Shawn Simmons watched a child get beat up by about five other children, only to stand back up and throw a rock at his tormentors.
Though he was only about eight years old at the time, the memory stayed with him and eventually inspired a scene in his YouTube Originals series, “Wayne.”
Simmons said the scene was the first part he wrote for the show a few years ago, with the boy manifesting as the eponymous character, Wayne. The show follows the story of teenagers Wayne and Del, who journey from Massachusetts to Florida to track down a car stolen from Wayne’s sick father. Showing in the James Bridges Theater as part of a Campus Events Commission sneak peak and Q&A, the show would not have been possible before the age of streaming websites, Simmons said, and it provides a mixture of romance and dark action he feels was uncommon in television in prior years.
“I came up with ‘Wayne’ in the end of 2015, and I sat on it, thinking nobody was going to buy this,” he said. “(YouTube) let us make this unique, strange, sad, heartfelt, romantic film that we made, that I don’t think anyone else would have let us make the way we did.”
Throughout the show, violence and coming-of-age themes work together to further the narrative, Simmons said. For instance, Wayne’s mother is not involved in his life and his father is deathly sick as the show begins, with his stolen car inspiring the plot’s action. The characters’ situations, decisions and backstories are supposed to feel real, he said, and audiences should feel immersed in the minds of two kids caught among troubles and heartache.
But in terms of the action sequences, Simmons said he felt it necessary to step back from the realism just enough to enhance the scenes in dark, creative ways. One of the more violent scenes, which can be seen in the trailer, even features a makeshift weapon fashioned from a garden gnome tied to the end of a chain.
“When you see the show, it’s really rooted in the real world,” Simmons said. “When we get to (the action) moments, I did want to … unground it just a little bit – make it a little bit heightened in the action sequences, just like a graphic novel or comic book.”
Rhett Reese and UCLA alumnus Paul Wernick, who wrote “Deadpool,” also played a part in the writing of “Wayne,” and Reese said the two share a passion for breaking their action scenes away from what could be perceived as stereotypical fistfights. The way characters execute their actions within the show should always either reveal something about themselves or be a distinctly memorable scene for viewers, like a scene in “Wayne” involving a flaming weapon, Reese said.
“There’s a lot of generic action out there where … you see someone punch someone, they fall down, they kick them and they fall down again,” he said. “That doesn’t really interest us, and we sort of pride ourselves on finding action that’s memorable or that comes from character.”
Wernick said he and Reese like to make their shows unpredictable, but the characters believable and relatable. At one point Ciara Bravo’s character Del was supposed to use a chainsaw, but Reese said because of her small stature, it did not feel believable that she could start the tool on her own. The solution – dropping the chainsaw and letting gravity pull the cord – also developed her character. Through a flashback, viewers discover she learned the chainsaw trick through trial and error in order to cut wood while her father sat inside and drank a beer.
Although the action of the show is meant to bring characterization, Simmons said violence is not meant to be the main draw of “Wayne,” but rather an avenue to enhance the story. Action defines many parts of the show’s opening episodes, but as the season nears its end and the duo gets close to their goal of finding the stolen car, the show begins to reveal more about the characters and focus less on just action sequences, he said.
“They’ll encounter things like in a ‘John Wick’ movie that get in their way, like in a hero’s journey,” Simmons said. “But the real story is these kids getting to know each other … on the road.”