Behind the Scenes — Hotel Transylvania: Transformania

Posted on January 12, 2022 at 8:00 am

Copyright Sony 2021
The fourth “Hotel Transylvania” is my favorite of the series. There are some new voices, with Brian Hull taking over for Adam Sandler as Drac, Brad Abrell filling in for Kevin James as Frankenstein, and Keegan-Michael Key as The Mummy, replacing CeeLo Green.

The first three films were centered on the difficulty Drac, a vampire (Hull), had in accepting Johnny (Andy Samberg), the human who married his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez). In this movie, there’s a switch. Johnny wants to become a monster and gets Van Helsing (Jim Gaffigan) to turn a transforming ray on him. So, the human becomes a monster and, through a malfunction, the ray gets turned on the monsters — the Invisible Man (David Spade), Murray the Mummy (Key), Wayne the wolfman (Steve Buscemi), Frankenstein (Abrell) and his Bride, Eunice (Fran Drescher). They become human, so we get to see what the Invisible Man, the Wolfman, and the Mummy really look like and how they respond when they don’t have their special powers. But Mavis has to find a way to get Johnny back to his human self before it is too late.

In a virtual press event, the actors talked about becoming “monsterfricationized” (Samberg’s term) and the freedom of animation. “I loved the new design,” Samberg said, “Burning Man back-packer meets Godzilla, a dream come true for me.” Spade said his character is “a bit of a scene-stealer” and a “goofy ding-dong who hangs out with the monsters.” He said the animators originally wanted the surprise to be how handsome his character was, but he urged them to make him funny-looking. “It’s a cartoon! It should be funny.”

Key was surprised by what his always-wrapped character looked like under it all. “I expected him to be bigger, with one revolution of wraps.” His favorite thing was the way his character was “really working the jowls,” which gave him a different idea about the voice. He loved the concept of not having any limitations. The look of the characters is so exaggerated that you can do anything, like when you’re a kid and playing with other kids. You get to channel all that abandon and it’s only not frowned upon; it’s encouraged.”

Drescher and Gomez urged the audience not to worry about pressure to fit in. Gomez advised taking a break from social media and focusing on a small group of real friends. Drescher said “compassion should be your compass.”

“You pretty much know they want you to go huge and insane, and then they’re going to go further with the animation,” Samberg said, and the others agreed that they enjoyed never being asked to tone it down.

Gomez said “it’s been wonderful to grow with this character. She’s tough and she’s always worrying, and that matches my personality well. I know what it’s like to have differences between family members and it is nice that we’re touching on a real thing in such a crazy way.”

Drescher loves physical comedy and the way it is even bigger in animation. “You can so so much because it’s a make-believe world. You can contort the how far can we physically take these characters to do funny and surprising things.”

Samberg said he did not expect the first movie to inspire three sequels, but he is delighted. “They’re so infused with joy and positivity. Everyone grew up loving this classic monsters and it’s a new spin on it. That’s why it endured.”

Key appreciates the combination of imagination, humor, and character. “An adult can be laughing at a hard joke in this film, but the way all the relationships play out, it’s well-observed and very relatable.”

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Actors Behind the Scenes

It’s a Wonderful Life 75th Anniversary

Posted on December 21, 2021 at 10:56 am

Copyright Liberty Films 1946
I had so much fun talking about “It’s a Wonderful Life” on its 75th anniversary for the Christmas Movies Actually podcast, especially about my interview with Marguerite Stern Robinson, the daughter of the man who wrote the original story for the film, and what she had in common with George Bailey.

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Behind the Scenes Classic Podcasts

Movie Props and Firearms Expert (and Martin Scorsese’s Daughter) on What Hollywood Has to Do to Be Safe

Posted on November 5, 2021 at 4:47 pm

Copyright 2021 Focus

The daughter of acclaimed movie director Martin Scorsese has been working with props, including firearms, on movie sets for decades, and her conversation about inadequate safety protections in response to the tragic shooting on the set of “Rust” should be required reading for all Hollywood producers and studio executives.

For years, I’ve been saying there’s got to be a better way to make movies, and everybody’s attitude is, “Well, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but it is broke. It’s very broken, as a matter of fact.

Prop departments are notorious for being the smallest on set and are often asked to cut down on manpower.

Everyone, regardless of department, is overworked. We all work crazy hours for weeks and sometimes months at a time, and it’s hell on our bodies, our minds, our relationships, and our lives.

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Behind the Scenes

Oral History of That Thing You Do: 25 Years Later

Posted on October 6, 2021 at 9:54 am

Copyright 1996 Play-Tone
I can’t count how many times I’ve seen “That Thing You Do,” one of the most purely delightful films of all time. The key may be in one of the comments of writer/director Tom Hanks (who also appears in the film) in this oral history on Ringer: “No bad guys in my movie.” The behind-the scenes stories are wonderful and what really comes through is the appreciation of everyone involved in the movie for Hanks’ talent and his kindness.

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Behind the Scenes Film History Movie History

Panel on “Worth” with Ken Feinberg, Michael Keaton, Laura Benanti, Max Max Borenstein, Camille Biros, and Caroline Kennedy

Posted on September 2, 2021 at 9:30 pm

It was an honor to serve as moderator for a panel discussion of the Netflix film “Worth,” with Michael Keaton as Ken Feinberg, whose pioneering work on allocating compensation following major national tragedies led to his appointment as Special Master for the fund set up for the victims of 9/11 and their families. The film is a powerful story of the importance and the limitations of justice as Feinberg learns that it is as important for the people he is trying to help to be able to tell their stories as it is to pay their bills. He also learns about the limitations of the law as he has to find a way to compensate undocumented workers and then-not-legally-recognized same sex partners. Our discussion was sponsored by the John F. Kennedy Library, where Feinberg served as board chairman, and we were introduced by Ambassador Caroline Kennedy. The discussion included ethics, empathy, acting, and opera.

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