DBP Donut, the advertising and short-form entertainment production company launched by Mark and Jay Duplass (darlings of independent film and TV) and their partners Charlie Leahy and Nigel Lopez-McBean, unveiled their new short-form production "The Ride" last week at the Sundance Film Festival.
It's the latest foray into the micro-narrative genre from the Duplass brothers, who have made their careers in the entertainment business by coming up with creative ways to make money off of their independent, low-budget productions that depend on well-written scripts and intimate, quirky performances.
Both Sundance and new media platforms have done well for the two brothers. They found success with their first film, "The Puffy Chair," which debuted at Sundance and was eventually picked up and distributed by Netflix. "Animals," their short form, animated production, which debuted at Sundance, was eventually picked up by HBO.
With the new series, written, directed and starring Linas Phillips, DBP Donut is trying its hand at creating a series for the new short-form distribution platforms like Quibi or Ficto, which have sprung up to offer 7-10 minute episodes to mobile audiences, or the established streaming services Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, all of which have also played around with shorter shows.
In 2018, Netflix ordered "Follow This," a BuzzFeed News series of 20 15-minute documentaries, and "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee," the Emmy-nominated short-form series from Jerry Seinfeld. In the same period, Amazon Prime ordered a series from Funny or Die, one of the originators of comedic shorts online, along with more than 100 short-form videos from film festivals around the world. And YouTube has long been the home for comedians and dramatists alike looking to make a name for themselves with bite-sized shows and smaller production budgets.
In this context, "The Ride" should be a smash. It has a great premise -- and one that's made for short-form storytelling -- following the interactions of an Uber driver and his passengers over the course of several rides.
It's similar to the structure that was established by the popular web series "High Maintenance" about a weed dealer in New York City and his brief exchanges with clients. That show was eventually optioned by HBO and turned into a more traditional 30-minute comedy series.
However, where "High Maintenance" turned a sympathetic eye toward its anonymous main character and his customers, the jaundiced view of its protagonist and the passengers he's chauffeuring around Los Angeles makes embracing "The Ride" harder. However, the toxic tone is intentional and a reflection of the one-time, down-and-out experiences of its creator.
In an interview with Deadline, Phillips described the origins of the series: “I had moved back to LA. Things, to be honest, were not going super well for me... I was getting over a breakup and struggling financially. I was Lyft driving."
At the time, DBP Donut was looking for shows to develop and Jay Duplass (who was a friend) called Phillips and asked if he wanted to do a show about how horrible his life was. Phillips said yes.
Over the course of the show's run, viewers follow the personal and professional tribulations of "Wayne," a rideshare driver with a one-star rating (something which is actually impossible for a driver on any service to hold and still be able to drive). Wayne's low ratings are a function of his commitment to what he feels is his true calling — becoming a spiritual coach and providing guidance to the hapless and hopeless citizens of Los Angeles.
While not all audiences may want to join Donut on "The Ride," the show is a sign of where production studios are going, drawn by the promise of new platforms willing to pay up for these short-form shows. That's a win for production studios like Donut and creative talent across the board.
"There are some interesting opportunities with these new quote-unquote short-form services," says Mark Duplass, Donut's co-founder and the head of Duplass Brothers Productions alongside his brother Jay. "To attract talent they have to pay really good prices and they have to give you some ownership."