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Interview Exclusive HTF Interview with Baby Boom Writer/Director Charles Shyer (1 Viewer)

Neil Middlemiss

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Charles Shyer has written or co-written a number of memorable comedies, including Private Benjamin, Smokey and the Bandit, Protocol, and Father of the Bride, which he also directed. Shyer made his feature directorial debut on Irreconcilable Differences, and followed it up with the Diane Keaton starrer, Baby Boom, a film he co-wrote with his frequent writing partner, Nancy Myers. To coincide with the Blu-ray premiere release of Baby Boom, from Twilight Time, Shyer talked to Home Theater Forum about working with the legendary Diane Keaton, the fun challenge of working with babies, working with composer Bill Conti, and more.

Baby Boom is available as a Limited Edition Blu-ray release from Twilight Time. Those interested in purchasing it should go to either http://www.twilighttimemovies.com or http://www.screenarchives.com to see if product is still in stock. Information about the movie can also be found via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies.

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HTF: It's been 30 years since Baby Boom. It's a fun comedy and it's got a dramatic heart and a message that really resonated. Do you think we've made much progress in the intervening years in how women in the workforce, or parents and work/life balance are respected? Or are we at first base still?

Charles Shyer: I don't think we're at first base. I think we could be at second base, maybe, well, it definitely hasn't been a homerun. I think that there has been progress. But clearly, equal pay is still an issue. Things like that you'd think would be long gone, [but] are still with us. And I think there are a lot of two working parents now, and that's in large part out of necessity to make ends meet. But I still think there's a lot on the mom, you know? And having kids-- I have 10 year old twins going into sixth grade. And they just had to apply to private schools. And it's so incredibly competitive, and so much like you know the moms [in the film] around the sandbox at the Better Baby Institute. The pregnant mom has already pre-enrolled the kid in preschool. I mean, that stuff hasn't changed, and gotten even more competitive and worse, you know. It's tough. And expensive as hell.

HTF: And Diane Keaton is so good in this role. She's always had a terrific comedic sense and I felt the way she captured the career-driven professional was terrific, and then the stressful upheaval of having a little baby dumped in her arms, then the realization and the embrace of that, even though it's condensed and exaggerated in the film, is felt by a lot of parents still today. But she captures it all so well. What stands out the most about her performance, when you look back?


“Diane, in this role and probably in all of her roles, is a complete original. There is nobody like her.”


Charles Shyer: That Diane, in this role and probably in all of her roles, is a complete original. There is nobody like her. And I think about the way she carried the baby sideways into the Pierre Hotel [laughter]. That is so Diane Keaton just going with it. She loved the idea that she never knew [what the baby would do, and] the baby obviously has no idea you're making a movie. So they just do what they do, and you got to go along with it. And Diane loved that kind of constant improvisation because the baby's improvising in every single scene. And you just have to go with it. And it kept her really in the moment and on her toes. And she's so original anyway that it just amplified that, I think. And you can't be better than she is in this movie. That scene at the well when she passes out, I mean, I don't know, that's Carole Lombard, man. I mean that's as good as it gets.

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HTF: Talk about bringing about Baby Boom for release on Blu-ray. The home media landscape has forever changed. When I was 12, seeing Baby Boom VHS covers filling up the shelves in my local video shop, the dynamic was just drastically different. We then had the boon of DVD and people buying up copies for home viewing, then the advent of Blu-Ray. And now that market has changed, and studios just don't take the same risks that they did in releasing their back catalog on the Blu-ray medium, which means great labels like Twilight Time and others step up with a model that works--limited release editions--to give fans what they want: a Blu-ray, high definition, ownable, stick-it-on-their-shelf copy of the movies that they love. How do you feel about that changed landscape, and what work went into getting this ready for release through Twilight Time?


“…it's thrilling for me that it lives on. That it's good enough that somebody feels it's worthy of this kind of re-release in such a great format and stuff [is great].


