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Proudly wasting time and money since 1993, Sid Lee Collective is a creative incubator that helps fund, produce and exhibit passion projects of fearless, global artisans. No matter the day job, we believe everyone benefits from pursuing collaborative creative projects you love. That’s why everyone at Sid Lee gets up to 10% of their time to make passion projects happen.

 

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Profiles
Toothpix: How an actor and director are blowing up the LA food scene in their spare time
November 1, 2016
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Halfway through the summer of 2016, some confusingly well-produced videos started appearing in Yelp’s little-used “video review” section. They were focused on restaurants in LA, packed to the brim with jokes, puppets and special effects, and imbued with an addictively frenetic glee. They were clearly being created by someone who knew what they were doing, but who was that someone and why weren’t they trying to brand and monetize the shit out of them?

Halfway through the summer of 2016, some confusingly well-produced videos started appearing in Yelp’s little-used “video review” section. They were focused on restaurants in LA, packed to the brim with jokes, puppets and special effects, and imbued with an addictively frenetic glee. They were clearly being created by someone who knew what they were doing, but who was that someone and why weren’t they trying to brand and monetize the shit out of them?

chengdu taste. #toothpix @chengdutaste 📛💥@gostunts 📸@jwrutland

Une vidéo publiée par TOOTH PIX (@toothpix) le

Eventually these videos began to pop up on an Instagram account called Toothpix and the story became a bit clearer: they are the unruly brainchildren of director Dave Green and actor Joe Cobden, friends and LA residents who came up with the idea while bonding over their love of Jonathan Gold (the legendary LA Times restaurant critic and champion of the city’s sprawling diversity) and their disdain for LA’s Yelp-propelled foodie culture.

We caught up with Cobden recently to ask how you evolve something that started as a creative kickstart between friends…

So how did this all get started? 

Dave had finished a big corporate project and I had acted in a bunch of garbage television. We were in a funk. We wanted to return to the impulse that had got us started. That childhood spark that makes you imagine something and draw it, act it out, sing it, shoot it. That sense of play. So we were both looking around for ways to reignite that feeling.

Baroo. #toothpix. @baroo_la 🍻 @juliakramer for hosting last week

Une vidéo publiée par TOOTH PIX (@toothpix) le

Dave and I love going to eat in restaurants in LA, specifically ones on Jonathan Gold's 101 list. So we were commiserating at Kobawoo House and we had been trying to come up with some way to subvert Yelp, to fuck with it. We realized they had a video function no one was using. Yelp is ubiquitous in LA. Everyone's on it all the time. I said that eating at Kobawoo was like taking a hot-tub with a bunch of attractive people and that we should shoot that and make that our yelp review. We got laughing about that and then decided to do one the next day. One thing that is so great about this project is you come up with the idea, you shoot it, edit it, it's done. Takes three years to make a feature. I have a short attention span, get distracted easily.

Dave had eaten at a hyped restaurant downtown and was pissed about it. Beautiful building but the food was shit. So we shot one where I start doing a classic selfie-vid ("What's up guys" are the three dirtiest words for us) "What's up guys, just ate at the newly renov--" Then the guy barfs and basically crawls around downtown barfing comically. It was too crass so we chucked it. But we had fun. So we did it again. 

jon + vinny's. #toothpix @jonandvinnydelivery

Une vidéo publiée par TOOTH PIX (@toothpix) le

Was there a specific moment this went from a fun idea to a "this has legs" type thing?

We knew right away. The joke was to make fun of people who take Yelp seriously by taking it way more seriously than anybody. Intention and process are so important to me. It's important that the intention stays grounded in something meaningful. For us it was our friendship and hiding free treasure on the internet. The shooting was actually fun. Sets are almost never fun. They're stressful or boring. And we got so jazzed about people finding the project once it was finished. Dave sent it around and all his people loved it and mine approved and didn't really get it but we were psyched right away. LA's funny because things can actually happen there. 

yogurtland. #toothpix @yogurtlandinc

Une vidéo publiée par TOOTH PIX (@toothpix) le

We agreed not to monetize it, ever - that it's fine if we get gigs from this but that we'll never sell @Toothpix because money would corrupt it. We had offers and rejected them and I don't regret it. People get pretty short sighted when hype starts cooking. Because we agreed not to take ourselves too seriously, we were free. We rigorously had no expectations. It kept everything fun. Every magazine article furthers the joke.

The project is also making fun of projects. Maybe that's a bit meta-theatrical. But I am genuinely freaked out by the avalanche of "content" falling on us. It may be hypocritical, but I'm definitely struggling with being a maker in a world that has too much stuff to consume. We eat so much screen time and it's going to give us problems. Dave doesn't care about this. He's probably smart to ignore it. For him he just loves restaurants and making stuff. For me it's more complicated. 

kogi. #toothpix @kogibbq

Une vidéo publiée par TOOTH PIX (@toothpix) le

Could this only have worked in LA?

We could've made them anywhere, but part of the goal was to be local. LA is home to millions of people that don't engage with the city. It would've worked in New York or London or Chicago. Anywhere where people use Yelp a lot and have a lot of restaurants. It helps that it was in a city of people that feel isolated from each other. 

You initially were only putting these on Yelp - did you know you'd have to do something more with them at some point?

We knew right away that we wanted to have them all on Instagram that we didn't care about Twitter that they would only hit on Instagram. Our numbers on Yelp are low. We post them simultaneously. The Yelp part is more conceptual. Yelp sorta sucks and is not very organized. 

trois mec. #toothpix @troismecla

Une vidéo publiée par TOOTH PIX (@toothpix) le

You must be getting tons of offers on this - have there been any great or horrible ones? Have you been offered the "sponsored post" type collaborations yet?

Yes. People have asked. A chain of restaurants wanted us to do 9 of their spots. Nope. Weiden, Park, different ad people have contacted us. TV people. No super interesting offers yet. 

wang xing ji. #toothpix 🎥@jwrutland 💡@mattklinman

Une vidéo publiée par TOOTH PIX (@toothpix) le

What's the process for getting one of these made from start to finish? How do you know when you've nailed one?

We eat at the place, text each other ideas in the following days. When we're both laughing and excited we're good to go. We work with a small team of like-minded homies (who are also professionals and specialists) and work fast and furiously. The post work is mainly done by Dave who is meticulous. Lots of edits. Alex Rhek and Dave Green and I approve everything. Rhek is real good at dissemination strategy. There are lots of texts. The shoot can take anywhere from 3 hours to 3 days. Different reviews require different specialties but we try to keep them simple enough that it's not a slog. 

Part of the appeal of these is that the production is almost ludicrously professional - have you created a bit of a monster for yourselves?

Nah, we will do a bunch of low-fi ones soon to calm expectations and say bye to people who are only interested in production value. We want this to stay fun and cool and local. If they're funny or cool then we should be fine. I want to do a sad one soon. 

What would be the natural evolution for this project?

Naturally? We'd continue to try and make stuff that makes people laugh a bit, maybe try a different culture's cuisine, maybe not take the "foodie" scene seriously. Beyond that? I don't know. I can imagine celeb involvement/endorsement, bigger budgets, Jimmy Fallon appearance or Ellen or whatever, franchise to different cities, app development, show on Vice, careers in ad directing. Or we just stop and make something totally different.  I'd like to make an Instagram show. That sounds fun. Not necessarily about food but something local. I'd like to find a way to put warmth on the internet and subvert its badness wherever possible. I have lots more ideas for sure.


Written by Brendan Murphy

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