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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Press Junket Potluck: The Baggage Claim cast on their characters

Film Flam Flummox


While ultimately centered on one woman's search into her romantic past to find her matrimonial match within a month, David E. Talbert's film of his novel Baggage Claim a wide-ranging canvas of colorful characters played by a large and impressive cast. So who better than to describe such characters (in every sense) and the appeal of the project as a whole than their portrayers, most of whom offered their thoughts at a press conference in Beverly Hills on Saturday, August 17.

On Montana Moore and her journey

"When we first meet her, she’s so hopeful. She thinks she’s met the man of her dreams, and she’s going to get married, and then... she’s not. It’s sad, and then as she’s dealing with her sadness, boom! Her younger sister comes in and says, ‘I’m getting married in a month,’ and she knows because of her mom how important marriage is, and how becoming a wife means becoming a lady to her family. So with a heartbreak, that mother, and her cute litle younger sister with a big ol' diamond ring, that has now sent her over the edge. She’s dressing for each man, she’s trying to be the right fit for each person, but the thing is that she has something in her constitution that just won’t let her compromise that much. She’s like, 'I’m willing to take another step in that direction, but I just can’t do it.' What’s beautiful about this romantic comedy, I think, is that there’s two happy endings. There’s one happy ending of a woman who stands up to her family and says, 'I don’t care what you think anymore, and from this journey I've come to love myself, and I’m OK with that.' And of course, like life, the moment that you no longer need a man, then the one comes--or a few of them--and there’s the second happy ending. But I thought in this modern world we live in, it was so important--David and I talked about this a lot--that Montana finds her own happiness before that moment because I think people are very tough on women. It’s not enough that you have a successful career, and you volunteer, and you take care of all of your nieces and nephews--'Do you have a man; do you have a child?" [It's] as if none of that matters unless you are married with a child. And that’s unfortunate; men don’t go up against that. We want the happy ending; it’s an amazing thing when you find the right person to share your life with, but if you’re just finding somebody just so you can fit in or so you can say, ‘I did it'--that’s why there’s so much divorce, quite frankly. I think what’s beautiful is at the end of the day the man she meets is the man that knows about all her baggage, he knows her number, and he loves her in spite of it all."
--Paula Patton

On Catherine, Montana's much-married mother

"What David gave me in this film was a true arc to my character. Every character has an arc, but this meant so much because Catherine came out of the gate so desperate and dysfunctional. When you're not really paying attention to what your children are saying to you, there's something deeply wrong--and especially from a woman who has been married five times herself. But she has the arc where she comes around. This worked because of David E. Talbert and the chemistry I had with [the actresses playing] my two daughters; it was very special. This is my 63rd movie, and I'll never forget it. David gave me one of my best performances."
--Jenifer Lewis

On Sheree, Montana's recently betrothed younger sister

"With her mother being such a hopeless romantic, I think she just wanted to make her mother proud, and that is what their mother thinks is success: getting married and having men support you and give you security. But I liked that she was just infused with joy. She was so bubbly and happy, so innocent and vulnerable and just open, and that was fun for me to play."
--Lauren London

On William, Montana's neighbor and longtime best friend

"I was sent a different role, for one of the different guys, and when I read William, I just kind of connected. I think I related to William because every day as an actor you get to meet and talk to men on every level, from every hood, from every suburb, and the things that men say to me I don’t hear sometimes in publications. Men of color, black men--they are very vulnerable, what they think, how they feel. I always want to sow a good seed on film. So many people have given me a chance to roll; I feel like in that chance I just want to inspire. My mom groomed me 'as William,' so I had to play him.
--Derek Luke

On Quinton, Montana's successful, world-travelling suitor

"I think the western countries still view Africans as men in loincloths chasing gazelles. That's okay too, but we're also elegant, urbane, and a great number of Africans are entrepreneurs. So that was important for me to convey. The concept of looking at Africans as if we're way behind the western world is quite false. So I wanted to bring that to a western audience, to open people's eyes about Africa and Africans."
--Djimon Hounsou

On Gail, Montana's vivacious friend and co-worker

"Typically I play characters who have a lot of emotional baggage or stress. Gail is really carefree; she's a little loose. I thought that would be fun to play; I wanted to have fun. So when I read the script, David and I came up with a lot of different ideas on what she's going to look like. The first one was lots of cleavage."
--Jill Scott

On Cedric, airport security guard

"Here’s the thing about TSA agents: they think they are a cross between junior cops and secret service. It ain’t that serious any of the time. I went to the islands, Trinidad and Tobago, to celebrate my birthday, and I came back through Miami, and I tell you the TSA people there in customs are on speed. The line was at least 45 minutes long just to get past all of that, and this dude was like, ‘Ma'am, my flight is leaving in 30 minutes; is there a way to get past the line?’ She was like, ‘No. Wait in line; you’re going to miss that flight. I hope you didn’t have important plans.’ She really did that in front of everybody. So that’s Cedric in a nutshell."
--Affion Crockett

