This interview contains major spoilers for all six seasons of The Sopranos.
Everyone’s talking about The Sopranos, whose final nine episodes begin Easter Sunday. Magazines from EW to Vanity Fair to Obscure Sports Monthly has run stories on the influential and already-enshrined-in-the-TV-Hall-of-Fame family drama responsible for putting HBO on the map. It would be irresponsible for THUD not to add to the hype. (Call me irresponsible and unreliable. Hell, throw in undependable, too.)
Among the many fans of The Sopranos are Paul Gulyas and Joe Sabia, two recent college grads from Los Angeles. They’re also the masterminds behind the “Seven-Minute Sopranos” video that made the internets rounds this past week. In case you missed it, here it is:
Unlike the latest chapter in the lonleygirl15 saga or a Midwestern yokel getting hit in the balls or the Harmony Gold Show Choir sucking the life out of some bland pop tune, this is a viral video deserving of the phrase “internet phenomenon”. It’s clever, funny, and it hits every major plot point in the last six seasons of The Sopranos. Paul and Joe were nice enough to talk to THUD about how they came up with this video as well as their thoughts on The Sopranos.
Can you talk about the genesis of this video? How did you get the idea? Why did you decide to do this project?
Paul: Well, basically I’m a Sopranos freak so the closer it got to the premiere of the new season, the more and more I talked about the show with my friends. One of those friends was Joe Sabia. I think the idea originally came to him as a result of me constantly mentioning the show, and also the fact that we were all scrambling to rewatch some of the episodes before April 8th. So Joe came to me with this idea of doing some sort of catch-up for the new season.
Joe: Basically, something had to be done with The Sopranos because the premiere is coming up. I knew a recap in an extremely fast fashion really hadn’t been done before, so we thought we’d try it.
Paul: Originally we wanted to do it in 3 to 4 minutes tops; we didn’t give the attention span of the YouTubers enough credit, apparently. We’re both fans of the show, but it was safe to say that I knew it a little better than he did, so I went ahead and wrote some summaries of the seasons right off the top of my head, knowing exactly what clips I wanted to use. And we went to work.
Joe: I absolutely won’t be surprised if people start doing recaps like this for other shows in the future. Hopefully we can say we trailblazed that innovation.
Are there any other shows you guys think lend themselves to this kind of treatment?
Paul: We don’t necessarily hope that other television shows will be recapped in this fashion, as much as we just know that people are going to start doing this now. I hope that we will be remembered as the first. But it takes a lot of time and effort, so I respect anybody who even attempts it. We were talking about what kind of shows would be best to recap like this. There was a time we were debating doing an Entourage one before its premiere this Sunday as well. But it’s a straight up comedy, and I’m not sure that would work as well. In the Seven Minute Sopranos we made dramatic moments funny. It’s hard to make funny moments funny. Or at least funnier than they are when watched in an entire episode’s context. So I think it would be hard to do recaps like this of comedies like Scrubs or The Office, or any four-camera show. But then again, I’ll try anything. Lost is another show that people have been asking us to do, and I would absolutely love to. My friend Matt, who’s an editor in NYC, suggested we do a "Five Second Lost": "There’s a plane crash… And now I have no idea what the fuck is going on." But I guess the best type of show for these recaps would be big dramas with a touch of humor, and lots of characters. And of course, a big fan base. If you do a recap of Moesha, nobody’s gonna give a shit.
What editing system did you use?
Paul: Joe cut it on Final Cut Pro.
I’ve heard that this took over a hundred hours to do, and you had to be reminded to eat while doing it. Is that true?
Paul: Yes, collectively I’d say it took between 90 to 100 hours to complete. The whole being reminded to eat thing, that was more Joe than me. When he sits down and starts working, he goes into this void. Total one-track mind. His work ethic is fantastic for the end product, but not so much when it comes to nourishment. Not to say I didn’t skip a few meals while cutting the clips to use to go with the narration.
Joe: Yeah, Paul’s right. I get pretty meticulous with the editing… so something like 90 hours is pretty accurate. And since I narrated it, messing up on the recordings because I laughed at such lines as “Ralphie’s kid plays the dumbest game in the world” (referring to how his friend shot him in the chest with an arrow) was needless to say, a big time consumer.
One of the things that set this apart from being just another “fan vid” is the clever, fast-paced narration. How long did it take you to write and record it?
Joe: When I told Paul the idea, I said “Paul, write really, really fast for this. Don’t make any lines go longer than x amount of words”. So we tried some lines, and we both agreed “Shorter. Faster”. And he did a great job with it. He knew where every scene was from memory. It was creepy. It was fun figuring out what comedic/dramatic elements to put in with what Paul wrote.
