Oh DreamWorks. Your set visit for Bill (Gods and Monsters, Kinsey) Condon’s Dreamgirls got the press started off on the right foot. "Let’s schoomze these jerks over and get their asses krunk!" And though I didn’t get krunk – honestly, not even plain drunk – I was pretty buzzed by the time I made my way through the rain-soaked streets of Downtown Los Angeles and back to my car (which was guarded by a hobo named Leroy). Luckily, I wasn’t incarcerated and I did manage to swerve and weave my way back home safely. Obviously.
But yes, Downtown L.A. was the locale. The setting? The Orpheum Theatre, an old-school cultural landmark of stage entertainment that once featured performances from such greats as Judy Garland, Jack Benny, and Duke Ellington.
Inside the Orpheum. That stage and the area surrounding it would later be filled to the brim with camera and crane operators, gaffers, best boys, and Bill Condon. And Beyonce Knowles’ hips. Luscious.
The men are arguably the more interesting group, mainly because you’ve got one actor who is finally starring in a film that more than likely won’t be awful… or Shrek 3. Yes, I’m talking about Eddie Murphy. And goddammit, I wish I could show you guys some of the design elements from the production. Unfortunately, since this set visit was supposedly uber hush-hush, no cameras or recording devices were allowed – which is odd for a set visit but whatever. There was a mock poster of Murphy, sporting large, tall hair and in full-out stage musical regalia proclaiming, "James ‘Thunder’ Early is LIVE!" that I think you all would’ve dug.
James "Thunder" Early. That’s Eddie Muphy’s character in the film – a James Brown-like performer, which should be very interesting to see how he plays. Then there’s Jamie Foxx in the role of Curtis Taylor Jr. and Danny Glover as Marty Madison.
Danny Glover: Good to see him amending for crap like Saw. Cary Elwes, you’re next.
I arrived at the Orpheum at about 6:15pm. The thing started at 6:00, but as I briefly mentioned earlier, it was raining. Wait, scratch that. It was Niagara Falling. And driving through that part of Downtown with such low visibility was fucking hell. Fortunately, I saw the Orpheum thanks to its ginormous neon lights. UNfortunately, I couldn’t find the parking lot where the studio was giving us free parking (and this is because you’ve got a parking lot every 25-50 yards on this street, and in that rain, good luck finding street numbers!). So I wound up paying five bucks at a different lot where nearby homeless dude Leroy said he’d take extra good care of my car while I did my thing. Suspiciously, I thanked him, gave him a buck, and quickly took my car’s radio head unit out, stuffed it in my man-bag, and got the hell out of there.
As I walked about a block in the pouring rain to the theatre, I saw other well dressed peeps of the press making their way down an alley. So I followed, hoping not be mugged. Soon I was under a tent with people left and right ready to take my coat and umbrella, and not a second after I handed those things over, I was offered tasty alchoholic beverages like champagne and martinis. ‘Natch, being the sweet choclate metrosexual that I supposedly am, I took a dry martini and continued onward into the actual gala event.
So I’m walking around the area, all within a rather large covered tent that was housing about 200+ humans (press, studio execs, apparently some minor celebs which I never actually saw), and I’m gazing at some really lovely costume pieces from the film itself, courtesy of Costume Designer Sharen Davis, who has clothed thespians in such films as Ray (for which she was Oscar nominated) and Devil in a Blue Dress. It’s pretty meticulous and it’s work that I think is almost better appreciated in person than when watching on film.
I continued walking down the tent while sipping my drink (read: gulping my drink) and I came across some of the stellar work done by Production Designer John Myhre (who just won an Oscar for Memoirs of a Geisha and already had one for the Bill Condon scripted Chicago). It was basically a table with miniature models (some black & white, others in full color detail) of the film’s various locales and settings. Apparently, some of the models were actually shot with "lipstick cams" for lots of the secondary unit photography (ala Manhattan and the Empire State Building in last year’s King Kong). Wonderful stuff.
