scripts ready and several that we are almost ready to write. You have to have a lot of irons in the fire since everything takes so long. We also do some theatre and other peoples movies!
Gabe: We’ve got a 10 episode season two of our little web series “Mary Olson” we made back in 2008. We’d love to get that up and running and we’ve got a couple really fun screenplays with larger budgets we’d like to make.
I am sure many young people look to you as an inspiration. What is the best lesson that can be taken from your life and times?
Etta: Start early. We spent our early 20’s not wanting to have to create for ourselves. We both had experience in the theatre helming projects but the idea of initiating and being in charge of film projects seemed overwhelming. It is. It’s ridiculous. But it’s what you have to do if you’re not a name.
Gabe: And the technology is in a different place than when we were in our 20s. Yes, we could have made movies then but it was either a lot more expensive or a lot less professional looking. Do things that you love and be a good person. That’s why we were able to get these amazing people to be in our movie. Also, drink Nerds.
What is the best piece of advice you can pass along to aspiring filmmakers, actors and all around creatives?
Etta: Meet as many people in the industry as you can. Be nice and cool and helpful. Who you know helps. Become a part of the community. My best advice is to cast me and then give me half a glass of wine while we’re hanging out sometime. I will spill it all.
Gabe: There’s no one path. We might have had an easier time in our careers if we had written a couple spec scripts of existing shows so that we could get an agent and try to get on a show. Then again, I know some amazing writers who have tried that path and still struggle. There’s no rhyme or reason to a lot of it so go with your gut, do the thing that gets you excited, and don’t ever give up or take no as an answer. Actually, you’ll hardly ever hear the word no. You’ll mostly hear silence. Stony, indifferent silence. Tell that silence to shut up.
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