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Guest Blogger Ethan Kreitzer Reports on Albert Brooks’ Book Reading in NYC!

May 17th, 2011

My friend Ethan Kreitzer had the pleasure of seeing the great Albert Brooks at a book reading in New York City last week.  Mr. Brooks was there to promote his new book, 2030: The Real Story of What Happens to America.  Ethan was kind enough to send in the following report:

Albert Brooks was awesome.

First of all, he didn’t do a book reading – he talked about the book and the writing process but didn’t give up spoilers and didn’t just blandly read a chapter. He then said he was going to cut his prepared stuff short so he could take as many questions as people had.

From the start, Mr. Brooks was funny.  After the events person at Barnes & Noble introduced him, Brooks said “that introduction was the ‘about the author’ page from my book… I’m glad you grabbed the right book and not a John Grisham novel” – then he pointed to an empty “RESERVED” chair in the front row and said “by the way, that seat is for Elijah.”  He said it’s his first book reading on this tour and it’s been almost 40 years since he’s done a live appearance in New York City. He said he opened at Madison Square Garden for Blood, Sweat and Tears in 1973. And then said “Blood and Sweat were nice but Tears was a real asshole.” He said he’ll be signing at the end of the presentation and Q&A and he does autograph impressions so he can sign as Bill Clinton or something if anybody prefers that.

When Mr. Brooks talked about the book he said he realized he needed to make it a novel and not a screenplay because he had ideas about what he wanted to write and knew that with the kind of budget he gets for his movies he could never afford to film any of these things. He said that because he writes and directs his films, he’s become like a savant accountant knowing exactly how much every scene will cost and he’s always self-editing himself to move scenes indoors and to “write cheaper.”

I did ask a question. I asked if he used improv in his movies and, specifically, if he came up with having Garry Marshall say “Santy Claus” in Lost in America. He said that he writes his scripts mostly via transcription and actually acts out the scenes so he knows what characters are going to say. He doesn’t want actors changing things and it’s too expensive to just let the cameras roll. He said that he did come up with “Santy Claus” and that Garry Marshall had never acted and had no idea if he was good or not and that informed the anger in his performance. He then said that most people aren’t good at improv except for being angry – like yelling “you son of a bitch” “no, you son of a bitch” and that there’s never tender improvisation. And that no scene that’s improv’ed has probably made an audience cry.

Other questions were good. Someone asked him about how he always plays an abrasive character and if people think he’s abrasive for that reason. Brooks said “I never knew I was abrasive until Rex Reed said I was.” Then he noted that Lost in America starts with the clip of Rex Reed on Larry King.  Mr Brooks recalled how he went to Larry King for the rights and King got Reed’s approval but that Reed didn’t know that it was for Brooks’ movie.

Someone asked him about a question that I didn’t hear but it was about the studios, and in response Mr. Brooks talked about how much he hates the movie studios. He said when his now-wife first came to meet him at his office in Paramount Pictures he met her in the parking lot and said to her “there are 800 cars here in this lot and every single car is driven by someone who would stab you in the back if it would help them in the slightest.”

Someone asked about Broadcast News and his Oscar nomination and he said “you know, when a few weeks before the Oscars, Sean Connery gave an interview to Barbara Walters that said it was okay for men to beat their wives, I thought ‘hey, I might actually win this thing!’ but it was too late, the votes were already cast”.

Someone asked about his roles in movies he didn’t write like Taxi Driver and Twilight Zone. He said that he and Dan Ackroyd wrote their scene in Twilight Zone. He said that for Taxi Driver, he, Martin Scorsese, and Paul Schrader worked out his character in a hotel room and that after the movie came out Schrader said to Brooks – as a compliment – “you know, yours was the only character in the film, I felt like I didn’t know” – and Brooks said “in a movie of killers, psychos, pimps, teenage prostitutes, the only character you didn’t feel like you knew was a guy working for a campaign?”

Someone said he loved the scene in the sporting goods store in Modern Romance and wondered if Mr. Brooks has collaborated with his brother on anything else.  Brooks commented, “we don’t even talk. I don’t even collaborate with him on birthday plans. He makes me laugh but we’re not close”.

A woman asked Mr. Brooks to talk about Defending Your Life. He said he is proud of that movie and its message about fear. He doesn’t believe that’s what the afterlife is like. He said he wanted to make a movie a movie about what he really thinks happens when you die but a movie about dirt doesn’t sell.

Someone asked a question about Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World and said “I don’t want to give something away in case anybody hasn’t seen it.”  Brooks interrupted and said “ANYBODY???”  Huge laugh.

The crowd was very knowledgable about Mr. Brooks’ films.  It wasn’t just a bunch of people looking to get Finding Nemo DVDs signed (the rule was that he was only signing his book but someone brought a vintage Modern Romance poster and Brooks signed it).

Great night.

Thanks so much, Ethan, for that terrific report!

I’ve written about many great Albert Brooks films, before, on this site.  Follow the links for my reviews of Real Life, Modern Romance, Lost in America, and Defending Your Life.

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