Matt Peterson On Abe Makes A Movie
The words Albuquerque and comedy are not frequently heard in the same sentence, but the city has come a long way to provide venues for local stand-up comedians to perform—open mic nights, etc.—as well as theater and film productions of which they can be a part. Venues like The Box Performance Space host improv classes, and there are well-attended comedy events popping up all of the time.
So it was no surprise that last month’s stand-up comic competition at Tractor Brewing was packed, the room full of comedy nerds and weirdos excited to see ten comics make them laugh. For my part, I had come to see Matt Peterson, a local comic I first met last year. Between then and now, in addition to numerous open mic sets and regular bookings—Peterson also opened for Marc Maron at National Hispanic Cultural Center and Tig Notaro at the Lensic—he has co-written and starred in Abe Makes a Movie (dir: Ryan Turri), an indie comedy about a guy trying to win his girlfriend back. The film was shot locally in ABQ. On July 24th, Abe Makes a Movie will premiere at the Kimo Theater in downtown Albuquerque. (Visit here for tickets.) I sat down to talk to Peterson about the film.
Could you talk about how you got involved in Abe Makes a Movie?
The director and co-writer, Ryan Turri, and I hadn’t done anything in about a year and a half, so we were like, let’s do a short, a mockumentary or something. We’ll develop some content and just write it. So it started off as a mocumentary. Our first film, The Bigfoot Election, had a good festival run.
What was that film about?
The Bigfoot Election was about a drunk cop (in) a mountain town who wants to run for sheriff, and he and his dumb buddy—who I played—decided that they’re going to make a Bigfoot hoax, with a plan to fix it to try to get votes so he would get elected sheriff of the town. Ryan and I started writing Abe Makes a Movie about two and half years ago. We wrote about some of the experiences we had with some people and things that happen at film festivals and thought we were going to make a mockumentary of independent film. And then it became more of a narrative and we really enjoyed these few characters. And then we added like 35 more (characters) for some stupid reason.
What’s Abe Makes a Movie about?
It’s about a guy that gets dumped. He’s kind of a mopey wannabe film maker, a guy that knows everything about some series from 1972 nobody’s heard of, that’s like his opus of anything. He’s that guy that doesn’t do a lot of film stuff, but he thinks he can. He has a lot of information about a lot of stuff. So, he gets dumped by his girlfriend and he decides, I’m going to get this crew off of Craigslist or wherever, and I can find the people that maybe have the experience to make a film for a small local film festival and try to win it and win her back.
That’s the idea? You’re going to show her the film and then she’s going to see…?
In his mind, all they have to do is get five people together and they just make a movie, and they enter it, he wins, she swoons, and then they’re back together. He learns a lot along the way about himself and his true friends and all of that.
How does a short mockumentary grow into a feature-length film, and how did you fund it?
We didn’t know how long we would make the mockumentary. Maybe we could shoot something and it could be 30 minutes or an hour—who knows. We just started writing it. We’d write once or twice a week—which we did for about a year—and it changed. We had no pressure. We had no time. No investors. We were just doing it all on our own. So we started on a few characters and they became a couple of film teams—kind of like a 48-hour film fest in a way. So then there’s a team of like 5, the good guys, Abe’s team. Then there’s a team of 5 that everybody loses to all of the time. And there are these other little characters. So it just kind of grew, but it was needed. We were writing lines, jokes, and bits and we were trying to tie them to the story…so, it just got a little bigger. At our first table read, there were 44 speaking parts, but it all worked. It’s definitely an ensemble film.
That’s the crazy thing! You’d mentioned to me before that you were in a band. For that, you had to rely on a drummer to keep the beat, someone had to look like they at least knew how to play the bass. Also, the advantage of doing stand up is that you’re solo. But a film—how good of a collaborator are you? How do you move from being funny on stage to being funny on film, both as an actor and as a collaborator?
Before all of this, I worked in film, in crew work for 10 years, so I worked casting, production, grip, art department. I’ve done all kinds of things here and in Los Angeles. Chicago. I moved to Chicago to work on an independent film that I had a very small, horrible part in, and then I got a job in a bigger film, the first Batman Begins, just as a PA and just stood around in Chicago for hours each night. As far as collaboration with this film, we had a ton of rehearsals with the main cast, as much as we could with everybody’s schedule. There wasn’t a lot of pay. Nobody was really getting paid for this—the crew as well. Some did, but you had to pay for certain things that you need to pay for on a film. So it was a lot of scheduling and getting that right and when people could work on what days and figuring out rehearsals. And, I think we had a really smooth set, a really easy going set. We raised our own money. We did a crowd-funding site, and got about $30,000 to cover the whole film.
I feel like I saw that Chinese restaurant or burger joint over on Indian School in the trailer.
Yeah, it’s Indian School and Carlisle. It’s both a Chinese restaurant and a burger place.
How does that happen?
I don’t know. It’s delicious though. You should totally go.
It’s one of those places, where from the outside, I feel like I’m a better person for not going in.
(Laughs) The great thing about that location is that it looks like a film set. It looks like someone built it for a movie. The characters in the movie needed a central location to go to.
What do you want people to take away from Abe Makes a Movie?
I just want them to enjoy it. Enjoy the characters. Without getting too lofty, it’s just kind of an underdog film. There’s this group of strange characters…Abe is trying to do this thing to win his girlfriend back, and he has this best friend and she’ll do whatever to help. And he hires everybody else, and maybe they think it’s this bigger thing. Everybody’s had friends like these, so they can relate on some level.