It seems only natural that a doc featuring a close community of New Yorkers should have its world premiere at this year’s DOC NYC festival.
Standing Up, directed by Jonathan Miller and produced by Lucky 8, follows three aspiring stand-up comics. The trio of unlikely comedians — an Egyptian lawyer, a couch-surfing custodian and an Orthodox Jew — are willing to risk everything in pursuit of their dreams of making it in comedy.
While Miller says DOC NYC is the perfect place to premiere the doc due to its connection with New Yorkers, he hopes its resonance will extend further as a story about folks driven by their passion. “They can’t do anything other than comedy,” he says. “This is it for them.”
It’s this passion and drive that attracted Greg Henry, co-president of Lucky 8 to the project.
“Jon has been a collaborator with us for years now,” says Henry. “He told us about the film and what we saw right away was that it was a sweet, endearing film and, most importantly, the comedians were funny.”
Finding the right balance between comedy and drama proved to be a challenge during production. Comedy is subjective, and jokes that are a hit with some viewers could potentially fall flat with others. Miller says he showed the doc to a lot of people during the editing process to make sure that audiences would laugh at the right places.
On the flip side, he was cognizant of showcasing the sacrifice and risks these comedians were taking in pursuit of a career in stand-up. “David was performing in secret, so we had to find ways to creatively convey the struggle he was going through, without having access or filming much of the Orthodox community he was a part of,” he says.
Standing Up is the second feature doc to come from Lucky 8′s film branch. Its first, Bronx Obama, premiered at Columbia’s True/False Film Fest in 2014 — one year after production on Standing Up had begun.
“We fundamentally believe that good stories can take different shapes, whether it be a formatted reality show, a two-hour TV special, or a feature doc,” says Henry. “Standing Up is part of the DNA of what we do because it gives viewers an intimate entrance into people’s lives in an authentic way.”
Henry says the doc takes viewers into a world that they have never had a chance to see, in the same way that Lucky 8′s hit series 60 Days In gives audiences a new perspective on incarceration, and in the same way that the prodco’s upcoming series Undercover High will document daily life in American high schools.
He adds that not a month goes by where someone doesn’t come into his office with an idea or access point for a feature doc, and with the industry continuing to evolve, he says there will be more opportunities for the company to tell stories in that form.
“These are good stories that need to be told,” Henry explains. “Standing Up is sweet, it’s funny, it’s affirming, and it’s an enjoyable film… and given how much prison work we do, we need some more enjoyable films.
Standing Up premieres Sat. Nov 11 at 7:30 p.m. at Cinepolis Chelsea. Additional screenings will take place Nov. 14 at 2:45 and Nov. 15 at 9:45 at the IFC Center.