MORE FROM SAN DIEGO: Pekar, Producers talk 'American Splendor'

Mon, July 21st, 2003 at 12:00am PDT

TV/Film
Rob Worley, Columnist

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Harvey Pekar and Joyce Brabner chaired a panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego on Friday to discuss the

upcoming "American Splendor" movie. Also on hand was producer Ted Hope

and Pekar and Brabner's daughter Danielle Batone.

DEVELOPMENT

Hope

told fans that he was one of many producers who had tried to get the movie made over the years. "I encountered all of them them along the way...and never thought they really understood what 'American Splendor,' the movie, really should be," the producer said. "I didn't know any better myself, but I knew they hadn't got it."

Hope was introduced to Pekar and Brabner by their mutual friend, comic-artist Dean Haspiel.

"So one night, it was like, I don't know, a Thursday night and I was sitting in my apartment drinking, alone and I got a phone call from some woman who said she heard I was interested in her husband," Hope said of his first encounter with Brabner.

Following that Hope, Pekar and Brabner began developing the movie and when the producer actually traveled to Cleveland to meet with the couple, he had an epiphany.

"When I met them, it was clear to me that [what] all the other...attempts to make the movie got wrong was that they didn't actually include the real Harvey, Joyce and Danielle," Hope said, "and any movie had to have as many different personas of Harvey Pekar that 'American Splendor' itself had, and not do it in a traditional way."

This led to the hiring of directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini who were known for quirky documentaries like "Off

the Menu: The Last Days of Chasen's."

Hope jokingly likened the movie to another that his Good Machine production shingle recently brought to the big screen. "It was about this kind of nerdy intellectual who couldn't help but get angry and when he got angry he became really compelling," Hope said of

his previous effort, "The Hulk."

"Then we took that formula and adapted it to 'American Splendor.'"

As much as he loved the project Hope freely admits that he had no faith that any studio would back the movie. Brabner concurred adding, "We had no faith at all. We figured we were fleecing this guy from New York."

Never the less the directors met

with Maud Nadler at HBO Films and got instant interest from. "The

door hadn't even closed yet when Maud picked up the phone and said she wanted to

make the movie," Hope said. "It took less than a year, from that

moment to when we were filming."

According to Hope, they were able to

make the movie with virtually no interference from HBO. It was shot in 24 days

and was in the can before the year was up.

Although a low budget was

allocated, HBO increased the funds for the movie after they saw the footage from

it, allowing the filmmakers to acquire the specific music Pekar wanted.

Although

nobody will think of it as an eye-candy movie hope revealed that "American

Splendor" actually contains more special effects shots than recent science

fiction movie "Solaris," which had an F/X budget that was six times

higher. The film is a one of a kind blend of documentary, dramatization and

animation.

CASTING

Pekar

and Brabner were asked about the actors who play them in the movie.

"I'm

played by Hope Davis and then, later in the movie, also by Molly Shannon,"

Brabner said.

Brabner's parents had a hard time coping with Davis playing

their daughter. "I kept hearing, 'We saw this picture on the Internet of

this woman who doesn't look a bit like you and she has this awful wig and these

awful bangs,'" Brabner told the crowd. "My mother does not remember

that that's the way I used to wear my hair."

Pekar and Brabner discussed the work of Paul Giamatti, who

plays Pekar in segments of the movie. Although they weren't familiar with the

actor, they were exposed to his work shortly after he signed to do the film.

One

night they were watching one of his movies and Brabner commented,

"There was this blue orangutan bitching and whining on this movie, 'Planet

of the Apes,' and I said, 'Hey, Harvey. That hairy guy's gonna be you!'"

As

far as "American Splendor" goes, Pekar said, "I thought Paul was

great. I think there's gonna be a great deal of praise for him and, I don't

know, I think he may win some big prizes down the road for it.

"He did

what I considered an excellent job. It was a creative character that was in

interpretation, a very interesting one, based on the comics, instead of just

trying to imitate me. I was very lucky to have him play me.

Hope also related

a story about why Pekar was on board with Giamatti from the start: "He

asked you why you felt comfortable with him playing you and you said, 'because

you're dad kicked Pete Rose out of baseball.'"

The actor's father, Bart

Giamatti was the Commissioner of Baseball who permanently banned the

then-manager from the league due to his gambling habits.

"He was a great

man, A. Bartlett Giamatti," Pekar said.

Brabner described her initial

reaction to seeing Giamitti's performance on the set. Giamatti was emulating

Pekar's distinct voice, raspy from a vocal cord nodule. "We just wanted to

go up and shake this guy and say, 'Stop straining your voice like this, Harvey!

Tuck in your shirt. Straighten up,' but there was a camera going and I realized

that's not my husband. I don't get to nag him."

LIFE

One

fan asked how the movie has changed Pekar's life.

"We've all made

tremendous amounts of money," Hope said.

"We don't have to go to

places like this to try and pump the sales," Brabner added.

Another fan

asked Pekar if he was worried the new level of celebrity would be a burden, as

it was to his cohort Robert Crumb after "Crumb" hit movie theaters.

"No,

no," Pekar said emphatically. "I'll take as much money as I can get. I

haven't got nearly enough left. I'm retired now and I want my old age to be as

easy as possible."

"American Splendor" debuts in New York, Los

Angeles and Cleveland on August 15th, with a wider release to follow. Hope

encourages fans to check the movie out during its respective opening weekends to

send a clear message that there is an audience for small, quirky movies like

this one.

 
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