Filmmaker seeks audience feedback on 'Purple Onion'

courtesy of Picture Theory
Edwin Li stars as Johnny Lee in Matt Szymanowski’s new film, “The Purple Onion,” scheduled to play at the Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose next month.

A rough cut of “The Purple Onion,” Matt Szymanowski’s film about a struggling San Francisco comedian, is playing at San Jose’s Cinequest Film Festival next month. Audience reaction could determine the outcome of the final product.

“We are calling on the audience to provide their responses to our film by filling out questionnaires or by participating in mini video interviews after each screening,” Szymanowski said. “The responses could end up affecting our final film, which will have its official world premiere shortly later.”

Szymanowski used his Los Altos connections to help make his movie a reality.

His mother, Elizabeth Szymanowski, owns Salon Elizabeth on First Street in Los Altos. Longtime friend Mary Myers of Los Altos Hills held a launch party and fundraising effort in November 2012.

The Cinequest screenings are a culmination of a three-year process.

“My first job back in the Bay Area after film school was working at the Punch Line comedy club in San Francisco,” Szymanowski said. “That’s where I met my lead actor and co-story writer, Edwin Li.”

Li’s real-life work as a standup comedian served as chief inspiration for the film.

“I ended up writing the first draft of the script while at the MacDowell Artist Colony in New Hampshire,” Szymanowski said. “That was the first time I actually could sit down for six weeks and just write. That was the first draft. Then a few drafts later, we made the film.”

“The Purple Onion” crew began filming last May.

“There’s a lot more work that needs to be done,” he said, noting a month’s worth of work on the film score, color adjustments and, after audience feedback, possible changes to the storyline itself.

The film’s central character, Johnny Lee, is frustrated with his failed attempts at standup comedy. A chance run-in with an older woman spurs an unlikely relationship that has a positive impact on both their lives.

The title “The Purple Onion” refers to the now-closed San Francisco nightclub that served as a venue for standup comedy for decades.

“If you like the quirky, offbeat, alternative world of characters and subtlety, you can definitely appreciate this film,” Szymanowski said. “My ultimate goal as a storyteller is to emphasize people’s need for each other.”

“The Purple Onion” is Szymanowski’s first attempt at making a feature film. His other work includes producing content for CBS’ award-winning; media agency MKSHFT’s clients Toyota, Gizmodo and HTC; the documentary “Nine Days That Changed the World”; and various local music videos.

His short film “History of Solitude” played at the San Francisco International Film Festival and was presented in Poland, France and Albania. It won the Jury Award at the European Independent Film Festival in Paris.

Screenings for “The Purple Onion” are scheduled 7:15 p.m. March 9 at Camera 12, Screen 7; 7 p.m. March 11 at San Jose Repertory Theatre; and 9:15 p.m. March 15 at San Jose Repertory.

For more information on the film, visit

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