Check out PF Executive Director Dan Williams being interview about PianoFight’s Kickstarter campaign on San Francisco’s favorite morning show, Now It’s Today.
Posted December 20, 2013 at 1:04 pm
Check out PF Executive Director Dan Williams being interview about PianoFight’s Kickstarter campaign on San Francisco’s favorite morning show, Now It’s Today.
Posted December 20, 2013 at 1:04 pm
Posted December 19, 2013 at 4:01 pm
Three and a half years ago, we walked into a burned out Italian restaurant in the Tenderloin. It had been closed after a fire in 2007. The tables were still set with forks and ketchup bottles, and there was a layer of dust over everything. It felt a bit creepy, but really, it felt like home.
Fast forward to now and 144 Taylor Street has been completely transformed. The interior gutted and remade to house two theaters, a film studio, rehearsal and office space, and a full restaurant and bar with cabaret stage.
We’re 90% of the way there, and now we’re turning to the community to get us past the finish line. Here’s the Kickstarter page, and if you can donate, we’ll love you forever and like you for always.
To everyone who has ever been out to a PianoFight show, thrown a rotten veggie at us, judged our playwriting competition, chose your own adventure in FORKING, partied with us on tour, shucked some oysters, danced til you were sweatier than Shaq after a 4OT game, donated to the Kickstarter, shared the Kickstarter, put up with my emails and FB posts and generally heard me go on about PianoFight and the state of theater ad nauseam – THANK YOU. 44 days and counting – here we go.
Posted December 3, 2013 at 7:02 pm
A few years ago, Endgames Improv walked into our theater and our jaws hit the floor. They were kinda shy and nerdy but super sweet and romantic and witty…And oozing sex like a sweaty fireman.
Thick with innuendo, the first thing they said to us was, “Sup? Can we like, do some classes outta here?” OH. MY GOD. Yes duh you funny fucking hotties! But ya know we played it cool and said, “Yeah, totz, whatever.”
So we didn’t rush into anything. We got to know each other. And what blossomed was not a lust-filled passion. Rather, with conviction and will, we staid our burgeoning loins and over time we nurtured a friendship, a bond…perhaps, a love?
We never acted on those obvious and definitely mutual feelings. We dated other theaters. But nothing was ever serious. We’d flit around between venues, breaking up then making up then moving on again (the scene is so incestuous really). Neither of us ever settled down, and eventually, sadly, we lost touch.
Until a couple months ago when we ran into each other Four Barrel. Fucking Four Barrel right?!!? Our heart skipped a beat when we saw them. And we waved, and then they waved, and then we hugged and smiled and sat down over a warm cup of joe and caught up like old friends at a high school reunion. We exchanged phone numbers and made plans to see each other again.
And last night we TOTALLY fucked!!
Last night, PianoFight played with Endgames to kick off the Jam and we were SO nervous and awkward and tense because WE’VE NEVER DONE IMPROV BEFORE but then Endgames was so charming and funny and strong yet gentle and right when we weren’t sure if we could do it BOOM Endgames lobbed a punchline center stage that cracked up the room and we were off and running. And it felt SO good. And it was fun and safe and supportive and chunky.
So now, it’s our great pleasure to announce that we’re going steady and moving in together. We’ve got this great art space opening up and Endgames is setting up shop with more shows, more classes, and more space and resources to grow its already awesome community of artists.
For the official info, click here. We can’t wait to get this going.
Posted November 15, 2013 at 5:30 pm
Our friends Jamie Wright and Sam Shaw of the SF Improv Festival are tackling a pretty awesome project chronicling some unsung comedy heroes who made their name right here in the Bay Area, The Committee. Check out the interview below, and if you’ve got a spare couple of bucks to send towards an awesome documentary on local comedy and how it shaped improv and pop culture in general, check out their Kickstarter campaign here.
How did you first hear about The Committee?
