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The Reeler Blog

The Cult of Bob

By Mat Newman

Actor/directors Tim Robbins and Bob Balaban sat down at the 92nd Street Y Sunday night for a sold-out two-hour tribute to the late Robert Altman. To hear Robbins tell it, when a young filmmaker once asked Altman for advice, he answered with a guiding principle of his career: "The best advice I can give you is to never take advice." His unorthodox methods on set and in pre-production were a constant theme of the evening.


The Altman Show: (L-R) Moderator Eddy Friedfeld remembers Robert Altman Sunday night with Bob Balaban and Tim Robbins (Photo: 92nd Street Y)


"You never knew who the camera was on!" Robbins told the audience. "Fifteen people in the room and they all had to be good, because it could be your close up at anytime. He'd have two circular tracks set up, and the cameras would just sort of float around the room."

Balaban recounted meeting Altman at a reading for Brewster McCloud when he was 21 years old. "I obviously didn't get the role, but over the next 25 years I started getting invited to his screenings," he said. "He wanted everybody there. When Gosford Park was nominated for all the Oscars he invited the entire cast to his house for a losers party. Throughout the night came into the room, opened an envelope and said, 'The winner is... not Bob Altman.' "

Robbins later recalled his first experience working with Altman in 1992. "We had a conversation when we were about to start on The Player, where he said we were going to do this story about Hollywood, and we were going to have more fun doing it than I've ever had an a film before," Robbins said. "He said, 'It's not going to be like any experience you've had before, but here's the deal: If at any point, any of these suits' " -- and he pointed to a few of our producers outside -- " 'come in and try to change the direction of the film, we walk off together.' We were like co-conspirators, rather than just an actor and a director. He just had this kind of glorious mischievousness in his eyes at times like that."

"Dailies were like a party," Robbins continued later. "We'd be out on set for 10 hours working, but everybody got their second wind. There was food and wine and booze. People would go out back and smoke a joint. Susan (Sarandon) said it was like a cult. The cult of Bob."

Posted at September 24, 2007 1:23 PM

Comments (1)

I am a big Eddy Friedfeld fan - he really brings issues to light - great event moderator!

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