Ann Arbor goes Hollywood for a night

By: Liz Parker
Pictures by Elyssa Pearlstein, A2-4U
[via FORMzine]

Me with actor Chris Gorham at the "Answer This!" afterparty

If one was walking down Liberty Street in Ann Arbor this past Friday night, they might have mistaken it for Hollywood. The Michigan Theater hosted the world premiere of “Answer This!” and featured a red carpet, limos out front, and a few celebrities as well, including Chris Gorham (TV’s “Covert Affairs”) and Arielle Kebbel (TV’s “Life Unexpected”), two of the main actors in the film. The film was produced by Mike Farah and directed and written by his brother, Chris, both of whom are native Ann Arborites, and it was shot entirely in Ann Arbor; to have the premiere at the Michigan Theater, then, made perfect sense. Tickets were available to the general public for $10, and since the 7:30pm screening sold out, a 10pm screening was added – indeed, when my photographer and I left the theater after the 7:30pm show, the line to purchase tickets for the second screening snaked down the street, almost ending at the corner of Liberty and State.

As press, we were invited to attend the VIP party, which was held at the theater before the 7:30pm screening; the screening itself; and the after-party, held at the Michigan League. The VIP party was invitation only, so we used that opportunity to talk to and take pictures of some of the major actors in the movie. Ashley’s (restaurant) was in attendance and giving away free beer, as they are featured prominently in the movie, and there was also a nice array of appetizers, such as chicken kebobs and fruit. The after-party featured more appetizers, although the food lines were pretty long, and a cash bar, and anyone who had attended the screening was invited, although they didn’t make an announcement about it at the screening.

Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan’s own Ralph Williams had a big part in the movie as professor Dr. Elliot Tarsin, whose son Paul was played by Chris Gorham. Ralph has never really performed in a movie before, but Chris Farah had been a student of his when he attended the university (he earned his Bachelor’s in 1998, and his Masters in 2002), and he contacted him and asked if he would like to be in the film.

“Chris Farah wrote me and said I’d written a script and asked if I was interested. I had no idea it was such an enormous project. He was a marvelous mentor and I hugely enjoyed the process of the coming to be of what you’ll see tonight,” Williams said. He also remarked on the role of the editor in filmmaking: “The editor has an absolutely crucial role. He is the co-creator in essential ways. I benefited from that enormously, I’m sure. With the film, there’s so many takes that you can never predict what the editor will do with them.”

We also got a chance to talk to Chris Gorham, who plays Paul Tarsin. He is a TA for his father’s class, and has been for the past five years; his father wants him to finish his dissertation and graduate, but he loves Ann Arbor and wouldn’t mind staying there forever.

When asked about Gorham’s impressions of Ann Arbor, he said that it “is charming. It has a lot of character and is eclectic.” He also remarked that he thought that this was the first time that the Michigan Theater has sold out for an event like this, and he might be right, with the possible exception of one of Michael Moore’s premieres there.

Brian Balzerini, originally from Rochester Hills, played the role of one of Chris’s students in the film, and he was impressed by the Michigan Theater as well.

“The Michigan Theater is not your generic New York or Los Angeles premiere. It’s a very unique venue, and has a Midwest feel to it. It’s not very often you get a Midwest premiere so that in itself makes it unique.”

Brian got involved via his agent, who got him an audition for the part of Ryan, a student. He is originally from Rochester Hills and he liked that “they made an effort to involve local actors.”

Mike Farah, producer of "Answer This!"
We also were able to catch up with Mike Farah, the producer of the film. Although he didn’t attend the university, his brother Chris and his father did, and he is a local Ann Arborite. We asked him if his company name, “3, 4 Women Productions” had any significance, and his response was definitely interesting.

“It was named after my father. He always wanted 3 or 4 women to go out with, like to dinner and whatnot, so we named it after him.”

He also added that “It [Answer This!] feels like an authentic college story – not just for Ann Arbor people.”

That will be the true test, in my opinion, when it opens nationally sometime next year (probably April or May 2011, I’ve been told): if non-Ann Arborites and non-Michiganders like the movie. This was the first film ever in recent history that had the university’s full cooperation and was allowed to actually mention it as its setting; although Ann Arbor has been used a lot recently in films, the university has never been featured so prominently. A lot of the scenes take place inside buildings we all know and love, such as Angell Hall, the grad library, and even Michigan Stadium, during the actual Western Michigan game of 2009. In my opinion, the film will do well, because it is enjoyable even if you don’t recognize the university landmarks in it, but I suppose the “true test” will be how it does in other states and cities outside of Ann Arbor.

Although I’m not allowed to tell you much about the film beyond its premise, since it isn’t in theaters yet, I will say this: Mike and Chris Farah, as well as Chris Gorham, have said that the film is “like a love letter to Ann Arbor,” and the movie definitely is. Being a U of M alum and a former Ann Arbor resident, I enjoyed the movie immensely, and I hope it gets its chance to run nationally next year.

People mingling at the VIP party, Michigan Theater
Movie poster for "Answer This!"
Appetizers at the after-party, Michigan League
Photographer Elyssa Pearlstein with actress Arielle Kebbel, at the after-party
Professor Ralph Williams, who plays Dr. Elliot Tarsin,
introducing the movie
Mike Farah, Chris Farah, John Farah (father of Mike and Chris), and
Ralph Williams, introducing the movie
See more pictures from the VIP party and after-party at FORMzine.

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