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The Reeler Blog

Schwimmer and Co. Chew the Fat

By Christopher Campbell

The Film Society of Lincoln Center's Young Friends of Film program held a special screening of Run Fatboy Run Thursday evening at the newly refurbished Walter Reade Theater. The sold-out event was not only the American premiere of the comedy (technically, not officially), but it was actually the first time co-writer Michael Ian Black had seen the movie.

On the Run: (L-R) Michael Ian Black, David Schwimmer, Thandie Newton and Simon Pegg at Thursday's screening of Run Fatboy Run (Photo: Christopher Campbell)

"I hadn't seen it before -- and I have some notes," he said, addressing his collaborators, director David Schwimmer, actress Thandie Newton and co-writer and star Simon Pegg, all of whom joined him on stage for a post-screening Q&A. Black apparently had little involvement with the film's production after penning the original story and the first draft of the screenplay. Once out of his hands, it became a British production and was re-written by Pegg with the setting changed from New York to London.

But first, Schwimmer latched onto the project and decided to make it his feature directorial debut. "I read many, many scripts," he told the audience. "And this was the first one that I genuinely laughed out loud all the way through. And I found myself surprisingly moved by the end of the story. So I thought, 'Well, that's a challenge if I can try to capture that balance that Michael originally created in the script.' "

To hear Black's inspiration, though, is to appreciate the simplicity of his script, despite Schwimmer's gushing. "I thought to myself: fat guy runs marathon," Black said. "That's a good idea for a movie. It's pretty much as simple as that."

Initially, of course, Schwimmer attempted to make the film in Hollywood, where he could presumably have more closely followed Black's script, which had been centered on the New York Marathon. "It was set up at a place in Los Angeles, a studio," Schwimmer said. "And I spent a year pitching actors to them; they kept saying 'no' to for some reason. And I got the feeling that they just didn't want to make the movie, or something. They had bigger fish to fry, I don't know. I pitched Philip Seymour Hoffman first, and Paul Giamatti. And they were like, 'Neh.' I'm like, 'OK, you're crazy.' "

"Then Simon and I started working on something else together, this movie Big Nothing," Schwimmer continued. "And while we were doing that, (Run Fatboy Run) got optioned by a company in London called Material Entertainment, whose mission is to make films in London. Suddenly, I was directing a British comedy. That's literally how it happened. I didn't have any choice. I mean, I could walk away from it, but I loved the script so much. And when Simon came on, I knew it was going to be a blast."

Certainly it seems like it would be difficult transplanting the idea, the story and the whole project to the UK. If nothing else, the comedy had to have been tweaked to reflect the Brit sense of humor. "I don't think there is a massive difference, really," Pegg said. "I think we find the same things funny. There are differences in our approach to humor socially, maybe. But I think in terms of what we find funny artistically, it's pretty much the same. Fat guy running a marathon. Plain as that."

"You just have to change some," Black said of how easy it must have been for Pegg to Anglicize his original script. "All the word processing features now, you can just delete."

"There was a line, 'He runs past the Empire State Building,'" Pegg explained. "I changed it to, 'He runs past the Millennium Wheel.' It was very simple. ... As I was rewriting it, I tried to (set) it as close to my bed as possible so I didn't have to go far in the morning."

Black and Pegg obviously never worked on the script together, but while addressing their respective writing processes, they seemed perfect for each other. "I would go to a coffee shop and surf the Internet for three or four hours, write a scene and call it a day," Black said of his craft. "That was pretty much how it worked."

"It's nice to know that's how it works both sides of the pond," Pegg replied.

"But there's a time difference," Black added. "So you would've gone on the Internet much later in the day than me."

"For me it was a dream thing to tackle, because it was all just there," Pegg explained, more seriously. "To come and have to polish something really great is just easy. There were a couple little shifts, and stuff I think Michael would have done anyway if he was redoing it."

At this suggestion, Michael shook his head in disagreement.

"I look back at it now," Pegg added. "And I don't know where I end and Michael begins."

"I feel the same way, Simon," Black replied.

Posted at September 21, 2007 7:02 AM

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