With the release of Mystery Team on DVD and other formats yesterday, I got the chance to speak with director, co-writer, and editor Dan Eckman (above on the far left). Readers of the site know by now that I’m a huge DERRICK Comedy fan and think that Mystery Team is destined for cult comedy status. I spoke with Eckman last year after I saw the film at Comic-Con and we had a great conversation so I was happy to talk with him again.
In the interview, Eckman spoke about the challenges in distributing the film, finalizing the film in the editing room, the learning experience of shooting Mystery Team, among other topics.
Hit the jump to read the full interview. Mystery Team is now available on DVD, digital download, On Demand, and video game consoles.
For those who aren’t familiar with the film, here’s the trailer:
I spoke yesterday a little bit the DC, Donald and Dominic about this, but I wanted to get your thoughts on sort of the film’s journey from Sundance to now and what it’s been like trying to get your film out there city by city.
DAN ECKMAN: Oh, yeah that’s quite a conversation, I’m sure. I hope they didn’t beat you up too hard about it, but you know cry about the whole process. Yeah, where do you want to start?
Well I mean the thing that kind of piques my curiosity is sort of the film got…if I’m getting something wrong just correct me, the film was picked up for distribution by Roadside Attractions, correct?
Okay. Now usually I mean again this is just sort of what I think is supposed to happen that a distributor is supposed to sort of get your film out there and sort of put it into markets but I mean covering the film online it seemed like you guys were doing a lot of leg work having to personally appeal to fans to just get it out and make the fans want to…or make people that were interested in the film want to see it but at the same time you were trying to build an audience that didn’t know about the film, if that makes any sense?
ECKMAN: Yeah, that’s 100% accurate.
Okay, so I guess I was just curious about how you sort of proceeded in terms of trying to actually get this film out, I wouldn’t say on your own, but it did seem like you guys were doing a lot of the work.
ECKMAN: Yeah. Yeah, I mean I’ll try to be diplomatic obviously. Well, what exactly are you asking?
Well we don’t have to go…
ECKMAN: What element do you want me kind of comment on?
Okay, we don’t have to rip on a studio or anything like that…
ECKMAN: No, no, no, no. I mean I’m happy to talk about …I didn’t mean that. I just like wanted to know…I didn’t want to start to ramble and make sure I give you a clear answer.
Oh no, again I’m sort of like…well for instance I saw the film at Comic-Con and I was sort of curious, was the original plan about how to start distributing the film and when do you sort of learn or get the idea that you guys would have to go online and ask people to demand it and sort of start up this new kind of campaign to get the film into theatres?
ECKMAN: That’s a good question. Okay, yeah well yeah I mean we I guess we were under the impression going into or when we got picked up for distribution that we would be like maybe creating kind of like artwork and content for the marketing materials I guess, but the actual getting the word out and making sure that people knew that it was going to be in certain places at certain times was not necessarily–or that was not on us, I guess. And so I guess we only really found out once we got to Austin, Texas that…well here the thing…oh boy…Well, basically the situation is that since we were an Internet troupe and I think there was a perception by the distributor maybe that we had a lot of outreach on the Internet because we had all these different views. And the fact of the matter is that for us all we’ve ever done to acquire those views is put up a video and it kind of does its viral thing outward from there. And I think that the video …there was perception like we knew how to gain the Internet and we had all these ways to kind of see the content and get the word out in all these social networking ways because things showed up and faced the concept. And the truth of the matter is we’re actually painfully, painfully bad at that. Embarrassingly so. And if you go to our website, it’s like something from 1998 or something, but so yeah I guess when we…we were kind of just doing all this general outward promotion in Comic-Con to kind of get the overall word out there, but it wasn’t until we started the actual release that we found out that we were going to have to kind of be also getting the word out on the ground level, too. And there was a disconnect I think between the overall awareness of the movie and hey, it’s playing in this town on this day at this theatre because we were getting lots of emails and particular out of Austin which was our opening city, that like in the week after it had opened, like what do you mean you were there? Like, “I would have loved to have given you money.” And we’re all like, whaaat? You know?
ECKMAN: And the so then like [producer Meggie McFadden] just started cold calling like newspapers in the cities that we were going to be in being like hey, our movie’s going to show up. Can you like have it like listed? And they were like yeah sure. And so we just kind of came to find out like…and it’s a budget issue. I mean, I’m not trying to blame anybody. There was just no money put into it. So we just didn’t know that basically. I think if we’d known that going in, we certainly would certainly have done a lot of things different and I think maybe it wouldn’t have been so kind of emotionally stressful.
Right. I was actually also wondering sort of what the process was on choosing the cities that it came out in sort of how did you know, okay there’s enough interest here to bring the movie to city X? And sort of what your process…the process of what cities would get the movie?
