Emily Dunbar ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
The Harmontown panel at New York Comic Con 2014 included the beloved Community writer and show-runner Dan Harmon, his good friend and better D&D dungeon master Spencer Crittenden, and the filmmaker for the Harmontown documentary, Neil Berkeley.
The three panelists began by discussing how the documentary is different from the original podcast and their expectations for the tour. They had no idea how the show was going to transition from stage to film, nor did they know what it would be like seeing themselves.
“[The film] came together on the road… a lot of things happened that we knew would go into the movie,” Berkeley explained. He went on to say that whether good or bad things happened, they tried to get them and their essence into the documentary.
When asked what he thought about being followed around by cameras, Crittenden responded, “I didn’t mind it. Cameras are everywhere in today’s world.” He did, however, joke about coming to terms with their constant physical presence, “There’s just people in my way, constantly, wherever I’m trying to go!”
Talk moved toward Harmon and what he learned through filming the documentary. He admitted, “The thing I was least conscious of was what it looked like when I was being a bad boyfriend.” Harmon went on to comment on his literal and figurative bald spots: on his head and emotionally. He came to the conclusion that he needed to be nicer to fiancée Erin McGathy.
He also joked of being filmed constantly, “Very quickly you say, ‘Oh, it’s important I brush my teeth, I guess I have to accept that.’”
“I had to get more used to it than Dan did,” Berkeley confessed of the touring and filming process. “He’s a great documentary subject. Nothing’s off limits.”
We got to see an introduction about Harmon from the final product of Berkeley’s documentary. One of Harmon’s friends said that Dan would describe himself as “smelly,” which gave Harmon the chance to give Empire Stage 1-E some bad advice.
“I get away with a lot less showering than the average person,” he began. “If you commit your life to less showering, your body adjusts!”
Berkeley and Crittenden both got the opportunity to speak about their respective relationships with Harmon. The filmmaker said, “I met him right before we started this,” remembering that while he usually tries to separate himself from his subjects, he’s still gotten pretty close with Harmon over the course of filming. Crittenden said of their friendship, “We’ve been kinda friends since the beginning of me coming on the podcast… It’s been a slow build.”
Crittenden then began to list the qualities of a truly masterful dungeon master.
“You’ve gotta be both egotistical and selfless,” he announced. “The whole point is: you’re doing a lot of work so others can have fun.” He described the job as needing a “meticulous obsessiveness” and “a real nerd.”
Shifting the focus toward how Harmon does his work, Dan spoke about his process… or lack thereof.
“I don’t have a process. The reason why I am able to wing it and do the podcast is because I’m a workaholic,” he explained. “I obsess over the things I actually do for a living. I consider the things I write to be the real me, or at least the parts of me that should count.”
He continued, “My role in the world is the things I write… It’s more symbolic than it is worthy of spectacle.”
Harmon then touched on his tendency to procrastinate.
“Perfectionism is what keeps me from banging it out… There’s a process, that I think is actually an addition of certain types, that if you wait long enough, then you have permission to do what you do best… Because it has to be done by midnight.”
Though he is exorbitantly successful now, Harmon warned the crowd of following in his footsteps.
“Don’t do as I do, do as I say… which is to do!” Harmon advised. “My best advice for those people: put a pin in [your favorite project] because it’s special to you. You’re screwing it up because it’s special to you… write some garbage!” He suggested promising yourself that you’d set that garbage on fire, just to make sure you’re actually working and getting your body used to the feeling of getting things done.
The Harmontown documentary is a great example of artists just getting down to business and doing what needed to be done. However, there was still a fun atmosphere on the tour bus.
“Everyone on that bus fell in love with being on the road… None of us knew how fun that was!” Neil recounted.
Harmon joked that it was similar to the wistful feeling he got while looking at ducks and “other migratory birds.”
“When you see them on a lake, and they all fly up together. Those ducks get to go to all these different places, but they’re all ducks together!”
The tour wasn’t all smiles, though.
“Watching the movie was a very helpful new process… There was a point that I realize that I’m free… I have all the power in the world. And that’s half a story… The second half of the story is about volition, it’s about feedback, about reconciling stuff,” Harmon admitted. “There needs to be a ‘now what.’ I’m kinda working on that. Slowly, very slowly.”
Despite the darker points of the film, Berkeley is excited for fans to see it because he feels like the Harmontown fans are a group who truly deserve to be recognized and to have something all their own.
Harmon talked about Rick and Morty’s return for season 2, saying, “I can’t compare season 2 to season 1 yet. We loosened the reigns, structurally.” He also recounted that the best part of show-running is the final product, while the worst part is the human aspect and knowing that his decisions affect so many people’s lives.
The panelists joked about Dungeons & Dragons characters, pooping, and flamingos before the panel hilariously ended with a fan pulling various mini-bottles of alcohol out of his coat pockets and offering them to Harmon.
“That’s a great way to live your life,” he laughed. “But that’s also how I’m gonna die! A guy in a trench coat.”
Harmontown is in theaters now. Don’t miss out on this hilarious and dark trip into the mind and life of Community show-runner Dan Harmon!