Documentary Now (2015) s03e05 Episode Script

Searching for Mr. Larson: A Love Letter from the Far Side

1 Good evening.
I'm Helen Mirren, and you're watching "Documentary Now" season 52.
The single-panel cartoon "The Far Side" left an indelible mark on American culture.
But little was known about its creator Gary Larson until one of his biggest fans decided to tell his story in the documentary film "Searching for Mr.
Larson: A Love Letter From The Far Side.
" Season 3, Episode 5 [Birds chirping] Brad: "The Far Side" is an American classic.
This single-panel comic won the hearts of millions by offering a daily slice of simple, yet elegant comedic absurdity.
Running for 15 years and translated into over 17 languages, it has become an institution all its own.
Its creator is the inimitable genius Gary Larson.
After giving so much of himself to the world, Mr.
Larson retired in 1995 to pursue a life of quiet solitude.
But for a man who gave the world so much, so little is known.
Who is the real Gary Larson? I was determined to find out.
This is the totally unauthorized, unofficial, definitive story of my journey to discover the man behind the myth.
I'm documentary filmmaker Bradley Adams, and I am searching for Mr.
Hey, I'm Brad.
That's me.
[Pen scratching] Growing up, I struggled.
I didn't really know where I fit in until I got my passport to "The Far Side.
" Once I crossed over, I never looked back.
Just ask this guy.
[Pen scratching] That's my dad.
Brad: I really, uh, went crazy with that "Far Side" stuff, huh? Well, you certainly enjoyed it.
Yes, I did.
My dream was to live in "The Far Side".
More than a fan, I was a disciple of Gary Larson and his subversive world view.
So who better to write the ultimate love letter to the man and deliver it right to his doorstep? My bags were packed, my dad was behind the camera, and I was almost ready to hit the road.
Jim: All set, Bradley? Pretty much.
It's fun to spend time together, son.
Well, it's fun.
But don't forget, I'm the director.
And this is work, Dad.
Brad: Hey, just came to say bye.
You're actually leaving? Yeah, the movie.
We're starting production today.
Isn't your mom coming to help? - She's not in town till Friday.
- Oh.
Well, I think you'll be okay.
Making a great documentary takes sacrifice.
This wouldn't be easy for me.
But I knew that somewhere out there, Gary Larson was waiting, and I couldn't turn my back on him.
All right, well, wish me luck.
Make sure to get the tripod.
It was a tough farewell, but once I hit the morning air, I felt inspired to start my personal journey of discovery.
All I knew was that Gary Larson was rumored to live somewhere in the Pacific Northwest.
So, I set out from Colorado on my voyage across the U.
and into the unknown.
I had a camera, a full tank of gas, and was ready to hunt down my hero.
Along the way, I would talk to anyone and everyone about my favorite thing.
So what do people think of "The Far Side"? Ah, here we go.
Hey, sir.
So, we want to know what do you think I want to talk to you about "The Far Side.
" Do you know, uh, the comic strip? All right, that's okay.
Ma'am? Hi.
So I'm making, uh, what I would describe as a love letter to Gary Larson, and she doesn't want to talk.
Hey, what is your favorite "Far Side" comic strip? I've got some mozzarella sticks if you want to take them home now.
During my first stop along the way, something strange began to happen.
No one would go on record to speak to me about Larson's influence on their lives.
What's your favorite memory of having seen this? Uh It was as if reality had been turned upside down, and I was inside one of Larson's absurd landscapes.
And now God was about to hit the "Smite" button on me.
[Keyboard clicks] Then James showed up.
He'd come to remove me from the Applebee's parking lot, but it turns out he was a fan, too.
I'm very familiar with this.
- Oh, you know it? - Yeah.
So what the documentary's based on - It's just about Gary Larson.
- Okay.
And it's my relationship with him and getting to know him and, you know, my connection to all these comic strips.
- Because really - Dude.
[Laughs] That's pretty cool, man.
- Smoking dinosaurs.
- That's right.
- Like - [Laughs] That's good.
- tight.
- Always good.
- I can just read this stuff for hours, man.
- Yeah, me too.
This project was already becoming so much more than an homage to Gary Larson.
It was actually changing the entire discussion about "The Far Side.
" Brad: Hi, sweetie.
Uh, tonight, no.
But, um, before you say anything Uh, I'm sorry, but we don't need to talk about that right now.
I've got this story for you.
I'm sorry you're feeling dizzy.
You know I don't like talking about hormone stuff 'cause it makes me sick to my stomach.
Yes, I care about your health.
I mean, do you care about this movie? I kept returning to the phrase "Bearing the burden alone.
" When my wife yelled those words, something clicked.
Maybe I was bearing the burden alone? I'm taking it all on myself to make this film, yet thousands, probably millions, would enjoy it.
It was time for me to offer "Far Side" fans everywhere the opportunity to join this incredible journey.
