26th July, 2010

Majestic Crest Theater, Westwood, CA



After having been lucky enough to visit the set a couple of times when SUDDEN DEATH was filming, I was especially excited about seeing the finished product and seeing all the great people from the cast and crew again.

The screening was held at the Majestic Crest, a beautiful ,old time theater complete with a glowing neon marquis on the outside and a gorgeous, city mural on the inside (plus twinkly sparkles on the ceiling to look like the night sky!). I arrived about fifteen minutes early and was delighted to find Johnny Wolf first thing and collect a hug and catch up on life. Those of you who've met the Wolf Dog already know what a thoughtful and caring person he is. It's no wonder he and Dougie are such good buds! I pretty much velcroed myself to Johnny's side for the rest of the evening and got to meet his friend Barbara Wurden (the Handy Goddess). She's much more low key in person than her YouTube zany persona and it was interesting to talk to about her interior design work.

SUDDEN DEATH producers Melanie Hall (lovely in her black dress) and the lively Nick Jones were zipping to and fro, meeting and greeting everyone. I also got to say hello to wunderkind director Adam Hall before he dashed off to change into a crisp white shirt. Lead actor Matt Lutz gave me a big smile and wave outside the lobby, and I ran into Tish, the production coordinator, when I made a dash to the restroom. It was a really nice surprise so many of the crew remembered me from my set visit. I know Melanie and her team worked their buns off to put the screening together and I was happy to see they had a huge turnout!

While I spoke briefly to Dougie's niece, Jessie (super nice young woman!), Dougie and Mrs. Laurie arrived. Dougie looked extremely dapper and delicious in a chocolate brown suit while Laurie's pretty, peaches and cream face was nicely set off by a black outfit and bling-y earrings. Johnny and I both collected quick hugs and greetings from Mr. and Mrs. Jones before the happily smiling couple got absorbed into a hugfest by all the well wishers waiting in line outside the theater. Meanwhile, the always fun and friendly Scott Ganyo had arrived and he, Johnny and I all chatted about the SUDDEN DEATH project and other things before they opened up for the seating to begin.

Johnny, Barbara and I sat near the back, enjoying the snack bar treats Johnny generously proffered. I could make out Dougie's unmistakable form way up in front of us. The house was almost completely full, only a few seats in the back unclaimed. Nick Jones gave the audience a brief, warm welcome and explained that SUDDEN DEATH was screening with two other shorts: GIL'S BROTHER and THE MOURNING AFTER. Like SUDDEN DEATH, GIL'S BROTHER was a USC thesis film, but that's where the similarity ended. It was a brief, harrowing look at a family fractured by alcoholic parents and how the eldest son was forced to take a stand against his immature father. Johnny, Barbara and I all agreed it was well acted and nicely filmed. Sadly, the film lacked any likeable characters, but the tension between them certainly held the viewer's interest.

Next up was the longer film THE MOURNING AFTER, which featured a couple whose infidelity was brought to light on the morning of 9/11. It was a study of how each individual dealt with his/her betrayal and survivor's guilt in the aftermath of the terroristic tragedy. It was a thought provoking piece with many powerful images, but Johnny and I both felt the lead actor's performance was not quite up to the material.

Needless to say, by the time SUDDEN DEATH came on screen, the audience was primed for more lighthearted and laugh inducing fare--and they got it in spades. I don't want to say too much and spoil it for those waiting to see it, so I'll try to be as generalized as I can:

The vivid colors, lively music and sparkling performances started with frame one of SUDDEN DEATH. For those who don't know, the story is about a jaded scientist (Matt Lutz as Nathan) who creates a love drug that induces all the euphoria of falling in love ... without any of the pain, suffering and heartbreak associated with another person being involved! Nathan's formula gets secretly reworked by a particular government agency in the hopes of creating a biological weapon, but disaster strikes when it results in Sudden Death Syndrome instead. Once infected, the person sings out all their private thoughts and even dances until death abruptly (and almost mercifully) ends the humiliation. During the frantic search for a cure, Nathan reluctantly falls in love with lab scientist Rachel, played with saucy sweetness by the very lovely Autumn Hurlbert. Stuck resignedly between the two love birds is Dougie as Jonathan, head of the research lab. The three actors played energetically off each other, keeping the audience laughing constantly. Matt and Autumn's natural chemistry together really enhanced their characters' alternating emotions of elation and angst. Meanwhile, Dougie's subtle body language and facial expressions in response to all their shenanigans were spot on (I especially enjoyed his quizzical reaction to the "her hands felt like sausage" line in the main love song.

