Everyone has a hobby, and if you're the director of "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," or an actor who's appeared in "X-Men" and "Fargo," that might just be creating cinematic, 12-second videos about some of L.A.'s most culturally important restaurants.
Dave Green, the director, and Joe Cobden, the actor, both love food. And in a refreshing twist, they also have a sense of humor about it, with the ability to poke fun at both the chefs they love and themselves. Such is the beauty of their new Instagram series, Toothpix: it is clearly an homage to the city's food scene, but it also gently ribs celebrity chefs, expensive sandwiches, and the culture of "Columbusing" (ie, the way white people get about tacos).
We asked Green and Cobden about Toothpix: the inspiration, the places they like to cover, and how they look so darn expensive.
Who else is involved in this project? They're very cinematic — how much time and money are you putting into these?
Dave Green: The team is Joe and I, producers Nick Nakahara and Ryan Hendricks, and a designer with a wicked sense of humor, Alex Rhek. We shoot about five or six of them in a day. Most of them are made either for free or with props and gear we have laying around. Some are totally improvised, and some are really planned out. We just keep trying stuff until one of us bursts out laughing.
Joe Cobden: It's all based on a mutual desire to re-discover the joy and play in the work we do. These are so quick and dirty it kind of puts a childlike vibe on what has become a career for all of us in our respective specialties. We wanted to get back to that impulse we had as kids when we first made a movie or acted out a scene or wrote a short or made a joke. We largely write them via long text threads. But we overthink all of them.
Do they have something to do with Yelp videos?
Cobden: The project began when we went to get something to eat one day. We were looking around for our next projects, feeling a bit disheartened with all the "professionalism" in our industries. We're both serious Jonathan Gold fanatics and had been digging deeper into the city's more obscure restaurant offerings. Dave had been toying with the idea of a making a short about Yelp. Somewhere in the brainstorming, we realized that Yelp had a 12-second video function that no one was using. We decided to make a grip of video reviews as best we could. We became really committed to taking these Yelp reviews way too seriously.
Green: Joe and I were hooked by the idea of the whole thing being a prank. We had seen the Yelp video feature, and realized it wasn’t being used creatively by many people. And we loved the idea of people finding these videos where people wouldn’t expect them — in a haystack of food photos on Yelp.
Are all of them so far love notes to places you like? Will you ever do videos about trash places? If you have, how have you approached it?
Cobden: Our first video was about a very trendy place where Dave had had a horrible meal. The place is widely adored and it pissed Dave off because the food is garbage. The video wasn't very good though, so we chucked it. We are critical of places and trends. Tito's has lines all the time but I have a bunch of friends that have gotten sick from it (and continue to go back), so we made a Toothpix where the taco haunts the guy. People, often stoned people, talk about Yogurtland as if it's magical that you can serve yourself, like they get all excited about it. It's just self-serve yogurt, yo. And we have a lion puppet character that is basically a mascot of hipster restaurant types.
Green: There aren’t really any rules that we stick to consistently. When we make a video, we just try to capture the essence of a restaurant — its food, its clientele, its hype — really, whatever makes the biggest impact on us, in a 12-second video. A lot of them are for places we love, and some of them are for places we love but we’re still poking fun at.
Cobden: We are not afraid of being negative. One of the nice things about this project being completely money-free is we can do whatever we like. We can talk about Guns N' Roses having sex at Canter's, and we just might do that. We can kind of say whatever we like, which is part of the joke. It's "reviews." People posting on Yelp can say anything they want (which is crazy, imagine being a restaurant?). Some of our vids have nothing really to do with the restaurant experience as much as a whimsy one of us had in there. They're abstract reviews, if that makes sense.
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What do you love most about L.A.'s food scene?
Cobden: I love how it brings people together. It certainly b rought Dave and I closer together. I like to try new food from other places in the world, to eat next to people I wouldn't encounter otherwise. It's a shared experience that celebrates the joy of life. I like to be a tourist in my own town and it feels like I can do that in L.A. restaurants forever, from Las Tunas to Inglewood. Plus it's ridiculous.
Green: Reading about food, and then going to hunt down restaurants has become a little bit of an adventure for my friends and I. People get very excited about food here. You can’t find that same level of passion for food in too many other cities. I feel like this allows for a much bigger stage to let chefs to try new things, open new kinds of restaurants, and keep pushing the envelope.
Check out Toothpix on Instagram.