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On Empty
Tonight's Webseries Presentation

ON EMPTY

Starring: Vince Foster, Tyler Haines, Stuart McClay Smith, Alice Foster, Kyle Cowgill

Written By: Vince Foster, Tyler Haines Directed By: Vince Foster

See It Here: http://www.onempty.net


What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

CHEESE DANISH.

Two words: “donut contacts.”


Pairs Well With...

MILLER HIGH LIFE.

These guys deserve better beer in their quest for the high life, but realistically, they’re lucky they can even afford this.


“You’re always bringin’ this camera around.  We should maybe shoot some movies with it or something.”


One of the greatest of all superpowers that a movie or series can hope to possess is the power to surprise.  On Empty has that superpower.

On Empty is the serial mockumentary chronicle of Vince Foster and Tyler Haines (played by a pair of gents who go by the same names; more on that later): two guys who blew into Los Angeles the month before the series begins with dreams of making it big as Hollywood actors and absolutely no clue as to how to go about doing it properly.  They’re so clueless that they don’t actually realize how clueless they are, and like so many ill-informed dreamers, they start off with the idea that they can just walk through a studio door and be discovered, and that if the door is blocked, then cutting a hole in the fence to bypass the guards represents the kind of ingenuity and can-do attitude that gets one rewarded with a starring role.  Agents?  Headshots?  These guys have never heard of them.

And so it goes for the first several episodes.  Our clueless heroes stumble through one hare brained attempt after another to “get discovered,” with things usually taking a nasty turn that Vince and Tyler often don’t recognize for what it is.  That detail is important: for the initial episodes, Vince and Tyler are not particularly self-aware, instead seeing only the brightest possible side of the setbacks they encounter in a Candide-like fashion.  This is essential to making the story work, because if they displayed more awareness, On Empty would quickly devolve into just another lowball comedy about morons that there are way too many of already.  Instead, our heroes become endearing in their ignorance, so that even as your jaw is hitting the floor every time they come up with another idiotic scheme, you hope things turn out okay for them anyway.  Instead of going for the cheap laughs or the slapstick groaners, On Empty is content to spend its first several episodes relying on the compelling nature of a train wreck and chuckles from the audience at the escalating absurdity of what goes on from episode to episode.  It’s a much more subtle hook, but it works.  (Score one for good writing.)

And then… a magic trick, and the power to surprise.

Suddenly, the eternal optimism drops, awareness dawns, and real conflict emerges.  But instead of destroying the show, this gear shift takes On Empty to the next level.  It turns out that the endearing idiots subtly became so endearing that they deserved to be cared about, and that the real Vince Foster and Tyler Haines – the ones playing the two guys who share their names and whom you’ve been seeing as half-clued heirs to Bill and Ted all this time – can be and are very compelling actors, especially Vince Foster.  They take the drama and nail it, with the result being a two-part first season finale that the fictional Vince and Tyler would be jealous of as material for a demo reel.  I won’t spoil the show for you, but I will say that before this, I’d never thought that a puppy balloon and a 7-11 Big Gulp could be so dramatically moving.  This finale is also a testament to Vince Foster’s skill as a director, which isn’t as visible in the earlier episodes simply due to the chosen narrative device of “home video mockumentary.”

Put it all together, and you end up with a very interesting webseries, and something much better than it may at first appear.  I’d gladly recommend On Empty to anyone looking for something different to watch, and I’d especially recommend it to anyone thinking about breaking into “the business” as a splash of cold water to remind them that they need to come up with a plan first.  As for people already in “the business” at any level, On Empty is going to be a fun facepalm festival probably best enjoyed with friends.

That’s the good news.

While there are a few minor tripping points that are noted in the rundown that follows, I have but one major complaint about On Empty.  Specifically, it is part of the recent trend to blur the lines between “documentary” and “mockumentary.”  The lead actors (who are also the writers, with one of them further serving as the director) are playing characters named after themselves: i.e. Vince Foster plays Vince Foster and Tyler Haines plays Tyler Haines.  This, to me, is wrong.  The Vince Foster in front of the camera is not the real Vince Foster, and I don’t think he’d want to be, because to anyone paying attention, the real one is way smarter than that.  Ditto for Tyler Haines.  But not everyone pays attention, and despite all of the clues that are there, some people – even some industry people – might glance quickly and think they’re not kidding, and that can backfire.  Even assuming that everyone is smart enough to get the joke (which, sadly, is a big assumption), turning oneself into a fictional character for a documentary style piece crosses a line that’s too close to lying.  It’s not that hard to come up with a different name, and I believe that people making these sorts of projects should feel compelled to do so.  The lines between what’s real and what’s not real need some definition.

With that said, On Empty is still very much worth your time.  Just remember: actors in the camera viewfinder are smarter than their namesakes appear.