SAM: I heard about them in books like Jeffrey Sweet’s “Something Wonderful Right Away”, which is an oral history of the Compass Theater and the early years of Second City. They were simply referred to, there wasn’t much on them. And I knew that the cornerstone format of longform improvisational theater – Harold – was invented there. But that was about it until I started digging around.
JAMIE: I’d heard about The Committee growing up in the Bay Area, but mostly for their work with sit-ins, be-ins, love-ins, whatever in the Park. I thought they were this hippie protest street theater group. It wasn’t until I was at Boom Chicago in Amsterdam & stumbled into a full-time gig working in improv professionally, that I started asking around about what San Francisco’s history was with improvisation. I was talking with Jason Sudeikis after a show – and his uncle is George Wendt who before Cheers was a Second City guy, so Jason had this really great, familial knowledge of improv. He said he knew The Committee was this really influential group (though he wasn’t 100% sure why), that they had helped develop long form improvisation, and that Del Close had worked there for several years. That pretty much hooked me – I had to know what the hometown had done for this great thing – improv – I had discovered in Amsterdam.
Why is it important to tell this story?
SAM: It’s really rare to find a story like this. The Committee’s influence on comedy is widespread – not only in terms of their innovations in improvisational theater work. American society and culture were totally transformed in the 1960′s, and The Committee were there to comment on this social upheaval as it happened. Improv and sketch comedy, more than any other form of expression, can thrive on what’s happening now. And I’m not talking solely of “the moment” in the acting sense, it’s really about what’s happening in the culture. During the Free Speech, Civil Rights, and Women’s Movements, during the Vietnam War, The Committee served the same function as Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Except their ultimate expression was on stage, not television.
JAMIE: They were innovators. They were fortunate and driven enough to take this relatively new (or some might say freshly reinvented) theatrical art of improvisation, take it to the edge – both in terms of the content and the continent – and create from it some of the most cutting and socially relevant comedy of the time. Because it was theater, and because it came from improvisation where you only have what you bring to the stage – and that is usually what has just been happening with you outside the theater in one way or another – they were really fresh and relevant and talking about the things everyone in all other traditional forms of media were avoiding, or talking around. Every night they came up with new pieces in their improv sets or new twists on their sketches that kept them sharp. They are an example of what theater and comedy can be in it’s best form – something relevant that gets people awake.
What’s the full budget of the film, and when do you expect it to be released?
JAMIE: Well, there are budgets and there are budgets. Shoestring, we could probably get it done without their various TV appearances and without music from the time for around $75-$80,000. Our Kickstarter is for $45K, which will get us the interviews with the surviving members of The Committee. Once we have that, we have a doc.
But what we see this being is a feature-length documentary that explores their full influence, including interviews with people like Dan Aykroyd, Harry Shearer, Tommy Chong and others who said they owed much to The Committee, including their SNL-like appearances on the main TV variety shows of the time (The Tonight Show, The Dick Cavett Show, Flip Wilson, etc), including – hopefully – interviews with the people we watch today who studied with them (Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, etc.) or at the schools they started (Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig). And it’s going to be entertaining to watch – not only for their material, but we want it to be entertaining in the ways Stacey Peralta’s “Dogtown and Z-Boys” is entertaining – we want it to be well-crafted.
Getting rights to all that TV material, music of the time, and producing it at the level of quality we want to will require some cash. We’re projecting a final budget in the range of $175-200K, as we want to have distribution beyond the festival circuit, and we think it has legs for that. It’s pretty much the biggest story never told about comedy and the 1960′s.
Are you going to send it to Festivals and if so, which ones?
SAM: We are focused on completing the film in time to submit to the 2015 festival circuit. Our strategy of which festivals to submit to very much depends on our final product, so it’s a little premature to speculate, but we are aiming for widespread distribution. This is a story with really broad appeal.
Why did The Committee eventually close up shop? And if they hadn’t, how would the SF improv and comedy scene would look today?
SAM: We’re still in the interview process and unraveling the story as we go. From our vantage now, and this might change, it seems that the old guard of the company grew tired and their move to LA siphoned off a lot of their talent for TV and film. It’s really hard to say now without getting more of the story, but The Committee lasted a solid decade. A pretty amazing run.
