Day 4: Monday, March 12
Today began too early, just like yesterday, and once again I began it at the Starbucks on Congress Avenue. I’ve noticed some people hanging around the entrance, hipster college student types carrying three-ring binders. I don’t know what their agenda is, but my experience with 20-year-olds carrying binders on busy street corners is that they want you to donate money to something, and that they don’t take no for an answer. Thus far I have avoided any engagement with them, not because I don’t wish to sponsor starving orphans in far-off lands, but because I can barely afford to sponsor myself in this land, especially when I’ve apparently decided to eat at the Alamo Drafthouse twice a day.
My first film was at 1:30 at the Paramount, and it was a comedy called “Skills Like This.” It deals with an aimless 20-something who wants to be a writer, realizes he sucks at it, and robs a bank instead, on a whim. This gives his two friends, a corporate drone and an idiot, the confidence to take control of their own lives, and yada yada. It’s very funny, highly improbable, and so lightweight that I will probably have forgotten its existence before I’m even done writing this.
Jason, Gene, and Erik were with me, and apparently Will and Laura were there, too, though we hadn’t seen them. (Were they up in the balcony, necking????? No one knows for sure!) We all met up afterward to plan our next course of action. The decision we reached? To stand in line for several hours.
At 6:45 was to be a special screening of “Knocked Up,” the new comedy from the people who brought you “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” due out June 1. This was the film everyone at SXSW wanted to see, and we knew we needed to stake out a place in line early to guarantee we’d get in. With nothing terribly interesting on the schedule for the 4 p.m. slot anyway, we figured we might as well start waiting outside the Paramount now.
Gene, Laura, and I got in line (actually, we started the line), grateful that last night’s rain-predicting cab driver had turned out to be a false prophet and that today’s skies were sunny, warm, and beautiful. After a while Weinberg showed up, along with some other friends, and we began to take turns wandering off in various directions while someone stayed behind to keep our place at the head of the line.
Eventually, the entire eFilmCritic crew was there, the first time since we picked up our badges on Friday that all seven of us had been in the same place at the same time. Photos were taken to preserve the occasion, though I’m pretty sure that, since we were facing the sun, all seven of us look squinty.
Speaking of the sun, Congress Avenue runs north and south, with the Paramount on the east side, which means as the sun started setting, it began to shine directly at us as we lined up against the wall outside the theater. It didn’t help that as more of our acquaintances joined us (soon our volunteer friends Greg and Christina had arrived, along with a husband-and-wife publicist team we know), our cluster grew larger — but since we were at the front of the line, we didn’t have much room for growth, which means we basically just had to stand really close to each other and sweat.
At last we were admitted to the theater, which was eventually as packed as we thought it would be. I’m certain it was full; how many were turned away, I don’t know. The movie began at 7:00, and friends, let me tell you: “Knocked Up” is hysterically funny.
It’s the story of a woman who gets pregnant after a one-night stand with a guy who’s cuddly and lovable enough, but perfectly worthless as a provider, or even as a responsible adult. (He lives with three of his stoner buddies, and none of them have jobs.) The two are tied together now thanks to the pregnancy, but they have little in common. What’s a girl and her slacker baby daddy to do?
The woman is played by Katherine Heigl, with Seth Rogen as the guy. Leslie Mann (the hilarious drunk driver in “40-Year-Old Virgin,” and writer/director Judd Apatow’s wife) plays the woman’s sister, with Paul Rudd as her brother-in-law. The film’s humor is similar to that of “40-Year-Old Virgin,” particularly in the realistically vulgar way that adult male camaraderie is portrayed. Surprisingly, there is a lot of depth and truth in the battle-of-the-sexes angle, too, and it’s a movie that is not only wet-your-pants funny, but also effortlessly sweet. It will deservedly be a huge hit when it opens June 1.
