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Joke Fincioen and Biagio Messina: Directors, DYING TO DO LETTERMAN

February 18, 2013

JOKEBI1Q: Tell us a little about the origins of DYING TO DO LETTERMAN, from concept to financing.

BIAGIO: Long before we had a “real” production company or any industry credits, one of my side jobs (in addition to delivering pizzas for Pizza Hut and playing the nerdy next-door neighbor Marc Cram on Kenan and Kel) was editing actors’ and comedians’ demo reels out of our tiny one-bedroom apartment.  Way back when…Steve needed a tape of his stand-up comedy to help him get work.  So I edited that, and we became friends.  Then, he just dropped off the map for about a year.  When he resurfaced, we got the email about his Dying to do Letterman campaign. We were stunned to learn he was sick, and called him.  Always the “up-beat” comedian, Steve took the call in stride, made some jokes, and told us about his dream to perform comedy on Letterman.  When we asked if there was anything we could do to help, Steve said that he would love to have someone document the journey, and that’s what we did.  At the time, we owned two cameras and one Final Cut Pro edit bay.  We gave Steve a camera and said, “Shoot everything!”  We’d go and film with him whenever we could, ask our friends to film when they could, and encouraged Steve too keep on shooting.  I’ll let Joke talk financing.
JOKE: Financing? What financing? 🙂
Over the past 6 years we’ve bankrolled the project with our own funds.  Luckily, as the years went on, we began to have access to a lot of resources from our early career as TV producers/directors/editors. That helped to keep the hard dollar cost manageable.  Early in the process we were looking for financing help, but since it was a documentary with no definite timeline or ending (Would Steve get on Letterman? Would it take months or years?  What if his health gave out?) no one wanted to jump on board…unless Steve made it on Letterman.   Then they’d love to discuss “finishing funds.”  Of course by that point, with us being editors, and now having our own full production company at our disposal (six years later and a long way from the one bedroom apartment we started in) we didn’t want to give up a majority stake in ownership for finishing funds.  So there has been no outside financing to this point, although we would consider any concrete funding that would help Steve’s message of “Live your dream” reach as many people as possible.
 2Q: This documentary is actually about a very serious, personal subject.  Did working on it with Steve Mazan affect you in any unexpected ways?
BIAGIO:  Yes, more than I’ll ever be able to put into words.  Early on we had to have the “cancer” conversation.  I flat up said to Steve, “Look, I assume you don’t want me to feel sorry for you, and I can’t make this movie if I’m constantly worried about saying the wrong thing. Steve groaned and said, “Oh, man, you just made my tumors hurt.” We laughed hard, and we’ve been laughing ever since.  Steve once told me, “Look, there’s a lot of ways to deal with bad situations.  I think laughter is one of the best.”
JOKE: To be working so closely with Steve on this has been a precious gift.  That man inspires me everyday, and yet there is nothing I love more than arguing with him, especially about his horrible map drawing skills (long story for another day.)
3Q: What was your best and/or worst experience while making DYING TO DO LETTERMAN?
BIAGIO: Best experience: being with Steve in New York and sitting in his dressing room with Joke when he returned from living his dream.  Worst experience: Every time I realize that Steve may not be here tomorrow…but it just makes me value life more, and work harder to bring Steve and his story to audiences everywhere.
JOKE:  Agreed, from the moment he called us with the news that he got the Letterman spot, to the week after he performed, I’d have these emotional moments where it was just tears of happiness.  Even now thinking about it.  There is nothing like seeing someone accomplish a goal they worked so hard to achieve.
4Q: Festival audiences often have to make hard decisions about what to see, and the catalog descriptions sometimes run together. In your own words, why should people see your film?
BIAGIO: Anyone who has ever had a dream should see this movie. No dream worth chasing is easy to achieve, and it’s too easy to let life, work, family…anything…convince you that your personal dreams just aren’t that important.  I disagree.  Having spent six years with Steve, I can tell you…dreams are important.  They inspire you to new heights. They push you when think you can’t take another step. They can keep you alive…literally.  This movie is a fun, funny, entertaining reminder that life is short, and living your dreams really is important.
JOKE:  Because it’s a fun ride, Steve’s a comic after all.  You will walk away entertained and hopefully, you’ll be thinking about the film for at least a few days, which really makes it worth its money 🙂
5Q: The current market for independent films is fractured, to put it lightly, and existing distribution models grow more ineffective with each passing moment. What are your hopes or plans for distribution?
BIAGIO: We will not take no for an answer, even if it means driving from city to city and putting this film in theaters ourselves.  Further, we are putting together a “Screw Cancer” comedy tour that will accompany the film from city to city.  Finally, we plan on teaming up with one or several charities so that a portion of all proceeds go to some kind of cancer research or support of cancer patients.
JOKE:  What Biagio said.  From the very beginning this has been about getting as many people as possible to see the film because Steve’s story needs to be told.  We’re in this for the long haul, and would want a partner who understands that.

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