Chicago’s T.W. Li was behind camera of Trio Network’s first original comedy series

When the Trio cable network rolled out its first original comedy series “Pilot Season” on Labor Day, it was local DP T.W. Li behind the verit?-style camerawork.

He shot each of six half-hour episodes, which air several times on an irregular schedule through November.

Li has been a regular collaborator of “Pilot Season” creator/star Sam Seder, who co-hosts “The Majority Report” with Janeane Garofalo on Air America Radio. He was co-DP on Seder’s 1997 Aspen Comedy Fest- honored indie feature “Who’s the Caboose?”, which premiered on Trio Sept. 5 to set the stage for the rollout of “Pilot Season.”

T.W. Li

In “Caboose,” a showbiz sendup masquerading as a film student doc, Seder’s character reluctantly trails his actress girlfriend, played by his real-life ex Sarah Silverman (“School of Rock”), from New York to Los Angeles for pilot season, gets dumped and becomes her manager.

“The world of television is so ridiculous and so desperate that it makes the behind the scenes characters so much more complicated and funny than anybody onscreen,” Li said.

Andy Dick in “Pilot Season”

“Pilot Season” continues the fake doc technique from “Caboose?”, following the same characters seven years later, very much bought-in to the Hollywood ethos but still struggling to make it big. “Caboose?” cast David Cross (“Mr. Show”), Andy Dick (“News Radio”), and Jon Benjamin (“Home Movies”) reprise their roles as various industry low-lifes.

“Shooting with these guys, comedy is the most important thing,” Li said. “When they’re improvising, you have to be ready to shoot when they’re ready to shoot or the comedy suffers. It liberated us from trying to make things too perfect and allowed us to embrace a lot of randomness.”

“Sam told me to consider my camera as the snare drum in a standup routine,” Li continued. ” A lot of times I knew what would happen but acted like I didn’t. The pace at which you reveal things adds to the comedy.”

Li came to Chicago to teach cinematography at Columbia College from 2000 until this year. He has shot 13 features and more than 75 commercials, mostly on the East Coast. His first feature was Brad Anderson’s 1996 Sundance selection “The Darien Gap.”

Li first worked with Seder on a short for MTV’s series “Apartment 2F,” and also shot parts of Seder’s HD doc-style USA comedy pilot “Beat Cops,” and his ill- fated 2001 blowing-up-a-building romantic comedy “The Bad Situationist.”

Li is currently shooting Columbia professor Wenhwa Tsao’s short “Wonton,” about Chinese restaurant workers escaping an immigration raid. Since March he has been co-directing the doc “Relative Truth” with Kari Sommers, about a downstate Illinois woman on trial for the murder of her three children. “It’s about the economics of justice ? they’re deciding this woman’s punishment based on the cost to the town,” Li said. “My secret fantasy is that it could be a reality show.”

Reach Li at For a “Pilot Season” schedule, see schedules/sched.php3?search=pilot_season.

? by Ed M. Koziarski,