Husbands often surprise their wives with flowers or jewelry to show their love, but that wasn’t enough for Marshall Allman. Instead, he’s creating a series of short films and making Jamie Anne Allman his star.
“She’s such a phenomenal talent; she’s so great,” he said. “Primarily she works doing drama, but everyone who knows and loves her knows that she’s hilarious. She has this amazing comedic side to her.”
“It’s just so hard once you’ve kind of pioneered in one genre, for people to see you as anything but the dramatic person, especially for women. There’s just not much opportunity. It was really my call to action. I was like OK, they aren’t handing you the opportunity; let’s make one.”
So the former “True Blood” and “Prison Break” actor, who stars in the upcoming second season of AMC’s “Humans,” devised a plan to cast his wife and his friend, Mark Kelly, as husband and wife in “Make Like a Dog,” the first of five films celebrating “the comedy of matrimony.”
Allman started a Kickstarter campaign to help pay for the next film in the “Marriage in Short” series, titled “A Tribulation.” He’s reached his goal of $20,000 in the campaign, which ends Nov. 18. But that doesn’t mean you still can’t donate.
In a recent phone chat, the ever enthusiastic Allman talked about his recent Twitter outreach to fans, what marriage means to him and what he hopes “Marriage in Short” will inspire in others. He also told a helluva good ghost story.
Believe it or not, this is an edited transcript of our conversation.
How did “Make Like a Dog” become your first film?
Jamie did a one-act play [by Jerome Kass] a long time ago and I read it. It’s hilarious. That started the whole process of adapting a one-act play from the 60s to a short film set in the 60s, which took me a long time because I didn’t really know how to write that well.
Was this your first writing gig?
I’ve written one short before, but it was super contemporary and it was a very simple story. It was a short called “Love After Life.” I loved doing that so I had an instinct for it, but this was going to require a little more skill. It was definitely past my experience level.
Why did this idea come from?
I’m not proud of this, but this short film has taken me from beginning to now, 10 years. It was in the editing process of “Make Like A Dog” that I was like, wow, I put so much into this. Is this just going to be a short film and hopefully we get into Sundance then that’s it? I actually wrote that down at the time. …
I love working with my actors, Mark and Jamie, and I think that they are so good. Honestly, they deserve a platform. Then it just hit me. Why don’t we turn it into series? It literally all came to me at once. In that note I wrote down every idea that I have for the other parts. It was one of those lighting bolt moments. I think I even came up with the idea for “Marriage in Short,” the name. Actually I’m going to look it up right now. “Make Like A Dog” ideas—I found the note, it was like 2015.
Yeah, it all hit me at once and I thought that dream was too big. When I got that idea I was like there’s no way that’s going to happen. It’s so rare to get financing. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to repeat the financing we got for “Make Like a Dog.” It’s just really rare to do one short, let alone five that are all at this level of production value and are period pieces. I felt a little bit insane and crazy when I got the idea, which scared me and also exhilarated me at the same time.
That’s good, though, to be a little bit scared. It makes you do bold things.
I’m definitely alive, man. I’m out there on a limb. I don’t know which limb, but I’m out there, bro.
Speaking of the period pieces, I want to live in that set from “Make Like a Dog.”
Right? There’s a whole story behind that, man. It took us a year to find that location.
Did you dress it with all that cool vintage furniture or was it there?
No, no. Our production designer—Robbie Dalley—amazing. Some of it I bought on eBay. The hardest was to find the crib because people basically burn cribs that are mid-century because they are too dangerous. We shipped it like a month before from New York and arrived literally the morning of the shoot that we needed.
It’s Ralph Wilson’s house [in Temple, Texas], and Ralph Wilson started Wilsonart, an amazing company. He actually invented the preformed laminate counters in that house using hot iron rods in the late 50s. He was like a laminate master. In the scene with the dog where you see the reverse when Stanley is walking away, you see diamond shaped art on the wall. Wilson literally hand carved those out of laminate. … He was amazing. In fact, his ghost haunted the house.
That house is an actual mid-century modern museum in the heart of Texas. They turned it into the headquarters of Wilsonart. When we arrived, [event manager] Diana Zaremba just casually told us the house is haunted. She’s like, “Ralph’s ghost haunts the house.” We are like, “OK, whatever.” She said a night watchman won’t work the night shift anymore because he was walking through and someone grabbed his shoulder and turned him around in the middle of the living room and no one was there.
