Here’s how it usually happens. It’s 7p.m. and you and your partner are hungry, verging on hangry. So after you argue about what kind of food you want to eat, you begin to wade through all the crap on Yelp. But among all the reviews by frustrated screenwriters are a few reviews that don’t suck.
They’re 12-18 second videos, with Hollywood-quality production values — which is not surprising because one of the producers is a Hollywood director, having fun and exploring food in L.A.
The Yelp videos are called Toothpix, and in them, Director Dave Green and actor Joe Cobden are taking Yelp's rarely used video feature and giving hungry diners another way to explore the restaurant. Joe explains, "we wanted to make fun of people who took Yelp too seriously by taking it way more seriously than anyone. And that meticulous work- it's the first thing people talk about, the production value."
Dave Green directed the second Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, and the kids movie "Earth to Echo." Joe Cobden is an actor who says he's "done a lot of pretty embarrassing television." Probably Joe's biggest credit was a recurring role on "Fargo."
When we met them at Mariscos Jalisco, the popular food truck in Boyle Heights, they told us the idea for their first Toothpix review came from the socioeconomic battle currently underway in that neighborhood.
Joe says, "For Mariscos, we know that Boyle Heights is being -- I’m sorry but -- ruthlessly gentrified, and we thought it’d be funny to have this white guy come down and get on camera with Frank, who owns this business, to speak in Spanish and our guys in the background is trying to be this authentic foodie. So we wanted to make fun of that arrogance. "
12-seconds seems like a blip to explain a restaurant, even in metaphor. Director Dave Green says they're still experimenting with the time restraint, "We're still figuring that out. I mean sometimes we feel limited by the 12 seconds and sometimes we feel that the 12 seconds is the best rule we have."
Take their Trois Familia restaurant review. Joe says it was spawned from the sensationalizing of fusion cooking. "So it was just like this guy writing home about how incredible (it is), but it's just to make fun of it. It has nothing to do with the restaurant or the experience. It's just a restaurant. They make good food, but it's just a restaurant. And we also kind of wanted to parody this foodie culture and restaurant culture because it's ready for it. There's a lot of restaurants in LA and some of them have to go to pretty great lengths to be novel and a lot of the time that's pretty funny."
Joe, the actor in the reviews, was born in Canada and started living here about 15 years ago. Dave is a native Angeleno. Dave says making these videos keeps him trying new places to eat.
"I think when I was growing up," he says. "My family would go to the same restaurants every week. You know, it was like Islands or Acapulco. And then it's been fun as you grow up and get exposed to different things, see that mold crack. Now my parents when we go out to eat on the weekends are like 'Great, where are we going? We want to try somewhere new and see a new part of the city!'"
Joe adds, "If you can be a tourist in your own town- then you're laughing. If you can stay that curious and excited about your home. Especially in a city like this one- then there's no end to the pleasure you can get from it."
Both Dave and Joe are active in the film industry, but making time for Toothpix together is a source of play, rather than pressure. Joe explains, "Our pressure is only to account to each other. Its just us trying to have a good time, come together, break bread while we make these videos and you know like, send a love letter to the city... And hide treasure on the internet!"