The Intentionally Awful Action of Tim Heidecker's Decker

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Tim Heidecker has high praise for the second season of his online series Decker: “It’s not just a bunch of shit.”

If you missed Decker’s first season, it’s an intentionally incompetent action film made by and starring Tim Heidecker’s character Tim Heidecker, the petty, depressing, right-wing host of the online show On Cinema. Sick of liberal Hollywood and its refusal to make patriotic action films, Heidecker creates Decker, whose short chapters are full of stilted dialogue, laughable special effects and #TCOT talking points. You don’t have to have seen On Cinema to find it funny, but you’ll miss out on some of its depth if you aren’t familiar with the Tim Heidecker who hosts that show. We talked to Heidecker (the man, not the character) about the second season, which started this week.

Paste: What can we expect from the new season of Decker?

b>Tim Heidecker: You can expect a lot of them. We made a shitload. We’re trying a different experiment in making a lot of very short episodes, and there’s obviously something really funny that we did in the first season with very little story movement and a lot of cliffhangers and recaps, a lot of intentional padding that’s really funny to us. That we think really plays well in this format of short bursts. But we’re going to release them every day during the week for a while. Another joke is to not really tell you how many we’re making, so you don’t know when it’ll wrap up. It just kind of feels like it might go on forever.

Paste: Yeah, I’ve been sent links to five so far.

Heidecker: If you triple that you’ll get close. And then the other thing we did was we went to Hawaii to make this which truthfully was a bit of a con job on our part. “Let’s see if we can convince Adult Swim to send us to Hawaii to shoot this thing,” and they did. So we went there with the intention of just really having a vacation and shooting this on the side. One of the original ideas was to do lots of vacation-y, touristy things, like paragliding and ziplining and jet skis and stuff, low-impact versions of all those things. But of course as soon as you start actually planning everything it just consumes everything else. Your ideas start becoming too big and it becomes actual work. It becomes actual work to make even this, which is really low on the quality scale.

Paste: How much work does it take to make it look like you put no work into something?

Heidecker: It doesn’t take much work, but our ideas made it so that there was just a lot to do, a lot to cover, a lot of locations, getting into Pearl Harbor, lighting fires on beaches without permission, and kind of like making a student film, because we didn’t have a big budget. We had a very small budget, so even making something shitty became pretty hard because you’re short-staffed and you don’t have a lot of resources. And you’re also not shooting in your backyard, you’re shooting out of your comfort zone, so those all made it challenging. But then when we actually got to do it my notes to the DP and everything were like “don’t worry about close-ups because when we edit it we’re just going to zoom in,” you know. We’ll digitally zoom in for close-ups. And that kind of stuff, you can’t get too fancy when you’re making it, because the magic happens when the genius editor gets it and goes “I’ve got to make this work somehow” and slap on all kind of sad effects and zoom in for close-ups and reframe things in certain ways and use stock footage. Giving him those options are what makes it so funny.

Paste: How hands on are you with the editing?

Heidecker: We send everything to the editor, who never gets acknowledgement because the credits are never very accurate. He’s this dude Sascha Stanton-Craven. He’s edited all the On Cinema stuff and all the Decker stuff. He’s just gotten it from the beginning. He’s a really funny, instinctual guy. The process is we get him the link, because he’s in New York, and generally it’s like Christmas, we get a link back and we haven’t seen the footage too much, we just hope for the best, and we watch the link and like nine times out of ten it’s perfect. It’s exactly right. And a few times you have some notes and ideas, let’s try this or add that, but he’s just so good that he’s usually ahead of us.

Paste: What was your favorite action show when you were growing up?

Heidecker: I was a huge fan of The A-Team. That was probably my favorite show. We would play The A-Team. That was a good activity in the backyard.

Paste: Were you a Murdock guy or BA? Who was your dude?

Heidecker: I was a Hannibal. I think I was Hannibal. I might have been Murdock. I loved them both. I didn’t care for Faceman too much, y’know. I liked the crazy guy and the guy with the cigar and “I love it when a plan comes together.” Just classic.

