There were no sirens or flashing lights in Judy’s Beat Lounge, and the troopers that took to the stage were not in uniform. To be issued a ticket was not attend a hearing, but to instead to hear from members of a group that have been together making cult hit comedy films for decades.
The secret to their longevity?
“Nothing gives us more pleasure than getting in a car together and acting like idiots,” admitted Paul Soter of Broken Lizard, the filmmaking comedy group behind Super Troopers and Beerfest.
Such has been the case ever since the group formed its five core members: Chicagoland native Jay Chandrasekhar, who studied at Second City under Del Close; Kevin Heffernan (no relation to the author of the article, except perhaps going way back to the same bog in Ireland); plus Steve Lemme, Erik Stolhanske and Paul Soter, the three who spoke to Training Center students in a Q&A moderated by Second City Co-Artistic Director Anthony LeBlanc.
Lemme, Stolhanske and Soter reminisced about the five guys “gelling” as Broken Lizard after meeting at Colgate College. They performed in a New York cabaret club before eventually sparking to comedy film, shooting video sketches in between shows and acting in a student films. When the group tried to pursue bigger things and was met with rejection (including losing out to Jon Stewart at one time), Broken Lizard was determined to stay together and find a way to make it work. More than anything, the low-budget indie filmmaking wave of the early 90s gave them an opportunity to continue working collaboratively.
The idea for their 2001 breakout film Super Troopers first took seed on the group’s road trips around the country attending friends’ weddings and performance gigs. They admit they were pulled over a couple of times and those experiences got them thinking about how much cops could have messed with five (perhaps stoned) young guys.
So they began writing.
“We’re often asked whether or not Super Troopers was improvised,” said Paul. “But the truth is, none of it was.” The budget, he explained, only allowed them to shoot things in one or two takes. Instead, the group used extensive improvisation throughout the writing process, which by their estimates, resulted to 20-30 drafts of the script. “You’re never done,” Stolhanske advised his audience.
After the success of cult comedy Super Troopers, all three were excited to talk about their upcoming sequel, Super Troopers 2. After launching an IndieGoGo campaign, the deep interest that fans had in seeing this movie come to fruition become tangible. In fact, the project became the second largest crowdfunding for a film, according to Variety. The grassroots fundraising campaign raised over $4.6 million.
Lemme, Stolhanske and Soter also offered advice to any young performer trying to make it, advising not to wait for opportunities, but to make the opportunities by—and for—yourself.
“Also, put your f***ing phones away. It kills creativity,” lambasted Soter.
Ed Heffernan is a writer and filmmaker from Chicago. ed-heffernan.com
Super Troopers 2 is in theaters 4/20.
Watch the red band trailer: