Park City has special resonance for the five members of the comedy troupe Broken Lizard. In 1996, their first feature, “Puddle Cruiser,” made waves at the Sundance Film Festival even though it failed to secure immediate distribution. Nevertheless, the movie successfully introduced Broken Lizard to the industry and set the stage for their next move. Director Jay Chandrasekhar recalls feeling lucky. “We were so surprised that any film festival let us in,” he said in a recent interview with indieWIRE. “That kind of movie wasn’t really popular on the festival circuit.”
At the time, Chandrasekhar worked as an assistant to Cinetic Media founder John Sloss, whose ongoing collaboration with Broken Lizard led to the triumphant sale of the group’s next feature, “Super Troopers,” to Fox Searchlight at Sundance in 2001. Two studio projects later, the team is returning to the deep chill of Utah — this time, at the Slamdance Film Festival — with another independently financed production.
Promising Broken Lizard’s characteristically outlandish humor, “The Slammin’ Salmon” takes place at the titular Miami restaurant, where the manager (Michael Clarke Duncan) decides to pay back a debt to the Japanese Yakuza by getting his wait staff to radically increase business over the course of a single night. Much chaos — and, one hopes, much hilarity — ensues. Although Chandrasekhar usually directs the troupe’s projects, “The Slammin’ Salmon” marks the directorial debut of Broken Lizard member Kevin Heffernan. “We’ve known each other for twenty years and worked together on a lot of projects, so it felt very familiar,” Heffernan said.
Broken Lizard’s presence at Slamdance, with Cinetic once again serving as their sales agent, should also feel familiar. While their last two features were studio productions, “The Slammin’ Salmon” marks a return for the group to the low budget approach. When the Writers Guild of America strike put a halt to many studio productions in 2007, the troupe decided not to wait around. “We knew the studios wouldn’t throw money around, so we put the project together really quickly,” said Heffernan. They raised money and began preproduction in a single month.
Unlike their other films, “The Slammin’ Salmon” was shot exclusively in Los Angeles, which allowed the filmmakers to avoid travel costs. “It felt like we were going back to our roots in sketch comedy and putting on a play,” Heffernan said. However, the celebrity cameos and Broken Lizard’s increased visibility gave them stronger assurance about the project’s future than they had on the earlier films. “We didn’t have to go back to being as indie as ‘Puddle Cruiser’ or ‘Super Troopers,’ where, when you weren’t shooting, you were standing on the side of the road with no place to go,” Heffernan said. “We definitely didn’t have the same machinery as when you have a studio, but we do have a really solid fan base.”
Even though the film was rejected by Sundance, Chandrasekhar predicts that the group will have a smooth ride up the hill at Main Street’s comparatively smaller gathering. “It’s a little easier now that people have a sense for who we are,” he said. Still, they don’t expect a sale of “Super Troopers” proportions. “You can never feel too comfortable,” admitted Broken Lizard member Paul Soter, whose directorial debut, 2007’s “Watching the Detectives,” marked his solo foray into the festival game. “We just want to get it out there and have people see it. The way the economy is going, we have to temper our expectations.”