Charles Shyer: Well, I didn't really know it was going to be released. About a year and a half ago, Irreconcilable Differences, which was the first movie that I directed, was released on DVD and Blu-ray or not, [and] they did a special edition with interviews and all that kind of stuff. And I was thrilled with that. And I'm a little bit sorry that the Blu-ray version of this movie didn't interview either Nancy or me or Diane or somebody because we could have done a really good audio commentary. I'm sorry that didn't happen, and maybe it will next time. Because it all comes back to you when you watch the movie. You don't remember kind of the ups and the downs. But look, it's thrilling for me that it lives on. That it's good enough that somebody feels it's worthy of this kind of re-release in such a great format and stuff [is great].

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HTF: Do you ever look back on your work? Do you ever spin up a copy of Father of the Bride or even ones you wrote, like Private Benjamin, which was another landmark movie right at the advent of VHS back in England. I mean that was everywhere! But do you ever look back on your work and soak it up?

Charles Shyer: Fuck no [laughter]. No. Because if I look back, man, all I see is why didn't I do this, why didn't I do that? Aye-Yi-Yi. No, I can't. If my movies are on TV or stuff, I keep going, man. I can't. There's like one scene in Alfie that I love, but-- and there's one scene in Affair of the Necklace I love. There's a couple scenes in all of my movies. I loved Diane at the well in Baby Boom, when she faints at the well. But in general, I can't watch my movies, no. Just no. It's like if they wanted me to admit to a crime [laughter] run the movie on a reel. I'll admit to any crime. I'm guilty, just get me out of here.

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HTF: [laughter] Well, let me ask you about working with the legendary Bill Conti. Twilight Time movies almost always have isolated score tracks where you can listen to the composer's work as you're watching the film, which is always a fun experience. I'm a huge fan of soundtracks and a big fan of Bill Conti. His The Right Stuff is legendary. But talk about working with Bill Conti, and others composers that you’ve worked, with, David Newman a couple times, Alan Silvestri I think three times. What do you look for in a composer that you work with, and when you think about your time working with Bill Conti on the score, what stands out to you?


“I've been so lucky, I worked with Mick Jagger on Alfie. I've worked with great, great people, so Bill [Conti’s] up there though. He's fantastic and his work stands on its own.”


Charles Shyer: Well, I think what it is, is you cast the composer as you cast the actors. I mean, it's think it's what could they bring, and what do they add to what you already have? And with Bill, I had loved the score he did for Unmarried Woman. He had done and obviously everybody knows Rocky. And he's a great guy, and was so collaborative. And Nancy and I had- seen a Stanley Kubrick [movie with] score that we loved, and it may be Lolita, I'm not sure. But it had a kind of the feel that we wanted, and we played that for Bill, and he came back with his version of that, his interpretation of it, which was far different, but still in essence had that feel that we wanted, which was kind of a marriage of this little creature and this working woman. It just had-- I don't know, there was a sophisticated yet childish feel to what he did that we loved. And again, Bill is such a good guy. And I've worked with a very famous composer I remember got a million dollars for the score, and had me and Nancy to be in the booth with him, and I walked in the studio, I said, "I can't. You got to let this guy go." I can't do this. I can't not be a part of my movie, and they did. They wouldn't do that today. But I've been so lucky, I worked with Mick Jagger on Alfie. I've worked with great, great people, so Bill's up there though. He's fantastic and his work stands on its own. My daughter just directed a movie, and she was talking about Bill's score for Unmarried Woman, how much she loved it, and she used it as a temp track for her movie that's coming out in the fall.

HTF: What's the name of her film?

Charles Shyer: It's called Home Again. She wrote, and she directed, and Reese Witherspoon is the star. And she's 28 years old. Which is pretty cool. My dad was a director, I'm a director, and now my daughter's a director which is highly unusual

HTF: Yeah, three generations, that's quite something

Charles Shyer: Unbelievable man, I don't even know what to say. We may be the only ones. I don't think there are three other-- grandfather, father and daughter that, you know are Directors' Guild Members.