Kahle McCann (the film's very funny lyricist) also had some laugh inducing onscreen moments as lab assistant Todd. His lab colleague, Beth Castle, provided the angelic voice and comedic background to Nathan and Rachel's most romantic moments. Throughout SUDDEN DEATH, Adam's confident direction, Dave Selle's crisp cinematography, and Kenny Wood's musical compositions kept everything cohesive and percolating at a very lively pace. Choreographer Sarah Scherger and the dancers in the opening and closing sequences also deserve special kudos for their meticulous timing and high energy. I got a kick out of seeing Dougie practically waltz through the big finale, carrying the precious glass vial of the cure while the "Sudden Life" music /dance crescendos around him on the New York street set . I wish I could mention and compliment each person who was a part of this film, but then my report would be about 100 pages!

When it ended, SUDDEN DEATH got an extremely enthusiastic response from the audience. Almost everyone stuck around in the theater, talking and laughing about the film and congratulating the cast and crew. They even ignored free brownies waiting in the lobby--now that's saying something! It is no wonder the film is being well received by the various film festival organizations Melanie Hall has been busy submitting their project to. When I was finally able to make my way to Adam, Melanie and Nick to congratulate them on an amazing job, Melanie said Adam already has a feature length script of SUDDEN DEATH written and it is their hope to get that launched. In addition to Adam's focus on comedies, Melanie and Nick are also interested in producing true life dramas. I wish them the best of luck on their endeavors.

Of course, both Dougie and Mrs. Laurie were mobbed by happy audience members and it was total hug machine time. By hovering like a vulture, I was finally able to inch my way up to Dougie and pass along bosies and love from The Tank, plus pat him on the back for his very funny portrayal of Jonathan. It was a role that could easily have been overdone in a muggy way, but his use of subtle eye expressions and simple little body movements (like a small shoulder shrug here and there) were pitch perfect. Doug said he was extremely happy with the way SUDDEN DEATH had turned out. He'd laughed so hard at one point, he said he'd actually kicked his leg up in the air--something he'd never done before. Clearly, he was enjoying himself, as well as the positive audience reaction, and it made me feel warm and fuzzy inside as I watched him mix and mingle effortlessly, his eyes shining and his endearing smile never leaving his face.

About this point, the theater staff were ordering us all outside, so Johnny left for a bit to walk Barbara to her car. Earlier, I'd had the fun of chatting with Camden Toy, Derek Maki (dressed exuberantly in a Superman shirt, matching belt buckle and shoes) and Derek's sweet partner, Alberto. Now, I gleefully jabbered more with Scott while waiting to get a last moment with Dougie to snap at least one picture for dear Helen! Johnny returned and I chuckled listening to him and Scott talk acting shop with their funny stories and impersonations. I had to keep an eye on my watch because the parking garage would totally shut down at 11 p.m. and I didn't want my car to get locked inside. Hoping I wasn't making a nuisance of myself, I managed to make it to Dougie's side one last time for a couple of pictures, huggles and even a bit of much appreciated face nibbling.

The ever chivalrous Johnny now walked me to the parking garage... and as I drove him back to his car, we crossed paths with Dougie, Mrs. Laurie, Master Wayne, Jessie and others rushing to the parking garage to make sure THEY didn't get locked in either. So Johnny and I got to enjoy a totally unexpected, high speed farewell from the Jones!

I was sorry I didn't get the chance to ask Dougie more about San Diego Comic Con, his time there with Guillermo del Toro, plus his recent shoot in Idaho, but that could wait for another time.

Instead, I felt blessed to enjoy Dougie and the cast and crew of SUDDEN DEATH as they basked in the glow of a project so well done. I'll always remember the kindness the film's cast and crew showed to me. And I'll always be grateful for precious Dougie and how he made me feel so welcome, included and loved from start to finish.

Los Angeles, 30th July, 2010

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