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THE DAYTRIPPERS: The original dysfunctional family roadtrip movie

by gabe
June 15, 2007 1:17 AM
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Eugene's post about the Hampton's Film Festival 15th Anniversary countdown screening of Greg Mottola's THE DAYTRIPPERS (1996) brought back memories.


actress Hope Davis, director Greg Mottola, moderator Ted Hope Photo: Eugene Hernandez

I was the projectionist at the film's (ill-fated) world premiere at Slamdance (year 2) in the Yarrow, projected from World War II era machines that were possessed by wicked, evil spirits. (This was back when every film in the festival originated and screened on film.)

The plan was to project the film from two projectors that stood on the floor at the back of a conference room, behind a barrier that served as a makeshift booth. There was no other sound buffer between projeciton and audience--so everyone was treated to the whirring purr of the projectors.

Also, the seats in the room were all floor level, and the throw of the projection was low making for a less than stellar audience experience. In addition, the aisle had to be wide enough so that folks' heads didn't block the beam.

One of the projectors emitted a persistent buzz. In the midst of the film's first screening, Slamdance co-founder Dan Mirvish crawled around on the floor, alongside porducer Steven Soderbergh, playing with cords attempting to exocrize the angry, crying demon. Or in technical terms, find a grounding solution to the decidedly distracting sound problem.

When it was determined that no solution was to be found--and unable to secure transport for Max Von Sydow--it was decided that the film should be projected from the one good projector. This meant that every 20 minutes, there was a break as I furiously threaded the next reel. We got a method down pat--which kept the breaks to less than a minute. But no matter how fast the changeover, such breaks disrupt the flow and continuity of the action, taking the audience out of the moment.

It is a testament to the strength of the film that folks not only stuck with it, but sat, silent. Rapt between reels. So as not to take themselves out of the story.

The film swept Slamdance's prizes--winning both the audience and jury awards.

Years later--another film will emerge from Park City.

This film will feature with a dysfunctional family played by a multi-generational ensemble cast--indie stalwarts and emerging stars. The film will deal with a family crisis. The family takes road trip. En route, those who don't really like each other, spend a lot of time in a confined space. The vehicle will break down. Relationships will be examined--and there will be a gay character. The will snipe and fight, but in the end they come to learn important lessons about the value of family.

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The last supper: Little Miss Sunshine
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A plan is hatched: The Daytrippers


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Magic Bus: Little Miss Sunshine
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Back seat drivers: The Daytrippers

While the films are markedly different in tone and content--this is in no way an attempt to say that LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE is derivative--the comparison is meant to show the timelessness of well told intimate stories, and the value of strong performances by a dedicated cast. Both films are little movies that could. The success of the latter could be an indication of how the market has changed.

I highly recommend that fans of LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, check out Greg Mottola's lesser known gem from a decade hence. And I am left wondering how a little crowd-pleasing film like THE DAYTRIPPERS would fare in today's distribution climate.

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