Paul: Honestly, it didn’t take too long for me to write it. I knew what I wanted to include. There was some deliberation—in what order to I place things, how far do I go into detail? The characters have so much depth to them that it felt like I was selling the series short by keeping the psyches of these people very limited. It was a difficult decision for me because in a way that’s what I love best about the show- the character-study aspect, not all the whacking and banging that’s featured in the Seven Minute Sopranos. But while the introspection of the main characters is crucial to the series, a story can still be told without it, and that’s what I knew I had to do if I wanted the Seven Minute Sopranos and not the 77 Hour Sopranos.
What was the longest stretch of narration you could do at a time?
Paul: As far as the narration, that’s Joe’s voice you hear, not mine. It didn’t take too long to record it, although Joe did get kinda tripped up at a few parts… “Janice shoots Richie” comes to mind. He must have said “Janish shootsh Richie” a thousand times. I almost had to leave the room. By and large, he was great and there were times he recorded the narration of an entire season straight.
Joe: And yes, as I said earlier, it was difficult reading some of the stuff. But luckily, I’m a fast talker in real life.
One of my favorite parts in the video is the Arrested Development “shout out.” You also reference 24 – why did you decide to make jokes outside the Sopranos universe?
Paul: Everybody loves GOB! I’m a huge fan of Arrested Development, and one day while re-watching the first episode of the fourth season “For All Debts Public and Private”, I noticed Will Arnett was the husband of the FBI Agent dispatched to Adriana! After seeing him dance around a stage to “Final Countdown”, I found this cameo pretty hilarious. It was Joe that caught “Edgar from 24”. We really just threw them in because once we spotted some actors that have gone on to do more recognizable things since their role in The Sopranos, we were kind of excited, and wanted to share!
Joe: Originally, we wanted to do a split screen with Edgar and GOB with their counterpart roles in 24 and Arrested Development. But using more footage from more networks was probably a bad idea. The theme from “Final Countdown” was just funny because it’s so recognizable.
You use Carmella tossing boxes at Tony as a shorthand for the two of them fighting. Given the couple’s turbulent relationship over the course of the show, was it hard not to go back to that again and again?
Paul: That was my idea. It doesn’t take an intense analysis of the series to realize that Carmela is pissed at Tony fairly often– of course in varying degrees. But the idea occurred to me that it might be funny to find a moment in the show where Carmela is just super-pissed and to show that clip for every time she’s upset with Tony. Her telling Tony to "get the fuck out of this house" and throwing shit at him from a balcony worked out pretty well. It’s a lot of people’s favorite part. And it was totally just for the joke. Virginia Heffernan in her Times article wondered if it was a statement about "the redundancy of Mrs. Falco’s performance"; totally not the case. I should say that Edie Falco is arguably the most talented cast member on the show. Basically, it made us laugh, so we put it in.
Were there other references or footage that maybe didn’t make the cut?
Joe: Originally, we wanted to keep referring to Tony’s cousin as “Steve Buscemi” instead of just Tony’s cousin for every time it showed him, and we tried it. But it was too ridiculous. “Tony mercy kills Steve Buscemi.” Completely ridiculous.
Paul: Judy Reyes, or Carla from Scrubs in episode “From Where to Eternity” as Paulie’s goomah, and Tony Hale, or Buster from Arrested Development, in a VERY brief cameo in episode “Second Opinion”, as the incompetent guy sticking Uncle Junior with an IV.
The response to the video’s been phenomenal. Are you surprised at how people have reacted to it? Have you heard if any Sopranos writers or cast members have seen it?
Paul: We’re both totally shocked and flattered that the response has been so huge. We had no idea it would garner this much attention, especially from a multitude of news and media outlets, such as CHUD, which I visit daily, by the way! On the first or second night the video was up on YouTube, I got an e-mail from Matthew Weiner, executive producer on the show, and one of my favorite writers for the series. He called it “spectacular” and “very entertaining”, and said he didn’t think he could have explained it better himself. Ilene S. Landress, in an article in the New York Times, said she loved it and that she insists it stay on YouTube. And apparently, from that same article in the Times, David Chase watched it while filming the finale and laughed the whole way through! All this was a great, great honor.
Joe: The response is exciting. It’s truly viral. It’s really an element of three things: 1) Educating and/or refreshing an audience when a premiere is right around the corner. 2) Overwhelming an audience with speed and like 54544 clips. 3) Doing something they haven’t really seen before.
The Sopranos is one of the most beloved and critically acclaimed shows of all time. As fans of the show, why do you think these characters and stories have resonated with audiences so much?
