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.
We left off in Part One (read it all here) with my surviving a screening of Breaking Dawn, and prepping for two major interviews on Friday: Gary Oldman and Patton Oswalt.
Thursday, December 17
- It occurs to me that I have to talk semi-knowledgeably about Happy Feet Two on the radio tomorrow, but have never seen Happy Feet One. I’m weak when it comes to singing, dancing penguin lore. I correct that this morning by watching the first film while I skim the online movie news sites to see if there’s any big breaking Hollywood news to write about.
- There’s usually a several-week gap between when I do an interview and when that interview runs at the film’s release. The gap’s even longer right now because back in October I did a series of interviews with folks in town for the Chicago International Film Festival. In October I talked to young Shailene Woodley about starring with George Clooney in The Descendants, and a few weeks later her co-star Judy Greer was also in town. (These interviews are set up through a Chicago publicity firm that the studios hire to handle our local press screenings and press tours.) Now The Descendants is opening nationwide, so I have to get those interviews posted. When transcribed, most 20-minute interviews come out to around 2,500 words, but for Redblog we like to keep them under 1,000 words. So lots of slicing and dicing and condensing takes place to get the two interviews down to publishable sizes.
- Later in the afternoon I head downtown to the Icon theater for a screening of Arthur Christmas. The animated holiday movie’s not getting as much hype as The Muppets, but as an Anglophile and fan of Aardman Studios (Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run), I’m looking forward to it. (Spoiler Alert: I really enjoy it–review coming later!)
- Back across downtown again to the River East for an evening screening of the new version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. As I said earlier in the week, I’ve already seen and really like the film, but now that I’ve re-read the novel and re-watched the 1979 Alec Guinness version, I want to see the new one again.
- Plus, director Tomas Alfredson and star Gary Oldman will be doing a Q&A afterwards, hosted by Cinema/Chicago. Since I’ll be interviewing them both in the morning, I want to see the Q&A. It helps sometimes to get a sense in advance of what kinds of questions they often get asked, how they respond to them, and just what they’re like to talk to. The down side of that approach is that folks will say great stuff in the Q&A the night before, and then you spend part of your interview the next day trying to coax them into telling that funny story or using that perfect description again.
- The Q&A is enjoyable and informative. (Oldman says Chicago, where he played Jim Gordon in the first two Nolan Batman movies, “feels like home… Gotham.”) Back home, I prepare my Tinker Tailor questions–we’ll be talking to Alfredson and Oldman in two separate round tables sessions, so I need several questions for both. When talking for a brief time with someone like Oldman who has a long career, I try to keep the questions focused on the current film they’re there to promote and don’t get into their past iconic roles, or ask too much about upcoming films like Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises next summer.
- But that’s not all I have to prepare for tonight. Because tomorrow will be a mad-cap, non-stop day of events, I need to prepare for radio ahead of time, which means going through my screening notes and trying to come up with several interesting things to say about Breaking Dawn, Happy Feet Two, and Martha Marcy May Marlene, as well as a couple home-video new releases.
- And still not done for the day! I also have to do a phone interview (or “phoner”) with Patton Oswalt tomorrow afternoon, so I read a few chapters out of his new book Zombie Wasteland Spaceship. It’s actually quite helpful, as the book (which is half humor, half memoir) has several parts about growing up as an ostracized film and sci-fi/fantasy nerd, which plays directly into his character in the new film Young Adult.
Friday, November 18
- The busiest day of the week kicks off with a quick going over of my Tinker Tailor questions and my radio notes. Then it’s downtown to yet another super fancy hotel lobby (I’ve found, the fancier the hotel, the harder it is to find trashcans or bathrooms in the lobby), where once again I find myself hanging out with my Chicago film-writing pals. There will be five of us in the round-table groups for Alfredson and Oldman, and I know three of the others very well.
- First we talk for 20 minutes with the film’s director Tomas Alfredson (director of the Swedish version of Let the Right One In) and it goes well. While all the prep work I did–re-reading the novel, re-watching the BBC series–may seem like overkill, it pays off. I don’t like interviews to be just a series of questions–I prefer as much as possible to have a conversation with the person, so really knowing the subject means you can follow whatever direction things go. (Though you always want to have enough questions on hand just in case.) We have a good group today–everything flows nicely from topic to topic.
