10 March 2006

My Press Junket Odyssey...

So a few weeks ago I, like many Sox bloggers, got an email inviting me to a screening of the new film Game 6, starring Michael Keaton and Griffin Dunne. After some cursory research, I realized Game 6 meant bad Game 6 (1986) and not good Game 6 (1975). I also realized that it was Don Delillo's first (and still only) screenplay, and that the lead character- played by Keaton- had the same last name I did. Not only that, there was a blood relative of the character in the film that had my brother's full name.

To encapsulate it as simply as I can, Michael Keaton's character has written a play, and October 25th 1986 is it's opening night. We follow Keaton during that day, when he encounters word of a new critic that lives to tear down Broadway artists, the disease of his leading man, his impending divorce, his obsession with failure. Eventually, he begins to seriously entertain the idea of ditching the opening in favor of the game, a game in which his favorite team- the Red Sox- may finally clinch and win the World Series.

I was unfortunately unable to get to the screening (though I've heard a lot of great things about the movie, and am looking forward to seeing it), but I did notice in the first email something about the potentiality of some access to the principals for interview. Since the cast included Keaton, Bebe Neuwirth, Catherine O'Hara, Griffin Dunne and was written by Delillo, I was very interested in this prospect. I actually didn't think this part was realistic, especially after my inquiry to it was met with what I interpreted as a putting off- a promise to return the email with more details and a vague promise of access cemented my theory.

But earlier this week, nearly out of nowhere, the folks associated with the movie were kind enough to contact me again to invite me to participate. Now, I'm not sure how all this worked- whether I was the shining beacon of blogdom that they just had to have (doubtful), or if I was the only one of many Sox bloggers able to attend (it was in the AM during the week). Maybe even my persistence was what broke through their initial ambivalence about letting me "in." Doesn't matter I guess.

I arrived right on time Thursday, at the Le Parker Meridien Hotel. Walking through the doors, immediately I was in the hallway of the hotel, which was a seemingly deliberate replica of the hall of mirrors in Xanadu from Citizen Kane. Interesting choice of design. After being directed to my "event," I got up to the 34th floor on an elevator playing old Charlie Chaplin movies which, I gotta admit- kind of odd. It's usually the weather, right? Or stock prices. But either way...

I knew they did a lot of these things in hotels- it's totally obvious if you've ever seen ten seconds of Access Hollywood. But what I hadn't realized was that certain floors of these upscale hotels are like glorified TV studios. As I made my way down the velvety, barely lit hallway, I saw doors with signs like, "TV 1" and "EDITING." Then I passed a "MICHAEL KEATON" sign, and I was right at the people that had summoned me to the event- standing in front of me with clipboards in their hands.

I've never done anything like this before and, like most people in a situation like that, I felt out of place. Not only did I feel out of place, but I felt like maybe there had been a mistake in allowing me "in," as it were. Not that I doubt myself- I just doubt others. I wasn't sure what they wanted me there for. This thought was pretty thoroughly exacerbated in my next step, wherein I was instruced to "chill" in the hospitality suite until the show got on the proverbial road.

I stepped in, and among the free finger foods were a collection of people employed in that time-honored atmosphere that only out-of-placers can appreciate: the one where everyone in the room seems to know each other already, and the only place for you to stand happens to be in everyone's eyeline. So that was fun. I stood rigid-still and waited to be pointed in the right direction.

As I waited, I noticed that clearly none of these people were Sox bloggers that I could tell. The ones that were talking were talking endlessly about movie screenings and straining to namedrop every fifth word. One guy was literally duckswallowing the complimentary spread, moving around the room just stuffing and talking, and leaving trails of food everywhere. Very intriguing, if nothing else.

Eventually we were split into different rooms. A woman going by a chart was asking everyone their name/ affiliation so she could look them up and point them where they needed to go. I said my name and stopped there.

"Hmmm," she said. "I don't see you- who are you with?" This was when I realized that everyone in the room- a beautifully furnished hotel room with an exceptional park view- was listening to me, and I was going to have to say, "well, I'm with Bullshit Memorial Stadium, ma'am." Not that I was embarassed- I wasn't. But I was half expecting to be told, "oh, YOU. Yea, we scratched you after we read that site of yours. Ouch."

