Documentary Now!’s attention to detail produces a lot of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it visual gags, the type that reward a quick finger on the “pause” button. And while that’s also true of tonight’s episode, “Final Transmission,” the show’s most recent film-nerd Easter egg also rewards a pair of sharp ears. Or a few spins through the audio commentary on Boogie Nights: That film’s Oscar-nominated director, Paul Thomas Anderson, voices the director of the film-within-the-episode in “Final Transmission.” You’ll have to slow down the Stop Making Sense parody’s grand finale to catch his name in the credits, but there it is, right below Jon Wurster, in the role of Jonathan Demme stand-in Harrison Renzi:
Anderson wasn’t the first choice for the role. “We would have loved the idea of Jonathan Demme doing it, but couldn’t get in touch for whatever reason,” Documentary Now! director and co-creator Rhys Thomas told The A.V. Club during our interview about “Final Transmission.” “And who knows if he would have wanted to?”
Fortunately for Thomas and company, the show had a direct line to “the closest thing” they could get to Demme: Paul Thomas Anderson, who’s married to “Final Transmission” guest star Maya Rudolph. “We knew he was a huge fan of Demme and it was a natural, ‘Let’s see if he’s up to it,’” Thomas says. So Documentary Now! co-creator and co-star Fred Armisen reached out to Anderson, “and he said yes right away.”
It all feeds into the parallel universe of nonfiction filmmaking being built by Documentary Now!, which showcased another feature “directed” by Renzi in “Parker Gail’s Location Is Everything.” (That one was based on the Demme-directed adaptation of Spalding Gray’s stage show Swimming To Cambodia.) But Anderson was also cast out of practical concern.
“I’m usually the off-camera person—it definitely sounded wrong hearing a British accent,” the South Wales-born Thomas says. “Knowing Jonathan Demme and this style of music, it felt weird, and there’s something more objective-sounding with a British voice.”