By Indiewire | Indiewire October 30, 1997 at 2:00AM
An Interview with the Creators of "Who's The Caboose?"
by Marco Masoni
One of the New York Comedy Film Festival's premieres was Sam Seder and
Charles Fisher's "Who's The Caboose?", a feature film about a couple of
comedians negotiating their way through television pilot season in
Hollywood. Coming from the July edition of "Clips," the quarterly showcase
of short films and works-in-progress to this now high-profile comedy event,
the two filmmakers realize that they have suddenly moved from filmmaking to
film marketing. Gone is the exclusive control they once exercised over
their project; now they are subject to the whims of the public and
distribution market. They are also about to see how people will react to a
film shot with a digital beta camera and subsequently transferred to 35mm.
Later this month, the film will screen at the Fort Lauderdale Film Festival.
indieWIRE: You initially showed a trailer of the film at "Clips," got a lot
of people interested in it, including Miramax. . . now, where, in the
scheme of things, does this premiere of the full-length version at the New
York Comedy Film Festival fit in?
Seder: Well, I have no idea. Charlie and I are pretty much neophytes with
respect to this whole process. I don't know what could come out of this. I
hope people just really enjoy it. . . At the very least it will energize me
and Charlie for what we've got to do ahead of us. What was interesting was
that we were so hermetic in terms of what we were doing that we never
really contemplated the notion of selling while in the process of making
the film. We were a bit lax about stills. . . I'll give you an example: one
of the guys from Miramax that we met through "Clips" came up to us and
asked who was tracking our film. We replied: "What does tracking mean?" His
jaw dropped. We just didn't know that we were supposed to tell anybody what
we were doing. . .
iW: With all these books, articles and crash courses on making your own
film, the assumption is that everybody's in the know. But you weren't.
Sam Seder: I get the impression that the days where people were just making
movies and these movies happened to crop up are done. My sense is that the
independent world is becoming more and more institutionalized.
iW: Sam, you have a successful career as a comedian and an actor. Why take
the time out to make an independent film?
Seder: It was fun. I suppose I should come up with something that's more
profound than that. But I started out as a comedian doing sketch work where
you get to write, produce and direct your own stuff. And it's a hard
transition to work on sitcoms where you don't have that type of input and
there's a certain disposability to the show. It's supposed to appeal to
such a broad spectrum of people that any comedic vision behind it is very
often confused. I wanted to do something I could show my grandkids and say
that this is my comedic vision. I look at old Albert Brooks films, and old
Nichols and May stuff, and it's really inspiring. I just wanted to have
something that twenty years from now might inspire some kid who likes
comedy and have some impact.
iW: How did you, a comedian, and Charlie, a one-time lawyer, come to work
together as a team?
Seder: We've known each other for twenty-eight years. Charlie's parents
were getting a little worried about him and asked me to look after him.
Charlie Fisher: Sam had come up with the idea several months before we sat
down and planned it out. I had just worked on a movie of the week and had a
better understanding of how to run a production. This was just after pilot
season had ended and we had a feeling a lot of this talent would be around.
We told ourselves that we're either going to do this now or not at all.
iW: How does the actual collaborative process work between you guys?
Fisher: I sit down at a typewriter and Sam tells me what to do. And then I
run spell check.
Seder: I don't think we follow the delineations in terms of what people are
supposed to do in the context of a movie.
Fisher: Most independent films, you look for the writer-director. But this
wasn't the classic situation. Here, we had a friend who was really talented
who was brought in to direct the Los Angeles portion; but when it came to
New York, Sam directed those segments. So it wasn't so much about that
auteur sense of the director having single vision. It was much more
producer driven, where we were involved in the writing, the casting, how it
all came together.
iW: This sounds like the way things work in comedy.
Seder: Exactly. If you look at the Conan O'Brien show, or something like
that, there's the production producer, and then there's the writer producer
who actually directs the pieces. The director is more technically involved
in presenting it. I think what happens normally in a narrative film is that
the camera constructs the reality. This was tied into the story, the
casting, where the camera didn't necessarily know what he actors were going
to do. The camera didn't dictate what the actors did. The reality was there
and it was up to us, to the crew, to capture it.
iW: How much was actually scripted?
Seder: I would say that a majority of it was improv. And though we had a
huge cast, these are people I've known for years and years. So when we
wrote it, we wrote it for specific people. We cast it knowing where the
actors would take it. With comedic actors, you can write one joke or two
jokes, sample dialogue, and they have the capacity to extrapolate. This got
us the best material. The best dialogue.
iW: How did you get the cast of experienced comedians?
Seder: People really enjoyed the script and we were giving them a certain
Fisher: We started out the project saying to ourselves that this is going
to be fun, and if it's not fun anymore, then we'll stop. This wasn't going
to be filled with tension. That's part of the reason we shot on digital
beta instead of shooting on film. It allowed the actors to do what they
wanted to do. To keep the attitude constantly fresh and funny. We didn't
have to wait for lighting set-ups or anything else that would slow the
production down. Once we finished a scene, we could immediately move on.
And this allowed the actors, mostly as comics, to constantly try new things.
iW: The digital beta also allowed for a higher shooting ratio. This means
you can do more things unscripted.
Fisher: Yes. You can also decide after you see the footage whether to take
this to film. Is it worth putting the real cost into it, the
post-production, the 35mm transfer?
iW: How much did the 35mm transfer cost? Is that where most of the money in
the budget went?
Seder: The overwhelming portion of the money went to the producers. For tax
Fisher: We got the transfer done at a cost of around $35,000.
iW: Speaking of money, who financed the film?
Seder: We did. For my part, I had just done eight episodes of a show for
Fox and I had this money. Part of the reason we financed it ourselves, at
least in the beginning, is that I didn't want the pressure, the sense that
we are doing this for anybody but ourselves, because I know I would hit a
juncture where, you know what, I'm tired of kissing ass and if the movie's
not going to sell I'm just going to show it in my apartment.
[Marco Masoni is a member of Cinematografia Productions, producers of
Clips, a quarterly film showcase, and Scratch, a showcase of screenplays
premiering November 18th at HERE in New York City. Info: 212.971.5846]