Firestarter: Actress Drew Barrymore so ignited one man's imagination that he filmed his attempts to date her.
Dreamers and Schemers
Guerilla-style doc 'My Date with Drew' charms its way into the eighth annual Sonoma Valley Film Festival
'The celebrity crush--the harmless and hopeless, well-intentioned celebrity crush--it's a universal theme in our culture," explains Brian Herzlinger. The 29-year-old filmmaker is amped-up in a way that only a first-time independent movie director could be. "Everybody has had a crush on somebody famous," he says by phone from Los Angeles, "someone whose posters or magazine clippings they had on their bedroom wall as a kid. For me, it's always been Drew Barrymore, ever since I was six years old and saw her in E.T., but it's a theme that nearly everybody identifies with."
"OK, before we go further, name your favorite Drew Barrymore movie," I ask, because things like that are important to guys like us.
"My favorite Drew Barrymore movie is The Wedding Singer," Herzlinger answers. "She was fantastic in that. With that movie she solidified herself as a leading actress in a romantic comedy, but also as a talented actress in general. She's so sweet in it, and it's not that easy to come off as sweet on film, but she does it so effortlessly.
"So what about you?" he then asks.
"What's my favorite Drew Barrymore movie?"
"What celebrities have you always wanted to date?"
"This could be embarrassing," I think to myself. Nevertheless, I tell Herzlinger that as a teenager--once I'd finally gotten over Julie Newmar as Catwoman and Logan's Run's sultry Jenny Agutter--I spent three whole years in a pathetic state of wishful thinking regarding Mork and Mindy's über-dazzling Pam Dawber.
"Pam Dawber! That's so funny," Herzlinger replies. "You know, I can get you a date with Pam Dawber, 'cause I know Mark Harmon, and he's married to Pam Dawber!"
"Really?" I consider. "Hmm, as it so happens, my wife likes Mark Harmon, so maybe we're looking at a double date?"
"Hey, it's worth a shot!" laughs Herzlinger. "These kinds of dreams, all dreams really, are always worth taking risks for--short of becoming a stalker, which I definitely draw the line at--because, you know, 'If you don't take risks, you'll have a wasted soul.' I don't know if you knew that."
I knew that.
I know it because Drew Barrymore said it in a magazine article. It's also the quote that opens Herzlinger's riveting, screamingly funny new documentary, My Date with Drew, onscreen twice during this week's Cinema Epicuria: Sonoma Valley Film Festival. My Date with Drew is a guerilla-style docu-comedy in which Herzlinger gives himself 30 days and a paltry $1,100 dollars to chronicle his dream quest of landing a date with Drew Barrymore.
He has 30 days because that's the deadline before he must return the camcorder he charged on his Visa card to Circuit City for a full refund, and he has $1,100 because that's the amount he won on a TV game show. (The winning answer? "Drew Barrymore.") That's the set-up. Within those parameters, Herzlinger stress-tests the famous "six degrees of separation" rule, interviewing everyone who knows anyone who knows someone who knows Drew, including actors Eric Roberts and Corey Feldman, Charlie's Angels screenwriter John August, and even Sonja the cosmetician who gives Drew her skin treatments. Herzlinger's buddies Brett and Jon come along for the ride and even encourage Nicole Kidman's former assistant, Kerry David, to jump on as producer, cheerleader and fashion consultant.
Not everyone in Herzlinger's sphere of influence, however, shares his giddy appreciation of unattainable, dream-date fantasies. His mother, for instance, doesn't approve of Drew Barrymore, insisting that if Herzlinger is successful in getting a date, he must promise not to make it a long-term relationship. His father wants to know why his son doesn't pursue Cameron Diaz or Gwyneth Paltrow instead of Drew, while the rest of his family just laughs at him. If that weren't discouraging enough, seven minutes into the film, when Herzlinger tells his filmmaking mentor, director Bill D'Elia, of his plans, the lordly D'Elia responds with harsh but affectionate honesty, telling Herzlinger, in no uncertain terms, that the project is a bad idea, a big mistake.
