A Quick Q&A with Graham Elwood

Graham Elwood is a comedian, filmmaker, blogger, and second degree yellow belt out of Los Angeles. He is also a founder of ComedyFilmNerds.com a site where stand-up comics write reviews and column on the movie industry. Along side the site is the Comedy Film Nerds podcast a weekly podcast that discusses past, current, and up coming movies.

Where did the idea for Comedy Film Nerds come from?

[Cofounder] Chris Mancini and I are both film makers who are also stand-up comics, and about four years ago I had just built grahamelwood.com to sell my first DVD Live From Afghanistan. I did it all myself using Yahoo merchants services and I used a simple template since I had little to no web design experience, I was not good at that at all. I did it kind of fumbling through and figuring things out myself, then I ran into Chris and told him that I had done this and he was like wow. Then he called me a couple weeks later and said “hey man I want to talk to you about something lets get together for lunch,” and we had this lunch it was like January of ’07, and he was said I know all these filmmakers with short films and so do you, all these guys we met at all these festivals Chris and I had been at, and we all had short films that we basically sitting there on shelf collecting dust.

The fact that I had been able to easily build a website for nothing, and sell my DVD on it… [call drops] [resumes] we just had this lunch and Chris was like I think we could make this website, and we just started talking, we could sell short films for download since that technology was just starting. We just said there are not many people who are filmmakers and comics, and we sell short-films and we sell some other products, we’ll have a store we’ll have movie reviews and that is where it all started and we said alright lets move forward on that and just figured we could get it up and running in about a year. We had a couple more meeting to figure out exactly what the site was going to be, we were like oh its going to be like Film Threat, because at the time Film Threat had a real popular website, and was getting 20-30,000 hits a day or something like that, and we were like it will be part Film Threat, and part Amazon.

I was on the road a little bit, but I was busy still editing and finishing Laffghanistan, because that was a long process. So we spent about a year working on it and figuring out all the things we could do, and Chris had a friend who designs websites and they started doing it and we were putting in our own money and just trying to keep our expenses low, we incorporated and we did it. I think we launched the site in April of 2008, and with a website that everyone said, man I love your content, but your website sucks.

Wasn’t it not searchable?

Yeah if you googled it sometimes you couldn’t find it, but then there was no search capabilities in the website itself, it was just really hard to navigate and it had way too much stuff. It was not a great website, everyone said man I love your articles, at the time we had no podcast, we were just doing movie reviews and columns, so people were like your movie reviews are hilarious and informative, and no one has this sense of humor about it and is this informed. Everyone love the content but the functionality of the site was horrible.

When did you start adding other writers and comedians to the site?

That was sort of part of the process getting ready to launch the website site in April was trying to get some writers, and Mike Schmidt was one of the early writers and Laura House, and Jackie Kashian, and getting Dean [Haglund] to write a column and getting Allan Havey to write his column, oh and then Lord Carrett. But in the beginning it was Chris and I doing most of the articles, then Neil [Weakley]. So those are all the writers we had to start with.

When did you move on from doing just columns to then do a podcast?

We had always wanted to have a live streaming component to the site, and we just never could make that work. We had some live streaming, we had some short films that would live stream that you didn’t have to pay for and that kind of worked a little bit. This comic who was the house emcee at Lake Tahoe at the Improv at Harvey’s casino, named Howie Nave hosts this TV show on a local cable station, this is a action sports cable station in Lake Tahoe and Aspen called RSN. He was doing this movie review show, and he asked us if we could shoot a two minute movie review video thing, and Chris and I just started doing that, and it was a lot of work and nobody really watched it, but Chris and I sort of developed our sense of humor and our rapport together doing that, and we were like man we are sort of on to something this is pretty funny and we did a couple live shows in L.A. That Chris and I would emcee and it just clicked and worked. Chris and I had been friends for a long time as stand-ups, but we had never sort of performed together. Because we both loved and knew a lot about movies it just sort of fit, our senses of humor complimented each other in doing this show for RSN. In that time we would both either together or separately be guests on all of these other comedians, friends of ours that are comics podcasts. Like Jimmy Pardo’s [Never Not Funny], and Battleship Pretension, and Paul Goebel’s show [The Paul Goebel Show]. I had done a podcast back in ’05 and ’06 called comics in combat where I would interview  other stand-up comics that had been in a war zone and just sort of trade stories. It was cool, but podcasting hadn’t hit yet and I didn’t quite get the power of podcasting, just seemed like I was doing a radio show for free and no one was listening. But in that time ’08 and ’09 we were really seeing how podcasting was starting, and as the site grew and we redid the site and had message boards that were good, and started doing more live shows in L.A. And building up a fan base people started e-mailing us going when are you guys going to have your own podcast? We knew kind of a version of the little video segments we had done for that network in Lake Tahoe. And like everything else we were like gee how do we do this? And we kind of stumbled through and figured it out and asked other friends of ours who did podcasts questions.

