The ‘Funniest Person in Austin’ contest turned 30 last year and Funniest, a new documentary featuring several Moontower favorites, world premieres at the Austin Film Festival this weekend. I reached out to directors Dustin Svehlak and Katie Pengra who spoke with me about the film’s genesis, the challenges associated with documenting a comedy contest with over 200 contestants and how a betting pool helped them pick the subjects.
How did this documentary come to be?
Dustin: I’d been the main videographer for the contest for about three years by the time I had the idea. I already had so much b-roll footage of the contest and I watched [the contest] play out in this perfectly constructed narrative. At the time I thought it would be really easy to make a documentary of it. Then about that same time, Katie was in graduate school and made a short film following two comics, Terrence McDavid and Maggie Maye. It got her and I talking about about doing a full length doc and following people throughout the entire contest. That was the impetus. Both those events came together real nicely for us and that was it.
Katie: I was getting my graduate degree in a digital media program at Texas State, San Marcos and I had to make a thesis project and so I decided to do a short documentary. I was super interested in following some comics in the contest, just kind of what our full length documentary ended up being, but it was just me so I had to do it on a super small scale. I just chose two comics, followed them each for one night and then put together a little ten minute attempt at my first ever documentary. It’s not exactly Oscar winning, but it made me even more interested in exploring the concept further. Like Dustin said, we both kind of started talking about it from that point and slowly started making a movie. Continue reading