There is a scene in the movie American Splendor in which the main character, Harvey Pekar, played by Paul Giamatti, riffs about other Harvey Pekars whose names disappear and reappear. “Who are these people? What do they do? What’s in a name?” he begs of the camera.
But while Mr. Pekar was too timid to ever pick up the phone and find out, Aaron Cohen was not. “I looked up my name in the phone book and there were eight Aaron Cohens living between 72nd Street and 96th Street, just on the Upper West Side, you know, just between West End Avenue and Central Park West,” Mr. Cohen told The Observer in 2009, and in that same year, he met a gaggle of nine AC’s, as he calls them, at Katz’s Deli on the Lower East Side. From there, he plotted out a documentary about Aaron Cohens around the world, finding and friending them through Facebook (he is now friends with 132 of the 1,000+ AC’s on the social network). Last night he launched a Kickstarter campaign for the film around 10 p.m. from the Salt Lake City airport, after his redeye flight back to New York was canceled.
The campaign has raised $1,519 of its $50,000 from 10 backers, half of whom are named Aaron Cohen.
Mr. Cohen spent most of his career as an entrepreneur (co-founder of Concrete Media and Bolt.com and CEO of Menupages and Anyclip). He teaches a class called the History of Internet Media at NYU. “Twenty-five years ago, Woody Allen, Spalding Gray, and Ross McElwee sparked something inside of me. The Aaron Cohens is that thing,” he says on the campaigns Kickstarter page.
Mr. Cohen spoke to Betabeat via Gchat from the plane (edited slightly for punctuation) about the film, Kickstarter, Facebook, and being Aaron Cohen.
How many ACs are you friends with on Facebook now?
It takes me too long to count. It’s unreal. Changes all the time. But the 132 was done within the last two months. But there are more than 132 on Facebook.
How much of it is done?
The film? Half. Maybe. But I have a very different view of KickStarter. Independent films need tribes. Tribes help let people know that something meaningful exists. I need people who care about this film to join me during the entire process. If anything I should have started earlier.
Is the movie about Jews? You kind of mention this is in the video.
I can’t give too much away.
Ooh, twist ending?
Let’s just say that I thought all Aaron Cohens would be just like me. And they are not. For example there is one in Salt Lake.
Mormon Aaron Cohen?!
I cannot confirm that at this time.
Here’s the important thing. I had an expectation, perhaps we all do. Names are codes. They mean something. Particulary Raj Gupta or Jesus Martinez. Aaron Cohen is one of those names. Except that I was wrong.
What does your family think of this project?
Very supportive. It’s a long story.
I started out making a straight comedy, but about nine months into it my mother got terminal cancer. That kind of shelved things for a long time and changed the direction of the film in certain ways.
Does it feel like you’re finally able to see the completion in sight of a film you started so long ago?
Definitely. But I’ve always seen the film and how it would unfold. The challenge has been that I was a CEO for a long time and making films is even more intense. I did a TEDx talk on the intersection of startups and films two years ago.
So how many Aaron Cohens will appear in the film?
Well no film has room for 132 characters, not even Slacker. But we will show a dizzying number of faces and really quick moments. But the film centers around a six pack.
The Facebook thing is really important. I mean. I can’t reach all my ACs because of FB’s policies. They don’t want me to anonymously contact Aaron Cohens. That makes a lot of sense, unless you’re making this movie.
Will you like this? I hear that’s important.