Indie Grits film festival highlight: Charlie Todd, prankster

otaylor@thestate.comApril 6, 2013 

  • If you go The Indie Grits Festival

    When: Friday-April 21

    Where: Films will be screened at Nickelodeon Theatre, 1607 Main St., and Tapp’s Art Center, 1644 Main St. Related events held at various locations.

    Tickets: $175 or $200 for a festival pass. Individual screening and event prices vary.


    Opening party

    The Indie Grits opening party, from 7-10 p.m. Friday, is really a mini street festival. The free party will be held on the 1600 block of Main Street. Say Brother and The Royal Tinfoil will perform. There will also be a DJ, food trucks and beer and wine sales.

    Coming Thursday

    The State’s guide to the seventh year of The Indie Grits Festival. In it you’ll find which films with South Carolina connections to see and the various festival-related events, such as Cinemovements, Slow Food at Indie Grits Sustainable Chefs Showcase and Spork in Hand Puppet Slam at Indie Grits.

    Trailers online

    See trailers of some of the movies features in Indie Grits, with this story at

Recently, I had the pleasure of watching several of The Indie Grits Festival Films in an empty Nickelodeon Theatre. Well, almost empty. Andy Smith, the Nick’s executive director, joined me for the screening.

Simply put, the Nick has put together another stellar film program. Here are some of my favorites.




“We Cause Scenes”: A man walks into a bar...

It’s a familiar joke prefix, but Charlie Todd added a unique twist. A man walks into a bar in New York’s West Village and, to a man already seated at the bar, says, “Oh my God, you’re Ben Folds. I’m a big fan of your music. Can I have your autograph?”

The joke’s punchline: Todd, a Columbia native who looks nothing like the pop-rock singer, wanted to see if he could make other people believe he was Ben Folds. A decade ago, everyone you met didn’t have a smart phone that could produce a Google image search. Todd signed autographs, posed for photos and told long stories about what it was like to be rock star.

The practical joke was the start of Improv Everywhere, a prank collective Todd founded in 2001. Todd and his pranks are the subject of “We Cause Scenes,” the feature film that is a centerpiece of The Indie Grits Festival. The film debuted last month at South By Southwest, the film and music conference festival in Austin, Texas.

Here’s what The Austin Chronicle had to say about the film, in a flattering mouthful: “Shored up by behind-the-scenes footage and excerpts from marveling and mystified news-media reports of the phenomenon’s birth, history, and current activities, this film provides a vigorous, visually compelling — hell, even thrilling — record of joyful, community-abetted subversion of everyday life, of what’s possible to achieve in these Internetted times.”

And The Hollywood Reporter’s review noted that “the film is a welcome piece of cultural history that incidentally chronicles a pivotal moment in the rise of YouTube.”

In Improv Everywhere’s earliest stunts, the reaction of onlookers became part of the recorded action. The group is known for the No Pants Subway rides and the MP3 Experiment. Last April, as part of the Urban Tour, Todd was commissioned by Pocket Productions to make a customized version of the MP3 Experiment. Participants, listening to commands through their headphones and earbuds, raced around the Columbia Museum of Art’s Boyd Plaza.

Todd, the son of Chuck Todd, a co-owner of Todd & Moore, the sporting goods store, caused quite a scene.

Matt Adams, the film’s director who is also affiliated with Improv Everywhere, went through a closet full of archival footage. After the guys walked out of the bar, Improv Everywhere began documenting their pranks. A subplot of film is the growth and development of the Internet over the last decade. Improv Everywhere’s YouTube channel surpassed 1 million subscribers in January.

“I get to relive the way the Internet used to work,” Todd said.

He also gets to relive how a 22-year-old actor, after graduating from the University of North Carolina with a theater degree, prevented getting rusty as he tried to forge a path in the New York acting scene.

“The film tells the story of me starting Improv Everywhere as a way for me to express myself,” said Todd, who didn’t see the film until three weeks before its debut.

Todd will be in Columbia for Friday’s 6 p.m. screening of “We Cause Scenes” at Nickelodeon Theatre. Todd, who is also in town to celebrate the birthday of his mother, Jennifer Todd, will do a talkback after the film. Admission is limited, with first serve to festival pass holders. Whole Foods Market will provide food. Other screenings: 8:30 p.m. April 17 and 3:30 p.m. April 19 at Nickelodeon Theatre.




“Supine: A Dream”: Inside a woman’s dream, animated puppets roam in this richly dark underworld. 5:30 p.m. April 16 at Nickelodeon Theatre and 8:30 p.m. April 19 at Tapp’s Art Center.




“See the Dirt”: Vacuuming is, seriously, one of my favorite things to do at home. Right up there with reading. I am envious of the Scott MacMillan, the 14-year-old collector of vacuum cleaners at the heart of this documentary. 3 p.m. April 20 at Tapp’s.




“April”: If “Beasts of the Southern Wild” affected you in the slightest, the mien of director Alan Spearman’s juxtaposition of a young girl and an aging woman circling around their trees of life will do the same. 3:30 p.m. April 20 at the Nick.




“As I Am”: Spearman’s second Indie Grits entry was, like “April,” shot in Memphis, Tenn., a city with 80 percent of the lowest-ranked schools in the state. The lack of opportunity and hope in a rough Memphis neighborhood is overwhelming. Chris Dean, who gained notoriety in 2011 when he was selected to introduce President Barack Obama at his high school commencement, could be one to step out of the poverty cycle. He walks Spearman — and the viewer — through the world he has a chance to escape. 5:30 p.m. April at the Nick.




“Aryl & Ybur”: Instead of “Teen Wolf,” you get pre-teen wolves in this comedy. And the young wolves don’t like the taste of vegetarians. 6 p.m. April 17 at Tapp’s.




“Grandpa Gives You the Bird”: Filmmaker Marc Maximov has a fascinating grandfather, a man who gives everyone he meets a bird. An origami bird, that is. 8 p.m. April 18 at Tapp’s.




“Passing Through Traveling Down”: Drifters existing in the crevices of society move in a world without rules, consequences or showers. Or an easy way out of a life where safety pins holding together ripped clothing is a sign of a wanderer’s struggle. 6 p.m. April 19 at Tapp’s.




“Taxidermists”: Did you know there was such a competition as the World Taxidermy and Fish Carving Championships? To say the least, the taxidermists featured are amazing artists — and characters. 3 p.m. April 20 at Tapp’s.




“Por Dinero”: Immigration is a lightning rod issue at the moment. This is a portrait of the toll it takes on families who seek a better life. 8 p.m. April 20 at Tapp’s.




“Hello My Friend”: The documentary on Andy Shlon, the owner of Andy’s Deli, will make you want a sandwich. 8:30 p.m. April 17 at Tapp’s.


Reach Taylor at (803) 771-8362.

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