Sunday, June 9, 2013

Goodwill Hunting

An excerpt from my book The Accidental Caregiver...

Maria Victoria Bloch-Bauer Altmann is a multi-millionaire, a scion of one of the most cultured and influential families in Austria at the turn of the twentieth century—yet today she was skipping around the Goodwill store on Eighth and La Brea as if she were Cinderella in a bridal gown shop.

At one point she became enthralled with a sweater listed at a buck-fifty. She looked at the price tag, suddenly widened her eyes, and turned to me utterly astonished: “Do you think this is right?”

I nodded, and she exclaimed, “I’ve seen it all!” She flung it over her shoulder and was off to the next item, a table lamp. “Do you need a lamp, my love?”

I stood back a couple feet fielding "awww, isn't that cute" stares from customers and employees who looked at me like, “Grandma’s first time, huh?” If only they knew.

As I put back the clothes she kept pulling off the racks for me, I reminded her we were here to find a couch for my new apartment in Hollywood.

“Of course, Darling. A couch. We’re going to find you a beautiful couch.”

We snagged a surprisingly clean and comfortable one for $50. Boy, she couldn’t stop talking about what a deal we got. You’d think this $50 Goodwill couch was the biggest news to hit Southern California in years. Tom showed up in his pick-up truck to help us haul it to my apartment.

“Mein Geliebtes, get Margie on the phone, I want to tell her about this fabulous store we discovered,” she said as we met Tom in the parking lot.

I dialed her daughter in Hawaii and, always finding this quite amusing, I handed an iPhone to a 93-year-old.

After hearing about her mother’s discovery, Margie said, “Mother, I can’t verify it now, but I think you might be the first heiress to ever set foot in a Goodwill.”

As if the rain gods were waiting for us to be on our way, it began to pour five minutes into our drive. I looked anxiously in my rear view at my brand new couch getting royally soaked in the back of Tom’s pick-up truck. It was too late to do anything about it.

When we arrived at my apartment we heaved it through the door, and you’d have thought we had fished it out of a lake. I fetched my tiny ten-dollar Walgreens fan, propped it on a thick atlas on the floor and pointed it up at the couch, and the three of us sat on my bed in silence staring at the David of fans slinging its pathetic little stones of cold air at the Goliath of couches, which just sat there haughtily with its arms folded, looking up at us like, “Um, got anything else?”

Maria looked at me, I looked at Tom, and the three of us howled with laughter. When I returned home that evening, you wouldn't believe it, but the couch was as dry as Steven Wright. It seemed to defy science, and only added more character to an already memorable afternoon. It was all part of the pilot episode for my new sitcom, Two Guys, a Girl, and a Goodwill Couch.

Dear Altmanns;

Tonight was the world premier of my new film, Night Before the Wedding! What a treat, seeing Maria walk up the red carpet. David, who directed the film, and his fiancée, Karen, posed with her as the cameras flashed.

Last night Jesell asked Maria if she was sure she wanted to see it, since it was such a raunchy movie. Maria replied, “Well... I think I’m old enough now.” Curtis was there as well. I introduced Maria to some of my friends, who had no doubt heard plenty about her already. She was a pro, saying hello to everyone as if she had known them for years.

I was nervous enough to show the film to 200 people, let alone for Maria to see it! David got up before the film to give a pre-screening speech, and dished out a heartfelt shout-out to Maria and the entire Altmann family.

I tried to watch Maria during the film but it was too dark to see her expressions. As the credits rolled I ran up to her, eager to hear her reaction. She told me I was “fabulous,” and that I was a “natural.” I asked her if she was able to hear it okay, and her response? “I heard every fucking word!” (There are a lot of “fucks” in the movie).

Hasta manana…

Friday, June 7, 2013

Before Midnight - The Final Chapter

I wrote this article for Cinema Editor Magazine and since it's a paid publication I copied it here. Hope you go out and see this masterpiece!

I knew I was in for something special when my Skype with Before Midnight editor Sandra Adair, A.C.E., began with her conceding: “When I read this one, it really affected me; I was overcome with emotion.” Anyone who’s experienced the first two films of the trilogy Before Sunrise and Before Sunset—and I say “experienced” because audiences truly felt as if they were there alongside Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy as they strolled the streets of Europe together—can, too, well imagine sharing this reaction.

Before Midnight, Richard Linklater’s flawless ending to the franchise that began nearly two decades ago, has had lovers-of-love waiting with bated breath for what must have seemed like an eternity. “People have been in suspense for nine years,” says an ardent Adair, who talks about the film as if she were one of the millions of fans who can’t wait to see it this May. “Are they going to stay together, are they going to reconnect… the audience has known the characters for almost 20 years, so there’s that sense of familiarity with them, and with this film you can jump right back in.”

If you’re surprised to hear that all three Linklater films were meticulously scripted… join the club. Somehow I and others—whether it was from movie blogs, social media chatter, or our own insistent brains—convinced ourselves that the brilliantly rich and layered dialogue the actors delivered so realistically must have been improvised. I was so convinced and so stunned by the truth, in fact, that I asked Sandra if she’d like this kept secret, as if audiences would appreciate it more hearing it was all made up on the spot. “Absolutely not,” she said emphatically. “I consider it a real testament to the art and tremendous skill of the actors, to make the dialogue seem improvised. Ethan and Julie were able to bring these characters to life with an unforgettable realism.”

In early 2012, Linklater, Hawke and Delpy sat down in a room to write the script together in Greece—where they shot the movie—and eight weeks later were ready to shoot. “They were well aware of the high expectations people were going to have for this installment, so they took the writing very seriously, and worked intensely every day for almost two months.”

