My Favorite Thing: LACMA Live Read

Guest Blogger: Kul Ahluwalia, Attorney By Day, Film Geek All The Time

One of my absolute favorite things in the world (apart from my friends and family of course) is Jason Reitman’s Live Read Series at LACMA. Now in the future I plan on reviewing each of the upcoming Live Reads but I thought I would give a recap of what it is, why it’s so special, and mention a few of my favorite Live Reads.

Essentially, Jason Reitman gathers a group of celebrated (and surprise) actors and actresses to do a script reading of a beloved film (also a surprise). About a week or two before the Live Read, Jason will announce the film on twitter. Then every day afterwards he’ll slowly reveal the surprise cast on twitter, usually one actor at a time. This is incredibly fun by the way, because once the film is announced you can start guessing at your own perfect cast and compare with Jason’s.  It also builds a tremendous amount of excitement as you get closer to the Live Read itself.  For example, leading up to “The Apartment” Live Read, a friend and I were discussing our favorite actresses. My friend’s favorite actress was Natalie Portman.  And can you guess who was cast in the Shirley Maclaine role in the Apartment?

Jason usually does pretty perfect casting (Jack Black, Seth Rogen, and Rainn Wilson in Ghostbusters comes to mind). But sometimes he’ll do a bit of contrarian casting. There was an all-female version of Glengary Glenn Ross, an all black cast of Reservoir dogs (which actually turned out to be the most perfect casting and my favorite Live Read) and last month a rendition of American Pie where the female and male roles were switched. Each method works in it’s own way.

Now let’s get to the performance itself.  Jason and the actors each sit in chairs on stage.  Jason reads the stage direction and the actors read their respective parts (and usually a few people will have multiple roles).  On the screen behind the actors is an image which gives you the setting at that moment so the audience knows where they are.  Now there are a million awesome things about each performance but I’ll focus on the key things.

First, it makes you appreciate the screenplay (and the screenwriters).  You realize how essential a great screenplay is to a great movie.  Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights may be filled with beautiful tracking shots and a gorgeous soundtrack but at it’s core is a great screenplay. The Breaking Bad pilot (the only television show Live Read) is a great piece of visual storytelling but that visual storytelling is right there in the script.  Sidenote: the Breaking Bad pilot is the only script where the stage direction made me laugh out loud.  Vince Gilligan (who was in the audience that day) is an amazing writer.

Second, it makes you appreciate actors.  Now I can be as skeptical as anyone about what actors do (check here to see Jerry Seinfeld’s opinion on actors).  But apparently these actors are coming in to the Live Reads cold. There are no rehearsals and the first time we see the actors on stage is the first time they are doing the script.  But each of them makes that script come alive. One particular performance comes to mind: Aaron Paul as John Bender in the Breakfast Club. The Breakfast Club was the first of the series.  I didn’t know what to expect and my fear was that I would just watch a group of people “read” a script. And at first my fear was realized. The actors were just sitting in their chairs and reading the script out loud. They weren’t acting.  Then Aaron Paul had his first line and everything changed. He was acting. The way he slumped in his chair. The way every line he read was filled with this perfect amount of snark and how when he was angry he would just snarl. And then everybody else on stage had to step up their game as well. And they did.

Third, you get to see parts of the script realized that weren’t in the final movie.  Jason uses original shooting scripts and sometimes there are items that are edited out or a different version of the scene end up in the final movie. In Boogie Nights for example, after Dirk Diggler escapes from the drug dealer’s house in that final climactic scene, rather than go directly to Jack Horner’s house, there is a scene where Dirk goes back to his mom’s house.  He discovers his mom has passed away and his old girlfriend is living the house.  I understood why the scene wasn’t in the final version but it was still cool to see.

Finally, the coolest thing about the Live Read Series and something that Jason emphasizes each time is the specialness of each one.  LACMA and Jason strictly prohibit recording or pictures of the event. Jason wants the event to be special.  Only the audience in attendance that night gets to the experience the event.  Personally, I’m on Jason’s side with this one.  I think cellphones and recording in general take you out of the moment.  But some people disagree with me (see here).

So anyway, that’s the Live Read series in a nutshell.  Here’s a link to the LACMA website. I’ll start posting reviews for the upcoming Live Reads in the future.