HTF: I've got to ask about your time on Father of the Bride. Steve Martin, one of my absolute idols. - I mean, I soaked up everything that man did in my youth. I would have movie marathons where we'd watch everything from The Man With Two Brains to even the movies I didn't understand at the time - Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid. And movies like Father of the Bride, they were a softer side and perhaps a more accessible side to him. I don't want to sound like I'm watering it down because that's not what I mean, but it was a more accessible. And thinking about the music from Baby Boom by Bill Conti, and looking at my soundtrack shelf with Alan Silvestri’s Father of the Bride and Father of the Bride 2 sitting right at eye level. There's something sweet, but not syrupy about the scores for your movies. So, Bill Conti really got to, in essence - the heart, the emotional core of Baby Boom with a very delicate piano piece, but he never pandered to what was going on, but it just informed the emotional moment. And Alan Silvestri's scores do the exact same thing for the Father of the Bride movies. And I don't see a lot of that soft, sweeter, accessible comedy. Do you notice that too?


“[Alan Silvestri] and I got on the MGM Grand, and we had a tape of the movie, and we spotted the whole movie [in this compartment on that plane]. It was one of the coolest things ever, and we just spotted the movie on the trip to New York.”


Charles Shyer: Yeah, I'll tell you-- I think Bill and Al-- I remember both of them playing the themes for us, and, because I write songs too, melodies are so hard to come up with. I mean, to come up with a melody that's really catchy and not a cliché and that's not syrupy as you would say, it's difficult. But the theme that Alan came up with for Father of the Bride is really beautiful and really memorable. I remember when we spotted the movie, in those days, the MGM Grand Airplane was still happening, [this] big plane with compartments that you could sit in. It was all so fucking high end, and Al [and I] were going to a preview in New York, so Al and I got on the MGM Grand, and we had a tape of the movie, and we spotted the whole movie [in this compartment on that plane]. It was one of the coolest things ever, and we just spotted the movie on the trip to New York. We were getting a little buzzed, and it was totally cool. When we landed, we had the movie spotted, and he had worked it all out, and we knew exactly what we were going to do. It was really cool.

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HTF: Baby Boom isn't a ‘message’ movie, but it is a movie that has something to say, and I think while there are archetypes in the movie - the young, energetic, career-minded young man played by a very young James Spader - the old white man in suits, like the late Sam Wanamaker, running a company that don't really have much regard for people lives outside of work. But there were no villains—and even in that restaurant scene at the beginning when [Sam Wanamaker’s character] is trying to say, "We want you to be a partner, but this is the reality of what that means…You're already working 80 hours a week; it's going to be more than that, so don't even think about family, that's just not something you'll have time for. It's not something that I had time for,” and I thought that was an interesting-- because he's set up as the foil a little bit later on, diverting work to the young James Spader character. So he's the bad guy in that regard…

Charles Shyer: Yeah, he's a bad guy. Well, he's a guy with no soul and very little heart. I don't think that that's that unusual [in the corporate world]. He doesn't get it. He's the kind of guy whose kid will be ODing and calling him and he'll put them on hold. That's because he's in a meeting or some shit. That's who those guys are. Yeah, Sam played it really well. They don't want to be mean, it's just not there. They can't do it.

HTF: I mean, that's why I thought it was good that they weren't sort of the moustache twirling corporate villains, they were just-- this is the lives that they led and they expected out of you what they think they're giving up for the right reasons for themselves, and I thought that was--

Charles Shyer: Well, Spader played an asshole, let's face it [laughter].

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HTF: He can do that well

Charles Shyer: Yeah. He was really good at it, yeah.

HTF: But it was a great cast. Just terrific players all around


“Sam [Wanamaker] was fabulous, and Harold Ramis, God bless him, was so great. We got really lucky. We got everybody we wanted.”


Charles Shyer: Yes, and Sam was fabulous, and Harold Ramis, God bless him, was so great. We got really lucky. We got everybody we wanted. It was really good, yeah. It was a really good experience. It was really fun with a great director of photography, Bill Fraker. We just had a really good time. I mean, the studio drove us crazy, because it was really hard to get stuff from these babies, so like we said we shot a million feet of film on the movie. Over one million, which was the only way to get what [you needed] -- you just would roll and roll and roll. Today would have been so much easier. Well, it wouldn't have been easier to get the stuff out them, it just costs less of film.

