I met Nolan North in the summer of 2015. To be honest, I didn’t know who the hell he was. That was my fault, not his. Alan Tudyk and I were casting the role of a voice actor for episode 8 of Con Man, season one. The episode was titled, Voiced Over and thanks to Nolan, it’s one of the funniest episodes of the entire series.
But Nolan wasn’t supposed to be in Con Man.
Alan had first cast a well-known celebrity for the role. A celebrity whose name I can no longer remember since I can only see Nolan in the role of Jerry Lansing now. Alan came back to the production office and announced that he had changed the name of the character and offered the role to Nolan North after meeting him at a voice over session in Hollywood.
My response was, “Who the fuck is Nolan North!”
Alan was adamant though. Nolan was his man. There was no changing it and I’m glad we never did.
When I first met Nolan on set, it was an instant bromance. Nolan is simply that charming and open. There is no pretense. You know what you get, and man can he make people laugh. Especially, Alan.
Anyway, Nolan went on to crush the role of Jerry Lansing on Con Man for two seasons, and when it was over, Nolan and I wanted to continue working together.
We had to.
We met often to discuss what was next for us. The meetings always involved alcohol, but we did kick around several different story ideas. A lot, actually. Finally, we settled in on the gaming world. At one point, the two of us were in negotiation to secure the animation rights to Uncharted, but when that fell through (not our fault), we decided to make a YouTube show. This show would follow Nolan North around the Naughty Dog studios as he interviewed the people whose jobs you never heard of in the gaming world. For example, the guy who spent his entire day working on Nathan Drake’s facial expression. That’s a lot of time starring into Nolan’s eyes!
I remember having lunch with Nolan and his wife, Jill in LA as we all agreed to move in this direction.
It didn’t happen. And for a good reason.
I went back to my studio and told Drew Lewis about the plans. Drew and I had built a studio in Lake Forest, CA to create content for ourselves and we were currently working on another show called Your Mystical Guide. Drew nodded, said, “cool” and went back to editing. Drew is a man of few words. The next day, however, Drew asked if I “had a minute”, and then proceeded to pitch a new show idea for Nolan. We sat in the office together and he laid out the show we shoot today. Verbatim.
It was a brilliant idea. I went back to Nolan. He loved it as well.
Now, the producer in me had to figure out how to pay for this show. How were we gonna get it off the ground? I wasn’t actually rolling in money when we made this decision. Alan didn’t want to make any more Con Man, I had pissed away my commercial production company, Redbear Films while working on Con Man, and Your Mystical Guide wasn’t the hit it was supposed to be. But when Drew presented me with a set design for the show, I knew we had to find a way to get the money.
We needed to build, and light, a multiple camera set. It wasn’t going to be cheap.
After a quick budget, I went to Nolan who cut me a check for a portion of the cost and I put the rest on credit cards –never a wise thing to do. It worked out for us, but I repeat: never a wise thing to do.
Drew reached out to his long -time friend and production designer from Kentucky, Alison Scowby. After weeks of Pinterest boards and mock-ups, they landed on the basement you know today.
Drew and I started building the set of Retro Replay in Oct of 2017.
Our first episode did not come out until April of 2018. The set was framed with flats from season two of Con Man. I find it ironic that it was the same set built for the episode with Liam McIntyre who now has his own show on Retro Replay: Get Good. We stressed over every detail. The type of plywood for the basement… the lamp…the bar… the only thing we didn’t get was a neon Retro Replay sign for the wall.
We couldn’t afford it.
We began to piece it all together. We bought the couch from a college student using a truck Drew and I rented. We found the TV at a senior care community – another truck rental. I stole the lamp from my bedroom and Drew dragged all his old games and consoles out of storage. Man, he had a lot.
Finally, we were ready to shoot a test. A trial. Anything to get started. We really wanted to begin filming. We called Nolan and set a date to shoot.
A day or two before the shoot, Nolan called me with some reservations. He was worried the show wouldn’t work if it didn’t have guests. He wanted to have someone else on the couch with to talk to.
Enter Troy Baker.
Nolan and Troy arrived on the day of the first shoot. Everyone was excited. Troy suggested using a live audience for the show. At first, there was a little confusion as to what the show would be. I looked at the set Drew and I had toiled over for 6 months and said, “Let’s do a test. Tell everyone on social media you are going live with a new “thing” and if 5000 people tune in, will you do the show?”
30,000 people tuned in to watch Retro Replay for the first time.
We knew we had something.
At this point in the movie, we normally see the success montage: screaming fans, our name in lights, and trucks filled with cash. For us, it didn’t happen that way. It has been a slow build driven by an obsession to make great, quality content, and the desire to make people laugh.
I have one rule on all of my sets. Have fun. Life is too short to spend day after day creating something if it’s not fun. Everyone on Retro Replay takes that to heart and because of it, we have an amazing time with an amazing crew.
But even bigger than that, is our community. We set out on day one to be dedicated to the people who watch Retro Replay. Every decision we make, we do it with them in mind. Will they like it? Does it have value? Is it good enough?
That’s what drives us.
It’s the love of the Retro Replay community that makes us work nights, and weekends, and holidays. That’s what got us here, today. Are we rich yet? Kind of. Not in money (hell, no) but we are having a ball.