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This movie has a 3% on Rotten Tomatoes and I'm in it
a true story
Love, Weddings, and Other Disasters is a real movie and I am a real actor in it. Neither of those things should be true, but they are.
The first part is easy enough to explain. A guy named Dennis Dugan has been making comedies since 1996, including Happy Gilmore, Big Daddy, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, and Grown Ups. He had apparently been working on his own screenplay for ten years, and people gave him money to make it. That movie is called Love, Weddings, and Other Disasters, and it stars Jeremy Irons and Diane Keaton.
My part in it is a little harder to explain. I’m minding my own business, doing a PhD during the day, teaching and performing improv comedy at night, and one day I get an email from the theater that a local casting company is inviting all the performers to a general audition. I almost don't do it, both because it sounds silly, and because it takes me like three hours to figure out how to print my headshot at the local FedEx/Kinko’s. But I go.
Three casting directors watch, stone-faced, as a bunch of flannel-clad 20- and 30-somethings do terrible improv in front of them. It’s hard to do good scenework when your brain is screaming “BE REALLY FUNNY SO THEY’LL MAKE YOU A BIG STAR”.
But I soon realize they don’t really care about the improv. They’re looking for desperate people with free time; an improv theater is just a good place to find them. I know this because I start getting invited to read for parts that only require me to be a) literate, and b) available at 2pm on a Tuesday. As a graduate student I am, of course, very much both of those things.
One day, I read for a graveyard tour guide in the movie Slenderman. “This graveyard was founded in 1790,” I say. The casting director stops me. “Could you, uh…well, we’ve been telling people, um…” she hems and haws. “Could you read it like…I don’t want to say on the spectrum, but you know…?”
I don't get the part.
Months pass. Another email comes; I go. It’s for a part called Baseball Cap Guy. I read the lines and return home, figuring I’ll never hear anything, like usual.
But this time, another email arrives. The director had some notes on my performance, am I available today? Sure, I tell them. (Remember: grad student.)
When I arrive, the casting director explains—in the same sort of roundabout way she uses to ask people to act autistic without actually asking them to act autistic—that the director had liked me and one other guy, and basically it didn’t matter how good the other guy was because I was here now and he wasn’t. (Clearly, he's not a grad student.) She FaceTimes Dennis Dugan himself and sticks the phone in my face. I read him the lines.
“Okay, read it again, and don’t try to be funny,” Dugan says. “Just say the words. We’ll make it funny.” The way he says we makes it clear that I am not part of we; somebody else will be making my lines funny. I read it again, trying to sound like a normal person.
“I can work with that,” Dugan says. “Give him a contract.”
Suddenly I’m in an office signing forms. The casting director tells me the number of dollars I’ll be paid weekly; I ask her where the decimal point is. (The weekly Screen Actors’ Guild rate for feature films is $3,488 at the time, which is a flabbergasting amount of money to someone who makes $32,000 a year.) She tells me the dates I’ll be filming and I make some meek protest about having to teach classes—I mean, I’m free 98% of the time, not 100%. She gives me a look like “This is the movies,” but gives me 24 hours to think it over.
I rush back to campus and knock on my advisor’s door.
“Dan, I’ve got some news,” I say. He freezes as if I’m about to tell him I have terminal lupus. “I’ve been cast in a movie.”
“Do you want to be an actor?” he asks.
“Not really,” I say.
“So why do you want to do it?”
“I think it might be fun.”
“Oh, then you should definitely do it,” he tells me.
So I do it.
An assistant director emails me the address of a stately office building in downtown Boston, and I show up bright and early. The front door is locked, but after some aggressive knocking and peering through the window, a security guard appears.
“Hello,” I say. “I’m here for the movie.”
“There’s no movie here,” he informs me. “But that over there looks like it could be a movie.” He points to a line of trailers parked across the street.
It’s my first lesson in showbiz. Forget Hollywood glitz and glamor; making movies is blue-collar work and it happens next to a moveable trailer park. Brand-name actors, the director, the producers—they live in Beverly Hills, wear fancy clothes, and slink down red carpets. Everybody else—the makeup artists, the gaffer, the set dressers, the best boys, the various grips—they wear Carharts and live in towns you’ve never heard of. Half-itinerant, intermittently employed, they are inheritors of the great carnie tradition. Their job is turn scripts into film without anyone noticing they were involved, and they are so good at it that their rare slip-ups make the news, like when a Starbucks cup made an appearance in Game of Thrones.
(Perhaps even this minstrel-ish lifestyle is going extinct as more and more movies get made in green voids hidden deep inside studio lots. There are still roughnecks around, rigging the lights and pasting ping-pong balls on the actors, but they go home to the same place every night.)
This extends to the actors I meet over the next few days, who do not include Diane Keaton or Jeremy Irons (more on that later). I foolishly assumed that anyone who makes a living as a movie actor must be rich. Not so. There’s a vast middle class made up of every almost-famous person you’ve ever seen and instantly forgotten. Like Todd Stashwick, who’s been in everything. And Maggie Grace, who played the wife in Taken. And Andrew Bachelor, who used to be the most-followed guy on Vine. Jessie McCartney is there too, remember him?
