Last week marked my third year as a co-editor of Redblog, so I thought it’d be fun to give you a look at what a typical Redblog work week is like for me here in Chicago.
However, this past week was not quite typical—it turned out to be heavy on interviews and screenings and light on actually writing news and reviews pieces. But maybe all this will sound a little more exciting than just several days of “went to screening, watched DVDs, wrote about film, rinse and repeat.” (Which is what most weeks are like.)
Monday, November 14
- I spend the morning compiling notes for future reviews and re-reading John LeCarre’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. I’d read the spy novel and watched the original BBC miniseries about 30 years ago, but this week I’m interviewing Gary Oldman and Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In), the star and director of the new Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy film. I saw the new version a few weeks ago and really like it, but for the interview I want to brush up on how it differs or draws from both the novel and the 1979 BBC version starring Alec Guinness. (Which I spent the past weekend re-watching.)
- The day also brings a stack of studio screener DVDs for awards season. Around Thanksgiving, most studios send critics DVD copies of films they want considered for end-of-year critic-association awards voting. It’s a great perk of the job, though it also means you feel obligated to watch or re-watch as many of them as you can. Right now the majority of stuff is from smaller distributors, so there are lots of art-house films and documentaries, which often turn up some great discoveries. (Thanksgiving will start bringing out the bigger-name heavy studio hitters.)
- I finish up my “Car Movies at Redbox” piece—I’d found photos and written about half the text on Sunday, and today I spend a few hours finishing up the text and adding in all the links.
- In the evening I head downtown to the River East theaters to see Happy Feet Two. Evening screenings at the River East are usually open to the public, with a couple rows reserved for us scruffy, grumpy press types. I take notes during screenings for a couple reasons: 1) To jot down facts, characters, and interesting lines from the film, 2) To get down initial impressions and ideas about the film, 3) Just to keep me focused in on the film. As you’ll see, in weeks like this I’m all over the place, doing three things at once, thinking about several different films and writing projects at the same time. Like in a classroom lecture, taking notes doesn’t just provide something to look at later, it also helps keep my attention zeroed in on the film at hand.
- After the Happy Feet screening I gather up a couple other critic pals and we head to a bar next door so I can watch the second half of Monday Night Football, with my beloved Green Bay Packers. As always when two or more critics gather, the talk turns to movies, busy work schedules, and gossip about other critics not present. And of course the greatness of the undefeated World Champion Green Bay Packers.
- Back home after a Packer win (woot!), I put together The Threes quiz for the next day, watch Batman: Year One on DVD, and do prep work for another interview tomorrow with actor Michael Fassbender (Jane Eyre, X-Men: First Class) and director Steve McQueen (Hunger) about their new film Shame.
Tuesday, November 15
- I get up early to re-watch some of Fassbender and McQueen’s stunning 2009 drama Hunger while roughing out questions for the interview. When coming up with questions I try to balance: 1) What I’m interested in about the film and the performances, 2) What I think readers might be interested in, 3) What topics best cover the nature and strengths of the film, and 4) Some questions to keep the interviewees interested. They do these press tours for weeks at a time, talking to dozens of people every day, and of course they get the same questions over and over. So I try to come up with a few angles that hopefully might be unique enough to perk up the subject’s interest, get them excited and talkative.
- Today’s Fassbender-McQueen interview will be a “roundtable,” which means I’ll be doing the interview with 2-4 other film journalists. Most of the time, like today, I know the other film journalists in the interview, so we sit in the lobby of the lovely Elysian Hotel in downtown Chicago and chitchat about movies (again, of course) and what kinds of questions we each want to ask. In roundtables you usually get to ask two or three questions yourself—in a one-on-one interview you might ask seven to ten.
- Our 20-minute interview with Fassbender and McQueen takes place, like most of them, around a coffee table in a nice hotel room. As we come in, Fassbender is playing Pet Shop Boys’ “West End Girls” and the actor, known for his intense screen roles, is loose and friendly. (And like most actors not named Liam Neeson, he’s shorter than you might expect.) Fassbender sits next to me and kicks his shoes off, so I spend the interview trying not to look too much at his bright red socks as we take turns peppering him and McQueen with questions about their very harrowing sex-addiction film Shame. While answering one of my questions, Fassbender and I get into a staring contest. I lose.
- Then it’s back down to the Elysian’s lobby. We have a luncheon with Fassbender and McQueen in the same hotel in two hours, so I hang around the lobby, reading Tinker Tailor and going over review notes from other films. The luncheon is nice—about 20 of us members of the Chicago Film Critics Association hang out and eat pizza and (you guessed it!) talk about movies. Fassbender and McQueen show up for a little bit, but since I spoke to them earlier, I let other folks bend their ears at the luncheon.
- Since I have an evening screening downtown I don’t bother to go back home after the mid-afternoon luncheon. I hole up at a coffee shop with wi-fi, intending to write. Instead I spend most of the time buried in e-mails and calendars, trying to organize my screening, radio call-in, interview, and holiday travel schedule for the week. We often don’t get exact times of interviews until a day or two before, so there’s lots of juggling. Plus awards season means lots more interview opportunities and more screenings to fit in.
- After grabbing a convenience-store sandwich on the way (more on my awards-season eating habits later!), I head back to the River East for a public screening of The Muppets. Erika is at this one, so we take some time before the screening to chat and catch up. I almost always arrive at screenings at the last minute, but it’s nice to get there early when possible and just yak with the other critics. As we work from home, it can be a solitary job—at least for singletons like me—and screenings become our “water coolers,” where we grab a little human interaction. Advance press screenings are “embargoed,” which means we’re not allowed to share our opinions of the film until its release day. So Erika will have her review of The Muppets tomorrow.
- After the screening, it’s back home to—what else?—watch more DVDs. One from the Redbox stack, and one from the studio awards-screening stack. As much as I whine about the never-shrinking stack of DVDs begging to be watched every night, I can’t complain about having to watch films for a living. And awards season can be really rewarding—you get to catch up on smaller films that slipped by during the year, and you often find some interesting, thought-provoking gems.
Wednesday, November 16
- Whew, a somewhat lighter schedule than yesterday. I write up the Threes Answer for Redblog and then jump on an hour-long conference call with Erika and the folks we work with at Redbox in order to plan ahead on Redblog posts for December.
- In the evening it’s back downtown for… dun dun dun... Twilight: Breaking Dawn! A couple times a year these screenings are considered so bootleg-worthy that the studios insist on tighter-than-usual security. We’re told in advance that we’ll have to check our cell phones at the door, and since that can mean an extra 20-minute wait afterward to get them back, most of us leave our smartphones at home. I wander lost and confused without mine. In fact, without my phone’s appointment book, out of habit I head down to the River East. Nope. The screening is actually across town at the newish Icon theaters. A quick, frantic cab ride later I’m at the Icon and watching vampire babies get born.
- Back home I watch a couple new-release DVDs that I’ll need to talk about on Friday when I do a radio-station call-in. I also pop in 2009′s Big Fan because I’ve found out from the studio publicist that I get a short phoner (phone call) interview with Patton Oswalt Friday afternoon. I’m a huge, longtime Oswalt fan, and now he’s costarring opposite Charlize Theron in Jason (Up in the Air) Reitman’s Young Adult, written by Reitman’s Juno collaborator Diablo Cody. So I want to re-watch a little bit of Oswalt’s previous semi-dramatic work in Big Fan.
But that’s not all! The week gets even more hectic! Tune in Thursday to hear about the rest of it, how things went with Gary Oldman and Patton Oswalt, and what happens when your 15-year-old niece really, really wants you to take her to see Breaking Dawn… again.