The actors involved with surreal comedy series Marvin? had varied reactions upon first seeing a casting call for the show on, of all places, Instagram.
“(Co-star Cameron Tharma and I) exchanged a few messages like ‘is this a real thing? It seems a bit dodgy,'” Sven Ironside tells Den of Geek.
Meanwhile, Amsterdam-based Sarah Rose felt a pull towards her first-ever acting role: “I saw an Instagram ad that said ‘we’re looking for someone to play a stoner girl’ and I was like ‘Woah, I don’t even have to play anything I can just show up.'”
If the casting process for Marvin? sounds fairly atypical that’s because it is, along with the production of the show, itself. While the idea of “independent cinema” produced away from the Hollywood industrial complex has been a viable concept pretty much since the medium’s inception, the world of television has never really spawned a comparable “indie TV movement.” That’s likely because the gatekeepers of television – the studios, streamers, networks, and newsmakers – all have a pretty tight control on the channels of distribution.
Sure, anyone can make an episodic story with their friends and upload it to YouTube or Vimeo, but we already have a name for that: web series. An honest-to-goodness television pilot without the backing of a major industry studio is a much rarer breed indeed. Enter: Marvin?
Created, written, and directed by Dutch filmmaker Anton van der Linden, Marvin? is the tale of two young friends in Amsterdam, Dave (Tharma), and Sam (Rose), who are struggling with their relative lack of success in comparison to their social media peers. That all changes one day when Sam scrounges a vintage refrigerator to replace their currently broken one. Dave and Sam come to discover that the fridge, which they dub “Marvin,” has magical, wish-granting properties that can manifest all of the dreams … for better or worse.
According to van der Linden, the concept of Marvin? arose from his attempts to grapple with his own struggles with substance abuse and difficulties in accepting his sexuality.
“Someone once told me they didn’t think I seemed gay and I used to be proud of that,” van der Linden says. “Dave and Sam are my struggles when I grew up. Dave is the part of me that struggled with being queer and Sam is the part of me that struggled with addictions. My hope for this series to inspire young people to give them the courage to be who they are.”
In earlier drafts, the refrigerator was actually going to be merely a dream-granting box and the show would be known as “The Box.” But the development of the box into Marvin the magical refrigerator added a more materialistic weight to the proceedings.
“Even if it’s magical, there’s still an element of when you open any fridge of ‘I don’t know what’s in here,'” Ironside, who plays Dave’s boss Lesley says. “Very often it’s disappointment but sometimes you’re like ‘Oh I forgot about that!”
“The idea of the fridge is that it’s the ultimate domestic object in the home,” producer George Anthony Gottl adds. “For us, we wanted to show the struggles of youth and everything that’s happening with social media. There’s so much pressure on kids that, by age 25, they have to have their private jet and fly to the Bahamas. The fridge represents this banal object that can literally give them everything they dream of.”
The Marvin? pilot hails from van der Linden and Gottl’s TV production imprint Explorers of the Unfound, which financed and produced the experimental project. Gottl, an American ex-pat based in Amsterdam (and former Creative Director of Apparel at Nike), says they created the company as a way to support young, undiscovered voices with a focus on queer talent.
“We want to create things that are creative, unique, and different. There’s a lot of fantastic franchises out there and you don’t need another production company doing that,” he says. “Heroes like A24 that are producing amazing films and, thank God, getting the recognition they deserve. That’s where we want to go.”
The 21-minute Marvin? pilot was completely self-funded through Explorers of the Unfound, giving van der Linden and the crew complete freedom to create a showcase of their idea. The crew has a series bible for nine future episodes of a hypothetical first season and has started thinking about the potential for future seasons beyond that. Gottl acknowledges that, should the show get picked up by a major streaming entity or network, flexibility and compromise will surely follow. For now, however, the show’s cast is enjoying the experience of crafting truly independent television.
“Proper indie filmmaking is dying but in Europe and Amsterdam there’s such an opportunity for indie television to really flourish,” Tharma says. “George and Anton have this wonderful vision. That’s where the show is going. It’s just a really exciting thing to be a part of. It needs to survive. It needs to live.”
The Marvin? pilot first premiered March 12 at the SXSW Film and TV Festival. It has not yet been picked up to series by a distributor.