ECKMAN: It wasn’t really an exact science. The theory was to start in college towns and we were there during…and they had us working around the football schedule. That was the part that I think we were kind of involved in the least. Or we were involved in it but they would kind of propose these ideas to us and we were definitely kind of, you know, what we were getting excited about when we got with a distributor was that they were going to bring a lot of expertise on that front because all that we knew how to do was make with the funny and hopefully…we were all basically saying, like hey we can make new content. We can put out new things for new Mystery-related content or content that can be tied to mystery theme to the promotion of the film for pennies on the dollar for what normal advertising would be and we can get a much wider base through this YouTube views, but…
Yeah. I honestly believe the film is going to find some real success on DVD because the only time I saw it in theatres was at Comic-Con, but for me the comedy is the question is how well it holds up on repeat viewings and watching the DVD, it definitely didn’t let me down. And for example, like Donald’s performance, the first viewing was the one that jumped out at me but on the 2nd viewing I thought Dominic really stole the show with these little throw-away lines.
ECKMAN: (Laugher) Nice.
And sort of my question for you is since you’ve directed and co-wrote the film but you also edited it, I was wondering how the jokes play for you since you see the film so many times and since you’re kind of the one making the final re-write by virtue of the editing and sort of how you layer out the jokes and sort of choose the timing and things like that?
ECKMAN: Well, in this case like the film that played at Sundance at least was about 14 minutes longer than the one that…I think Comic-Con was the final version, so you’ve only seen this one cut, but so…and it was like 14 minutes that was like taken from all little, little itty bitty places. So I don’t know, for me boy…I don’t know how do the jokes play? I mean like definitely you get close to it after a certain point but it’s really nice to once you kind of get the cut that you feel that you’re happy with kind of internally, it was really nice to go through the process of like seeing it with an audience and just feeling like for myself like the points when like the room I’m getting like bored and and it’s slower isn’t really like jiving for me or like I want to get this moving or like oh let’s just…I don’t know…like for me I come from like a more musical background. Like I used to do stuff for Blue Man Group and so it’s a really rhythmic thing and comic timing is basically that so.
Yeah. I was listening to the commentary and I was reminded that anyone who says what I really want to do is direct may have no idea what directing entails, because when I was watching…and there’s like so much stuff like you just don’t consider when you’re watching a movie like you know you guys stepping over cables but trying to make sure they’re not seen and trying to get the sunlight correct, and making sure no one wears a white t-shirt and I was sort of wondering, has directing been a constant learning process for you all the way from Tisch School of the Arts through the production of Mystery Team?
ECKMAN: Oh yeah. And I mean like where I was going in and during Mystery Team as opposed to what I learned from that and like where I am now is a completely different place. That’s the only way…yeah that’s absolutely the only way. I mean and actually I think that if you really told me maybe as a film student what you’re really worrying…all the massive, massive things you’re worrying about I would probably have had my head explode. But yeah, it’s a constant learning experience. Constant learning experience.
Yeah. I was actually wondering now that you have that learning experience, does that encourage you in terms of what you feel you can do in the sketches? And perhaps things that you might not have been as confident to do before now that you have this new knowledge?
ECKMAN: That’s a good question. I definitely think I shoot the sketches differently now than I did then only because I learned so many kind of…I just think I’ve evolved a lot in my style and I think I’m honing in more of what it is I do exactly, but more confident to do the stuff? Um, maybe if anything my problem has always been that I was maybe a little too confident to do all the stuff, so I don’t know. I think…I don’t know…your question.
Okay. I was looking at the special features on the DVD and I was kind of surprised that the Mystery Team Adventures short that you guys did wasn’t included and I was curious as to why that was and if there was any other features you wanted to include but you couldn’t whether it was due to budget, time constraints or the actual physical space restraints of the disc.
ECKMAN: Good question. Yeah, it was basically the constraints of the disc itself. We could only have so much content on there without it starting…or without starting to kind of affect the image quality more so that it already was. And so with the case of that, it’s online in HD for free and we felt that it was a better image already than you could get on DVD and we’d rather get like…we put the Red Band trailer on there which only exists in like an old HD format and felt that we put new content on. That was kind of thought. But yeah, in a perfect world we totally would have had that on there and it would have been really nice just kind of full complement of content, but in a normal perfect world, like things we’ve talked about I’ve always wanted to do but just definitely didn’t have the money to do when the time came was we actually wrote 3 more fully written out Mystery Team Adventures. And we did…the thing we wanted to do that would kind of like a Jack-Jack Attack [from The Incredibles] or one of those kind of Pixar style shorts that like takes place within the cracks of the story that would explain why that guy is fucking the panda at the end. And I think we talked about it loosely in the commentary. We were going to call it the Rabbi Appleman fund. It was going to involve the Ricky Appleman character, the guy who like tells him to go fuck himself at this bowling alley. He’s going to be deeply involved in the conspiracy. And this is getting really nerdy, and obsessed with our own content, but when Leroy’s phone checks in…like that guy had call him at one point, we were going to have that come into play in this—there was going to be a whole overly complicated fun thing to check in with little moments of the story, but maybe someday.
