September 20, 2012 at 08:51 PM EDT

In the coming-of-age tale We Made This Movie, five high-school seniors envision a DIY blockbuster as their ticket to the big time. All they need to do is get their homemade version of Jackass to actor Bill Pullman, who plays a fictionalized version of himself who grew up in the same depressed town. “We needed kind of the perfect celebrity for this role,” says director Rob Burnett, who is also the executive producer of The Late Show With David Letterman. “As talented an actor as Bill truly is, I’m not sure that he himself could get a movie made. It would be less funny if they were dealing with Brad Pitt or George Clooney. To Bill’s credit, he completely understood the joke.”

Burnett, who co-wrote the script with Jon Beckerman, completely identified with the aspiring filmmakers. “Almost everything I write has to do with my high school experience, on some level,” says Burnett, who also co-created the NBC show Ed with Beckerman. “I grew up always having this burning desire and frustration to be a writer, to be in show business, to do something creative, and I never had any outlet or any idea of how that would happen.”

His naive heroes have champagne dreams, but with their chutzpah to record every behind-the-scene moment (for the DVD extras, of course), a very different film takes shape. “The movie they set out to make is awful, but by accident they have now made a movie about themselves that is of a completely different tone,” says Burnett.

Watch an exclusive clip below as the gang attempts to recruit their white whale, Independence Day‘s Pullman, and then watch the entire trailer for the independent film.

We Made This Movie premieres tonight in New York. Beginning at 6:30 p.m. ET, the entire red carpet and feature stream online for free, plus a standup act from Jim Gaffigan. Michael Ian Black and Tom Cavanagh will host the event.

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