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SxSW 2016 Interview: THANK YOU DEL: THE STORY OF THE DEL CLOSE MARATHON director Todd Bieber

by Jason Whyte

"What if you found out that most of your favorite comedians were taught by one guy? Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, Stephen Colbert, Chris Farley, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler; they all had the same comedy teacher. This documentary is about that guy, the most important person in comedy that no one knows." Director Todd Bieber on THANK YOU DEL: THE STORY OF THE DEL CLOSE MARATHON which screens at the 2016 edition of South By Southwest Film.

I am thrilled to hear your movie is showing at SxSW and this is your first time here! Are you planning to attend your screenings?

I'll definitely be at the screening! I love SXSW and Austin. I have attended as a fan the last few years to just enjoy the festival. It was always my goal for SXSW to be the first stop for the documentary.

Talk to me a bit about how you got your start in the industry and your previous work!

I started out making short films in my backyard in Pennsylvania. Then I moved to New York and I worked at The Onion for a bit and then became the Creative Director at UCB Comedy. I have been making film projects in New York City for the past 8 years including work for IFC, Comedy Central and Vice.

How did THANK YOU DEL come together from your perspective?

Matt Walsh and Matt Besser, the founders of the UCB, wanted to make a documentary about their mentor Del Close and I had been making some behind the scenes short documentaries about UCB and they asked me to take on this bigger picture project. It follows the story of Del but also the story of the Del Close Marathon. It has been almost three years now, so I have been working on this project for quite a while and it's been an amazing experience to get to talk to some of my favorite comedians ever and talk about their process.

While you were making the documentary, what kept you going while making it movie? What drives you?

It is definitely hard some days to get up and film another day, even though it's my favorite thing in the world. We had over 450 hours of footage for this 83 minute documentary, so there was a lot of effort that went into this that will never ever be seen on the screen. Sometimes that's grueling to know that the thing that I'm going to work on today may never even be part of the finished project. So coffee was helpful. I also think that having a strong group of collaborators is absolutely the most important motivator. Julie Gomez, my producer, and my editors, Denis and Tessa and Zach, they kept the energy going through the end.

What was your biggest challenge with making THANK YOU DEL, and the moment where you knew you had something special?

I wanted to make a documentary that anybody would like, not just comedy nerds. And being a comedy nerd myself, it was a challenge to find the balance between creating a compelling story and including info that would only interest die hard fans. It took a lot of tinkering but I think we found that balance.

I think the most rewarding rewarding moment for me was going into the basement of a Chicago public access television station and they dug out 25 BETACAM tapes that were covered in dust. I put them in this ancient machine and came across some footage that probably has been washed in 20 years and and now I get to share that with others.

I want to get technical with you, but I would love to know about the the visual design of the movie and working with your director of photography, Denis Cardineau.

We shot with DSLR Canon cameras that allowed us to be a fly-on-the-wall. Denis Cardineau and I have worked closely together on several projects so we have an ability to communicate without speaking to each other. Sometimes just a glance from me and he'll know where to shift his attention and vise versa.

What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie here in Austin?

I can't wait to get to Austin. For one, it has a great film scene and Austin also has an amazing comedy scene. I am looking forward to sharing the doc with those groups. Also, tacos.

After the film screens at SxSW, where is the film going to show next?

After SxSW we are on to Hot Docs in Canada and then we have a few other film festivals that haven't been announced yet but we're excited to be traveling the world with this!

If you could show your movie in any theater outside of Austin, where would you screen it and why?

I hope we get a chance to screen in Chicago, which is where Del really spent most of his time mentoring so many great comedians.

What would you say to someone who was talking or texting through a movie?

Please stop doing that.

We have a lot of readers on our site looking to make movies. What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into the filmmaking business as a piece of advice?

Find your collaborators. I couldn't have done this without a huge group of people working just as hard as me and just as passionate as me. That's vital to making a feature documentary.

And finally, what is the greatest movie you have ever seen at a film festival?

I first saw Short Term 12 at SXSW and it made me laugh and cry. I share it with others whenever I can. It's the type of movie that you hope to be able to make someday.

Be sure to follow the path of the documentary on Twitter at @ucbcomedy!

We hope you enjoyed this SxSW filmmaker interview in our interview series for our site. To see the entire series click on the Live Report sidebar on your right. We will have interviews posted all throughout the festival so be sure to visit us often for more coverage!

This is one of the many films screening at the 2016 SXSW in Austin, Texas taking place March 11-19. For more information on this film screening times, point your browser to or use the SxSW GO App for Android and iOS.

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte / Facebook: jasonwhyte / Instagram: jason.whyte

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originally posted: 03/08/16 10:22:52
last updated: 03/10/16 18:43:02
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