An offbeat documentary about humor, art and the genius of the New Yorker cartoon
We did it! Thank you, everyone! We are blown away by your generosity and support.
If you missed the Kickstarter window, you can always make a tax-deductible donation to the film through Women Make Movies.
Isn't it about time a documentary made you laugh?
Very Semi-Serious goes behind the scenes of the New Yorker and introduces the past, present and future generations of cartoonists who create the iconic cartoons that have inspired, baffled—and occasionally pissed off—all of us for decades.
And appearances by: David Borchardt, Joe Dator, Bob Eckstein, Marc Phillipe Eskenazi, Andy Friedman, Felippe Galindo, Sidney Harris, Carolita Johnson, Farley Katz, Robert Leighton, Paul Noth, Corey Pandolph, Benjamin Schwartz, David Sipress, Barbara Smaller, Mike Twohy, PC Vey, Christopher Weyant, Gahan Wilson and many more!
It all started with a stack of unread New Yorkers on the floor by my bed during film school.
You know what I'm talking about. The issues piled up, week after week, all the incisive reporting and impeccable fact checking, all the umlauts and em dashes, wasted on me. The only thing I consistently read cover to cover was, of course, the scattering of cartoons. I was a classic Cartoon Firster.*
And then, in 2005, the weekly Caption Contest was born.
I was born again, this time as a Back Page Firster. I obsessed over the contest for months. Nothing.
Then came Contest #55.
I submitted what I thought was a pretty darn good caption. Sorry, I only date organic. It works, right? I later learned my stroke of wit was one of hundreds of nearly identical captions submitted that week.
If I wasn’t good enough to caption a cartoon, maybe I should study the people who are good enough. The cartoonists. For the first time I started paying attention to the signature at the bottom of each cartoon.
Who are the people behind the signatures? And how do they come up with so many subtle and sophisticated ideas? I started researching the cartoonists (first surprise: there are dozens of regular contributors), learning about their routines (they submit 10-15 a week, every week, to the magazine), rejection (even some of the best cartoonists sell just one a month), rituals (they commiserate about the rejection during weekly lunches, a tradition that started in the early days of the magazine) and day jobs (gravestone portraiture, fit modeling, furniture reconditioning).
And I thought, Why isn’t someone making a documentary about this?
I cold emailed cartoon editor Bob Mankoff, and—to my surprise—he called me right away. So I flew to New York for the New Yorker festival, met all the cartoonists I’d been reading about, and pitched him my idea. An epic film about the past, present and future of cartooning at the New Yorker! The definitive documentary about his beloved craft, his beloved cartoonists, his beloved hair! How could he say no? He said no.
But that was 6 years ago, when I was too young and too nice. Now I'm going gray and getting crabby, and I’ve recruited the talented New York filmmaker Davina Pardo to produce the film with me. Bob has given us amazing access to the cartoon department and we are deep into production on the film.
Davina and I are collaborating with an experienced team (see below) and we’ve developed great relationships with all the cartoonists we’ve met. We’ve filmed at the New Yorker offices and in the cartoonists’ studios; in jazz clubs and cartoon classes; in the homes of caption contest lovers and haters; at playgrounds and park benches; with hot dog vendors and dog walkers; shoe shiners and taxi drivers—classic New York scenes that have been the backdrop for countless New Yorker cartoons. We even filmed a killer Ping Pong match between Bob Mankoff and PuzzleMaster Will Shortz.
We are now in the final stretch. Production is very close to complete and we’re ready to begin editing so that we can share the film with the world. We’re thrilled to be here on Kickstarter to ask your help as we finish.
We’d be honored to have your support to complete this film crafted out of passion, dedication, and a touch of madness.
Leah Wolchok (Director/Producer) & Davina Pardo (Producer)
While we can’t promise you a tunnel, we can tell you that all of the proceeds from this Kickstarter campaign will go directly to completing production and beginning post-production.
The project is supported by IFP, the Tribeca Film Institute, Pacific Pioneer Fund, Women Make Movies, and BAVC.
We have exhausted traditional documentary funding resources and now we turn to you—the fans—to help us complete the film!
This is a story that needs to be told now, while many of the early New Yorker cartoonists are still around. Since we started the project, cartooning greats Leo Cullum and Bud Handelsman, people we met but never had a chance to film, have passed away. The great Ed Fisher just passed away in April. We want to interview more of the old legends of cartooning before that generation is lost.
If we raise our goal, we will be able to pay our cinematographer and sound recordist for 2 additional weeks of shooting, including scenes with cartoonist Bruce Eric Kaplan, who wrote the infamous Seinfeld episode poking fun at the elusive meaning of New Yorker cartoons and now co-executive produces Girls; interviews with celebrity cartoon collectors (we hope to make a few names public soon, so stay tuned!), more diehard Caption Contest devotees (including Dominic Ciafardini, who has submitted more captions than anyone else in the history of the Caption Contest), and Bob Mankoff’s research about the science of humor.
We will also use the funds for 12 weeks of editing, which will get us to an early rough cut of the film, a huge milestone.
Of course, our goal is the minimum we need to proceed, but more than that will help us to go further in completing the film. If we exceed our goal, we will use the additional funds for additional weeks of edit time, so we can refine the story and polish the cut for film festival submissions.
We have compiled some amazing rewards, including some meta cartoon swag (reusable bag printed with a reusable bag cartoon, anyone?), a portrait hand-drawn by a New Yorker cartoonist and a backstage pass to our New York premiere. Gift your incentives to your favorite New Yorker fans, or keep them for yourself.
Our sincerest thanks for your interest in our film. Even if you can’t contribute, please consider helping us spread the word. One of the best ways to help our campaign is by posting a link to this Kickstarter page on Facebook. You can also spread links to our facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/VerySemiSerious), and our website (www.verysemiserious.com) to everyone and everyplace you can.
Note: final reward designs may vary slightly from pictures shown here
We have put together a fantastic team of cartoon-loving collaborators, including Executive Producers Bruce Sinofsky of the landmark PARADISE LOST series and Academy Award-winner Deborah Shaffer; Director of Photography Kirsten Johnson, the Sundance award-winning cinematographer behind THE INVISIBLE WAR, PRAY THE DEVIL BACK TO HELL, THE OATH and more; and Associate Producer Joanna Sokolowski, a Bay Area independent filmmaker currently in production on her first documentary feature. Click on our profile picture above for Leah Wolchok and Davina Pardo's bios.
“Why doesn’t Ken Burns make a documentary about this?”
Cartoon by David Sipress
“Thanks to Kickstarter we’re building a tunnel.”
Cartoon by Bob Eckstein
Caption Contest #55
Cartoon by Danny Shanahan
To Bob Mankoff, for being our muse and our jester
Leigh Montville and Trevor Hoey at Condé Nast Licensing
Alexa Cassanos, Cappi Williamson and Ashley Bahnken
All the cartoonists who have contributed so much time and talent to our film and this campaign
And of course, The New Yorker.
*Nancy Franklin coined the term Cartoon Firsters in her essay in the Complete Cartoons of the New Yorker, published by Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, Inc.
Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
Documentary filmmakers assume a lot of risk when we take on a big project on our own. This film is no exception. But at this point in the process, we have the access, the characters, the dedication -- we're not turning back on this film.
We realize this is an ambitious project, documenting such a beloved institution. Over the past six years, we’ve developed a deep knowledge of and reverence for the history, process and personalities behind the cartoons. We are excited to be connecting with you—the fans—before the film is complete, and know that with your support, we can bring VERY SEMI-SERIOUS to audiences soon.
Have a question? If the info above doesn't help, you can ask the project creator directly.