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The SXSW documentary We Cause Scenes about Charlie Todd and his Improv Everywhere group put a big smile on our faces. Being familiar with their work on YouTube, it was fun to see the origin’s of Todd’s project and how it evolved. We talked to Todd and director Matt Adams about their philosophy and what it was like putting this movie together from the inside.
Playmaker Magazine: Charlie, your overall goal seems to just make people happy in their everyday lives. Where did that come from?
Charlie Todd: It’s not really how the project started. But early on I realized that it’s a bigger challenge to stage a disruption in public that has a positive impact. It’s very easy to do something negative that gets people’s attention like they’re looking at a car wreck or people getting in to a fight. But to stage something that’s positive that’s going to make people stop and laugh and smile is a greater challenge. That’s why I went in that direction.
Playmaker: I imagine that you had to have somebody you trusted with this project before you let them have this kind of access and put it together.
Charlie: It’s not my film. I just saw for the first time three weeks ago. But [director] Matt [Adams] had been somebody who had worked on a lot of our projects over the years and was one of our main filmmakers for our YouTube channel. So I trusted him and knew that he could do the story justice and I’m thrilled with the results.
Playmaker: In the movie, we see you make the NBC pilot. If you guys make that show a couple of years later, you may be one of the faces of NBC because you were way ahead of the online movement and social media. Do you ever think about that?
Charlie: I agree. I think the pilot was maybe bought and shot and made a couple of years before it’s time. I was a little green and NBC was just figuring out what the internet meant. I think if it happened a couple of years later, it might’ve been a success.
Playmaker: Matt, how long have you been involved with Improv Everywhere?
Matt Adams: I got involved around 2007. I started actually just coming out and filming the events and found myself being the primary filmmaker behind the group. Some of the videos on YouTube were ok, but I felt like I could do something to make them better. So I devoted all my attention to making the best YouTube videos that I possibly could. I’d recently graduated from film school. As that was happening, I was able to have access to this inner circle and thought that there was definitely a documentary here unfolding. I just happened to be there. I didn’t even intend to make a documentary. I was there and saw an opportunity in front of me that was bigger than just a YouTube video. So I took it, ran with it, and I worked on it for five years.
Playmaker: So you were just shooting the event, and then you started shooting extra stuff behind the scenes?
Matt: Right, I started shooting a little bit more. Over the past couple of years, especially. For most documentaries, they start out with no budget. You’re just doing it on your spare time. I was bringing all my stuff by myself and doing everything by myself… thank God for Kickstarter. Kickstarter allowed me to bring on a small team of people that were able to dedicate themselves to this project. We launched a campaign and raised $126,000 with 1,700 backers. They’re the ones I’m thankful for because they’re the ones that wanted this story told. I wanted to make them proud.
Playmaker: That makes this documentary feel like an extension of the Improv Everywhere group.
Matt: The film was only possible because of that same internet audience. How cool is that? Improv Everywhere videos go viral and then the campaign spreads the way the videos do. It couldn’t have happened any better. I just feel so lucky to be able to make this film.
Playmaker: The documentary seemed to have the same spirit as the group, itself.
Matt: I was drawn to Improv Everywhere because of that. I thought there were opportunities that weren’t just visually beautiful but thematically beautiful as well. That being said, I was still making a documentary so I had to step back and document it from an outsider perspective. That was very important for me, to stay objective. Inherently, it does have that positive spin, but that’s what drew me to the group in the first place.
Playmaker: Finally, we have an idea for an Improv Everywhere event at SXSW. It would require some celebrity help. At a screening, where there’s a Q&A, when the director and the stars are called up to answer questions, call up a random audience member who gets a big applause. Then, give them a microphone and have them answer questions from the cast as well as the audience. What do you think?
Matt: That’s pretty funny. I think that would go over really well.
Playmaker: I’d say save it for SXSW. But you’re going to be hitting up a lot of festivals with this film, so you can do it in the near future instead of having to wait until next year. I won’t even ask for credit in the spirit of Improv Everywhere.
Matt: That sounds great! We’ll definitely put that in motion.
Playmaker: Thanks for your time and good luck with the film the rest of the way.