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Season One | Ten Episodes, 4.5 – 9.5 minutes each


Episode 1: “Street Cred” – For the first minute or so, I was worried that I’d signed myself up for a preppy version of “Beavis and Butthead,” an image that probably came from dialogue on the order of “we should… like maybe do our own movies kind of thing.”  But then, as Vince and Tyler (our two hero characters) go on a quest to shoot some footage of themselves with the Hollywood sign in the background, something changes.  Somewhere between their car stereo’s continuous loop of Tom Cochrane’s “Life is a Highway” (there’s another flashback to MTV circa the early 1990s) and their rationalization that getting arrested for ignoring the “No Trespassing” warnings around the Hollywood sign gives them “street cred” as celebrities-to-be, they make the magical switch from being just plain idiots to being endearing idiots, and believe me, there’s a huge difference.  (For example: the latter are funny.)  After some initial reservations, I’m willing to give this a shot.

Episode 2: “Middle Man” – The opening laugh is classic: Vince and Tyler get fired from their day jobs as dishwashers after they get busted for filming a performance review wherein their boss is yelling at them for filming at work.  Nice one.  After that, Vince and Tyler prove what a train wreck their career planning skills really are by deciding to be “full time actors” even though they don’t know what “agents” or “headshots” are… nor, apparently, what a “fly-by-night” is.  Fate saves them from being totally taken to the cleaners, but… wow.  The last joke’s taken a bit too far, but the guys retain their “endearing idiot” status, and I admit that now I feel compelled to see what else their train runs into.

Episode 3: “Training Day, Part One” – Just when you thought the guys couldn’t get any more clueless...  Having them walk into the local CVS to pick up 200 8x10s of their “professional” headshots only to find that they can’t because the printer is broken is so ludicrous there’s really no choice but to laugh.  But then when they reveal their plan to bypass agents altogether and just walk right onto studio lots… wow.  And with hadwritten contact info on ripped out sheets of notepaper with stick figure drawings in lieu of headshots, no less.  That ought to work just as well as breaking in to pass the security guards.  It’s magnetically absurd.

Episode 3.5: “Training Day, Part Two” – Having been thrown out of the building by a security guard, Vince and Tyler decide that obviously the way to make it in Hollywood is to wait outside the parking garage and stalk an executive.  Too bad they make a wrong turn after trying to follow an expensive looking car and end up in Compton.  With a flat.  And no spare.  And no clue that this should be as big a problem as it is.  I admit it: I’m not watching for laughs now.  (Besides, it’s mainly incredulous chuckles so far; that’s the brand of funny being played for here.)  I’m watching to see how much more ridiculous it can get.

Episode 4: “Team Yellow” – Now that they’ve got their headshots from CVS, the guys decide that the best thing to do is to head out to the location of a wildfire outside of LA to help out… and to hopefully find some movie people to pass out some headshots to while they’re there.  I’m finding that the highlights of these episodes aren’t so much the scenes themselves as the concepts behind them.  As a hooking strategy, it works.

Episode 5: “Finding Matthew McConaughey” – It turns out that Tyler’s personal hero is Matthew McConaughey, so the next step in the plan is to go find him.  Tyler’s pretty sure that he must live in a Malibu trailer park.  And if he’s not there, he must be surfing.  To me, this is where the series trips.  With just the one thread to sustain it, the episode runs about twice as long as it should, to the point where the compelling nature of the absurdity starts to wear off.  Hopefully, it picks up again next round.

Episode 6: “Cheap Seats” – Now the guys the figure that the best way to make decent contacts in Hollywood is to try and hobnob with people on Santa Catalina island… if they can get there.  But they hear there are cheap seats on planes if you know how to ask, and that seems to involve their tried and true method of hopping a fence.  They do manage to BS their way onto a plane… too well, as it turns out.  This is another episode that runs overlong, but it also marks a change in atmosphere.  It’s still absurd, but now the comedy has picked up a bit of a tragic element.  For the first time, the guys end the episode not feeling as though things are going to be okay, and now that I’ve stuck with them for so long, the compelling element has switched from “what’s the next silly plan” to “are they going to be all right?”  Neat trick.

Episode 7: “Personal Business” – The absurd fun that the series started out with is gone.  Sure, we start with another wacky idea: Tyler has made giant headshot posters to mount on picket signs that he figures he and Vince can hold up outside of studios with their contact info.  This time, though, Vince says “no.”  What’s more, after some stalking around, Tyler discovers that Vince has also gotten a “regular” job.  Is the dream dying?  That’s why I’m watching now.

Episode 8: “Donut Contacts, Part One” – Light on the spoiler material now, given that we’re coming to the end.  Some absurdity’s back, but it really is all about the drama.  And you know what’s happened along the way?  The two real actors who gave their names to these characters that started off as clueless dorks and in a lot of ways still are have shown you that they – the real Vince Foster and Tyler Haines – can act.  What’s the clue?  If they couldn’t, the balloon might be stupid.  It’s not.  It’s anything but.

Episode 8.5: “Donut Contacts, Part Two” – No spoilers.  Just… way to go, guys.  You took it past formula, and you went places I wasn’t expecting.  Nicely done.

- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, May, 2012

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