Now, a slightly longer cut of the movie played at a private screening in Austin last December, and the one we saw tonight was 134 minutes — incredibly long for a comedy. We figured SURELY the studio will make them trim it down before it’s actually released. As we all left the theater and headed for the big party several blocks away, we raved about the greatness of the movie, admired its multi-layered characters, and wondered what they could cut without doing damage to the story.
The party, at a music venue called La Zona Rosa, was sponsored by the Austin Chronicle and was to include live performances by Loudon Wainwright III (who did some songs for “Knocked Up” and appears briefly in it) and bands called We Made Milwaukee Famous and Voxtrot. I know nothing about the former, but Greg and Eugene had both raved about Voxtrot and were eager to see them play.
A few hundred people were at the party, but it’s a big venue, with a large outdoor patio area away from the bandstand, so it didn’t feel crowded. Will is under 21 and couldn’t attend, and Jason went to a screening, but the other five of us from eFilmCritic were there, as were Greg and Christina and many of our other festival pals. There was ample free food and drink.
And there were celebrities! One of the things that makes SXSW infinitely cooler and more fun than Sundance (as much as it pains me, a longtime Sundance lover, to say that) is that in Austin, the people in the films actually go to the official festival parties. In Park City, the stars go to secret, special parties that only they know about, while the official Sundance parties are populated only by nobodies and posers.
Several “Knocked Up” cast members were there, including Paul Rudd and Jonah Hill. David Wain (from “Stella,” and one of my comedy idols) was around. I spoke to all of them, at least long enough to express affection and take pictures and make sure they didn’t kiss Greg. Various directors of various SXSW entries were on hand. It was a true party, with everyone mingling and chatting and drinking and smoking, and without a lot of pretension.
It wasn’t long before Weinberg had located Brent White, the editor on “Knocked Up” and thus a definitive source to answer our question regarding the film’s length. And Brent told us that what we saw was the theatrical cut that will appear in theaters June 1, all two hours and 14 minutes of it. He said the version that screened a couple months ago in Austin was about five or 10 minutes longer and didn’t really have any extra scenes; it was more a matter of the scenes being longer due to extra dialogue or alternate dialogue that occupies more time. They like to improvise a lot and shoot multiple takes and multiple punchlines, and some punchlines are wordier than others, you know?
If Brent hadn’t won us over already with his friendliness and good humor, he would have when we heard what other films he’s worked on: “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Talladega Nights,” and “Anchorman,” to name a few. Now, consider the work of an editor on “Anchorman,” a movie with SO MANY deleted scenes that they constructed a straight-to-DVD sequel (of sorts) made entirely from them. Imagine the nightmare of taking hundreds of hours of footage and boiling it down to the best, funniest version you can come up with. How do you decide which of the 10 punchlines Will Ferrell tried will be most effective?
On that point, Brent said that for “Knocked Up,” they’d do test screenings of different versions of the film and record the audience laughter. Then, back in the editing room, he’d compare them: “This joke got this laugh, but when we used this other joke, it got THIS laugh,” and so forth. The science of comedy!
We had a million more questions for him about the process of film editing, and he seemed genuinely happy to talk to us. (It’s probably not very often that a film editor is greeted so enthusiastically.) At one point he excused himself because his cell phone was ringing. He held it up to me so I could see: Judd Apatow was calling, presumably to find out how the screening had gone. He took the call and came back several minutes later to report that Apatow was thrilled that the SXSW audience had loved “Knocked Up” so much.
There had been some talk of leaving the party in time for a midnight screening, but since Voxtrot wasn’t going on until 11:45 — and since we were having such a good time anyway — everyone wound up staying.
Voxtrot is one of those bands populated by really skinny, shaggy-haired 22-year-old guys. They look kind of emo, but their sound is upbeat and catchy, sort of pop-punk-retro, I think. I’m not very good at describing music. That’s why I don’t review CDs. You kids and your rock ‘n’ roll! Anyway, I liked them.