Talking to Williamsburg Found-Footage Fabricators Sunset Television, Pitchfork TV’s New Comedy Troupe

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04/12/2011 10:34 AM |

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“Indie Comedy” is, by now, a genre in the same way indie rock is—a genre, that is, which is primarily defined by demographic overlap. And it makes sense that Pitchfork, which has long reviewed comedy albums, would expand in that direction. Last month, they announced that Brooklyn-based Sunset Television would be providing new, original weekly comedy videos for pitchfork.tv, their ever-growing video-production arm. Given the goals of pitchfork.tv—the generation of original, potentially viral content—Sunset Television is a great choice, since what they do is uniquely suited to the web.

As digital-age detritus becomes ever-more accessible, it also becomes more popular, for purposes either archival or comic, or both. (See the Orphan Film Symposium for the former and the Found Footage Festival for the latter.) Things like the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema’s pre-show reels, or the now-defunct New York Underground Film Festival’s Tube Time competition, say, showcase the finds of the most cracked, dedicated YouTube gold-miners. Sunset Television, though, invents their own found footage—their previous long-form videos assume the banal, low-grade quality of home-video or public-access footage, and tweak it, subtly or not-so-subtly.

We emailed with the five members of Sunset Television to discuss the hard, silly work they do.

Where do you guys live? What’s your background and how do you know each other?
There are five of us and we live Brooklyn, with the majority of us living off the Graham L stop. We’re from different places originally: Brooklyn, Idaho, Michigan, Florida, and North Carolina. We all met at Columbia’s graduate film program, got friendly with each other, and then started making stuff, mostly to express our deep and beautiful feelings about each other and our equally deep and beautiful feelings about our friendships with each other.

So how’d it come about that you’re now producing comedy videos for Pitchfork TV?
Last year at the MTYMX festival in Mexico, two of us met Ric Leichtung, a guy involved with Pitchfork’s Altered Zones. Ric liked our stuff and passed it along to the Pitchfork people. We got together with the brass over there, broke bread, and ended up hugging. Pitchfork has been great, they give us exposure while allowing for the creative freedom to do what we want. It’s also hard to use the term “creative freedom” in a serious way.

How much will you be doing for them? (The current content on Pitchfork TV is mostly small bits taken from their previous longer-form mixes.) Will it be in the same channel-surfing format, or more long-form? What are the logistical challenges of putting out stuff weekly?
The plan is to put out as much material as we can. Hopefully we’ll release one, maybe two small episodes a week. Right now we’re trying our hand at writing longer sketches to blend with the faster channel-surfing style and the found footage jams. But we’re open to anything. We have an idea for a half-hour cop show that we’ve been working on. We’re also working on a series of sketches that will eventually add up to a fake, epic crime saga called “Gang War.”

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Do you guys spend much time looking at old stuff for inspiration? If so, what are some recent favorite finds?
We do spend a lot of time, or we should spend a lot of time, and wish we spent more time, looking at old stuff or just falling into the endless void of weird clips that have been unearthed by the internet. We use a lot of YouTube videos and old movies as jumping off points. Sometimes it’s just a picture. Then it’s “What if we recreated this, but then did that,” and we find our take. A lot of the stuff we’re paying tribute to is more ingrained in our minds, things we obsess over and don’t need much of a visual reference for. Dogs have become very important to Sunset Television. And cops. We use a lot of dogs, and cops.

Here’s a few favorite finds:
1. via wfmu, a man breaks the record for most drums played in a minute on the cozy powell tv show http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VWYmXIFArG0
2. watermelon squashing fetish http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=encAWik0FuE
3. long hair tossing http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wyvRK55w_FM
4. Ernest Borgnine “crumb bum” scene http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HbP82Jri5K

What are the challenges—logistical, technical, aesthetic—inherent in putting together something that looks like a fragment of found footage?
It’s about trying to capture a specific style, and expanding upon what we find funny about the style. We think about the framing, the blocking, the color correcting, the music cues, the title treatments. We do everything with such a limited budget that we can’t afford a lot of the resources that might make recreating things easier. There’s no real money for sets, actors, expensive equipment, etc, which usually leads to parodying low budget, amateur films. The real challenge is to recreate a vibe with just a few people, a couple lights, a mic, and a camera, and then whatever we can do in post. Miracles happen in post.