On Tanya, distracted airline counter agent

"My dad actually is a flight attendant. So I just thought about the stories--some of them I could never repeat--that my dad tells me that happens on airplanes and in the airport. I kind of brought some of that into my character. We've all been with those people at the airport where we're rushing, and they could care less."
--LaLa Anthony

On Janine, hysterical lover of one of Montana's exes

"I think I scared my husband! I just put myself in the situation, how I would feel if I was being cheated on, and I just let it go; I had no hesitations at all. David was amazing; he was throwing things at me to say and do. It was a lot of improv, and I just had a lot of fun with it."
--Tia Mowry

On the draw of the film

"The romantic comedy has been done so many times over and over, and David actually found a new way of presenting the story."
--Taye Diggs, who plays Langston, Montana's politically ambitious ex

"The thing I really like about the movie is the fact that there were five eligible good guys who could end up with the prize. Also the way David writes is very non-stereotypical, which I love. He painted the picture of different characters that were different from we're used to seeing, and any time we can expand the horizon and show us in diverse lights--I'm up for it."
--Boris Kodjoe, who plays Graham, Montana's man of her dreams


Baggage Claim is now playing in cinemas nationwide from Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Follow the cast:
Paula Patton: Twitter, Facebook
LaLa Anthony: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram
Affion Crockett: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram
Taye Diggs: Twitter, Facebook
Djimon Hounsou: Twitter, Facebook
Boris Kodjoe: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram
Jenifer Lewis: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram
Lauren London: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram
Derek Luke: Twitter, Facebook
Tia Mowry: Twitter, Facebook
Jill Scott: Twitter, Facebook

Buy the Baggage Claim movie poster here.
Buy David E. Talbert's Baggage Claim novel here.
Buy David E. Talbert's Baggage Claim novel on CD here.


(Special thanks to Fox Searchlight Pictures and Sandra Varner; bottom photo courtesy official Baggage Claim Instagram)

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Thursday, September 26, 2013

In conversation with... David E. Talbert, on Baggage Claim

Film Flam Flummox


The story of a woman's frantic 30-day search to find a fiancé screams "chick flick" from all angles, but the romantic comedy Baggage Claim is not only directed by a man, David E. Talbert, nor also screenwritten by him, but also based on his own novel. The celebrated playwright/theater director/novelist/filmmaker sat down for a conversation in Beverly Hills on Saturday, August 17 to discuss the story's transition from novel to screen and his own ongoing transition from being a storyteller for the stage, then to the page, and then to one for the screen.

Michael Dequina: What was the inspiration for writing the original Baggage Claim novel since it falls under, for lack of a better term, the "chick lit" genre?

David E. Talbert: The plays I've been writing for 20 years, most of them have female protagonists, and I grew up with three generations of single black women, so I kind of know the voice. But what I think my sweet spot on stage has been female protagonists. I don't what it is, but for some reason I'm able to tap in. I asked Babyface, we did a play together [2002's Love Makes Things Happen], and I said, "Kenny, how can you write so well from a woman's perspective?"--talking about the Waiting to Exhale soundtrack. And he says, "Love is genderless. I just write for the emotion." That's what it is--so really what I do is write for the emotion, and I just happen to assign it to a woman.

MD: What was the motivation to originally write the story as a novel as opposed to your more familiar format of a play?

DET: I just hired an agent who kept coming to see Love Makes Things Happen, and he'd say, "You know what you should be doing? You should write a novel!" And I'm like, "But I don't even read novels!" [laughs] He says, "That doesn't matter; I'll get you a publishing deal." So the play went to New York, and he had all the publishers come out to see the play, which was sold out at the Beacon [Theatre]. After he says, "There's a bidding war with three publishers to give you a two-book deal." I'm like, "Uh, OK." Then he says, "I got you a deal with Simon & Schuster; you gotta start writing it!" And again I said, "But I don't read novels!" [laughs] So I wrote the first chapter, and he said, "What is this? I don't know where I am or who's talking. It's supposed to be a novel!" And I said again, "I don't read novels!" [laughs] He said, "Look, let me send you a chapter of a novel, and just make it like that, with your story." So he sent me a chapter of one, and I said, "Ohhh, narrative prose is a third person or a first person talking. I have to say what they like and what they smell like...?" He said, "Yes! That's a novel." Then six weeks later I handed in my first draft, and he says, "I love it."

MD: So you got the hang of it pretty quickly then.

DET: Well, words are words are words. Once he told me what the format was, then I said, OK, I know words. I'm not afraid of words. I just needed to know what the format was.

