It’s hard to explain the Dreamgun Film Reads to someone who hasn’t witnessed one first hand, or at least listened to the podcast. A group of four very talented writers take a beloved movie script and rewrite it into a kind of comedy radio play, which is then performed live in front of an audience by actors who haven’t rehearsed. Does that sound like something you’d want to go to? If not, just take a listen to the podcast and get ready to change your mind.
“Dreamgun has been a lot of things over the years. It’s always been Gavin Drea, Heber Hanly, James McDonnell and myself,” explains Colfer. Drea, Hanly and McDonnell knew each other from ‘fancy boy fancy school’ (Gonzaga College), but Colfer befriended them as teenagers through a shared interest in filmmaking and then again later when he and Hanly were both working the standup circuit, while still in college.
Drawn together by a love of the internet comedy scene, the group started making films together for the Firehouse Film Contest, a film festival / competition which is held once a month in Dublin.
“We kinda made a few in a row with relatively close to the four of us. Heber and James initially made a film called Dreamgun that Gavin and I were in. And not long after that we had our first play called Chaos Theory coming out in Smock Alley which was written by me, Heber and James so we just lumped it all in together under the Dreamgun name.”
It was while staging a fundraiser for Chaos Theory that the group stumbled across the Film Reads format. Director Jason Reitman had been staging a monthly series of unrehearsed Live Reads in LA, casting current comedy and movie stars in beloved movies from the past. The Dreamgun crew decided to so something similar with a group of their actor friends, throwing in a ‘couple of jokes’ here and there. According to Colfer, it went ‘grand’. It was nothing special.
A year later they had just done Chaos Theory in the Edinburgh Fringe and we’re feeling a bit ‘zoned out and short tempered’ so they decided to do another film read to shake them out of the post-Edinburgh funk. As it was approaching Back To The Future Day, the date Marty McFly time travels to in Back To The Future 2, the group decided to stage a reading of the original film.
“So we put the event up online, we’d committed to it. And we went to download the script for Back To The Future and discovered there wasn’t one. There are no scripts with scene directions of Back To The Future available anywhere. So, we realised we would have to write our own narration or this was never going to work.”
And, having to write the script from scratch, they decided to write a lot more jokes into it. A new kind of comedy format was born in the Dreamgun Film Reads. While much of the humour comes from poking fun at the original (everything from inappropriate casting to plot inconsistencies), the Film Reads never come off as snarky and the group only ever chooses films that all four of them genuinely love.
As writers, the Dreamgun team are fantastic at highlighting some of the absurdities of Hollywood filmmaking, something they were already making fun off as far back as their first Dreamgun short.
This time last year, when it seemed like Film Reads was starting to take off, the group made the decision to focus all their collective efforts on building something special. And, it takes a lot of effort. Each script takes Dreamgun three weeks to write. But the result of all that hard work has been a string of packed shows, with tickets selling out in hours, and people queueing down the street just to ensure they get the best seats in the house.
The group has cleverly cast some of the best up-and-coming comedy talent in Ireland to appear in their shows: the likes of Hannah Mamalis, Erin McGathy and Ed Salmon.
“There’s no rehearsal,” explains Colfer, “So you need people who can instinctively read scripts. The only prep they do is to watch the actual film. Then they can decide to play with character or against character.”
Each member of the ensemble tends to play to a specific Hollywood type. Drea is the leading man / villain. Hanly was born to play All-American teen heros like Marty McFly and Peter Parker. Colfer describes himself as fitting the ‘tall and spindly pencil man’ role, which saw him play Norman Bates to great effect in the Film Read version of Psycho last Halloween.
Recently, they’ve started to hone in on a core ensemble cast as they prepare to go on tour in 2018. Colfer is sketchy on the details but it seems they have their sights set on the Edinburgh Fringe.
Taking the show beyond Dublin could be tricky, but Dreamgun will have support from Lisa Richards; the leading talent agency in Ireland recently added the group to their books. And, Dreamgun are banking on their Film Reads podcast getting the word out there. Colfer admits it’s doing ‘pretty well for an Irish podcast’ with about 30% of the current listenership coming from outside of Ireland.
While 2018 is going to be all about growing and touring their Film Reads show, there’s no doubt that the skills the Dreamgun team are developing every time they write and perform another show, will serve them well down the road.
Colfer is hopeful of that the group will stay working together for a long time but, for now, he’s just happy with the work they’re doing. “If all it ever turns out to be is these Film Reads, I’m super proud of them and I would be mentally fine with that.”
We have a feeling Film Reads is just the beginning for Dreamgun. Remember the name.
You can see Stephen Colfer and Film Reads regular Hannah Mamalis in a new comedy play they’ve co-written for Smock Alley, January 15th-20th. Tickets available here.