‘Arrested Development’ vet, CollegeHumor team for new pic

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EXCLUSIVE: Hoping to follow in the wacky footsteps of National Lampoon, the digital-comedy company CollegeHumor is making a foray into the film business.

The firm has signed on to make a movie about thirtysomething underachievers called ‘Coffee Town,’ buying a script from former ‘Arrested Development’ writer-producer Brad Copeland and hiring him to direct it.


A group of up-and-comers will star in the film, including Glenn Howerton (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”), Steve Little (“Eastbound & Down”) and Ben Schwartz (“House of Lies”), along with singer Josh Groban, executives said. The low-budget movie, which is being financed by CollegeHumor, aims to begin shooting in February in Los Angeles.

Though known primarily for its slapstick Web videos across a network of sites, CollegeHumor has been branching out to other platforms. The company, which is owned by the Barry Diller-led IAC, had a short-lived MTV show and also has spun off several books. The current MTV series “Pranked,” which features user-submitted prank videos , is hosted by Streeter Seidell and Amir Blumenfeld, two CollegeHumor personalities.

The goal with “Coffee Town,” CollegeHumor co-founder Ricky Van Veen said, is to take advantage of the firm’s in-house talent as well as use its brand to reach into other media.

“We think we can leverage what we’ve done into longer things, including features and TV shows,” said Van Veen, noting that content on CollegeHumor sites has in some cases already evolved from shorts into half-hour episodes. “There’s a market for high-quality long-form content that can go directly to consumers, and we’re well-positioned to do that.”

He cited a paid Web special from Louis C.K. that has gained attention in the digital world as a profitable enterprise for its creator.

Van Veen said there have been no decisions made on whether to distribute “Coffee Town” online, though he did note that the site would be used to promote the film. “Coffee Town” does not yet have traditional theatrical distribution; it is expected to seek that, but other models are being considered as well, Van Veen said.

Centering on Will, a website manager (Howerton), and his friends who regularly drop in (Little and Schwartz), “Coffee Town” will look at a group of close-knit buddies in a familiar setting. “It’s a little like ‘Cheers,’” Copeland, who also wrote the 2008 Harley hit “Wild Hogs,” told 24 Frames. “They go about their day, but they always end up in the same place.” (Groban, sending up his own image, will star as a barista who wants to be a singer but is doomed by a lack of talent.)

Copeland said that although the larger idea was for absurdist comedy of the kind he and Mitchell Hurwitz practiced on “Development,” he also wants to tap into the ethos of the freelance and the unemployed who use coffee shops as makeshift offices.

“I think the deeper story is of people who, with all these offices shutting down, need places to go--even if the people [who work] in those places don’t always want them there,” he said.
Indeed, in “Coffee Town,” the group must come together when their freeloading existence is threatened, echoing news stories about Starbucks baristas banding together to lock bathrooms and otherwise thwart habitués.

Diller has famously said he doesn’t like the risks or general business model of the movie business, but Van Veen noted that this may be changing. ‘Barry is led by curiosity,’ he said. “When there weren’t a lot of new relevant things in the film business, he wasn’t as interested in pursuing them. But that’s changed with so many new distribution models up in the air.”

Through a network of sites that includes the eponymous as well as and SportsPickle,com, CollegeHumor regularly scores more than 10 million views according to Nielsen--although with a pedigree that includes Will Ferrell, competitor Funny or Die has had a higher profile in Hollywood. (That site has spawned a TBS reality series and the upcoming Sundance film “Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie.”)

The model for both companies’ efforts is National Lampoon, the magazine brand that successfully expanded to Hollywood with mainstream franchises like “Vacation” in the 1980s. That task is made more difficult in the modern era as thousand of niche sites fragment the audience.

But Van Veen said he believed that this was a hurdle CollegeHumor could overcome. “It’s all about quality,” he said. “Justin Bieber started on YouTube and then went to big labels. If what you have is good, people will love you no matter where you are.”


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Photos (top): Will Arnett and Portia de Ross in ‘Arrested Development.’ Credit: 20th Century Fox.

(above) Ricky Van Veen. Credit: CollegeHumor