Actors and podcasters Will Arnett, Jason Bateman, and Sean Hayes allowed the cameras to turn on them during their celebrity-filled North American tour — the result of which is Smartless: On The Road, a limited series currently streaming on Max.
Directed by Sam Jones (Jason Isbell: Running With Our Eyes Closed, Off Camera with Sam Jones), the six-part docuseries provides fly-on-the-wall, intimate access of the three friends as they traveled through Boston, Brooklyn, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Madison, Wisconsin, and Los Angeles on their sold-out live tour.
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Here, Jones talks about how the docuseries came together and what we may learn about the three men that we didn’t know before.
DEADLINE How did this docuseries come about?
SAM JONES Jason asked me if he thought there was a documentary in there. I kind of pitched them with ‘trust me enough to give me a key to your hotel rooms.’ I asked if they would stay in the same hotel and travel together and not have a big crowd of people with them. If they could let me have access at all times, I think that’d be really cool ‘cuz it would be like we were on the road together. They agreed to that.
DEADLINE So you accompanied them to all the shows?
JONES Oh yeah. We were an embedded group the entire time. We had three cameras, and I was one of the them. It was the three of us and a sound man and a producer running around with them, flying on the same plane and riding on the same buses and staying in the same hotels. I was in their rooms more than I was in mine. Each episode is a city.
DEADLINE Did you decide early on that you weren’t going to show what happens at the live show?
JONES When I got in the edit bay, I decided it made the most sense [to leave most of the live shows out] because we were traveling around with them and feeling like we were behind the scenes of it all. I tried to make the onstage stuff feel that way, as well. It’s not like it was from the audience’s point of view. It was more like we were up there on stage or in the wings. It’s almost like a band documentary or a brothers documentary.
DEADLINE Why did you shoot it in black and white?
JONES I just love it aesthetically. Number two, it allowed the backstage and travel stuff to work seamlessly with the filming that we did while they were on stage. I think it gave you a feel that this is a behind the scenes thing. When you’re going between all of these different locations, hotels and planes and green rooms and onstage and backstage, black and white has a way of really focusing your attention on the main characters.
DEADLINE So after spending even a few days with them, what did you learn?
JONES I think they’re all such brilliant comedians. They were all very open to being themselves. That was the thing. Whether the cameras were on them or not, those are the guys. I did have some questions before showing it to them, wondering if they would want me to cut things that felt too personal when they’re not in the public. But they wanted to be as transparent as possible. They were as open to the experiment as I was. They realized if they’re being honest and true and human, it’s going to work. They’re not trying to create personas that make them look good. That’s what makes them so lovable. And one of the things about those three guys that’s so impressive is that they are able to stay in the present. I had an interview show for seven years on Netflix and DirecTV and it’s very hard not to prepare so you can make things more entertaining and more exciting. Those guys trust their ability in the present to find the right direction to take a conversation. They have minds that are quick enough to find the humor without prepping anything.
DEADLINE Did you find stuff for them to do before the live shows?
JONES No. My whole thing was if we start creating scenarios and events for them to do, then it’s going to feel like a reality show. So I really tried to leave it in their hands.
DEADLINE Did they at least prepare for the live shows?
JONES They didn’t prepare for the live shows at all. I mean, they would get a Wikipedia page and take a look at it. Sean likes to do a little prep in terms of, ‘oh, I could tell a story about my mother or a story about my sister.’ What was interesting to see is that they didn’t have any nerves about it. They were willing to let it be what it was, and they didn’t try to overly control it. I think that’s sort of their secret.
DEADLINE What were some of your favorite moments from the six episodes?
JONES One of the things that I wasn’t expecting happens in episode four or five. They start asking each other questions about their upbringing. Will asked Jason about the pressure he felt being a child actor. We were learning things about the anxiety or the pressure he felt. Then Sean started coming out to his mother when he was still a teenager. It was this island of complete sincerity in the middle of this fun, rollicky comedy tour. It took me by surprise, and it’s one of my favorite moments in the whole thing.
DEADLINE So if they go back on the road again, is there a season two of this?
JONES Oh God, I hope so. It was probably the most fun job I’ve ever done. Directing something like this is more about listening and observing and staying out of the way. It was such a unique experience and I would love for them to take it to Europe.
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