If you’ve ever seen a proper in-depth interview with a stand-up comedian you’ve probably come across the concept of ‘corporate gigs’ – shows where, as opposed to playing The Comedy Store or the Hammersmith Apollo or a festival, they do a set at the British Legal Awards or the GlaxoSmithKline Christmas party in exchange for a massive payday. Toning down your act might for the suits might not be something that’s in your game plan of being the new Bill Hicks, but they’re a guaranteed source of income when you’re losing money on your self-funded Edinburgh show or your critically acclaimed late-night BBC2 show has just been cancelled.
It’s a concept that’s now hit the moving picture industry. In the early 2000s BMW produced The Hire, a series of big-budget ten minute shorts, starring Clive Owen in a rather obvious knock off of The Transporter movies, with big name talent behind the lens including John Woo, Guy Ritchie and Wong Kar Wai (I highly recommend tracking down the Tony Scott directed episode where Owen drag races the devil – played by an OTT Gary Oldman – for the soul of James Brown. It’s as mental and awesome as it sounds). Spike Jonze made I’m Here, a typically quirky story of cardboard robots in love for Absolut Vodka, Shane Meadows’ delightful Somers Town was a thinly disguised Eurostar advert, and Grolsch is bankrolling Harmony Korine’s upcoming portmanteau piece The Fourth Dimension.
Microsoft are the latest company to shell out for a bit of auteur credibility. Realising that the only people who still use Internet Explore in 2012 are confused parents whose kids can’t be bothered to help them out, to mark the launch of IE 9 they enlisted (ie bought) the help of Shaun Of The Dead maestro Edgar Wright to produce The Random Adventures Of Brandon Generator, four animated shorts with the slightly-dubious high concept of being based on ideas and suggestions crowd-sourced from the general public. Wright roped in a veritable A-Team of geek-friendly talent to help out, including art from comic book superstar Tommy Lee Edwards (best known for the Jonathan Ross-scripted Turf and Ed Brubaker’s phenomenal Captain America run), narration from The Mighty Boosh’s Julian Barratt and a score by Steven Soderbergh’s regular composer David Holmes.
The final episode debuted last week, and Microsoft put on a swanky premier of all four parts in an old warehouse / ‘arts space’ in Farringdon. Upon arrival, visitors were welcomed with the usual press event amenities – miniaturized burgers and fish & chips, and trays of cocktails being ignored by the mostly male crowd asking the bar staff if they had any beers. There were also various computer stations where we encourage to catch up on the previous episodes, something that seems rather redundant as we were about to sit down and watch them all in order in a proper auditorium anyway.
You can now watch the whole thing online here, and if you’ve got a spare half hour it’s definitely worth your time. It’s a Charlie Kaufman-esque tale of the titular Brandon struggling with writer’s block and getting trapped in a coffee-fueled hallucination. The concept (which Wright revealed in the post screening Q & A is largely autobiographical) is a tad self-indulgent, but it is sparky, funny and definitely doesn’t out stay its welcome. The rather static animation takes it’s cue from the ‘motion comics’ that Marvel have been putting out recently (rather redundant adaptations of existing with limited animation set to dialogue and music – check out the Joss Whedon-scripted Astonishing X-Men on Netflix). The comics purist in me normally hates these, but when it is original material it’s much more effective, and Tommy Lee Edward’s moody artwork is always a joy to look at. The crowd-sourced nature of the project could have resulted in an ungodly mess, but Wright’s noir-pastiche tone holds it together perfectly and the four episodes never feel less than one singular vision.
At the post-screening Q & A (preceded by some wonderfully portentous and self-aggrandising mumbo-jumbo by the surprisingly attractive UK Head Of Internet Explorer), Wright spoke about how much he enjoyed taking a projection from conception to completion in less than five months. It’s easy to sneer at corporate stunts like these, but in a world where it’s increasingly difficult for non-mainstream, or even just non-franchise projects to secure funding, it’s lovely seeing talented people kick about new ideas on little projects like these. It’s always just going to be nothing more than a footnote on Edgar Wright’s sublime filmography, but you really got the sense all the creator involved relished the chance to do something with not really being an important thing for them – there’s a strange kind of freedom of that comes from projects like this, the way that you can try this stuff and if it ends up terrible you can just say you were doing it for the money and it doesn’t really blot your CV.
I didn’t actually turn on my dictaphone during the Q & A, but according to the press release, Wright said “the final episode has been the most fun to work on as Brandon’s head trip comes to a coffee soaked climax. Having co-writers develop the story in real-time and weaving in user submissions from so many people has been a highly enjoyable challenge and a great new experience for me. I’m excited for people to see Brandon Generator as a whole story and I’m incredibly proud of the project.” That’s some proper journalism right there, that is.
Afterwards, Edgar Wright was nice enough to sign my VHS copy of his rarely-seen, pre-Spaced directorial debut A Fistful Of Fingers. He commented that copies of the film are really rare, and I’m such a fanboy that I froze up and just mumbled something unintelligible. The whole thing was exacerbated by the fact he was standing on a stage towering a few feet above me. I just came across as a massive idiot. If you’re reading this though, thanks Edgar!