JAMIE: Having grown up here, it’s obvious San Francisco is a boom & bust city. From the Gold Rush to the Internet Boom, people jam into The City to make it big and when the scene dries up, the carpetbaggers go away, maybe 15% stay and become San Franciscans or Bay Area natives. It’s hard to economically sustain something that is culturally relevant in that setting. And theater companies are usually most successful when there’s a committed core group of people who stick and pour their creative (and often economic) resources into it.
But working every night in front of live audiences does three things for you: it makes you really good, it makes you aware that you’re working really hard, and it exposes you to people who’d like to hire you away. After a while, even the best jobs get tiring – and once that core group of people start to drift on to other opportunities, the focus starts to fade & then you’re done. I think that’s part of what happened, but like Sam said, we’re still discovering this story which only gets more amazing the more we learn about it.
If you were of age in the 60′s – 70′s, do you think you would have had the stuff to join The Committee?
SAM: I know I would have been a fan. They were a pretty tight collective but had a pretty big community around them, and started many actors in the stage manager role, then casting them afterwards. I think I could have made stage manager. I like to think I could have ascended further, but frankly I probably would have ended up blowing my mind out on psychedelics to be much use.
JAMIE: I don’t know – I’d have likely been pretty square at the time, but if I made it into a workshop, I’m sure I would have ended up pursuing it as far as I could. That’s how I ended up working at Boom Chicago. There were so many opportunities for different lives then: drug casualty, soldier exchanging fire in rice paddies, improv & sketch comedian…
Your Kickstarter campaign just passed $10K – What are some strategies you’re employing in the Kickstarter?
SAM: This is the first Kickstarter for both of us and we’re learning a lot fast. We’re just constantly beating the drum on Twitter and Facebook and have been working our improv rolodex. We started the Kickstarter just prior to the SF Improv Fest so it could be live as we screened the trailer before shows. It was great for bringing the story to more audiences but this also meant that as fest producers we had less time to promote in other venues. We anticipated this, so we chose a long Kickstarter campaign – 45 days. We have a few weeks left and are getting to the “urgency” stage where most Kickstarters thrive, so we’re confident we’ll make our goal.
JAMIE: I’d love to say I have the drop on social media & fundraising, but it requires a lot of time for me to get it right. Like Sam said, we’re learning a lot, and there are a lot of personal contacts that we’re working to get the word out. It’s not called ‘A Secret History of American Comedy’ for nothing – we have the double task of making people aware of who these guys are, and then getting them to commit cash to the project. It’s definitely work, but once people get what the story is and see the trailer, they’re usually pretty fired up.
What’s surprised you most looking into the history of SF comedy?
SAM: Honestly what surprises me most is the fact that styles and ideas of comedy that we think are novel or new – like longform improvisation, incorporating mixed media in live performance – were done over 50 years ago. And it’s not like they’re archaic or primitive versions of what is done now – The Committee’s output is the real deal and it holds up completely.
JAMIE: That some things haven’t changed – it’s still just people making a decision to do what they love and having faith that it will work out – or that it won’t and that thy’ll just see what happens after that. Alan Myerson and his wife Jessica had the talent & experience, came out here with an idea and pitched it, got investors and committed to making something great happen. They had both the good fortune and foresight to start it in San Francisco at just the right time, of course, but it was that kind of ‘jump and the net will appear’ mindset & commitment to turning out something professional and relevant that made The Committee succeed. I think that’s still what works today.
How do you feel about the SF comedy scene right now? And how does it compare to other major cities like Chicago, NY & LA?
JAMIE: I feel like it’s finding its center again – it’s had a lot of starts & stops, particularly in terms of improv outside of Fort Mason, and sketch is coming back stronger since it’s most recent heyday in the early 2000′s. Chicago will always be the improv capital of the States, and New York and LA are the places to go if you want to make a steady paycheck. I think New York has the best writing gigs, or the most interesting, though probably fewer than LA. But San Francisco is almost as expensive to live in as New York, so we’re making gains there…
Where do you see the SF comedy scene in 5 years? 10 years?