- Next up is Gary Oldman, probably one of the more venerable and famous people I’ve interviewed. But I remember what Jay Leno told me decades ago in an interview: Talk to everyday, ordinary folks like they’re famous; and talk to famous people like they’re everyday, ordinary folks. So I try to keep our talk with Oldman loose and fun for him, but still informative for us. He’s absolutely charming, laid back and quiet–very much Tinker Tailor‘s George Smiley, not Sid Vicious or Red Riding Hood‘s Cardinal Solomon. We get to laughing about the Rolling Stones (you’ll see why in the actual interview a few weeks from now), and best of all Oldman does impersonations of “old Al Pacino” and “new” (post-Scent of a Woman) Pacino.
- Now comes the tricky part. I have to call into The Bob Miller Show on KPAM radio in Portland in 40 minutes, and 40 minutes after that I have to be at a downtown screening of Young Adult so I can interview Patton Oswalt about it later this afternoon. Which means I don’t have time to cab it back home to do the radio call in in the quiet privacy of my apartment. I have to find a relatively quiet place downtown, so I stake out an empty foyer area at the hotel. Alas, minutes before I’m supposed to call in to the radio station, a businesswoman thinking the exact same thing comes down to the foyer and begins loudly conducting her phone call. So I sneak into a nearby empty ballroom and, after explaining to a couple bus boys what I’m doing, make the radio call from there.
- Then it’s across downtown to the Lake Street Screening room to see Young Adult. Lake Street is a private screening room where we critics usually see about half our screenings, always during daytime hours. Located on the top floor of a Loop office building, it seats about 50 people and has excellent, professional sound and picture projection. It’s also kind of like the Chicago critics’ clubhouse–everyone spreads out with their lunch on their laps, and we spend most of our time before screenings joking and teasing each other (usually about really bad films each other might have liked). Roger Ebert and his wife Chaz are usually here, seated in the right-rear corner, and Richard Roeper prefers the aisle seat in the middle of the right-hand side.
- A word about my film-screening diet, or lack thereof: Especially during awards season, as you rush from theater to theater, it can be hard to find time to sit down and eat right. So for the next month, a horrifyingly large percentage of my meals will be eaten at theaters and consist of either hot dogs, re-heated chicken tenders, convenience-store sandwiches grabbed on the run, or the gut- (and belt-) busting gourmet macaroni and cheese from a little place next to the Lake Street Screening room. I’m not saying I don’t eat that stuff the rest of the year, but it gets worse during November and December. The diet re-starts January 1, I swear!
- After Young Adult, it’s back home to finish up and publish the Shailene Woodley interview for The Descendants. I also have Patton Oswalt scheduled to call me in an hour or so, but I’ve made a near-disastrous mistake: I ate a pile of heavy, carby mac and cheese after the screening and that, combined with a lack of sleep and a very busy day, has me teetering dangerously on the edge of a massive food coma. Here I am minutes away from talking to a writer-comedian-actor I really, really admire, and I can barely keep my eyes open. Luckily they make a little thing called caffeinated soda.
- I get myself waked up, and Patton Oswalt calls almost right on schedule. Alas our phoner time is limited to 10 minutes–as a sci-fi, fantasy, comic-book, and comedy fan, I could talk to the very smart Oswalt for hours about a million things. Instead we stay focused on the film, Young Adult, and his director Jason Reitman, writer Diablo Cody, and co-star Charlize Theron. It’s probably for the best–the abbreviated time keeps me from falling into what anyone who interviews stars or famous filmmakers fears: The Chris Farley Show routine. You know, where you’re like, “You remember that one thing you did… that was awesome. You’re so great… How’d you get to be so great?”
- Saturday morning I head to my home state of Iowa for an early Thanksgiving with my family. Sunday afternoon I print out the weekend box-office numbers and work up the weekly box-office report for Redblog while watching my beloved still undefeated World Champion Green Bay Packers win ugly over the Bucs.
- Sunday afternoon my 15-year-old niece comes to me with a plea: She and a friend just have to see Breaking Dawn that night–if they go to school Monday without having seen it, they will just die. Of course I saw a screening on Wednesday and can easily, happily go another year without seeing another Twilight movie. But because I am the World’s Greatest Uncle, a life-saving solution is reached: I’ll drop them off at Breaking Dawn and then go next door to see A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas again. Of course, before Breaking Dawn starts, I make a point to go over to my niece’s theater and sit next to her and her friend for a few minutes. In public. Because I firmly believe every good deed should accompanied by a dose of public humiliation and mortification.
So that was my Redblog week last week–three interviews, six theater screenings, another half dozen or so DVDs, and lots of cab rides and movie-theater hot dogs. Got any questions about anything? Fire away in the comments!