Then there’s a ragtag bunch who have taken every weird route to be in this movie. There's Veronica Ferres, a German actress who you might know from “247 Days in a Turkish Prison” or “Schtonk!”. There’s a guy named Kevin who usually works as a cameraman for a local news station; he got hired to play a Russian goon because he has a very long beard. There’s Billy X, who did five years in prison for intimidating a witness; now he’s living the dream on the big screen. They are my family now, and I love them.
I’m here to play Baseball Cap Guy. There are five different storylines in Love, Weddings, and Other Disasters, and one of them follows a stripper (“Svetlana”) and mayoral candidate’s loser brother (“Jimmy”) who are competing on a game show called “Crash Couples" where strangers get chained together, and whoever remains chained together the longest wins a million dollars. It’s apparently based on a real game show that Dennis Dugan saw in Hungary once. Baseball Cap Guy is one of the producers on the show, and he follows Svetlana and Jimmy around with a cameraman and tells them things like “we’re not here” and “you signed a contract.” Some consider Baseball Cap Guy to be the emotional fulcrum of the movie.
Oh, first, this might be helpful:
A SHORT GLOSSARY OF MOVIE TERMS
Crafty. The table full of snacks. Short for “craft services,” but you should not call it “craft services”; you should call it “crafty.” As in, “I’m gonna go get a Pop Tart from crafty."
The honey wagon. The trailer where you go to poop and pee. “Honey wagon” is as beautiful a phrase to me as “cellar door.”
Background actors. You are supposed to call them “background actors” and not “extras” because “extras” makes it sound like they are expendable, like you could blow them up or drop them out of a helicopter or hurl them into a volcano and it would be fine. But to be clear: everybody treats them like they have no souls. Assistant directors are constantly hollering at them to be quiet, or to move faster, or to not walk so weird. Principal actors will not sit with them at lunch.
Movie hole. The front of the camera. They say if an actor looks directly into it, they die.
MAKING MOVIE MAGIC
Making a movie, I discover, mainly involves getting on and off a duck boat.
I always assumed that movies are shot in chronological order so that the actors feel the right emotions at the right times. Nope: movies are shot in whatever order is cheapest. In our case, the biggest expenses are Diane Keaton and Jeremy Irons, so they film their scenes first and skip town. I never see them; they’ve wrapped before I arrive.
(This may surprise you if you watch the movie, because it supposedly ends with all the main characters at the same wedding. But if you watch closely, you’ll see that Diane and Jeremy aren’t in any shots with the other main characters. They’re celebrating the same wedding three weeks apart.)
The second biggest expense is the duck boat. Love, Weddings, and Other Disasters is a bit like Love, Actually but instead of being set in the UK at Christmas, it’s set in Boston in the fall. So in true Bean Town fashion, the movie’s storylines all collide in a climactic duck boat ride. That means our first few days of shooting are all about mounting, riding, and dismounting the duck boat. It’s a little tedious, but I try to remind myself that I’m getting an experience for which tourists gladly pay $48.99.
I also get to see some of the area's hidden gems. For instance, we film several scenes at a semi-abandoned dog racing track outside the city. It’s been illegal to race dogs in Massachusetts since 2010, but you can still go there and place bets on dog races happening in other states, or, I guess, film a motion picture. We also visit a porch in South Boston, which I think we find only because the crew literally knocks on doors until someone lets us film there. Or maybe the owners aren’t home; the assistant directors tell us to hurry up in a “the police might come” kind of way.
Of course, making movies is more than just having a whirlwind tour of the greater Boston area’s many fine attractions. My big day has come: it's time to say my lines.
HOW TO ACT
Acting is really, really easy.
I’m sure some acting is hard, like when you have to scream really loud or do a Russian accent. But most of the time, you just say some words. That’s it! You don’t even have the make up the words yourself!
You show up, somebody dresses you, does your hair, slathers makeup on you, tells you where to go, gives you a chair, and puts out snacks for you. You sit there until you are “invited to set”—literally, a production assistant comes and says that—and then you walk in front of a camera and say your lines. You do a few takes, then they tell you to go sit down again while they move the cameras around. They even have “stand-ins" whose job it is to stand there while the cameras get set up, just so the camera folks can see how the lighting looks without bothering the actors. You get paid $500 a day for this.
There are only two hard parts about acting: you might have to get up early or stay up late, and you don’t get to decide when you eat lunch. Thanks to the Screen Actors’ Guild, if either of those things happen, you get extra money. I make $500 one day from "meal penalties" alone.
So when my scenes arrive, I just say my lines. “We’re not here,” is a big one. “This contract—that you signed—gives us complete and total access to your life for the duration of the show,” is another.
