A Comedy Picnic for Your Face
Sketch Group Picnicface Rolls Into Town With Roller Town
When Halifax-based comedy troupe Picnicface fails, it only makes them want to fail harder.
With the cancellation of their Comedy Central show after one season, they are taking their brand of absurd sketch comedy from the green screen the big screen with Roller Town, their feature film that hit theatres in select Canadian cities last week.
After the original small-screen SNAFU, Picnicface editor/director/performer Andrew Bush was offered the chance to take the eight members of the comedy troupe to the big time.
Bush explains the group’s approach to comedy like this: “If all of a sudden a bear appears and shoots a hippo out of its crotch, we have a reason for why we think it’s funny and why it works. We overanalyze every scene. I love [that] about the members of Picnicface. We care. Sometimes too much.”
That attitude appealed to a lot of other people, which became apparent during the groundswell of support for their Save Picnicface campaign, for which they asked fans feeling steamed about the cancellation to vent with one of their “tiers of rage,” which spewed fan-made videos, art and rap made in support of the troupe.
But Roller Town was there in the wake of the cancellation to help soften the blow. Understandably, Bush leapt at the opportunity to direct and write a movie. “It’s so rare to get money to realize something that comes from your mind. That just doesn’t happen much.”
While Bush and Picnicface have years of experience in filmmaking, the move from Internet to television—and then to cinema—required adjusting to different studio politics.
“With the Internet, we were accountable to no one except ourselves. So, if we wanted to shoot a two-minute sketch all day, we just would. With the TV show, you had a whole crew. All of a sudden, a two-minute sketch was allotted 45 minutes. That was a big change. With the movie, that’s even more true.”
Roller Town was shot in Halifax in 17 days and cost $1 million—very little time and money in the movie-making business.
Bush delivered an off-the-cuff plot synopsis with the tone of a director who genuinely enjoys what he does.
“It’s about a guy, right, okay? Who roller-skates, a lot, his name is Leo, and he works at this roller rink. He loves it, it’s his life. Then these mobsters come in, and they wanna shut the roller rink down and turn it into a video arcade, because that’s the newfangled thing and that makes more money and he has to stop them.
“He meets a sweet girl from the other side of the tracks. He’s poor, and she doesn’t go to dirty roller rinks, she does classical roller-skating, like, ballet roller-skating. They meet and fall in love and they’re star-crossed lovers.”
Bush hopes that the audience will sense the heart behind the ludicrous events that transpire in Roller Town. His more recognizable influences include old school sketch groups like Kids in the Hall and Monty Python and directors like Wes Anderson and Woody Allen.
“I’m a huge fan of Michael Bay. No, not really, that’s bullshit. Please—that was—don’t write that, that’s a complete lie,” he laughed, before adding, “You can if you want.”
Picnicface came up with some unconventional fundraising tactics that ended up being great—albeit time-consuming—promotional tools for Roller Town.
“I’m a huge fan of Michael Bay. No, not really, that’s bullshit. Please—that was—don’t write that, that’s a complete lie. You can if you want.”
-Roller Town Director & Picnicface Member Andrew Bush
One man contributed $1,000 to the project in exchange for having his photo appear in the end credits. Picnicface member Mark Little, who plays the lead in Roller Town, offered to compose personalized raps for anybody who donated $50.
“I told Mark, ‘That’s stupid, because everyone’s going to want to do that, your raps are funny, $50 is too little money.’ And Mark goes, ‘That’s fine.’ He ended up doing 50 raps. It took him a year and a half to finish them.”
Reviews of the film have been mixed so far. Some praise the deft references to ‘70s roller-skating movies, while others have discounted Roller Town as juvenile. But for Bush, the praise is worth the criticism.
“It was my first time getting really slammed,” said Bush of the film’s reception. “[But then] I was sitting on the subway and two guys I’ve never met told me they were really pumped about seeing [Roller Town]. It made me think, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s who I’m making this movie for.’”
Bush is by turns critical, pragmatically confident and grateful when looking back on the experience.
“Even though absolutely ridiculous things happen in [Roller Town], I truly believe that the acting gives us truthful moments. If you don’t think it’s relatable, then you have no soul.
“I also would like to follow that up with one of those weird, winky faces. But really, my movie is playing at the AMC. There’s no way I can complain, at all.”
The three 2012 Canadian Comedy Awards Roller Town received—for directing, writing and acting —can’t have hurt either.
Bush is immersed in the kind of creative career where love of the craft overpowers any resistance to the requisite relentless work and constant self-criticism.
“It’s not just sitting around, having drinks and saying, ‘That would be funny.’ It’s sitting by yourself, trying to make it work on the page and, after it’s shot, hours of editing,” he said.
“If it’s funny we put it on the Internet and if it sucks we just throw it away. [Picnicface] spent days shooting things no one has ever seen because it sucked.”
His story is one that creative types struggling to make it can relate to, and he offers encouraging words for those who might not have a movie deal in the works.“You go through all these levels of loving and hating [the job]. It sounds so cheesy, but if you’re prepared to do the work, really jump into it and stick with it, you’re a king in my eyes.”
_To find out where Roller Town is playing near you and to see more of Picnicface’s work, visit picnicface.com.
To hear about Andrew Bush’s next project, a web series called Everyone’s Famous, to be released in late fall, follow him on Twitter @andycbush.
To check out Mark Little’s raps, and the other unorthodox fundraising videos, check out youtube.com/rollertownthemovie._