Thursday, February 28, 2008

Citizen McCaw Filmmakers Are Lawyered Up and Ready to Roll

The world premiere of Citizen McCaw is one week from tomorrow. 1,000 tickets have already been sold in advance for the one-time showing which will take place at 7:30 p.m. at the Arlington Theater next Friday night.

Shot in digital high definition and running 85 minutes long, the film is having the finishing touches put on it this week at the famed Technicolor facilities in Hollywood. I've already seen the entire rough cut of the film but I can't wait to see it again on the big screen at the Arlington. It should be nothing short of visually stunning.

The movie covers virtually every significant event or milestone at the Santa Barbara News-Press since editor Jerry Roberts and his top assistants resigned in July of 2006. Since then, scores of employees have left the paper, some voluntarily and some against their will. Besides interviews with the former journalists who became entangled in the turmoil, local leaders and just plain everyday people, the film also features the reactions of a number of journalists of national prominence who shed light on the ethical questions raised by the manner in which News-Press owner Wendy McCaw has operated the paper.

The national figures include Ben Bradlee, Editor of the Washington Post during the Watergate scandal, Professor Alex Jones of Harvard University, former News-Press publisher and now publisher of the Boston Globe, Steve Ainsley and journalists Ann Louise Bardach, Lou Cannon and Sander Vanocur. Those last three are all local residents.

My own personal favorite of those interviewed in the film is Nick Welsh of The Independent. His assessment of McCaw's psyche is spot on.

As we all know too well this is a true story, but the film lays it out in dramatic fashion. Although the filmmakers asked her numerous times McCaw refused to be interviewed for the film. Nevertheless McCaw is seen in the film at several different points and the scene in which she is heard responding to a reporter's question is one of the funniest in the entire movie.

As humorous as that particular moment is this, at its very essence, is a serious and sad story.

You might be surprised to learn that music is a big part of the film. Don Henley of the Eagles in effect waived the fees for the use of his song "Heartache Tonight" which is heard at the beginning of the film.

According to filmmaker Sam Tyler, he sent Henley a DVD with the segment of the film in which he wanted to use the song. After watching it Henley gave his blessing saying, "I'm proud to be in there."

Of course, I will be the first to admit that I'm predisposed to like the film. But I'm anxious to find out whether the rest of you will like it as much as I do.

The film has been well over a year in the making. Besides the usual challenges of making a documentary movie, the filmmakers have had to deal with "warning letters" from McCaw's lawyer Barry Cappello, who in his own right turned out to be a central character in the film. You can bet that McCaw didn't want this film made. Given her litigious history, the filmmakers have already lined up legal representation in the event they are sued.

The filmmakers have retained the services of John Keker, best known perhaps as the chief prosecutor of the case against Colonel Oliver North in the Iran/Contra scandal. Also available to the filmmakers are the services of The First Amendment Project, out of Oakland, California.

So the filmmakers aren't intimidated but reportedly there are a few people in town who have expressed reluctance to show up for the screening for fear that news of their presence there will get back to Wendy.

Never fear. Rod Lathim, one of he producers of the film, has come up with a solution for anyone who finds themselves in such a dilemma. A "brown bag" service. Rod has promised to have a supply of brown bags on hand with eye holes cut out for anyone who wants to view the film in anonymity.

I'm not so sure that's a good idea. If Wendy and Arthur want to see Citizen McCaw the brown bag affords them the perfect opportunity to attend the premiere and to watch the movie incognito.

How "Santa Barbara's Best Kept Man" might look when he shows up next Friday night at the Arlington.

Advance tickets ($15 each) for next Friday's screening of Citizen McCaw are on sale now at the Arlington box office or at Ticketmaster. Immediately following the screening, there will be a question and answer session, moderated by your's truly, with the filmmakers. "V.I.P. tickets" which get you into the post screening reception are also available for $200 each.