Fresh from well-received screening at the Toronto Film Festival, the Pennebakers' documentary film, Moon Over Broadway, will next play at the Hamptons Film Festival in Sag Harbor, LI, Oct. 16-17.
After that, a limited theatrical release is planned, though the filmmakers are still seeking a distributor for the documentary, which follows the creation of Ken Ludwig's Broadway hit, Moon Over Buffalo, from conception to opening night.
Frazer Pennebaker, President of Pennebaker Associates, Inc., told Playbill On-Line (Sept. 26) that if a distributor "doesn't show up soon, we'll self distribute and open it at a place like [NYC's] Film Forum. Eventually, of course, it will go to TV and home video. Financially, it's imperative. At this point we have keen interest from Bravo; it's just a matter of dotting the I's and the t's."
Frazer noted that a theatrical release (as opposed to direct-to-video) also gives the film the feel of "a larger event. It's massively different how the audience reacts, and you're reminded how funny the film is in places."
According to spokesperson Philip Himberg at the Sundance Festival in Utah, the documentary was screened there in a near-finished form in early July 1997 at the Fest. Reaction was very positive. Shot mostly in rehearsals, the film recounts the day-to-day progress of the show from read-throughs to dress rehearsals to opening night and the actual run.
Moon actress Carol Burnett, a guest speaker at the Sundance Theatre Lab (formerly called the Playwrights' Lab), told members of the visiting American Theatre Critics Assocation July 15 that the film made a strong impression on her: "Watching it was a little painful. But you see the whole process, and it's really fascinating."
Asked if the mixed reviews Moon Over Buffalo received from New York reviewers affected the actors, Burnett replied, "It could be hurtful, but we knew the audiences were with us. And one thing I've learned in this business -- the audience is always right."
At that time, Frazer told Playbill On-Line that editing on the film was delayed because another film job came along. "We were asked to do a film on this German rock 'n' roller, Marius Westernhagen, and the pay was very good. It was very interesting, actually, since we didn't speak the language."
Once the Westernhagen flick was in the can, the four Pennebakers (actually three familial Pennebakers and partner Chris Hegedus) went back to work on Moon Over Broadway.
"We shot 350 rolls on it," notes Frazer, "whereas with Company we only used about 80 [rolls are ten minutes in length]. There were some constraints because of Actors' Equity; we could only use three minutes of actual performance footage. But we were allowed 45 minutes of rehearsal footage, and since dress rehearsal is pretty close to the real thing..."
The Pennebakers counted on their Avid editing machines to speed the creative process. "It's all digital," noted Frazer. "Not like the old Steenbeck flatbeds -- though we do still have one of them."
Among the interesting vignettes Frazer finds in the film are times when, "Ken the writer feels beleaguered because everyone's asking him to change lines all over the place and punch things up. He was moving more towards Lend Me A Tenor again when Buffalo wasn't quite that kind of play."
"We also got some amazing footage," Frazer continues, "on the night the set broke and they couldn't change the scenery. The director took Carol Burnett in hand, and for half an hour just did the Carol Burnett Show. She's born to be out there."
Pennebaker talked to Playbill during the shooting of the documentary in the winter of 1995-96. Read the interview in Feature Stories.
Moon Over Buffalo, the play, opened at the Martin Beck Theatre on Broadway in October 1995 and starred Carol Burnett, Philip Bosco, Randy Graff and Dennis Ryan. Pennebaker family films (most closely associated with filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker, father of Frazer) have included "Company" and the Bob Dylan documentary, "Don't Look Back." Their next project is "Searching For Jimi Hendrix," which looks more at the rock star's contributions as a songwriter, rather than the usual performer/guitarist angle.
-- By David Lefkowitz