Just for Laughs

Ohio filmmakers discuss DIY comedy The General Specific


ricycles and thongs are sore subjects for Brian Stevens — literally.

“It (the thong) was uncomfortable and caused a lot of pain,” Stevens says. “And it took forever to shoot the scene because certain things kept falling out. And the tricycle was not easy either.”

The co-writer and star of the independent comedy The General Specific had to fight through the pain (and a lot more) for his role as Wally Floorie, a down-on-his-luck, door-to-door salesman who is given the seemingly impossible task of selling $20,000 worth of merchandise to save his job.

Despite the multiple takes and awkwardness of modeling the unmentionables in front of cast and crew, Stevens stood firmly in his defense of the prop.

“We did it because we knew it would be funny,” Stevens says.

It’s this kind of defense of The General Specific that encapsulates the kind of movie it is — comedy from one extreme to another, with a focus on laughs for laughs’ sake.

Shot entirely in Columbus and Cleveland, the low-budget comedy is the brainchild of Stevens and his friend, co-writer and director, Jason Heinrich. The two met in Columbus while working at Morton’s Steakhouse. What started out as a conversation on obscure horror movies led to a story meeting.

“Brian and I would sit and write anything that we thought would make a funny scene onto flash cards,” Heinrich says. “It didn’t matter what it was, it was just whatever we thought was funny.”

A lot of the scenes on the flash cards made the transition to the screen —including one where Wally reluctantly attempts to sell a bright pink dildo to a peculiar priest, which is an interesting scene to discuss with Stevens, who happens to be both religious and conservative.

“I have a sense of humor, and I like to think God does, too,” Stevens says.

This was the basic demeanor Stevens and Heinrich maintained during the making of The General Specific. The duo was compelled to make a movie inspired by sketch-comedy films like Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles and the Monty Python movies.

“We wanted to tap in to everything and make a movie with as little plot as possible,” Stevens says. “And make a movie we could at least watch and enjoy for ourselves.”

Despite The General Specific’s seemingly plot-less, loose style, Heinrich admits there are some real themes at play.

“Even though Wally wins, he doesn’t win,” says Heinrich in refrence to the boost in confidence and self-esteem Wally earns after being abused in every way possible on his madcap adventures. It’s a theme that can double as an allegory for Heinrich and Stevens.

Filmed with almost no budget, no professional actors (it was Stevens’ first acting gig) and very little crew, The General Specific duo marched on and completed the film despite the likelihood that it would be barely seen outside of their collective social circles.

The risk has seemed to pay of so far. The General Specific set an attendance record for an independent local film at the Gateway Theater in Columbus when it premiered on May 30, 2010.

“The audience reaction was applause and laughter,” Heinrich says. “And if they laugh, that’s enough for me.”

Audiences were not the only ones who enjoyed the raucous comedy. (614) Magazine praised The General Specific and its filmmakers for having the guts to make a comedy about nothing. The Columbus-based publication raved about the movie’s “simplistically brilliant storyline” that “leaves plenty of room for comedic insanity on multiple levels.”

The General Specific’s online presence is also growing rapidly via its Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages. The first DVD pressing sold 100 copies and around the same in downloads off its Web site

(http://generalspecificmovie.com/) — not bad for a movie with no promotion or official theatrical release. Heinrich is hoping to keep the momentum going with some more screenings this year, including one in Cincinnati.

“I contacted the Esquire and we are in the process of setting up a show,” Heinrich says.

The director also unveiled plans to take the movie on a college tour.

“I think a college campus is a perfect setting for this kind of movie,” Heinrich says. “I can see people playing it in their dorm rooms, inviting others to come in and watch. I can see it being a movie that gets bootlegged and spread around campus. Not that I approve of piracy, but I know what people do.”

Heinrich and Stevens are hoping to continue the adventures of Wally Floorie with webisodes and entering The General Specific in film festivals. To get in to one, Stevens is hoping his cousin, Ohio-native Luke Perry, will lend a hand.

“Hopefully he can help us out,” Stevens says. “He really liked the film.” With a lot on their plate, Stevens and Heinrich know that 2011 is going to be a potentially big year for them. But while their goals for The General Specific are stuff dreams are made of, the duo will be as easily satisfied knowing they made a solid movie that they and others can laugh at.

“It’s not about the money,” Stevens says. “It’s about doing something we love.”

One thing is for certain — if the webisodes come to fruition, Stevens says Wally’s means of transportation will change.

“I’m never riding a tricycle again,” Stevens says. “The next time we see Wally he will definitely be getting a 10-speed.”

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