You Can Help Support This new Ed Asner Film on Indiegogo
Posted on August 1, 2015 at 4:18 pm
Ed Asner stars in this new film about a young man who finds a book at his grandmother’s memorial, with a series of fantastical tales that his grandfather wrote for his grandmother. Each is a different romantic fantasy about how they meet. Those stories help him find his own love.
The filming is over, and the filmmakers need some help for post-production so that it can be released. They have an Indiegogo campaign and I’ve contributed. Look for me in the credits as an associate producer, and for $100 you can be one, too!
It was a thrill to get a chance to talk to Ed Asner — best known as Lou Grant on the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” and its spin-off and having a very big year as the voice star of one of the biggest critical and box office successes of 2009, “Up” from Pixar and Disney. Asner is a talented actor with a wide range who has played everything from Santa Claus (in “Elf”) to real-life mobster Meyer Lansky (“Donzi: The Legend”) and Franklin Roosevelt (on stage). But his best-remembered roles have him playing tough, sometimes irascible, forceful characters who may, somewhere, have some hidden tenderness. That quality links his roles as the powerful industrialist estranged from his family in The Gathering and the grumpy widower in Up. Mr. Asner spoke to me by phone from his office. NM: I am so happy that The Gathering is available on DVD! It is one of my favorite holiday films. What led you to accept the role?
EA: I had a choice between two Christmas films, one about a rich family and one about a poor family. I liked this script better and it had nothing to do with riches, it was the story and the characters. So I opted for this one and came to Chagrin Falls in Hudson, Ohio and it was a stellar cast. NM: You got to work with one of the truly great actresses, Oscar-winner Maureen Stapleton, who played your ex-wife. What was it like working with her?
EA: She was a doll. She gained a little weight during the show so towards the end of the filming we had to pin the wardrobe together but I loved working with her. She was a tough broad but sweet as she could be. And she gave me the nicest compliment in the world. She said that working with me as as good or better as she hoped it would be. NM: She was famously a method actor. Did your styles as performers work well together?
EA: I am not a method actor, though I studied for a year with Lee Strasburg. But our styles had no conflict; we meshed as actors. We did not need to work out a whole history about what drove our characters apart. I didn’t know it the time but since have realized that people can get bored with each other unless they have the most profound belief in each other. As a powerful executive he may have wanted to play around or whatever and finally discovers that he is going to die. So he makes the plans — that was the most outspoken scene between us, when she realizes what I’m hiding, it was a delicious moment. NM: I know it was a long time ago, but what do you remember about working on “The Gathering?”
EA: I loved getting to Chagrin Falls, being by the falls, what a cute place it is. I loved working with all the people I had to work with, and the story — the dissensions and dislikes but also the rapprochement when people are willing to open up to each other. The script had good highs and lows. Everything else is all cushioned by his wealth, so all that is left is the person to person contact and the person to person love. And the cast was outstanding: John Randolph, Laurence Pressman, Veronica Hamel, Bruce Davison, Gregory Harrison, Rebecca Balding. And I was delighted at the reception it got. A friend of mine, an award-winning journalist, led a vigilante group to bludgeon the network to put it on every year. And she succeeded most of the time!
NM: I have to ask you about “Up.”
EA: It was a lovely experience for me. The directors, Pete Docter and Bob Peterson, are unbelievably talented. They created a menacing phalanx to have to survive under in the story and we had a marvelous time just making it — the genius is all theirs!
I’m thrilled that one of my favorite Christmas movies is available on DVD for the first time from Warner Brothers. It is the Emmy-award winning The Gathering and it stars Ed Asner and Maureen Stapleton as the long-separated parents of adult children. He is a wealthy man who has devoted his life to his business. He asks her for help in bringing the family together for Christmas because he has learned that he is dying and this will be his last chance to see them. It has been digitally re-mastered for this DVD edition. The sequel, “Gathering II,” is also available on DVD but has not been re-mastered.
I am very fond of these holiday family gathering drama with old tensions and insecurities revived as family members gather for the holidays and this is one of the best. Every member of the family has some issue to resolve and the performances are exceptional, especially the brilliant Stapleton, who shows us her character’s strength and vulnerability. This is a bittersweet classic of the season.
Pixar movies are beautiful to look at, but what takes your breath away is the story. They don’t rely on fairy tales or best-selling books with pre-sold stories and characters we are already attached to. And, as if challenging themselves to make it even harder, they take on increasingly unlikely protagonists — a gourmet rat, an almost-wordless robot, and now a cranky old man, and somehow they make us fall in love with them.
