Back in 2008, friends and filmmakers Scott McClure and Andrew DeVary joined the throngs of eager moviegoers lined up for a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight,” the second of director Christopher Nolan’s acclaimed Batman reboots.
The duo decided to have some fun with the occasion and dressed in costume. McClure, thanks to the bone structure in his face, thought he could pull off a decent version of Heath Ledger’s Joker. It was a better re-creation than he imagined.
“He looked crazily like Heath Ledger,” DeVary says. “At least 100 people must have come up to him for autographs or to take pictures.”
They realized they were on to something. After the movie, the pair also pondered the tragic loss of Ledger during the filming of the movie and wondered what new directions the character of the Joker could have taken had the actor remained alive.
They decided to launch a Web series, “The Joker Blogs,” co-written by McClure and DeVary and starring McClure’s eerily accurate Joker. The series opens in Gotham City’s Arkham Asylum, where Dr. Harleen Quinzel (aka Harley Quinn) is taking on the task of rehabilitating the Joker, filming her progress along the way. The Joker then finds a way to put the videos on YouTube.
DeVary says the Batman universe was fundamental to his development as a storyteller, and drew on many of them for inspiration in writing the series. McClure says the possibility of fleshing out more of the Joker’s character and atmosphere of Nolan’s movies held a big appeal for him.
“ ‘Batman Begins’ was one of my favorite movies,” McClure says. “I’d never seen anything done with that much care, and I’ve always liked Christopher Nolan as a filmmaker. What were those stories that could have been told, and what could have been done?”
“When looking at the character of the Joker throughout the ages, you realize we don’t really have a character like this, someone who always has an agenda to break down social norms,” DeVary says. “I loved the Joker being sent to an institution to be rehabilitated, but then it ends up like he’s the therapist who’s making everyone else crazy.”
Shot in McClure’s parents’ Fargo basement with no budget, the first season’s videos are low on effects but dense with dialogue, mostly in the form of monologues from the Joker. At first, fans were a little hard to come by. The first video had only garnered around 200 views within the first few weeks, and many of the comments were negative. McClure says they kept filming them, though, for their own sake.
And then, one day, the first video shot up to 4,000 views.
“Someone put it on a fan fiction or fan art page – a couple of wonderful people I’ll probably never meet – and it got into this niche group,” McClure says.
As they kept posting videos, the fans, clicks and likes followed. That first episode is just shy of 600,000 views, and the entire series has gained about 10 million views in total, McClure says.
The outpouring of response was “amazing,” he said, and the extra attention helped the filmmakers use crowdfunding to raise $30,000 toward Season 2. The influx of cash helped them dramatically raise the quality of the series.
Steven Molony, who plays Dr. Jeremy Arkham in the series and is a friend of McClure and DeVary, says the upgrade in production quality goes hand in hand with better writing and acting, including McClure’s development of the Joker. He credits the filmmakers for taking a high concept and building it out of nothing.
“Scott is very giving as a director, open to allowing me to improvise and doing things instinctually. He would play with that, too, and it was a lot of fun,” Molony says. “Fans have accepted Scott as a new Joker, and that really speaks to the quality of how the series grew and came into its own.”
The final five episodes of the second season have been a long time coming for the group, with each of them working on separate projects in the meantime, but Molony says the second season will end up “blowing the first season out of the water,” adding that they have all grown as artists and performers in that time.
McClure says four of the second season’s five episodes are filmed and waiting on some special effects, and he plans on posting three new episodes simultaneously at some point in the next few weeks.
McClure and DeVary are also hard at work on several other projects. DeVary will debut a new silent film homage to Charlie Chaplin at this year’s Fargo Film Festival, and McClure is at work on a film script and some online sketch comedy.
But “The Joker Blogs” remains high on their priority list, and the future of the series after that is up in the air.
“It’s been a really cool project, and we love it very much,” DeVary says. “We’re excited to finish it and move on to the next step.”
Images, from top: Kendra Cashmore and Scott McClure in an episode of “The Joker Blogs”; McClure as the Joker. Images courtesy of Scott McClure.
This article is part of a content partnership with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and originally appeared in the Monday, January 6, 2015 issue of the paper.