FESTIVAL TOUR: SXSW WORLD PREMIERE
To say that reception to the movie was better than expected is an understatement. The plan was simple; sell the film to a network for as much money as possible, and move on to the next project as quickly as possible. I had rented Anthology Archives downtown for the “friends and family” premiere for everyone in town in February of 2011. I had insisted on a trailer being made for the movie, before it was even finished, because I wanted to start promoting it as soon as possible.
I put it up on YouTube, and then contacted the comedy editor at Huffington Post, a friend, who posted it to their site. Then a man named Charlie Sotelo got involved. Charlie is the comedy booker for South by Southwest, and had worked as the documentary booker for their film festival. Victor had submitted The Awkward Comedy Show for the film festival the year before, and while it had ultimately not been accepted, Charlie knew him. When he saw the trailer for Tell Your Friends!, he asked for a copy. Victor sent him a working copy, and Charlie had it accepted for its world premiere at a 700-seat theater on March 17th, 2011, less than a month away. Which meant that Victor and Steve , along with our sound editor Jason Kanter,had less than a month to put together a finished film. And they did it. Don’t ask me how, but they put in some long nights and 12-hour days, and we had an HD CAM professional broadcast-quality copy of the film ready to screen. We flew down to Austin, texas, and spent the week hanging out, watching movies, meeting up with comedy friends, and generally having a blast being WORLD PREMIERE FILMMAKERS AT ONE OF THE BIGGEST FILM FESTIVALS IN THE WORLD.
FESTIVAL TOUR: NEW YORK CITY PREMIERE AT THE PALEY CENTER FOR MEDIA
I ran into Christian’s manager at the bar at Stand Up New York one evening, and she told me that Alexander Zalben was looking to putting on screening events at the Paley Center in New York and put me i touch.
The Paley Center used to be known as The Museum of Television and Radio, and when I was a teenager, before the days of Youtube and streaming video and every computer with an internet connection being an infinite media library, they were the place to go screen old TV shows, specials, unaired pilots. For a few years, my grandmother bought me a membership, and when I was a fat, unpopular teenager with secret dreams of somehow, some way breaking into big time show business, I would go there most weekends and check out their library, their screenings, their old-time radio room.
The Paley Center has been adapting to the new world of media, hosting an annual huge TV festival and premiere screenings as a way of retaining membership. And so I found myself walking again, decades later, through the same doors I’d walked through so many times with a gigantic HD CAM tape of my comedy concert film. And a few nights later, there I was, in the board room waiting with the rest of my cast for this prestigious screening, post-screening Q&A. I wished i could go back in time and screen video of that evening for my lonely teenage self. It would have made things a lot easier.
FESTIVAL TOUR: THE NEW YORK COMIC-CON
The New York Comic-Con is a huge three-day pop culture/nerd event held in the epic Jacob Javits Center space. We had a screening of an excerpt of the film early Sunday morning, and a panel discussion the night before to promote it. I had a bad feeling about it that I couldn’t shake all weekend. Kristen would be at the panel, very kindly staying for a few hours after a panel to promote an Adult Swim show she was starring in. Kristen was so great about using her precious spare time, in the midst of a huge career surge, to boost the film whenever she could. Whenever I get in a crabby mood and am tempted to be ingracious about something in comedy, she’s on the people I remember and take as an inspiration.
Kurt came in to the Javits Center, as did Rob and Christian. It was taking a Saturday night to go all the way to 12th Avenue way the hell on the west side of Manhattan, and we were one of the last events of that evening. Festivalgoers had already packed out panels and screenings for shows by networks like Adult Swim, Comedy Central, MTV, Marvel, and on and on. How could i possibly make my rinky-dink little event stand out?
That evening, I walked over to the tiny conference room we were using, as the Javits Center began to empty, and streams of costumed dorks left. I began practicing my “gracious face,” preparing to make this the best possible showing for our panel and whatever handful of comedy fans actually showed up. i walked down the hallway past a line that snaked down the hall, around several corners, young people who had apparently been sitting for a while to get in first. “I wonder what that’s for,” I thought. “Probably the Blu-ray release of Aeon Flux or something.”
I found the conference room for the event, which is where the first person in line was sitting. All of these people were waiting for us. My mind was blown. And then we suddenly had an opposite problem; there was a huge crowd, more than could possibly fit in our little room, waiting, and we had no ability to hook my laptop up for the A/V presentation to the little TV screen we’d been assigned. Apparently, not only had I been expecting nobody to show, but so had the Con organizers or the tech guys. We eventually got someone down, just as the panel was set to start.
Kristen came in, escorted by a security guard to protect her from, yes the throngs of adoring fans in the hallway I guess, and it was an excellent time had by all.
AND SO IT GOES…
On and on, festival screening triumph after festival screening triumph. Some of the biggest highlights of my comedy career happened in that six-month span, and everything was going well except in actually selling the damn movie. They say, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” And remember, while the screenings and festival appearances were going phenomenally, the plan was to sell this movie as quickly as possible and get on with my career. Instead, the opposite was happening.
In a way, the film came together at exactly the right moment, and came out at exactly the wrong moment. TV networks, feeling the pinch of the recent Great Recession, were no longer acquiring outside produced specials. Those that got back to me, gave me a very polite thank you but no. An executive at one network came out to the Paley Center screening, and we had a back and forth where we outlined a plan to sell it two networks, and then we took the end of December off, and when we came back she had moved on to a different job. This happens all the time in the business, and it’s not less heartbreaking every time it happens. In fact, I almost didn’t tell that story, as it still hurts as I write this.
However, it also came right before streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu and Amazon started acquiring and producing original content. Which means I did the best I could. I struck a deal with a digital distributor to have it available on certain platforms, and ASpecialThing Records has it out on a DVD/CD soundtrack set, which they did an excellent job with (it has bonus scenes, and multiple commentary tracks).
And on this, the fifth anniversary of the actual show taping, am I done with it? Yes and no. I’d still love to have it screen on television to, you know, make some money. I’m making some quiet queries to see about having an anniversary screening somewhere next year, and we’ll see if that goes anywhere.
But other than that, I had a great time, some of the best of my life. If you’re lucky in this world, you get to do one thing you’re proud of. With Tell Your Friends! The Concert Film! alone I probably achieved an easy dozen, if not more. And if nothing else, at the very least it has placed Tell Your Friends! in the pantheon of great indie shows. And yes, that sounds a little grandiose, and a little crazy, and I am absolutely correct.