PERIODS. Films are the makers of fine internet videos which poke fun at history and literature through the lens of today’s comedy. Pilgrims, vikings, fops, and classic works of fiction like East of Eden and, most recently, Little Women have been the target of their hilarity. Their videos are of the highest visual quality and have featured star guests like Grace Helbig, Willie Garson and Penn Badgley. The newest video, Big City, Bright Lights, is a lot more biting, as it uses the 1980s as a backdrop, as well as branching out in the visual style. We spoke with Anna Martemucci and Victor Quinaz of PERIODS. Films to ask about making historical comedies for a 21st Century audience.
NERDIST: What was the inspiration behind doing historically-set comedy?
ANNA MARTEMUCCI & VICTOR QUINAZ: It happened almost by accident. We thought Philip, Alison, and Anna would look hilarious in pilgrim costumes, not to mention our DP Giovanni as Lobo the conquistador. Then the internet (the great and powerful) seemed to like it enough. So we just kept coming up with the most serious subjects/books/eras to take the piss out of. Calling it PERIODS. seemed like a no-brainer (a disgusting no-brainer).
N: One of the things I noticed right away about your videos is the very strong ensemble of recurring players. How did the troupe form?
AM: We love em! And probably the biggest reason we do what we do, baby. (That’s a Ray Charles quote by the way). The group formed two ways: one was that I was exploring improv and meeting a bunch of talented people and kind of poaching them from my improv classes. So I befriended that talent and then enslaved them into a life of acting for us for free! That’s how we got Grill, Fyhrie, Hobby, and Manley. The second way was that Victor and Philip had their own hilarious crew from making commercials. And we all wound up writing roles specifically for everyone in our wedding movie (Breakup at a Wedding). We’re all friends too, apart from working together, so that makes it nice.
N: How do you choose which time periods or historical settings to tackle?
AM&VQ: We love to zag when people think we’re about to zig. We love obscure eras like turn of the century Massachusetts in the winter (I mean, who is going to make that video?!) as much as more obvious ones like vikings (everyone loves vikings). They’re also all part of a larger secret plan which we’re happy to reveal here: they all add up to a feature film! But more on that later.
N: The Lil Women videos are very funny and you went a different direction with them, doing them like vlogs; where did that idea originate and what made you choose the source material and format?
AM: Victor and I were huge fans of Grace Helbig’s and in awe of what she was doing with Daily Grace. I knew her from the New York improv scene as well, so we sort of tailor-made that concept for Grace in an attempt to lampoon vlogging by using the queen of the vlog herself. We were just so glad she was up for it! Which tells you how awesome Grace is. We love that there are so many different characters with their own vlogs too… girls who do tutorials, taking themselves super seriously when teaching you how to, like, make your eye makeup look like Gwen Stefani’s. Also a lot of people have read Little Women. Even little men.
N: I’m struck by the look of all of your videos. A lot of comedy videos are pretty uninspired visually, but yours have a very distinct style and look as though they could be historical dramas made by the BBC or something. Was that something you were always conscious of and how did you hone your visual style?
VQ: We have an incredibly talented behind-the-scenes crew. So the other half of PERIODS. is to make sure we’re developing our ninja production skills at the same time as our brand of humor. But what better way to convey how serious these tomes of literature are and how heavy history can be than to make them look like what people are used to? (And then putting a cheese grater in them.) The hardest part is waiting for planes and not showing Brooklyn people walking by (our neighborhood thinks we’re insane).
N: The new video, Big City, Bright Lights, is really wonderful. The POV style and near-unbroken nature of it really set it apart. It’s also less broad in its comedy and much more biting and satirical. What spurred this idea and what made you want to tackle the 1980s?
AM&VQ: Having all of your early childhood memories take place in the middle/end of the 1980’s does something to you, I think. For instance, my parents would often put on smooth jazz–this saxophonist named David Sanborn to be specific–when they wanted to have “adult time” in the living room after us kids went to bed. It felt like naughty living room after-hours times with smooth jazz. To be able to recreate that very specific creepy childhood feeling on film was awesome. Then there were a lot of other things that we found funny. Like how homeless people in the 80s were often treated as sages in movies like The Fisher King or Curly Sue. We tried to get as many allusions to other films from our childhood in there as we could, films like Working Girl, Wall Street, Trading Places, and things like the D.A.R.E. program, etc. We also loved the idea of showing New York instead of hiding it out of frame like our other films.
N: How difficult was it to shoot, giving its nature and the various New York locations you used?
AM&VQ: We only ever write for what we have. So we took stock; one of the apartments we shot in belonged to the parents of a friend of ours, Shaina Feinberg, and it happens to be where both Fatal Attraction and 9 1/2 Weeks were shot, and her parents happened to not redecorate since the 80s. There were a lot of good omens like that.
N: What does the future hold for PERIODS. Films, and what historical periods or literary works can we expect?
AM&VQ: Next for us is Breakup at a Wedding in which we really lampoon the state of modern day hotel weddings (there are no less than 3 chocolate fountains in the movie: white, dark, and milk chocolate). But that’s a great question… people will just have to subscribe and find out.