kottke.org posts about comedies

A/B testing comedy the Judd Apatow wayMay 05 2011

Freaks and Geeks creator and Bridesmaids director Paul Feig talks about his collaborator Judd Apatow's audience-driven approach to editing movies:

Judd actually has this whole thing they do with side-by-side screenings at two theaters right next door to each other and do a "P" version, which is a polished version, which is the one we think is close to what we want to have be our final cut. And then another one called the "E" version, the extended version, which is the dumping ground for everything we think might work, or we wanted to try, or we're just curious if it's gonna work. And out of all of those screenings, you'll always get about five or 10 new things that you didn't think were ever gonna work that go through the roof and you plug 'em into the polished one...

We'll always keep in a couple of jokes, just for ourselves. Then you go, "Okay, if it doesn't work, whatever. This is kinda for us." But none of us are brave enough to wait that long to see if it works because you want to have something that you know is clicking with an audience.

A lot of filmmakers will hate hearing that. To them, that feels very hacky, But the audience are the ones that are going to come and pay the money and they're the ones who are going tell their friends if it's good or not. I didn't get in the business, and Judd didn't get in the business, to make stuff that nobody sees. I've made a career making stuff that nobody sees, so anything that I can do to help make something that people are going to enjoy and want to see over and over again, then I'm there.

Feig also has an interesting take on the continued love for Freaks and Geeks: in 2000, when the show was cancelled, cancellation for a single show was pretty much total death. If there weren't enough episodes for syndication, it would only linger on through word of mouth and the occasional samizdat VHS tape.

[Feig:] The British model, which I've always thought was great, is that you do a TV show and then they sell it. Then you can buy it at the video stores forever, so it never went away. But American TV used to be if you had a show and it got cancelled, then it never existed.

DVDs changed the culture. It's not really a "cult hit" in the same way if you can just Netflix the entire run. Now, single-season shows like Freaks and Geeks can be sold and rewatched and lent out, and play out for their fans over and over again like long, favorite movies. And they don't need their A/V teacher to have a copy of the film reel to do it.

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