'Answer This!' and Chris Parnell bring a big crowd to the Michigan Theater
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Answer this: what draws more than 1,000 people to the Michigan Theater on a Sunday night?
The promise of seeing 3 exclusive, new Funny or Die comedy clips, along with the feature film “Answer This!” filmed entirely in Ann Arbor by native sons Chris (screenwriter and director) and Mike (producer) Farah in 2009; and a Q&A with the Farah brothers and one of the film’s stars, Chris Parnell (of “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock” fame).
To kick things off, the Farah brothers appeared on stage, and Mike explained that the clips from Funny or Die—the popular comedy website that now employs him as president of production—included scenes from a new, man-on-the-street, pop culture quiz show starring Billy Eichner that will soon air on the Fuse Network; a comical Lenny Kravitz short (“We’ve been arguing with Lenny Kravitz for over six months as to whether or not to release this video,” said Mike Farah. “So if you all like it, I can call Lenny’s manager and say, everyone in Michigan wants it”); and finally, Zach Galifianakis let the Farahs show a never-before-seen episode of his web series, “Between Two Ferns,” featuring his “Hangover” co-star Ed Helms.
"Answer This!" tells the story of a U-M doctoral student (Chris Gorham)—and son of a legendary professor (U-M's own Ralph Williams)—who becomes absorbed in the world of competitive pub trivia while staring down his own dreaded graduation.
Following the screenings, audience members asked the Farahs about when the DVD of “Answer This!” would be available (January), and—since the movie is, in large part, a love letter to Ann Arbor—whether the filmmakers had any screenings planned in the Columbus area.
Chris Farah said that their next stop was Cleveland: “I told our distributor, just to prepare them, that us going to Cleveland was kind of like, during the Cold War, going to the Soviet Union and showing them a movie about how great America was.”
Regarding the way the film references real locales in the Ann Arbor area, Chris Farah said, “It’s not like I wrote in the script, ‘Takes place at a bar.’ It was written saying, ‘Takes place at Ashley’s,’ or ‘Takes place at this building, or that building.’ And I think that’s part of what the different businesses and the University of Michigan appreciated was that it was something written very much with them in mind. In large part, though, the reason I did it was for me and my brother, because we’re from Ann Arbor, and we wanted to make something that we connected with emotionally, basically, as a story. So it was very important to us to make something that spoke to our past, and our roots, and where we come from.”
Here’s Parnell, talking about his feelings about Ann Arbor.
“Answer This!” was the first fictional movie to earn the right to use U-M’s name, even though one scene depicts a couple having sex in the library stacks.
When asked about this, Chris Farah said, “That was by far when I was most proud of my alma mater. For not just saying ‘We like this because it makes us look good,’ but, ‘We’re willing to let you have some fun and go out on a limb, here.’ Actually, that was not one of the original scenes in the script. And then, when I had my brother and Anna read it, they said, ‘We want to see more Paul and Naomi.’ So I sat there, and I remember thinking to myself, ‘What is a Michigan tradition I could call on?’ And it ended up being probably one of my favorite scenes. Definitely a fun one to shoot.”
Parnell, meanwhile, answered questions about “Saturday Night Live,” his background in comedy, and his own experience with college.
After explaining that he attended a performing arts college in North Carolina, Parnell said, “We didn’t have any fraternities. We had one intramural football team called the Pickles. So we did not take it very seriously. But it was a pretty cool thing. It was going to the ‘Fame’ school at the college level. I got exposed to dance for the first time, which I loved. And the dancers, too.”
The Farahs talked about how the last official shooting day for “Answer This!” happened during a home football game in Michigan Stadium.
“I was so excited to be able to actually shoot a scene at Michigan Stadium, I expected everyone who was shooting that scene to work for free,” said Mike Farah. “But they didn’t share that same excitement.”
“Our camera crew, who was working for a living, and knew nothing about football, were like, ‘Why wouldn’t you pay us?’” said Chris Farah. “And Mike was like, ‘It should be a honor! And a privilege!’”
Here’s Chris Farah describing the Michigan Stadium shoot.
Finally, after the event, Parnell spoke about how he got involved in “Answer This!” and what ultimately appealed to him about the project.