She said another time a guy there to clean the place had a flip phone on his hip and someone tried to pull it off his hip, but no one was there when he turned around. But he heard the camera on the front of the flip phone go off. He looked at his photos and there’s literally, I shit you not, a freaking ghost selfie. The ghost accidentally took a photo of itself and I’m not kidding you. I have the freaky photo and it’s the craziest thing I’ve seen in my life.
A photo of Ralph?
Oh it’s Ralph, yeah. We showed the neighbors and they are like, “That’s Ralph.” We didn’t tell them what it was.
Is Ralph upset or is he just mischievous?
I think he is obsessively protective of his house. We heard these stories, we see this photo and we are all, “Oh, wow, that’s like legit.” We just went on about our merry way the first day of production and everything. We didn’t have trailers or anything so we left the actors’ wardrobes in the only functioning closet in the house. … It’s in Ralph’s bedroom and we left the actors wardrobe in there and we came back the next morning and Mark Kelly’s family wardrobe was missing. Elvira’s was there.
No one is allowed in this house. It’s like the most secure house in town. It was missing, so we had a manhunt for the first 30 minutes to find the costume, and Mark found it crumbled up under Ralph Wilson’s old desk. There was a wet stain on it. It was so weird.
I had to have a talk with the ghost. I went into Ralph’s bedroom by myself and I said, “Hey Ralph, look man I know you are here and I can imagine it’s really weird to have this whole crew of people in your house and can feel threatened, but I want you to know we love your house and we want to make it look amazing and we want to honor what you’ve done here so please don’t feel threatened. We’ve come to honor you.” After that we didn’t have any problems with the ghost.
That’s understandable. But you know what, honestly there’s no guile in me right now. I’m excited to be telling you that this is completely 100 percent the truth. We should mention that that the “True Blood” interview was under the context of me being in character as Tommy. I’m definitely not in character right now.
OK, then, legit ghost. Now don’t take this the wrong way, but why should we watch theses shorts and more importantly, why should we fund this project?
That’s a great question. Why should you watch it? I will tell you this. I love rom-coms and I love arthouse films, but when it comes to the realities of marriage, neither of those do it justice. On the one hand serious films about marriage are usually depressing, violent and just sad in general. Rom-coms, on the other hand, are usually about a couple that is getting married or approaching getting married, but it’s not actually about marriage. Maybe save like Judd Apatow, “This is 40,” you know?
For me, I love marriage and I love being married and that’s not to say that it’s a primrose path. It’s rough and challenging, but through that challenge and overcoming the obstacles in a relationship make it more meaningful. We also laugh a lot. For me there’s this whole gamut of emotions that can come from a marriage that often are not represented in film and in artful manner. That’s what I set out to do is to make something about marriage that I experience and that I want to see. As an avid film lover I was always left feeling about the filmmaker, “You didn’t like being married?”
That’s the long answer. The short answer of why you should watch it is it’s funny—and you might cry, too.
Why should I pay you to do more?
I think that is predicated on whether you like the film or not. Should anyone just pay anyone to do anything? No. That’s why we have gone to great lengths to provide a proof of concept so that we can at least entertain you. Even then if that’s not enough, I’m willing to basically give you a pint of my blood through my Kickstarter. You are definitely not just giving me money for free. It’s costing us. What we are hoping is if you response to what we put into the world you would help make more of that happen.
You seem like a bit of a romantic.
Totally romantic, but I’m a romantic who has also embraced facing reality. I want to find romance that comes out of reality. Romance at the cost of ignoring reality is no romance for me at all.
Here’s a personal question for you: Who is the dog in your marriage?
[Laughs.] Well, hopefully both of us.
That’s the idea, right?
Yeah. Honestly, if you think about it, dogs have amazing qualities for relationships. They always forgive and are always happy to see you. They are always down to play. They’re consistent and always there. Always down for affection and to give affection. If I could be as half as principled as a dog, people would think we are aliens because we would have such a good marriage.
Are you drawing a lot on your own experiences for future episodes?
When I read Jerome Kass’s original one-act for “Make Like a Dog” I was like, this is hilarious. It was true to how marriage was in that time. When I realized that in the script writing I have to truncate it and that I couldn’t just edit his own words and make a short film with his own words. I think I got it down to like 19 pages without changing a word. In cutting it down from 19 to 10 pages I had to take some creative liberties and in those creative liberties, yeah, I totally drew from my experience. A fascinating thing is to find [Jerome’s] one-act and then compare it to our film and see the differences and you will totally see my fingerprint and all that’s totally out of my experience.