MD: You've had a screenplay for Baggage Claim for a while. Why adapt this story for a feature film for this story and not, say, any of your plays?

DET: It felt the most expansive, and in the novel I use a lot of metaphors. I could have been thrown into metaphor jail for the novel because there's a little too many metaphors. But it was the first thing I'd written that gave me a freedom. All the plays usually use two sets, three sets at most. It gave me a freedom where I could go to this place, and I didn't have to worry about the budget. I just wrote the novel as if it were going to be a $30 million budget movie, and it wasn't until it was time to make the movie that it was like, "Uh, we can't go to all those places; we can't afford it!" [laughs] Fortunately, the team was smart enough to figure out how to "go" to all those places without having to [really] go to all those places. But I knew that this story was a mainstream, big story, and I wrote it really as an homage to [writer/director] Nora Ephron and those types of movies: Sleepless in Seattle, my favorite of all time; You've Got Mail--I could quote you line for line those movies. Bridget Jones's Diary. Love Actually. I wanted to write a movie that felt like all of those movies but happened to have an African-American cast. That's what my intention was. So when it came time to do the music, I didn't want a bunch of songs in here; I wanted a score, an orchestral score, and we got Aaron Zigman. So it just kept coming together that way.

MD: And that's an important decision to make, especially when a lot of African-American films are a bit dependent on selling a song-heavy soundtrack album, and that goes along with having a romantic comedy that just happened to have an African-American cast, since any other romantic comedy--

DET: ...they're not trying to sell a soundtrack. That's the thing; when Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks are about to kiss, you don't hear a Babyface song. I love Babyface. You don't hear R. Kelly. I love R. Kelly. But they put in an orchestral score because it makes it timeless, and the music they put in the movie is timeless music, like when we put the Jackson 5's "The Love You Save" in there--it's timeless. It's the Jackson 5, so you feel like you're in a big movie moment in the chase to the airport.

MD: Baggage Claim was originally set to be made as a film a couple of years ago or so. Did your vision for the film change at all between then and when you finally did get to make it?

DET: I was, years ago, going to make the best "black" version of the story as I could. When it came back this time, I said I'm just going to make the best version of it. So the people that's cast in it, they may be African-Americans, but they're not just known to the community. Djimon Hounsou is a two-time Academy Award nominee. Taye Diggs has been on the highest rated dramas on television. Paula Patton is in international blockbuster movies. And then you have Adam Brody as Sam. So we're mixing this thing up where it's just a good movie that's mostly populated by African-Americans, so it's universal.

MD: Was there a certain specific motivation for that shift?

DET: The benefit of working with Fox Searchlight is that they're not into making black movies or white movies. They're just into making good movies. So from my team of producers, Steven Wolfe, my wife [Lyn], Zola Mashariki who's the exec there--everybody said they just want to make a great movie and get the best cast possible, like getting Ned Beatty to sign on as Mr. Donaldson. They didn't say, "Well, let's just get some generic actor. Let's go for somebody good, somebody big, to make it an event." And when Ned Beatty read the script and said that he wanted to do it, we were like, "Ned Beatty? I mean, Ned Beatty?" [laughs] But it's one of the most memorable scenes in the movie. I think it was really the collective mindset of the group of all the filmmakers involved. When we came back this time, with the success of Think Like a Man, which could not have done close to $100 million which just black people going to see it, we felt like we had an opportunity to break out. And I think that's what people take away from this movie: that it's a great movie that just happens to have black people in it.

MD: Between writing the novel and making the movie, you've lived with the character of Montana Moore for a while. Were there any unique qualities that Paula Patton brought to the role that surprised you?

DET: I didn't realize how comedic she was and her sense of story. We spent days just going through the script and honing things in for her character. She's an actress that has an opinion, and those are the ones you want to work with. You don't want to work with people that just show up and say what you ask them to say. She has a point of view, and I didn't realize she would help shape this character as much as she ended up doing, and she helped to elevate the character even from the novel, and establish it as the film version of Montana Moore.

MD: In what ways did Paula and the rest of the cast elevate and establish this as the film version of the characters and story?

DET: I try to get what's on the page, but then we let it live when we're shooting it. You give me a couple of takes, I'll give you a couple of takes. We'll do a couple of takes of what's written, and when we'll do a couple of takes of what you think. And in a lot of the instances, we used a lot of the ad lib stuff. Adam Brody ad libbed, "You should come to this window; I think the King of Zamunda's outside." [laughs] I fell out of my director's chair when he said that. It was one of the funniest things I'd ever heard, and it's the funniest line in the movie. When Montana says in the rehearsal dinner that being married doesn't make you any more of a woman than being in a garage makes you any more of a car--I thought I was saying something profound with that, and then Adam ad libbed while we had the camera on him, "That's a weird analogy." [laughs] When we tested the movie the first time, Montana said that line, and people started laughing. And I'm like, "Why are they laughing?" And someone said, "That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard in my life." [laughs]

MD: I guess that's an example of your metaphors going crazy.

