In honor of Mystery Team's release on DVD May 25th, Cinematical was given the opportunity to interview three of the five members of Derrick Comedy who made the brilliant independent comedy: Dominic Dierkes, Donald Glover, and D.C. Pierson. I'm particularly interested in the group's rise from being simple producers of short comedy sketches on the Internet to feature film makers and regular contributors to great TV shows like Community and 30 Rock, so there's plenty of talk about carving out a place in the comedy business early on.
However, as you'd expect from a trio who wrote and starred in a film about three friends whose inability to give up their childhood detective agency results in them getting way over their collective head while investigating a double homicide, things get a little kooky as the interview goes on. You should also be warned that some of the material toward the end, namely their pleas that I worship their demonic muse and talk of a certain sex act, may offend the young and the elderly.
Cinematical: How are you guys doing?
Dominic Dierkes: We're doing good.
Donald Glover: We're doing great.
D.C. Pierson: Actually, we're just disembodied voices floating in a void, so if you know how we could get back into physical forms, that would be great.
DD: D.C., he just wants to talk about the movie, don't bother him with our existential problems.
Cinematical: Well I wish I had an answer for you guys, but I've got nothing, so... how did you settle on Mystery Team for your first film?
DD: We were just excited about the idea, basically. Donald came to the group with the idea of Encyclopedia Brown all grown up and we just thought that should be it. We always had our eye on a bigger project, on something bigger than a sketch like a TV show or a movie, and that was just the idea that made all of our eyes light up.
Cinematical: So how long ago was the genesis of Mystery Team?
DG: Uh, two years ago? Two and a half years ago?
DD: I think it was 2007 that it was first kind of uttered in the room and we first started saying we think this is the idea we're going to do. October 2007 or something like that and then we shot in May of 2008.
Cinematical: How long was the shoot? And were you completely self-financed from proceeds online or did you try to go out to producers?
D.C.: The shoot was seven weeks up in New Hampshire. As far as financing goes, we are a small business so as soon as we started making revenue from YouTube revenure sharing and online advertising, merchandising and tours, we never paid ourselves from it. We put it all into a small business knowing that we wanted to do something larger with it. So it was financed with that and some private equity that allowed us to put the budget together.
We actually went out to Hollywood, which is where we live now, six months before we even thought of the idea of Mystery Team and were pitching this other script around and trying to get people interested. We kept hearing it was too small of a movie because they're only sort of interested in doing large productions. And that was crazy to us because we come from a world where low budget equals good because it lets you be more personal and unique. So we thought about financing that script by ourselves, but then we realized we don't like this idea enough to put in all of the work to self-fund and produce and write a movie.
So we thought about what other ideas were out there and Donald had Encylopedia Brown all grown up and we all got stoked about it. And I'm really happy that we did, because here we are almost three years later and still excited about that idea, so that's kind of what powers us. We're excited.
Cinematical: You should be, it's a great movie. It's been a while since I saw it, which was when you brought it to Austin, which I also believe was the first time you guys brought it to a non-fest crowd.
D.C.: It was. That was it's first opening traditionally.
Cinematical: What was your original roadmap for the movie? Hope for Sundance and see what the hell happens or something grander?
DD: Yeah, Dan [Eckman] was editing aggressively. We viewed that Sundance deadline as the deadline to come up with that first cut. It was a pretty rigurous editing schedule Dan was keeping after we wrapped the movie. We always had eyes for Sundance but at the time we were going to take it as it came. If we got into Sundance, we'd take that. If we didn't, we'd figure out what the next course of action was. But yeah, that was pretty much the plan. After that it was just to get it in front of as many people as wanted to see it as possible.
Cinematical: I'm kind of fascinated with your guys' story of transitioning from online to film. Coincidentally I was just reading that this May is the five-year anniversary of YouTube. Do you think Mystery Team could have existed without YouTube?
DG: I think so. I think people think the Internet and YouTube was this thing where it was free and cheap – and thank God it was because that's why we used it – but we would have made videos regardless. We were making videos regardless and then YouTube came around and we went, Oh we can post here if we don't have the money or bandwidth to do it ourselves so lets use it. We would have filmed those anyway.
