You might, as I did after watching two episodes of Learning Nature with Chris Locke, think it’s a one-note web series. The tale of a pudgy man named Chris who casts the cruel, unfeeling big city away for the embrace of nature … but has no real clue how wild the wild truly is.
But to watch all eight webisodes of Learning Nature with Chris Locke, available on Funny or Die now, is to see a man enamoured with trees, rocks, the sky, birds, worms and water but having no real knowledge of them and left struggling to survive. Locke, a hilarious stand-up comic who has also appeared in episodes of Mr. D, Baroness Von Sketch Show and The Beaverton, teamed with longtime collaborator Derek Horn to create the eight-part opus.
“People watch the first episode and say, ‘I get it, web humour,'” Locke says over the phone. “But stick with it and you will see my butt.” While Horn (who has worked with Locke on such projects as Hello, What? and Kelly 5-9) directed, edited, lit and worried about the budgets for Learning Nature, Locke established the character, a friendly shlub who aims to educate viewers on facts regarding a plethora of things you see in nature.
The first instalment of the iThentic production, “Trees,” features Chris welcoming us into a lush forest for his first-ever documentary. Chris is super-enthusiastic as he hugs a nearby tree he dubs one of “the mighty tall giants of the woods.” He expounds on their multiple uses, including making paper out of them, building log cabins … or creating a wooden sword to practice fighting with. The hilarity and oddness of Learning Nature are in camera angles lingering a little too long, unsure footing and Chris’ meandering patter. He knows a little too little about nature as it turns out, leading to uncomfortable facts about his personal life being revealed. It’s a character Locke has been perfecting for years.
“I’ve been making shorts since 2005 or 2006,” Locke says. “And I’ve always been honing that kind of guy. A dumb, worried, idealistic weirdo. It was always in the back of our minds that if you like our brand this is what it is if we had freedom.” The duo, along with friend/production assistant/spiritual advisor Aaron Eves, spent three full days at Headwaters Farm in Cobourg, Ont., as Locke rumbled around in the brush, his character spouting questionable nature know-how and some core beliefs. It all comes to a head in “Worms,” when an event sends Chris into an emotional spiral. A lot of work went into those three days, production-wise, figuring out logistics and camera angles.
“Visually you look at it and you think, ‘Oh, he’s just being a goof,’ but the technical aspect behind that is huge,” Locke reveals. “And I can’t stress this enough that Derek did it all by himself.” Filming had its challenges and wasn’t restricted to just weather, fauna and foliage. Capturing a key scene at a lake was delayed until the last possible moment thanks to a group of young guys who wandered into Locke’s vicinity.
“I was like, ‘Oh my god, are you serious?’ We had waited all day to get this shot,” he says. “They ducked behind a bunch of bushes, probably to smoke something, and as soon as they did I said, ‘Let’s go,’ stripped off all my clothes and jumped into the lake in one take.”
Learning Nature with Chris Locke is available on Funny or Die now.
Images courtesy of iThentic.