San Diego International Film Festival — Day 3

Stella's Last Weekend -- Alex Wolff and mom Polly Draper, in one of the years best.

My third day at the San Diego International Film Festival started off nicely. I got to the VIP lounge around 12:30, as they were setting things up. I overheard someone say to the bartender “We’ll put those buzzboxes over there.”

My wife elbowed me, knowing I’ve been on the warpath for one. I looked over, and saw the “buzzbox premium cocktails” sign, and waltzed on over. Only to be told by the volunteer that they weren’t open yet.

I had nowhere else to go, because I was waiting for Hal Linden (Barney Miller) and Ryan Ochoa, to interview them about their film The Samuel Project. I was also waiting for a woman I met at the Film Festival a few years ago, and have become friends with — Vicki Eddy. Yesterday when we were talking between films, she told me how much she was looking forward to The Samuel Project. I told her she’d like it and mentioned interviewing Linden. She went nuts with excitement. I said, “Well, why don’t you come with me? You can be my guest and I’ll introduce you to him.” She was thrilled and we made arrangements to do that. Well, by the time the interview had started, she was nowhere in sight. The conversation went well (I’ll run that next week). And as my wife and I went up the escalator to find our movie, Stella’s Last Weekend, we saw Vicki coming out of The Samuel Project. She walked over saying, “That was so cute. I adored that movie. I tried to meet you guys during the interview, but we were getting something to eat, and the restaurant was taking so long, we just left before the food arrived. I was even running over, and I hurt my knee.”

I said, “Hey….Hal is still downstairs. I’ll take you over and introduce you.”

We hopped on the escalator and went down. Hal and Ryan were holding court with a few fans. Hal turned and smiled at us, and I said, “I hate to bug you again Mr. Linden, but my friend Vicki is at the Festival each year, and she’s a big fan.” He smiled brightly and thanked her, and in her usual humorous way, told him how much of a fan she was. She added, “I’ve been married for 35 years. And I know you were married for a long time [he was married 52 years before his wife passed away]. I just want you to know that, if my marriage doesn’t work out…”

He laughed and hugged her, as my wife snapped a picture of the two of them. It was a priceless moment that brought a tear to my eye. Little did I know, there would be more tears to follow.

We went back up the escalators and…Vicki was off to find her husband and the theatre for her next movie. We went in to see Stella’s Last Weekend. Now, last year at the Festival, I saw a movie that made my Top 10 list. I didn’t think that would happen again this year, but it probably will. After I saw Stella’s Last Weekend, I just sat there blown away. It was so dang funny. It was so sad. It was incredibly hip. It was Polly Draper’s (thirtysomething) screenplay, which she directed. It starred her and her two sons — Nat and Alex Wolff (who was honored the previous night with an award). What a treat for the crowd that Nat Wolff (The Fault in Our Stars) and Polly were both there to do a Q&A. Now, at Q&A’s, I never ask questions. I want the crowd that doesn’t usually get to meet the stars, to have a moment to enjoy. Yet if nobody asks a question, it makes it awkward for the people on stage (I know, I’ve hosted Q&A’s before). When nobody raised their hand, I figured I’d ask something. I first said to Nat, “You’ve now been in two of the saddest movies of the last few years [this movie dealt with the family putting down their dog, but having a party for him before that]. What movie do you think is the saddest?”

He said, “Well, I’m not sure if it’s the saddest movie I’ve ever seen, but I just saw ‘A Star is Born’ and that was pretty sad. Oh. I probably should’ve said ‘spoiler alert’ huh?”

The crowd laughed, and I asked Polly about the actor that played her husband (Nick Sandow of Orange is the New Black). I said, “The kids are always making fun of his baldness and his bad comb-over. He’s such a schlub. When you’re casting an actor to play a part like that, is that what’s said? ‘We’re looking for a nerdy, balding guy.”

The crowd laughed and she said, “Well, yeah. You have to say a bald guy. And they all showed up to audition, thinking they were sexy. He does have some sex appeal, and I wanted that for the character.”

Draper ended up telling a great story about being a fan of his work, and calling him literally the day before shooting. He said he’d do the movie and asked when. She replied, “Tomorrow” to which he said, “Okay. Do I have to shave my head?”

The Q&A’s are so much fun, and what a thrill for the crowd to meet and talk to some of these talented folks. And it’s not just those moments that are fun for film festival crowds, but…you can do things like this. We were seeing The Hate U Give, but I also really wanted to see the shorts. They’re always so good. Since I wasn’t thrilled with The Hate U Give, we ended up just leaving and going to see the shorts instead. The last two — The Wedding Scene and Sam Did It — they were hysterical. The Wedding Scene deals with a movie being made, and nobody in the wedding scene wants to do what the director says. The bride doesn’t see why her character would be marrying this guy, and he doesn’t see why he’d be doing certain things. And as they keep filming it over and over, other characters start wondering about their motivations and backstories. Again, after just one question was asked of the various filmmakers there to talk about their shorts, I asked the two women (the star, and writing/director) about their short, which in some ways, reminded me of Extras (the Ricky Gervais show).

My wife and I went back down to the VIP lounge, all prepared to sneak a buzzbox into our next movie screening. I ran into local actor and film critic Lance Carter. When I told him of my plan to smuggle buzzboxes into the movie, he said “I just tried. They won’t let us take alcohol out of the lounge area.” I told him I had him covered and he’s just not stealth enough. Well, much to my surprise, they were pouring the alcohol into cups, so I wouldn’t be able to stick a few in my jacket pocket or my wife’s purse. Oh well. We downed a box and headed back to the festival.

We were going to see Widows, which is a big studio release with an amazing cast. We couldn’t stop talking about the short Sam Did It, which had the funniest role ever by Alfred Molina. He’s brought in dead to a morgue, and the guy doing the autopsy freaks out because he’s a huge fan. He has this elaborate conversation with a dead Molina, and it might be the funniest thing I’ve seen all year. At one point he confesses to the body that he lied earlier, and he hadn’t seen all of his movies, because he never saw White Fang 2: Myth of the White Wolf. It will probably be the funniest short I’ll ever see. And if I ever meet Molina, this will be the movie I bring up to him.

The guy that did the makeup for him on the set, talked about how they had to work so hard to make him look dead; the eyes being milkier, etc. He didn’t know how the filmmaker was able to get Molina to do this. He said he thinks it was a friend of a friend that knew him.

After Widows, we were all set to go to the afterparty at The Music Box. It was raining though, and it had been a long day. So we decided to go home, and when the valet picked up our car, I said “Yeah, we’re getting old. In my younger days, I would’ve never refused going to a party.”

I then thought about Hal Linden, who was walking around the festival and doing lots of press and talking to fans, and he’s 87.