Monday, December 31, 2007

Top 10 blog posts of 2007

Can 2007 come to a proper end without reading another useless top 10 list? I thought not. Here are my favorite blog posts of the year:

10) Strut on this, Tony Manero. As my Christmas gift to you, I humiliate myself by posting a recent wedding dance photo.

9) Author Will Clarke is banned from school. Former Shreveporter feeds a controversy in Cumberland, R.I., by writing about sex and elections at Capt. Shreve High School.

8) Remembering Kevin Costner's pooch. Um, is it safe to say the comment thread strayed a bit off topic?

7) Admit it. You like Harry. "Harry Potter" movies feed our blockbuster needs.

6) An immodest proposal. Movie industry should consider adding "go green" tax incentives.

5) Down with Oscar the Grouch. I make high-theory excuses about getting shellacked by blog poster chris-brad in an Oscar picking contest.

4) Who you callin' casting director? I confess my failed dream of becoming the next Jean-Luc Godard.

3) 'E.T., stop hitting on my mom!' Our favorite alien – besides Dennis Kucinich – dons an ascot.

2) Mayor Glover is taking my job! The Shreveport mayor offers his review of "Factory Girl." In short, it stinks.

1) Sizemore on Sizemore. Hands down, interviewing the notorious Tom Sizemore on the set of "The Last Lullaby" was my most memorable movie-reporting experience from 2007.

PHOTO: Tom Sizemore on the set of "The Last Lullaby" in Shreveport, Feb. 13, 2007. (Greg Pearson/The Times)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

'The Great Debaters' takes $3.6M opening day; 'I Am Legend' audience off its rocker

Christmas gave "The Great Debaters" a so-so present. It earned respectful, if reserved, reviews from the national critics, and garnered a respectably modest $3.6 million on Christmas day. The tally was lower than one major Christmas day release: "AVP: Requiem" at $9.5 million. "The Water Horse" drowned with $2.4.

Since "Debaters" opened on just 1,164 screens, $3.6 million isn't too shabby for a period drama. ("Water Horse" opened on 2,772, by contrast.) We'll see if more people buy tickets during the coming week.

National box office was up 34 percent from last year, according to the Associated Press. You can read the whole chart here at Box Office Mojo.

My gut feeling is that "The Great Debaters" is going to need a bigger marketing push to get it seen by a larger audience. A Golden Globe nomination helps its cause, but as a mag editor told me a couple weeks ago, "It has an unfortunate title." "Debaters" doesn't exactly scream holiday movie-going escapism.

Did you see "The Great Debaters" this weekend, by the way? Speak.

P.S. Competition for "The Great Debaters" is fierce right now. "I Am Legend," "Alvin and the Chipmunks" and "National Treasure" will continue to command the bulk of the business.

I went to a 6:20 screening of "I Am Legend" last night and it was about two-thirds full. It was one of the most bizarre audiences I've witnessed.

Protective Will Smith opens gun closet = kids cheering.

Lonely Will Smith talks to mannequins = kids texting to lonely virtual friends.

Resourceful Will Smith accidentally impales leg with pocket knife = adults laughing.

Audience puzzling Alex = Alex disliking movie.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas appetizer, anyone? 'The Great Debaters' reviewed

UPDATED: Get off the computer and spend time with your family! Right after you read my review of "The Great Debaters" and my feature story, of course.

"Coming, Dear!"

‘The Great Debaters’ interviews: Denzel Whitaker takes direction from namesake

I sat down with actors Denzel Whitaker, Nate Parker and Jurnee Smollett at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, Calif., a couple weeks ago. The play the debaters of "The Great Debaters." The following interview transcripts are source materials for my feature story, which publishes in The Shreveport Times tomorrow (Dec. 25).

In my first interview, Whitaker spoke about playing James Farmer Jr., who later became a civil rights leader. The movie provides a fictional profile of the 1935 Wiley College debate team, which made a very impressive run in the 1930s.

PHOTO: The debate team in "The Great Debaters" is played by (left to right) Jermaine Williams, Denzel Whitaker, Jurnee Smollett and Nate Parker. (Weinstein Co.)

ALEXANDYR KENT: You must be excited to have a big film release on Christmas day. How do you feel?

DENZEL WHITAKER: I'm so proud of this movie, to be honest, because it's one of those movies where you don't look at it from an actor's perspective. You become an audience member. Even myself, I kind of forgot where some of the scenes are placed. Really you just become wrapped into the movie, and I've never had that happen to me before, even when shooting TV shows. So I'm definitely proud of this movie and what it's going to do.

AK: What is something you admire most about James Farmer Jr.? As far as character, he's the youngest of the bunch and he's being tested.

DW: His maturity, you know? I can definitely see myself as a James Farmer Jr. just because of his maturity level. He's a very mature kid. He wants to basically be with the adults and he wants to debate with the adults and show him what he really has. I've always seen myself as kind of like that. I like the role because I can definitely find parts of me in James Farmer Jr. Of course, the first crush, wanting to prove myself at Harvard, and finally getting the big moment.

AK: When you did get that big moment, it must be kind of fun to stand up at that lectern in front of 200, 300 people out there all looking at you.

DW: We had up to like 800 people, to be honest. We filled every seat one of the days. We brought in 800 to 1,000 extras, and it was unbelievable. First of all, when you step on the Harvard stage, you can feel that history everywhere. There's so much history, you can just feel it in the air basically when you walk on that stage. And then to have all those people in front of you. It's intimidating sometimes, but once you get into that mindset and once you get to do the scene, it's kind of nice. It's enjoyable.

AK: What kind of opportunity does this represent to James Farmer Jr., to join the debate team? Psychologically, this is a 14-year-old kid who's ultimately going to take on kids at Harvard. It's not something that's expected in 1934, 1935. When you looked at that role, what that something intimidating?

DW: I'd say it's definitely intimidating to think that this 14-year-old is going to take on Harvard. I could only image what's going through his mind when he actually found out he was going to be debating. Not only that, just being there and feeling what Harvard has to offer. A very limited number of people got to step on that stage. As African-Americans as a whole, stepping on that stage, there's a lot of pressure on his shoulders and a lot of people looking up to a 14-year-old. I really think that's where his great moment comes from. A lot of people are looking up to him, and he delivers. I think that's the special thing about it.

AK: Had you had any experience in parliamentary debate?

DW: We went to debate camp. Actually, what we do in the movie is Lincoln-Douglas. We went to debate camp (at Texas Southern University) and we learned impromptu and parliamentary. We went there for two days and Denzel told us, 'Y'all better come back and you better say you won!' He was like, 'You're actors. At least if you don't know what you are talking about, be passionate about it.' There is a passion to debate. It's not all facts and figures. You got to appeal to the audience. So when we went to debate camp, me and Jurnee did parliamentary. Me and Jurnee were teammates, by the way. Killed them. It was the freshman Texas Southern University debate team. And you get 15 minutes to prepare. You are pulling out textbooks. You are going on the Internet. You are thinking of facts and figures that really, like, relate. You know, things that you learned in life. Then you finally get up there, and you either have to negate or you have to be for the topic. You have to be the affirmative. You just have to be in tune. You got to write down everything. You got to really be collaborative with your partner. But ultimately, if you can pull it off, really persuade the audience, there's nothing better. Because it's really a great feeling winning a debate. It's kind of like playing a basketball match and winning that. To be honest, when you get wrapped up in it, you're in it.

AK: There's a certain athleticism, too, in the vocal work. Was that hard to learn? That's definitely a different style. Denzel Washington is of course a genius of getting up in front of the camera and using his voice to carry a film.

DW: That's from his theater background, definitely from him being on Broadway. He's from a theater background and that's what he told us. We kind of need to find our roots. Definitely at the beginning of our two weeks of preparation, we did some exercises with him where he had us doing tongue-twisters. The tip of the tongue. The teeth and the gums. We did red leather, yellow leather, and we were literally yelling across the room. He put us in an empty hallway, and we were yelling across the room to him on the other side. If he couldn't hear us, or if our pronunciation wasn't right, if we didn't enunciate something right, he would yell at us.

AK: Was he really yelling at you?

