The “Corpse” in Pollak Theatre

Director Ben Popik brought his bizarre comedy film “The Exquisite Corpse Project” to Pollak Theatre last Thursday as part of the University’s ongoing series “On Screen, In Person,” where he screened the film and answered questions.

Popik was formally a member of the New York-based sketch comedy troupe Olde English, which he conceived back in 2002. The troupe is best known for their 2006 viral video “Ben Takes a Picture of Himself Every Day,” which stars Popik and currently has nearly 3 million hits on YouTube.

“The Exquisite Corpse Project,” Popik’s first feature film, is a documentary/comedy where five writers are challenged to each write 15 pages of a feature film after only reading the previous five pages of script. The film mainly focuses on the writers themselves in documentary style while also displaying the completed – though disjointed – final product. The film was released in 2012 and has won a number of awards, including Best Documentary and Best Director at the LA New Wave Film Festival.

The name “Exquisite Corpse Project” – according to the film – is derived from a party game wherein multiple people draw a different part of a figure on a folded piece of paper without knowing what the other parts look like.

The film’s writers include Chioke Nassor, Joel Clark, Adam Conover, Dave Segal, and Raphael Bob-Waksberg, all of whom had previously worked with Popik in Olde English or other projects. Each writer brought a unique stylistic edge to the film and, in most instances, completely altered the tone and even major plot points.

The film started with Nassor’s script, which set up the main characters and plot for the film and was not based on a previous writer’s script. Nassor’s segment resembled a quirky indie romance film, centering on lovers Mark (Caleb Bark) and Adayit (Megan Raye Manzi) – who is later renamed “Meg” due to the other writer’s inability to pronounce “Adayit” – bond through their shared kleptomania.

Following Nassor is Clark, whose script brought about a drastic change in the plot and tone. After having his original script rejected, Clark wrote a purposefully bad script in response which one of the other writers in the filmed deemed a “total s*** parade.” Clark’s script featured incredibly tongue-in-cheek and surreal humor, and was filmed with intentionally poorer production value.

Next in line was Conover, whose script brought another dramatic tonal shift to the film, going from overly cheery to incredibly dark and transforming the film into a tale of jealousy, scandal, and even murder. Conover was the most negative towards the project, even saying in one interview, “I wish we made a real movie instead.”

Conover was followed by Segal, who, although mistranslated many of the film’s previous plot points in his script, more or less carries over the tone set up by Conover. Segal’s portion of the film was much more special effects heavy than the others and featured such ridiculous additions as a possessed woman and a phantom snake.

Closing out the film was Bob-Waksberg, who decided to mostly disregard the end of Segal’s script (which actually included Bob-Waksberg in a cameo) and set the story four and a half years in the future. Despite a few ridiculous moments – such as the randomly implemented space warrior Commander Zeus – Bob-Waksberg’s portion was easily the most reserved, and actually resolved the film in a somewhat heartwarming way.

Though the entirety of the film is featured throughout “Exquisite Corpse Project,” the main focus was the relationship between Popik and the writers, as well as the drama between them. This was especially true between Conover, Segal, and Bob-Waksberg, who, despite being the closest to each other, were incredibly harsh in criticizing their scripts.

Following the film, the audience was treated to three short films created by students in Specialist Professor Andrew Demirjian’s Advanced Video Production and Editing class. The short films were based on “Exquisite Corpse Project” and attempted to continue Bob-Waksberg’s portion of the film without seeing any previous scenes. Demirjian also organized the event and introduced Popik at the beginning of the evening.

Popik then engaged in a brief Q&A session with the audience, where students asked the director questions about the making of the film, from casting choices to how the film was edited, as well as requesting further elaboration on the relationships between him and the other writers in the film.

The screening and Q&A was the latest in the university ’s “On Screen, In Person” series, which is sponsored by the University’s Center for the Arts as well as the University’s Department of Communication Screen Studies Minor. The series allows for students, whether they’re film majors or just film lovers, to connect with and learn from accomplished film makers while also viewing their work.

Matthew Lawrence, specialist professor of communication, said screening series such as these offer many benefits to students, as they can meet and closely interact with filmmakers to better appreciate their work.

“Moreover, events like this hopefully serve as inspiration for our students,” said Lawrence. “You don’t need a $20 million dollar budget and a cast of thousands to make thoughtful, compelling works of art that will engage and move an audience.”

Joseph DeAngelis, a sophomore communication major, attended the event as a class requirement, but really enjoyed the film, citing the “varied styles and weird continuity” as strong points, and thought the documentary portions helped with the context of the film. DeAngelis said that while he has attended other “On Screen, In Person” events in the past, this was his favorite by far.

“The Exquisite Corpse Project” is currently available for purchase as a digital download, and can be purchased off the film’s website.

For upcoming arts events and more visiting writers, check out monmouth.edu/arts.

PHOTO TAKEN from theexquisitecorpseproject.com