Christopher Guest spoofs own biz
After spoofing smalltown theatre (Waiting For Guffman), dog shows (Best In Show) and folk music (A Mighty Wind), you’d expect a spoof of the Hollywood Oscar machinery to be less research-heavy for director Christopher Guest.
But the director of those hilarious rep company movies with the improvised dialogue is somewhat at sea talking showbiz. This despite the razor-sharp verisimilitude in the hilarious film For Your Consideration, which is playing at Toronto’s filmfest, and is skedded to open in theatres in November.
“Who’s Billy Bush?” Guest says, when I mention the “Billy Bush-haircut” Fred Willard has as the co-host of a show called “Entertainment Now.” We’re seated at a table with co-writer Eugene Levy and Guest collaborator Michael McKean.
Levy and I jointly explain that he’s a relative of the president who’s become a “name” in the entertainment-magazine biz. “There you go, never heard of him,” Guest says. Later Levy refers to Access Hollywood’s Pat O’Brien and Guest gives another blank look. In his house, he admits, it’s his wife Jamie-Lee Curtis who reads “the showbusiness sections.”
But as with dog shows, he poured himself into entertainment journalism, the better to frame his story of a small “prestige” film that falls prey to ego meltdown when an Internet rumour about “Oscar-calibre” performances causes the Hollywood machine to take notice. The aging diva (Catherine O’Hara), the ingenue (Parker Posey) and the veteran character actor (Harry Shearer) all get caught up in the gamesmanship and talk-show whirl.
“I had never seen an entertainment magazine show, and I needed to see one,” says Guest. “I went on set to see what the physical set looked like. And someone taped for me one of those shows so I could see how they directed it. I was stunned.”
Says Levy: “It’s not as easy to spoof the business as you think just because you’re in it. The business is a parody of itself already. The Oscars are in February, but they’re doing Oscar picks already. They’ll be doing them two years in advance soon.”
“It’s like Snakes On A Plane,” adds McKean, “where people were literally writing the movie on their computers at home. A guy posts and says, ‘I hope there’s a scene where the guy ends up being bitten on the penis.’ And the director is reading it and says ‘This is good stuff. We’re gonna reshoot.'”
“It’s like we’re mirroring a mirror of a mirror,” Levy adds.
Guest’s own inspiration for “the Oscar virus” goes back nearly 30 years. “It really came from my observing this behaviour over the years where people hear ‘You’re going to win an Academy Award,’ and 100% of the time they aren’t even nominated.
“I remember in 1979, I was doing a movie and we were three weeks into shooting. And somebody said to the director of photography ‘You’d better get your tuxedo ready.’ We were nowhere near finishing, and I could see a change in this guy, where he became even more pretentious. It really was interesting.”
As with the earlier films, there’s a stock repertory company entrusted to improvise lines within strictly defined scenes and character-outlines. People like Don Lake, Bob Balaban, Ed Begley Jr., McKean, etc., and director Guest himself (who plays the director of the film “Home For Purim” in the film).
“It’s not arbitrary that these people are always in all these movies,” Guest says. “They’re all great (ad libbers).” And of course, they have their specialties. As with Willard’s E-host, who hosts a nomination day segment on Oscar losers. “There’s a meanness to it, a callousness to it, an insensitivity to it, and Fred Willard is the king of that world,” Guest says, as Levy and McKean laugh. “He’s great (playing characters) where he doesn’t have a clue emotionally how he affects other people.”
Not that it’s all ad-libbed. “Occasionally there’s a thing we write,” Guest says. “As in Spinal Tap when we talked about the volume going to ’11.’ Obviously that was scripted because we had to have a knob made.”
Christopher Guest spoofs own biz