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one day seminar

One Day Seminar
Director: Martin Binder
Cast: Tommy Murray, Jeannie Stith, Kelly Minner, Grover Silcox, Andrew Brett, Kim Patterson, John Cronk, Mitch Warner, John Patterson, Keyur Patel

Joanne Ross

November 5, 2008


Care to expand on your business skills to make yourself more marketable?  If so, why not take a course in “Micromanagement vs. Macromanagement: Which One is Right for You?” Or better yet, how about a course on a topic useful to everyone, “Fundamentals of Document Destruction.” These seminars and many more are available through the The Tryan Learn Institute, whose educational motto is, “Try. Learn. Succeed.”

In his independent comedy-short subject One Day Seminar, Director Martin Binder gives us one day in the life – or I should say one seminar in the life – of Tryan Learn’s star seminar facilitator, the very appropriately named Benson Mountebank (Tommy Murray), as he enlightens a befuddled group of participants on the finer points of “Succeeding As a First Time Manager.”

Binder cleverly starts his film with a cold open of a situation we are all well acquainted with, channel surfing on late night TV shot from the point of view of the audience. While clicking through the channels, we stumble upon an infomercial for The Tryan Learn Institute, hosted by the company’s CEO, Ted Misanthrope (Grover Silcox). The name “Tryan” is the operative word here. It is meant as a positive directive, but sounds like an improbable dare—you can “try” but I doubt you will “learn” anything of real value from this specious training provider. And CEO Misanthrope lives up to his name--foisting ridiculous courses for profit onto an unsuspecting public proving his disdain for people.  Misanthrope is a real snake oil salesman.

And just what is the best the institute has to offer? Why, that would be seminar leader extraordinaire, Benson Mountebank, one of “(the) staff of highly trained and highly skilled instructors carefully selected through a rigorous hiring process.” More about that later.

The ersatz Mountebank, who is the very personification of a mountebank, postures and poses a lot to overcompensate for some significant shortcomings—he wets his bed, he suffers from glossophobia or a fear of speaking in public – a big problem for a seminar leader, he can’t remember people’s names, and he quotes to his students inspirational sayings he finds on sugar packets. Nevertheless, he offers sage managerial tips which he pulls out “from deep in the bowels of my vast knowledge.”

One-Day Seminar boasts some really hysterically funny moments. And yet, on the whole, the film reflects more of a reaching than attaining, more of a trying than succeeding, no pun intended.  The film has problems, and those revolve around some weaknesses in the script and issues with the acting.  Material and timing is everything in comedy, and the story idea here has lots of potential—the resulting product however doesn’t live up to that promise.  Some of the material just isn’t funny and the timing is off more than it is on. That goes for acting, too. The beats are off, just as the comedic timing is off, and the cast is not particularly strong, with the exception of Grover Silcox as Misanthrope. Silcox is a strong, funny, and charismatic actor indeed. As brief as his onscreen time is, his is the one fine, professional performance in the entire movie.

Murray, on the hand, isn’t nearly as natural or as skilled as Silcox. He comes across as awkward and amateurish, I’m sorry to say. Ironically though, it’s those same qualities that work to such great effect in the seminar scenes where he is playing someone who is, well, awkward and amateurish. Another scene where it works is the sequence where we learn the truth about Mountebank’s true professional background, the scene when he meets with Edna Happenstance (Peggy Koleduk --oh, these names!), the company’s visually-impaired hiring director and just incidentally, Misanthrope’s mother. So much for rigorous hiring practices. It sure helps when you can’t see the candidate’s resume.

When I think about it, it’s odd really how the genuinely funny bits in One-Day Seminar still work despite their obvious shortcomings.  Give director Binder credit for pulling that one off.

I can guarantee you will laugh out loud during some of the scenes in One-Day Seminar. It is an entertaining film. But it’s also one that would have benefited from some small changes to the material, from improved comic timing, and stronger actors.—JR*


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