You would think that a comedy starring Ben Stiller, Jason Schwartzman and Anna Kendrick would be a no brainer for some kind of a release, even if a modest one, but back in 2009, "The Marc Pease Experience" was unceremoniously dumped on ten screens for one week only (and not even in standard release cities like New York City or Los Angeles) before quickly disappearing and living on in an eventual DVD release. It was an unfortunate end to a film that had tremendous promise, but it was a rocky production from the shot.
"We shot and were editing, then realized we needed to go back and add some stuff, which isn't uncommon, and then the writer's strike hit. So we had to wait for 6 months, then we got the footage in and it looked good. And it was while we were finding a release date that Paramount Vantage went under," director Todd Louiso told us a few weeks before the film's release. "It's been really hard to accept that role [of just waiting helplessly for the thing to come out]. To have complete control over it and then to have no control, and give it over, it's been tough."
While there are times when a film can do well in limited release prompting further expansion, Louiso was pretty candid that this likely wasn't going to happen (and it didn't). "There's a possibility that it could gain momentum and have a wider platform release, but it's unlikely because of the level of PR the studio has committed," he said, and Paramount really did nothing for the film in terms of getting the word out. But it seems there was another factor at play from someone who had a vested interest in making sure the movie stayed buried.
In this week's issue of the New Yorker, there is an extensive profile on Stiller, which, among other things, paints him as someone who tirelessly fights for quality control (sometimes rubbing people the wrong way). "Paramount could have put the movie out there as the next big Ben Stiller movie, but that would have been fooling the audience," he candidly reveals. The New Yorker piece goes on to add, "Instead, his agent Nick Stevens called Paramount to ask the studio to weigh the short-term loss of limiting the film's release against the long-term relationship with [Stiller]." And the rest, as they say, is history and Paramount's barely there release made sure nobody heard about it, with the film grossing $4,033 in theaters.
"I want people who have strong ideas, and who stand up for them. But it's a tough balance, for Akiva [Schaffer, director of 'Neighborhood Watch'], when I say, 'Be an auteur — but, oh, by the way, that's not funny, and I'm not doing that scene," Stiller admitted about his tough love approach with filmmakers. "While you do have to place your trust in a director, ultimately the audience holds me responsible — it's a Ben Stiller movie if it fails."
While there is something to be said about sticking by your director through both good and bad, he does have a point. Quick! Name the guy who directed "That's My Boy" this weekend — had to think about it, or look it up right? And if you look at any of the headlines or coverage for that the film, all the vitriol is directed (deservedly) at Adam Sandler, while there is little for Sean Anders and his equally shitacular direction (what's up with random handheld?). Comedies, perhaps more than any other genre, are bought and sold on the actors, not on the director, so the stakes can be high for a funnyman in the material isn't there (or wasn't what they thought it would be).
Anyway, you can rent "The Marc Pease Experience" and see if Stiller was justified or not in pulling rank with the studio. Both star and director have since moved on to bigger and better, with the actor featuring in this summer's "Neighborhood Watch" and Louiso making a fantastic return with his Sundance hit "Hello I Must Be Going" (our review here). So you can just file this under your movie trivia folder for now.