Last night was not the premiere of “Answer This!” but it felt like one. As filmmakers Mike and 'U' alum Chris Farah walked onstage to the sound of raucous applause, one couldn’t help but get caught up in the moment. The Farah brothers gave shout-outs to local high schools, which were received with loud screams, and the two actors in the audience, Chris Parnell (“30 Rock”) and former University Professor Ralph Williams, stood up to receive their dues.
Sitting in Espresso Royale last Monday, Chris and Mike were much calmer: Scenes from their first feature film “Answer This!” were shot near here.
“Moving out to L.A. ... it’s just nice to come back to Ann Arbor,” said Mike, producer of “Answer This!” and “Funny or Die,” in an interview with The Michigan Daily. “It feels very comfortable, it’s a comfort zone. Just walking here from the car, just the smell of leaves on the ground.”
In the past year or so, filmmakers have come to Ann Arbor — and Michigan in general — for tax breaks and Midwestern scenes. But have any of them known this place well enough to express the intimate simplicity of “leaves on the ground?” To have movies like “The Ides of March” filmed here is not quite the same as to see a film that understands what it means to be in Ann Arbor. “Answer This!” doesn’t use unmarked buildings in a generic Midwestern town, but instead celebrates the Diag, the Big House — the things students hold dear. We love Clooney and Gosling, but do they love us?
“I’d tried writing a bunch of broad scripts,” said Chris, the “Answer This!” writer and director, in an interview. “(But) they weren’t anchored in things I knew or connected with. So I decided that for my next script (I wanted) to do something that was really rooted in something that meant a lot more to me.”
Few things are more ingrained in people than their hometown, the place they grew up and the place they went to college. But “Answer This!” doesn’t just celebrate the University — it also seems to transform it.
“Something about movies, and this movie particularly, has the effect of making these places that are so familiar look incredibly big and epic,” Chris said.
He motioned down State Street to Ashley’s, the center of most action in the film, and discussed how the movie made this simple piece of sidewalk seem like so much more. The brothers hope the entire film can allow University students to see our campus and our city from a new, epic perspective.
The two also enjoyed giving some shout-outs to some of the “traditions” around campus. Laughing, Chris discussed a sex scene that takes place in the Hatcher Graduate Library “stacks.”
“It was fantastic to see how people here responded differently than people in Hollywood,” he said with a slight smirk.
The talk ended with Chris recalling how sometimes, when driving to their parents’ house in Ann Arbor, Mike used to say, “Let’s take it downtown,” getting off at an earlier exit — not because it’s faster, but just to take it all in. The Big House, Main Street, the leaves on the ground; Ann Arbor, their town, our town.
For 90 minutes during yesterday’s screening event, hundreds of individuals were transformed into a community of friends celebrating the triumph of a city. Every new Ann Arbor locale, inside joke and recognizable actor brought laughter, cheering, applause and excited chattering. It wasn’t about seeing a movie, it was about knowing that afterwards you would walk down the street and pass Ashley’s, and you would be standing where trivia jock Izzy threw up. Or it was seeing the theater you were inside of, in the movie, while watching the movie. It was a moment for happiness, a giant raising of glasses to our city, to simply enjoying what we know best.
The movie showing was complimented by unreleased “Funny or Die” shorts (so in a way it was a premiere), and a Q&A session with the brothers and Parnell. They drew laughter in their setup to “Answer This!” After the film the brothers and Parnell answered questions, anything from “Why was Professor Williams’s name changed in the movie?” to “What kind of advice would you offer young comedic actors?”
The three exited behind the red curtain to cheering and unanswered questions, informing everyone that they would be going to Ashley’s — the locus of the trivia battles in the film — for drinks and food.