Paste: How many takes does it take to get the right bad take?

Heidecker: No more than one or two. The process we’ve done which has worked is to write the dialogue but not memorize it. And either read it off camera or have it read to you so you have to repeat it and it just has a real wooden quality to it. Joe Estevez, though, is actually good, and he comes prepared, so there’s a weird balance where some people are trying harder than other people. It’s all part of this grand comedy idea that exists in Decker and On Cinema which is that everybody’s kind of caught in my web and it’s a sad and depressing place to be because it’s so full of failure and dysfunction. But it seems like all these people have nothing else.

Paste: That’s a huge part of your entire body of work, looking at failure and sad people who don’t realize their dream. Why does that appeal to you?

Heidecker: It’s very fundamental to comedy. It’s literally guys falling on a banana peel. It’s when things go wrong. There’s a serious way of looking at that and a funny way. Things that go right aren’t funny. Things that work? There’s no comedy there. Comedy is about things breaking, thins falling apart, things failing, not going as planned. To us the more real you make that feel, the more you can become absorbed in it.

Paste: Speaking of that kind of comedy, I’ve been a big Neil Hamburger fan for 15, 20 years now. So do you and Gregg Turkington [who plays Neil Hamburger and is the co-star of On Cinema and Decker] write Decker together?

Heidecker: Yeah. That’s the most fun part, you sit around and talk out what’s going to happen and some things are fun to leave open and know that it’s just going to be funny in the way it’s put together, and some things are conceptually funny. Like how does Gregg from On Cinema become captured into Decker and how his influence affects the way this show goes. It’s stuff that we actually think and talk about a lot and put a lot into the depth of it even though it might appear to be this very tossed off thing. It’s quite layered. It might not be that way for a lot of people but the people who get the layers and see the layers will be really satisfied and rewarded by it.

Paste: Were you a fan of Gregg’s before you got to know him?

Heidecker: I was a huge fan. The two hardest times I’ve ever laughed in public were one of the first times I saw him at some club in LA, El Cid I think, and I was just screaming. I couldn’t breathe it was so funny. And the other moment was Fred Armisen at some club years and years ago doing this musicology character, this guy explaining music and why he knows music better than you do. Those two, I was jumping up and down I was laughing so hard.

Paste: When you get somebody like [Decker co-star] Joe Estevez, do they ever worry that they’re going to be the butt of the joke?

Heidecker: I don’t think so. First of all he gets it and thinks it’s really funny and has a self-awareness. Like one of the jokes is that he’s playing the President and his brother is Martin Sheen who famously played the President on TV, and he gets that that’s funny. He has a very healthy self-awareness and self-deprecating type of view. And he’s a super nice guy and up for anything and likes doing the work. I don’t know how much he cares about what the perception is as much as it’s fun to work with us. It’s an easy day. He gets to be a bad actor, which is a fun thing to get to do and be rewarded and appreciated for. He’s painting the scenery. He just gets to be silly and stupid and that’s a fun thing to do. As long as we’re all on that same level in our performances then I don’t think it feels exploitative. It just feels consistent.

Paste: Do you see Decker as something that could exist for many seasons to come?

Heidecker: We have ideas that go beyond this season and it’s a good template to play around with. There’s so much there there, you know. So much to mine and the relationships between the on-screen characters and the characters that are making the show and where it can naturally keep getting worse, or keep getting more production value that is not used appropriately. Something that’s funny to us is there is a fair amount of production value going into this second season. It’s not just a bunch of shit. There’s a strange combination of like “that was a nice looking show! Why could they have done the rest of it like that?” We have a drone-infused theme, capturing the beauty of the islands of Hawaii. If anybody wants to keep making this we’ll be ready to make more and it’s really fun to do.

Garrett Martin edits Paste’s games and comedy sections. Follow him on Twitter @grmartin.

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