What would happen if the Grim Reaper decided to ditch his stressful day job in favor of being a normal human? Stand-up comedian/actor/writer Erick Hellwig and writer/director/actor Chris Aurilio explore this premise in Death Lives
, a new comedy series that will make its New York premiere at the 2017 North Fork TV Festival
(Thursday, September 7 through Saturday, September 9).
We caught up with Aurilio and Hellwig to learn more:
What inspired Death Lives?
CA: Death Lives
started when Eric and I were doing comedy shows together at The Pit. For a couple of years we were toying with the idea of Eric playing the character "The Grim Reaper" and we decided to turn it into a larger project. At the beginning of last year (January 16), we met and discussed and started writing and rewriting and it ended up being a 22 minute pilot about "The Grim Reaper" deciding to quit his job so he could have human experiences - he still looks and sounds like "The Grim Reaper" but in this version of the character, we get to see him have a father, who's God, his mother's Mother Nature and his brother is Cupid. His sister happens to be the Easter Bunny. What we ended up doing was the first episode of a 1/2 hour sitcom about the beginning of that story.
It kind of felt like a show that we were destined to do. The show that Chris used to run for The Pit was called "The Hell." I was actually coming to watch the show and one of the things that he came up with was people would wear a Grim Reaper costume and handed out death certificates to people as they entered the theater. It would kind of be conceived as that the audience died as they walked in and whoever Chris had asked to be the Grim Reaper hadn't shown up that night, so I was walking in to see the show and he threw the cloak at me and was like can you just do this for five minutes and then from there I just fell in love with the character and the character became part of the actual performance in the show. From there we got the idea to write it.
How long did it take to write and film?
We started writing it in January of 2016 and filming started late summer of 2016. We shot for a few days and then we edited and we started doing festivals beginning in 2017.
What has the reaction been so far?
Chris Aurilio. (Courtesy Photo)
Everyone since we started putting this project together has been very supportive. As far as the festival circuit goes, the folks at North Fork - like Noah, Jerry - have been extremely supportive. We were just in Greenport last Saturday promoting the screening. People see the picture of Eric in full makeup as "The Grim Reaper" and don't quite know what to make of this show. It is on paper very dark, but it's very silly because here's this skeleton looking man with a cloak walking around the streets of New York City
taking classes and falling in love with a girl and ridiculous things like that. So it's very funny. It deals with things like death, which we like to say as we talk about the project is the ultimate punch line, and that's kind of the reaction we have - a lot of excitement for seeing this unique version of a story we might have seen a little bit before, but sort of a dark, funny look at it.
The fun part about watching people react is everyone kind of brings their own preconception about the idea of death. When we were filming this, I'm in full costume walking around in Times Square
, and there were full-grown adults that would see me and turn around and walk the other direction. I'm obviously not actually death, but people have a real reaction and kind of bring their own ideas into a project like this so it's kind of fun to watch our version of this character and how people are able to accept that and start relating to him a little bit. Some people start off pretty scared - they think it's a horror show just from the makeup. That's part of the fun, getting to break that down a little bit.
How did you decide who to cast?
For most of the main characters - the immediate family of death - which are all super natural characters - you have God, Mother Nature, Cupid, the Easter Bunny - we already had people in mind for that, but we also did want to spread our net as wide as possible so we did end up auditioning for almost every part in the series. Obviously the people that we had in mind got auditions, most of those people did end up in those roles. The actor that plays Garrett, which is Death's best friend in the show - he steals every scene he's in in the pilot - people like that, David Carl, we had in mind, and then other people in the audition process just hit a home run and they ended up in it as well. Victoria Vance, the woman that plays Mother Nature, was very much that. We had an idea for that character going in, but she ended up stealing the show at her audition. It was a mixture of people we knew from our time at The Pit and some new faces coming in and lending their talent.
What was your reaction when you learned you had been selected for the North Fork TV Festival?
We were very, very excited, especially when we started looking at the festival and seeing how exclusive the festival is - there's only four pilots being featured. We were floored. We got together as much energy and resources to be able to tell folks about this and be able to make it's out there and get the word out about it. We sort of rallied as much as when we went to shoot the thing because this is such an exciting opportunity. There's so many folks we're meeting, that we're going to meet because of this. Also, we're getting a lovely trip out of it, to be able to go to the festival and see the North Fork and Greenport, NY. It's an incredibly lovely town, which we went to for the first time last week to do some promotion. There's a ton of excitement for us.
What's next for Death Lives?
Erick Hellwig. (Courtesy Photo)
This is what we're hoping to determine at the festival. Ideally it gets picked up and we get to do it more. We're ready to tell this story and the dream would be to be able to do that as soon as possible with the team that we've had.
Chris and I work on a number of projects together, but this is one of them that definitely has a special place in our hearts. Hopefully the festival gets to be a springboard for the next version of what the pilot is. We're very excited to be a part of that.
What else are you working on?
As soon as we wrapped postproduction on Death Lives
we started working on a second pilot, which we are currently in production for, right now. Every episode is me in a different city. I'm looking for the best sports memorabilia that exists in that city, so we get to experience the different sports cultures and fan bases while looking at cool memorabilia, vintage stores, stuff like that. It's like a cool culture story built around sports.
will screen at the Greenport Theater (211 Front Street, Greenport) on Saturday, September 9 at 11:30 a.m. Tickets are $15.
For more information about Death Lives, visit www.facebook.com. For more information about the North Fork TV Festival, visit www.northfork.tv.
Nicole is the Editor-in-Chief of Hamptons.com where she focuses on lifestyle, nightlife, and mixology. She grew up in the Hamptons and currently resides in Water Mill. www.hamptons.com