The coronavirus pandemic has created inspiration for many artists, but for two Williamsburg natives the past few months have aligned fortuitously with a new online video series.
John Michael Jalonen, 28, and Madison Landis, 26, met as students at Lafayette High School and bonded over a love of theater, acting and video production. Fast forward nearly a decade later and they started a video production company based in Richmond that does commercial and creative work.
More than a year ago, before coronavirus became a household term, the partners started a new project that captures the comedy and awkwardness of at-home auditions for actors. Each episode in the five-episode series, “The Breakdown: A Self-Tape Series,” features a different actor encountering some humorous obstacle while trying to record audition tapes of their own.
“The episodes themselves are what each actor is doing to help themselves, thinking the next job might be their breakthrough or even just help them pay rent for the month,” Jalonen said. “Mostly, it’s about an actor who is desperate and encountering a new obstacle you might not expect.”
Part of the idea came from Jalonen’s and Landis’ own experiences.
Jalonen is an actor who has filmed many self-taped auditions and Landis has worked as a casting associate on projects for Netflix, HBO Max and other major production companies. Each episode in the series features something that seems outrageous but has actually happened either to the pair or other actors they know.
“So I’ve seen both sides of people watching and doing the auditions,” Landis said. “It’s goofy and absurd but everyone has to do it if they want to book the next job. But something like this lets people know they weren’t alone and helps them to overcome the awkwardness.”
The pair added that being from Williamsburg has helped contribute to their sense of creativity because they are able to look at their hometown as a hub for creative expression.
“As many people know, Williamsburg is an incredibly creative town,” Jalonen said. “There are performers everywhere and that’s sort of why we got into this [field], because we grew up in a place where a huge part of the industry is playing make believe.”
The at-home recording aspect of the series has provided a new meaning during the pandemic, Jalonen said. At first, the pair thought the series would create something fun for fellow actors to watch.
They now realize the audience is much wider.
Now that most people are working from home and facing similar struggles, such as trying to find an appropriate area for video calls in their house, the series can connect with even more people.
“We’re celebrating these challenges and showing people who are encountering this overwhelming task,” Landis said. “It’s about making people feel less alone during this crazy time.”
The actual production process of the series also bodes well during this time of social distancing.
Many large production companies have had to pause their current projects because of the pandemic, but this series demonstrates a new way video production can be done.
Some of the filming was done remotely with actors either filming themselves under the direction of Landis and Jalonen via text, email or other electronic messaging. Most of the episodes were recorded in Richmond, Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles before the pandemic caused new social distancing restrictions.
The self-recorded nature of the series allows them to figure out new ways to move forward with filming for season two of the series, which they’ve already started working on.
Success of the series isn’t financially dependent, though. Jalonen said they just want to have fun with the project and provide a sense of humor and connection for actors and people in the community.
And now that the pandemic has created greater meaning to at-home-filming, the pair hopes the project will resonate with viewers on a new level.
“I think a lot of people will be able to see these episodes and see the comedy in themselves, too,” Jalonen said. “I think bringing a little comedy to the weirdness going on right now is necessary for a lot of people.”
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