Change is the law of life and as we chase our dreams, our goals will evolve. When I moved out here to Los Angeles in 2007, I wanted to be a director like Spike Jonze or, even better, Steven Spielberg. These are men I looked up to who directed and produced star-studded, feature-length, multi-million dollar pictures (and still do). In my artistic quest to get as far as I can as fast as I can in show business (while maintaining my integrity, of course), I have inadvertently developed into something different from the directors of old. I’ve become part journalist, part editor, all producer, and the result is a documentary: The Comedy Garage.?
Spielberg directed his first big studio picture, Jaws, at age 29. Just the film stock at the time was upward of $600 per ten minutes of footage, not to mention the millions of dollars in equipment, locations, crew, actors, and the giant robotic shark. The entire budget was around $8 million.
On the other end of the budget spectrum; when I’m directing, I generally must also fill one or more of the following positions: producer, editor, photographer, writer, publicist, and/or distributor. Over-stretching yourself can hurt your final piece, especially when it comes to video production. This is not the ideal situation… Or is it? ??I certainly began wearing many hats by necessity. It saves money and time. Because of my lack of resources, I made some simple shorts in college (outside of class) and got my first breaks working on small independent projects such as Tom Green Live, a late night talk show for the web.
As “producer” I was in charge of the lights, grip, electric, cameras, sound, teleprompter, screening skype calls, live switching, editing, and updating the website. It was daunting, to say the least, but after that I got hired to work at Universal on a team of other multitasking behind-the-scenes video producers/editors for NBC.com.
It seemed that using a prosumer camera and editing on a mac was becoming a desired skill set, but doing all this unscripted work was very much preventing me from working as a production assistant on major motion pictures like Iron Man 2. I was going deeper into a journalistic type of production style; something I never particularly yearned for.
However, despite having very little experience with actors, scripts, and camera cranes, my strange jack-of-all-trades penchant allowed me to successfully produce (and direct, shoot, edit) my new documentary, The Comedy Garage.
I was originally introduced to The Comedy Garage while working at Tom Green Live. I’d hired comedian Sean Green and his friend Cornell Reid off craigslist to volunteer at the show for a day. About a month after meeting them, I was invited to a party at their house.
When I showed up at the party, it was banging’. I’d noticed that their garage was a really nice “man cave.” It was decorated all over with a variety of kitsch such as a ceramic Bart Simpson statue, a Grateful Dead tapestry, and a robotic snowman, to name a few. It was also arranged with a hookah table, mini fridge, and plenty of non-matching sofas and chairs.
It mostly seemed like a normal college style keg party until about midnight. When the clock stuck twelve, every one gathered in the garage. They sat down in the various couches and chairs and watched a live stand-up comedy show, performed on a makeshift stage at the back of the garage, complete with a mic and amplifier. Apparently this was something they did monthly.
The comics were amazing and they each had very distinct comic styles and personalities. Matt Sullivan was sarcastic, Paul Danke was in your face, Casey Feigh was young at heart, Sean was an old soul, and Cornell was ultra easygoing. These guys were entrepreneurs of partying. The night was very surreal. It seemed like a movie, and I knew I had to make a documentary about it.
Thanks to my great friends Marc Cittadino and Eric McHugh, I was able to get ahold of three HVX200 cameras. We shot most of the documentary over one weekend. This required a lot of extra planning.
I actually couldn’t afford to buy or rent any extra P2 memory cards, so as my cards ran out of space during the live stand-up shoot, I was running back and fourth to dump footage onto my mac, which was set up in the house. I’d eventually return to the helm with a formatted card to continue recording. We literally staggered the camera recording times so that at least one camera could always be filming.
What I went through behind the camera, the comedians had gone through to create their live homemade show. Each individual’s act, as well as the group’s live shows, were works of art created by stand-ups who got consistent stage time. They found their voice and it had gotten to a point where established comics wanted to perform in a garage in Burbank. That says something.
There were many obstacles during production, but adversity made the final product much more gratifying. It also gave the film its own gritty aesthetic. This tone was advanced further by a very talented musician, Wax, who generously donated several of his self-made studio recordings to the soundtrack.
The documentary is now finished, and that is a reward in itself. It is also available on Hulu and has received accolades, which are pretty nice bonuses. The Comedy Garage live show can still be seen monthly at Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theatre and occasionally other venues in Los Angeles.
I still hope to direct studio feature films some day, but I will never be Steven Spielberg. I will always be Logan Lesitikow. The Comedy Garage as a concept is all about doing-it-yourself. Its also about each comedian having his own voice. If you are unafraid to learn by doing, you will find your voice. And it won’t sound like anyone else’s.
Logan Leistikow grew up in Texas loving film and TV. Now he is a filmmaker living in Los Angeles who can also be seen doing his own stand-up comedy around town. Visit LoganLeistikow.com to find out more. Logan is currently in post-production for The Comedy Garage: Extended Edition, with an all new epilogue, to be released on Netflix in 2012.