At the time, Jonathan Ade had no idea how fortunate a dinnertime conversation at Emerson College last month would turn out to be. He and roommate Patrick De Nicola, both members of college comedy troupe Chocolate Cake City, were trading ideas for spoofs of "Brokeback Mountain," the Ang Lee film about two cowboys who fall in love, released last December.
"We were throwing around 'Brokeback' spinoff titles … 'Brokeback Charles River,' nothing really good," said Ade, a junior at Emerson who grew up in Burke. "Then [De Nicola] said "Brokeback to the Future," and everyone started laughing." The next day, De Nicola and Ade decided to fashion a movie trailer for their fictional new movie, to debut at a comedy show they were organizing that weekend.
The title "Brokeback to the Future" unites "Brokeback Mountain" and "Back to the Future," a movie trilogy about a California teenager, played by Michael J. Fox, who travels through time with the help of Dr. Emmett Brown, played by Christopher Lloyd, and a modified DeLorean sports car.
"We thought, 'This could work,'" said De Nicola. It seemed like fate, he said, that the third movie in the trilogy, "Back to the Future Part III," was set in the Old West.
Ade and De Nicola, both 21, began their project: to craft a trailer for "Brokeback to the Future" that would combine the storyline of "Brokeback Mountain" and the characters of "Back to the Future." They watched all three of the "Back to the Future" movies back-to-back one evening and took notes.
"We looked for any words, any gesture, anything that would help us out," said De Nicola. An evening of frenzied editing later, Ade and De Nicola had a deftly cut "trailer" suggesting a romantic love between Michael J. Fox's and Christopher Lloyd's characters in the "Back to the Future" movies, similar to the cowboy romance in "Brokeback Mountain."
THE PAIR FELT NERVOUS as they floated the trailer the next weekend at the comedy show, not knowing what sort of reception would meet "Brokeback to the Future." But according to De Nicola, the crowd's reaction was not unlike that of Boston Red Sox fans when the team won the 2004 World Series baseball game.
Friends began to insist that the comedy troupe place the video on the Web, which meant that Ade had to put together a Web site for the troupe. But once the video went online, it became a near-instant success. By the next morning, said De Nicola, it had received 2,000 hits. Someone placed the video on boinboing.net, and from there it went to video-sharing site youtube.com, where it became an international success. A recent Google search of "Brokeback to the Future" fetched more than six million hits.
"As soon as it got all hyped we were kind of like, 'What?'" said David Child, Chocolate Cake City member and roommate to Ade and De Nicola. "Everyone was talking about it. Friends contacted me before [the video] even came out."
The video received national press, too: mentions of its overnight success appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Boston Herald, Newsweek, and Boston Globe, among others. E-mails began to pour in from friends, acquaintances, and strangers.
"We got emails from people all over the world," said Ade. "Australia, Japan, stuff like that. It's nice to know there's that kind of exposure out there."
"It's been really great," said Child. "It's blown our minds .… we've gotten contacts from people we never thought would ever contact us."
However, the success is still a bit of a shock.
"We had no idea," said Ade. "We were concerned that hopefully people would like it as much before [the comedy show]." Nearly all the feedback has been positive, he said, but the troupe's taste of fame has led to e-mails from the extensive criticism of Chocolate Cake City, their Web site, and their videos, to the individual who tried to enlist their support in his drive to get "Back to the Future" sneakers made.
"We've been so happy people have enjoyed it as much as we have," said De Nicola.
"We were just completely blown away about how this thing could get so huge," said mother Cynthia Denton-Ade. "The scope of this is just amazing."
But her son had always possessed a talent for humor and filmmaking, said Denton-Ade. As a young teenager, Ade filmed and edited a horror-comedy movie about his guinea pig. The movie amazed everyone who watched it, said Denton-Ade.
"He's been making films since then," she said. After attending a video-editing class at the Fairfax Academy for the Arts and Sciences while a student at Robinson Secondary School as well as a University of Virginia summer writing workshop in 2001 and 2002, Ade knew he wanted to follow his passion for writing and filmmaking. He chose Emerson for its film program, and is now earning a bachelor of fine arts in film production.
COMEDY, HOWEVER, was something Ade more or less stumbled into. One afternoon in his freshman year at Emerson, Ade was performing a dance routine to a Spanish-English techno song he had made up when De Nicola, who had just started Chocolate Cake City, suggested he perform the dance in the next show the troupe put on.
"That was my first foray into comedy," said Ade. He has been part of the troupe ever since, editing videos and choreographing comedic dances for performances. According to Ade, for a past Chocolate Cake City performance he edited a video of "Waffles," the troupe's resident puppet, singing along to a Disney song about Canada.
"[Chocolate Cake City] gives me chance to flex that performing muscle," said Ade. "It's not something I've generally considered a career in." Next spring, said Ade, he plans to spend the semester in Los Angeles to further his dream career: directing films.
"I would love to make my own films with unrestrained budgets and no limits," he said. "That's the dream."
"In the field of film, it's a rough thing to go into," said Denton-Ade. "There's so much competition out there."
However, she said, the success of the video has brought this dream a little closer. The widespread press has gained notice for Chocolate Cake City, and according to Ade, MTV has expressed an interest in working with the troupe.
"The whole 'Brokeback to the Future' thing has really opened some doors," he said. "I imagine that's going to help me out."