That night, as I waited for others to answer the call, a special someone reached out through the Indiegogo page.
Brad: What? Whoa.
Dad, you got to see this.
It was a bombshell.
This journey was about to take a detour.
Brad: The next morning as I raced toward my destination, I couldn't help thinking this was fate.
My head was spinning Do I look okay? [Laughs] because I was about to sit down and interview a luminant, a legend.
He was quite simply, the man.
It was none other than Matthew Walter.
I guess everyone knows me as the creator of "The Far Side Cave.
" It was a GeoCities fan site I started around '93, and I put up all "The Far Side" strips and did an index for cross reference.
Brad: Oh, I remember that.
You really were a pioneer.
There was no one doing that back then.
Yeah, exactly.
This was a dream come true.
But it soon took a dark turn.
And then a year later, I get a cease and desist from Larson's lawyers telling me to take down my site.
I mean, that must have been some kind of prank or something.
It was for real.
And I thought Gary owed me a big explanation, so I acquire his unlisted home phone number, I respectfully reached out to him to ask him what his (Bleep) deal was.
And I left five messages, but he never called me back.
But that's why I wanted to talk to you.
Be careful with him and your little movie here.
He's not a good guy.
Gary Larson's a dick.
There are moments in life that are so jarring, it's like your as lost as that missing alien on the milk carton in the kitchen in space, where the two other aliens are eating cereal for breakfast.
If Gary didn't want to talk to a superfan like Matthew, was there any chance he'd talk to me? So I decided to do some deep research.
Turns out, Gary's reclusiveness was an open secret, and fans weren't happy.
Brad: People are really mean.
But there was one man who defended Gary.
His name was Ted Ellis, an insurance agent from Boise, Idaho.
Hey, Dad.
How far away is Boise, Idaho? But even more intriguing was Ted's claim to be a childhood friend of Gary's.
And if that were true, Ted could be my direct link to Gary himself.
So I drove straight to Boise and camped out in his office parking lot until he arrived for work the next morning.
That's him.
[Suspenseful music plays] Jim: Brad! Slow down! Dad, come on.
Excuse me, sir.
- Hi, are you Ted Ellis? - I am.
How you doin'? I-I-I'm Brad Adams.
He wasn't thrilled to see me, but finally agreed to talk if I left by 9:15.
Brad, Gary has a life of his own.
He has other interests outside of a comic he did years ago.
Brad: Yes, but it is definitely something that's, uh, interesting.
Uh, let me ask you a question.
Why do you need to talk to him so badly? I just want to talk to him about his work.
Well, the work is there.
Just read it.
Uh, is it true that you're the basis of the, uh, "School For The Gifted?" You know, where the kid is trying to No, I know the strip.
Uh, he can't open the door even though it says "Pull.
" It's not me.
Well, word out there is that it is you.
- Just so you know.
- You know what? - I've got an appointment.
- Okay.
Brad: Thanks for your time.
I actually have one last question, and then I'm gonna leave you alone.
You grew up with Gary in Tacoma? - I did.
- Right.
So do you think that, when he was a kid, that that area was the type of place he eventually wanted to live in? - I am not gonna tell you where he lives.
- All right.
Uh, by the coastline, though, right? - By the water? - Have a good day.
All right.
Getting warmer.
As I drove away, reality started sinking in.
Ted Ellis was supposed to be my direct link to Gary, but instead, he stonewalled me.
What was he trying to hide? More important how would I ever find Gary Larson now? Brad: Hey, sweetie.
Um, do you have a minute? I could really use one of your pep talks.
Well, I know the baby needs you, but right now, I need you.
So today, this guy was very mean to me.
First he said that my motive for honoring Gary Larson is selfish, which it is absolutely not.
It's the opposite.
Then he said that I should leave Gary alone.
Like, who is he? Then he said that my movie sounds dumb.
What?! What does that mean?! [Phone beeps] [Scoffs] Did you hear that? Was I the only one who understood the importance of this film? It's moments like these when reading "The Far Side" is like staring into a mirror.
Like in this panel, that's me, Clark Kent.
And there's my wife, Lisa.
And that's my film, and she thinks it's stupid and that I should just hang up my cape.
And it's driving me cuckoo because she totally doesn't have a point, and I have to keep scouring the "Planet Daily" searching for Gary Larson.
It's like Gary has a window into my soul.
It was a sleepless night as I metaphorically approached my in-most cave.
But, as Blake Snyder would say, "It's always darkest before the dawn.
" What?! 300 grand?! Jim: What? 300 grand? I'm not kidding.
- Get in there! - Jesus Christ.
That's real! Brad: It may have been my awesome description of the movie as, "The definitive story of Gary Larson and 'The Far Side'.
" It may have been the repeated mention of Gary's direct involvement.
It's free money! But I like to think it was destiny.
Gary himself reaching out to say, "Do this for me.
I need this.
" Making a documentary is so easy.