DW: Well, not like really yelling at us. He was kind of like getting us going. He was getting us fired up, really. It was definitely like him coaching us like we were technically in debate camp, but with Denzel. But that was the theater side of it. He was teaching us the theater background. To use our voice, with these exercises that they are doing, he would want us to be full out. Using our bodies, our hands, lifting from the bottom of our voices, from our deepest in our stomach, and um, he was just like, you can never go too big with these exercises. After we were done with these exercises, he was like, 'OK, bring it down a notch. Now you're at the right point.' And I think that kind of set the tone for the whole movie, really, how we kind of got into that debating mood.

AK: He sounds like a real professor.

DW: Oh, definitely like a real professor. Definitely like a real Professor Tolson.

AK: This is your second time around working with Mr. Washington. You worked with him in 'Training Day.'

DW: I worked with him a little bit. A lit bit.

AK: What was it like the first time? Did you comprehend who he was?

DW: Not at all. I was at the age of 10, and it was kind of my first time being on a set. I didn't really know what was going on. Right when I got on set, they were like, 'Sit here. Do this.' And then you are going to be in the backroom. Once they started rolling, I didn't even know they were rolling. And then Denzel came out, he was like, 'Hi. I'm Denzel.' I said, 'Hey, I'm Denzel.' We were like conversing about our names. But I never really expected or kind of knew how big Denzel was at the time. It was kind of like after I filmed the movie, and 'Training Day' became a hit success was I like, 'Wow, I just worked with him, you know?' And never did I see it as he was an Academy Award winner. I kind of regret that in a sense. I didn't get a picture.

AK: But did you know that you were named after him?

DW: Yes, I was named after him. I knew that.

AK: But you were 10.

DW: I was 10. Everything was new to me. I was confused. I was walking on the set like what's going on. Is this real? I was definitely confused, and at the moment, I regret not getting a picture. And that's why it was kind of important to book this role. I wanted to connect with him more on a personal level. I definitely look up to Denzel. He's definitely a mentor and someone I look up to in my acting career. So for me to book this role, that was why I really wanted to book this role.

AK: The second time around you met him, I'm sure you comprehended who he was.

DW: Yes, I comprehended who he was.

AK: Did you get your picture?

DW: I got a few pictures, yeah.

AK: This time he was behind the camera. He was giving you all these directions. He obviously won the Academy Award for 'Training Day.' When somebody like that steps behind the camera, and also shares the screen with you quite a bit, what is the kind of pressure of the feeling that you have when you think, 'OK. This is going primetime?'

DW: Definitely. I just wanted to make him proud, really. I just wanted to show him my talent. That he understands how passionate I am about acting. And I mean, it's really one of those moments where you’re working with someone of greatness. Someone who has a background of Academy Awards, and this is your one shot. So if you screw this up, you’re pretty much done. It wasn’t so much of a pressure. It was I’m ready. I’m focused. I’m going to keep my head in the game 24/7. I just want to impress. To make sure that I’m delivering the performance, so that he can never say that, ‘Oh, well, I regret hiring that kid,’ you know? It’s one of moments where you’re kind of on the spotlight 24/7 and you got to make sure you perform, especially with doing scenes with him. Because easily, easily, he could have stole the scene. He could have stole every scene of this movie, really. But it was kind of nice how he let me, Jurnee and Nate be the focus of the movie and also step back and kind of coached us and worked with us.

AK: The chemistry between the three students seemed to be really genuine. Did you really enjoy working with those actors, Nate Parker and Jurnee Smollett?

DW: Oh, I did. It’s definitely an extended family. Even while doing press interviews, and whatnot, we’re laughing behind scenes. Joking around. It’s all genuine. We would hang out in Shreveport. We would hang out at everybody’s houses, go over to the local bowling alley. We’d go to the Bossier mall, and we’d spend our day there. The Boardwalk.

AK: How was your time in northwest Louisiana? That’s a tough time to film, because you were outside a lot.

DW: We were filming a lot of running scenes, a lot of outside shots, a lot of wool suits, three-piece suits. And it was raining too, which would sometimes ruin the shot. We had bugs. We were filming in the woods. We were filming deep in the woods. Between the bugs and the rain and the hot weather … if it wasn’t for that, I would have enjoyed myself. (Laughs.) I got bit by a mosquito every other day, so for me, I was applying ointment between scenes. It wasn’t the best experience I’ve had, but I definitely did enjoy Shreveport. I had a good time out there.

AK: Lastly, what do you think is going to be most memorable about this experience? I know the film is not out yet, but what’s kind of stuck with you about working on that set and working with not only Denzel but Forest Whitaker and this incredible talent?

DW: To be honest, just to work with elite people, and not only Forest and Denzel, but to work with Nate and Jurnee, I feel they are great actors by the way, definitely a great experience overall. When the DVD comes out, it’s something take out and show my kids. If I don’t end up booking a job as big as this, at least I get to show my kids a DVD and say, ‘Your father was once a big-time celeb, I guess you could say.’ I’m proud of this movie. I hope we just get the message out of knowledge is power. We really focus on that message, you know, inspire other people. And down the road from now, I just hope to maybe work with the cast again.

AK: Congratulations, Denzel, you have a wonderful movie.

NOTE: In the movie, the team earns an opportunity to challenge Harvard University, a detail that hasn't been verified historically. But the Wiley College team did beat the national champion team from the University of Southern California in 1935. The detail was changed for dramatic reasons, because Harvard represents the pinnacle of the American education system and that's arguably easier to understand for popular audiences.

‘The Great Debaters’ interviews: Nate Parker plays brilliant, volatile mind

In "The Great Debaters," actor Nate Parker plays Henry Lowe, the debate team's most troubled but brilliant competitor. The film takes a fictional look at the real-life achievements of the Wiley College debate team during 1935. Wiley College is in Marshall, Texas. Below is a transcript of my interview with him.

PHOTO (left to right): Jurnee Smollett, Denzel Whitaker and Nate Parker on the set of "The Great Debaters." (Weinstein Co.)

ALEXANDYR KENT: It's your second time in Louisiana in a couple years. (Parker also had a supporting role in 'Pride.') How are we treating you?

NATE PARKER: You're treating me amazing. Louisiana is such a beautiful place. The landscaping, the architecture. I'm from Virginia, so it's the same kind of colonial feel. It's treating me really well.

AK: You must be really excited, too, because obviously you get a release on Christmas day. There's a lot of things that go behind a Christmas day release. And obviously the caliber of the project is just amazing.

NP: And that's exactly what's important. It's one of those things that, yes, I'm happy that I'm doing a film that's coming out on Christmas. But such a special and important film? It gives it special meaning. It gives it a whole new meaning, you know?

AK: What do you admire most about your character, 'Henry Lowe with an e?'

NP: The thing I admire most is his passion. I think that he's in a very tough time. He's so conflicted. Here you have a young man who has so much power, so much opportunity. If Henry is born in 2007, his life is going to be completely different than if he's born in 1920. I definitely, definitely admire his passion. His ability to say, 'OK, I'm in this environment where saying the wrong word can mean my life. But I'm going to absorb everything I can and use this education as a tool to get me ahead in life.'

AK: You're also playing a character who, you touched on it hear … he's going to a historically black college which is full of hope in that era, but he's also surrounded by the Jim Crow South, which is probably not the most hopeful place. The film does an absolutely wonderful job of conjuring up both of those elements of kind of this optimism of the college itself and, if you step off campus, it's a different world.

NP: It just reminds you, and it's something that happens even now. Education, in itself, is probably the most positive way to escape your environment. You talk to an inner-city kid, and he'll say, 'I live in this hard neighborhood, and there's drugs, there's alcohol, we don't have our fathers around, there are no role models.' What this film reminds them is that you can defy the elements of your environment if you are willing to take on the burden of education, if you're willing to say, 'If nothing else, get my grades. If nothing else, get to college somehow.' Because opportunities now are insanely higher than they were then.

AK: You have a character who is written (by Bob Eisele) and portrayed by you very honestly. He may have a lot of pressure on him, but he's also a bit of a rebel. He's also a bit of an infidel. He's a bit of a drinker.

NP: He is.

AK: Strangely, well, not strangely, he's still a hero. You take those qualities, and you look at this film, how do you make something like that redeeming?