Paul: There are two different reasons why viewers are attracted to certain characters. One is that through a certain character the viewer gets to live vicariously. The other is that the viewer somehow identifies with the character. Usually a show is one or the other. However, The Sopranos presents a perfect amalgamation of these two ideas. We get to experience the thrill of Tony and the guys spending millions of dollars that they barely have to work for, sleeping with whoever they want, constantly binge eating and drinking, and when somebody gets on their nerves, they just beat the shit out of them with no consequence! It’s a dream! But at the same time we identify with these characters in that, in many ways they are very practical and live average lives just like the rest of us! It is exactly why the show has resonated with so many people. Characters can be at one moment enviable and the next pitied.
Joe: David Chase has a knack for the unexpected. He takes convention and throws it out the window. The whole world respects that style. Thank God HBO allows people like him to even use that style in the first place.
What do you think the influence on the writers and directors who grew up with this show – like yourself – will be?
Paul: I think David Chase has paved the way for future creative minds in proving without a doubt that in writing characters and stories, not everything has to be black and white. There doesn’t have to be the good guys… and then the bad guys. There can be characters who are a little of both. Motives don’t have to be clear. Maybe sometimes they shouldn’t be. And perhaps most of all, not everything has to be resolved, every question answered. And with any luck, we can look forward to a lot of Sopranos-influenced writers who will produce more and more wonderfully textured and conflicted characters that will spark as much intelligent debate as the characters in The Sopranos have.
What’s your favorite Sopranos episode? Favorite season?
Paul: I realize it’s kind of a cop-out to say, “I love them all” and move on, so I’ll do my best here. I’ve never straight up answered this question. Favorite episode: “Whitecaps”, the season four finale and the episode of the brutal break-up scenes between Tony and Carmela. We really see so many sides of Tony in the one episode, some of the best acting of the series, and a great mix of Tony’s real family problems and crime family problems. My favorite season: five at the moment, but it changes very often. I love the new cast members in season five. Also, one of the strongest stretches of episodes from “Marco Polo to All Due Respect.”
Joe: Paul just spent 12 hours thinking and answering that question.
Paul: Ralphie just for the shock value. I remember being blown away when the credits went up.
Single favorite moment from the series so far?
Paul: You’re killing me here. I love all the moments where something from Tony’s past comes to haunt him, such as after Gloria yells “Poor you!” just as Livia would have, and Tony realizes she’s just like his mother. Or when Tony opens up a Christmas present from Meadow and it’s a singing fish that reminds him of his dream about Pussy. And of course the infamous Test Dream episode where dead characters from as far back as season one come back to haunt Tony’s dreams.
The final episodes of The Sopranos are unbelievably hyped, and there’s a lot of speculation as to what’s going to happen. What are your expectations for the final season?
Paul: I really have no idea. You watch the trailers before each season and you’re almost always completely wrong in guessing what will happen from what they show you. It’s going to be a wild, unpredictable ride. I think it will be extremely difficult for these new episodes to live up to the hype, but I have faith.
Joe: One thing is going to happen for certain: the thing no one can possibly expect.
Beyond the Sopranos, what are some of your other favorite tv shows? What do you think’s great that’s on right now?
Paul: Next to The Sopranos, my other favorite show is Lost. Some hardcore Sopranos fans put their nose up at any network show, but I have to say Lost is something else. It did lose a little steam this season but as far as I’m concerned, as of right now they are at the top of their game. Entourage is great. I watch a lot of comedy including Scrubs, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and I love Reno! 911. And of course, I gotta pour one out for Arrested Development, R.I.P. And I gotta give a shout out to Heroes because my roommates work there! I fell behind so I’m gonna catch up when the DVD’s are out, but great show.
The biggest Sopranos question on everyone’s mind right now is “how does it end?” How do you think David Chase will choose to end the series?
Paul: Everybody who’s seen the show from the beginning knows that the perfect ending would be the ducks coming back. It’s too perfect. Also, everybody wants to see a big bloodbath where every main character dies in a blaze of glory. Chase is not gonna go either of these routes. And he’s openly stated that he’s not interested in doing a morality tale like those old gangster pictures where Tony has to get his in the end. And he’s not interested in doing a conventional TV ending with closure all around.
How do you think he should end it?
Paul: My prediction is that Tony lives. He gets away with it all. But maybe at a price. He’s already paid the price by killing his best friend and his own cousin, so I don’t know what price there could be beyond that. Losing a family member? But then, is that too predictable? Whatever it is, we won’t see it coming.
“Soprano Home Movies,” the first of the final nine episodes of The Sopranos, airs Sunday, April 8th at 9 PM EST. The second half of Entourage’s third season follows at 10.