Dennis, the director, gives me one note: “go faster.” He's always telling people to say their lines faster. “We’re not making Lawrence of Arabia,” he says. I come to respect him deeply. Here’s a guy who’s won a Golden Raspberry award (the opposite of an Oscar), a man who has dropped such stinkers as Jack and Jill and Grown Ups 2 and kept right on going. He has now convinced people to give him millions of dollars to make a movie in which—oh yes, I forgot to mention this—Diane Keaton plays a blind woman who careens into a table full of champagne flutes. For a second, I am so agog at his bravado that I actually think we’re making a good movie.
But only for a second. We’re not making a good movie. We’re making Love, Weddings, and Other Disasters, and now it’s time for me to do my stunt.
Imagine hiring me to do a job that requires coordinating all of your limbs at once. My last athletic endeavor was when, at age 10, I walked off the field during a little league game and told the coach “it’s too hot.” (They stopped the game and sent everyone home.)
Anyway, during what some consider the climax of the film, a Russian mobster punches Baseball Cap Guy right in the face. I would try to explain why this happens, but it’s so complicated that you’re better off just watching movie. (It’s only 96 minutes after all, and I probably get like $0.03 if you rent it on Amazon.) So I have to learn how to take a punch.
I undergo intense stunts training, by which I mean the stunts director talks to me for fifteen minutes. “Just turn your head when the fist comes,” he says. He puts down one of those mats they use in elementary school gym classes and shows me how to crumple onto it after being punched. I discover that I'm terrible at crumpling.
When my big moment comes, the props master delivers some padded underwear to my trailer. I walk to set with a bizarrely puffy pelvis, the least cool guy to ever do his own stunts.
“Let us know if you feel unsafe,” Dennis says, for legal reasons. The mobster swings, I turn, I crumple (poorly).
“That was great!” Dennis says, before watching the tape. After watching the tape he says, “Well, we can work with that.” We aren’t making Lawrence of Arabia, after all.
THAT’S A WRAP
I’m only on set for about eight days, which is no time at all to someone who is usually gets paid $615 a week to teach psychology to Harvard undergrads and is instead getting paid six times that amount to eat unlimited Pop Tarts. I unfortunately don’t get to be there for several key scenes, like one where a wedding planner parachutes into a wedding and knocks the bride into a lake, or another where Jeremy Irons puts on a blindfold and tells Diane Keaton—who, remember, is playing a blind woman—“I want to see how you see.”
I’m told the movie will come out in real theaters, but then the pandemic hits, so it debuts on Amazon Prime instead. Is it good? Well:
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 3% approval rating based on 29 reviews, with an average rating of 2.8/10. The website's critics consensus reads: "A romantic comedy only in the loosest sense, Love, Weddings & Other Disasters offers a sobering reminder that even stars like Diane Keaton and Jeremy Irons occasionally do unpleasant things to pay the bills." On Metacritic, the film holds a rating of 11 out of 100, based on seven critics, indicating "overwhelming dislike".
The titles of the IMDB reviews say it all: “torture”, “beyond awful”, "Stinker of the Year”, “No redeeming features," "This movie just made me wanna kick them directors and producers in the teeth,”"I Created An IMDb Account Just To Trash This Atrocity.” "I'd rather blow lines of duck guano than ever have to sit through this hack job ever again,” one concludes. Another says, rather poetically:
Jeremy Irons and Diane Keaton made a masterful attempt to deliver the flaming dog turds that were their lines- it was akin to watching Gordon Ramsey attempt to cook a feast with only moldy bread infested with weevils.
And yet, after all the crazy things I’ve seen—did I mention Diane Keaton (again, blind) at one point goes tumbling over her own ottoman?—I see something that takes the big crazy cake: some people like this movie.
How this movie is only rated a 5 is beyond me. Cute, funny, and well done! A very pleasant surprise. So if you're looking for a mindless, but sweet rom-com to pass away some Friday evening, this will certainly fit the bill.
They’re not alone:
I cannot understand the panning of this film in many of the reviews here. I thought this film was very sweet and had some great talent. This film was such an unexpected surprise considering the world we're living in at the moment. It's not groundbreaking but it's not supposed to be. It's a romantic comedy- lighten up!
…[a] massively underrated movie. Great punchlines and some relatable humor mixed well with mild slapstick. Grab some popcorn and pull up the couch. Fun date movie.
And, most meaningfully of all:
My wife and I probably replayed where the camera guy gets punched in the face about 20 times in a row while rolling on the floor laughing
I’m reminded of a theory (again, grad student) from evolutionary biology that we each have slightly different DNA to protect us from viruses. It’s like having six billion combination locks instead of one; a virus that cracks one person’s code can’t automatically crack everybody's. Our diversity is, literally, our strength.
The same genetic variation that gives us different immune systems also gives us different minds. And that means nothing, literally nothing, is loved or hated by every single human. Including Love, Weddings, and Other Disasters. I think that is beautiful. And that is the thought I carry with me as I leave behind my acting career—that, and a residuals check for $56.17, and all the free Pop Tarts that I could fit in my pockets.
PS: Neal Bascomb over at WorkCraftLife did a profile on me, check it out here (all of his interviews are great).