NP: I think at the root of it all, he's a good kid. He uses those things to almost drown his demons, and to quiet that turmoil that is going on inside of him. It's the same as today. He takes his drinks, because he's like, 'How am I going to cope with my environment?' He has one foot in the street and one foot in school. As intelligent as he is, he's just as equal a rebel in the street. In developing this character, I studied and I wrote and I wrote and I wrote and I really wrote so this character could speak to me. What does he want? What is he trying to say? You know, at the very root, what does he want? He wants acceptance, and he wants to be loved, just like any other 20-year-old kid. But he has to compromise himself day in and day out in this Jim Crow South. He has to. It's like this scene when I walk into the police precinct. I ask them, 'How are you guys? Are you OK? Did they do anything?' On the surface, I want to take care of them. But on the inside, it's, 'Even if they did, what could I do?' You know, it's such a helpless feeling of those times. So, I think he's very redeeming because at the end of it all, at the root of it all, he's a guy that is caught in a very bad situation. He doesn't have the parents. He doesn't have the support that James Farmer Jr. has. He doesn't have the support. In a way, he envies him because he doesn't have the support. He envies that in him, but he sees an innocence in James Jr. that makes him say, 'You know what, with this opportunity you could do greater things than me. Because me? It's for selfish reasons. I just want to get back at this system that's oppressed me for all of this time. And I want to do it with my intellect.'

AK: Your task in this actor is to come on screen and basically daily challenge a two-time Academy Award winner and daily put your persona up against his persona, probably one of the strongest personas in screen history.

NP: Absolutely, and you know, Mr. Washington is so selfless. He's been acting for 35 years. At any moment he could have stepped in and made the scene his. At any moment. I don't think that I every went against Denzel, ever. I never stood against him. But what we did is we walked into the room together, we understood what needed to be done in the scene, and we delivered. I delivered because of him. He's a great teacher. It was more of an apprentice and a teacher relationship every time we were on screen. Character-wise, I did rebel against him. But it was the story of my life. I rebelled against any authority, because authority represented who? Jim Crow. Even if it came from someone that loved me, it was only a matter of time before they compromised themselves for the Jim Crow South. So I trusted no one. If you never want to get let down, you never trust anyone. Because human beings … that defiance came as a shell. And it was his job as a teacher, just as teachers today, to break that shell and to penetrate that shell and get to me and make me understand why I need to let my guard down, and why I need to have passion, and why I need to channel all of this anger into something that is positive.

AK: Do you have any experience in debate?

NP: I have four younger sisters. (Laughter.) I mean in that respect, yes. But I never took a debate in school. But we did go to debate camp. He was very adamant about us learning that actual skill set. We went to Texas Southern University. We learned parliamentary debate and impromptu debate on the first day. On the second day, we actually debated against their freshman-sophomore team. And we won. Me and Jermaine were on a team, and Jurnee and Little Denzel were on a team, and we ended up going to the finals but it was good enough that we debated each other there. But they didn't take it easy on us. I think that somewhere inside they wanted to prove to us that they were debaters. But as Denzel says, 'We're actors. Our job is to persuade.' I think that by craft, this was a good opportunity for me and this is what I do.

AK: Vocally, this must have been a challenge, because you don't see many roles out there, besides on the Broadway stage where you're singing, where you have to use your voice as an oracle. You have to become this symbol of power.

NP: Well, check this out. Denzel, what he did for us in rehearsal, he said, 'OK, we're going to rehearse.' We didn't know what to expect.' All we knew we were excited, we were going to rehearsal. So he took us into this huge warehouse room that was maybe 200 feet deep with really high ceilings. He stands at one side, and we're at the other side, and he tells us to give our debate. In that moment, we realized just how much voice we didn't have. We had to project all the way down this hall. And it's a lot more difficult than you think. So we learned to project our voice. We learned to speak from our diaphragm. We learned to stand up straight with posture, and how important posture was to your speech. The difficult thing was in filming, you may do a scene 30 times. I remember one speech in particular. In was the Paul Quinn (College) debate. I probably did that speech 35 times straight. And it was taxing because you have to do it over and over and you have to be just as powerful in the first take as you are in the last take. Not because he's told you to, but because that's our job.

AK: Tell me a little bit about the camaraderie that you had with Little D (Denzel Whitaker) and Jurnee Smollett. You had some genuine chemistry going there.

NP: Absolutely. We're joined at the hip. We're all great friends. We talk just about every day. We go on the press tour together. We eat every meal together. It was funny because Little Denzel is like my little brother. Off set, he'd ask me questions just about life and what I thought about this and what I thought about that. And it's funny because, I look at Denzel as my model of integrity. When I'm conflicted, and when I have a question about something, when something is on my mind that I don't really understand, I'll go to him whether it is life or whether it is character. And I respect his answers. And the same thing goes with Little Denzel. He looked up to me for advice. We grew closer throughout the film because of it. And me and Jurnee? Of course, she's beautiful and she's intelligent. She's going to make some guy really happy someday. And it was that kind of relationship with her. I'm so glad it was her.

AK: Now you're also a wrestling coach, is that right?

NP: I coach little kids and I wrestled at college. I wrestled at Penn State University, then I wrestled at the University of Oklahoma, and I was an All-American at the University of Oklahoma. My passion is working with kids. I work with a charity called Peace for Kids, and it's like an afterschool program for kids in like Compton basically where after school they come and we put them in fun activities, and we helped them learn how to manage their money. I'm actually starting another branch of that charity where we are actually starting a college fund so we can send kids to school, who have the ability, who have the grade, but just don't have the support financially, because the tuitions are steadily increasing. I love kids. In wrestling, I do have a 10-, 11-, 12-year-old team that I coach and help out at Rosemead High School. I help out at Rio Hondo College.

AK: This might be a leap, but in being in a film about a coach, does this change the way that you coach now?

NP: It does, because I probably wouldn't be able to pick it out about myself. But it's something that my students could talk about. It's something that Denzel could talk about. He's been working 35 years and he's worked with a lot of directors. You don't know just how to implement those teachings. It's the same thing for me. I think going to talk to my little wrestlers, there's something different there. Not that it's bad. It's something, a level of understanding, that I can maybe articulate my voice or my advice to them in any given situation.

AK: From the experience of shooting in northwest Louisiana, and DeSoto Parish, and Keatchie, and Mansfield, and all that stuff, is there anything that kind of sticks with you from kind of being there for three, four months?

NP: The beauty of the South. It has always been beautiful. We got to shoot in the Caddo Lake with the cypress sides.

AK: Which side were you on? Were you on Texas or Louisiana?

NP: I think we were in Louisiana. We took a little bridge over. We were in Louisiana, and it was beautiful. I remember being on the boat and driving and it was past breathtaking. It was one of those feelings where you felt for a moment timeless. It's like it wasn't 1935. It wasn't 2007. The date didn't matter. God had done something very beautiful in this place. The people were so nice. I remember going to Wal-Mart every day. We didn't have much where we stayed so I would go to Wal-Mart every day. I would go there to buy a DVD. I would go there to buy ChapStick. I would find a reason to get out of the house and I would go to Wal-Mart.

AK: Were you in Shreveport?

NP: We were in Shreveport. The people were very nice, and the environment was just spectacular to look at. Very hot. It was fuuny too. When we shot at Caddo Lake we had to have like knee-high boots because we would sink into the mud up to our knees. So we would have to trudge to the boat, and it was like so mud everywhere. The clothing, wardrobe people were freaking out because a drip of mud and we'd have to change our shirt. We had to have rubber over everything to cover us up, and the mosquitoes and the bugs, ugh. But at the end of the day, when you would look around and see how beautiful it actually was, you'd be like, 'Cross all that other stuff out.'

AK: I'll ask you one last question. I'm wondering if intellectually or emotionally when you walk onto a set, and it seems like day to day so effectively does conjure up kind of the mood of that era, and the mood of that time period, how does that affect you emotionally? Do you have to detach yourself from it when you step out of character or does it feel like you're there?

NP: With a film like this, you have to embrace. You have to embrace everything that is coming toward you. With that comes knowledge and learning. With this film, I've gained so much intellect. With this film I did some much reading. I read James Joyce. I read D.H. Lawrence. I read W.B. Yeats. Before this movie, I've never picked up on of those books. I love to read, but I just may not have ever got into it. The second you step on set, I believe you open yourself up to a certain level of vulnerability. You say, 'I'm going to let this affect me so when I am on screen, it will come off honest.'

AK: Thank you, Mr. Parker.

NP: Thank you.

