TCFF Filmmaker Panel: Who’s Laughing Now?

Yesterday morning I trotted down to the City Opera House for my second day of panel discussions. In comparison to the day before when I saw Michael and Susan Sarandon speak it was a lot less busy but there were still quite a few people milling around when I got there.

When I sat down I met a woman in the seat next to me from Ferndale. I asked her about how she liked TCFF and she was very complimentary telling me that she “really loves the energy” that the festival provides. Our conversation shifted towards the importance of arts when I asked her about a story I had listened to on NPR driving into work about the possibility of theĀ DIA (Detroit Institute of Arts Museum) closing. As a resident she already knew about the story and told me that she definitely did not want the DIA to shut down– she used to work there, but she also thinks the preservation of the arts is absolutely essential. She told me that Detroit will never be able to come back if they don’t have the DIA; if Detroit doesn’t have access to the arts. It definitely made me appreciate (more than I already do) the importance that Traverse City and the TCFF place on the arts and the display of creativity.

Comic relief appeared in the form of seven relatively well known directors that included Michael Moore, Larry Charles, Terry George, Sabina Guzzanti, Bob Byington, Eric Kissack and Josh Koury. The best part? They were all funny.

There were very few serious moments, and when there was a brief downbeat comment one of the panelists (most of the time Larry Charles) would crack a snide remark or quick retort and the audience would be brought back to talking about laughter.

What I liked so much about the panel were the different perspectives each panelist had on comedy. I particularly enjoyed Irish director Terry George not only for his cool accent but his sporadic words of wisdom. He talked about how comedy is essential for the audience because they need a break from a lot of really heavy material. He inserted comedy into Hotel Rwanda and he said that it was important to do, especially in an intense movie like that so that the audience would feel okay with laughing and taking a little break.

The panelists also talked about how to be funny. Larry Charles’ advice (director of Borat, Bruno and The Dictator) emphasized that being spontaneous was ideal. They were asked if they made kids laugh growing up. They pretty much all said no. They were asked to name their favorite movies and the answers consisted of many different films including Borat which Michael Moore shared with the audience literally had him in the fetal position in a movie seat he was laughing so hard. Others cited Raising Arizona, Banana’s, Coen Brother movies and more.

For the future directors/writers of comedy the main advice I got out of the panel was to let a spontaneous moment develop, let your mind be open and let a disaster become comedy. Other than that just be funny.

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