In some ways, this is the oldest and most enduring of tales, the story of a journey. And this is one that started a long time ago. A brief prologue introduces us to Carl and Ellie, a boy and girl who dream of adventure. They pledge to follow their hero, explorer Charles Muntz, to see Paradise Falls in South America.
Then they grow up and get married and life intervenes. He sells balloons and she works with birds. They save for their trip but keep having to use the money for un-adventuresome expenses like repairing the roof. Then Ellie dies, and Carl (voice of Ed Asner) is left alone. Developers are closing in on his little house. He just can’t bear to lose anything more. And so he takes the one thing he has and the one thing he knows and ties so many balloons to his house that it lifts, yes, up into the sky, so he can follow Muntz to Paradise Falls at last.
But he does not realize he has an inadvertent stowaway. Russell (voice of Jordan Nagai), a pudgy, trusting, and irrepressibly cheerful little Wilderness Adventure scout who needs to assist an elderly person so that he can get a badge. They arrive in South America and as they pull the house, still aloft, toward Paradise Falls, they meet an exotic bird, talking dogs, and several kinds of danger, and have to rethink some of what they thought they knew and some of what they thought was most important to them.
The visuals are splendid, making subtle but powerful use of the 3D technology to make some scenes feel spacious and some claustrophobic. Carl and his world are all rectangles, Russell all curves. The Tabletop Mountains-inspired landscapes are stunning and the balloons are buoyant marvels, thousands of them, each moving separately but affecting all of the others, the shiny crayon dots of pure color amid the dusty rock and the earth tones of Carl’s wrinkles, gray hair, and old clothes. The other glowing colors on screen are the iridescent feathers of the bird, inspired by the monal pheasant.
There are a couple of logical and chronological inconsistencies that are distracting. But the dogs, with special collars that allow them to give voice to the canine purity of their feelings, are utterly charming — and there is a clever twist to keep the scariest one from being too scary. Another pleasure of the film comes from the way the precision of the graphic design is matched by some welcome and very human messiness in the story. Everything is not resolved too neatly but everything is resolved with a tenderness and spirit that is like helium for the heart.
The first thing I saw when I walked into the room was — of course — a bunch of beautiful helium balloons. And then I saw Pete Docter, the lanky and affable director of Pixar’s new film, “Up,” about an extraordinary journey to South America in a house lifted into the sky by an enormous bunch of balloons.
What makes a good voice actor for an animated film?
Some actors can create a picture of what is happening with their voice. Some actors works a lot with their bodies and facial expressions. You have to unplug the video part and listen to the voice. For Carl we wanted a voice that was grouchy and curmudgeonly, a voice that suggests that nothing is quite as good as it used to be, but a voice that is still very appealing and funny and Ed Asner fit that bill. You can tell he deeply cares about the peoople he is insulting. For Russell Joe Grant taught me to ask, “What are you giving the audience to take home?” You have to have some relatable emotion as a foundation for the fun stuff. You need the sad beginning so that you care about Carl and want what he wants.
What movies did you love as a kid?
I loved “Dumbo.” I watched Bugs Bunny time and again. The Muppets were big, too. All of those, they have this real, not darkness but poignancy, that’s what makes it stick with you. We tried for that in this film. When we were about halfway done we showed it to an audience, and the highest group of positives was women age 12-25 because they connected to the story.
Did you draw inspiration from real-life locations for some of the stunning images in this film?
Yes, we studied the Tabletop Mountains called tepui, with all these weird rock shapes. You start to see figures in the mist. There are strange plants you dont see anywhere else. It is where Venezuela meets Brazil and Guyana. “The Lost World” was inspired by this one mountain we studied. Most of them have never been set foot on. The more we can base on real life, the more you will believe the stuff we make up. The bird in the film was based on a crane and a monal pheasant, the most iridescent creature there is.
Every animated movie director tells me there was one technical challenge that was especially difficult. What was yours?
Balloons! The maximum our system could only handle was 500 and we had to expand to ten thousands. Not only does each balloon “know” where the others are, each one can respond to wind, turbulence, and each of the other balloons. And we could not have thousand strings. The whole things is so preposterous we had to find little elements that anchor it and make it more believable but also poetic.
What were some of the decisions you made about the film that were different because it was being made in 3D?
We did a bunch of reseasrch what makes successful 3D. We did not want the “Whoa! 3D” effects that take you out of the movie; we wanted them coming out of the story. 3D allows us to play with the depth the way we use color and lighting. When Carl is cut off and closed, we made it claustrophobic and slow. When he triumphs we make it as spacious as we can.
I don’t know the exact quote, but there is this thing that Walt Disney said, something like, “We’re not making these movies for kids, we’re not making them for adults; we’re making them for that still quiet part the world has made you forget but that our films can make you remember.”