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SXSW '05 Interview: 'The Comedians of Comedy' Director Michael Blieden

by Scott Weinberg

The 'Comedians of Comedy' Pitch: Life on the road as four stand-up comics struggle to bring alternative comedy to venues across America.

"4 Comedians on tour in rock clubs."

Will this be your first time at SXSW? Any other film festival experience?
I was at SXSW a couple years ago I thought the audiences were so remarkable that I instantly began plotting my return. And let me just say that it's an old old joke that performers say to an audience "you guys are awesome," but I am not sucking up. Melvin Goes To Dinner was the movie that I was in Austin with in 2003, and the audience seemed to get the movie in such a way that by laughing in certain places I swear they were actually writing new jokes. I was sitting there in the audience going "Oh I see what they were doing there. How hilarious". It spoiled me.

When you were 14 years old, if someone asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up, what would your answer have been?
An actor. I was one of "those" kids.

How did you get started in filmmaking?
I started trying to be a filmmaker in the early 90’s. I spent all of my money financing small productions of various kinds and most of them failed in some huge way. Then in 2001 the Odenkirks, DJ Paul and Jeff Sussman saw a play that I had written (which was once again costing me everything to produce). That play became Melvin, which was the first project of mine that I didn’t pay for. The key thing I think is that you hire yourself for a long time before other people will.

How have things changed for you since your film was accepted into the festival?
I got married.

When you were shooting the film, did you have SXSW (or film festivals in general) in mind?
Absolutely. Our goal even before production began was to premiere at SXSW.

How did you get your film started? How did you go from script to finished product?
About a year ago DJ Paul and Patton Oswalt came up with this idea to do a comedy DVD/tour video. They asked me if I would direct it. Then Patton did something very smart and risky. He funded a dry run of the production in April of '04 to make a presentation for investors. We went to Athens, Chapel Hill, and Baltimore with Patton and Zach Galifianakis. I shot the whole thing and cut together a trailer, specifically with an eye towards showing it to Ted Sarandos at Netflix, who had spoken to me a couple times about wanting to do original productions. It took a few months to put everything together, but miraculously Ted decided to take a leap of faith and fund the project. The plan was always to release a DVD as a Netflix exclusive, but we expanded our mission slightly and decided to shoot it more like an independent feature. We went back out on the road for 7 days in September of '04. Editing took about 4 months, and when Matt Dentler emailed me to say that we were accepted to SXSW the project officially began its life as a film.

What’s the one glaring lesson you learned while making this film?
Shooting documentaries is an excercies in emptying your mind of preconceptions so you can follow what's actually happening in front of you.

When you were in pre-production, did you find yourself watching other great movies in preparation?
Grey Gardens.

If a studio said ‘we love this, we love you, you can remake anything in our back catalogue for $40m’ – what film, if any, would you want to remake?
The Sweet Smell of Success.

Two parter – name an actor you'd KILL to work with, and then name an actor in your own film that you really think is destined for great things.
I’ve always wanted to write a role for Slick Rick, but I have no idea if he can act.

Have you ‘made it’ yet? If not, at what point will you be able to say ‘yes’?
I most certainly have. If I were to never work in entertainment again I would always be able to say that I did some things I was proud of.

A film is made by many people, including the director (of course), but you'll often see movies that open with a credit that says “a film by…” – Did you use that credit in your film? If so, defend yourself! If not, what do you think of those who do?
I did take the possessory credit, and I can’t defend myself. There’s absolutely no way that a film can be "by" any one person. It’s just ridiculous to assert that. DJ Paul, who produced the film, handed me a typewritten list of credits one day that included "a film by Michael Blieden" and I just went ahead and typed it in like a dumbass.


The Comedians of Comedy, starring Patton Oswalt, Brian Posehn, Zach Galifianakis & Maria Bamford, will premiere at the 2005 South By Southwest Film Festival. Click here for more information!

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originally posted: 03/11/05 05:24:58
last updated: 09/24/05 07:01:04
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