I had a voiceover agent at the time and I learned how to record my auditions on the road and turn them into mp3s. So I figured out how to use Garage Band, in doing these voiceover auditions and I had this microphone that they recommended I get the Snowball from Blue. So I had learned how to do that and I was like lets do it.

Like most things we finally went let stop talking and planning it and just do it. So we plugged the microphone in and I think the episode was 15 minutes and then Chris… I don’t know like his kid started crying and he had to go inside and that was the episode and that was episode 1.

Was the original plan to have it be a shorter show, or were you always shooting for that hour mark?

No I think the original plan was a half-hour. The original plan was just Chris and I, then we did a couple of episodes and then we like lets bring some of the writers on and first guest was Mike Schmidt and he had already been doing his 40 Year Old Boy podcast, and when we had Mike Schmidt on we went oh okay this is better. And he brought a lot of his fans over to us like our numbers spiked pretty quickly, and then we brought Jackie Kashian on. Then we started to realized we should have a guests, and at the time we were doing it every other week, usually every two weeks, sometimes every three weeks,but it wasn’t every week. Like a lot of things you just do it and fumble through it and realize what works and what didn’t. The first episode was 15 minutes, the second one was 30, and when we added mike it got to 45 minutes to an hour. An we kind of went yeah thats it.

What are the plans for the future of Comedy Film Nerds?

The plan has always been to build this community and have Comedy Film Nerds be like a brand name. There is a TV show we are in the process of trying to pitch. We are filmmakers we want to produce and direct our own movies, and now this last week of putting Laffghanistan up and we have done really well with the downloads just in a week . That has sort of always been our plan was to be filmmakers, producers and a distribution arm. And thats the goal has always been to make our own stuff, because this was born out of Chris and I just being frustrated that we couldn’t sell our movies, we couldn’t get work, and we so sick of it. Having to deal with everybody else and the technology was finally at a place where you could do it yourself, and that is where our goal is. Our goal would be to have a TV show, keep doing the podcast because we love it, and produce films, and launch other people’s work.

Doing a podcast is the most empowering thing I have ever done in show business, because we litterally plugged a microphone into my laptop and we say what ever we want. And the fans as we talked about on the Greg Behrendt episode, the fans can sense how genuine we’re being, there is not some network filter censoring us. We’re saying whatever we want to say and do, and I think that what the fans really love is they’re getting us honestly and that is what we are going to do. We are going to make the kind of movies I would want to go watch, and distribute them the way we want to distribute them.

I mean I would love to have a chain of Comedy Film Nerds movie theaters where we play, and we have [Akira] Kurosawa festivals, and we play classic movies, and we play independent films you seen or heard of, and we find young filmmakers that have great films and we distribute them. That our goal do it all ourselves, and eliminate the moron executives.

Do you see these theaters as being renovated old theaters or more like a UCB for film?

They would be buying old movie theaters, I have a love for old theaters and I would want to buy them and refurbish them, and make them a space where we could show movies, also do live shows, but it would be our theater we show our stuff. Everything from the food we would sell, even the short films before a movie and hilarious “lets all go to the lobby” what ever our version of that would be and make it totally our thing. Chris and I had been talking about this forever, in the office about a year ago I went “man I would really like to buy old theaters and fix them up,” and Chris went oh okay that’s what we’ll do with Comedy Film Nerds when we get there and have that kind of money. Make the these museum and cultural pieces that they are, I’ve performed in so many old theaters and theaters that were built in the early 1900s and they are amazing, and they don’t make theaters like that anymore, and when they are refurbished they are museums, they’re cathedrals, and that’s how we would treat them a cathedral for cinema. But we wouldn’t rape children that would be the difference we molest kids in our cathedrals.

Has the internet liberated comedy in the same way it has liberated filmmakers?

Yeah, there is this renaissance in stand-up comedy from when I first started in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s and it is driven primarily by the technology and the people in their 20s, because anyone in their 20s as I am sure you can attest to started using the internet when you were 7 or something like that, I didn’t get the internet until I was 24 or 25, so people in your age group have grown up with the internet that is how they get everything. I have been a stand-up comic for 20 years and I  have never enjoyed this much diehard fans, because they’ve seen me or they watch clips online, or they’ve downloaded my CD or they’ve heard me on podcasts. They come out to shows now because they want to see me live and it is amazing it is a true renaissance, I was having a conversation with Paul Gilmartin up at the Bridgetown Comedy Festival. We have never seen anything like this, even in the boom of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s that boom was driven by trying to get on TV shows and get development deals through networks and you just had to destroy and thats what bred a lot of these hackie acts. What now is king is content, that is what the internet has proven. Content is king so all of these really funny comics are being embraced because they are good writers, and good performers. And the craft of stand-up is being embraced, and that is what is so cool to see at the Bridgetown festival and comics like Hannibal Buress and Kyle Kinane who are solid joke writers and seeing Nikki Glaser and that is really cool. The Internet is doing that for movies, but it seems like it is doing it even more for stand-up comedy. Because to take somebodies 3 minute stand-up comedy bit, this is sort of perfect for the internet. The internet drives people to the live shows.

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