Having said that, the highlight of last week for me was sitting down to catch up with the guys at DERRICK Comedy.
To be accurate, I got together with three of the guys who make up DERRICK. Dan Eckman is the director of “Mystery Team,” the feature film by the group that I first reviewed at Sundance 2009. Dominic Dierkes and D.C. Pierson are two-thirds of the on-screen Mystery Team, starring as Charlie and Duncan. In the year since I reviewed the film, we’ve followed the distribution trials and tribulations (literally in both cases) that have marked the film’s theatrical life. I’ll say this for them… and it’s something you can’t really see in the theatrical numbers they did… they worked their asses off. They toured. They worked. They went to screenings. They promoted. They did live comedy. They played crazy games with the crowds that came out. They carried their film around the country and they damn near handed out the tickets and set up the seats for the audience. That’s how involved they were in getting the word out.
Roadside Attractions was the distributor for the film, and I’ve always said that they had taste. They were originally a production company, and the very, very good “Lovely & Amazing” was one of their early movies. “Super Size Me” was them kicking into distributor mode, and they did well with it. They’ve released some very good films like last year’s “The Cove” or “The Puffy Chair” or “The Fall,” but even with truly amazing films, they’ve never really broken through and turned something into a hit. It isn’t enough just to pick up good movies for distribution… you also have to convince the ticket-buying public that those films are worth seeing.
The good part about a DVD release is that it serves to level the playing field for filmmakers. Theatrical releases can be incredibly difficult to pull off, and getting someone to go to a theater for a film they’ve never heard of can be next to impossible. Getting them to take a chance on something when it’s a $1 rental from Redbox or when someone just has to press a button on Netflix or XBox or PS3 is a lot easier, and I’m guessing this is the moment when all of the buzz of the last fourteen months starts to pay off for the film as it hit pretty much every format possible on Tuesday except for Netflix Instant Watch, which should happen in about a month.
Sitting down with Dan, Dominic, and D.C., much of the conversation focused on just how tough it’s been for them trying to create some awareness for the film. It wasn’t bitter, though. These guys impress me because filmmakers like them are working on the cutting edge of modern distribution and how to build an audience. When I went to Sundance in 2001, I saw “Super Troopers,” which was produced independently by comedy troupe Broken Lizard. That film ended up sparking a wee bidding war and landing at Fox Searchlight, and the next few films from the group were all made for studios. “Club Dread” and “Beerfest” were both difficult in different ways, and I’d argue that it wasn’t until they went totally independent to make “The Slammin’ Salmon” that they finally made another film that truly captured their voice as a group. Part of me wishes that someone with very deep pockets would sponsor the next film from DERRICK Comedy, while another part of me worries about outside voices screwing with the particular chemistry of what they do. Seeing the difference in how “Super Troopers” was handled versus what happened with “Mystery Team,” what’s obvious is that the landscape for indie films is totally different just nine years later, and DERRICK is smart enough to survive, having been born from the new ways of reaching audiences instead of just chasing trends.
And if you want affirmation regarding the sensibilities of DERRICK, just look at what’s happened to much of their cast since they made the film. Donald Glover, who couldn’t make it for our sitdown, is one of the stars of “Community” on NBC now, while Aubrey Plaza is on “Parks and Recreation.” D.C. published his first novel this year, and Eckman’s actively developing his next film with producer Meggie McFadden. Even some of the smaller roles in the film were played by people who have gone on to higher profile work, like Ellie Kemper, who is on “The Office” now, or Bobby Moynihan, who went on SNL. All of the members of DERRICK seem to be perpetually working onstage in LA, trying new material or working in improv shows, constantly honing their skills. So “Mystery Team” isn’t a film created in a vacuum by people who are just working in their own little bubble. It’s the opposite, actually. There’s a comedy community in LA and New York that has absolutely embraced these performers, and I still feel like they’re just warming up.
“Mystery Team” is a film that rewards repeat viewings, a comedy that swings from the absurd to the subtle to the verbally adept to the physically broad. They don’t just have one sense of humor… it’s the collision of all the different senses of what is funny that make up DERRICK. I’m curious to see how often they’re actually able to hook back up as a group now that they’re all starting to build individual careers, but if anything keeps them apart, it’ll be timing only. It’s apparent sitting with them that they love to riff off of each other, and that they can’t help but throw comic ideas back and forth. Over the course of our casual conversation, they created a ton of ideas and characters and were constantly building off of each other’s ideas, almost as second nature. It’s not a conscious thing… it’s just the way they relate to one another.
If you’re in LA this weekend, you can see the film on the bigscreen along with “Ghostbusters” at the New Beverly, and they’re even showing “Reservoir Dogs” at midnight both nights. Great line-up. I’m just glad “Mystery Team” is finally widely available, and I sincerely hope you give it a chance. In the end, this is a starting place for DERRICK, and a perfect example for other comedy groups for what you can pull off outside the system. Now let’s just hope the system makes room for DERRICK with all its quirks and character intact instead of trying to absorb and homogenize them. My guess is that it’s the system that will have to change, not them.
And that’s a very good thing, indeed.
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