Old Dogs & New Tricks: The Oral History of a 'Gay' Web Series (Part 4)

A broad's gotta know when to be broad

"The times when I've had to give up control or not get my way have actually been good for the show," Leon reveals to me during our third conversation. He's either being completely sincere or employing some truly award-worthy acting, but even though as a writer myself, I'd cut a bitch if they got too comfortable fiddling with my content, I'm inclined to believe the former. That's because I've had the privilege of spending some time on the planet known as Arvin Bautista, in which earthly fears like chaos, time constraints, and grumpy extras exist as little more than distant twinkling stars. Acord says it best: "There's something about Arvin that's so calming; he's so proactive; he arrives on set having already examined mentally every scene, every shot, everything from every angle that he seems totally unflappable, and when you tell him that, he's like, Oh please I just made it up as I went along!"

Like all serialized onscreen programs, ODNT has its crew of rotating directors, all talented, enthusiastic, and invested, but only Bautista - a rabble-rousing film and comic buff who proudly named his production company Greasy Pig Studios - has been there from the start. "Arvin really is, in many ways, responsible for taking Leon's great writing and translating it to the screen," Laurence Whiting, not only Acord's hubby, but also an executive producer on the series, tells me. "(He's) set the tone for what the show became, and we're lucky that he's still very involved." Leon concurs - "I really think of Arvin as the mom to my dad- really influential in raising this kid called Old Dogs" - before launching into the tale of how these two unlikely friends met:

"I had worked with one of the producers of Arvin's USC grad thesis film and when they were having trouble casting the lead character, I've heard - I wasn't privy to these conversations - but on the DVD commentary, Arvin says that she came in one day and said, I've worked with this character- he was just in my last film. And they called me in and I auditioned... It was your usual go in, audition, go in, audition again, and I think I met Arvin on like the second or third audition, but it was a great experience and a great film, and we really hit it off."

Bautista agrees... "Deer Season (the film they worked on in 2005) was such a pleasant experience because Leon and I got along really well. So when he brought this script to me, I said, Alright, let's figure out what we can do because I know that it will be a good experience."

For his part, Acord was shocked that his friend even expressed interest in the project... "We'd stayed in touch over the years, and when I came back from Indiana I called him up and said, I have this script and I really have a good feeling about it," he recalls. "Arvin is straight, but I knew that some of the people in the crew on his film were gay and all I thought was, Arvin, can you hook me up with some of your gay filmmaker friends? I honestly was not expecting anything else, but he was like, Send me the scripts and I did, and he read them, and he got back to me pretty quickly and said, You know, I'd really like to do the pilot."

Bautista admits that the subject matter might have been a slight departure from his usual milieu, but for a born filmmaker looking to "tell good stories, specifically ones that have good characters," this was an opportunity he couldn't pass up, and fortunately for Leon, he didn't. "Arvin helped me develop the show and shoot the pilot, and it was so well received that I remember, the night it premiered (July 30th, 2011), we huddled in the corner and were like Ok, now what do we do? How many episodes do we shoot next?"

That was three years, 25 episodes, and countless arguments ago, but through it all, the two have become the ying to each other's yang- in essence an old married couple... Leon explains: "I wanted opening credits and Arvin was like, No, this is a web series, Leon.... The original episodes as I wrote them in Indiana would have been about 15 minutes each, which I think now is fine because things are changing, but back then, it was like Oh no, you can't do over 5 minutes. That's crazy!... There are certain pratfalls that I'll write into the show that Arvin's like No, not so much, or like, I wanted To Be Continued... to be displayed with a freeze frame at the end of each episode but he wouldn't go for it.""

Whereas Acord cites classic sitcoms and prime-time soaps from the 70's and early 80's as his biggest influences, for Bautista, a millennial who draws his greatest inspiration from short form comedy, modern multimedia is simply the name of the game. But according to Arvin, the two did see eye to eye on one thing... "I always wanted to make something that looked really pretty," he reveals, "to elevate it above a normal web series which usually takes place in someone's living room with no thought really to lighting and composition and all of that stuff. And I think Leon really agreed and appreciated that idea. We both saw the material as much more cinematic. It reminded me a lot of Sex and The City or at least the single cam, more risqué cable TV sitcoms."

And as for directing his friend onset, Bautista offers up this sentiment: "Leon and I have a really good relationship. We never take it personally when we're yelling at each other and we always know where the show is supposed to flow to. The stories are just so good that I could never steer him away from that." Not that Acord minds a little helpful tweaking... Just ask Ms. Gari: "Leon and I are very much alike this way. We pride ourselves on taking direction well and giving a lot of choices. After all, we both know when it's right for a broad to be broad."