Ricky Shaw and Carl Sloppy are your typical 30-something best buds in Richmond… until they walk into the world of magic and imagination in their backyard shed.
Ricky Shaw and Carl Sloppy are your typical best buds. They like to listen to heavy metal music, play video games and Dungeons and Dragons, and use their imaginations to go on wacky adventures together. Nothing out of the ordinary, right?
Oh… except that Ricky and Carl are grown-ass men in their mid-30s, who like to hang out in their shed to escape from the real world of adult responsibilities.
Based on the true-life friendship of show creators Andrew Carnwath and Robert Kelshian, The Magic Shed is a pilot television show that was shot and produced entirely in Richmond this past year, in partnership with Tilt Creative.
The creators first met in Richmond in 1999, while working on a short film. At the time, Carnwath was finishing up his senior year at VCU, and Kelshian was playing in several local bands (most famously Avail). Eventually, Carnwath got his Fine Arts degree at VCU, while Kelshian obtained an MA in Film from DC’s American University.
Throughout their studies, they stayed in touch and continued working together, even writing a horror movie script together in 2003. Unfortunately, though, they weren’t able to raise enough money to produce it. Afterwards, Carnwath worked in the film industry for several years as an intern, a Production Assistant, an Art Director, and finally a Production Designer. In 2006, he began focusing on commercial work, and even picked up a few awards.
But then, in 2015, a huge drop in commercial work left Tilt Creative looking at a possible 60 percent loss of its business and revenue. It was then that Carnwath began thinking about an old TV pilot he and Kelshian wrote in 2008: The Magic Shed. When they first wrote the show, both Carnwath and Kelshian were starting families and taking off in their careers. They liked what they’d written, but life was getting in the way.
“Life just catches up,” Carnwath said. “It got harder and harder to stay focused on it, so we put it on the shelf.”
But with the future of commercial work in limbo, the pair of friends realized they had nothing to lose. With all the resources available at Tilt, they began casting and building a set. Almost every aspect of the show was produced in Richmond — and by Richmond. Carnwath and Kelshian loved the team at the Richmond Comedy Coalition, who run The Coalition Theater. Andrew’s connections as an Art Director helped them build the set, and the pilot episode was shot entirely inside Tilt Studios.
The storyline revolves around childhood best friends Carl Sloppy and Ricky Shaw, and their goofy, unpredictable adventures in Ricky’s backyard shed. The shed itself is just an ordinary shed; a sort of man-cave, if you will. But with Carl and Ricky’s imaginations constantly on full-blast, the shed transforms into “toy chest for adults,” as Carnwath likes to say.
While they may be physically inside the shed, in their minds, the shed can become anything. They’ll be in space in one minute, then at the beach or on a floating castle the next. There are no boundaries or limitations.
Although Carnwath and Kelshian say the friendship in the show is based on their own, they each relate to both Carl and Ricky in some ways.
Ricky Shaw is a straight man, who has one foot in the door of reality and one foot in the door of the absurd. His wife is pregnant at the beginning of one episode, and he struggles with the expectations of being an adult.
“He hasn’t fully committed to the idea of [not] doing dumb shit,” said Carnwath.
In contrast, Carl Sloppy is a “Kramer-esque” type of character. Ambiguous with no steady job, and always around, he wants to keep the good times going — but he also wants to help his friend.
“Carl wants to help Ricky; but in a way that keeps him in Carl’s world, and keeps that friendship as it always has been,” said Kelshian. “He’s trying to develop and mature his friendship with Ricky, but under his own conditions.”
Although they use the shed to escape the real world, their problems tend to sneak in. Even if they do it in an unorthodox way, they still have to process them. This is seen in the strange and ridiculous characters Carl and Ricky meet inside the shed. Granted, all of these characters are made up, existing only in their minds.
Whether it’s horny Richard Pryor-style wizards like Skeezard, or annoying childhood ghosts like Scary Barry, these characters are unpredictable and mostly obnoxious; terrible people with a small handful of redeeming qualities.
“A lot of the characters are just amplifications of people you’d know in real life,” said Kelshian. “Carl and Ricky go to the shed to get away from their realities, but they still end up meeting these people that they struggle with. ‘How am I a friend to this person who is a total scumbag?’”
While dealing with personal relationships, Carnwath and Kelshian are trying to find the goofiest aspects of them to play with. The duo describes the show as spazztic, goofy, unpredictable, colorful, and over-the-top theatrical. It’s an Out of the Box-style kid’s show for adults.
Some of their influences include television shows like The Mighty Boosh, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, Strangers with Candy, and Pee-wee’s Playhouse. Complex, random, and surreal humor is their forte.
When talking about the show’s humor and vibe, Carnwath says it’s like a strange trip.
“It doesn’t necessarily need to be drug- or alcohol-based,” he said. “[The characters] are open to the idea of letting weird shit happen, and it does.”
Kelshian also acknowledged that, like their influences, he and Carnwath aren’t necessarily trying to make a “heavy” show, or make deep statements with themes. They aren’t writing anything groundbreaking, and definitely don’t shy away from a fart joke — the main goal is to stay true to these characters and their reality.
When it comes to their writing process, the only goal is to be as absurd as possible — and make it funny. In a way, writing these characters was like having a magic shed of their own, and it helped them face adulthood while staying close to their youth.
“There’s something about being goofy that is very attractive in my mind,” said Carnwath. “It’s okay to say crazy shit, do dumb stuff, and wear a costume one day. Don’t be complacent with adulthood.”
“As you continue to age, there is an idea of what being an adult is,” said Kelshian. “And for better or worse, there are things you feel you have to fit into. I think what this show celebrates is keeping a relationship you have with a good friend, that you can still be vulnerable with.”
Carnwath and Kelshian are most proud of the show’s sense of humor. Its aesthetics are exactly how they pictured it in their heads, and it came together in the way they sought it out from the beginning.
At the end of the day, the gang couldn’t be happier with this project they made with their friends. Their biggest fear, they noted, is that someone would want to buy it and force them to walk away, or relocate to another city like Los Angeles. The hopes are to keep the show in Richmond, with the same crew they say was so vital to making all of this happen.
“This show is a Richmond show,” Carnwath said. “Not just the T-shirts, stickers, and bands from Richmond mentioned in the show, but the people who were so crucial to getting this done — and if we can take our friends along for the ride, and it keeps it ours, that’d be awesome.”
For the past few months, the Magic Shed gang has been in the process of getting more people talking and watching the pilot. Their plan is to find a home for the show on a major network like Comedy Central, FX, or Adult Swim. They’re on the right track — in addition to plenty of positive feedback, The Magic Shed has either won or been nominated for several awards so far.
These include “Best Television Short Director” at the American Filmatic Arts Awards, “Best Director Television Pilot” at the NYCTV Festival, and nominations for “Best Comedy Television Pilot,” “Best Actor,” and “Best Actress” at the NYCTV Festival. It also caught a nomination for “Best Web & New Media” at the Indie Short Fest in Los Angeles, along with being a semi-finalist at the Chicago Independent Film & TV Festival.
The Magic Shed will be included in this year’s Richmond International Film Festival, which takes place in the River City this spring, from April 21-26. Learn more about The Magic Shed on its IMDb page here, and catch up with it in clips on their website.