I’ve devoted two recent posts to the film Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and director Frank Oz’s commentary for it (here and here). Now I’m going to put that topic to bed with one last post, this time about my experience as the field producer for the audio commentary, in May, 2001.
At the time, I was the East Coast pointman for the LA-based documentary company Automat Pictures. Besides producing the bonus features for the DVDs of Scorsese’s Raging Bull and The Last Waltz, I occasionally covered their NYC-based gigs, such as interviewing Isabella Rossellini about her vagina. 1
Frank Oz was due to record his audio commentary for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels in LA, but circumstances kept him on my coast, and so I got the call to field produce his session. The DVD’s producer was Ian Haufrect, a swell guy who was understandably crestfallen that he would not be able to cover the session personally. Still, he gave me great questions and did all the logistical arrangements. 2
The session was at Spin Cycle Post, a small facility where I had been a sound editor for a half-dozen years. It was just Frank; my old buddy Jason, who engineered the session; and me. Jason and I were very professional: courteous and calm, the whole time ignoring the fact that—Holy Shit!—we were in the same room with Cookie Monster, Miss Piggy, Grover, Fozzie Bear and Bert!!
Frank was a Commentary Producer’s dream come true: he spoke constantly, giving us an in-depth glimpse into his process. There was one moment of (self) constructive criticism I’ll never forget. Frank had just done a portion of commentary and suddenly stopped, asking us to play it back for him. It was a two minute chunk of his description of “what is funny,” and I have to admit, it was pretty meandering. Although when he asked us for our opinion, Jason and I were reflexively and blindly supportive: “Oh, it’s great, Frank! Just beautiful! It’s awesome, Sir!” etc.
“Really?” he asked incredulously. “No, it isn’t. It’s fucking boring.”
After that icebreaker, it was easy for us to offer genuine feedback. (And to this day, when re-reading something I’ve written, such as this post, I’ll sometimes hear Frank’s voice say, “It’s fucking boring.”)
Naturally, there were the requisite Star Wars junkies on hand. (Can you imagine a film editing facility that wouldn’t have them?) In this case, two assistant editors a few years younger than me, Chris and Jeff, though that day they were more like Mutt and Jeff, giddy over the possibility of an audience with Yoda. “OK, guys,” I said. “Keep yer pants on. This isn’t my session, technically. I’ve never met the man. I don’t know how he feels about shit like this, “ and so on, explaining that they could approach him at the end of the session. Every time I went into the lobby, they’d be there, like expectant fathers in a waiting room, wide-eyed, wondering if it was Time.
When the session was ended, Frank was glad to do a small meet-and-greet. I stuck my head outside of the studio and gestured for the groupies to come in. They did, each with brand new Sharpies and 8×10 glossies of Yoda that they purchased that morning. I rolled my eyes and stepped back so they could have their own private Comic-Con.
Frank was incredibly cool. Recently, I asked Jeff Marcello, who’s now an editor and filmmaker, for his recollections:
Frank signed the picture with his name and Yoda’s. I asked him to write, “Do or do not. There is no try.” He declined because he didn’t want to take credit for other people’s words. However, signing Yoda’s ‘autograph,’ he said, “This is how I imagine Yoda would sign his name.”
I’ve met a lot of celebrities, but I hardly ever ask for an autograph. This one is one of my prized possessions. It’s framed and hangs in my home edit room!
Jeff’s also generously offered this scan as proof of the momentous occasion.
That’s pretty much it, except for one noteworthy postscript. MGM would “pay” directors and actors for their time in DVDs. They’d provide a list of 200 or so titles and ask the talent to check off 15 that they wanted. Frank did this, grumbling as so many others did that the folks at MGM were being cheapskates, and I mailed it off to Ian. A few months later, I got a phone call at home:
“Hi. This is Frank Oz. I was wondering…where the fuck are my DVDs?”
I already knew that MGM was slow to “pay” talent, so I referred him to Ian in LA and that was the end of it. But there was that one stunned moment when I thought, “Did Yoda just curse at me?!” (“Off it pisses me!”)
All-in-all, it was my favorite audio commentary session, and I made one contribution that I’m proud of: Frank’s commentary for Dirty Rotten Scoundrel’s legendary teaser trailer. MGM hadn’t sent the trailer to the session—so Frank would have nothing to watch–but thanks to my film geekery, I knew that it was at the beginning of the VHS of Eight Men Out, so I rented it on my way in and—boom!—there it is on the DVD.
And that’s why MGM hired guys like me to produce those things!
BACK TO POST 1 Of course, that story’s for a future post, but, hey, nice to see you’re using the nifty footnote function!
BACK TO POST 2 In fact, Ian was the first commentary producer to recommend I have an IMDB cast-and-crew list on hand to make life easier for directors (and if you’ve read this post, you know that I put a lot of stock in the commentary producer’s responsibilities).