Best birthday gift ever... A lead in a film shot entirely on a telephone.
Just when you thought I'd peaked at playing "Dan-Driff" for Selsun Blue... Apple came knocking.
20th September, 2023
New York, NY
The turtlenecks at Apple invited my favourite NYC Director, David Ma, to come to Cupertino for the launch of the new iPhone15. He flew back to NYC on a redeye with a couple of the new phones that night to write, cast, shoot, direct, and edit a short film in just five days. It just dropped today. (my birthday!)
We shot it at a Michelin-star Korean BBQ restaurant in Record Time.
Cote Korean Steakhouse on 22nd Street over 2 days, where I went into a full-blown Wagyu trance (I might just be the world's most inept vegetarian).
I owe a big thanks to the incredible team* that had me be part of this —and for letting me use my actual Australian accent on screen for the first time in 9 years. It was so much fun to make. I prefer the working title of “Meat Cute”, but here, in all its glory is…
IGNITE, A Short Film by David Ma
Shot entirely on the Apple iPhone15 Pro Max.
How the hell did I land this gig?
I was lying on my bed last Tuesday night watching Godzilla VS. Kong when I got a text…
It was from a director I’d worked with on a Keurig commercial three years ago, named David Ma. He had been invited by Apple to their campus in Cupertino where they were about to reveal the new iPhone and Apple Watch. He had a very special, but super-secret last-minute request: That I send him a self-tape for a film he was shooting in 36 hours.
He took a red-eye from California right after the event, and by the time his wheels hit the tarmac in New York, the production team had cast me as a lead. I hadn’t booked anything in ages— certainly not a film. In my native Australian accent. For Apple.
My Abusive Relationship with Apple
This is the company I used to roast in cartoons for getting rid of ports on their MacBooks and phones every time they released something. It was one of the reasons I (eep) switched to the Google Pixel for a long time. I am, however, now no longer the only green bubble in my group chats. I am back on the iOS/OSX ecosystem and am too locked in place to ever change now.
So, anyway. Back to IGNITE…
This all might sound a bit weird because you know me as a cartoonist... I feel like I should take a step back:
You may not have been a subscriber when I was showing up in commercials* before the pandemic.
*Interrupting football games
There was a moment there when —shocker— stand-up comedy wasn’t the most lucrative field to back up my ailing cartooning income, so I went out for auditions for commercials to try and make some extra cash. I got an agent and booked1 a bunch of ads, eventually landing a TV show on the Food Network. It was a lot of fun.
My agent died.
He contracted COVID-19 and was intubated, before dying in a crowded New York hospital a matter of days before he was eligible to receive the vaccine. It broke my heart.
He was a hilarious, healthy, active New Yorker with epic hustle, in his early 50s who did nothing but support his clients. The kind of mensch who went the extra mile, would show up on set to check if everything was okay, and double your money when you booked a show. He was a rare gem of an agent and human. I miss him a lot.
This is going to be very surprising, but it’s actually really hard to book anything when your agent is dead. I also kind of didn’t want to… I was really sad to lose Sandy, and going with someone else felt like an insult. I stayed on the books of his company for a year or so, but eventually, I just closed out my tab and walked away.
I drew some sketches of the script between takes. Because of course.
The whole concept/story seemed simple enough:
A young couple sits down for dinner— it’s a first date, but they already met somewhere else, so there’s a sort of familiar vibe. Common friends. But it still has first-date vibes…
Then, the waiter comes over…
to deliver the Butcher’s Feast (A real thing at Cote, btw) which first sends Leah into a full-scale Wagyu trance. She spaces out on entire chunks of my scintillating conversation probably about goats, or pants, or goats wearing pants, then…
I take my first bite of the beef and start to see what the hell she was experiencing while I was on my goat-pants monologue. Eventually, we get to my favorite part of the scene where one of the most skilled puppeteers on the planet, Brian Haimes, makes all of the food and cocktails float in the air like magic.
Yes, these were practical effects, not CGI. Brian worked on Sesame Street and turns out to know a whole boatload of my cartoonist friends. Small city.
The whole film took a total of 5 days from start to finish, which is about one billionth of the time it usually takes to make something like this. This production was the most efficient, fast-moving, and technically skilled team I’ve ever seen. It was properly bonkers.
Speaking of the people who made this thing… each week on this here newsletter, I share a new person who tickles my fancy. This week’s very special edition features the cast and crew of the film. I’ve never been happier working with a team on something before.
Within minutes of rehearsal, we were busting each other’s chops. The easiest person to work with, and shares my defective obsession with old Jim Carrey films. She taught me that pinkie swearing in Korea requires a whole additional step that involves thumbs. (And, yes, you definitely did see her in that BTS music video, and SNL Korea.)
What can I say about this guy? Welp, he definitely showed up. And he was wearing clothes for a change. He’s exceptional at drinking scotch in the bathtub and pretending he’s a real actor.
Nate played the waiter in this shoot and did it so convincingly that he turned me, a pescetarian, into a fully-fledged Wagyu fanatic. (My doctor will be in touch.) If you don’t follow Nate’s TikTok or Instagram yet, your new feed will be nothing but him getting dressed. And you will not be able to look away.
The whole shoot took place at Cote, one of the best Korean BBQ Restaurants in the world. It has had a Michelin Star 3 years in a row.
The Dream Team:
David Ma (Director)
Easily one of the most innovative directors working in New York. David was named one of AdWeek’s Top 100 Creatives of 2021, featured on Variety’s Showbiz List, and featured by Forbes, Vanity Fair, The Guardian, GQ, and Buzzfeed.
The attention to detail he gives to elevate food, in particular, is masterful— and he can perfectly replicate the styles of some of the best film directors in the world. Just take a look at the way he turned S’Mores into a Wes Anderson film (…before everyone else started doing it for everything using A.I. Generators)
The guy is a wizard. An actual wizard. Check out the other stuff he’s done.
Assistant Director: [@jdrake]
Gaffer: Cory Beisser
Grip: Kieran McShane
Swing: Jonathan Stevens
Production Designer: Steven Phelps
Art Director: [@lgod.photo]
HMU: Aixa Acevedo
Sound Mixer: Flora Kamimoto
BTS Unit: [@jeremyjacobowitz]
Media Manager: Chris Gonzalez
PA: Jarmal Harris, Tristan Kozul
Sound Mix & Design: Cory Choy, @silversound
“I can has Wagyu pls?”
(Note: No, I’m not in the union, and have never been. But I do support their reasons for striking. I hope it gets resolved soon so people can stop making little voodoo dolls of Drew Barrymore. This was a non-union project.)