'For Your Consideration': Hollywood's Ugly Side

Actor, writer and director Christopher Guest's mockumentary For Your Consideration takes a look at some of Tinsel Town's darker elements, all in the name of comedy.

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ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

For writer, director, musician and actor Christopher Guest, when it comes to comedy, nothing is off-limits. In his films, he's mocked British heavy metal music, wannabe theater buffs from small town Missouri, the parading, prancing pooches of the dog-show industry, and has even found humor in the 1960s American folk music scene.

(Soundbite of film "A Mighty Wind")

Unidentified Duo: (Singing) There's a kiss at the end of the rainbow more precious than a pot of gold.

SEABROOK: The chords may change and the scenes might different, but Guest's actors, who make up his cast of characters, remain pretty true, even from his Waiting for Guffman days.

Mr. CHRISTOPHER GUEST (Writer-Director-Actor): I'm feeling good about where we stand now with our cast. I think that the elements, as Dr. Watson said to Sherlock, are coming together, sir.

SEABROOK: Actors like Catherine O'Hara, Eugene Levy, Parker Posey and Harry Shearer. In his latest mockumentary, For Your Consideration, Guest turns the tables on his own business this time, revealing the comedic inner demons behind the glitz and glam of Tinsel Town.

(Soundbite of film "For Your Consideration")

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) In every actor, there lives a tiger, a pig, an ass and a nightingale. You never know which one's going to show up. Don't make assumptions about the talent. Don't assume that the talent can hear well. Don't assume they know the plot of the film.

SEABROOK: Christopher Guest joins us from our studio in New York.

Mr. GUEST: The reason I have this group of actors, and they've done the last four movies, is because most of these movies are improvised, and that is a special skill that not everyone can do. The actors that I choose are the best at that kind of work. And so that's why you keep seeing them.

SEABROOK: Where do you find them?

Mr. GUEST: Well, I already found them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: There are a few new people, though. I mean, chiefly notable among them, at least to me, is Ricky Gervais of The Office.

Mr. GUEST: That's true. Ricky Gervais, the incredible English actor and comedian, and writer and director, is in this new film.

(Soundbite of film "For Your Consideration")

Mr. RICKY GERVAIS (Actor): (As Martin Gibb) (Unintelligible)

Unidentified Woman #1 (Actress): (As character) Maybe.

Mr. GERVAIS: (As Gibb) What sort do you like?

Unidentified Woman #1: (As character) I like Latition(ph), Lesion.

Mr. GERVAIS: (As Gibb) Lesion, that's like a wound.

Unidentified Woman #1: (As character) No, it's a Latin restaurant, but I don't know what the word is.

Mr. GERVAIS: (As Gibb) Latin restaurant. You mean like Mexican, or...

Unidentified Woman #1: (As character) No, Latin. The people speak Latin.

Mr. GUEST: Well, I met him about two years ago in London, and we became friends and hit it off right away, and he's fantastic. I asked him if he'd be in this film. He said I've never been in a film, and I did a little begging, and he said yes.

SEABROOK: Okay, so a lot of it improvised.

Mr. GUEST: Yes.

SEABROOK: Give me the sense of how you would start a scene. What does the script look like? What do you do?

Mr. GUEST: Well, Eugene Levy and I have written the last four movies together, and we sit in an office. I have come up - previously, I've come up with an idea that I want to do, and I talk to Eugene about, and then we sit in our office and we work out the story and we do back histories of all the characters in the film. So every person who's going to be in the film has an entire life, basically.

We do a treatment that may be 25 or 30 pages long. It's a screenplay without the dialogue, basically, and then when we - after having talked to the actors, when we get ready to shoot, we shoot. There's no rehearsal.

SEABROOK: So wait. What does a screenplay without dialogue look like?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GUEST: Well, you know those little quotation marks around when people talk?

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: Yeah.

Mr. GUEST: Those are gone.

SEABROOK: Oh.

Mr. GUEST: Those are gone, and the lines are gone. So it will describe what happens in a scene, in every single scene. We've written out 120 index cards, approximately, that show exactly what happens in every seen, the information that has to be gotten out, but again, no dialogue.

SEABROOK: So there's this wonderful scene where Eugene Levy plays an actor's agent. Harry Shearer is the actor.

(Soundbite of film "For Your Consideration")

Mr. HARRY SHEARER (Actor): (As Victor Allen Miller) I'm working for scale. An actor my stature, 40 years in the business, there's no excuse for me working for scale.

Mr. EUGENE LEVY (Actor): (As Morley Orfkin) No, and that's exactly what I've been telling people. You should not be working for scale.

Mr. SHEARER: (As Miller) Good.

Mr. LEVY: (As Orfkin) Okay? But you know these producers, they have their own take on things. Victor, I'm on your side, all right? I'm your agent. You are my number one priority. There is nothing more important to me in my life than...

(Soundbite of cell phone)

Mr. LEVY: (As Orfkin) Than you. Excuse me. Yeah?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LEVY: (As Orfkin) Stranger, what do you say?

