By Khara Campbell
October 2016: four strangers from different parts of the country but all living in LA, converged in Vermont for ITVFest 2016– all for different reasons. At the time, I had hung up my acting hat, and as a director-producer for online content at AOL and Huffington Post, I was there as a panelist to talk about programming in the digital space; Billy Hanson, a post-Supervisor by day, was there promoting a film he produced called EARWORM; Brett Elam and Josh Logan, writer-comedians, were there promoting a hysterical series they wrote and starred in, called LIARS. And just like any good college campus provides (which is what ITVFest in Vermont feels like), friendships are made at the bar… and that’s what happened with us. I actually had a notes session scheduled for two of Billy’s short films the following day, but it was at the bar where we met; and I remember chatting with the red-haired dudes with facial hair and mustaches before - and after - chumming up with director, Bobby Farrelly. I thought my bearded buds were cool dudes – but it was the next day – after watching LIARS that I realized how funny and talented they are. I remember liking Billy, Brett, and Josh immediately, respecting their work, and just feeling they were GENUINE people. So it was nothing short of kismet and downright flattery when they asked if I’d be interested in working with them on a project solely designed to return back to ITVFest. At our first meeting to start spitballing ideas, Brett literally said “I just want to go back to ITVFest.” It was repeated many times throughout our development process of LIGHTNING DOGS, set to air on Funny or Die on April 18.
In brainstorming ideas, Josh brought up one that he and Brett had pitched around town previously that they’d never been able to shoot, but wanted to. We fell in love with the concept of Lightning Dogs immediately, and were off to the races, with Billy as director, Josh and Brett starring as dogs, Ralph and Bounce, and me, starring as… Khara. The creative energies were truly complementary. Of course, as complications often arise in production, filming was delayed and we feared we’d miss the ITV submission deadline. But with dogged determination, the pieces came together in time, and we were accepted into the festival.
The film screened first on Wednesday, October 11, and in the middle of a Casting Director seminar, right in front of CD Anne Muhall, one of the participants said “Hey, weren’t you in Lightning Dogs? I loved it.” (Best timing ever.) But the truly exciting thing was, every day, for the next 4 days of the festival, that was the response. “Oh hey, you were in Lightning Dogs, we really loved it.” The most impactful of these compliments came on Saturday night, October 14 during an ITVFest event hosting the Thai Ambassador to the UN. Standing over the grape and cheese plate, hanging onto my champagne flute in the swanky Hirschfeld Gallery, a voice from over my shoulder grabbed my attention: “Weren’t you in Lightning Dogs? I’ve been looking to talk to someone from that show. Could I talk to you about it for a minute?”
This voice came from Lisa Baylin, the VP of Content and Production of iThentic.com, an award-winning digital content company focused on producing original multi-platform content for traditional broadcast, OTT, iOS and Android, and social media.
It was a surreal moment – someone didn’t just like our work, she REALLY liked our work, and wanted to get behind it. She handed me her business card I and immediately texted “the guys” - Billy, Brett, and Josh - and producer, Elizabeth Ayres, who were unable to make this event. And it’s funny – something about being in idyllic, northern New England seems to nullify the “flake factor” we often experience in LA. As artists, you always fear that the interest and promises someone makes to you or your project are fleeting moments that never materialize… this was not that situation. On April 18, thanks to Lisa and iThentic, episodes 1 & 2 of LIGHTNING DOGS goes live on Funny or Die, the site started by comedian, Will Ferrell and director, Adam McKay. Episodes 3 – 5 air on April 25.
Never in my wildest dreams did I think that a festival way up in rural Vermont, would have brought us all together, resulting in a project about to be seen by the huge audience Funny or Die enjoys. If it weren’t for ITVFest, the four of us never would have met, we wouldn’t have met Lisa from iThentic, and audiences would never meet two crazy dogs and their owner, who are about to be struck by lightning.