To fully understand why comedy guru Jay Chandrasekhar launched a new app called Vouch Vault, the filmmaker digs deep in his memory vault to recall the events surrounding the 2001 Sundance Film Festival.
His raucous comedy Super Troopers — about five prank-loving Vermont state troopers who try to save their jobs by outdoing the local police department in solving a crime — debuted at the wintry Park City festival, where it landed with a series of warm embraces. “The Sundance experience was incredible,” Chandrasekhar explains. “We had three midnight screenings on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and each was better than the next. It was packed, wild, and incredible what happened next because we sold the film to Searchlight by Sunday night. It was the first and only film to sell for a week. It was glorious.”
What happened next? Less so. After spending a year recutting the film with the help of reshoots, Super Troopers hit theaters in February 2002 and went on to gross $23 million with glowing audience reviews. Reviewers were not as enthusiastic. “The paper I read every morning, The New York Times, didn’t love the movie, which is totally fine. It is what’s expected when you have highfalutin reviewers writing about R-rated comedies. Reviewers often tee off on comedy and horror because they can, and they get more notice and likes when they are mean.”
Many were mean to Super Troopers, proven by the film’s 36 percent rotten score on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. But Chandrasekhar isn’t here to rail on reviewers. “To be 100 percent clear, I have no problem with reviewers, and there is a value to them,” he notes. “But I remember thinking at the time, who is a reviewer? Oftentimes, they are great writers with immense power at newspapers who get to watch movies for a living and recommend them to their readers. When was the last time you walked up to a stranger on the street and asked them what movie you should see?”
That’s why the value, for him, came as an inspiration to create a new kind of platform that put the power of recommending films back into the hands of the people. “About three years ago, I started outlining what I hoped would be my revenge app to supplant the way Rotten Tomatoes influences the film business,” details Chandrasekhar. “I came up with the idea, met with two app developers and probably had 10 meetings over Zoom. I was about to write a check to them to help me build the app, and then they told me that they had been harboring similar views about reviews on Yelp and Amazon, asking, ‘Who are these people writing reviews?’ So, we combined forces and built this machine.”
They call it Vouch Vault. The goal is simple: “Take recommendation power from anonymous strangers and give it to the people whose tastes you know and trust.” It’s a social media platform on which users share just about anything they love — movies, TV shows, books, podcasts, hotels, restaurants, cars, products, museums, services, etc. — in any city. Chandrasekhar personally vouches for his Tesla, Osteria La Buca in L.A., Randolph Beer in Brooklyn and the sound experts at King Soundworks for post-production services.
“It’s the Instagram of recommendations,” he says. “You follow friends and famous people and see what they like and recommend. The real purity of this will come from friends and finding out what your friends like so you can check it out.”
The app has a special feature called a “Try Vault,” where users can bookmark recommendations that they want to try at a later date, and Chandrasekhar says searching hashtags can be a user-friendly way to find recommendations in other cities. Want to find the best burger in Paris, search a hashtag. But beyond burgers, Chandrasekhar also sees it as a “memory machine” of sorts that will allow users to store a digital record of everything they like for friends and family.
“I’m hoping this will obviously be a success but also offer another way to have a collective memory bank of all the great pop culture pieces that you might want to share with your kids someday,” explains the filmmaker whose next film, Easter Sunday starring stand-up superstar Jo Koy, comes out Aug. 5.
Speaking of success, Chandrasekhar has invested some of his own money to make it work, along with investments from his fellow developers, some family members and friends. The app could be monetized through advertising and affiliate links, and though it’s still in the early stages, he has big plans to expand with the possible addition of video features. He even hopes to get talents like Quentin Tarantino or Willy Nelson (a longtime friend he met while directing 2005’s The Dukes of Hazzard) to offer their Vaults. (About Nelson: “He’s a valuable fountain of information that will not always be there.”)
Asked to sum up his ultimate hopes for the venture, Chandrasekhar throws a curveball and gets political in closing. “I really believe Vouch Vault can have a unifying effect. If you see Republicans and Democrats all liking the same films, we need that. We need unity in our culture.” That goes for reviewers, too.