HTF: I was going to ask you whether there was much studio interference. You hear all the horror stories, and especially with big tent pole films and the money to make a movie, the studio's more protective. Which doesn't mean that they weren't in the way or providing a lot of oversight back in the '80s and the '90s, but I was curious to know whether or not you were sort of left relatively alone to make the movie that you wanted and needed to make, or whether you were-- if you were forced to make any compromises back then, or is the movie we see exactly what you wanted to be?


“I remember we got into a situation where we had a scene, and [the studio] wanted us to cut it, and we didn't want to cut it. They didn't want to pay for it. I remember I went in the trailer, I wrote a check. I forget how much it was for, maybe ten grand, whatever, to pay for the set and gave it to them...”


Charles Shyer: Pretty much, yeah. They let us do that. We fell behind fast because of the baby, and the studio was on a plane to Vermont, and then they saw what we were dealing with, and it was what it was. You're into it this far and you have a baby and you've written these things, and you have to wait until the baby wants to fall asleep, and the baby wants to say mama or whatever it is, and but we did. I remember we got into a situation where we had a scene, and they wanted us to cut it, and we didn't want to cut it. They didn't want to pay for it. I remember I went in the trailer, I wrote a check. I forget how much it was for, maybe ten grand, whatever, to pay for the set and gave it to them, and they said, "Just go do it. Forget--" [laughter]. They couldn't bear that maybe that would get out that we had paid for it, so they said, "Nope. Forget it. Just do it, but try to do it fast." They were pretty good, at the end of the day. Tony Thomopoulos, who was the executive on the movie, was really great too, I remember that.

HTF: So when you look around the landscape today, what makes you laugh? You have some terrific comedic stuff under your belt in your career, so what makes you laugh when you look around today? Either film or even on television?

Charles Shyer: Well, I like a lot of the people working today. I think Judd Apatow movies are really good, I mean they really make me laugh. I'm pretty open to everything. But there aren't a lot of comedies today, and there's certainly aren't romantic comedies. Comedy is kind of getting to be rarefied. We're working on a couple of TV shows, one of them is a comedy, and one of them is a drama, I guess a dramedy it'll be called. Then I have two movies that I'm working on. One of them is kind of a dramedy again, and other is actually a horror film. Then I have another one I'm working on that's a Christmas movie that is a comedy, so I'm sporting in the realm. But it's not a genre that's like killing it right now, sorry to say.

HTF: No. That is true

Charles Shyer: My daughter's movie is a comedy. My daughter's movie is not like the kind of movies Nancy and I made, and she's really good at it. But it's not a studio movie, it's an indie.

HTF: Are the projects that you're working on now, the horror, the dramedy, and the comedy, are they studio or independent?

Charles Shyer: No, they'll all be indies. Basically, like a pilot we did, we wrote a spec script, we're getting production people involved. And the other, part of the money, I'm writing with a kind of famous person, so I think we'll have a pretty easy time with that. But the others, you write on spec and you hope-- you're trying to package it. It's a nightmare. But look, I wrote Baby Boom on spec, I wrote I Love Trouble. I wrote a lot of movies on spec. We wrote Private Benjamin on spec. I've done it a lot. We got Goldie, you know what I mean. It's worked that way. I've always been writing pretty much on spec.

HTF: Well, you have a pretty good hit rate then [laughter]. I think you have more than average success with spec scripts.

Charles Shyer: Yeah. Knock wood. Knock wood here.

HTF: So it's great that you've got things in the fire, and I'm excited about what we're going to see from you

Charles Shyer: Yeah. You don't want to hype your stuff too much, but I think I've got some stuff on the horizon that I'm excited about.

HTF: Well, congratulations on the 30 years of Baby Boom, I had fun watching it and I think the Twilight Time release is great.

Charles Shyer: You're so sweet, man. I appreciate it. Look, because I don't look at it doesn't mean that it doesn't make me feel great that you like it [laughter].

HTF: I understand. Thank you and all the best.

Charles Shyer: I really do appreciate it!
 

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