Patrice O’Neal Documentary Filmmakers Exit Project

The Patrice O’Neal documentary, “Better Than You” has seemingly come to a controversial impasse.

The late and great comedian passed away in 2011, leaving behind a legacy of a brilliant career that inspired a generation of comedians, and a grieving hardcore fanbase. In 2015, three filmmakers announced plans to work with Patrice’s finance Von Decarlo to create a documentary honoring Patrice’s voice, life and work. Director and producer Mark Farrell, Sansi Fabri and Jason Steinberg set out to tell the story of his career and comedy featuring Patrice’s comedy friends, his family and his fans. The fans would be a big part of the doc, in no small part because they would be providing the initial funding to get the project off the ground via an Indiegogo campaign.   The initial plan was to deliver the film by May 2016, according to the estimated delivery date of perks for donations.

But its been three and half years since that campaign reached its goal (and then some), and on Monday came the news that three of the film’s producers (including the director) are exiting the project.  Farrell, Fabri and Steinberg posted an update on the Indiegogo page announcing their departure, citing unspecified differences with Decarlo as the reason. “After quite some time and numerous attempts to reconcile differences, Mark, Jason and Sansan (collectively 3/4ths of the producing team) had to part ways with Von Decarlo and to hand the finishing and distributing of the film to Comedy Central,” the note says. The team says they did everything in their power to see the film to fruition, but insist it was a dead end.  “It was this [turning over the project], or seeing all the work (made only because of your generous contributions) go down the drain and never see the light of day. And that was too big a sacrifice.” There are hints of some bad dealings in the post which states that “due to legal reasons we can no longer be held accountable as to the how, when and where” the film will end up. But the post assures readers that film will be finished and it will be released.

This leaves a question about what happens to the roughly $130,000 in donations that were raised by Patrice’s fans to support the creation of the documentary. Back in 2015 filmmakers said they chose crowdfunding in order to keep “complete creative control the way Patrice would have wanted it.”  Doing the film “the right way” became a part of the film’s mantra. But that’s a lot of money collected, and a lot of perks promised, with nothing to show for it so far.

Farrell, Fabri and Steinberg insist that before signing away the rights to Comedy Central, they demanded that the network take “full legal and moral responsibility over the 2,000 or so contributors to either deliver them exactly what was promised to them, or refund the cash contribution.”   The post does not mention whether the trio was paid before parting ways with the film, and they do not mention whether all of the donations were already spent.

“We will forever be grateful for allowing us to bring this project to the world and hope that you forgive us for the simple fact we had to hand it, and the delivery of your rightful return, over to those who guaranteed to make it happen.”

Patrice’s death on November 29th, seven years ago left a gigantic void in the comedy world. His integrity, his righteousness, his comedy and his story deserve to be well documented. We have reached out to Von Decarlo, Comedy Central, Mark Farrell, and Sansi Fabri for details on the future of the project. We got some responses but no answers. After issuing that long post that hinted at animosity and conflict, Mark Farrell would only tell us that any updates on the Patrice doc should from Comedy Central. When we asked him to comment on why he was no longer involved, he would only refer us to Comedy Central again. Comedy Central confirmed only that a Patrice O’Neal documentary is in fact in development with the network but would not comment further, for now. Von Decarlo didn’t respond to our requests for comment.

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