Yeah. I surprised…you know it’s funny you wanted a film the first time and I haven’t seen it since Comic-Con until now, and it was weird because there was certain things that I remember liking the first time I saw and I guess I remember them wrong. Like I remember the shot when Donald walks in and sees the guy getting milk shot up his butt, to be like a much longer hold and also the guy at the end like what he screams is like in, I guess, in the final version he’s they cut off my balls, but for some reason I thought he screamed who am I, which I don’t know…
ECKMAN: Oh, okay.
So I guess that’s…I actually it’s weird because part of me wants to ask if anything changed but you say it was the final cut.
ECKMAN: The Comic-Con was the 35mm…the first time I ever screened on 35mm…yeah nothing’s changed on that one.
ECKMAN: Although up until then like every couple months we’d do a screening, it’d be a minute and a half shorter for like 6 different scenes where I was like chopping little chunks here and there.
ECKMAN: Well because you know what it was? We were getting decent amount of reviews out of Comic-Con…or Sundance too that were commenting on the fact that it was feeling long and we were agreeing with that comment, too. And in fact one of them mentioned that because of the way I shot it, I basically ruined the ability to edit the movie down and even cut full sequences down, so I like buckled down and I cut 14 minutes out without really cutting any sequence scenes out at all. That’s proving that we can really improve the movie and then…I mean that still is definitely a kind of negative comment in review but I think it curbed a lot of that.
Sure. Obviously I’m excited for anything you guys are doing and I was just…so I have to ask what’s on the horizon?
ECKMAN: As a group, well we just put out a new sketch this past week. We’re putting out another new one next week. We’re basically really excited to get to the end of the road on Mystery Team. And we’ve been like, in our spare time, like trying to develop our next feature and working on a handful of other projects. And hopefully now we can actually buckle down on that as a group.
How’s it getting together to do these projects, because I remember when I spoke to the guys yesterday, you know they mentioned sort of like I brought up how it was sort of 5 months between Gink and the previous video and sort of that wait. And I was curious sort of in terms of the spacing is that due to the individual projects or just sort of your take on that?
ECKMAN: Well the spacing of the video…I mean the thing is like we went for like a year and some change whatever without putting up a video but we made a movie during it.
ECKMAN: Actually, I see the videos all the time as far as that’s considered so…and also like we’ve been collaborating a lot more in kind of like other combinations of the group if that makes sense? Kind of like non-Derek combinations of the 5 of us.
Sort of like when DC and Dominic were on Community? Something like that?
ECKMAN: Yeah actually Meggie and I are in that.
Oh you are, yeah. I’m sorry. Yeah. Sorry I forgot. It’s been awhile.
ECKMAN: But not that but yeah like on our own projects as well.
ECKMAN: But we’ve been working and focused on a lot of Mystery Team stuff…like the actual like the time between sketches I wouldn’t really gauge…I wouldn’t really look at it as like much of anything. I don’t know. Also, the thing we is need money to shoot these things! (laughs) So with the promotion of the movie we were able to.
No, I’m not trying to get greedy. I’m just sort of, you know, because I’m a huge fan and always anxious to see what you guys are going to do next.
ECKMAN: Oh we’ve got a big backlog of ideas that we’re so excited that we should love to shoot if and when we had the time, but also the other thing too is frankly our sketch ideas are getting bigger. I mean Gink was by its nature kind of contained small effects when we had it, it was simpler or simplish. But most of the ones we have written are like on a larger scale and involve weird things, and so they kind of need the proper time and money to, you know, the days where we’d kind of go up to parents house and bang out like 4 sketches in a weekend, that wouldn’t really be appropriate. The kind of stuff that we’re making a couple of years ago, I don’t think would really fly today.
So has Mystery Team sort of been like a turning point in that because…?
ECKMAN: Oh yeah.
Yeah, because again I was watching the commentary and learning about how so much of the film is just, you know, your houses and people you know and things like that. So I guess…is there a point where you can’t ….I’m not saying you can’t go back, but the aspirations have changed?
ECKMAN: Um, aspirations in terms of what?
Well, in terms of you know you’ve done this movie and its like I guess creatively I think you’d want to challenge yourself. I mean…
I guess I’m talking in terms of like that.
ECKMAN: Yeah, well that’s the thing. I mean totally. That was the reason we made Mystery Team was to set the bar that much higher for ourselves and for our careers. And so that’s the case. I mean like I don’t think…I hope we never stop making the sketches but like you will see a major evolution in what they are and hopefully if we individually get more, you know, disposable income we’ll just drop it on you…stupid really weird ideas. You know, like we…I guess our aspirations have always been that but maybe because it’s becoming more of reality we’re actively trying to pursue them.
Okay. Well, thank you so much for taking to time to talk with me. I’m really happy the movie’s on DVD and I can finally show it to people after raving about it.
ECKMAN: Thank you. You’ve seriously been like our like biggest supporter, man. You’ve been amazing throughout this whole process.
Oh thank you. No, I’m happy to cheer on a film like this. So again, thank you for talking with me and congratulations on the DVD.