Current Drink: Dry Martini #2
As I’m moving towards the front of the tent where a series of plasma televisions and a large projector were set up for the impending presentation at 7:00pm (it was now about 6:45, I’d say), I come across a familiar face: Collider.com’s Mr. Beaks!
I had met Beaks (among other brilliant minds) at a little dinner gathering thrown by head honcho Nunziata when he was visiting the City of Angels last year. I think he recognized me but didn’t recall my name until I said it (Dammit, nobody remembers me! ;_;). I was then introduced to his partner in crime over at Collider, the infamous Frosty (a very cool cat). I also met David Poland, one of the net’s more notorious critics. He was amiable, though, and had some really great things to say about V for Vendetta. And then, AICN’s Moriarty showed up! To say the least, it was a rather cool gathering of interweb minds. And me.
7 o’clock came and went. Nothing happend except copious amounts ofhors d’oeuvre and alcohol consumption. 7:30 rolls around and finally Mr. Bill Condon himself steps onto a small stage in front of a large projector screen and begins to address the crowd, both thanking us for making it out here through such shitty weather as well as thanking and introducing the behind the scene players, including the aforementioned Sharen Davis (Costume Designer) and John Myhre (Production Designer), as well as Choreographer Fatima Robinson (Ali, Be Cool) and Director of Photography Tobias Schliessler (Friday Night Lights) whom Condon had last worked with on Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh in 1995! Cool.
After Condon got through with talking about the production, he then showed us a brief but very promising clip of a song and dance number featuring Jamie Foxx entitled, "Steppin’ To The Bad Side". It was apparently shot and edited very recently (no color timing or any of that tech stuff had been done) yet the clip showed off some great choreography, photography, and a wonderfully lively performance by Foxx. It got the crowd moving, too.
We’re then told to exit the tent and head down the back of the alley we all originally came in from, and finally make our way into the actual Orpheum Theatre. At this point, I was in awe. For starters, I had never been inside the Orpheum. It’s been a place both my parents and grandparents had gone to in the past to see some great shows. Secondly, I had never actually been on a set where everything was ready to actually shoot. And they did! Not final film footage, but test footage of a musical number that featured the Dreamettes themselves (this meant actually witnessing Beyonce’s hips in glorious action).
And so it was. The press filled the recently renovated innards of the landmark theatre and seated themselves as tons of on-set hands and workers watched. I was seated with Frosty, Beaks, and Moriarty and we just waited and watched the insanity of the whole film shooting process. And when I say insanity, I don’t mean chaos, because it was completely the opposite. Everything was working like clockwork. A very well oiled machine. That was the insanity. Seeing so many people all working at getting this one shot just right. And like I said, it was only a test shot. But nevertheless, they did their shit and I was thoroughly impressed. And in about 5 minutes, the musical number began. With set ups like the best musicals on Broadway, the number pushed through with wonderful intensity and liveliness. Beyonce, Jennifer, and Anika were marvelous and so completely in the moment. It was the sort of performace that completely sucks you in as an audience member and ensares you in its rhythmic goodness. By the end of the number (which seemed to go by in a flash) the audience, full of mostly press mind you, ripped into a thunderous applause. I was floored. The number was well choreographed and the music itself top notch. Most importantly, it engaged me with energy to spare. If even half of that translates onto the big screen, I’d say musical fans are in for a real treat come December.
Finally, we all make our way back to the tent. It’s about 8:00pm now and the whole shebang was gonna end in about an hour. Nothing more happend (except more eating and drinking). I got to meet Aussie sensation Garth Franklin of Dark Horizons fame, which was cool. Jamie Foxx and Beyonce Knowles were both making their rounds in the tent with everyone else – drinking, eating, greeting, etc. Jamie was a stand up guy. Very personable and very approachable. Beyonce on the other hand, was guarded by quite possibly the largest man on earth. He may not even been human for all I know, but rather, Godzilla in disguise. So my hopes of getting to talk to her were dashed. For now.
Thanks to DreamWorks for the invitation and especially Jack Morrissey for putting up with my no doubt annoying barrage of emails.
Final Drink: A shot of Patrón!