Some storytellers steadfastly hold that plot should sweep a narrative’s characters along on a journey. Others adamantly advocate that characters’ reactions to their surroundings and circumstances should drive the plot. It’s a heated debate among fiction aficionados. Sean McCarthy, founder of video production company Guerilla Wanderers, seasoned director, writer, producer, visual effects supervisor, and actor, lands in the character-driven camp. “Plot is what happens from A to B,” McCarthy points out. “But why? And how do the characters react?” For the past four years, he has poured heart and soul into writing, producing, directing, and acting in a satiric comedy series that’s released a motley crew of antiheroes onto our screens. Doucheaholics, a Guerilla Wanderers production co-created with partner and fellow wanderer Elizabeth Mitchell, follows a support group. (Think AA, but for jerk addicts.) All the characters are riddled with flaws, but it adds a refreshingly and realistically human quality to the show.
Each episode explores a new category of jerk. There’s classic douche T-Bag who comes up with far-fetched excuses to whip off his wifebeater tank top and flaunt his six-pack. There’s Melody and Madison, whose passive-aggressive posts on social media establish them as predouchelescents (“tweens displaying beginning stages of traits, interests, and psychologies common to the fully matured adult douchebag”). And there’s Wilhelmina whose complaints of mediocre foie gras and the erroneous use of salad forks for the main course earns her the diagnosis of gourmandouche (“a douche who reserves an opulent amount of attention on the proper preparation, presentation, and service of food”). Unfortunately, attendees of the support group end up feeding off of each other’s bad behavior rather than bettering themselves. Hilarity ensues.
McCarthy applies philosophy, psychology, and human behavior to his work both in front of and behind the camera. “Our subconscious plays a big part in how we behave with other people,” he explains. “That’s an endless fascination for me.” It’s all about climbing into the character’s brain to understand how they tick. It’s why, when McCarthy writes his scripts, he often paces his office and alternates between character voices. It’s why he weaves layers of subtext into dialogue and why he incorporates surreal imagery to reveal how the protagonist sees the world.
Another of McCarthy’s creations showcasing his fascination with the human mind is the psychologically complex lead in his mockumentary short Suparhearo: A True Tail by Chance. The story follows Montgomery, a subpar vigilante whose idea of camouflage is strapping grass to his back and flopping down on people’s front lawns. He’s also convinced that the soccer mom down the street is a femme fatale. The gravelly baritone narrator — Montgomery’s delusional inner voice — lets us know that he doesn’t “get beat up.” He heroically blocks pipes with his stomach and intercepts bats with his kneecaps.
Naturally, it follows that McCarthy is a bit of a character himself. For starters, he recorded over 50 shorts in high school alone. “To really learn the craft, you’ve got to do it a lot of times,” he endorses. He’s also endlessly inquisitive. “Filmmaking gave me a lifetime pass to curiosity,” McCarthy notes. His motivation to continue growing as a filmmaker and developing meaningful plotlines has led him toward many fields. “I consider myself the eternal student. If I’m not learning, I’m either dead or dying!”
As a teen, McCarthy was a bit of a rebel. He admits to ditching class for Cinequest (a film festival he now creates event trailers for) and venerating Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese (directors unhesitant in their depictions of gore). During that period, he ended more than one filming session in police-issue handcuffs — the result of concerned citizens calling in all too realistic action sequences and fake blood along their Almaden Expressway route. Though these days he calls the San Jose Police to let them know the only shooting he’ll be doing is the kind done with a camera, McCarthy in some ways retains his inner kid. After all, he’s getting paid to craft make-believe worlds. “It’s like I’m playing still,” he marvels. From that sparkle in his eyes, it’s evident he’s just as in awe of movies as the day he fell in love with them watching Ghostbusters at the age of three.