“Improv” is a word that gets thrown around a lot in the entertainment media, largely by people who aren’t clear what it actually is. So you hear journalists ask actors all the time how much improv there was on the set of their movie when what they’re really asking about is how much ad-libbing they did. The two are very different things, with ad-libbing meaning they just say anything that came to mind while improv is a give-and-take between actors in the service of a full scene or premise.If you’ve been to Second City and seen the troupe there create a whole scene based on a single idea from the audience, you’ve seen improv. If you’ve seen Anchorman outtakes of Will Ferrell cycling through various lines, you’ve seen ad-libbing.
The new movie Don’t Think Twice is about the world of improv. Starring Keegan-Michael Key, Gillian Jacobs and others, including writer/director Mike Birbiglia, the movie focuses on a New York improv troupe. The group has struggled with their commitment to the art form but their desire to make a living, so they all have “real” jobs on the side as well. But stardom comes calling when one of them gets a break in the form of an audition for a “Saturday Night Live” like TV show that regularly recruits from this world. So while everyone is happy for the potential success of that person, it also means confronting the harsh reality that maybe this isn’t going to lead to big things for everyone.
The movie’s one-sheet doesn’t sell a story so much as it sells the cast. So the whole gang is seen in a kind of friendly, funny scrum as they angle for position in front of the camera. Key and Jacobs are front and center, owing to their real-life success, but it’s clear we’re seeing the story of an ensemble of some sort here. Indie film fans will be attached to the copy at the top that pegs this as coming from the director of Sleepwalk With Me, which was a critically-acclaimed release from a few years ago. At the bottom below the title is the copy “The spotlight’s not for everyone,” telling us we’re going to be watching a story of dreams that may at least in part get dashed.
The trailer is pretty great. We’re immediately introduced to the members of The Commune, an improv comedy troupe who are struggling with where they are in the food chain. They’re all friends but some are dissatisfied with not being more successful and having to work real jobs to support their passion. They’re all also chasing the same dream, which is a gig on a Saturday Night Live-type TV show. When a chance for them to audition comes through, the trailer, shows, it causes some members of the troupe to reevaluate if that’s actually the success they want or if they want to stick to something more pure.
It’s funny and looks completely lived-in, like the characters are very organic and natural, not the kind of archetypes that usually are found in movies about a tight knit group or community like this. It’s clear all the actors are at the top of their game, seemingly relishing the chance to explore this world a bit. It’s a lot of fun and, notably, doesn’t look like it gets too dark while at the same time still showing the reality of how hard it is to break through in this world.
Online and Social
The top of the official website features the key art laid over some motion video from the trailer. There’s a big prompt to both watch the trailer and buy tickets above the fold as well.
Scroll down the page and you get a very thorough “Synopsis” of the story that lays out the travails of the group as they flirt with success and deal with professional frustration. After that, the “Cast” section is great, listing all the credits of the cast from the movie and talking about each one’s extensive comedy background. After that, the only other section here is “Reviews,” which has pull quotes from early reviews of the movie but unfortunately no links to the full versions.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Nothing that I’ve been able to find, which isn’t surprising for a movie of this scale.
Media and Publicity
The movie got some early buzz when it was announced it would debut at the SXSW Film Festival.
The publicity push has been going on for a while, though it obviously got kicked up a notch in the last month or so. But it’s interesting to see how the responsibilities were kind of divided. By that I mean Key, along with Jacobs, seems to have been the main face of the movie on late-night TV, hitting most all the shows and talking up the movie. That makes sense since the two of them are recognizable TV stars.
While he made a few TV appearances as well, Birbiglia as the writer/director was more prominent in the print and online press. So he did interviews around and about talking about his three rules for improv, his history in the improv community and the subculture of that community. He also toured the film across the country, doing clinics at improv theaters and elsewhere to not only promote the film but also the improv ethos, which is pretty cool not only in and of itself but also as a way to build word-of-mouth for the movie.
As a fan of true improv I’m totally in the bag for this movie, I want to admit that right now. Even outside of that, though, there’s a lot to like about the campaign. The poster does what it needs to do and sells the ensemble cast and puts the most prominent stars front-and-center. The trailer sells the basic premise of the movie of an off-beat comedy about a subculture that’s not focused on very much but makes it fairly accessible to the audience. And the press push did a solid job of getting the word out for a movie that many people may not see in theaters but will likely check out when it hits Netflix several months from now.
The movie itself, based on the campaign, does look funny but also unexpectedly emotional as we follow the characters go up and down the roller coaster of professional expectations, moving from enthusiasm and optimism to resignation and possibly depression. So the marketing walks the line between selling the outright comedy of the troupe on-stage doing their thing and their passion for the artform with the realities that yeah, maybe this isn’t a way an adult human person can make a successful living. It’s a solid marketing push for a human-level movie featuring some wonderful actors and that’s what it’s inviting people to see.