‘In & Of Itself’: Derek DelGaudio on Adapting His Acclaimed Stage Show into a Film

Consider This: Conversations highlight television’s award-worthy productions through panel discussions with the artists themselves. The above video is in partnership by Hulu, produced by IndieWire’s Creative Producer Leonardo Adrian Garcia, and hosted by The Atlantic journalist Jemele Hill.

“Derek DelGaudio’s In & Of Itself” is impossible to neatly categorize. Part monologue, part magic show, part a journey for DelGaudio to discover — and simultaneously deconstruct — his own identity, the Hulu film is a wholly engrossing artistic experiment.

Such was also the case with the 500-plus live performances that culminated in DelGaudio’s film adaptation for Hulu, which premiered in January. DelGaudio noted that the film used scenes from his numerous stage shows and said that the ability to include multiple perspectives and versions of the same routine in the film made for a project that differentiated itself from the live performance while championing its most important elements.

“With a close-up you can’t hide. There are truths that are illustrated on film that you couldn’t necessarily perceive in the theater,” DelGaudio said. “For instance, if you were five or six rows back, you might not be able to see a single tear roll down someone’s face as they read the letter. In that moment on stage you might not perceive anything to have happened or you might suspect that this person is perhaps in on it or working for me or something like that because you only have that one live event to reference. In the film, not only do you have multiple versions of the same event occurring so you understand that these are real people experiencing real things, you really see the emotion that people are experiencing, myself included, and the words that I’m saying are authentic. In theater it’s actually more difficult to perceive how honest the show was. One of the luxuries of film is that it really is able to show how much truth is really there.”

“Derek DelGaudio’s In & Of Itself” is far from a typical adaptation of a stage show and DelGaudio added that the film’s eclectic nature made it a tough sell for distributors.

“We tried to bring this to other people, all of the other platforms that are out there. Different channels and executives. We got turned down all over town. People didn’t have a vision for it, but we believed in it, even after all that rejection,” he said. “This is not a traditional project that anyone would see and be like, ‘This is a wise decision on paper.’ There’s nothing about it that makes sense. It was really an act of faith, in line with the work itself. It really is about taking that leap of faith and believing in something you can’t know.”

“In & Of Itself” might not have been an easy pitch to most of Hollywood’s power players, but comedian and “The Late Show” host Stephen Colbert immediately took a liking to the project. Colbert, who saw DelGaudio’s stage show before becoming an executive producer on the Hulu film, noted that the adaptation maintained the emotional core of the stage show while strengthening parts that would be better suited for a filmed project.

“It’s almost impossible to capture the feeling of the stage play,” Colbert said. “What I like about what they did is that it it’s not really doing that. It’s amplifying certain aspects of having seen the show in ways that you just couldn’t live. For instance, we have Derek’s point of view of the audience, or something like it, at times. You have the sense of the relationship with other members of the audience that you don’t have in the live show because you’re looking at months and months of shows all collapsed into a series of emotional montages of various moments of the show so you see that this moment isn’t a fluke. It’s a moment of artistic emotional turning for the audience night after night after night. You feel that emotional sweep of the entire run and get a heightened sense of the intention of each moment because you know you’re watching multiple nights of this. That’s the one thing that I didn’t know how they’d be able to do, which is somehow amplify the stage show and truly make it a film as opposed to merely — and it sounds pejorative to say merely — a great performance captured. It really got transformed into something else.”

Directing such a film was a complicated undertaking for Frank Oz, who also directed DelGaudio’s stage show: “You have to go through every single frame and we had a hundred hours. This is not an intellectual process — if it is, you’re going for a result, which never works very well. We allowed things to breathe, tried things and took them out, and that’s how we stumbled forward. We discovered things together.”

Though “Derek DelGaudio’s In & Of Itself” was acclaimed by critics, the team behind the film was uncertain if its unusual premise would draw an audience. That didn’t bother DelGaudio, who noted that the film was a passion project.

“One day after doing the show for hundreds and hundreds of performances I walked back stage and said, ‘We can stop now.’ I just felt that we said what we needed to say and they were hearing it,” he said. “We had the same clarity with the film in that ‘This was it.’ We’ve taken it as far as we can take it and I’m very, very proud of it despite what anyone thinks of it. When we were making the show at one point, probably two months or so before we opened in L.A., Frank very seriously sat me down and said, ‘I need to know that you’re going to be OK if nobody likes this.’ He was genuinely concerned and I could tell that he was actually asking me because he knew how much I was putting into it and how much it emotionally felt like might be riding on this…I took the rest of the day to think about it and after rehearsals I told him, ‘Yes, I’m gonna be OK because we’ve made something that we, as creators, can’t even categorize. That is success and we’ve done it to the best of our abilities.’ I felt the same way about the film, where I was proud of it and didn’t need anyone else’s validation. I felt like that was a success and we sent it out to the world to see what happens.”

“In & Of Itself” is available to stream via Hulu.

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