Funny or Die Shoots for National Lampoon Status With New Movie Slate (Exclusive)
Funny or Die is taking its comedy from the computer screen to the big screen.
The website, created by Will Ferrell, Adam McKay and Chris Henchy, along with CAA and others, is teaming with producer Scott Steindorff and his Scott Pictures banner to form a multiyear partnership that will see the creation of a slate of feature comedies.
With a goal of making two to three pictures a year, it’s a move that could propel the comedy brand to something akin to the 21st century’s National Lampoon, the once-highflying humor institution whose stamp meant comedy gold in the late 1970s and '80s with movies such as Animal House and the Vacation series.
Funny or Die launched as a website in 2007 and, with its mix of professional and amateur shorts, has grown into a digital studio with a stable of writers, directors and comedians. It generates more than 60 million page views a month, has 20 million unique views a month and claims more than 5 million Twitter followers.
Steindorff’s name doesn’t immediately conjure up humor. The producer's credits include the Matthew McConaughey legal drama The Lincoln Lawyer, and Scott Pictures, his newly established arm, is prepping the Western Jane Got a Gun, which will star Natalie Portman and Michael Fassbender.
But the partnership makes sense on a practical level. Scott Pictures, flush with financing, will back the low-budget movies that will be made by Funny or Die’s stable of writers and directors and star its comedians. The company then will use its website to market and sell the films, hopefully attracting theatrical distributors.
“This is a great way for the Funny or Die brand to go into the next obvious stage,” says president of production Mike Farah. Adds Steindorff. “The guys in Funny or Die are the best at what they do in the comedy world."
Farah says the plan is to take what the company has mastered -- the celebrity online video made in one or two days -- and expand that to a 15- to 20-day production.
The company has dipped its funny bone into features before. It produced last year’s Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie, though the movie was shepherded by comedians Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, who wrote and directed it. The pic, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, was released in theaters by Magnet Releasing and grossed only $200,000 domestically but was not a money-loser.
What drew Funny or Die to Steindorff was that he wasn't interested in a one-off movie but rather took the long view with the goal of putting two movies into production by this summer and continuing that pace for the next few years.
“The hope is that in one of the two or three movies, we find the next Animal House or breakaway comedy,” says Steindorff.
The plan aims to see that the movies keep the tone established by the website -- a mix of edgy, irreverent and anti-establishment -- and the partners are giving themselves leeway to be able to make features ranging form microbudgeted productions to those with budgets of upward of $25 million.
"We're not looking to find some scripts and make just a bunch of movies," says Dick Glover, Funny or Die's CEO. "We're looking to enhance the brand though this venture."
The partners also are open to various distribution models -- Funny or Die says it is "distribution agnostic" -- and the movies could go down the path of a traditional studio release or via digital downloads or VOD. Glover says it ultimately will depend on the project. Scott Pictures International, however, will sell foreign rights.
A request for comment from Ferrell and McKay produced a bit of their typical comedy. "Will is riding a bike now eating a tuna sub and reading the script for Elf 2: Sao Paulo Nights but just gave me a big thumbs-up on this whole deal for Funny Or Die pictures," the duo said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter. (No, Ferrell is not reading a script titled Elf 2: Sao Paulo Nights.)
Scott LaStaiti will oversee the venture for Scott Pictures, while Funny or Die's creative director Andrew Steele and Farah will oversee for the company. The deal was brokered by LaStaiti, Farah and CAA, which also reps Steindorff.