'Phunny Business': Retelling History with Archival Footage
Chicago's Filmworkers and its affiliates, Vitamin and Chicago Recording Company, had an opportunity to explore a chapter of Chicago history in providing postproduction services for Phunny Business: A Black Comedy. The feature-length documentary, which premiered in February at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, tells the story of the improbable rise and fall of All Jokes Aside, an African American-owned comedy club located on Chicago's South Side that in the 1990s served as the launching pad for many of today's top comedians, including Jamie Foxx, Dave Chappelle, Mo'Nique, Bernie Mac, Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley and Mike Epps. Filmworkers' Reid Brody is one of the executive producers of the film.
Filmworkers performed final post work for the film in its recently built digital intermediate grading theater. DI colorist Ryan Emerson had the challenging task of applying a consistent look to the more than 3,000 clips that make up the film and which include an array of archival footage of performances at the club, some dating back more than 20 years.
"The archival footage was sourced from different elements: VHS, DVD, Beta, 3/4," recalls Emerson. "It was really compressed and soft. I had to sharpen a lot of things and cool them off to make it all appear to be part of the same world."
Vitamin created the film's main title sequence as well as graphic elements that introduce speakers and identify time and place. "The graphics mirror an old-school comedy look that was popular in the '90s," explains Vitamin creative director Danny DelPurgatorio, "but they are executed with restraint. The film tells such a good story—we didn't want to distract from it. The animation and layouts are very simple, to keep the focus on the content."
Re-recording mixer Danny Karabaic of Chicago Recording Company faced a challenge similar to Emerson in preparing the film's soundtrack. The audio from some of the older clips was in poor condition and required special attention. Karabaic wanted to be sure that the audio was clear so that the comedians' jokes could be understood, but he also wanted to preserve the smoky atmosphere of the club.
"We were limited to the tracks that were available, but overall the elements were well done," Karabaic observes. "Brian Kallies [the film's editor and director of photography] was very well organized and had done his work at such a high level that it made it much easier to deal with."