Jason Reitman completed his guest programming at New Beverly Cinema with a screening of Wes Anderson’s directorial debut, “Bottle Rocket.” This film also marked the movie debuts of Luke and Owen Wilson, the latter who co-wrote the screenplay with Anderson. Before seeing this movie, Reitman admitted he was actually scared of becoming a filmmaker especially because he was the son of a famous one (Ivan Reitman). He did see all the great movies of the 90’s like “Clerks,” “Slacker” and he checked out all of Quentin Tarantino’s movies, but he said none of them had the same effect on him as “Bottle Rocket” did. For Reitman, this was the movie that made him want to direct films. And of discovering Anderson, he said, “This is the voice that I am going to follow forever.”
Joining Reitman for this special screening was actor Luke Wilson, and it was nice to see him take a break from all those AT&T Wireless commercials he had been doing endlessly. Ironically, the movie Reitman showed that same evening before it was “Breaking Away,” and Wilson said he is actually good friends with one of that movie’s stars, Dennis Quaid. Quaid was away in Hawaii so he was unable to attend the screening with fellow co-stars Dennis Christopher and Daniel Stern. This coincidence did however allow Wilson to talk about how Randy Quaid told Dennis that he already made the family name and suggested that he change his. Dennis ended up asking his brother, “How about McQuaid?”
Anyway, Luke told the audience that Wes and Owen originally wanted to shoot “Bottle Rocket” guerilla style. That way they could shoot it cheaply as they saw how Richard Linklater did the same thing with “Slacker.” However, they ended up meeting a producer who told them about the Sundance Film Festival and advised them to start off by making a short film they could take there. So they made the short and got it entered into Sundance, but nothing happened and they didn’t win anything for it. Despite that, they luckily managed to get hooked up with a producer named Polly Platt who had worked on such movies as “The Last Picture Show” and “Terms of Endearment” among others.
The project went on from there as Platt brought the Wilson brothers and Anderson to the attention of famed writer/producer/director James L. Brooks. Anderson ended up getting everyone to do a read thru of the script at some office in Texas during the summer. Turns out the air conditioning there wasn’t working all that well, and they read through a screenplay that was two hundred pages long. Luke said he ended up sweating profusely throughout the whole read, and this made Owen glare at him as if to say, what the hell are you doing?
Luke also took some time to talk about Brooks who became one of the chief supporters of “Bottle Rocket,” and he described him as being very nice. However, he also said that Brooks can immediately “cut to the truth and be painfully funny.” Of course, Brooks was going through problems of his own. While working on “Bottle Rocket,” he was also busy working on his film musical “I’ll Do Anything” with Nick Nolte. For those who may remember that one, it ended up getting released without any of the music as the movie tested poorly (and that’s being polite).
Reitman went on to talk about how he related to the voice of the film and that it had a “strange innocence” to it. Luke replied that the film’s voice came from Anderson and Owen, but that he never got the feeling he was working on anything special. Columbia Pictures, which distributed the movie, wanted to make “Bottle Rocket” but with different actors. When it was all shot and in the can, the studio didn’t like it or knew what to make of it. Looking back, Luke bluntly said that he was “stunned that the movie got made.”
When it finally came to making “Bottle Rocket” as a feature length film, Luke remarked that Wes knew exactly how movies were made. He and Owen, on the other hand, did not. They didn’t understand certain jobs the crew on set had like the boom mike guy. Luke said he and Owen wondered out loud, “How can that guy just stand around like that?”
Also, Anderson did not want the actors to watch dallies of the day’s work. But that didn’t matter much because neither Owen nor Luke wanted to watch them anyway. Luke says he still doesn’t understand what compels actors to watch dallies as it will likely mess you up in terms of how you go about developing your character.
They also had the fortune of working with James Caan who had a bit role in “Bottle Rocket,” and Luke recalled that he was going through a rough patch at the time but did warm up to the rest of the cast during shooting. At one point Luke, Owen and Wes asked Caan what it was like working with the late Marlon Brando on “The Godfather.” To this Caan replied, “It’s like you guys working with me.”
“Bottle Rocket” did go through the rather unnecessary realm of test screenings. For a movie like this, it must have felt like a waste of time because this is not one that just sells itself to mainstream audiences, but the studio gods decreed that Anderson screen the movie for focus groups nonetheless. So there was a test screening done in Santa Monica, and out of a crowd of 250 people, 75 of them walked out. The ones who stayed through the whole thing, as Luke remembered it, wrote nothing but shit about the movie. To date, it remains the one movie with the worst test screenings in the history of Columbia Pictures. Luke said that he, Owen and Anderson were convinced they would never get to make another movie ever again.
Despite all that, “Bottle Rocket” did get discovered by audiences through cable, video and DVD. Luke says he still sees it on cable every once in a while. Reitman remarked that it became the “touchstone for those who want to make movies.” Martin Scorsese ended up naming it as one of the best movies of the 90’s. Still, everyone involved with this little film had a hard time getting over it feeling like a failure. But when these guys got around to making the brilliant “Rushmore,” they found themselves re-energized and have all gone on to make one great movie after another.