‘The Great Debaters’ interviews: Jurnee Smollett enjoys playing scholar

Actress Jurnee Smollett plays Samantha Booke in "The Great Debaters." The character is the only woman on an 1935 all-black debate team from Wiley College (Marshall, Texas). Below is a transcript an interview from a couple weekends ago.

PHOTO (from left to right): Denzel Washington, Denzel Whitaker and Jurnee Smollett in "The Great Debaters." (Weinstein Co.)

ALEXANDYR KENT: You must be excited to have a project come out on Christmas day.

JURNEE SMOLLETT: Oh, this is going to be the best Christmas ever. Especially a project like this. It's rare that you get a script that is a jewel. It's rare that you get something you can sink you teeth into and every single molecule of your being can be devoted to it.

AK: One thing that really impressed me about the script is the ensemble. Every single character has meat to it. And really, the trio of the three student roles, they are kind of just rare roles for younger actors.

JS: Definitely. How often do you see young actors playing scholars? Or striving to be intellectuals, you know? It's not that often. It's the first time I had ever gone for a role like this. That's why I was so attracted to the script. The script that Bob Eisele wrote was so intelligent. It's rare. And also, it's such a face that we never see. It's this whole period … that's almost been skipped over.

AK: Do you hope in some ways that this is kind of reawakening for people to remember a time that they never have really been aware of?

JS: I hope it's an education. I hope it stimulates further research. This is just the tip of the iceberg. For every Tolson, there was like hundreds of them. So I hope this kind of tips people off to go back and read all of the Thoreaus and the Langston Hugheses and the James Joyces of the world … and all of these great intellectuals. Maybe society could reverse and it could become sexy to be intelligent.

AK: And not nerdy.

JS: Exactly! You know. Yeah.

AK: What did you admire most about your character?

JS: I admired, well, several things. One is that even though she was in a time and a place that would have gladly encouraged her to stay in her place to know her place, she defied that, even though it was a struggle. It's not something that was easy. I was a struggle for her to find her voice. To find her footing a society that told her where she belonged. And yet with all of that going on, she still said, 'No. I can't stop trying. I'm going to try. I'm going to seek out the best help and I'm going to seek out situations that are going to challenge me and are going to force me to grow.'

AK: Are you a natural debater?

JS: Yes I am. (Laughs.) I think I am. I come from a big family. We debate at the dinner table. My brother sleeps with CNN on. And my mom will say to you, 'I don't care if you're four years old.' She'll say, 'Can you believe what that administration is doing?' (Laughs.)

AK: So you were always encourage to have an opinion.

JS: Oh, God, yes. I was always encouraged to have my opinion. I was always included in the conversation. I think it's so important for all of us to ask why. To have questions. To voice our opinions. To have an opinion in general. A lot of times we are like voiceless bystanders. We don't even have an opinion. I was fortunate enough to be raised by a woman who wanted us to have an opinion and wanted you to be opinionated too. You can disagree. You know? There's an art to disagreeing.

AK: But the way people are disagreeing now is quite different. In 'The Great Debaters,' it wasn't about blood-sport. It's about humiliation. In terms of how we see political figures today, in the media, it's not about debate anymore.

JS: It's true. It's about who you hired to do this. It's a different sport now. But the whole political system now, man, if could have more leaders using their words to shut out their opponents instead of like using bombs and planes, we'd but much better off. A lot of children wouldn't have perished already, you know?

AK: As an actress, was vocally taking on this role, trying to become this kind of oracle for truth, or oracle for argument, was it challenging to just step back and learn the art of speaking like that? That's very much a lost art in some ways.

JS: Yeah, it wasn't an easy, over-the-night thing. That's why I feel the amount of preparation I did beforehand helped me out a lot. But again, a lot of it was something that just came from hearing it when I read the script. Like the accent. The delivery. A lot of it I heard. Umm, you can't beat it up too much. We did rehearsals, we did a lot of like tongue-twisters. And complicated phrases. Denzel almost had in rehearsals like we were doing a play. Standing in a huge room, being passionate and physical.

AK: Where did that happen by the way? Was it in Mansfield Studios?

JS: It was in the preproduction office. He had this whole thing. It was like a warehouse. One day we were doing dance class and the next day we were doing rehearsals. And he wanted us to be as free as possible. It was just one of the best rehearsals, because you were just free to do whatever you wanted. Nothing was wrong. There were no wrongs. Nothing was right. Nothing was wrong. You just did what you did. It was beautiful.

AK: With Nate and Little Denzel in a story about debate, did competitiveness enter into the equation? Did you ever try to outdo one another? Not in like a spiteful way, but in pushing each other?

JS: I don't think so because we're all on the same time. Well, I can't speak for them, but for me I was rooting for them to be their best. Yeah, I didn't want the Harvard people … (laughs). What did they say to that question?

AK: Actually, I didn't ask them that question. I would imagine that Big Denzel pushes you pretty hard. Did he push you?

JS: Oh, definitely. You want a director to push you. Sometimes he shows you a moment that even you don't think you are capable of.

AK: Was there a moment when you surprised yourself?

JS: Um, of course there were a few moments. I don't necessarily think that I surprised myself. It was more so that I kind of got lost inside myself. Those are the moments that you want. True honesty. You just forget everything else that is going on around you, you forget the fact that the prop-master is doing this, that hair and makeup are touching you up, and the camera man is doing this, and they are taking measurements from the camera to your head, and they are putting the marks down. Sometimes, you got to go out there and forget all that's going on. There were times when he would just whisper one thing in my ear, and it would just open my world up. Then there were times when he just left me alone, and encouraged me to keep doing what I was doing and encourage me to do keep what I was doing and then I just found more things. A lot of it wasn't planned. He didn't tell me, 'Cry on this moment.' That very close-up thing (during her character's first opportunity to debate in competition) was like … we did that in three takes. He was telling me about how like the inhale, none of that was planned, he was telling me that when I inhaled, the camera came into focus. It wasn't planned. The crying it was just something that he had said. The crying, it wasn't something that he had said. During the Oklahoma debate he said to me, he said, 'If you are asking the question, get an answer.' He teased me the other night. We had this Q&A and he got up and said, 'You guys should have seen some of those other takes. She really went over to those debaters and demanded that answer.' (Laughs.) But you know. You go there, you do these crazy things and you fail big and you succeed big. But there are no rights or wrongs in acting.

AK: Before I ask you about Shreveport, did you hit Nate (Parker) in that scene?

JS: Mm. (Laughs.) I think I'm not going to tell anyone. Samantha hit him. Samantha hit him hard. I had a great stunt coordinator. We just had to get the timing down to where the camera was lined up a certain way, but people love it. We sold it!

AK: The whole audience went, 'Oh my God! Strong woman!'

JS: (Laughs.) Yeah, but you know? That's an important moment. For someone who is struggling to voice her thoughts and voice her opinions, sometimes less is more! Just cutting him down is sometimes important.

AK: Maybe it's that one excuse for violence in the film.

JS: Yeah. (Laughs.)

AK: He deserved it. … How did northwest Louisiana treat you?

JS: Here's the thing. I might be the only one that says this to you. But I might be the only one who enjoyed Shreveport.

AK: Mm hm. You're not.

JS: I'm not? Then they are lying to you. (Laughter.) No, no, no. I'm teasing. Aside from the chiggers and the mosquitoes and the snake wranglers.

AK: Snake wranglers?

JS: Yeah, that who's the judge scene? You can't see him, but he's in the bushes right behind us catching snakes. Yeah. So aside from all that, I loved how many open fields there were. It was almost like northern California in parts. I'm a nature lover. It was so peaceful. You could see the sky, and see open fields forever. And I liked the shooting locations because you can't duplicate the South. People try to go and Toronto, and sometimes it works. But a lot of times for an actor, shooting in the South for the South is really helpful. You're going through the same things that your character was going through. So, I enjoyed it.

AK: Great. I appreciated it. Thank you.

JS: Thank you.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Listen up! 'The Great Debaters' speak

A couple weeks ago, I was in L.A. and nabbed these three stars of "The Great Debaters" for interviews. My print coverage hits the paper Christmas day. Here's my audio story to tide you over until the movie opens.

Jurnee Smollett, Nate Parker and Denzel Whitaker (left to right) spoke about their experiences at a Texas Southern University debate camp and taking direction from Denzel Washington.

PHOTO: "The Great Debaters," Weinstein Co.

