If you had access to a computer and the Internet in the early-to-mid-2000s, you probably have fond memories of the Homestar Runner flash cartoons. These cartoons featured “dumb animals,” who were sometimes very humanoid, such as Homestar Runner himself, Strongbad, Pom-Pom, Bubs, Coach Z, Strong Sad, the Cheat, and others, living life. Sometimes “living life” meant going on quests to retrieve rare birds, and sometimes it meant answering an email—and making fun of whoever sent it.
Charley Marlowe, like many others, have never forgotten the site and how influential it has been on them. Earlier this year, he started forming the plans for Experimental Film: The First Success Story of Internet Video, a biopic on the creators of Homestar Runner, Mike and Matt Chapman, more commonly known as the Brothers Chaps. Marlowe acted as co-writer of the script, actor, and co-producer, and Hayley Stewart, a friend of his from Sketch Writing classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade, directed.
On November 18, 2017, the project came to the screen—a computer screen—for DerpyCon attendees at an “Oral History of Homestar Runner” panel, and is now available to watch for free on YouTube.
Experimental Film is meant to hash out those early years (childhood-college) of the Brothers Chaps’ lives, and tends to focus on moments the brothers have described in interviews as being influential and would contribute to the series and its characters’ creation later on. If you’re familiar with the series–like, at all—it’s easy to catch even the more subtle references. For example, the Brothers Chaps have mentioned that their older brother used to make fun of a particular picture book, The Daddy Book by Robert Stewart, and the opening scene is the eldest Chaps, Donnie (Brian Corbett), reading the book to Matt (Charley Marlowe) and Mike (Sean Concannon). Just listening to him read makes it pretty clear where Everyone is Different came from, even if you don’t know the origin story. The biggest moment is at the end of Experimental Film, when Homestar is being drawn for the very first time.
This film has many strengths: for one thing, almost the entire cast has great camaraderie. In October, I interviewed Marlowe and he mentioned that he had worked on other projects, such as other Youtube videos, with the whole cast. As it turns out, this work was in piecemeal: the rest of the cast didn’t all know each other. Still, you wouldn’t guess that from their interactions. This is important, as the actors play their characters from childhood to young adulthood (signified by ages drawn in marker on their t-shirts), and vibes that are off would make it hard to suspend disbelief when “younger” siblings interact with “older” siblings.
The soundtrack is also a strong point. Of course, we’ve talked about the covers of They Might Be Giant’s “Experimental Film” made by Go! Child for the film before, and there’s also a great cover of the Homestar Runner theme song and “Poot Slap,” performed by the actors. But even the background music is a love letter to Homestar Runner; it’s done on a synth in a similar style as the site’s shorts. In fact, the scene where Homestar is drawn for the very first time has music that is immediately recognizable as the Trogdor “drawing” music, or something pretty darn close.
The opening credits are yet another strong point. Although Experimental Film cuts off after the creation of Homestar Runner the character, it would be strange to not have any animation of the well-known character at all, and Anna Marker created some quick scenes that reference specific shorts and Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People, and fit the tone of the whole film as the origin story of a now Internet-famous cartoon. The characters are fittingly simple versions of themselves, in the sort of sketches that the Brothers must have made hundreds of, and you can sense Marker’s fondness for the characters.
One thing that’s important to remember is that this isn’t a big-budget film, this was a labor of love. As I already mentioned, the same actors play child Matt and Mike as adult Matt and Mike, no children. This didn’t bother me, as I said, the camaraderie between characters of “different ages” gave off a vibe that is convincing, even if the physical features disagree, but I have seen some grumbling about it on sites like Reddit. Again, though, it’s important to remember that this was a labor of love made with what was feasible, and what was feasible worked well despite such a limitation.
There are a few moments where the sound mixing and editing allowed for a little fuzziness, mainly in outdoor scenes, but it never obscures character’s voices or any other important sounds. The volume of the actual score and character’s voices is always level, so the fuzziness is just a level above white noise in the background when it’s there.
For people who have fond memories of Homestar Runner this is a great movie to watch. By the time I got to the final scene where Homestar Runner was drawn for the first time I was remembering all the things I had loved about the series, which was one of the things Marlowe was going for. As I knew very little about the Brothers Chaps before learning about Marlowe’s project, it was fun to watch events I had either only recently learned about it or didn’t know anything about, and know where the dramatizations would lead. They’re a creative team I have a lot of respect for, so I enjoyed it the way I’d enjoy a short-subject film on any other creative I admire. That said, I’d recommend this film for someone who has previous knowledge and affection for Homestar Runner, rather than treating this as an introduction to the series. If you’re unfamiliar with the series, this will feel like a short, slice-of-life movie made by friends, which it, in some ways, is. Not impenetrable by any means, but there are things you’ll miss.
As I mentioned above, Marlowe uploaded Experimental Film to Youtube after his panel on November 18, and you can watch it below. It’s a quick watch at twenty minutes and fifty seconds.
Although Marlowe had mentioned to me before the premiere that Experimental Film would be used as the video for a Kickstarter campaign to get funding for a full-length feature, he has since said that creating a Kickstarter may depend on a “demand for more.” So if you enjoy the video, you may consider interacting with Marlowe over YouTube or Twitter.
Go! Child’s cover of They Might Be Giant’s “Experimental Film” is also available for free on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, and Spotify.