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Finding Humor In Uncharted Territory

Aired 7/13/12 on KPBS News.

Two San Diegans take to Comic-Con to find new fans for their own creation—a comedy series for web about an unlikely topic: Antarctica.

Comic-Con doesn’t just draw fans. Thousands of creative types go to the pop-culture convention hoping to build a fan base for their new TV show or indie comic book.

This week, two San Diegans are presenting their own creation—a comedy series for web about an unlikely topic: Antarctica.

You might think a show about Antarctica would require actual travel to Antarctica.

Not if you’re Matt Hoyt and Jason Sherry.

Hoyt and Sherry, both 36, have spent two years and countless hours working on a surreal comedic saga they titled "Antarctic...huh?".

A still from the web video "Antarctic...Huh?"
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Above: A still from the web video "Antarctic...Huh?"

Calling this project a labor of love doesn't do justice to the amount of fun these two seem to be having with it.

Hoyt co-owns the popular bar and restaurant Starlite and Sherry is a well-known local artist.

They’ve never been to Antractica, but they’ve created it in Hoyt’s South Park apartment.

"Anarctic...huh?" was on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in 2010.
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Above: "Anarctic...huh?" was on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in 2010.

On a recent weeknight, I found myself standing in front of Hoyt's garage, which is packed with odd props and swap-meet treasures. It's home to a large diorama of a snowy landscape, with trucks that move and fake trash. "Jason built this diorama. This is the core central area where our characters live, work, and play. It’s a fictitious landfill," explains Hoyt.

Sherry, who lives next door, builds all the elaborate props and serves as art director for the series. He used baking soda and glue to create the snow.

"This project is about doing all the stuff we always wanted to do. Like miniatures, I’ve always wanted to do them but never had a reason," says Sherry.

"Antarctic...huh?" is an adventure series. The main character, played by Hoyt, is a frustrated writer who escapes to Antarctica looking for solitude to write the great American novel. He takes a job at a landfill and gets roped into a series of adventures with a wacky mix of characters. "It's structured like a Homeric epic poem where our character starts on a long journey in a world that's somewhat recognizable. Then that world just erodes and gets more and more bizarre."

Writer, director Matt Hoyt plays the protagonist, Preston, who moves to Antarctica hoping to write the great American novel.
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Above: Writer, director Matt Hoyt plays the protagonist, Preston, who moves to Antarctica hoping to write the great American novel.

Hoyt says the Antarctic setting provided a perfect unfamiliar, unexplored landscape without resorting to the oft-used location of outer space.

The show has a retro, DIY aesthetic, courtesy of Sherry's imagination and daily trips to Amvets thrift stores along with weekend sojourns to swap meets.

Also key to the series is deadpan comedy. "We try to play it really straight because most of the people in the show are non-actors. They’re friends," says Hoyt. "The whole idea is funny enough. We don't need to oversell it."

I asked Hoyt how he explains the premise of the show to someone like his grandmother. "That's already happened. She was confused," Hoyt admits. She thought Hoyt actually went to Antarctica.

We walk upstairs to the apartment. In one room, a bed is standing against the wall to make way for a green screen. In front of the green screen is a large model helicopter that Sherry has rigged so the blades spin.

Sherry admits he can make anything. He spent close to 40 hours designing and building a costume out of rope (with shoes and a hat!) for an escape scene. The character goes undetected because he's disguised as rope. When I first saw it and heard its purpose, I couldn't help but wonder if the whole script is cooked up under significant herbal influence. Apparently, it couldn't be farther from the truth, though Hoyt admitted beer is amply provided during shooting.

Sherry, who serves as the production designer and art director for the show also plays some minor characters in "Antarctic...huh?"
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Above: Sherry, who serves as the production designer and art director for the show also plays some minor characters in "Antarctic...huh?"

Here’s how Hoyt and the actors end up looking like they’re in Antarctica, instead of a San Diego apartment. The actors walk in place in front of the green screen – wearing parkas, of course. That footage is edited together with the footage of the snowscape diorama. Voila! You’re in Antarctica, or at least Hoyt’s and Sherry’s version of it.

"I know a lot of people use this technology to make a "Star Wars" or "Star Trek" fan film, but that’s not an original idea. That’s revisiting something we already understand. Jason and I wanted to go somewhere we've never been," says Hoyt.

Props are scattered around the apartment and backyard. I see vintage snowshoes, a wooden casket, and fake blocks of ice.

"It's overwhelming," says Allison Hoyt, Matt's wife. "I was trying to clean today and I opened up the closet and found a penguin mask."

When she and Hoyt married two years ago, she insisted they live in a house around the corner, giving the apartment over to the series. "He needs a man space. It turned out to be one of the best decisions we've made as a couple."

She admits she was skeptical about "Antarctic...huh?" when she and Hoyt started dating. "I thought it was just an excuse for him to hang out and be silly with the boys. Then all of sudden, he’d put something together!"

Hoyt and Sherry are nothing if not dedicated. Despite doing as much as they can on the cheap, self -financing is starting to take its toll. "We just can’t keeping putting stuff on credit cards, even though its 5, 10, 100 dollars a pop. Over two years it's amounted to something substantial."

They’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $25,000 to make more episodes. At Comic-Con, they’re hoping to add new fans and pique the interest of industry reps. "We really want to build an audience. We would really like people to see this as a serious work of bizarreness," says Hoyt.

As for visiting Antarctica, Hoyt and Sherry say it’s doubtful. Right now, they prefer their own surreal Antarctic adventure.

Video

Trailer: "Antarctic...Huh?"

ANTARCTIC...HUH? - Trailer 1 from Matt Hoyt - Wormwood Films on Vimeo.

Video

'Antarctic...Huh?' On Kickstarter

Video by Nicholas McVicker

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