SAM: I think more and more venues will pop-up in the Greater Bay Area, which will lead to a circuit that will allow sketch and improv troupes to perform for more and more different audiences. Select companies will thrive in San Francisco, but the cost of living and real estate prices will spread the scene outwards.
JAMIE: I think there’s a really talented core of people who are committed to making something great happen right here in San Francisco – PianoFight & your new space is one really exciting example of that. I think in 5 years, people in the rest of the country will be wondering what’s happening in San Francisco. In 10 years, people will be jamming in here to try to make it. And then it’ll bust, the carpetbaggers will leave, and then we start all over again. Or Sam will blow his mind out on psychedelics. Maybe both!
Posted October 10, 2013 at 11:33 am
Have you ever seen a shitty youtube video with 5 million views and wondered how the hell that happened? Or, even further, worked yourself into a tizzy of jealousy thinking about all the money going to the person responsible for this terrible, enigmatic product? Well some PianoFighters, Devin McNulty in particular, decided not too long ago to turn that hateful jealously into an academic inquiry. The questions we sought to answer were, among others, what makes a successful youtube video? What types of videos gain subscribers? How can we generate success in terms of large view counts (rather than something that is personally artistically fulfilling)? Etc.
Redneck News is, in a sense, an answer to these questions that we have been asking ourselves. We noticed that low production value wasn’t just the norm–but somewhat a requirement. There is something about the style we think of as ‘poor quality’ that makes successful videos seem less like a production and more of a genuine ‘something else.’ It also helps us create videos extremely fast, so we can comment on emerging topics that people might be searching the web for.
You will notice, in the first few at least, that we will stick to some rules: an attention grabbing headline, a call to action for the audience, repetitive branding, and strict adherence to character. We will start to bend these rules, and others, as we get more comfortable with the medium. For now, we would like you to enjoy our experiment. It frightens me to say it, but we are having an awesome time trying to figure out this genre that we still truly despise.
But seriously, subscribe to it. Help move the experiment onwards!
– Darryl Hubbs aka Ray Ray
Posted October 3, 2013 at 11:48 am
Feature length films are no easy task. First of all, you have to come up with an idea that can last for like 2 hours. That’s really difficult. Then you have to go and write that whole idea and then cast it and schedule it and actually shoot it AND THEN you get to go edit it for like a billion hours in some dark little room until you show it to a couple friends and someone cries at the wrong part and you have to go spend another four years editing it in an even darker, littler room because you’ve now flushed your financial prospects down the toilet trying to complete it when at last you do and you screen it and everyone just sits there in the dark judging you.
Anyway, it’s not often we get to highlight a friend who’s completed a big project like a feature and we’re stoked to do that and of course, see the film! PF company member and Mission CTRL producer Sean Conroy alongside Oakland filmmaker and friend of the company Eliseo Cabrera (MLK Jr. Way) are releasing Remember You’re Special, which will have its world premiere screening at The New Parkway Theater in Oakland this Thursday night at 9pm. You can even catch some star-making appearances by PF company members Ray Hobbs, Nicole Sun and Evan Winchester.
Remember You’re Special tells the story of Stephanie and Justin, close friends with different dreams who, like many people in their twenties, must reconcile the “world is your oyster and you are a snowflake” mantra they were told growing up with the harsher reality of contemporary adulthood. At times they ignore reality, at others they succumb to it, but they persistently pursue what makes them feel secretly special in their own small ways. Check out the trailer below, and a quick interview with the guys after that:
PF: Why did you want to make this movie?
EC: One major theme I wanted to address is debt, specifically student debt. Even though it isn’t touched on so overtly in the film, the debt the main characters have has a great influence on the life decisions they make.
SC: And I know in part it stemmed from us feeling like telling our own story. Not us personally—and I hate to start talking about “our generation”—but I just feel like the dominant narrative of young people today is “lazy, entitled, clueless.” Which is rich, because I’m sitting writing this email about this movie we spent countless hours of work on for no pay while working my 9 to 7 job. There’s so much more gray to it than fits in a Time magazine fear mongering headline.