SEABROOK: Give me an example of how this scene came about. Did Eugene Levy have anything like that on his script?

Mr. GUEST: That was improvised. Eugene had actually heard an agent say that in his past, and so he decided to use that in the film. There are things that happen in this business that would surprise people, so we to actually had to tone down some of the events.

SEABROOK: Can you give me a sense of how you toned it down?

Mr. GUEST: Well, I can give you an example of something that happened a long time ago to me that is not in this movie, but...

SEABROOK: Please do.

Mr. GUEST: Where I was - there's something called pitching, which is where a writer will go into an office of a studio or production company to describe the film they want to make, and I - a long time ago - went in to do a pitch, and the executive fell asleep, which for anyone doing a pitch would be somewhat insulting and surprising. And then the executive woke up and said, let's do it.

SEABROOK: You're kidding me.

Mr. GUEST: No, I'm not. That's what I mean. It actually happened, and if you were to put that in a film, I suppose people wouldn't believe that it was possible or it was silly or whatever.

SEABROOK: Which film was it?

Mr. GUEST: Well, I can't say. I wouldn't say.

SEABROOK: One of the very funny parts of this movie is that you pick on the role of the producer. In this case, it's Jennifer Coolidge, who plays a character named Whitney Taylor Brown.

(Soundbite of film "For Your Consideration")

Unidentified Woman #2 (Actress): (As character) What does a producer do?

Ms. JENNIFER COOLIDGE (Actress): (As Whitney Taylor Brown) Lots of paying for sometimes ridiculous things, like snacks.

SEABROOK: What do producers do?

Mr. GUEST: Well, Jennifer Coolidge, an extremely talented, funny woman, that would not be your typical producer, I hope. A producer normally guides a production from beginning to end. They deal with the financial aspects of it, sometimes they deal with creative elements, working with the director. It depends on the film. There are different dynamics between producers and directors. It really would depend on the film.

SEABROOK: Are there producers that are like Whitney Taylor Brown in Hollywood, that seem to be just sort of rich women who sit around on the set because it's fun to be on the set?

Mr. GUEST: Well, again, you'd be surprised what goes on in this business, and we're - again, we're toning it down a bit. But there's some odd characters out there, and it's no fun to make a movie, especially a comedy, about people who are intelligent and competent. That won't get you very far.

SEABROOK: No, of course not. Have you seen Oscar buzz do something like this to a film set?

(Soundbite of film "For Your Consideration")

Unidentified Woman #3 (Actress): (As character) Apparently there's something on the Internet. Somebody brought up the idea of there being a possibility for an Oscar.

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character): For Home for Purim?

(Soundbite of squeals)

Unidentified Man #2 (Actor): (As character) The Internet, that's the one with e-mail, right?

Mr. GUEST: I have been on a film set where a crew member halfway through the film said to another crew member, you better get your tuxedo ready. We hadn't even finished the film. And I've seen this happen many, many times to actors. And it's a very sad dynamic because the - it's a very hard thing to process. If someone says you should get an award, there's really no way to internalize that. I'm not really sure what you're supposed to do with that information.

I think people mean it as a compliment, but ultimately it puts that person through a rollercoaster because they don't really know what to do with it, and then the anxiety increases, and it's a bit sad.

SEABROOK: Have you ever gotten an award?

Mr. GUEST: I've received a lot of awards, and I have, you know, I've been through situations where I've been nominated for awards and I've won, and I've been nominated and lost. So I felt at least I could approach this movie in a somewhat fair way. I guess ironically - when I was very young, I was nominated for a series of Grammy awards when I was working at the National Lampoon. We lost every single year. And then just a couple of years ago, Eugene Levy and I and Michael McKean won a Grammy for A Mighty Wind. And so it's not something that I - that's not what I live for personally. That's not why I do my work, but it is a reality.

SEABROOK: Have you ever thought about doing your next movie, perhaps, about a public radio newsroom?

Mr. GUEST: Yes, I imagine it's a riot.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GUEST: No, no. I think that would - no, that's way down on the list of things. That's number 78 last time I looked, number 78.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: So what's number one for what's coming up next? Can't you give...

Mr. GUEST: Well, there is no number one. It's interesting. It starts at 78, so in some ways, it's number one, and in some ways it's 78. I don't have a list. I don't know what I'm going to do next. I finish a movie and I generally take about a year and a half off to think, or not think, and then maybe something will come to me, and then I'll do another movie, or not. I really don't know. I have no idea.

SEABROOK: Well, listen, get in touch with the folks here at WEEKEND EDITION SUNDAY. We've got stories for you about the inner workings of public radio.

Mr. GUEST: I will, and thank you so much.

SEABROOK: It's absolutely my pleasure. Christopher Guest, director of For Your Consideration. He's an actor, writer and director, and he joins us from our studios in New York. Thank you very much.

Mr. GUEST: Thank you.

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