'The Polar Express' screens tonight

It's like a drive-in without the tailpipe emissions. Catch "The Polar Express" tonight. It's showing on an giant inflatable screen (we seem to have a theme this week on the Louisiana Movies blog), and you basically plop yourself down on the grass and watch.

OUTDOOR SCREENING
WHAT: "The Polar Express," part of the Robinson Film Center's Movies and Moonbeams series. SPAR pitches in too.
WHEN: 6:30 p.m. tonight (Dec. 21). Gates open at 5:30 p.m.
WHERE: Riverview Park, downtown Shreveport, across from Sci-Port.
COST: $1, suggested donation. Concessions available.
BRING: lawnchairs, blankets, creature comforts. (Sun tan lotion optional.)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Strut on this, Tony Manero!

My recent audition for "Saturday Night Fever: Bradenton Beach Boogie" was a huge failure. The casting director said my tie was too short. It had shrunk from being marinated in pinot noir spittle for half the night.

I personally think the casting director was scared of what was in my pocket. It was either my cell phone (sized 1999) or that free bag of almonds from our reception table.

This photo was taken a couple weeks ago at a wedding reception. My wife, obviously proud, sent it to me.

Just so I'm not the only one humiliated, the guy on the left is Mark Koss, who lives in the Big D. The other guy, Mike Koss (right), fled to Japan.

I'm holding down center court, as always. Look at that stare. Too sexy for Milan, New York and Japan.

Sorry, ladies and gents. We're all taken. But this dance is on us. Merry Christmas.

Mary is offering more acting workshops

Local theater actress and director is hosting acting workshops Jan. 5. Here are the details:

WHAT: Acting fundamentals workshops with Mary Thoma.
WHERE: East Bank Theatre, 630 Barksdale Blvd., Bossier City.
WHEN: Jan. 5.
AGES 8 to 12: 9 a.m. to noon.
AGES 13 to 17: 1 to 4 p.m.
COST: $60 per student. (Sibling discount available.)
TO REGISTER: Call EBT at (318) 741-8310 or email Mary at mmatters3@bellsouth.net.

Here's Mary's blurb: "Young actors are introduced to key building blocks of physical expression, voice, interpretation, sensory and emotional recall, improvisation and characterization. These skills build confidence and 'acting chops' flexibility whether they are incorporated into work in the theater, film, radio, or television.

"Mary Thoma has a wealth of experience and training and can assist your child in discovering ways to adapt to any acting challenge! She has a special affinity with young people and a reputation for her positive and nurturing approach to bringing out the best in each student!"

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Denzel to Wiley College: Here's $1M for debate team

If you were on Planet Media-Free today, you might have missed this Marshall News Messenger story today. Denzel gave Wiley College a million bucks to re-establish the debate team. Why? You'll learn all about it when you see "The Great Debaters" on Dec. 25.

The Gos to 'blow up' RFC series again

The unofficial Ryan Gosling retrospective continues for the Robinson Film Center. Next up in its series is "Lars and the Real Girl," a comedy about an apparent bowler with an inflatable girlfriend. (It's got Oscar hopes, folks, so halt those dirty minds.) RFC Presents showed The Gos's "Half Nelson" way back when.

SCREENING
WHAT:
Robinson Film Center presents “Lars and the Real Girl.”
WHEN: 7 p.m. Jan. 10.
WHERE: Regal Cinemas Louisiana Boardwalk Stadium 14, Bossier City.
COST: $7.50.
RESERVATIONS: call (318) 424-9090. Limited tickets also will be available at theater.

Here are three unsolicited jokes at RFC's expense:
1) Inflatable dates will not be allowed inside the theater unless they can furnish their own IDs.
2) Best mustache (a.k.a. flavor-saver) wins a quart of melted butter.
3) "Who in tarnation thought it was funny to fill their 'real girl' with helium? Down in front!"

Monday, December 17, 2007

UPDATE: 'Blonde Ambition' isn't going straight to DVD

CORRECTED: The news isn't fantastic for anyone hoping to see "Blonde Ambition" take over a weekend box office. For it's first week, it won't get much of chance.

On Dec. 21, it will hit eight theaters in Texas (near Dallas), because that's the home state of its stars, Jessica Simpson and Luke Wilson. Check out this article on People.com for more information. Will it ultimately get a wide release? "Once it opens, we'll assess how well it did," said publicist Elizabeth Wolfe.

Sony will be releasing the flick on DVD on Jan. 22, 2008, according to its website. Click here for more info. (From personal experience, Amazon.com can be a bit sketchy on dates, sometimes.)

All the news isn't so grim for Millennium Films, though, which backed the independent project.

Another of its Shreveport-based flicks, "Mad Money," stands to rake in some weekend coin when it opens nationally in theaters Jan. 18, 2008. The trailer is pretty fun. Stars Diane Keaton, Queen Latifah, Katie Holmes, and Ted Danson.

"Cloverfield" will come out Jan. 18, too, so "Mad Money" will have a tough go of it. But January always delivers box office surprises.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Holy fan-tastic, Batman!


"The Great Debaters" screened in Marshall, Texas, tonight. And Denzel was there. Click here!

Above is one of photographer Shane Bevel's stellar pics of star Jurnee Smollett. Click here for more.

PHOTO: Actress Jurnee Smollett poses for a photo for fans outside the Marshall Hotel during the premiere of The Great Debaters in Marshall, Texas. (Shane Bevel/The Times) DON'T STEAL!

Golden Globe nods will ignite Oscar buzz

When I look at the nominations for the Golden Globes, a few hastily regurgitated thoughts splash onto my keyboard:
  1. The race is ultra-competitive, per usual, this year. Seven dramatic picture nods, which includes "The Great Debaters." All 12 flicks nominated for the two best pic categories (drama and comedy) have a legitimate shot at Oscar best picture nods. And all of them could be unseated by films that have been largely overlooked by the Globes.
  2. "The Great Debaters" only scored one nomination, but that might not be a bad thing. I personally don't feel this film was even on the voters' radar a month or two ago. (Denzel's appearance on "Oprah" fixed that.) I expect it to build some serious buzz through December and early January. It's the kind of film the Oscar voters like. The catch is that there are two pretty solid Denzel films in consideration. The chatter about "American Gangster" will inevitably turn into, "Is it as good as last year's big winner, 'The Departed?'" That could help or hurt the crime pic's chances, and it will probably influence how much consider is given to "Debaters." That the Golden Globes didn't give "Debaters" a best directing nod might spell trouble, but that's impossible to determine until its release on Christmas day. If "Debaters" garners decent box office, expect a huge campaign by the Weinstein Co. (I'm expecting that anyway.)
  3. Some of the omissions are pretty glaring. Mainly, "Into the Wild" was shut out in all the major categories. I have a sneaking suspicions that the Oscar voters will pay more attention to it. That Emile Hirsch didn't score a best actor nomination for it is a voting crime. Don Cheadle deserves a second look with his role in "Talk to Me." Consider the omission of "The Kite Runner." Seemingly worthy pics like "Gone Baby Gone," "A Mighty Heart," "The Assasination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" and "The Savages" will probably step up their campaigns.
  4. I expect to hear a conversation about the merits of actors turned directors: Sean Penn's "Into the Wild" and Denzel's "The Great Debaters." They both are seriously good behind the camera, and it will be curious to see if the Academy considers them as equals to some of Hollywood's finest: the Coen brothers ("No Country of Old Men"), Ridley Scott ("American Gangster"), Tim Burton ("Sweeney Todd") and P.T. Anderson ("There Will Be Blood"). In short, Penn and Denzel are longshots, but still in the running.
  5. Take a close look at the best picture category nominations for the Golden Globes. All but "Michael Clayton," a legal thriller, can be grouped into pairs. Which period drama is better, "Atonement" or "The Great Debaters?" Which auteur-driven western noirish flick works for you, "No Country for Old Men" or "There Will Be Blood?" And which gangster crime drama, "Eastern Promises" or "American Gangster," shows us something we haven't seen before? The loosest association is between "Atonement" and "Debaters," of course, because their subjects are so different. Voters might ultimately split their votes between questions like these, which really, really helps "Michael Clayton." "The Great Debaters" is also the only one that can be categorized as a "feel good movie." And "Atonement" seems to be loved by everyone but A.O. Scott (New York Times critic), who does set the bar for American criticism (I know one local director who seriously disagrees with me on that point). Scott wrote, "This is not a bad literary adaptation; it is too handsomely shot and Britishly acted to warrant such strong condemnation. 'Atonement' is, instead, an almost classical example of how pointless, how diminishing, the transmutation of literature into film can be." The New Yorker's Anthony Lane didn't really care for it, either.
Enough from me. What are your thoughts? And does "Debaters" intrigue you now?

