Harold Ramis Invites Chicagoans To Meet The Oscars
by Matt Fagerholm
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For the second year in a row, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences invite Chicagoans to the “Meet the Oscars, Chicago” exhibit, presented by Kodak at The Shops at North Bridge on Michigan Avenue.
From February 25th through Oscar night (March 7th), movie buffs will have the opportunity to see historic Oscars both old and new, as well as get their picture taken holding one of them. Academy Awards on display include the Best Actress Oscar awarded to Bette Davis in 1938 for her performance in Jezebel, the Oscar awarded to the DuPont Film Manufacturing Corporation and Eastman Kodak Company in 1930/31 for super-sensitive panchromatic film, as well as a group of Oscars in various stages of completion, as manufactured by Chicago’s R.S. Owens & Company. And until March 5th, the Oscar for this year’s Best Actor winner will be on display as well.
At the exhibit’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, various people were on hand for interviews, including filmmaker Harold Ramis (Groundhog Day, Year One), who’s serving as co-chair of this year’s Oscar Night America (ONA) Chicago committee (for the Gene Siskel Film Center’s live simulcast of the show). Film Monthly got to chat with Ramis about a variety of topics, including Second City, Judd Apatow, “The Office,” and the importance of thinking at the movies.
FILM MONTHLY (FM): The last time I ran into you was at a screening of Harry Potter 4...
HAROLD RAMIS (HM): When they announced the Harry Potter franchise film rights, I called my agents and said, “My kids read this book, I like it, could you get me the job?” They said it was already promised. Then my agent called back and said, “They’re offering you Harry Potter 3 or 4,” and I thought, ‘Well, this franchise isn’t going to last…’ [laughs]
FM: What led you to serving as co-chair of the ONA Chicago committee this year?
FM: What are the advantages of shooting a film in Chicago?
HR: Well for me, sleeping at home—although I’ve heard of directors who, when they’re working in their hometown, their wives tell them to go to a hotel. [laughs] I’ve shot here several times; my Al Franken movie [Stuart Saves His Family] was partially shot here, I shot Groundhog Day entirely in the area, and I shot Ice Harvest in the area. I love working here; crews are great, people are great, locations are beautiful.
FM: What was it like reuniting with fellow Second City collaborators at the reunion show this past December?
HR: Wow, that was incredible. As much fun as I assumed it looked, if you could see the emails that were exchanged among the cast members of every generation, people were glowing about the event. It was one of the nicest things career-wise that’s ever happened to me.
FM: What was the preparation like? Was there a lot of stress over which characters to include?
HR: Yeah, and you could tell which people are the most neurotic. Catherine O’Hara sent me a hundred e-mails about how we don’t rehearse enough, and how this piece won’t work. The people in the SCTV section are so hysterical and so much fun to be around. I love those people. There was an intense rehearsal that had to be jammed into two days, so it was a little nerve-racking, but so much fun once we got onstage.
HR: Yeah, Judd and I connected because I noticed that he kept referencing my films every time he was interviewed and it’s just generational, it’s natural. When I started looking into these chronologies, I realized that my stuff is older to young people now than silent movies were when I was their age. That’s how long ago these movies were made. But Judd and I literally grew up on that stuff. It kind of started when I acted in Orange County, then I invited him into The Ice Harvest and he put me in Knocked Up and Walk Hard. It’s a really good group of people. So for me, I feel like their grandfather. Year One literally had three generations; Michael Cera is not much older than my son, and Judd could be his father. I do see a similarity in the way we work.
HR: Gene came to me when he just finished college. He was an intern at my Hyde Park office. I met Lee when he was working as a waiter in Martha’s Vineyard. He just finished film school, and they met working as production assistants on two different projects of mine—one a TV project, and the other a film project. That was in the late 90s, and I read all their specs and they were doing good work. They wrote a pilot spec that was so funny that it got them a job on “The Office,” and I directed four episodes. The fourth is premiering this Thursday…
FM: What was the experience like directing part two of the anticipated special where Pam gives birth?
HR: It was written as two separate episodes that were going to run consecutive weeks and then NBC wanted a one-hour event because it was sweeps week. So they combined them and that’s fine; there’s obviously continuity there. She goes into labor in part one and has a baby in part two. But I was excited about it, it’s always fun to work with that group.
FM: What’s the atmosphere like on “The Office” set?
HR: They’re so self-contained. They’re their own freestanding production facility in the middle of LA, so when you enter in there, you’re in, “The Office.” The warehouse set and the office set are part of the same building that they write in and work out of. So it’s a very complete environment; the editing rooms are right there and the cast is all around, and they’re really good people.
FM: Had you known Steve Carell previously from his work at Second City?
HR: I didn’t know him at Second City. I was gone in those years, but when we met, we got along great the first time I worked on “The Office.” I took him to the NBA All-Star game in Las Vegas that year. We gambled together and watched the game court side. He’s a great guy.
FM: What attracts you to exploring spiritual and philosophical issues within the framework of satire?
HR: The danger with all popular entertainment is that it’s trivial and forgettable, and has no real reason to be there, other than to waste your time, and provide employment for a lot of people. The employment part I get, the wasting of other people’s time I don’t get. People ask me what I watch on network television, and there’s a lot of good stuff. I wouldn’t put down the quality of it, but much of it doesn’t mean anything to me. I don’t see how it affects my life. I don’t see how it teaches me anything or makes me think about anything. Take a movie like A Serious Man, for instance. I saw it twice months ago and I’m still thinking about it. [The film explores] huge existential issues that are really bothersome—things that we’re trying to escape from with most conventional entertainment. Those are the very things I want to think about. I heard people leaving the theater saying, “When I go the movies, I don’t want to think,” and I think, ‘Well, just shoot yourself in the head!’ I was at “The Long Red Road” at the Goodman Theater the other day. Philip Seymour Hoffman directed it, and it’s very bleak, very dark and tragic. At the intermission, I heard one guy say to another, “Well, it’s no ‘My Fair Lady.’” [laughs] Well, yeah there’s a place for “My Fair Lady,” but there’s a place for this too.
FM: Do you feel that the Academy has honored films like that this year?
HR: They have, just look at the nominees….
The “Meet the Oscars, Chicago” exhibit is open Monday through Saturday from 10am to 7pm, and Sunday from 11am to 6pm, at 520 North Michigan Ave. Admission is free. The 82nd Annual Academy Awards will air on ABC on March 7th at 7pm CST.
Matt Fagerholm Matt Fagerholm is a freelance writer, film enthusiast and critic in Chicago.
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