Playbill On-Line reporter David Lefkowitz is in Utah the week of July 13-20 visiting the Sundance Playwrights Lab and the Utah Shakespeare Festival. This is second of several reports.
The process of putting together Moon Over Buffalo, Ken Ludwig's hit Broadway farce of 1995, has been documented on film by the Pennebaker family for their upcoming documentary, "Moon Over Broadway."
No release date has been set. According to spokesperson Philip Himberg at the Sundance Festival in Utah, the documentary was screened in a near-finished form in early July 1997 at the Fest. Reaction was very positive, though the filmmakers are still seeking money to finance distribution.
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 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."
Frazer Pennebaker, President of Pennebaker Associates, Inc., 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."
Now that the Westernhagen flick is in the can, the four Pennebakers (actually three familial Pennebakers and partner Chris Hegedus) are back at work on Moon Over Broadway.
"We shot 350 rolls on it," notes Frazer, "whereas with Compan' 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..."
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.
With late fall projected for the two hour rough cut (the final film should run 90 minutes), the Pennebakers are counting 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."
Since the film was produced essentially out of pocket, the Pennebakers are looking for a producer. They're pretty confident they've found one in the BBC's "Fine Cut" independent film series, which all but gave them a check to pre-buy the documentary. Yet another delay could happen, however, because Moon Over Buffalo the play is supposed to open in London around that time. The BBC may want to hold off on opening the film until the show has run through its own necessary publicity. Film festivals are also unlikely at this point, added Frazer, "because festivals are either for distributors and buyers, or for the press. And we'll miss the deadline on Sundance anyway."
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."
-- By David Lefkowitz