PHOTO: "The Great Debaters" (The Weinstein Co.)

'The Great Debaters' gets Golden Globe nod

Here's a list locals should pay attention to, and here's a great summary of what's competing against what. Denzel's essentially competing against himself with "Debaters" and "American Gangster." And everyone is competing against "Atonement," which earned 7 nominations:

Golden Globe Awards

Best Motion Picture - Drama

American Gangster

Imagine Entertainment/Scott Free Productions; Universal Pictures

Atonement
Working Title Productions; Focus Features

Eastern Promises
Kudos Pictures – UK Serendipity Point Films – Canada A UK/Canada Co-Production; Focus Features

The Great Debaters
Harpo Films; The Weinstein Company/MGM

Michael Clayton
Clayton Productions LLC; Warner Bros. Pictures

No Country for Old Men
A Scott Rudin/Mike Zoss Production; Miramax/Paramount Vantage

There Will Be Blood
A Joanne Sellar/Ghoulardi Film Company Production; Paramount Vantage and Miramax Films

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Who you callin’ casting director?

You know the Shreveport movie industry is busy when I'm getting emails asking me, "Can I be in your movie? Here are my headshot and résumé."

My standard response? "I'm a reporter. You need to contact X." And then I grumble to my desk-mates about being mistaken for a casting director.

Their emails are flattering in a bizarre way. They don't realize I'm a reporter, of course, and think my blog is something other than it is: a place for movie news and (self-)amusing posts.

Which brings me to a totally uninteresting story. You might be surprised to learn that I did help cast a movie once. It was a 1997 student film, which I wrote, directed and regrettably acted in. (I was a lip-smacker.)

Me and a college buddy, Luke Heikkila (who I haven't seen since), produced the 68-minute existential drama for $250. We shot it on VHS on the scary streets of Morris, Minn., and inside the local co-op. A coffee shop rejected our location request because we had a suicide scene. (We were quite serious young lads.)

Oh, to revisit the days when getting in over our heads was a grand success. We ended up casting a bunch of student actors and a couple gullible professors. A few of us were trying to resurrect the French New Wave.

The film was kind of a Jean-Luc Godard version of "Shortcuts" and was sexily titled "disengaged at 7th and Oregon." I also remember describing it as if "Albert Camus had written 'Six in Paris.'"

Why these pitches weren't enough to bring art cinema back to multiplex, I'll never know.

We had a reasonably good time in testing our mettle. I also remember more than a few artistic disagreements, which probably encouraged my early exit as a filmmaker. (Me just write pretty now.) "disengaged" premiered to about 350 people. I haven't thanked them all for suffering through my post-screening ramblings, so, "Thank you!"

But don't pity me. I'm perfectly capable of pitying myself. I turned out OK. I'm a blogger now. And I've eaten at IN-N-OUT Burger, so you know I'm cool.

And by the way, and if you want to get in a local movie, it's best to contact the following:

"Year One": http://www.myhollywoodconnect.com/ or mail your headshot and contact info to Garden Films Inc., 400 Clyde Fant Memorial Parkway, Shreveport, La., 71101.

"Comeback": http://www.bamcastingla.com/

"Sordid Lives," "Tekken," second unit on "Righteous Kill": http://www.gloriosocasting.com/

P.S.: My sequel to "disengaged at 7th and Oregon" has been shelved indefinitely due to fear of public humiliation and my complete unwillingness to raise money for its $500 budget.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Denzel coming to 'Debaters' screening in Marshall

Denzel Washington is headed to Wiley College and Marshall, Texas, on Thursday for a invitation-only screening of "The Great Debaters." The fictional movie is based on a professor and poet from Wiley who led the debate team in the 1930s.

Click here to read more.

Tickets are not available to either the screening or the pre-party. These are Wiley College events sponsored by the Weinstein Co. But there will be chances to catch a glimpse of the star if you're game. Details are in the story.

MTV.com features early story on 'Year One'

MTV.com has a good feature on "Year One," a Sony pic set to start shooting in Shreveport in January. Stars? Jack Black and Michael Cera.

Here's Black's overview: "It's not prehistoric, it's just pre-Christ. It's like an old, biblical tale. Cane and Abel type of stuff. Just two dudes wandering through early civilization. ... It's kind of like 'The Meaning of Life' or 'Life of Brian' — a funny look at biblical tales."

Click here for the full story.

Monday, December 10, 2007

What's a man to do on Sunset Boulevard?


It's a cliche, I know, but I couldn't resist. After finishing a day's worth of interviews on "The Great Debaters" at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, I GPSed my way up to Sunset Boulevard to find an IN-N-OUT Burger.

Double-double with onions, baby! This guy sure know how to party in L.A. on a Saturday night.

Those interviews? I'll role them out Christmas week. Good stuff.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Samuel L. Jackson returning; Bernie Mac will join him

Here are some new bits from the official hotline of the Louisiana Office of Entertainment Industry Development, which can be reached at (225) 342-FILM:

The Weinstein Company feature film "Soul Men" starring Bernie Mac and Samuel L. Jackson is in pre-production in Shreveport with shooting scheduled for January 22nd through the end of March. Resumes are being accepted by fax at (318) 429-7598.

The Nu Image/Millennium feature film "Void Moon" is in pre-production in Shreveport with shooting scheduled for eight weeks beginning in late January. Resumes are currently being accepted by fax (318) 676-0718 or by e-mail at voidmoonfilm@hotmail.com. For casting information, please visit http://www.gloriosocasting.com/.

The cable television series "Sordid Lives" is shooting in Shreveport through Jan. 25. Please fax resumes and other inquiries to (318) 603-4571. For casting information, please visit http://www.gloriosocasting.com/.

The feature film based on the video game "Tekken" is in pre-production in Shreveport with shooting scheduled to begin Feb. 5 for six weeks. Resumes for all crew positions are currently be accepted by fax at (318) 603-4564.

The Sony Studios Pictures feature film "The Year One" starring Jack Black and Michael Cera is in pre-production in Shreveport with shooting scheduled from January through March of 2008. Resumes for crew are currently being accepted by fax at (318) 673-9705. "The Year One" will hold an open casting call Saturday, December 8 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Louisiana Boardwalk in Shreveport. For more information, please call (267) 295-7838.

The Weinstein Company feature films "Feast II" and "Feast III" are in production in Shreveport through mid-December. Inquiries can be faxed to (318) 603-4562.

The Weinstein Company feature film "The Comeback" starring Ice Cube is in preproduction* in Shreveport. Inquiries can be faxed to (318) 698-1301. For casting information, please visit www.bamcastingla.com.

The Universal Pictures feature film "Cirque du Freak" is in pre-production in New Orleans with shooting scheduled from February 19 through June 1. Resumes and inquiries are being accepted by fax at (504) 571-2023.

The WWE feature film "Twelve Rounds" is in pre-production in New Orleans and will shoot Feb. 25 through May 12. Resumes are being accepted by e-mail at torossi@earthlink.net.

The Fixed Point Films feature film "Waking Madison" is in production in New Orleans through December 12. Inquiries can be faxed to (504) 734-2161.

The Disney children’s television show "The Imagination Movers" is in production in New Orleans and will shoot through March of 2008. Inquiries are being accepted by fax at (504) 818-3840.

And for more information about the film and television industry in Louisiana please visit us online at http://www.lafilm.org/.

PHOTO: Samuel L. Jackson spoke to students at the CCAA Balistine Hopkins Head Start Center in Shreveport. (Shane Bevel/The Times)

*Production on this project, originally scheduled to begin shooting Dec. 3, has been delayed but could begin shooting by the end of the month.

'Eating Levi' maker lands in Shreveport

I've been speaking with an interesting filmmaker this week. Director Gregory Kallenberg, who recently moved back here from Austin, just took his "Eating Levi" to the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterstam. The flick focuses on Levi Oliver, a tamale-eating champ who chomped his way into the spotlight by making 36 tamales disappear in 12.5 minutes.

(My personal record is 5 in one hour. Bring it on, Levi!)

My interview will publish Monday in The Shreveport Times.

