Jason Reitman proudly said that he saw Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Boogie Nights” long before everyone in attendance that evening at the New Beverly Cinema had. This was the fourth movie he was showed as part of his guest programming at the still standing Los Angeles revival movie theater. It was at a test screening shown at the Beverly Center where he first witnessed this movie which proved to be the breakthrough for Anderson whose previous movie was the acclaimed but little seen “Hard Eight.” With “Boogie Nights,” Reitman said that he saw a filmmaker who knew how to handle all the elements while dealing with twenty characters.
Reitman’s special guest for this screening of “Boogie Nights” was William H. Macy who played Little Bill, the assistant director to Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) who is married to a porn star (played by Nina Hartley) who sleeps with everyone but him. In many ways, his is the most empathetic character even while we kept waiting for him to stand up for himself.
Reitman, who had previously worked with Macy on “Thank You for Smoking,” first asked him how he came upon the script for “Boogie Nights:”
“I got the script through the normal channels,” Macy said. “I think I was still with CAA then, and the script was even more outrageous. I said, ‘is this a porn film?’ There was actual shtüpping in it! Then I met with Paul and, the actors in the room will love this, I decided I wanted to do it and met with him at the Formosa Café. And it was about ten minutes in when I realized he was selling me. I wasn’t there to audition for him; he was trying to convince me to do it, and it was one of the great moments of my career.”
Reitman replied to this by saying, “I remember having a similar meeting when I was trying to get you to do ‘Thank You for Smoking,’”
From there, Reitman talked about all those great long shots Anderson has used in his movies. Specifically, he talked about the one where Macy’s character was at the New Year’s Eve party and found his wife once again sleeping with another guy. It’s a long tracking shot that goes from Little Bill looking for his wife, finding her, and then going back to his car to get a gun after which he goes back in and shoots his wife and his lover dead. Watching it years after “Boogie Nights” was first released, it is still amazing that Anderson pulled it off. Macy described how that shot went:
“Paul does a couple of his gazunga shots in this one and they are not as hard as you would think,” Macy said. “It took forever to set up, but then after 3 and a half to 4 hours of setting it up, the shot’s done. No coverage, no nothing and you move on. Four pages just bit the dust.”
Macy then talked about how much he loved Nina Hartley. The first time he met her was when he went into the makeup room and she had her legs up on the counter and was shaving herself. At the end of the shoot, Hartley had started this series that was entitled “Nina Hartley’s Guide to Swinging” as well as one on anal intercourse. Macy then added, “In the end, she gave these films as wrap gifts! It was great to see (the reactions); anal intercourse? THANK YOU NINA!”
There was actually a number of actual adult film actors involved in the making of “Boogie Nights.” One of the girls who had a small scene in the movie came to Macy’s attention while he was having lunch one day with Anderson. She came down and sat between the two of them and asked Paul a career question, “Should I go legit or should I go anal?”
Reitman went back to the long shot which ended when Little Bill puts the gun in his mouth and blows his brains out. What made this shot particularly dangerous was that he had to wear a squib on the side of his head. With squibs, the crew doesn’t want you to move around at all for your own good, and Macy went into detail over why it was so dangerous:
“What was dangerous about it was they let me do it,” Macy said. “I found out since then that they no longer let actors use that kind of squib. It’s a little explosive device and it’s called a gore gun. So I had this little backpack with all this blood and brains that would come shooting out the back, and it was wired to the pistol so that when I fired the pistol, that’s what set off the ‘gore gun’ and that’s not allowed anymore. A stunt guy sets off the gore gun now, but there is a cut because we couldn’t figure out how to do the whole thing with a loaded gun and the gore pack. So there is a cut.”
The conversation then went to the tone of a movie and what a director actually does. It’s nowhere as simple as Burt Reynolds’ character of Jack Horner makes it look in “Boogie Nights.” Reitman took the time to explain what he thinks tone is:
“Tone is like this inexplicable thing that, if you ask what a director actually does, it’s not like setting up shots or telling actors what to do,” Reitman said. “Really, what a director does is set tone. It’s not about the words; it’s about the feeling that carries through the scenes, and P.T. A’s movies have a very specific tone to them.”
Reitman then asked Macy if that is something he feels on set or if that was something he didn’t realize until he saw the finished product. Macy said he wasn’t aware of how special “Boogie Nights” was until he saw the final cut, and he was understandably very impressed with it. This led him to talk about when he made “The Cooler” (the mention of that movie got a strong applause from the audience) which contains one of his very best performances:
“The director kept telling me, ‘Wait until you hear the score!’ To where I finally said, ‘Dude, if you think the music is going to save this then you’re in trouble!’ I was wrong, and when he put that lush score over the film it was a different sort of film, and he had that in his head the whole time,” Macy said.
Macy went on to say that the tone of the set bleeds onto the film and how the way you comport yourself, or the way you have your first assistant director comports his or herself is the way tone gets set.
“To my mind it’s always like going to war then making art,” Macy said. “You need a good general. I’ve been known to call in first time directors and I say to them, ‘If I catch you making art on my time then we’re going to have trouble.’ You better know what you want because it’s more like going to war.”
One of the best moments of the evening came when Macy talked about the extras that were brought in when Anderson shot the scenes at the adult movie awards. They were all told to bring in their best 70’s clothes and that they were working on a Burt Reynolds movie. Then there was that moment where actress Melora Waters is about to give an award to Mark Wahlberg, and it was worded a little differently from what we saw in the theatrical version:
“I’ve seen all his movies and I can’t wait to get his cock inside my pussy, MR. DIRK DIGGLER!”
Macy said the whole crowd just sat there in utter silence, completely unprepared for what they heard. It certainly wasn’t your average everyday Burt Reynolds movie, that’s for sure.
All in all, it was another fun evening that provided an in depth look into one of the best movies of the 1990’s, and “Boogie Nights” made clear to the world that Paul Thomas Anderson was a born filmmaker.