PF: I also think Time magazine can go fuck itself. Do you think the negative press millennials get is the same for any young generation? Or are we just that much cooler and everyone else is hella jealous?
EC: I feel that TIME likes to shit on everybody. Im sure the 60′s 80′s and 90′s people got it bad. Not the 70′s though, that decade was bad ass.
SC: I think every generation gets knocked by older ones, but I think the world over the past 10 years has just become a more negative place. With the internet/social media/news cycle, Everyone has to SAY something 365/24/7, and the internet is a wonderful place for everyone to spit out their cynicism and bile.
BTW, can we please appreciate that one generation has reserved the title of “Greatest Generation” for themselves. They fought Hitler, won, then had too many kids.
PF: I always thought “The Lost Generation” would have been pissed at the whole “Greatest Generation” tag, like, “Hey! We ALSO defeated the Germans, and we did it FIRST you posers!” But back to the film… What was the most difficult aspect about making this?
SC: Money, to start. We wanted to pay for this exclusively ourselves, so it was a lot of guerilla shooting, a LOT of free labor—from others and ourselves. That said, it was a worthy investment. We’re proud of our work.
Secondly was self-belief, for me at least. Making a film is about making choices, sticking to them, and exposing the world to your choices. “We think this is good, we think this story is worth telling. Now you tell us if it’s worth watching and hearing.” Stylistically, and narrative-wise, it’s very different from what I’m used to. And we’re about to show it to the world. I feel exposed.
PF: Well it’s pretty scary. You do a lot of live comedy, Sean, and in that, assuming a baseline of quality, you can adjust on the fly to make things hit harder. With film it’s set, and the only thing you can adjust real time is the volume. Just curious, after going through the entire process of making a movie together, do you and Eliseo now hate each other? Or are you hella closer and you will totally be Godfather’s to each other’s first born sons?
Posted August 14, 2013 at 11:47 am
PF Company Member and Mission CTRL producer RayMOND Hobbs is in the latest series of Gain laundry detergent web videos – and he’s great! He’s funny, they’re funny, and Gain apparently gets stuff hella clean. Check out the video below, and a short-that-turned-into-lengthy interview (mostly because Ray and I are both longwinded blowhards).
PF: So Ray, have you ever thought about just doing laundry more frequently? Cause then it wouldn’t pile up like that.
RAY: Thanks so much for having me. First of all, let me clarify: this was not a documentary. I know that might be confusing for someone like you, who lives his life like a slapstick tragedy, but most people go through their mundane day-to-day existence without it seeming like a comedic laundry commercial. Crazy I know. Second, I have thought about doing laundry more often. I’ve also thought about calling my mom more often, getting a job that pays well and has a measure of self-respect, and starting a roth-IRA. Unfortunately, passively thinking I should do something meaningful while I’m slouched over on my couch watching breaking bad on my moms Netflix account rarely results in anything actually happening.
PF: This seems like a cool gig – how did you get it?
RAY: I worked on an AT&T spec commercial about a year ago with DP David Brashear, which you can watch here. He helped write this gain script, and as such the director, John Tomma of Extraneous Noise Productions, saw my work on Brashear’s website and evidently thought I was pathetic enough to play the part. The deal was sealed when Joe Lindsey, who operated the camera on this project, thought the script screamed my name. I don’t know whether to be flattered or insulted. Wait a minute, no I’m definitely insulted.
PF: Did you use Gain before shooting this commercial? If so, why? If not, defend yourself.
RAY: Thankfully, I’m fairly certain there is not a non-compete clause in the contract I never signed. So I’m going to come out and say it: TIDE ALL THE WAY. That is unless Gain wants to hire me for an actual TV commercial, in which case, Gain is the best fucking laundry detergent ever. I bathe in it, I drink it, I would marry it if it was legal.
Posted August 12, 2013 at 11:56 am