Five years into Improv Everywhere’s existence, I got the opportunity to make a television pilot for a major television network. The pilot was called “Improv Everywhere” and was pretty much exactly what we already did on the web in television form. It was thrilling to make. I was given great creative control, and the stunts we shot were some of our best work to date. Unfortunately, the network did not pick up the show. At the time, I was advised by my agent to “move on to something else.” He told me that Improv Everywhere was a “used car” and that he would not be able to sell it anywhere else.
It was depressing to hear something like that, but I quickly realized it was terrible advice. While one executive at one network decided what we made didn’t fit with his fall schedule, the project was still very much alive on the Internet. So I pressed on and kept creating new videos. It was tough at first. With the pilot I had large budgets and huge crews. I was suddenly back to shooting with a few buddies and their consumer cameras. I was back to having to produce every element on my own.
On top of that, the network had dumbly forbidden me from posting new content to my site while we were in development with them. Improv Everywhere had lost a bit of momentum due to our lack of new material, and I felt all kinds of pressure on making whatever was next amazing. What we produced at first probably wasn’t our best work, but we pushed on, and slowly we started to get back in our grove. That fall we organized a participatory project with over 800 participants in a downtown park and staged a prank where over 100 guys shopped shirtless in Abercrombie and Fitch (we were asked to leave by the management pretty quickly.) Both videos took off on our YouTube channel, and Improv Everywhere felt alive again.
Today Improv Everywhere’s content reaches millions of people around the world. As the web and television begin to blend into one, we find ourselves in the great position of being entirely independent. Having a national network show probably would have been a life-changing experience, but I in the end, I think finding our own audience has been more satisfying.
If I could give you one piece of advice it would be…
Create exactly what you want to create, and opportunities will come to you. If you start out looking for opportunities, they will never arrive.
Charlie Todd is the founder of Improv Everywhere, producing, directing, performing, and documenting the group’s work since 2001. Charlie is the author of Causing a Scene, published by Harper Collins in 2009. Based in New York, Improv Everywhere causes scenes of chaos and joy in public places and has executed over 100 missions involving thousands of undercover agents including the legendary Grand Central Freeze and the infamous No Pants! Subway Ride. The group’s videos have received over 180 million views online.
Photo by Karen (originally posted to Flickr as tightie bluies) [CC-BY-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons