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November 06, 2002 - Image 9

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 2002-11-06

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Wednesday
November 6, 2002
michigandaily.com/arts
mae@nmichigandaily. cor

RTS

9

ESCANABA COMES HOME TO DVD

'Escanaba
DVD has
very little
to offer
By Ryan Lewis
Daily Arts Writer
When Jeff Daniels situates him-
self in the director's chair, after hav-
ing written the script, and then
stands in front of the camera to star
in his own film, everyone is in for a
treat. The accomplished stage and
film actor has concocted a wonder-
fully imaginative script for his
three-tiered effort of "Escanaba in
da Moonlight." Curiously strange
and downright hilarious, this adap-
tation of the same-named play is a
laugh riot geared toward Michigan-
ders, but funny for everyone.
Daniels plays Ruben Soady, the
oldest person in Escanaba never to
"hang a buck." With hunting season
a day away, everyone superstitiously
avoids him as he travels out to the
family's cabin. Something has kept

Jeff Daniels discusses making
films outside of Hollywood

Courtesy of Monarch

Jeff Daniels talks trash with the boys of summer.

him from shooting his deer, and if he
does not kill one this season, he will
break the infamous Soady-family
record for oldest man without a kill.

bunctious energy.
Daniels, Presnell and Albright are
a great trio with true comedic value.
People from the northern Midwest

Upon arriving at the cabin, he is can genuir
welcomed by his father
Albert (Harve Presnell,
"Fargo") and quirkyU
brother Remnar (Joey ESCANABA IN DA
Albright). The relation- MOONLIGHT
ship amongst the Soady DVD
men is one of the Picture/Sound: **
strangest dynamics
ever filmed. After a Movie: ***I
brief time, they are Features: No Stars
joined by the short, Monarch Home Video
mumbling, bottomless-
appetite Jimmer
(Wayne David Parker). Strange is a relief
occurrences begin happening: They buster con
experience alien sightings, Albert's The DV
whiskey turns to sap and Jimmer's in qualit'
car catches on fire and mysteriously scenes, a
drives off. It only becomes wackier mentary a
when Ranger Tom (Randall Godwin) have all b
joins the bunch, but Ruben remains the DVD
hell-bent on bagging his first buck. tremendo
With Euchre, deer hunting and legend tha
"Uper" dialect, it is a treat for Mid- learn abou
westerners who can relate to the fication.I
story. Daniels' film is fun, original features
and weird enough to be hilarious quality is
without the overkill that most quality is
recent comedies force. Although he "Escana
almost certainly will not receive hilarious f
any tremendous recognition else to tho
because of the regional release and it may not
relative obscurity of the film, this is loaded D\
a great directorial debut that splendid
Daniels has packed full of ram- spend ane

fnely appreciate the authen-
ticity of the accents and
quirkiness of the actors.
Their dialect is the per-
fect blend of Canadian
and Michiganian. Park-
er's character Jimmer is
the funniest part of the
movie. His whiskey-
chugging, rooftop
introduction is a stroke
of comedic genius.
Watching these little
known actors on screen
f from the cliched block-
nedies.
JD itself is relatively low
y. Commentary, deleted
behind the scenes docu-
nd production stills would
een fantastic additions to
- there is definitely a
us amount of history and
at would be interesting to
ut or at least receive clari-
But there are no special
on the disc. The sound
decent, but the picture
mediocre at best.
aba in da Moonlight" is a
film that sadly offers little
se who purchase it. While
be the most interesting or
VD on the market, it is a
film and a great way to
evening.

