A delusional and possibly homeless man who claims to be a Silicon Valley executive tries to convince a film crew that his app is going to be the next big thing.
No, this is not an actual status update from inside a NorCal think tank. This is the idea behind a short film titled Pinglr that was written and directed by Andrew Madsen Jasperson.
The film serves both as a sendup of Silicon Valley culture and a calling card for Jasperson, who, after a decade working on the agency side of the advertising business, quit his job as a creative director/copywriter at Crispin Porter + Bogusky in Los Angeles (where he co-directed spots for clients like NBA 2K17) to concentrate on directing.
Jasperson wrote Pinglr during a 20-day creative writing binge that he went on after he left the agency world last March, and he made the film with his own money and help from friends, including Adam Kurland and Matt Wyatt, co-founders of the Los Angeles-based production company Daughter and Sons and executive producers of the project.
What’s really funny about Pinglr is that as crazy as he is, the subject, Darrien Pinglr, does sound like a Silicon Valley type as talks about his app, confidently spewing nonsensical jargon.
“It’s a commerce as service idea. We’re actually pigeoning off of an original iteration, and now given the scalability, we’ve got some serious new beta,” Pinglr declares, insisting, “There’s no better place to be than Silicon Valley” as he stumbles around an alley wearing virtual reality goggles made out of a tissue box and twine and communicates via a broken fax machine.
We also see Pinglr hire Terry, another homeless man, as a stack engineer, promising him unlimited vacation days, a five percent stake in the company and access to nap pods.
As humorous as Pinglr’s ridiculous sales pitch and new employee perks are, the film is making a statement about the image Silicon Valley companies project versus how they really impact people’s lives. “The culture espouses world-changing views and wanting to do better for the world but at the same time directly causes problems like what’s happening in San Francisco with the homeless population,” Jasperson says.
Jasperson, DP Steven Breckon and the rest of the crew shot Pinglr in a half day in an alley behind a building in Los Angeles that houses Sibling stages. It wasn’t the most glamorous location, but it was a space Jasperson could easily access. “There’s this old adage with making your first movie—just write about something you have available to you. And I was like, ‘What could I literally do with just a guy and an alley? What could I do that would work in that space?’ Those confines really dictated where I went with this,” he says, noting, “It’s a pretty good exercise when you’re writing to try to put those weird limitations on yourself.”
Josh Ruben, who is well-known for appearing in a multitude of CollegeHumor Originals, was cast as Pinglr, and Terrence Bernie Hines, whose credits include television shows like Adam Ruins Everything and the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, plays Terry.
When he was casting, Jasperson told Kurland he would love to see a guy like Josh Ruben as Pinglr. “And he was like, ‘Oh, we’re old buddies.’ So he hit up Josh. It was a stroke of luck that Adam had that connection to him. In my head, Josh Ruben was the guy that was going to be able to nail it,” Jasperson says, pointing out that he wanted the character to be charming and likable because he didn’t want it to feel like anyone was making fun of this homeless man.
“I really didn’t want it to be that,” he stresses. “I wanted it to be a statement about Silicon Valley and that whole world.”
Jasperson didn’t create a backstory for his lead character. “I personally like to leave that open,” he says. “I couldn’t tell you myself whether he was a guy who was an executive, and it all went away for him, or whether he’s a guy who hangs out in front of the coffee shop and has overheard so much jargon that he’s just repeating the nonsense that he’s heard to this film crew.”
While Ruben worked from a script, Jasperson had him ad lib, too. “It was a lot of improv. Josh and I both come out of an improv space, so it was a lot of fun for us to riff on ideas and see what worked,” the director says.
Jasperson credits Ruben with making up the term “pigeoning” and says the actor’s sometimes garbled delivery of the Pinglr pitch made it all the more funny.
Geoff Hounsell of Arcade Edit cut the nearly four-minute Pinglr and probably spent way more time on it than he should have, says Jasperson, who is grateful to everyone who pitched in to help him make the film knowing it was a self-funded project.
To top it all off, there really is a Pinglr app. Jasperson hired a developer to create it. “The app itself is a nonsense thing. You open it up, and it’s basically this breathing mass that you can tickle, rub or poke—it likes to be tickled, it likes to be rubbed, it doesn’t like to be poked, and it makes different noises. It’s almost like this weird, LSD version of a Tamagotchi,” he explains.
If you have an Android phone, you can download the Pinglr app from Google Play. If you use an iPhone, you’re out of luck. It’s not available in the iTunes Store. “We gave it to the iTunes Store, and iTunes said that there was not enough functionality for this thing to be worthy of being in their store,” Jasperson says. “And we told them, ‘Well, the point of this thing is that it’s kind of an art piece that goes along with this short film.’ ”
Still, iTunes refused to accept Pinglr. “Which I think is funny,” according to Jasperson, who points out that there are lots of silly apps in the iTunes Store and wonders “if part of it was they didn’t like where it was coming from, the point it was making, the nonsense of all of it.”