DET: Too crazy. People were like, "What the hell is she talking about?" [laughs] So when we went back in the editing room, we put that ad lib in, and now it gets a bigger laugh. But Adam is just one example of someone who ad libbed. Affion Crockett was only there for a couple of hours, and he said, "What kind of security guard is this?" I said, "It is everyone's worst nightmare, someone who takes his job way too seriously." And he said, "How far can I go?" I said, "We're going to take it all the way there because everyone will know that guy." And I roll camera and let it flow, and he says, "I have no life, which gives me all day to ruin yours!" I fell out of my seat. [laughs] The thing about shooting a movie is it's alive. The actor's aren't puppets, and I'm not the puppet master. It's a living, breathing thing, and you have to let it be what it's supposed to be.

MD: Do you work with actors on a film the same way you do on stage? Is there a lot of rehearsal?

DET: Unfortunately with schedules, you can't really rehearse with anybody. The difference in acting for film versus stage is film is very technical. Stage actors are more organic with it because it's really about the moment, the lines, the feeling, the space. Screen actors are technical. They understand that they're not going to give you all of this performance until it's their close-up. They're not going to give it to you on the master. They're not going to give it to you on the over-the-shoulder. They understand how to shape their performances for their close-up. For me, it's great because you're dealing with people that know the medium they're in, and most of them more than I do.

MD: How do you feel you've grown in filmmaking since First Sunday?

DET: Leaps and bounds. After First Sunday, I learned what I didn't know, and then I realized who I needed to surround myself with, and I surrounded myself with people who knew more than I did. I know story, I know performance, but I'm still learning camera and how to tell the story through film. I think with the team I had around me, it was like a master class in filmmaking, and I feel I'm leaps and bounds more proficient with the camera than I was on my first one. I'm thankful for the team of filmmakers that start from my producers to my cinematographer to my editor to the production designer, to my wife who's executive producer. The team of people helped elevate this.

MD: Would you like to elevate any of your stage plays into a feature film?

DET: [pause] Someday.

MD: You don't think you're there yet?

DET: I have so many stories now. I'm like a kid in a candy store with this film. I have so many scripts I've written and so many expansive stories. I love the stage stuff, but I have to be inspired that that story is screaming to be told in another medium.

MD: Any stage productions coming up anytime soon?

DET: No. I'm doing two more films with Fox Searchlight that I'll be writing and directing.

MD: And any novels?

DET: [pause] No, I'll be writing original scripts next. [laughs]


Baggage Claim opens in cinemas nationwide from Fox Searchlight Pictures this Friday, September 27.

Visit David E. Talbert's official site, follow him on Twitter and Instagram, and like him on Facebook.

Buy the Baggage Claim movie poster here.
Buy David E. Talbert's Baggage Claim novel here.
Buy David E. Talbert's Baggage Claim novel on CD here.


(Special thanks to David E. Talbert, Lyn Talbert, and Fox Searchlight Pictures)

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Movie Report #735, September 20, 2013

The Movie Report

#735, September 20, 2013


MOVIES:
  • Battle of the Year * 1/2
  • Enough Said ***
  • Generation Iron ***
  • Prisoners ***
  • Rush *** 1/2
  • Thanks for Sharing ***

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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Press Junket Potluck: Tyler Perry's For Better or Worse joins Oprah & OWN

Film Flam Flummox


The new season of Tyler Perry's For Better or Worse, the television spinoff of Michael Jai White and Tasha Smith's popular Marcus and Angela Williams characters from Perry's two Why Did I Get Married? films, promises to not deviate from the blend of laughs and juicy relationship drama that drove the series through two successful years on TBS. But the upcoming third season does bring about one very significant change: moving to a new broadcast home on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network. With the network shift comes a reinvigorated attitude as White, Smith, and co-stars Kent Faulcon (Richard), Kiki Haynes (Keisha), Brad James (Todd), and Cocoa Brown (Jennifer) displayed at a special media luncheon celebrating the new season. Below are highlights from the spirited discussion that covered not only the developments of the upcoming season--and some storyline pitches for the future--but also the importance of presenting varied and positive images of African-Americans in the media and the fledgling partnership between OWN and Tyler Perry Studios.



The third season of Tyler Perry's For Better or Worse begins tonight, Wednesday, September 18 at 9pm Eastern & Pacific/8pm Central & Mountain and will continue every Wednesday at the same time on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network.


(Special thanks to 135th Street Agency, OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network, Michael Jai White, Tasha Smith, Kent Faulcon, and Brad James)

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Friday, September 13, 2013

Friday, September 6, 2013