Though there's no contract and no budget, the D.A. Pennebaker documentary film of Elaine Stritch is well underway. In recent weeks, the Pennebaker camp has followed Stritch around (often prompted by a sudden phone call from the actress), with the latest footage opportunity being a yard sale she held in Sag Harbor July 21.
According to producer Frasier Pennebaker, who is working in the film with father D.A. Pennebaker, the whole idea was hatched by Stritch. "We saw the show on Broadway and went back stage," said the younger Pennebaker. "She called us the next day and said she wanted us to make a film about it." Both Stritch and the Pennebakers have homes in Sag Harbor, Long Island (though the former is in the process of selling hers).
The filmmakers attended the final performance of Elaine Stritch at Liberty. Not possessing permission from the theatrical unions to film, the Pennebaker restricted their work to back stage, creating a "B-roll," which is used for background material. "We were lucky to get what we got," Frasier Pennebaker said.
Since then, the cameras have followed Stritch as she: got her hair cut at Vincent's at the Plaza Hotel; showed a maid how to make a bed at the Hotel Carlyle; sold cast-off items to passersby from her Sag Harbor yard.
"We're trying to film her in real life as it's reflected in the play," Frasier Pennebaker said. "The play is too long. We can't film the whole thing. You have to use it as a jumping off point. We're trying to figure out what we're doing. It's evolving." The Pennebakers expect to tail the actress during a couple dates of the upcoming U.S. tour, which will begin next winter. In the meantime, they're meeting with Stritch's agent Sam Cohn and the producers of At Liberty to finally hammer out a contract that will outline the terms of the documentary.
D.A. Pennebaker began his career in the '60s with a series of well received documentaries on rock figures, including "Boy Dylan—Don't Look Back," "Jerry Lee Lewis—The Story of Rock 'n' Roll," and "Monterey Pop." His recent works include "The War Room," about Bill Clinton's successful 1992 campaign for the presidency; "Startup.com," about the doc.com crash; and "Moon Over Broadway," about the theatrical journey of Ken Ludwig's Moon Over Buffalo. He previously filmed Stritch in his documentary about the recording of the Company cast album.
Elaine Stritch At Liberty won the 2002 Tony Award for Special Theatrical Event.