Any artist would lie if they said it wasn’t pulled from their own experience, but when you are dealing in art you are take a scene from your real life and it may grow into something that looks completely different but it was inspire by this in my life or that, so you stretch it. All these things in truth are malleable so that you can create an artistic expression. I don’t know how to not write from my experience and from not just my experience in my marriage but me and Jamie both love helping our friends marriages. We love getting together with our friends and having real talks about where their marriage is and what they are going through and offering support.
Jamie and Mark will star in all the shorts, right?
Yes, totally. Look man, they are so talented. If I can create a platform for them to like transform and show off their chops as actors, if just that was accomplished I would be very happy.
Have you found that you are surprised by, as you are writing, where you end up?
Totally. Writing is like this mysterious, awesome journey. … It’s exhilarating and at the same time it’s so scary. I’m in the middle of writing the next one now and I hit a point where I think I’m going to have to face something within myself to complete this script. I’ve been terrified of that.
You are talking about the doomsday preppers one?
Yes, I’ve hit a point in the relationship and in the plot and in the story where the couple has reached a boiling point and I’m like, in order to inhabit what needs to happen it’s like I’ve got to find that part of myself. It’s not easy work, bro.
But that’s why you do it. Did the election results change your plans for this doomsday preppers thing at all?
[Laughs.] You know what, I had already thought about that in researching this. I’ve been researching this one for almost two years now and trying to understand all the possible world views about what the end of the world is. It’s been really fun to do that and I walk this thin line of how predictive it’s going to be. Am I going to go full “Back to the Future?” How much can I wink and nod to a possible future or even things that are progressing now? I don’t know. That might be part of the fun of watching it, seeing what my vision of the future is.
Is this sort of all of Marshall’s friends getting together project?
A lot of it is my friends and a lot of it is just people that I’m like, “What I can offer is a platform. Like something at the end of the day you will have a product.” Most of the people didn’t work on it for the money, I’ll tell you that much. They worked on it because it was like, hey, let’s really go for something great that every single person can look at and say I was a part of that. People go, wow that’s cool. Everything down to the poster to the website to every aspect of it. I just want it to be something that people can use as a platform to show their talent.
Are you getting good feedback?
Yeah, that’s actually been the most fun part. Trying to engage people on Facebook is so difficult the way they’ve made their algorithms and everything. But on Twitter there are a couple of services that let me like send out a message to everyone that follows me on Twitter and so I’ve been literally sitting at my computer 8 hours a day replying to everybody individually. I’ve had long conversations with a lot of people on Twitter and just hearing what they think about the film has been the best part of it.
People having ideas for other films and asking me why I didn’t include certain things and stuff like that. What about this idea? It’s been really fun engaging that and hearing how people respond.
One of the main responses is they are surprised how many emotions they go through in such a short period of time watching. They are like, “Wow, I cannot believe I went through all that in 10 minutes. I don’t even go through that when I watch a full feature.” It’s been honestly so rewarding.
What do you hope to achieve with these films?
To make art that encourages people that relationships, specifically marriages, but relationships in general should be resilient. I really, truly believe that the divorce rate should be flip-flopped. It shouldn’t be approaching 50 percent divorce. I think it should be 60 percent success rate and that could be done very simply by preparing people with proper expectations of how marriage can be.
Some people go into a marriage thinking, “Oh it’s going to be this sort of like Disney kind of thing.” Then the first fight they get into or the first traumatic thing that happens, they think, “Oh this isn’t what a marriage is supposed to be. It’s supposed to be this.” They give up before they have even fought or really tried because in their mind it’s not supposed to be that way. I just want to tear down those false expectations of marriage through taking something to where you see some people getting ridiculous, making like a dog. If I can help a couple of people doing that then great. Reducing that number of all the unnecessary divorces out there would be even better.
If I can save some people some heartache and encourage some people to dig in deeper, that’d be amazing. That applies to gay, straight, whatever. I don’t care what form. If you are in a monogamous, committed relationship, it’s pretty much the same principle. A marriage makes it a little bit more like difficult to get out of because you are publicly announcing that you are together forever. That’s why it makes such a great structure for drama, is because inherently everyone wants a marriage to work.