Adair and Linklater’s relationship dates back 20 years, and the circumstances under which they met is one for the indie ages: “I was living in LA and I started as an apprentice for my brother, Bob Estrin (who edited Badlands and A River Runs Through It, among many others), and then I worked as an assistant for over a decade. Eventually I went off and did a few no-budget indies, and later moved to Austin with my husband and two little kids. Soon after moving there I read an article about this guy, Richard Linklater, who made Slacker in Austin. I wrote him a letter, said I was new in town and had feature editing experience, etc… three weeks later he hired me to edit his next film.” That film? Dazed and Confused. Sandra has edited every one of Linklater’s ensuing films, and was nominated for an Eddie for School of Rock. She said that Slacker was so influential to young filmmakers that after it was released there were people all over the country who moved to Austin just to shoot one of their own.

If you’re among the unfortunate few who haven’t seen the first two films, they’re characterized by long, drawn-out, dialogue-heavy scenes. The second scene in Midnight is a 14-minute-long car ride with Hawke and Delpy, shot—save one quick cutaway of historical ruins on a countryside—entirely in one angle. “Rick covered the whole thing in the field, but it was clear in editing that it was most compelling to stay on that one shot. It’s wonderful to just sit and watch these two people have an uninterrupted natural conversation. Multiple cuts would have disrupted the scene, and taken us out of the flow.”

It took Adair about three months to edit the film, which she says is “pretty fast” by average Hollywood standards. “Rick and I have worked for so long together that we share the same sense of humor and feel for story, we know what each other wants, so post went very quickly.” After a 15-day shoot in the stunning Greek Islands, Linklater returned to Austin with the (tons of) footage. “It would have been nice to go to Greece instead of being left here in the Texas heat! Oh well, it was hot in Greece, too.” They sat together in the edit bay a couple times a week to get on the same page before Linklater left her to piece together the cut.

“Rick’s a very even-tempered guy, so if there were moments that seemed too over the top he’d want to dial back from that. The emotion is already in the relationship and history of the characters, you can feel it without being told to.” A few weeks later they made tweaks and massaged the pacing, and then completed the film for the Sundance Film Festival, where it was picked up by Sony Pictures Classics.

Adair bestowed her insights about editing a project of such heightened rawness: “You never want editing to be apparent, or take you away from the characters and the story. You have to be able to move around emotionally and physically without getting in the way, and at same time have a keen eye towards performances, pitch, and the temper of everything being said.”

I was curious to learn of her approach to the editing of two perceived different films in her expansive and impressive career, so I asked her to compare School of Rock and Before Midnight:

“It's interesting you should mention those two films in the same sentence because they are so different in genre and so alike in many ways. It's as if both were kissed by film gods. They both started with unique scripts, they both have excellent performances, and they both felt really special from the very beginning. You could feel it. The exact right cocktail of story, talent, skill, craft, timing, and luck all in one film.”

For those unfamiliar with the general plot that conjoins the three films so effortlessly, its simple poignancy is worth knowing, and will only add to your appreciation of Midnight

In the first film, Before Sunrise (1995), Jesse (Ethan Hawke) meets Celine (Julie Delpy) on a train from Budapest to Vienna, sparks fly, and they end up spending the day together walking around Vienna connecting about life and love. Before Jesse leaves on another train the next morning they agree to meet at the same place in six months. The second film, Before Sunset (2004), begins nine years later in Paris. Jesse has written a bestselling novel and is on a book tour at a bookstore, and suddenly sees Celine standing there. Despite Jesse having a flight leaving in about an hour, they decide to spend the day together catching up on their lives. Jesse is now married with a son, and Celene has a boyfriend. Also, Jesse had gone back to meet her in Vienna, but Celene never showed. After a long, comfortable day reconnecting, they go to Celene’s flat, and Celene plays the guitar and sings him a song, singing, "Baby…you are gonna miss that plane." As the camera slowly pans in, Jesse smiles and responds, "I know.” And then the film ends. It picks up nine years after that fateful evening in Paris with Before Midnight (2013). Jesse and Celine live in Paris as a couple, and have just spent a summer on a Greek island. Jesse continues his success as a novelist, and Celene is at a career crossroads.

Before Midnight, which is due in theaters May 24, premiered at Sundance earlier this year to rave reviews. “Masterpiece” and “The best of the three” were just some of what critics were saying. But Adair puts this into a wise perspective: “Critics can say nasty things, or they can say amazing things, but what matters in the end isn’t what they think, it’s what the audience thinks. And we’re really proud that this film and the other two have stuck with audiences. That’s why we do it.”

Journalism is supposed to be objective, clearly, but as a fervent fan of the franchise I’m finding it difficult to end this piece without admitting that I’ve become so invested in these characters over the years that I honestly can’t glance at a poster of any of the three films without Jesse and Celene’s happenstance meeting and enchanting journey through Europe together all flashing before my eyes at once; without recalling sitting in a dark movie theater alone, hanging on every last word they ever said to each other; without feeling those deep pangs we all feel when we love something so big, so beautiful, so perfect… that we’re somehow left feeling so frightened, so empty, so alone. But we’re feeling it. And that’s how we know we’re alive. With just a few scenes of dialogue strung together over the years between two people falling in love, Linklater, Adair, Hawke and Delpy have captured all of these conflicting emotions more honestly, more authentically and more powerfully than any other film I’ve ever seen.

I had referred to Before Midnight as “flawless” earlier, and it is, but the more I think about it the more that word doesn’t really do it justice. “Heartbreaking” is more like it.

Besides, heartbreaking is much more flawless than flawless will ever be.