The Story Behind The Primary Instinct (Part 1)

David Chen approached me last January and said, “Why don’t we do a concert film. Can you tell stories for an hour or two?”

David does things like that all of the time. He makes suggestions that unleash a sea of work, fear, and hopefully triumph. The story of The Primary Instinct is the latter.

The idea was to raise money through something called Kickstarter. Kickstarter is a fundraising method that resembles a bad relationship. You ask for what you think you can get – not what you need. If you don’t reach your pre-set goal, you get nothing.

We asked for 40K. The K means thousand. That’s right. We were asking for five figures. This is how much I needed to live a year in Los Angeles when I first moved out here. The only thing that keeps this tale from being the ramblings of a mad man is we got it. We got 50K. But then some people didn’t pay their pledges. And then Kickstarter took their cut. It was like working with divorce lawyers—they are your friends until they bill you. We ended up with 40K. We hired a film crew. We were going to film me doing a one-man show in Seattle.

What one-man show? Oh right. We didn’t have one.


However we did have support. Adam Zacks, who runs several nice venues in Seattle, said he would let us rent one of his theaters for a couple of nights. Jeff Hansen, the program director at KUOW in Seattle, began playing The Tobolowsky Files again on the radio to gin up an audience.

We started to sell tickets. We sold 900. Now all we needed was a show.

I began writing a series of stories that seemed to take on a life of their own. What began as a story about my family in Dallas ended up being a story about stories…what a story is and why we tell them. I called it The Primary Instinct.

Our first screening is Sunday in Boston. April 26. It will be a thrill to come back to Boston. Boston is where The Tobolowsky Files began. This was back in the days when David Chen was a student at Harvard University and I offered to pay him in sandwiches if he would edit the podcasts. Harvard was where I did my first Tobolowsky Files live performance. I did “Conference Hour” in a small lecture hall with forty of David’s friends and a couple of people who got lost on campus. It was at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge where David and I did our first shows for the public.

Homecomings are a beautiful thing. If you are in the area, come by and see the movie. (You can get tickets here.)  Stick around. Afterwards, we can celebrate with a beer and maybe even split a sandwich.


  1. […] — Actor Stephen Tobolowsky wrote an interesting piece about his new storytelling film The Primary Instinct: […]