I helped her find my name on the list and all was well. Entering the hotel room, there was a huge roundtable eating the space with chairs and some Evian water amidst some glasses. It was funny to be prepping for an interview right outside the bedroom and shower that were right nearby. Such is life; now it's a necklace.

I was paired with two guys- one of whom, David Dylan Thomas, was new to these sort of things. A really nice guy from Philly, David runs a film blog (DavidDylanThomas.com) which everyone should totally check out. The other guy- Brad Balfour- is the editor and chief of TimesSquare.com, and an old pro at these events. Brad was a really fascinating guy- he really liked to talk- a lot- and had a lot of great stories to tell. He started as a music journalist, interviewing a lot of bands out of Cincinnati. Eventually he moved to film, and besides his website, has a weekly column in "Time Out NY." Brad was great because he was able to drive the Q&As- I hadn't done a lot of direct preparation because I was interested in covering the event like I am now- not canned interviews to throw up on here. Brad cut out any and all lull in the conversationa at the root, and was able to give David and I a lot of material, while also being really gracious about our chiming in where we needed to. So Brad, if you read this- thanks for the help.

We were offered the opportunity to interview and talk to Griffin Dunne, Michael Hoffman (the director), Bebe Neuwirth, Michael Keaton and Ari Graynor, in that order.

Griffin Dunne was a gracious looking man who was easy to talk to and instantly engaging- he wore a blue shirt and a jacket with a print identical to my pants. That was the first thing I noticed about him. His teeth were impeccable, and his hair was real cool looking. I naturally kept thinking After Hours! when I saw him, but that wore off eventually. Really interesting guy.

We began by talking about how the film came about (Griffin also produced) and how he picks a project. He spoke about how he and his co-producer Amy Robinson had an idea about a critic that poisons the well of a theatre community- an idea that had it's initial germination ten years ago. As Griffin described it, the idea came almost simultaneously as Don Delillo faxed them the initial idea he'd had- a playwright with these dueling sides of failure-obsession, with a heavy prominence for the critic. Happy coincidence.

As we spoke, the subject moved to the Red Sox, and Griffin told a story about taking an unsolicited car ride with Robinson to Boston to speak to a director- and going to a Red Sox game. "There's a picture somewhere of us all," he laughed. "Sitting around, three heads with brand new Sox hats on." Dunne's stories about Delillo, however, were my favorite. He made a really interesting observation, too- that while Scorsese is the standard bearer for film reference and encyclopedic knowledge- Delillo was number two of all the people he'd met in the film business. He was very clear that the reason this film made it to the screen was it's inherent strength- in fact, he mentioned that at various points, a number of big name directors were attached, and went through a handful of artistic variations. Delillo's script, however, never changed.

Next we were able to speak with Michael Hoffman, an especially delightful man of scholarly appearance (a former Rhodes scholar) and endless enthusiasm, Hoffman had an appreciative, simple smile and a well worn suitjacket he wore. He leaned forward when he talked, and even after all this time with the same piece of material, seemed to have an especially ebullient love for it.

The film, with it's Delillo cache, was initially supposed to be a studio film, but as Hoffman put it, "you knew they'd never make it. You know, it was death by love- a common Hollywood thing- we'd submit a script and get it back with, say, a single note... you know?"

One of my favorite anecdotes was his recollection of each actor's experiences with Delillo's innocuous dialogue- each one expressing initial discomfort with it, injecting, as Hoffman put it, "little Brando-isms, you know- the 'umm's and the 'err's and 'sigh's." But as they worked on it, each one, independent of the others, found that the way it was written carried it's own cadence and rhythm that worked perfectly. One of the questions I asked was- in making an analogy between the comic book films and the portrayal of Red Sox fans- how concerned was he in courting and being aware of the sensitivity of this group of people over how they're perceived? In the same way that X-Men fans go up in internet tantrums over a slight costume change, Red Sox fans can react fiercely to an even slightly incorrect depiction of their fandom.

He had a great answer- he ultimately didn't. As passionate and singular as he found Sox fans to be- and he's a Cardinals fan- it was still a universal passion. The love and devotion to a team was a universal thing, and the more universal it was made, the more it translated. I really liked how he mentioned how, after becoming a Manchester United fan in soccer, he gets "bent out of orbit" for a few days if they lose. Like he almost can't cope. To say I relate to that idea would be an understatement.

