Tynan DeLong Dives into the Making of the Comfortingly Uncomfortable Comedy Dad & Step-Dad

Comedy Features Dad & Step-Dad
Tynan DeLong Dives into the Making of the Comfortingly Uncomfortable Comedy Dad & Step-Dad

At the start of the improvised comedy film Dad & Step-Dad, the titular pair, Jim and Dave, greet each other while both sporting well-kempt goatees and khakis—they would’ve also been wearing the same type of dorky, rectangular sunglasses, except Jim notices Dave’s shades and sneakily removes the clip-on part of his specs. The two men are “basically are the same guys, but there’s a fundamental disconnect between them that [makes it so] they’re not realizing that,” the film’s director and editor, Tynan DeLong, tells me over Zoom. 

Dad & Step-Dad is DeLong’s feature-length debut, but he’s been making movies since he was in high school. He graduated from his Hi8 camera days to studying documentary filmmaking in college, and later he moved to New York and started doing stand-up. Once in the comedy scene, DeLong’s interests turned to directing sketches instead, and he found himself inspired by the short films featured on NoBudge, an alternative streaming platform that caters to low budget filmmakers. DeLong took a leap, quitting his job in 2018 to pursue creating his own shorts. 

One such project was the Dad & Step-Dad series, originally thought up by Anthony Oberbeck, who plays Dave (the step-dad). Colin Burgess stars opposite him as the dad, Jim, and Brian Fiddyment plays the kid, Branson. Notably, Fiddyment is not a child—he’s very clearly a man—but his physicality and commitment to the role means that you quickly forget that, à la Pen15. The early sketches, all available on DeLong’s YouTube channel, feature Jim and Dave awkwardly trying to show up for Branson while also low-key vying for his affections—save for some rare moments, like when they meet up with Branson’s principal (Ikechukwu Ufomadu) and end up defending each other.

“[Dad & Step-Dad] started as a very low stakes, low pressure thing, just us getting together on the weekend, shooting a short. The chemistry and vibes were there, and we liked it so much that we did another one, and we did another one after that. And as we went on, we started generating ideas and world building about where these guys could go and their relationship arc and their backstory, because none of that stuff was there in the very beginning,” the Brooklyn-based director explains. 

Once lockdown began to lift, DeLong and the rest of the Dad & Step-Dad team decided it was time to do a feature, which also meant they needed to flesh out Jim and Dave as characters. For Oberbeck, that meant writing diary entries as Dave and penning a fake letter to Suzie (Clare O’Kane), Branson’s mom. Burgess instead threw himself into the costuming side of things to help him figure out who exactly Jim is as a person.

The movie itself follows Jim, Dave, Branson, and Suzie as they spend a long weekend together upstate, and the tensions between the first two become more and more apparent as the days wear on. There were only 11 crew members in total on the shoot, including DeLong, and they all stayed in the same AirBnb while filming (“I know the whole ‘felt like summer camp thing’ is cliche, but you know, it was true,” DeLong says). Some key emotional beats were rehearsed beforehand—including a moment of connection between Jim and Dave as well as a funny yet tender talk about sexuality with Branson and Suzie—but Dad & Step-Dad was largely improvised. 

“As a director, I wanted to give them the freedom to explore and figure out what was exciting for them in the scene,” DeLong tells me. “So I would often stand back and let them do their thing and I wouldn’t stop them, because with those sorts of improvised things, the momentum and the energy that they’re drawing from each other is so important that to stop that hinders the process.”

He continues: “The thing about improvised scenes is that oftentimes, [actors] back themselves into a corner, and wouldn’t have an idea of where to go. And that’s where the best things come from, because they’re stuck in their corner, gotta figure out what to say, and something great comes out. For example, when they’re talking in the living room, and Anthony has that line, ‘Age of consent in this household is 13,’—that wasn’t in the outline. It’s a great line, and really funny and everyone really laughed at it, and we were like, ‘We gotta keep that.’ So you just let them have fun and explore in those earlier takes, then on the final two takes, you really feel like you’ve got enough to go off of and streamline the take so it’s stronger, more dialed in, more concise.”  

DeLong also edited the film—a hefty task considering the improvisation element, but he had plenty of experience from the earlier shorts. He dove in, aiming for a consistency in takes that would make Dad & Step-Dad feel as documentary-like as possible, while also maximizing laughs. 

“The thing about editing a comedy is like, time is your best friend. So the things you think are really funny at the beginning, as time wears on, it’s like, ‘Ah it’s not so funny anymore, we can cut that,’” DeLong says. 

As a result, Dad & Step-Dad’s runtime is less than 80 minutes, and there’s no dead weight to be found. The strained, hilarious scenes featuring Jim, Dave, Branson, and Suzie are sandwiched between comparatively serene and pastoral shots of upstate New York, dreamily soundtracked by Celia Hollander.

Watching Dad & Step-Dad, DeLong seems to have achieved his goal of crafting a comfort movie—in spite, or perhaps because of, the deeply uncomfortable interactions between the well-meaning Jim and Dave.

Dad & Step-Dad is available now on NoBudge, Apple TV, Amazon, and Vimeo.

Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast and Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.

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