INTERVIEW: The Magicians Director Shannon Kohli Discusses New Feature Film All Joking Aside

All Joking Aside is a comedy-drama from director Shannon Kohli (The Magicians, Supergirl) about an up-and-coming comedian and a comedian on the rocks bringing out the best in each other.

Raylene Harewood (Legends of Tomorrow) plays Charlie in All Joking Aside. Charlie is a smart young woman taking her first shot at stand up comedy. Bob, played by Brian Markinson (Continuum), is a top-notch heckler in the sparse audience. Charlie and Bob’s paths cross again, where Bob takes the opportunity to troll Charlie some more. Charlie digs into Bob, learning that he’s a failed comedian. Soon, the pair form sort of odd-couple relationship that ends up uplifting both their lives.

PopAxiom spoke with Shannon Kohli about becoming a director, working in TV, and her first feature film, All Joking Aside.

Passion

Shannon new up in Geneva, Switzerland, where she says, “there weren’t many films being made there.” But the would-be director admits, “I loved anything to do with films. I researched everything. I watched everything.”

“We only had one English speaking channel,” Shannon says, diving into the kinds of films she grew up watching, “and it was Ted Turner Classics. I grew up on all the old classic films.”

Shannon was no doubt a cinephile, but also “loved photography. I got my first camera when I was six-years-old. I was always going out and taking photos. It was always a passion.”

“But I didn’t think I could make it a reality and a career,” she says, due to the lack of a film community in Geneva. That changed when Shannon “moved to Vancouver and went to the University of British Colombia. I was enrolled in economics, and soon as I got to Vancouver and saw all these film productions happening on the streets, I joined the film society at university and met a whole bunch of film people.”

A year or so into economics, Shannon “ended up switching to the film program.” Her dive into the Canadian film world was full steam. “At the same time, I was volunteering on the weekends and my days off on different sets. And quickly that lead to getting paid work in lighting.”

“I was getting all this theory at school,” she says, “but then I saw the real world while working on different TV shows and features. It was a great learning experience. Once I entered the film world, I knew I was hooked. I knew it was going to be a lifelong passion.”

raylene harewood-shannon kohli-all joking aside

Directing

Shannon’s directorial debut happened at university. “To get into the film program, you had to submit a film that you directed. So, I wrote a script and asked a friend to be in it. The film society came together to help me. That was my first directing experience.”

Now in the film program with only fifteen or so other students, Shannon “specialized a little more in cinematography, but I was always directing on the side doing music videos and short films.”

A few years ago, Shannon directed her first episode of TV with an episode of Shadowhunters. What’s it like coming in to direct one out of many episodes of a series? “It can be daunting. You’re the new kid at school. All the cast and the crew have been working together for, sometimes, years.”

“You get about a week-and-a-half to prep,” Shannon takes us into the world of a TV director, “so it’s a lot of meetings. Sometimes you get a script in advance; sometimes, you get it the day before. Then the next day, you’re sitting in these huge meetings being asked how you want to film this and do that.”

Preparation is vital for working in the film industry and perhaps nowhere else as much as on television. “I watch every episode of a show before I start, so I have a good idea of the style. They often send you a reference book with color palettes or, in the case of Supergirl because it’s a comic book, there’s information about camera movements.”

Shannon’s worked on Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow, and The Magicians, all shows backed by major studios. All Joking Aside is Shannon’s first feature, and it’s an indie production. “The big difference with All Joking Aside was that since it’s an indie feature, we were figuring out a lot of different departments. I had more creative input in it but a lot less support and backing. We didn’t have a big studio or network behind us saying, ‘Yes, do it, it’s no problem.’”

“You have to be solution-based,” Shannon says about indie filmmaking. “If we lost a location, we had to think about where we could do the scene without producers who could say, ‘Oh, yeah, no problem, we can just do it here’ or ‘we can build a set for it.’”

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About All Joking Aside

Shannon’s connection to All Joking Aside began through producer Jon Ornoy. “I’ve known Jon for a long time. He approached me about directing it. He’d optioned the script from InkTip, a place where writers can post tagline and synopsis of scripts they want to sell. It was from writer James Pickering. Jon adapted the script with James for New York. It was a great collaboration.”

Initial discussions about making All Joking Aside included a lot of adapting it for the United States. “A lot of the comedy was very British, so it didn’t translate to American characters.”

“Also, when we cast the characters,” she adds, “we were looking for the actors to bring a lot to the table. It’s difficult to write comedy, but it’s even more difficult to write comedy for other people. So, it was great when we cast Raylene Harewood and Brian Markinson, who could bring a lot. They had great ideas.”

All Joking Aside takes place in and around the beautiful city of New York. However, beauty sometimes comes with quirks. “At the duck pond, it was one of the coldest days of the year, and the pond was frozen over. So, instead of getting ducks swimming, we had ducks sliding around on the ice. We went with it. It’s pretty comical.”

“None of the ducks wanted to come near us,” Shannon says, “because they were staying huddled together for warmth. I went over and tried to entice them to come over. That was pretty funny too.”

What’s something Shannon will do differently for her next feature film? “All Joking Aside, because of the budget limits, I wish we had more days. I will fight for more days for my next feature.”

“It’s always time,” Shannon declares about the biggest enemy of any TV or film production.

Wrapping Up

“Growing up, Katherine Bigelow was a director who stood out for me,” Shannon says about one of the influences flowing through her filmmaking veins. “I loved Near Dark; I watched it so many times. Point Break was such a different film. I thought, wow, here’s a woman who’s out there making great action films. She’s always been a role model for me as a director. She was one who said ‘I can do anything.’”

Shannon focused on cinematography early on, “so I love watching films for the cinematography. Films like Delicatessen from Darius Khondji or Roger Deakins. Now is an exciting time; a lot of opportunities have opened.”

“I love biopics,” Shannon admits when asked about a dream project, “anything based around real characters. The Hedy Lamar biopic would’ve been fascinating to direct.”

All Joking Aside is available on a digital service near you. So, what’s next for Shannon? “I’m attached to direct a feature called Love Bomb based on the play by Meghan Gardiner. I’m directing two episodes of Another Life for Netflix.”

Is All Joking Aside on your watch list?

Thanks to Shannon Kohli and October Coast
for making this interview possible.

Read more interviews from Ruben R. Diaz!

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Ruben Diaz
Writer, film-fanatic, geek, gamer, info junkie & consummate Devil's advocate who has been fascinated by Earth since 1976. Classically trained in the ways of the future.

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