Landis in 'Great Experiment' with comedy site

Directs six short films for contest

Online humor hub JibJab Media is collaborating with veteran film director John Landis.

Dubbed "The Great Sketch Experiment," the venture has Landis -- whose credits include the comedy classics "Animal House" and "The Blues Brothers" -- directing six short films featuring aspiring comedians. The films will be posted online today at JibJab.com, and viewers will determine the winner of a $10,000 development deal with the site.

In conjunction with the launch, JibJab also has secured a deal with Verizon Wireless allowing subscribers to access the sketches through VCast's Showcase channel.

For JibJab, the venture is a way to bypass the traditional means of discovering and distributing new talent and is the first time it is venturing outside its own studio for new content.

"We think the Internet offers an incredible platform for a fresh batch of comedians having trouble breaking into the traditional medium," JibJab Media co-founder Gregg Spiridellis said. "And for us to have John involved who is widely credited with launching the film careers of the likes of (John) Belushi and (Eddie) Murphy -- it's very symbolic."

What began with 50 comedy troupes from around the country competing for a chance to perform resulted in Landis working side by side throughout September with six comedy troupe finalists. Viewers will have until Nov. 16 to vote for the winning troupe.

JibJab's deal with Verizon allows subscribers to view the performances for $3 during a 24-hour period without having to sign up for the usual $15 VCast monthly subscription.

Landis said he was intrigued by the idea of working with amateur comedians whose performances will be seen on a platform that he agrees has the power to break the old distribution barriers of Hollywood.

"It's absolutely true that the Internet is a good place for talent," Landis said. "The mission of agents and managers is not necessarily to discover new talent but mostly to set up barricades and protect their old talent."

Landis also elaborated on the production process of the project, which was shot digitally on one set during a three-day period after the participants were instructed to write their own comedy sketches.

"It's not that different than directing for a film," Landis said. "There's always a difference in the tools, but if you look at any motion picture from 1912, there's a camera on sticks, actors and a crew -- that has not changed."

For co-founders Spiridellis and his brother Evan Spiridellis, who together saw their studio become a household brand through its 2004 election parodies "This Land" and "Good to Be in DC!" the experience has been about blending old and new media.

"It's not just about taking submissions -- it's about working with performers to produce quality entertainment," Spiridellis said.

He relayed a story involving Landis improvising during a scene in which, at the last minute, he decided snowfall would be required. While a panic ensued to locate snow-making machines, Landis improvised the old-fashioned way.

"In this era of massive visual effects, you see John Landis shaking a box of instant mashed potatoes," Spiridellis said. "To watch him go back to his roots of guerrilla filmmaking was amazing."
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