Producer and Comedian Kevin Gillese On Going From Theater and YouTube to Screen

Posted on: Apr 02, 2024

Photo Credit: Kevin Gillese

By Jessica Mathis

Founded in 1995, Dad’s Garage is a non-profit theater in Atlanta, Georgia whose primary focus is improv and original theater. In the last decade, the theater has been producing a YouTube channel known as Dad’s Garage TV and has also branched into their first feature film, How To Ruin The Holidays. The film features Colin Mochrie from Who’s Line Is It Anyway? and is currently available on Amazon.

I thought it was fascinating how a theater made this transition from stage to screen, and sat down to speak about it with Kevin Gillese, who was the Artistic Director of Dad’s Garage from 2010-2020. The Atlanta-based writer, producer and comedian wrote the script for How to Ruin the Holidays, which is also his feature debut.

Kevin, tell me how you became involved with Dad’s Garage TV.

I was a visiting performer from my home theater, Rapid Fire Theatre, in Canada in 2000. I just thought Dad’s Garage TV was so cool. Ten years later, I was offered the job of artistic director and moved to Atlanta. 

Tell me about the transition from stage to YouTube before your first film.

I started a new chapter with Dad’s Garage TV in 2010. It feels like any cultural organization has to be creating video content to stay relevant. It was a long and winding road that eventually took us to making our first feature film, but that wasn’t really the intention starting out. We just thought, ”Let’s be relevant.”

Could you tell me a little bit of how your troupe engages audiences when transferring over from the stage to video?

It’s generally comedy driven, but we also believe in telling stories [and] exploring topics we have passion for. For example, I have a strong connection to the special needs community because my younger brother has a disability, and I partnered with an organization of actors with developmental disabilities to create a short film that was funny, but also really sweet.

What was the journey that led to your first feature film?  

I felt it was time to take Dad’s Garage TV to the next level, and we just thought we’d give it our best shot. I wrote a script that was really personal to me, but also tried to make it funny and accessible. And then just tried to cash in every favor we could with talent and celebrities that we’d met along the way.

When you were focusing on that and the development, were you partially funded by Dad’s Garage TV, or was that an investment of your time?

Dad’s Garage allocated resources, but being a non-profit theater, it’s not like they have a huge bankroll to offer up for those things. It’s a little bit of both.

Tell me about attaching Colin Mochrie to the film.

As a fellow Canadian, I first invited Colin down to Dad’s Garage in 2011, and he’s been a regular guest since, and probably our most consistent celebrity guest. He came in, loved the theater and started being involved. It made sense to write a sizable part for him. His support helped us raise the money, because I think it got more people excited since he’s kind of America’s dad. He’s a very supportive and lovely man. 

How did you go about casting, considering you work with the regular troupe from Dad’s Garage TV?

I wrote the script with certain people in mind. The lead, Amber Nash, is a long-time improviser at Dad’s Garage. Luke, who plays her brother, was someone that we met on that short film project that I had mentioned prior. It was by meeting Luke that I could write a script about my relationship with my brother in real life. They all had relationships to Dad’s Garage in some way or another. [We needed to hold] very few auditions.

How did you find your director?

I started a popular improv duo called Scratch back in 2005. I toured a lot with the other performer, Arlen Konopaki. When I took the job in Atlanta, he went on to NYU for a master’s in film directing and then started working in Los Angeles. We’ve had an ongoing artistic collaboration for so long, it made sense for me to bring him in.  

How did you go about crewing? Did you have a producer or did you rely on your director?

Through the years of Dad’s Garage TV, I had an ace up my sleeve with Megan Dahl, a line producer and production manager. She was a key part of the team and connected us to some great local folks while some camera crew came from LA through Arlen. We pieced together a combination of people we’d worked with in the past with recommendations and who would work for what we could offer. A lot of people I reached out to said they couldn’t work for the rate I had. 

What were challenges of the transition from stage to film?

The cost of getting things done is so high in film. There [are] just so many expensive factors and the pace is different. The journey for plays we do at Dad’s Garage TV may be a year-long, whereas this was four years.

The biggest challenges were money. We shot in 18 days. It was hard. If we could have had an extra week, it would’ve made everything much less painful, but we couldn’t afford it. Also, we shot during COVID, so everybody was getting swabbed daily and we paid for that.

Elaborate on how having a community leant towards the success of the production.

This film would not have been possible without community support. Finding investors was nearly impossible at first, but after our Kickstarter raised 118 grand, people seemed willing to get in because it seemed popular. Without that community support, financing would have never happened. We had local business owners donate their space and let us shoot for free or a minimal charge, [such as] paying their staff person who would have to be there.

Even individual support. [On the] first morning we had a catering snafu, and Dad’s Garage marketing director Amelia Lerner saved the day with a full breakfast spread for our whole crew. You can’t manufacture that type of amazing support. You have to earn it through authentic relationships. 

When you had this concept and decided to make a film, what would you say you never expected, and then got hit with and learned from? 

Somebody said early in the process, every phase is the hardest phase. You’re in a phase and think “It cannot possibly be harder than this.” The next one is just in a different way. The journey is long and difficult, but it is rewarding nonetheless.

What were the benefits of working with local talent who knew each other and had worked together before?

It created [a] really nice vibe on-set. When people know each other and have preexisting relationships—everybody from the cast had worked together in some kind of improv capacity in the past, you know—and that was beneficial toward us just having a great vibe and being able to riff and collaborate.

What would you tell performers and writers with an idea or script about moving toward getting it made?

I think anybody who thinks of themselves as a one-man band, doing it all by themselves, isn’t on the path to success. I think the path to success is the relationships you build along the way. That looks like developing strong working relationships with people, doing projects—whether it’s their project or your project—you’re working for somebody else. It’s like finding those people and cherishing that. [You’ve] got to start building those relationships now so that they can be fruitful in ten years.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Jessica Mathis (AKA Divinity Rose) is an award winning screenwriter/performer/producer from Louisville, Kentucky. She is the CEO of She Dreams Content Development and Production, which focuses on female forward projects in comedy, docustyle and genre entertainment.

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