Tonight at the Indy Shorts International Film Festival in Indianapolis is a homecoming for both Leon Acord and the web series he was invited to show.
Although “Old Dogs & New Tricks” is produced in California where Acord lives, the dramedy about gay friends began its life in Peru when the Lewis Cass graduate returned home near the end of the last decade.
“The show is a product of Indiana. It was first written here,” he said.
Acord is still excited about the series he writes and acts in being featured in the Pride Stride section this evening at the Athenaeum Theatre, especially because he’s worked so much in short films and they’re usually afterthoughts at festivals.
“It still doesn’t feel real. I’m going to be a basketcase come Wednesday,” Acord said.
The Indianapolis LGBT Film Festival is flying the whole cast out for a Q&A session, and his family and friends — even old friends from high school — will be there.
Acord thinks it will be a clash of cultures in some ways.
But then, the show deals with different cultures.
“Old Dogs” follows four gay best friends in the youth-obsessed area around Los Angeles and Hollywood, and it partially comes from his frustration as an actor there — although he plays a talent agent in the show.
In his life, he’d moved from San Francisco, where he did acting work at least three times a year, to Los Angeles, where he was working maybe every third year and was “hearing the brakes screech.”
With the loss of his day job, he decided to return to Indiana for two months and take stock of his life and ask hard questions.
“Maybe the acting thing has passed. Maybe it’s time to figure out what you want to do when you grow up,” he said.
Going home was also a return to where he used to watch Norman Lear comedies with his dad in the 1970s, and his father had “graduated” to shows like “The Big Bang Theory” and “Two-and-a-Half Men.”
He saw that shows today were getting away with a lot more than before, and he knew that he could address more in online, streaming or cable venues.
And he began to think.
“Just one night I thought ‘write what you know,’” he said.
He started with the character descriptions.
“It was like a fuse being lit,” Acord said. “I drafted the first 12 episodes there.”
Then he returned to LA where he would get them into final form.
“It really didn’t feel like I was writing,” he said.
It often feels like he’s channeling four best friends, and the characters — which are in ways each a part of him — often write themselves.
His husband said that he should get involved with some student projects at University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts and maybe the students could eventually connect him with someone higher in the industry.
Instead, he contacted Arvin Bautista, the producer, animator, visual effects expert and sometimes director to see if he knew someone in LGBT world who’d be willing to direct and produce.
Baustista liked the scripts so much, he wanted to do it.
“He’s a genius. We’re so lucky,” Acord said. “He was determined. He wanted it to really look like a real TV show – and for the most part, it does.”
The show has also had impressive guest stars, including Greg Louganis, Thom Bierdz (“The Young and the Restless” and “Melrose Place”), Terri Garber (“North and South”), Ian Buchanan (multiple soap operas) and Kathryn Leigh Scott (“Dark Shadows”).
The festival is recognizing “Old Dogs” for its entire run, which began on Youtube in 2011 and had episodes that lasted about 10 minutes.
Three minutes was a long time for a web episode when they started, and people who buy the DVDs comment that the episodes seem too short, Acord said.
Although the series is entering its fifth season on Amazon Prime and episodes run about 15 minutes (it will remain on Youtube in some form, Acord said), Indy Shorts is just showing six episodes: the pilot, three from the second season and three from the third season.
The fourth season is an extended episode about the Supreme Court and Marriage equality, which used up the entire budget for that season, he said.
Although the show deals primarily with issues for his community, he was surprised that it has so many fans among middle aged women.
“They really identify with it,” he said.
He thinks it’s because “Old Dogs” deals with universal subjects such as aging and wanting to find someone to be with.
It’s funny and has heart and is about solid friendships, and many people could connect.
“They’d be surprised that they relate to it more than they expect,” he said. “I hope it feels like lighthearted real life.”
He thinks there’s also a Midwestern sensibility.
Of the four main actors (including Acord from Indiana), two are from Illinois and one from Michigan.
He feels it was an instinctive choice from when he was casting, and they’ve managed to keep the core characters all through the series.
He also credits the small, Midwestern experience of Lewis Cass High School with getting him into acting — and by extension writing — as his passion.
During his freshman year at the larger Maconaquah High School, he didn’t get many parts.
But at Lewis Cass, he was very active in the department.
Acord figured, “Okay, I can be a big fish in a small pond instead of a small minnow in a big ocean,” he said.
He got more parts.
A turning point was as Mortimer in “Arsenic and Old Lace” his junior year.
When he was supposed to rush in and save one of the old man characters, the other actor had conspired with his friends that he’d throw wine in Acord’s face.
That got a laugh, but because he was a big fan of the old “Carol Burnett Show” and the actors trying to keep from laughing during performances, he reacted by trying to find something to dry his face.
So he took off his clip-on tie and patted his face.
And that got a bigger laugh.
And he knew he wanted to spend his life feeling that rush again.
“I love Lewis Cass,” especially the drama teacher Patsy Ronk, who encouraged him and offered solid advice, he said.
“She signed my yearbook my senior year, ‘although you dance to your own drummer, keep in mind that there’s safety in numbers,’” said Acord. “She knew me better than myself.”
More information about the showing and the festival is available at https://heartlandfilm.org/indyshorts/
Reach James D. Wolf Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-732-5117