Morgan Freeman’s second coming

Morgan Freeman’s second coming
Here in Charlottesville, we’re just blessed. Not only will we be receiving his Hollywood holiness Morgan Freeman, who’s coming to town to screen his new movie, 10 Items or Less, at the Virginia Film Festival, but we’ll also be hosting the man who bossed around Freeman-as-God—an intimidating combo, to say the least. Tom Shadyac, director of the Almighty franchise—which brought a full-sized ark and around $20 million in commerce to Crozet earlier this year—will again be hittin’ the ’ville. The UVA alum and veteran director will screen 2003’s Bruce Almighty and present the first sneak peek of the much-anticipated Evan Almighty.

    Now don’t get us wrong—we appreciate a good dose of Hollywood, but the thing we like most about the film festival is that it focuses more on independent and homegrown films than big-ticket, big-studio offerings. (Evan Almighty had a budget of $250 million, putting it in the running for most expensive comedy ever made.) Which makes it a perfect fit for Morgan Freeman, who also has a habit of balancing his blockbuster roles with smaller projects. On this, his second coming to Charlottesville, Freeman is spreading the gospel of what he calls the next step in independent film. Revelations Entertainment, a production company he co-owns, will release first-run movies, starting with 10 Items or Less, for download over the Internet through a distribution wing called ClickStar. 10 Items will be screening over the weekend as part of the festival, as well. Freeman says that the film—and his new production company—is a move away from the Hollywood “spectacle spectacular,” and toward some more interesting acting roles for him. It’s also a way for theater-deprived country dwellers, of whom Freeman is very fond, to get the entertainment they deserve. And who better than the guy who played God to deliver us from Hollywood?—Meg McEvoy

Meg McEvoy: So you’ve got some experience hanging out in the Charlottesville area. Any impressions about our town that you’d like to share?
Morgan Freeman: Well I’ve found that, you know, as a high-profile person, you go someplace and people respond to you. And so I had very nice, warm, welcoming greetings from the people. I didn’t spend a lot of time in the town itself, I was in the country…I had a house in the boonies.

Well, I hope the people were friendly, but not too invasive.
They weren’t invasive at all. That’s one of the great things about filming in a small place like that—they’ll express much delight in having us there. You know, “Welcome to Virginia, thank you for coming to our town to make a film.” Stuff like that. But, no invasions…no running after you with cameras and papers and stuff like that.

Excellent. So you’re going to be back in our town for the Virginia Film Festival, and you’ll be bringing 10 Items or Less. Tell us about the project.
It was written and directed by Brad Silberling, and I think he brought it to us just as an idea for co-production. But we were looking for a film that we could use to launch our new broadband distribution company, ClickStar, so this was a marriage made in heaven.

And what are your plans for ClickStar?
Well, the whole idea, basically, is to offer first-run movies at a very early stage for download. The new technology that is now available—large screen, plasma monitors, TVs, the new entertainment PCs that are out there—they make it possible to offer movies, as is already being done by Netflix and Movie Link, over the Internet. Now there are many, many people who don’t have access to first-run movies. They don’t live in a metropolis—there’s a lot of rural area around, so this would be a boon for them. I’m including myself in that, because I live in a rural area in Mississippi, where I’d have to drive, round trip, approximately 180 miles to see a first-run movie.

Wow. What effect do you think the technology will have on filmmaking?
One of the moves that the studios are making is to cut back on the amount of money that they’re spending on films. People are coming up and they’re making films for $750,000, $2 million, $5 million—and they’re making good films! So a studio will say, “Gee, well, why can’t we do that?” …I don’t think they could ever do it. They’re in the habit of overspending to make films.

As an actor, you’re known for balancing your docket between blockbusters and smaller, independent projects. Why is that important to you?
Well, it’s the difference between acting and acting, right? You get into a large action spectacle spectacular that you know is going to make a lot of money, so that’s definitely going to be a paycheck—but your lines are going to be restricted to things like “wait here,” “follow me.” Whereas, you do a little movie that’s all dialogue, and then you really get to act.

In 10 Items or Less you play a big-name Hollywood actor whose star is fading—something that obviously isn’t happening to you. Why this role now?
First of all, it’s practically a two-character thing, and it’s very comedic, and I don’t get to do those very often. I got to work with Paz Vega, who is just one of the most delightful ladies in the business. And we were looking for a small film that we could use as a first-run feature that we could offer to ClickStar. It was just one of those situations where it all came together to everyone’s benefit.

You’re practically Hollywood royalty yourself—did that make it a fairly easy part to play?
Oh yeah. I mean, I didn’t have to do anything but just get up and say the words.

Is there any type of role that you still want to tackle?
Oh absolutely—any role that I haven’t done. And there are also a lot of films that I want to produce.

So obviously you have high hopes for Revelations, your production company.
Oh, it’s going to revolutionize the industry. Right now a lot of independent filmmakers, they go begging to the studios for distribution or even for money to make films. If we can offer them alternate distribution, it would take a lot of the budget off the film, because it costs a lot to promote the way it’s done now. I think we’re going to change a lot of things.

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