Splitsider's first digital download, The Exquisite Corpse Project, is, I'll admit, a little hard to explain. Here's the premise, derived from the exquisite corpse party game: five writers each wrote 15 pages of a movie, having only seen the previous five pages of the script. The resulting film is a mix of that narrative with documentary footage about the making of the film and behind the scenes dynamics of the writers, all former members of the sketch group Olde English. The relationships of the group are explained more thoroughly in the film, but here's the short version: Ben Popik started the group while a student at Bard College. Members came and went, but when Joel Clark left just after college, the permanent group became Ben, Caleb Bark, Raphael Bob-Waksberg, Adam Conover, and Dave Segal. They went on to make sketches for the short-lived internet video site SuperDeluxe, before going their separate ways. In later years, Chioke Nassor was brought on to help with the production of the videos.
I recently sat down with six of the guys — Ben, the film's director; Caleb, the movie’s star; and four of the writers, Chioke, Joel, Adam, and Raphael — to discuss writing as a group, figuring out how to be a production company, and their fraught relationships.
[To Ben] You explain a bit in the movie why you wanted to do this project, but could you talk a little bit more about where the idea came from?
Ben: Sure. So, Olde English used to have a regular show at the UCB, and we experimented with a format which we called The Rules Show. We would assign each other a list of rules by which to make sketches. So, we would each come up with a list of rules for each other person. For instance, my favorite example was for Raphael. I said, you need to write a sketch in which you combine your three most embarrassing memories into one sketch. That was rule number one. Rule number two is that he had to write that sketch in five minutes. And rule number three was the five minutes begin right now. And then I handed him a pen and paper, and he had to scramble to write them. Now the important thing is, we filmed the meeting where we assigned each other the rules, and then we would show the audience the video of that rule assignment, so they got to watch Raphael laughing at these rules, and then scrambling to try and write something. And when the video was done, lights up on the stage, they would watch what he'd written.
Raphael: Which was terrible.
Ben: Now what he wrote was absolutely terrible, and how could it not be?
Raphael: And embarrassing, because it was about three embarrassing things that happened in my life.
Ben: And it was honest, right. What he wrote was terrible, cause how could it not be, but an interesting phenomenon we discovered is that, the audience loved it, even though it was terrible. And from a comedy perspective, that's fascinating, because usually if you write something bad, it will bomb. If they were to just see the sketch that he wrote, they would hate it. Why wouldn't they? They would say, why did I just watch that piece of shit? But with the added context of knowing why it was terrible, they could find it funny. They were in on the joke and they liked it. And that was really interesting to us. So this feature was basically an attempt to explore the format, and what effect it has on the audience to share the creative context with them. READ MORE