And now that I had a real budget, I could finally afford the tools of a real documentary.
Then I headed straight to the heart of "Far Side" country, Seattle, Washington, where I opened my new five-star production office.
How's that for HQ, huh? Wah! It was perfect.
Now all I needed was a real documentary crew no offense, Dad.
It was only a matter of time.
[Knock on door] Brad: Ooh, that's him.
- Brad Adams? - Yes.
- Here you go.
- Thank you very much.
Thank you.
Look at all of this.
This is Gary Larson's personal information and photos.
He's just a normal guy.
It's amazing you could do this to someone for 10 grand.
I would hate it if someone did this to me.
Really scary.
That's his house.
That's his address.
Everything was falling into place.
There was only one thing left to do.
Brad: Hi, sweetie.
Well, um, I've got some news for you.
Do you remember when you said to me that no one's gonna want to see my movie? Well, it turns out that, guess what? The Internet does.
I raised $300,000 on Indiegogo.
Yeah, but the money already goes into production costs, so that money is already spent.
Yes, but something's being born here this movie.
Okay, so you sound very tired.
So we're gonna talk a little bit later, okay? I love you.
[Phone beeps] Jim: She sounds angry.
No, that's just our banter.
That's how we communicate.
It's fine.
[Horn blows] To be honest, our playful chat had triggered some doubt.
Maybe it was jitters before the big day.
All I know is I felt lower than ever.
I'd faced hardship before on this journey, but something had always come out of the blue to lift me up.
Whether it was the passion of a fellow fan, or the shared wisdom from a personal mentor, or an overwhelming show of public support in the form of lots and lots of money.
But could I really expect another miracle to keep this project alive? It was too much to ask.
I was ready to call it quits.
And that's when I met Renee.
What are you guys filming? Intrigued by the camera, she stopped to chat.
Well, we just drive around the whole country talking to everyone the fans, some experts.
We interviewed Matthew Walter.
Ah, so you just decided to make a movie.
That is so cool.
Yeah, it's pretty easy.
Everybody has something worth sharing you know, a story.
I mean, what about you? Do you have a hobby, an experience, or something? I was a combat medic.
I actually just got back from Afghanistan.
- Afghanistan? - Yeah.
We're still over there? Yeah.
Oh, wow.
Well, uh, you could do that as a story, or maybe something less depressing.
You could do a favorite dessert, uh, you know, a pet that you love.
Anything like that.
Hearing myself speak about the amazing journey of this film put everything back into perspective.
You don't need anyone's permission to tell your story, or anyone else's story.
Just create.
You are inspiring.
Turns out, the miracle I was looking for was me.
Thank you very much.
Brad: I set out that morning feeling massively energized.
Once Gary Larson experienced the passion of a true fan, who knew what was possible? Maybe he'd even come out of retirement.
The moments before meeting Gary Larson.
After all I'd been through, anything short of that now seemed like a total failure.
Brad: All right, so, South Maple is one street that way.
Jim: You're gonna walk up and just knock on the door? Dad, I'm gonna make sure that he knows that we were very respectful of his privacy, all right? I'm not some crazy person.
This is for a film.
So many cars.
I thought it'd be easier to park.
What the hell? Why are there so many people? Oh, this can't be it.
[Car door closes] What is happening here? Woman: Sir! - Gentleman? - Hi.
I'm gonna need you to move that vehicle, please.
Why are there so many trucks? - What is this? - It's Ken Burns.
We just wrapped his "American Masters" interview with Gary Larson.
You interviewed Gary Larson? I couldn't believe this was happening.
I had driven over a hundred miles, and now here I was not 10 feet from Gary's house.
- Mr.
Larson! - Okay, no, no, no, no, no.
But once again, the Universe was trying to silence me.
- Mr.
Larson! That's his office.
- No, no ah! - Let me just - If you could just no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.
It was a true David and Goliath standoff.
Me and my 73-year-old dad versus Ken Burns, Mr.
I want to say one more thing.
All I wanted to do was ask Gary a couple of questions.
That's it.
And I know he's in there.
Woman: - All right.
- I know, I know, I know.
We're going, we're going.
I didn't stand a chance.
Jim: You all right, Bradley? My journey was over, and it wasn't the ending that I had hoped for.
So I went back to the place where it all began.
And suddenly, it was all so clear.
My whole life, all I ever wanted was to live in "The Far Side.
" I thought that by meeting Gary Larson, I'd be one step closer.
But if I've learned anything from "The Far Side", it's that life is absurd and it's not always supposed to make sense.
So in a way, bynotmeeting Gary Larson, I'm actually closer to "The Far Side" than ever.
Gary may have created "The Far Side", but by making this film, I'm the one who discovered its true meaning.
And now, I'm sharing it with all of you, especially my wonderful family who were so supportive of this journey.
So welcome to "The Far Side.
" Gary and I will see you around.
[Man whistling musically] Season 3, Episode 5