By John Laughlin
Daily Arts Writer
"Escanaba in da Moonlight" was veteran actor and
playwright Jeff Daniels' first time directing, but
apparently he didn't feel all that uncomfortable.
Daniels said, "I found myself standing on the set and
it was as if I was standing there with Woody Allen and
Jonathan Demme and Jim Brooks and other (directors)
... so you had choices, you had options. It was almost
as if I had this team behind me that was kind of in my
ear ... you didn't feel alone."
Escanaba was originally a stage play written by
Daniels after he finished the hugely successful
"Dumb and Dumber." Daniels remembers, "I
thought, -I want to write something for the theater
that makes people laugh as hard as they seem to be
laughing at 'Dumb and Dumber.' There's a writer
named Robert Traver (also known as John Voker)
who wrote a book called "Danny and the Boys,"
which is a series of short stories about loggers and
lumberjacks in the '40s and the '50s. There was kind
of a style to that - the way they talked and they way
they thought - that came out in these kind of comic
short stories. So I read that and it kind of opened the
door for what these guys could be and how outra-
geous I could make the story."
The play "Escanaba" was tremendously successful
in Detroit. Daniels boasts, "We ran it for three months
and it was a big hit. When we blew up the theater and
decided to renovate we needed to keep the staff so we
opened it at the Gem Theater, and it ran for 16 straight
months and broke the record for the longest running
show in Detroit history."
While popular as a stage production there is always
the possibility that a play just won't easily translate to
the screen. The dialogue-heavy world of theater often
results in a boring, visually unappealing film. "Escan-
aba," however, passes over that hurdle and then some.
The screen had a lot more to offer Daniels in terms of
getting his characters out of their cabins and into new
settings. "The story, is the same. Many of the lines that
are in the play are there in the screenplay. The screen-
play probably expands on that ... some of the longer
monologues in the play were chopped down or cut
completely, but basically it's all there. The play takes
place entirely inside that cabin ... but "cut to" is a
beautiful thing to be able to write at the end of a scene
- you don't have that luxury on stage."
Daniels filmed on location in Escanaba. "We should
have gone to Canada and shot it just like everybody
else because of the dollar and the rebate they give film
companies ... as soon as I cross the river I've got
more money. But this is a Michigan film company and

we just felt that it was important to use the money we
had as best as we knew how and shoot it here. There
was an authenticity to the film that we've got ... The
town itself, after they got over 'Hollywood's gonna
come in and steal our daughters and do all that stuff,'
they couldn't have been more generous - they could-
n't have been more helpful."
The crew had the town at their disposal, and Daniels
was very pleased that he was able to put as much
money into its economy as he did. "We dropped
almost a million dollars in that town in three months,"
said Daniels. "What was great, the governor saw that
and he got interested .. .and then we did it again with
'Super Sucker,' our second film which we shot in
Jackson."
Does "Escanaba" limit its audience due to its specif-
ic locale? The play experienced few problems with
alienating audiences but Hollywood was still relucant
to greenlight the Upper Peninsula project. Daniels
responds, "Initially when I was shopping the idea, I
had a (producer) in L.A. who said, 'This is a really
great idea, but you need to think outside the box,'
which is a phrase they like to throw around. He said,
'Yoopers in Vegas. There's your title. Think about
that.' So I just said, 'Ya know what, if it ends up being
regional, fine.' So was 'Full Monty,' so was 'Waking
Ned Divine.' What I know is that they hunt deer all
over the country ... so that kind of guys going off
hunting, guys going off for a weekend kind of thing -
I think everyone will get it. While it's got a regional
flavor to it, I still think it translates."
Facilitating the transition from stage to screen,
Daniels used the original stage actors in the film as
well. Daniels brags, "The casting couldn't have been
better and 'Escanaba' is the stronger for it. I wasn't
interested in 'casting up' as they say. These guys origi-
nated the roles; they know them best and ya know,
funny is funny. We're breaking rules and going against
the trend of 'casting up,' but it's important as an exten-
sion of this theatre company. I've got to use as many
of those people in the films as we can. They are cer-
tainly qualified, and they can certainly do it; and in
Escanaba's case, having originated the roles, they also
deserved it."
A loyal and prolific man, Daniels lives in Michigan
with his family and enjoys filming here. He says, "As
an actor you're going on a plane to wherever, and I've
got family and I want to stay here ... I have a theater
company here. There's no reason, especially now with
digital video coming, you can't tell stories from here
- I certainly have as a playwright. It keeps me home,
which is what my job doesn't always do."
The future of filming in Michigan now looks
brighter thanks to loyal filmmakers like Jeff Daniels.

Courtesy of Monarch
Jeff Daniels carries a big gun.

Loosen
up'
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