When Brigham Young University media arts professor Scott Christopherson found himself at the end of a 2015 tour for his latest documentary, the inspiration for his next project struck close to home.
As both a former student and a current professor, Christopherson’s roots are firmly planted in the BYU media arts program. Over the course of his undergraduate studies, he learned of another BYU alumnus, Stephen Groo, who had become something of a legend in both the media arts program and the world of independent filmmaking.
Groo has made more than 200 films in the last two decades, but he has never made a profit on a film, nor has he ever had a film picked up for distribution. He makes do with minimal budgets and the support of his family.
By most industry standards, Groo is a categorically unsuccessful filmmaker, yet he has remained undaunted over the years. This persistent spirit, along with Groo’s eccentric approach to life, filmmaking and his ever-growing cult following, made him the ideal subject for Christopherson’s next documentary.
“The Insufferable Groo” had a theatrical run in December and is now available for pre-order on iTunes.
“When I find a character like him, I feel like I can tell that there’s enough meat on the bone to carry a whole feature-length movie,” Christopherson said. “There was something about him. He was either strange enough or charismatic enough. Whether you like him or dislike him, there’s enough there that people should see and experience him.”
Even after Groo agreed to allow Christopherson to follow him as he directed his next film — an elf-human romance called “The Unexpected Race,” in which the FBI tries to wipe out the elf race — there were still logistical issues to iron out. “In that lunch meeting, I told Steve that I wanted to get Jack Black to be in his movie,” said Christopherson. “I said that day one, but I didn’t know Jack Black. We had no idea if were were going to be able to get him.”
Christopherson was again able to tap into his BYU roots, connecting with fellow alumnus Jared Hess, whose comedy films include “Nacho Libre,” starring Black. Christopherson had also heard that Hess shared his interest in Groo.
“This documentary wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for BYU,” Christopherson said. “Steve is a BYU alum, so he was educated by BYU professors. So was I. So was Jared Hess. Now, Jared is a big player in the Hollywood comedy world, but he’ll still come back and hang out with students here at BYU. I eventually met him when he came here to speak, and I went to lunch with him as faculty.”
Hess came on as a producer for the documentary, joining yet another BYU alum, Jared Harris, and reached out to Black, who accepted a role in Groo’s newest feature film. With Black onboard, production was in full swing under Groo’s characteristic whirlwind direction.
For Christopherson, one of the highlights of documenting the production was watching Groo direct Jack Black. Groo’s cast and crew, most of whom were BYU students, traveled to Los Angeles for a day of shooting with the actor.
Christopherson hopes that audiences latch onto both the humorous and unexpectedly relatable elements of Groo’s story.
“At the same time, I think that everyone can relate to wanting to pursue their dream and having to figure out what price they should pay to do that,” continued Christopherson. “Everyone can relate to having to figure out if pursuing their dream is realistic or if it would affect their family in a negative way. That’s the broader human theme of the film.”