by Eric Hoffman
Hi, it’s Mike Monterastelli (a.k.a. The Planet of the Nerds). The following article is a “special guest blog” from my very good friend and collaborator, Eric Hoffman. I first met Eric at Columbia College in Chicago Ill. and we wrote and performed together a lot at THE ANNOYANCE THEATRE back then. He made this movie called TALENT that I and a group of others acted in back in ’96. Eric Hoffman was a writer and performer on the amazing MR. SHOW WITH BOB AND DAVE and is one of the stars of the parody film MY BIG FAT INDEPENDENT MOVIE. He is also the co-author (along with Gary Rudoren) of the hilarious COMEDY BY THE NUMBERS book and audio CD.
SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t seen the movie “Talent” – and I’m guessing most of you haven’t because it’s never been released – then be warned: this article was written with spoiler ink.
Hi. As you may already know from the introduction to this introduction, some years ago Mike Monterastelli and I were involved with a small independent movie called “Talent”. It had a lot of funny people in it, which helped as it was a comedy. Unfortunately, it was never released. The end. …That’s pretty much the story. But now that so many people involved with it are famous, it just made good horse sense to publish some documentation of the experience. People see it on imdb and want to know what it is. And there are some folks out there who have actually viewed it and they ask a bout it from time to time (my mother). Well, I don’t know about you but MY day to day life can’t be bothered with such infuriating questions…so I wanted a simple “link” I could direct people to. “You want to know about Talent? Here’s the link.” In the future I hope allof my conversations can be handled by such links. “You want to know if I want fries with that? Here’s the link.” But enough riffing. Honestly, I really just wanted to make a semi official record of a moment when some of the funniest people I know were just starting to dabble in film and television, after having spent many years in the humor houses of Chicago. I wanted to let people know about this great unseen movie my friends were in, because frankly they weren’t paid “squat”. And, with Mike being involved with the production, Planet of the Nerds seemed like the logical place to make that happen. So here goes.
It all went down in 1996 in a small town in Indianapolis called Indiana. My good buddy Joe Lamirand called one day to say he had a small fortune to spend on me, what would I like? Hair plugs? Expensive sockery? A summer at Chablis camp? I told him I’d like to watch myself act like a big shot in a movie, and the result is a film so precious the title was originally all in lower case. At the time, myself and several future cast memebers were living in Chicago, writing and performing alternative comedy shows at the notorious Annoyance Theatre (others were at Second City and Improv Olympic). Mike and I collaborated on many of these shows, including Goombahs!, Abe Lincoln: Sex Alien, and Brainwarp the Baby Eater.
In fact, we’d just returned from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival where we slayed ‘em with our show The Idiotic Death of Two Fools, which was directed and co-written by Comedy By The Numbers(c) co-author Gary Rudoren, who was known as Gary Ruderman at the time. (He may be a secret agent.)
Joe and I wrote the Talent script in a month. I had relocated to Indianapolis, to my new digs within the Lamirand compound, to what Joe had hyped as “the world’s most comfortable 3-foot-long couch.” Purging our backgrounds for material, we spent the days and nights drinking and writing (usually in that precise order). Here’s what the party produced:
“TALENT” – The story of Derek Anderson, an actor who must move back to the Mid-West after failing to “make it big” in Hollywood. Paranoid and broke, he sneaks back into his hometown, avoiding delusional friends and old enemies.
The premise was pretty simple, but one that we hadn’t heard before, and one that had actually happened to Joe and myself in the mid 1980s. Plenty of stories focused on people going to Hollywood and failing; few started the story at that point. And when you think about it, why would they? It’s a fairly depressing jumping off point for a movie. Which probably explains why Joe and I fondly refer to the film as “a hate letter to ourselves”.
Contrary to what you may have heard, there are several fun aspects to making movies. Casting is one of them. With some assistance from the great Sheldon Patinkin, we were able to assemble a top notch acting team: Matt Besser and Matt Walsh (who had just opened the UCB Theatre in NY); Mike Coleman, Pat Walsh, and Mick Napier (from the Annoyance); Audrey Kissel and Erin Philyaw (who we knew from Columbia College Chicago); Brook Kerr (who was about to land a major recurring role on the daytime soap Passions); Jim Zulevic (from Second City); Jerry Blues and Gene Deer (Indiana guitar legends); and of course Mike Monterastelli (your ruler of the Planet of the Nerds). Even Jay Johnston (Sarah Silverman Program) was called upon for service; but he was busy shooting the second season of Mr. Show (a fairly good excuse).
The movie was shot in just twelve days on 35mm film. I can never remember the actual budget (I’m not a numbers and figures man), but it was cheap. And extremely hot (not the good kind). If actors were paid to sweat I’d be a paid actor. (lol) But it was a fun set, and Joe had formed a crack production team, which made everything easier. Thanks out to Dan Bickle, J.D. Sievertson, and Jim Timperman.
With limited funds, we knew we had to make a “talking heads” film. There would be no big budget dinosaur fights. Save that for the sequel. We drew influence from Albert Brooks, Hal Hartley, and – so Talent has a dry tone which can sometimes border on wacky – my favorite combination. Oh man, so many funny things I remember from the movie: Matt Besser’s English accent; Matt Walsh’s tormented relationship with his water bed; Jim Zulevic’s priceless facial expressions; Mike Coleman’s cheesy television spots for hot tubs and sexy chat lines; the bad improv team of Matt and Pat Walsh; Mike Monterastelli’s abusrd cussing; Erin Philyaw’s heartfelt monologue about the actor’s life; Mick Napier’s crazy theatre guru character; anything with Audrey Kissel and Miki Mathioudakis; to name but a few. And there are a lot more great performances.
Matt Besser’s clothing shop in the film was actually owned by David ‘Tufty’ Clough, of the famed punk bands Zero Boys and The Skatalites, , , and After The Fire, which were all on our original, “dream” soundtrack. You can hear a couple of Talent songs here: http://myspace.com/eyeclopsmusic. The soundtrack was provided by the band Eyeclops, replacing more expensive groups
After completion, Talent screened in various festivals around the country - Chicago, Breckenridge, Muncie; and it won the Breakthrough Feature Award 1998 at the Saguaro Film Festival.
And that’s about it. I could go on but there’s really no point since you have no access to the film. Hopefully one of these days we’ll get around to releasing it. We had a 10th anniversary screening at the Hollywood(http://losangeles.ucbtheatre.com/) which was sponsored by Park Avenue Pictures, UCBTLA, and Comedy By The Numbers(c). All proceeds went to Second City’s JIM ZULEVIC ARTS AWARD. (Read more about that here:http://secondcity.com/?id=training-education/foundation/zulevic ) Some of the cast and crew showed up. It was a fun night and everyone commented on how old I look.
I’m proud of this early endeavor. It has an amazing cast, lots of funny scenes, and it still makes me laugh today (especially at my rather stagebound performance). If you ever get a chance to see Talent let me just say this: with scooters, jokes about ska and bad improv teams, AND a telephone booth we blow up, I don’t think you’ll ever look at Indianapolis the same way again.
See you at the Grammys,
Check out the trailer for TALENT right HERE!