Burnett producer Basham rides ‘Man with a Van’ to Austin film festival

John Ennis is the ‘Man With A Van’

Come March, “Man with a Van,” a comedy short with sitcom ambitions, starts out on the festival route. The Aspen Comedy Festival was scheduled to be its first stop, but the festival rejected its application. Not because “Man” wasn’t worthy, but because the fest only programmed 60- and 10-minute films. That’s show biz.

A festival run and prizes along the way would make executive producer Bryan Basham, a Leo Burnett producer, and partners Kevin Braverman, Mark Tobin, and L.A. comedian John Ennis very happy. A final destination as a TV comedy series would make them ecstatic.

“Man in the Van” is the story of “Paul,” played by Ennis. “Paul” is a good-natured kind of small-town nebish, who lives in the basement of his mother’s home and uses his red van to help the neighbors move. And that leads him into outrageous conspiracies and crimes that he attempts to solve.

Basham’s odyssey from 30-spots to comedy maven began a year ago when he met Ennis, who was one of several L.A. actors hired for a regional McDonald’s spot he was producing. The two became friends and hung out together whenever Basham was in L.A. Naturally, they talked shop. Like how great it would be to produce a movie. A comedy. Maybe even a sitcom.

A light bulb popped over Ennis’ head. His friend, comedy writer Chuck Sklar, had written a very funny sitcom pilot that Fox FX had optioned. But when Fox was unable to find a suitable star, the option lapsed and the script reverted back to Sklar.

Basham bought the script from Sklar, a Northbrook native who had made his chops as a standup comic in New York and graduated to writing shows for the likes of Conan and Chris Rock. He wanted to make his directorial debut on what would now be a short film.

The production company, Bug in a Cup LLC, was formed among Basham, Braverman, who had just started working at Filmworkers Club, Tobin, a co-owner of Static Studio, and Ennis.

Money was raised by Basham “calling a few people and pulling a few strings,” he says. He won’t reveal the budget, except to say it was so low it was “a small miracle” as to how far it stretched.

A local crew was hired and production kicked off the first week in October during Basham’s week vacation from the agency. “We spent “16 hour days crammed into six days,” says Basham. Braverman produced and Tobin was assistant director.

DP Kurt Branstetter shot on 16mm in and around the Oak Park area that serves as Paul’s small home town. Machete editor Marty Bernstein, who was creative editor, generously lent his basement as the location for Paul’s digs.

Among the actors were Chicago’s GQ and “Will and Grace” writer Laura Kightlinger as the female lead.

Bernstein’s 30 days of editing were woven in between working on three major commercials. “Just to get things loaded and a first cut takes a good amount of time,” he says. “Not just time with the machine, but the thought process that goes on and lives in your head. Given the limited coverage, he was surprised at how well everything came together ? a bow to the director and production team.

Steve Mullin of Steve Ford Music composed the score and gave the comedy caper a retro film noir mood. Filmworkers Club finished.

Producing the comedy short enabled Basham to fulfill his personal ambition to make films. But as satisfying an experience as it was, and dreams of a network series aside, Basham is very content with his life as an agency producer.

He’s been at Burnett for three years, working primarily on Kellogg’s commercials, and comes from a background in music videos and in local production. Making his first film, he says, was a labor of love. The next one will definitely have a bigger budget.