A prolific multihyphenate, Cathryn Michon is a filmmaker, actress, author, and comedian who is never short on projects. For instance, the Los Angeles-based entertainer also collaborated with husband W. Bruce Cameron on the 2017 hit film A Dog’s Purpose. Her latest film Cook Off! completed principal photography in 2005 – yes, 12 years ago – but is just now getting an official release on November 17. The film features a lot of other notables, including Melissa McCarthy, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Niecy Nash, Diedrich Bader, Stephen Root, and Louie Anderson. Beyond starring, Michon also worked behind the scenes as a writer, producer, director, and editor.
Cook Off! is a food-centric mockumentary that ought to appeal to Christopher Guest fans. The Daily Meal had the pleasure of speaking with Michon about food, the film, and food on film.
The Daily Meal: This film had a long journey to release, can you talk about that?
Cathryn Michon: We had a lot of the type of problems that plague independent features. We ran out of money, people moved on, one of the members went bankrupt. It was a work in progress that wasn't making any progress. But I couldn't just let it lie there, unfinished and unseen, when so many talented people put so much work into it. My husband and I did what everyone will tell you is completely foolish, which was to take out a second mortgage on the house in order to resurrect Cook Off! from its abandoned state.
We had lost footage, found footage, a million technical problems, but we also had brilliant people we brought on board to help with sound, music, composition, color-correction, and all the other processes that turn a bunch of raw footage into an actual film. Finally, a journey that began with me meeting with the actors and working through their roles with them ended with a finished movie that I am so very proud of.
The opening credits and scene introductions of Cook Off! show all sorts of food preparation. Was it the same person doing all of that? And were all of those items fully edible?
We moved all the furniture out of our living room, set up the cameras, and put some of the craziest food recipes you can think of on screen, under the main title director of photography wizardry of Michael Franks. Those are my hands placing each dish in position, but we had a whole houseful of food artists, cooks, and helpers getting it all ready. It's pretty much edible — my dog was particularly interested in the bacon weave — but I don't know that it would be good for you, exactly.
Intros and credits aside, being a food-centric movie yet also an independently made film, what was the food like on set?
There are probably two answers to that. The first is that it is my philosophy that when you're asking people to work for little or no money, far beneath their going rates, you better feed them well. I've recently been on set of a big budget studio movie, and we fed our crew far better. But then there's the food made by the actors playing the contestants. We gave everyone lined up behind an oven a bunch of random ingredients and told them to cook. Some of them came up with amazing stuff, all considered. Others came up with what looked like rat poison.
Cook Off! can be classified as a mockumentary. Do you remember the first mockumentary that made an impact on you?
This is Spinal Tap, of course. I am a big fan of all Christopher Guest's films.
As one of the film's producers, writers, editors, and directors, was it always the plan for you to be on-camera as one of its stars?
I was an actor and standup comic long before Cook Off! was even an idea, and the character of dorky, tone-deaf, self-absorbed Sharon Solfest was so delicious I couldn't pass up the opportunity to be the one to bring her to life on screen. One of the funniest things about her is even after all the things that happen, she really doesn't change, or see any reason to. She remains clueless.
A lot of big stars are featured in this movie. Had you known a lot of them through your work with Second City?
That and the years I spent hosting at The Improv. Some of them are among my best friends. It's a pretty tight community. And I have to say, if there's another movie out there with such a talented ensemble cast, I'd like to hear about it.
Cook Off! promotion aside, what is coming up for you in your career? Any chance of another book?
Let me say this clearly: My husband writes the books. I have no interest in going through that again! But we're active in the Sony feature A Dog's Way Home, for which my husband and I are co-screenwriters, and for the movie A Dog's Journey, which is in development. And I have written the script for the next movie for me to direct and play a part in; hope to shoot that on in the spring.
When not busy with work, how do you like to spend your free time?
I have a little dog named Tucker I like to spoil. But honestly, asking me, at this time in my life, about when I am "not busy with work" causes me to have brain freeze. I'm doing work that I love, but I'm working all the time.
Do you have a favorite restaurant in Los Angeles?
I'm pretty obsessed with Blue Plate Oysterette in Santa Monica at the moment. I'm from Cape Cod, and fresh seafood is my favorite. But there are times when my husband and I are working and we look up and realize we have no plans for dinner — in that case, my favorite is whichever one is closest.
Finally, Cathryn, any last words for the kids?
This makes me laugh because there is a line in Cook Off! where the Del Crawford character, speaking from his prison cell, urges the youth of America to try new experiences, such as, "kill somebody." If this is a serious question, then my serious answer is don't give up, keep trying, and understand that adversity and defeats are there to learn from, not to be discouraged by.
Inspired by the cooking competition? Throw a Chopped-inspired party at home.