Last week at TIFF Bell Lightbox, there was a camp reunion of sorts, where cast and crew from the Canadian comedy classic "Meatballs" came to share their memories to a receptive crowd. The charity screening was organized to support Action Against Hunger, a local group that is also celebrating its 35th birthday.
A number of people associated with the film, both behind and in front of the camera, came out to show their support. Dan Goldberg was one of the main writers and producers of the film, and it's clear that the film quite literally changed his life. "For me, no, nothing was the same [after 'Meatballs']," Dan shared. "It's the biggest change in my life, it's the thing I appreciate the most, and the most enjoyable hit I ever had. Going from zero to that was much bigger than going from that to anything else."
Nabbing Bill Murray
Goldberg worked with the likes of the late Harold Ramis on shaping the script to its final form. "We had a lot of jokes in the movie and wrote a really long script. Harold came in partially because Bill [Murray] really trusted him, and we thought that would help us get Bill." Goldberg was effusive about Ramis' contribution: "Harold did this rewrite on the script that was just brilliant. I was in awe, he was the greatest writer I knew at the time, and continued to be. It was just amazing to see a guy that was this smart and this confident, and it made me understand what a writer is.
Murray's role was not a sure thing from the start. Dan discussed that during the writing phase: "At a certain point we thought 'Let's add a guy tripper,' and we thought Bill Murray would be great for this. We knew him from New York, and then we desperately tried to get him."
Of course, this desperation turned to worry, even days into the shoot the recalcitrant actor had yet to show. What was the worst case scenario? "We probably would have shut down," Goldberg admits. "We just had faith that he'd show up, we blinded ourselves. Sometimes you just have to do that -- I've done that with other things, and I haven't had any catastrophes. It's not a religious thing, but sometimes you just have to will it to happen."
Introducing Ivan Reitman
This was also the breakout for the film's director, Ivan Reitman. "Ivan was always the most interesting friend I had at the time," Dan said. "He had a vision and an excitement around him. I felt it was sort of natural -- you never know how the rest of the world is going to react to your friends who you think are really cool and good. Once 'Meatballs' became a hit it gave me confidence about everything else."
Remember Kristine DeBell?
Kristine DeBell played Jackie Chan's girlfriend on screen in 1980's "The Big Brawl" and began her career in an X-rated version of "Alice in Wonderland," but she's perhaps best-known for her role as A.L. in "Meatballs."
Asking her about the last time she saw the film, she admitted to having a screening for her friends when the Blu-ray came out. Her young son, it seems, wasn't impressed. "He was saying, 'It's so embarrassing, mom, these people coming over to watch you in a movie!'" Yet if seeing his mom on disc wasn't so cool, being on the same network as some of the best shows on TV was. "A week later it was on HBO," said Kristine, "and he was saying, "Oh my god, mom, you're on HBO! Call somebody!'"
Kristine was pleased to be participating in the charity event and getting a chance to interact with fans. "On stage, you connect with an audience, but in film and television you often don't have the opportunity to connect, so you end up doing what I'm doing now, travelling around and signing autographs." For Kristine, it's a way of finally getting the raw audience reaction. "It's so cool to see the effect -- you don't don't know how people are going to react to it. I didn't know it'd be iconic!"
What About Harvey Atkin?
Toronto Native Harvey Atkin plays the ostensible lead in the film, the gruff and silly camp director, Morty. Atkin's baritone voice is a familiar one to many Canadians thanks to his prodigious commercial work, and he has appeared in numerous film and TV projects.
When asked about working with Reitman, Atkin was introspective. "Ivan was finicky, he was precise, he knew what he wanted. I didn't know what he wanted sometimes, and I'd screw things up. He had a vision in mind, and knew where he was going with it." When asked whether it was mostly improv or structured lines on set, Atkin quipped: "The improv was structured in the script."
When working with Murray, Atkin admits that it was "difficult." The challenge was that "he was a free spirit. He would improvise. Half an hour before a shoot you'd be looking at your words and nothing at all would resemble what you looked at. You just have to follow it and go with the flow. The important thing is to go with the flow, and if you couldn't, it's not a good thing."
While Atkin was (in his word) the "old man on the set," the experience was quite educational. "I learned a lot," Atkin said. "From Ivan especially. I'd think I'd ad-lib a sight gag or something, and Ivan would jump all over me. The reason being I didn't know what he had in his mind for the follow-up, and by me doing what I was doing I'd suck the humour off the next gag, which the audience would then miss. I remember Ivan specifically saying 'Don't do that, it wasn't in the script!'"
When asked for any stories from the set that he remembered, Atkin provided this insight into the goings-on at the camp setting: "Ivan had a Mickey Mouse watch that he loved, and wore it on set all the time. One afternoon we were shooting down at the lakefront, and Bill jumped up, when running down the beach, tackled Ivan, picked him up on his shoulder and ran him off right down into the lake. Burble burble, bubble bubble, Ivan sticks his head up out of the water, holds his watch up and says...'That's a $90 watch!'"
And Then ... Shannon Tweed Simmons
Finally, in one of the more surreal moments of the evening, reality star and former Playboy Playmate Shannon Tweed Simmons was on hand. While not a part of the original "Meatballs," Tweed did have a small and seductive role in the second sequel to the film -- "Meatballs 3." Her memories of that experience, however, were a bit fuzzy.
Sitting down, she opened with: ""Ask me if I remember any of it." Answering her own question, she admits: "No, I don't remember anything." When asked why that's the case, Tweed suggested it's "Because it was 30 years ago. I don't remember, not a thing, so we're done this interview."
Figuring we'd still try to have a conversation, we asked whether she's ever re-watched the film. "You're going to ask me something about 'Meatballs 3' and I don't know," Tweed said with a wry laugh. "I wish I looked it up just to cheat you on a question and answer, but I don't know."
Did she watch the original "Meatballs" when they shot the original? What was shooting at camp like? Are there any memories to share? "No! It was 30 years ago! I don't remember!" said an increasingly hostile Tweed.
We asked what her favourite role was. "Of my life?" she countered. Sure, why not. We've got to talk about something. "Oh, you have to. Oh, I'm doing this for you now? Wait a minute, how did this happen? No, I don't have a favourite role, I haven't had that role yet." We asked her what her next big role is, and Tweed argued that "I am better playing myself than anything else, so that might be the role of my life."
We asked whether her role on reality shows was itself a performance. "I don't perform like a monkey for anybody, unless you write it down," Tweed said.
We then asked about any regrets she may have about this openness. "Yeah, facelift. On camera. That was awful." Was it the procedure or the result she wasn't happy with? "The look of it. I'm not actually unhappy about the procedure, because it's hard to keep secrets, especially when you have a terrible memory. It's easier to show everything."
When asked for any final stories, she declines, saying she's "saving it for my book." When asked about her favourite KISS song (given that her husband is the band's most notable member), she admits that "I don't have one. It's not a band I love."
Finally, we asked whether she's ever had to make her own hard choices. She responded "Never," and got up to end the interview.
Like "Meatballs," you can find the best comedy in the most unexpected places.