Kallenberg is hopeful that the trip to IDFA will lead to a distribution deal. "I think we got a decent wave of buzz and we’re kind of crossing our fingers," he said.

In moving back to Shreveport, Kallenberg hopes to become part of an indie film scene that grows out of the mainstream film industry. That's happened in Austin, and it could happen in Shreveport on a larger level as the film industry continues to grow.

"(In Austin) they have really bred an indie film scene, where people are grabbing their DVX100s and just going out there and shooting," Kallenberg said. He also noted that local competition between indie filmmakers has a way of pushing everybody to make better films.

"Hopefully, this town that I’ve moved to will breed a little film scene," he said. "I definitely want to go out there and be a filmmaker again."

More of my thoughts about Shreveport's indie film scene coming soon.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Local Cinelease running like a turpentine cat

Cinelease moved into Stage West in west Shreveport earlier this year and has been serving locally made movies from the locale. Based in Burbank, Calif., Cinelease also operates out of Chicago, Las Vegas, North Carolina and, now, The Shreve.

It's one of the largest provider of motion picture rental equipment in the country (and probably the world). Grip and lighting equipment? Got it. Expendables? Check. Row upon row of stuff I don't know how to use? Yup. I wandered around the warehouse and they let me snap some pics. Call me a geek, but I love leering at millions of bucks worth of equipment. (Don't worry. I'm seeing a therapist.)

Basically, they're providing lots of local and regional productions with grip, lighting and expendable stuff they need. I'll report more on them soon. Questions? Call them at (318) 686-2245.




Wiley College profiled in New York Times

A story about "The Great Debaters" was posted to nytimes.com this morning. Click here to read.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Do you, too, overfeed on movies?

You know you've got an entertainment addiction when your favorite baked ziti recipe comes from "The Sopranos Family Cookbook." A friend, who will remain anonymous because I fear for my life, confessed that he's making this special dish tonight for his super lady-friend.

While I found the confession hilarious, I also identified. (Please don't have me whacked, anonymous friend.)

I, too, watch too many movies. I, too, take culinary cues from the big screen and the theater stage.

Favorite candy? Reese's Pieces. ("E.T.")

Favorite wine? The pinots. ("Sideways.")

Favorite healthy drink? Moloko. ("Clockwork Orange.")

Favorite bar food? Meat pies. ("Sweeney Todd" and "Titus Andronicus," thank you very much.)

Favorite dessert? Honey. (Figure it out.)

Right now I'm searching for a ratatouille recipe, because my wife thinks I'm Anton Ego. My ego also rivals Peter O'Toole's.

I want to know: Do you cook what you see on screen and stage? Do you have a favorite movie recipe and a shameful story to go with it?

Please embarrass yourself.

Shreveport's still busy

According to the Louisiana Office of Entertainment Industry Development, here's what's happening this month:

Welcome to (225) 342-FILM, the official hotline of the Louisiana Office of Entertainment Industry Development. Here’s what’s happening for the first week of December 2007:

The feature film based on the video game "Tekken" is in pre-production in Shreveport with shooting scheduled to begin Feb. 5 for six weeks. Resumes for all crew positions are currently be accepted by fax at (318) 603-4564.

The WWE feature film "Twelve Rounds" is in pre-production in New Orleans and will shoot Feb. 25 through May 12. Details are coming soon.

The Weinstein Company feature film "The Comeback" starring Ice Cube is in production in Shreveport with shooting scheduled through Feb. 14. Inquiries can be faxed to (318) 698-1301. For casting information, please visit http://www.bamcastingla.com/.

The Sony Studios Pictures feature film "The Year One" starring Jack Black and Michael Cera is in pre-production in Shreveport with shooting scheduled from January through March of 2008. Resumes for crew are currently being accepted by fax at (318) 673-9705. The Year One will hold an open casting call Saturday, December 8 from 11a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Louisiana Boardwalk in Shreveport. For more information, please call (267) 295-7838.

The Nu Image/Millennium feature film "Void Moon" is in pre-production in Shreveport with shooting scheduled for eight weeks beginning in late January. Resumes are currently being accepted by fax (318) 676-0718 or by e-mail at voidmoonfilm@hotmail.com. For casting information, please visit http://www.gloriosocasting.com/.

The cable television series "Sordid Lives" is shooting in Shreveport through Jan. 25. Please fax resumes and other inquiries (318) 603-4571. For casting information, please visit http://www.gloriosocasting.com/.

The Weinstein Company’s feature films "Feast II" and "Feast III" are in production in Shreveport through mid-December. Inquiries can be faxed to (318) 603-4562.

The LAMP feature film "The Way of War" starring Cuba Gooding Jr. is shooting in Baton Rouge through December 5. For more information please call (225) 610-1600.

The Fixed Point Films feature film "Waking Madison" is in production in New Orleans through December 12. Inquiries can be faxed to (504) 734-2161.

The Disney children’s television show "The Imagination Movers" is in production in New Orleans will shoot through March of 2008. Inquiries are being accepted by fax at (504) 818-3840.

And for more information about the film and television industry in Louisiana please visit us online at http://www.lafilm.org/.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Megan Brown teaching more classes for kids, teens

Local actress Megan Brown ("Mr. Brooks") will offer couple more workshops for kids and teens interested in screen acting. Here are the details:

WHEN: 1 to 4 p.m. Dec. 8 and Dec. 15.
COST: $50 per session per child.
TOPICS INCLUDE: making and applying "actable choices," discovering what's really going on in the scene, nonverbal behavior, listening, cold reads, relaxation.
TO REGISTER: (813) 690-2230 or me@meganbrown.net.

Read more about Megan's class work by clicking here or here.

Louisiana Produces meetup guest: Tasha Smith

Louisiana Produces meets Tuesday (Dec. 4), and the special guest is actress Tasha Smith. She's in town to work on "Comeback," which begins shooting Dec. 10. She'll talk about her experiences as a working actress and what locals need to do to get in the game. Her screen credits include: "The Whole Ten Yards," and "You, Me, and Dupree," plus Tyler Perry's most recent films "Daddy's Little Girls" and "Why Did I Get Married."

WHAT: Louisiana Produces monthly meetup.
WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesday (Dec. 4).
WHERE: Bossier Parish Community College, Building D, 6220 E. Texas St., Bossier City.
COST: free.

'The Year One' wants you

"The Year One" is seeking local extras and actors. Starring? Jack Black and Michael Cera. Director? Harold Ramis. Studio? Sony. Begins shooting? Mid-January.

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.
WHERE: Louisiana Boardwalk, Bossier City.
WHAT TO BRING: headshot. Don't have one, they'll take one.
IF YOU CAN'T GO: register freely at http://www.myhollywoodconnect.com/ or mail your headshot and contact info to Garden Films Inc., 400 Clyde Fant Memorial Parkway, Shreveport, La., 71101.
CASTING HOTLINE: (267) 295-7838.

PHOTO: AP Photo/Matt Sayles.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Long weekend. Hope we catch our flight. Back Monday.

Get your scene study on

There are yet more acting classes available in The Shreve. Here are two opportunities:

Southern University at Shreveport is offering a continuing education course for aspiring actors. Students will learn about auditioning, set etiquette, terminology, and basic script literacy.
It will be led by Barbara Brinkley, who has 20 years worth of casting experience. She’ll be assisted by Jesse Adams, a casting associate. The class begins Jan. 19 and runs through March 18. Class will be held Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Cost is $250 and requires a $100 deposit. Balance is due by Jan. 15. To register, call (318) 678-4669 or (800) 458-1472 ext. 669. Email contacts are outreachprograms@susla.edu or barbara@brinkleycasting.com.

Acting coach and actress Theresa Bell is continuing her work with a core group of local actors. She's from Dallas, but travels here even other week or so. The next class is full, but you can audit (or basically watch) for $25. It's scheduled for Dec. 9 between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. For more info, including location, contact Tara Duncil at tara@laactingworkshops.com or (318) 573-0039.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Gary Chason returning to teach acting class

Former casting director Gary Chason will conduct an actors’ workshop in Shreveport between Dec. 5 and Dec. 8. The workshop is designed for beginners and intermediates, and will focus on different aspects of screen acting.

Chason worked as a casting director for “Paper Moon,” “Pretty Baby,” “Paris, Texas,” and other projects. He lives in Austin.