"When I was 27," D'Elia says, "my dream was world peace, not Drew Barrymore. You're embarrassing yourself." Even more harshly, D'Elia concludes, "You know what this is? The dumbing of America is complete. I hope for your sake you are successful. I hope for America's sake, it's a failure."
All I can say to that is that it's fortunate Herzlinger didn't give up right then and there, because the end result of his goofy (and, yes, occasionally embarrassing) quest is a very good, very smart film. Miraculously, My Date with Drew turns out to be a sweet-spirited tribute to the pursuit of crazy dreams and our oddly human willingness to take big stupefying risks, even when we're totally clueless as to where those quests will take us.
The movie has won awards at every film festival it's appeared at, and according to Herzlinger, has been greeted with riots of enthusiasm every time it's screened. Herzlinger and his co-directors, who serve as a kind of Greek chorus in the movie, have been eating up the adulation and are thrilled that the movie, which just gained a national distributor, will be playing to even bigger audiences when it hits the movie theaters this summer or fall.
"If My Date with Drew inspires somebody to pick up a camera and try to make a movie, knowing that the resources to do so are within their grasp," Herzlinger says, "or more importantly, if it inspires someone to go after a lifelong dream of any kind, then that's the best thing we can possibly hope for with this movie." Especially cool, he affirms, is the reaction the film has been getting from jaded Hollywood professionals and film-school scholars.
"People get such a kick out of the fact that we shot this movie on a handheld camcorder from Circuit City and edited it on a laptop," says Herzlinger. (It should be noted that Circuit City has recently changed its policy regarding return of merchandise, chopping the 30-day time limit to a scant 14 days, with a 15 percent restocking fee.) Still, with all the buzz Herzlinger and his movie have been getting, it's not impossible to imagine that we'll soon be watching a movie in which some other adorably scruffy camera-scammer attempts, in 14 days, to make his own wacky-ass dream come true.
"I just think it's amazing that, in the world today, we have these means at our disposal, so anyone can just think of an idea and then go out and make a movie," Herzlinger says. "In our case, we literally decided on a Friday to make this movie, and then got the camera and started shooting on Monday. And now, 30 days and many months of editing later, we have a movie that's been getting standing ovations nearly everywhere it plays! How cool is that?"
One sequence in particular that seems to strike a chord with film-festival audiences is a bit where Herzlinger, armed with frighteningly realistic fake press passes, attempts to sneak into a party at the world premiere of Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle.
"Every screening we've had so far, whenever we're attempting to get past the security guards with those fake passes, we get applause up the wazoo!" Herzlinger reports. "People are so into that."
"So," I have to ask, "has Bill D'Elia seen the movie?"
"Bill came to the very first screening of our rough cut," Herzlinger replies.
"Guess what? He was the first person to stand up and cheer. He loved it! He's been incredibly supportive of what we've done."
Asked what's next, Herzlinger says, "As a filmmaker, I really want to go into fiction films and directing, especially. I've been getting offers to be in front of the camera, which is very cool and definitely a possibility, but that would be solely to support the opportunity to direct feature films." To that end, Herzlinger and company have closed the deal on a new reality TV show, which the fearsome foursome will be executive-producing together, and he and Brett are working on a Christmas-themed feature film and script. "Then," he says, "another buddy and I are writing a romantic comedy."
Is there a part in the movie for Drew?
"Of course there is," Herzlinger laughs. "I mean, of course! How can I not be dreaming of that?"
The Sonoma Valley Film Festival runs Thursday, March 31, through Sunday, April 3. 'My Date with Drew' screens Thursday, March 31, at 9pm and again on Saturday, April 2, at 12:30pm. For more info on the film festival, check the website at www.sonomafilmfestival.org or call 707.933.2600.
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From the March 30-April 5, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.