When alumni Dan Perrault ‘09 and Tony Yacenda ‘10 pitched the idea for the documentary parody American Vandal to Netflix in 2016, neither possessed any television experience. Both said they worked freelance and odd jobs to just barely make ends meet, and Perrault was even picking up shifts as a children’s birthday party entertainer.
The Emmy-nominated Netflix original series treats a comedic crime with the seriousness of a real one. The fictional documentary features Vine star Jimmy Tatro and former Nickelodeon actor Tyler Alvarez.
The first season investigates the mystery behind a series of phallic graffiti that appears in a high school parking lot. The second season, released Sept. 14, follows a criminal called “The Turd Burglar” who contaminates a cafeteria’s lemonade with laxatives.
Perrault, a producer and writer for the show, said experts in the criminology field informed the second season.
“We started to experiment with using actual experts in criminology, police interrogation, and other areas that are relevant to the show and blending that with our fictional characters,” Perrault said. “We try to make the show feel as authentic as possible to us.”
Perrault said he and director Yacenda wrote the show alongside Emerson alumni, twin brothers Kevin and Matt McManus ‘09. The brothers wrote a total of four episodes across the show’s two seasons.
According to Perrault, he and Yacenda binge-watched documentary series like Making a Murderer, The Jinx, and Serial prior to making American Vandal. He said he and Yacenda lived together at the time, and they found out about Netflix’s interest in the show while together at home.
Perrault, who graduated with an acting BFA, said he felt confident during the pitch meeting with Netflix, where he took on the persona of a documentarian similar to the series’ protagonist Peter Maldonado.
“I’ve now done two TV pitches, both of which I’m mostly in character,” Perrault said. “When I’m in character, it’s very similar to being on stage at Emerson and my sketch comedy days [in Chocolate Cake City]. It’s just like any performance: You only get nervous when it’s not working.”
Yacenda said he spoke about the series from a directorial standpoint during the pitch and did not feel nervous either.
“It felt like we had nothing to lose going into it because it was so different,” Yacenda said. “We never thought we would get a TV show based on where we were career-wise. So it was fun to just do something weird and to do something that they weren’t expecting. At the very least, we knew we were entertaining them even if they weren’t going to pick up the show.”
Out of everyone involved with the show, Matt McManus described Yacends and Perrault in a phone interview as the most unbelievable success story. He said he and his brother directed the feature film Funeral Kings before they became involved in American Vandal. However, Yacenda and Perrault previously only focused on creating viral short-form content for outlets like Funny or Die and College Humor before catching their big break with American Vandal.
“They’ve got the craziest road to getting here in my opinion,” Matt McManus said. “These guys made a ton of viral videos, and Dan was working at Fandango. Then they pitched to me, and it was the best pitch I ever heard. I was jealous, really. Not only did they sell the pitch, they sold it straight to a series to Netflix. That’s the dream.”
Matt McManus said he and his brother met Yacenda through a mutual friend at Emerson. He said before he actually met Perrault, he saw him perform with the comedy troupe Chocolate Cake City.
“He was the standout. He was so hysterical,” Matt McManus said. “We became friends, and I remember how funny he was. I remember seeing a video from that performance, and you can hear my laughter breaking through the crowd.”
Yacenda said in the case of American Vandal working professionally with friends lacks drawbacks. He said
“I think there’s an honesty and communication with friends. When you’re dealing with the writers’ room, there’s a lot of egos, and you have to be political in the way you collaborate with other writers. But with the McManuses or Dan, we just have a shorthand where I can just be like, ‘No, I don’t like that,’” Yacenda said.
Yacenda said he advises current and future Emerson students try to make these types of strong relationships in college.
“Try to find out what you’re good at, and try to find other people who are talented and make those relationships,” Yacenda said. “The greatest thing that I got out of film school was all the relationships with talented people around me.”