Class on Dec. 5, scheduled from 6 to 9 p.m., is $30 and will focus on reading lines. Class on Dec. 6, from 6 to 9 p.m., is $30 and will focus on acting for the camera. Class on Dec. 7, from 6 to 8 p.m., is $10 and will be a lecture and demonstration by Chason. Class on Dec. 8, from 1 to 6 p.m., is $50 and will be a scene study workshop.

Attendees can register for all four days for $100. Classes will be held at the Actor’s Café, 1411 Fairfield Avenue (formerly Bear’s Café).

To register or for more information about each day’s activities, contact Erin Howell at erinehowell@yahoo.com or (214) 437-1649.

'Hannah Montana' to film in Tennessee or Louisiana?

It's not out of the question, but the likelihood of Miley Cyrus filming her "Hannah Montana" movie in Louisiana appears less than likely at present. The Tennessean recently reported that a movie is going to start filming in April. Where? From the sounds of it, Tennessee is the frontrunner.

Miley's father, Billy Ray Cyrus, did float some doubt out there, though. He told The Tennessean that the competitive incentives between Tennessee and Louisiana are pretty close: "We're going to need some immediate assistance from the film commissioner, the legislators, the governor — everybody that would like to see this film come to Tennessee needs to start acting now. They are going to make this decision very quickly."

"There are plenty of locations and plenty of people who could make a good film. It's going to come down to budgets."

I called Louisiana's state office (Louisiana Economic Development) yesterday to see what's up. They said Disney mentioned the project "earlier" during discussions about many projects -- they wouldn't specify when -- but that this specific project hasn't been mentioned since.

That doesn't put Louisiana out of the question. But if "Hannah Montana" were to shoot here, we would be hearing a lot of chatter about setting up production offices, crewing up, and crazy fans trying to get her autograph.

I haven't heard anything yet, but I'll keep an ear to the ground.

PHOTO: Hannah Montana sings to her fans while performing in concert November 15, 2007 at the CenturyTel Center in Bossier City. (Douglas Collier/The Times)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

'Comeback' needs more extras

The feature film “Comeback” needs people to work as background extras. BAM Casting is holding an extras casting call on Saturday (Dec. 1) between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. at the Actor’s Café, 1411 Fairfield Avenue (formerly Bear’s Café).

All races and ethnicities are needed, according to a press release. Specifically, the production is seeking lookalikes and stand-ins for the film's stars, Ice Cube and Keke Palmer. Also needed are people to play football coaches, players, referees, cheerleaders and fans; teenage punk kids; school kids ages 12 and up; and parents and townspeople.

All applicants should bring nonreturnable photographs of themselves no larger than four-by-six inches. If applicants do not have a photograph, casting directors will take one during the casting call.

“Comeback” will be directed by Fred Durst (Limp Bizkit frontman) and will begin filming Monday (Dec. 3).

There is no cost to apply. For more information, log on to http://www.bamcastingla.com/ or call (318) 698-1313.

Monday, November 26, 2007

MarketWatch reports on film industry, Shreveport

Check out this article from MarketWatch (Dow Jones), which was filed from its Los Angeles bureau. It offers thorough overview of the state of the state's industry. Shreveport gets a lot of play. The story was also picked up by CNN.com.

Here's an excerpt: "Filmmakers in Shreveport say the state used to be the spot where movies that took place in Louisiana were shot. Now Shreveport serves as a backdrop for any town, including even that other L.A.

"'There's a downtown corridor that you can make look like any major city,' said Michael Flannigan, executive producer for Millennium Films. The company's headquarters are on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, but it's breaking ground in coming months on a new film center in Shreveport, complete with sound stages, he said."

That plays into a conversation I had recently with a local producer, who said Shreveport's downtown, which is full of old and many vacant buildings, is like a studio backlot.

POLL RESULTS: Was new ending a good idea?

Here are the results of the recent blog poll. Judging by box office receipts for “The Mist,” it looks like our idea of a great idea was commercially suspect. Oh, well. Money can be pretty dumb sometimes:

Question: Director Frank Darabont wrote a new ending for 'The Mist,' which is based on a Stephen King novella. That is:

16% … A bad idea. King's faithful will cry foul. (8 votes)
10% … A good idea. The original ending sucked. (5 votes)
53% … A great idea. Darabont has proven himself the king of King adaptations. (26 votes)
8% … Unimportant. I didn't read the story and don't care to. (4 votes)
12% … Sooo off topic. All I care about is seeing Shreveport, baby! (6 votes)

PHOTO CREDIT: Director Frank Darabont works on the set of "The Mist," a Dimension Films feature film shot in Shreveport and northwest Louisiana. (Ralph Nelson/The Weinstein Company)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

'The Mist' doesn't attract big Turkey crowd

Mixed to decent reviews, an R rating, no marquee names and one brave but bleak finale have translated into a locally disappointing opening weekend for "The Mist." It will likely come in 9th place and take in an estimated $9 million from Friday to today. From Wednesday, its opening day, it will likely gross $13 million. Check the charts at IMDb.com, or check Variety's report.

Disney's "Enchanted" secured the biggest business, earning an estimated $50 million since Wednesday. "The Mist" was released on about 2,400 screens, while Enchanted took over about 3,600.

If you take "Enchanted" out of the equation, the rest of the box office is slugging it out for audiences. Just over $9 million will separate 2nd from 9th.

"The Mist" will face a lot of competition in the coming weeks, with more than 60 films set for release from Thanksgiving through the end of the year. Will is scare up a cult or consistent following? It's definitely a tough road.

...

If you didn't catch it, my interview with Matthew Broderick ran today. He was recently in town filming "Wonderful World."

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Stories from ‘The Mist’: Part 4

It's probably an understatement to say that some extras got some quality time with the cast and crew of "The Mist," which was shot primarily on a grocery store set inside StageWorks of Louisiana. Locals have shared about a dozen anecdotes with me about hobnobbing with the Hollywooders. Above is a picture of Kim Woodard, who's showing off a journal she kept on the set." Actors Buck Taylor and William Sadler added their own self-portraits. How cool is that?

Below is my last edition of tales from the set.

James Paul: "All of the actors and the extras became one big family. … When it was over nobody wanted to go.I've been in 12 movies and this one I'm dying to see."

Frances "Frannie" McKenzie: "I cannot say enough about the assistant directors K.C. and Paula, they were so patient with all us 'newcomers' and Paula and her husband Courtney shared their dog with the extras so we wouldn't be so homesick for our own pets. The first assistant directors George and Craig and the production assistant mark, were just great and took up a lot of time with us out in holding. A lot of the stars came to holding and took pictures with us, signed autographs and visited with us on and off throughout the filming. Ginnie Randall not only visited with us but sang for us, Buck Taylor shared his wonderful gift of sketching with us, David Jensen and William Sadler shared stories and kept us in stitches with their antics, and Nathan and all the other children were so well behaved and just a delight to be around."

Isaac Manuel, Jr.: "During my time on the set of 'The Mist,' what I enjoyed most was the 'special' bond that was created among all of the core extras while we were in holding, waiting to shoot a particular scene. And, even thought I don't consider myself a scary person and realized that we were shooting a movie, there were times that I became frightened by some of the characters, situations and plots that came out of 'The Mist.'"

Jonathan Fife: "I helped fuel the actors' performances while in the camera frame with them & off camera. It is my impression that the director and assistant director were very pleased with my performance and assistance. I would like the chance to thank the casting agency, crew, actors, assistant director and director for letting me participate in such an 'awesome' experience."

Gwen Hughes: "I was an extra 'in' 'The Mist.' It was an awesome experience. A lot of long hours, a lot of waiting in holding, but it was worth it. The actors were superb. The stunt men and one woman were fantastic. The AD's and crew were excellent and could not have been more accommodating. And what can I say, the director, Frank Darabont, was amazing, an unbelievable artist. It was an experience I will always remember."

John McLeaish on playing a 'believer' and being part of the mob: "I'm yelling stuff like 'Amen' and 'Get him,' so I guess that makes me a believer. … It was just like watching a painting come to life.'"

Tom Wallace on who got in trouble eating the props from the grocery store set: "Andre Braugher stepped up and confessed to that."

Meanwhile, if you happen to go see the movie over the Thanksgiving weekend, please post your thoughts in the comments field of my review or add some chatter to my blog. I'd love to know what you think. As you can see by my previous post, opinions are divided.