YouTube has been a huge part of how Derrick got started and we're really thankful we live in a time when you can make videos for a small budget and camera and film is cheap with digital and stuff. I don't think if YouTube didn't exist we'd be like, "Well guys, let's all be dancers."
D.C.: I was actually just applying to Julliard the night that Lazy Sunday was on SNL and people were like, "You gotta check it out on YouTube!" and I saw YouTube and thought, "Alright, I'm hanging up my dance belt".
DD: I think the biggest service YouTube did for us was it allowed us to put our videos out there and because this YouTube community emerged it allowed us to connect directly with the kind of people who liked the videos we were putting up. I think that's the biggest service YouTube provided for us as a group. It made it easier for people to keep coming back to check for new videos.
D.C.: We were always very concious from the beginning to be building a brand. It wasn't as though we knew there was going to be this huge YouTube community, but we were aware of the limited amount of video that was online and we did want to differentiate ourselves. That's why we would always put our website on them. And our website used to just say Derrick is a comedy group, which I kind of wish we still had on there so people wouldn't keep asking, "Which one of you guys is Derrick?" Just making it very clear.
That's why we even put comedy in the name. It was never really our intention to have the name of the group be Derrick Comedy, it was the kind of thing like when movies first came out and they were like, "We want people to know it's a movie so they don't think a train is coming out of the screen." You know? We wanted to make a brand name that was very clear and not just something that bubbled out of the Internet; that this was made by people in their apartment.
Cinematical: Well a follow-up to that, and I don't know if you guys would agree with this or not, but you guys were kind of pioneers in the digital video era and I think that's because of not just the timing but because you guys were very in touch with the community. Was that a business idea in the vein of "We need to do this to become successful" or was it purely, "Hey, we like talking to people."?
D.C.: I think it's a timing thing. At the time there wasn't such a thing as a YouTube-like celebrity – and I'm still kinda, sorta of the opinion that there isn't that – but I think we always thought of it as a means to an end. It's like Donald says, it wasn't, "We're going to go get famous by making videos on the Internet", we were making videos anyway. For us it was just a means to an end. Once we started making money we thought let's put that money toward making something real we can put our hands to and get this movie out there. It was a really, really awesome opportunity and a realy great moment in time to be doing stuff, but Internet fame was not the end game, necessarily. Maybe you guys disagree...
DD: I would say all the social networking sites, Facebook friends and groups being able to communitcate with fans interested in seeing more of our videos certainly made it easier to do that. We would have attempted to try and make sure people who wanted to see our stuff saw our stuff, YouTube just makes it so easy that if you put up a new video, subscribers are automatically notified. It's such a great thing for us. It really made all the things we wanted to do easier to do.
And that it all came up at a time when you can shoot and edit videos at a reasonably high quality without having to own a production studio was helpful. The fact that YouTube had its own community emerging was helpful. The social networking aspect where you could swap videos was very helpful. But it was never like, "Oh we have to get on Facebook and recruit as many friends as we can then that way we'll be successful." It was always about the content of the videos.
DC: We were very, very lucky in that it just so happened – and it's still an awesome thing to me – but the really specific things that the five of us thought were funny and that we wanted to do, the super weird in jokes, they thankfully connected with other people. We never thought – and we thankfully I think we still don't think, "What can we do to really appeal to this or that social network wants to so?" It's just what we think is funny and our own particular obsessions.
Cinematical: I'm curious, as you started to do more and more of these videos, and it already sounds like this wasn't the case, but, for example, Blowjob Girl. My group of friends quote Blowjob Girl on a regular basis...as you guys got more and more popular, were there pressures to do things like the Further Adventures of Blowjob Girl? Do you guys have a master plan to unite all the Derrick Comedy characters?
D.C.: I would love to say that we did, that we've been seeding little things through all of them and it's all going to connect. That would be amazing, but I don't think that's in the cards, really.
DD: With the sketches I always thought we were just making whatever idea we were excited about. And I don't know why, but we never really got excited about the idea of making a second sketch or revisiting a character in another sketch.
