Something peculiar happened earlier this year that had everybody excitedly looking for jury duty. No, there was not a sudden shift in mindset about our often-dreaded civic duty – something else was in play here. This change in attitude was in set into motion by the surprise hit Freevee series, Jury Duty. The hybrid comedy/hoax intricately staged in the middle of a courtroom which was guilty of having everybody laughing.
The series, directed by Jake Szymanski, covers a full jury trial through the eyes of one juror Ronald Gladden. Not only is Gladden an incredibly nice guy, he is also completely unaware that everyone in the courtroom aside from him is an actor put there to create a one-of-a-kind, all-in experience for him. From his fellow jurors, the judge, the plaintiff, the witness, even the food delivery people – all actors.
This elaborate, three-week gag was an intricate mix of planning and execution where one misstep could destroy months and months of work. In order to pull it off it required everything to run like clockwork and someone leading the charge, conducting all the moving parts, as the series director. That duty was put in the hands of Szymanski whose unique blend of experiences including improv comedy, mockumentary directing, as well helming dozens of Funny of Die and SNL digital comedy were a great start,
Szymanski’s strong comedy direction background was very beneficial, but Jury Duty was a much more enormous task, requiring not only the ability to direct hundreds of moving part, but also one key quality – compassion. Ultimately, keeping the story moving while landing the jokes for Jury Duty was important, the top priority remained ensuring the man at the center of it all, Ronald, left this experience treated fairly, never the butt of the joke. Szymanski sat down with Awards Radar to discuss just how he pulled off one of the most expansive gags to ever play out on our televisions.
Watch the full conversation below where Szymanski covers everything from how and why Ronald was chosen, working without a ‘safety net’, the endless pressure on him to keep this hoax running, the incredible cast who kept all the gears flawlessly moving and much more. It is all amazing feat made all the more impressive when you learn about the endless orchestration going on behind the scenes. Enjoy our full conversation below.
Excerpts from my conversation with Jury Duty director, Jake Szymanski.
On why Ronald was the better than perfect fit:
“Ronald was absolutely better than we could have imagined. We had to keep changing the show because of it, you know? We always hoped Ronald would connect with Todd, the David Brown character who wears the chair pants and has all his inventions. We kind of hoped that Ronald would befriend him and take him under his wing. We had constructed it and planned for that to happen halfway through – maybe episode three or four is when we get to that moment. And Ronald just did it right away. You know what I mean? Episode one and two, Ronald is immediately taking Todd under his wing. So then we had to restructure our character arcs and show while we’re in the middle of filming. That was kind of the always on your toes excitement of it. A great example of how Ronald just kind of surpassed our expectations.”
On the pressure keeping this hoax running 24/7 for three weeks:
Part of that stress was every day every night, and every morning, we check in and go, ‘Hey, are we are we making the right choice?’ Are we trying for the right joke? Let’s make sure we’re never trying to make Ronald the butt of the joke, right?’ We really tried to hold ourselves to that every day and reevaluate. ‘What are we going into tomorrow based on what we learned from today?’ But yeah, I mean, my wife said, ‘I’ve never seen the look on your faces when you get home from shooting that after everything.’ She goes, ‘And I’ve seen you stressed and I’ve seen you not sleeping, but man, this one really seemed to take it out of you.’ And it’s true because we were always on and even when Ronald went back to the hotel. There were hidden cameras set up there that we’re recording and we’d get updates from our actors there. ‘And yeah, We have our best laid plan ,which is already difficult, but you had to reinvent a part of it every day based on what Ronald was then bringing to the show, as a real person in this scenario. So you were just always on. You couldn’t really ever take your foot off the gas or ease up,”
On one moment that was so. funny that the cast and crew almost lost it:
“I think the place where we almost lost it – I was losing it in the control room, was certainly the moment after the ‘Tim-cident’ as we call it – after Tim gets injured and has to be carried out by paramedics. They’re in the group interview and they all share the little paper cranes that they all got. And they shared the stories about Tim, that they all knew and Ronald’s like, ‘This guy never talked. He never told the story. How does everyone know so much about him and the depths of the stories that we went into?’ We were dying in the control room while that was happening. You can actually even tell all of our actors in the back row behind Ronald who knew that he couldn’t see their faces, they’re breaking a little bit – that was very fun.’
Watch Jury Duty now streaming on FreeVee and Prime Video.