Coffee Town is the first feature-length release from comedy giant CollegeHumor.com. After starting the online comedy channel back in 1999, digital pioneer and co-founder Ricky Van Veen is at it again, this time looking to rewrite the film distribution playbook.
Choosing to skip over any form of theatrical release in favour of a full scale, multi-platform release, including both iTunes and Amazon, Ricky (and the rest of us) is hoping Coffee Town becomes an online and home video hit. With CollegeHumor’s massive online network, a top notch cast and the talent of writer/director Brad Copeland, we’re guessing it’s got a pretty good shot.
Though the movie debuted on July 9th, Just For Laughs is being treated to the World Premier Film Screening on Saturday Night. Brad will be on hand to answer a few questions, but we got to him early…
TF: The distribution game is a complex, rapidly changing beast. As traditional media morphs into this free-for-all digital age, how does that change your approach as a writer and a filmmaker?
BC: For me, it’s exciting because you can aim at a smaller target and be successful. You don’t get penalized when you’re making something that doesn’t appeal to everyone… Like, if you want to make a comedy spoken only in Klingon– the amount of empty seats in a theater wouldn’t justify the cost of making it– but now you can make a Klingon comedy and beam it directly into the living rooms of the people that want it, and not worry about helping pay the lease of some AMC theater in Jacksonville or whatever. Coffee Town isn’t in Klingon, by the way. I wish it were.
TF: What advantages does teaming up with College Humor give you? What disadvantages do they still have compared to the big studios?
BC: The advantage beyond having access to their legion of fans– is Ricky Van Veen. He has better comedic instincts than any producer I’ve ever worked with, and the taste and quality control you see in their online videos is in this movie as well. It was made by people that love comedy, for people that love comedy. It wasn’t made to make a certain profit so an executive could climb a ladder and be able to greenlight Superman meets Batman. That’s the advantage of not being at a studio. No one is worrying about their job.
TF: You’ve written for Arrested Development. Was it encouraging to see such a hit show turn to Netflix for their latest season? Is this a trend you think we’ll be seeing more of? If you could revive one other show that was killed too soon, what would it be?
BC: I was thrilled to see it brought back, and for Mitch to be given such creative freedom to make it what he wanted. I’m not sure we’ll see much more of it because I think most shows that people loved had a longer run… they didn’t feel as cut short as Arrested was. What I’d like to see is some great pilots that weren’t given a chance, like “Heat Vision and Jack” go to series. There are so many pilots that were just too out there for the networks– that could be amazing if somebody let them go to series.
TF: Censorship is a big issue in comedy today, especially in standup. What are your thoughts on the seeming disconnect between the ‘anything goes’ content popular and available online or on Cable TV, juxtaposed with the monthly apology tours and public outcries? Do you find yourself censoring your own work for fear of backlash?Was there anything left on Coffee Town’s cutting room floor?
BC: I don’t think you have to be super-offensive to be funny. In the history of great comedies, “Groundhog Day,” “Bridesmaids”…nobody walked out of the theater saying “oh my God they went there,” though I think stand-up might be a different animal… and cable and online might be the new test ground for where that line is, so we know where we’re stepping over it… I think we need that. A place where people can go a little too far– just so we can see what too far is… because when too far isn’t too far, and is still funny, like anything Louis CK says, it pushes the boundaries.
TF: Loving all the TooFar plugs… thank you so much! Now, you’ve talked about the creative freedom you’ve been given in making this film being so rewarding. How much more important is it for you to have a say in your work? Do you think that appeal will ultimately lead to more writers fleeing the big paychecks to make their own indie darlings? Is this the beginning of a new era of low budget, creative driven filmmaking?
BC: I think it is. I’ve never had so much fun.
TF: Your film is currently available on ITunes and Amazon, but you’re coming to Montreal to screen Coffee Town on the 27th at the Just for Laughs Festival. Is there anyone in particular you are hoping will come see your film? Anyone you can’t wait to see perform while you’re here?
BC: I’m just excited to have it in a place full of people looking to laugh and have fun. That’s the crowd we made it for. As far as whom I’m going to see… everybody I can. John Mulaney last night was spectacular.
TF: Canadians love to celebrate our comedy talent after they’ve fled town and become Americans. Do Americans recognize how many great comedians are from Canada as much as we hope they do? Have any of our comedic Canucks inspired you?
BC: YES. For sure. Canada is the CollegeHumor of countries! My first job was on NewsRadio on NBC, and Dave Foley was one of the nicest, funniest men I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. Michael Cera was as well. I’ve never met a comedian or actor from Canada that wasn’t super sweet and extremely gifted. There must be something in the water here.
Yup… another day, another Yankee reconfirming our national identity. Thanks Brad and good luck.