D.C.: Before we were doing things that were stories or in story form we were always adament about differentiating between a sketch and a story, which is something that would be in a short film or a feature film or a TV show or whatever. And so when people are like "You should do Bro-Rape 2!" It's like no, that's not a story. It's a quick exploration of that idea and once we're done the idea is explored, there's no need to go back to it.
But it's different with a story. When people ask, "Would you do a Mystery Team 2", yeah, we totally would, because that's a story with characters who have sort of learned a lesson in the film Mystery Team. And we would love to see them forget that lesson, because that's what happens to people. They're characters and they persist in time.
DD: I think early on we found out we were happeist with our work and felt the most successful in doing these sketches when we were always tackling the ideas we were most excited about and serving no other master other than the idea we were most excited about.
D.C.: You're referencing the master Graxson. [Note: That's my best guess how to spell the name of their master in English]
DD: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That's the demon master we believe inspires us creatively.
Cinematical: Do you have to make sacrifices to him on a regular basis?
DG: Woah, do you not believe in him?
D.C.: Yeah, come on Peter, is this going to get weird? Have you not accepted Graxson as your Dark Lord?
DG: Woah, woah, woah. First: Do you not believe in him?
Cinematical: Sorry, I don't know. I haven't seen the Dark Light yet.
DG: This interview is over!
DD: We were told everyone who would be interviewing us today has seen the Dark Light, so this is a little annoying to us.
DG: Yeah, just a little annoying. We were talking to the studio and we were like you guys promise that everyone we talked to had seen the Dark Light. And apparently not everyone has, so...okay.
D.C.: You can Google Graxson...it's spelled...don't worry, it's fine.
Cinematical: You guys can keep spreading his message throughout all your videos.
DG: If you watch any of our videos backwards, they all are just propaganda for Dark Light.
Cinematical: Well, awkward transition, but I was talking to a friend earlier who insisted that I ask you guys continue the conversation about if the Razz My Berries was a sex act, what would it entail.
D.C.: Man, Scott's bringing it back. You guys talk to each other, Holy sh*t! Um...
DD: I don't know what this is.
D.C.: Okay, Dominic, what you need to understand is sometimes an NBA player, or Donald, will request that a sexual partner Razzes his Berries, which is where his balls are dipped in Chuck Berry's Blood. Or Marion's. Or any member of the Berry family.
DG: The crown jewel would be Berry White's blood, but he's dead.
Cinematical: Yeah, that's a tough get.
DG: There's only one place where it exists and nobody knows where it is. I hear some rich Brazalian dude does it every birthday and on his son's birthday.
DD: What was the question about this then?
DG: Oh, there's no question.
Cinematical: I was just looking for some information as to what the Razz My Berries move was.
D.C.: See how quickly Dominic was ready to just accept that, Peter? That's how quickly you need to accept Graxson.
Cinematical: I'll do my best, guys. In the mean time, can you tell me what the collaborative process is like when working outside of Derrick Comedy? For example the music video The Stand for Mystery Team; whose decision was it that, "Hey, we need to get mc chris in on this!"
DG: Well he's into comedy as well and we knew him from the UCB theater and knew he was talented and really exemplified I think a lot of the things that Derrick really loves. Just do your thing and do it really hard and you'll find your audience. So we just asked – well, I think we went to him?
D.C.: We did.
DG: Yeah, he was on the album I had before and we told him he would be perfect for the song and thankfully he said yes.
D.C.: He's someone we really respect and obviously his music is awesome and hilarious, but it's just as awesome as it is hilarious. It's not someone saying, "This is just a joke." He takes his music super, super seriously as well and is really technically great and a really technically awesome rapper. And in a very cool way he's resisted being put into any one box. People are always trying to put him in the, "Oh, he's a nerd rapper." He's very adament about being just himself and he's worked really, really hard at doing what he's doing and building an audience for him. And we really, really respect and admire and sympathize with that. So when he came back with a yes and was really excited to do it, we were stoked.
Cinematical: I'm glad it worked out, it's a great song and a great video too.
DG: Thanks, I like it.
Cinematical: Well it looks like we're out of time, but thanks for talking with me gentlemen and I promise that I will soon learn the ways of the Dark Light.
DG: Yes, yes you will.