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April 14, 2013 | posted in Filmmakers
Ben Popik, and his collaborators in the comedy troupe Olde English, decided to take a creative writing exercise and apply it to their comedy routines.
“We would film the meeting where we’d assign each other rules,” Ben Popik explains, “and then we’d show that to the audience. So the audience would get to see the rules, and then they’d get to see the piece that the person wrote using those rules. And the interesting effect that we saw was that even when the piece would bomb, the audience would still laugh, because they would understand why it did terribly, and that provided a new layer of comedy.”
In one case, Ben challenged a fellow comedian to write a sketch about his three most embarrassing moments, gave him a five-minute deadline and handed him a pen.
“And as soon as the video is over, lights (come) up on the stage, and they get to see what he wrote in those five minutes,” he recalls. “Now, what he wrote was horrible. How could it not be? But the audience loves that it’s horrible! And that was just fascinating to us. Because if you just showed them what he wrote, (they) would never appreciate it. But knowing the context of the writing just added a whole new level of comedy.”
Even failure can be a form of success in this format, when the audience is in on the joke, which they decided to apply to filmmaking. The result: “The Exquisite Corpse Project.”
Five comedy writers divided up the writing of the film’s script. Each had to write fifteen pages, but only saw the five pages directly before their section. The resulting film goes beyond the somewhat disjointed script they produced and looks at creative process itself, which has inspired audiences.
“We’ve had a lot of people ask us, ‘can I try this concept with my friends?’” Joanna Popik, Ben’s wife and co-producer on the film, explains. “I know a lot of people have tried it with high school students and film classes.”
Although made on a shoestring budget—Ben jokes that “we never actually raised any money!”—the film’s biggest non-financial challenges, such as creative disputes between the writers, all made it onto the screen. They discovered the best comedy gold of all could be mined there.
Photo by Janet Macoska.
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