Next we were given the opportunity to speak with the beautiful Bebe Neuwirth- a really gorgeous woman who was a little guarded, but still very warm. I've been a fan of Bebe Neuwirth- a really big fan- for years (as many people are, for obvious reasons). Lilith remains one of the funniest characters and performances ever on TV. She's just absolutely wonderful in everything she's in- she was actually the one I was looking most forward to.

Bebe plays Keaton's character's mistress, a theatre producer. There was a lot of talk about Bebe's background in theatre (she started performing at 5) and how it compared with her great work in film and television. I really appreciated that Neuwirth took specific care in answering the questions- not that the others didn't, but she seemed especially concerned with avoiding being "canned" in her interview. I liked that.

Plus, through the course of conversation, I mentioned the Chaplin in the elevator, which she seemed to get a kick out of. So that was cool. Interesting to note that she spent only a single day on set for the film on her scenes.

So Keaton came next, and he was an absolute trip. Decked out in a really sharp, fitted suit, he was a bit shorter than I'd expected, and he had TV makeup on, which was striking at first glance. I recognized that really distinctive mouth/ nose immediately, and could see it saying, "I'm Batman." Would that have been weird if I demanded he say it? Yea. Yea, it really would have been.

My impression of Michael Keaton was that he is a really, really genuine guy that was really nice to us, but who definitely does not like these things. And I say that not because he showed a particular distaste for it towards us- but only in how the interview went.

Basically, Keaton sat down, started talking, and really didn't stop. It felt like he was taking the magnanimous route towards soldiering through the interview so that he was plugging the movie, but not getting bogged down in the repetitive "new movie" questions. Actually a pretty good idea.

He talked a lot about how he'd come from doing a float in Mardi Gras, and how great an experience it was. "They'd asked me to do it a few times," he said. "And it was never something I was especially interested in. But they called me up this year, and it was like- yea. This year, I'd really love to do it." He also said that the release of energy was almost tangible- that from the moment he got on the float, and for four hours hence- it was just a wall of noise.

He touched on a lot- his experiences on the extremely low-budget set. He would use NYC public bathrooms for quick wardrobe checks, inflatable mattresses for quick naps. He talked about the Red Sox thing a bit too- mentioning that he's a big sports fan, and that how he hoped there were no pictures of himself post-Super Bowl that got leaked to the internet, because he's a huge Steeler fan and he was acting a little crazily.

He also mentioned to me specifically (because I somehow became the de facto Red Sox "nation" representative in the discussions) that in every interview he was doing, he was looking to mention how great a player Bill Buckner was, something he felt was often forgotten. I mentioned his near- .300 career hitting and his almost- 3,000 hits. That being said, I don't agree- I don't think Bill Buckner was much of a hitter or a player- but I do concur with the premise, more generally- it wasn't his fault. He obviously shoulders an unfair percentage of the blame that more likely belongs to McNamara, Schiraldi and Stanley.

Really, really interesting guy. Very compelling, as soon as you meet him.

Lastly we spoke with Ari Graynor, best known as Meadow's obnoxious freshman year roommate in the third season of The Sopranos. She was the one with the hair falling out.

Ari was a really pleasant girl who, as it turns out, was born in the same town as I in Massachusetts. So that was cool. It was funny, she mentioned never having gone to Fenway Park- hard to blame a girl without any brothers not totally interested in baseball- and Brad Balfour sort of jokingly mentioned how I was going to "knights of the keyboard" her for not being "authentic" enough (he wasn't nearly as specific- I think he actually said something like, "uh oh!" when she mentioned it, so...). Like I was one of those psychotic bloggers that lives to go and report on the irrelevant shortcomings that attach to the peripheries of a film. So no, I'm not going to do that. She was nice, and very good in The Sopranos.

She also mentioned having recently worked on the most recent Christopher Guest movie, For Your Consideration, which is about the making of the movie. Guest plays the director, and she was his PA. It was her first time doing improv, and she stressed how great it was to learn it from what are essentially the modern cream of that crop. Also, as a tidbit- all the Guest usual suspects will be in it, including, awesomely enough, Ricky Gervais. Sounds fucking awesome.

And then that was it. So I rounded up my free Game 6 hat, walked out the elevator doors and back to my nerdy office temp job, far away from the glitz and glamour of the 34th floor of the Le Parker Meridien.

Game 6 opens today, March 10th

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