Under the Tres Gatos banner, Pooley and Jarvis made several comedy shorts, including “Space Force.” When the pandemic hit, they saw an opportunity to do something bigger – the company’s first feature film. “Some of these guys who traveled the country all year for comedy were being punished,” Jarvis explains. “We decided we really needed to take the opportunity to shoot a movie together.”
Pooley, Jarvis, Baxter, Noonan and Rodrigues started brainstorming ideas, deciding on the concept of door-to-door sellers as they could shoot outside. Next, it was up to Pooley and Jarvis to write about the cast’s strengths. “Once we had that scaffolding and figured out what kind of characters each wanted to play,” Jarvis explains, “that’s when we went and Rob and I wrote a script pretty quickly.
The film is an intimate and fun character study about a group of salespeople trying to avoid settling for dead-end jobs. You can laugh at the more silly elements, mostly involving a sleazy cult leader, and appreciate that the movie never lets those moments overtake the humanity of its protagonists.
“I think that’s going to surprise a lot of people,” Baxter says. “There are definitely some silly bits, but to me it’s very down to earth.”
Fans of Boston’s stand-up scene might recognize the tracks and have fun spotting supporting characters and cameos from Tony V, Brad Mastrangelo, Rob Crean and Chris Tabb.
Pooley and Jarvis had to overcome the logistical hurdles of filming during the worst months of the pandemic in 2020 on a budget that Jarvis said was “very low five figures”.
They decided to shoot in black and white, partly to emphasize the intimacy of the script, and partly for practical reasons. “Because Rob and I were the whole team,” says Jarvis, “it helped us create images that we thought were captivating and fun to watch, but took the burden off in terms of the amount of lighting, the design production and costumes.”
Noonan was surprised by the ambitious nature of the project. “I thought we were doing a 45-minute pilot until I showed up to shoot on day one,” he says, “and I’m like, ‘This script is pretty thick,’ and they’re like, ‘ Oh, yeah, we’re shooting the 90-minute movie.'”
Filming was a collaboration between the actors, who all took their real names for their characters, and Jarvis, tweaking from scene to scene. The fact that Baxter, Noonan, and Rodrigues are true friends helped their on-screen chemistry. Rodrigues points to a scene in which Noonan’s character has to defend himself against a cocky assistant. Some of the improvisation extended from Rodrigues feeling protective of Noonan. “It just seemed appropriate,” he says. “Like, he’s our friend, and this guy is going after our friend.”
The performances seem natural, which isn’t always obvious when stand-up comedians act for a camera. It helps that Noonan, Rodrigues and Kavanagh all studied acting. Baxter was the newcomer among the four, and he gives a laid-back, engaging performance as a crestfallen salesman who moonlights as a poet. He still finds it hard to believe his more seasoned friends when they praise his acting work.
“They constantly had to tell me, ‘No, Orlando, you’re fine!’ I’m like, ‘Come on, man! I can do it again!’ It was a comfortable experience to be with friends, he says, “but it was also difficult because they’re so damn good.” You want to be on equal footing.
Kavanagh’s character is an outsider when introduced as a new member of the sales team. She succeeds immediately, and challenges the group. But she’s no foil, she’s welcome and becomes a proxy for the audience, reacting to the group’s most bizarre moments.
“Salesmen” was written, shot and acted by Bostonians, but it doesn’t fit the stereotypes of Boston that are so blatant in some mainstream films. There are no drone shots of the Citgo sign and Fenway Park, or Southie tough guys with over-the-top accents. “You get that kind of salty flavor of who people in Boston and New England are without, you know, Johnny Depp slaying ‘Pahk ya cah in Hahvahd Yahd,'” Kavanagh explains.
Filming during the pandemic was a challenge. There have been frequent temperature checks and visits to drive-thru COVID testing facilities. But there were a few perks, like being able to sit in a bar with friends when nothing was open. “I didn’t even want to leave the set that day,” says Noonan.
Jarvis, Pooley and the comedians would all love to work together again, possibly forming an ensemble for several future movies. “Our dream would definitely be to leverage that,” says Jarvis. “We have some feature film project ideas that would have a little bit bigger reach, a little bit bigger budget than, like, the loose quarters we spent on that, but still developing our comedic voice and putting in featured some of the same local talent.