Friendship Goes Hollywood; the Laughs Got Started in College
Byline: Gary Arnold, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
A few years ago, a chartered bus parked for a day on the George Washington University campus to accommodate local press interviews with writer-director Wes Anderson and schoolboy lead Jason
Schwartzman for their prep school comedy "Rushmore."
The concept of the bus promotion tour was revived this season by five friends who made the new farce "Super Troopers," which is being released nationally today by Fox Searchlight. The five parked the bus for their Washington stopover in a lot between the Ritz-Carlton and the Best Western hotel on New Hampshire Avenue NW. It pointed in the direction of Best Western, where they were booked for the night.
The key advertising art of the movie, an upside-down image of the title characters, decorates the "Troopers" tour bus. "We have this guy Derek as our tour manager. He used to be the Allman Brothers' tour manager," Erik Stolhanske says. "This was once their bus. Derek's a real rock 'n' roll campaigner."
So goes the conversation as one makes the acquaintance of the filmmakers, who performed together as comedians while they were undergraduates at Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y., in the early 1990s.
"Troopers," shown at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival, attempts to celebrate the absurdities of a group of Vermont lawmen who court mere amusement and sheer disgrace while patrolling a 50-mile stretch near the Canadian border. The troopers get no respect from munici- pal cops, also based in the small fictional town of Spurbury.
The screenplay - contrived by the Colgate five, who adopted the name Broken Lizard while working comedy clubs in New York City - envisions vindication for the heroes and their long-suffering commander, Capt. O'Hagan, played by English actor Brian Cox. The troopers have several run-ins with rivals in uniform, drug-smuggling felons, complacent consorts and assorted motorists.
The group made an earlier feature called "Puddle Cruiser," but an odd set of circumstances precluded a Colgate preview.
"We weren't able to do a triumphal return because there was no 35 mm projection available on campus three years ago," Paul Soter says. "They're now up to speed, in a new arts building. I think the commercial theater in town was being renovated or something when the first movie came out."
"It was very frustrating," recalls Kevin Heffernan. "We also shot the picture in Hamilton, so we wanted to show it there. Eventually, it did play at the student union."
The group qualifies as a cross section of America. Mr. Soter grew up in Colorado, Mr. Stolhanske in Minnesota, Jay Chandrasekhar in Chicago, Mr. Heffernan in Connecticut and Steve Lemme in New York. Everyone graduated from college except Mr. Lemme, who dropped out in the fall term of his senior year. "I still have an asterisk beside my name," he says.
Mr. Soter volunteers some background on the team. "There was a student-run theater group at Colgate. They would give out different assignments or make certain appeals to the members," he says. "They approached Jay with a suggestion to direct something or other, since they knew he had some experience from Chicago, where he'd done a little work with a Second City organization. He said he wanted to put on a comedy show. They gave him a budget, and he recruited a cast. …