Meet Bill

A few columns ago, I mused on what it must be like for an expert to have to face the staggering amount of misinformation floating around in his or her area of expertise. And yes, all I can do is muse, as the few times I’ve been in the company of experts, the mistake was discovered and I was soon escorted from the premises. Sure, I was acquainted with a woman who made a conscious decision to become the foremost expert on the origin and history of the Cornish pasty (true story). Sadly, throughout my life, this connection has not opened as many doors as you might imagine.

I have to believe that stumbling upon these distortions in an area you know well would have to be a little like turning on the TV to discover that the Oprah Winfrey Network has dramatized your life story. All you can do is sputter, “I never faked my own death, changed my hairstyle, and moved to another town to avoid a murderous ex-husband!” Too late. The untruth is out there, and it makes a better story.

So when I recently ran across the Blu-ray of Meet Dave, I thought to myself, “Wait, I do know an expert!” Bill Corbett is a playwright, screenwriter, actor, performer and, yes, a friend and colleague of mine for many years. He also co-wrote Meet Dave. I thought it’d be fun to get an insider’s perspective on the filmmaking process. And, yes, let him set the record straight.

I asked him how the whole thing originated. “It began with me having the basic idea for the script, outlining it, and inviting my pal Rob Greenberg to write it with me. I get lonely writing alone. We wrote it, sold it to Paramount, then it stalled out for a while. Then eventually we learned that it was now at Fox as a vehicle for Eddie Murphy.” So after that, smooth sailing, I assume? “We had roughly a million script meetings with various producers, directors, and studio heads, were fired and then rehired at several points, then ultimately it was taken out of our hands while they filmed. In the end, we had very little to do with where it wound up or the actual making of the film. We are writers, after all.” 

There had to be some perks, though, right? “Yes, to be fair, I should mention that we were invited to visit the set, and I spent a few days there watching them film mostly green-screen stuff. Ed Helms was hilarious to watch and fun to talk to. I chatted with some of the other actors too, all very nice people.” Ahem, and Eddie Murphy? “Just a quick, perfunctory hello to Mr. Murphy. The crew, like most crews I’ve met, were awesome and professional. Nobody in our experience was particularly unpleasant—and I hope we weren’t, either—but the movie just didn’t come together.”

Seeing it again on Blu-ray, what were your thoughts? “All in all, it turned out to be a disappointing version of what we had in mind: a weird hybrid of kid’s movie and too-long comedy sketch. I was intermittently proud of some of the stuff from our script that survived, and I winced at a lot of other stuff. Still, it was a great lesson in “the ways of Hollywood—the monstrous process of getting anything off the ground, and the thousands of different directions any greenlit film gets pulled in. It’s a mess of intentions. And I also made some money, so it’s churlish to complain too much. (And yet this only stops me some of the time.)”

Were you involved at all in the process of putting the Blu-ray together? “I wasn’t involved in the process of putting out the Blu-ray at all. No extras, additional interviews, no chance to rant at a camera Howard Beale–style. Brother, they were done with me!” And that’s probably typical? “Yes, and honestly, that’s been true since the film hit the theaters. I got occasional checks, and I did like that. Really, I almost never have a problem when someone sends me a check, just in case any of your readers are so inclined and have been holding back.” Well, I wouldn’t count on that. A reader once sent me one of his extracted wisdom teeth, but that’s been the only windfall.

What were your thoughts in terms of the quality of the Blu-ray? “I liked it, all in all. Looked better than the DVD did, across the board.” And what about extras? Anything good? Anything that surprised you? “The very fact that it had extras, including snippets of an interview with the poor hapless screenwriters (myself and Rob Greenberg) added some personal interest. I did find it funny to see all the other actors and crew talking about how great it was to work with Eddie Murphy, while having him be noticeably absent from the extras. The privileges of being the big cheese, I guess!”

Do you normally watch Blu-rays? Do you seek them out over DVDs? (Please say yes.) “As of about two months ago, yes. In general, I think the image quality is sharper, sound is better. I’m not an early adopter as a rule, so I’m behind most tech-savvy people in terms of trying them out. But I eventually hear what smart people are saying, and (even more eventually) I listen.” What about streaming? “I haven’t seen it in that format, though I’m glad it’s an option, for this and in general—but I won’t really seek out opportunities to watch it again.” Understood.

So you’ve come around to Blu-ray—what kind of equipment do you have? “An old Panasonic TV from the ’90s, deeper than it is wide. Pretty basic Insignia Blu-ray player from Best Buy.” 

And it was at that point that I ended the interview, shook my head in sadness, mustered the most shaming tone I could, and just repeated, “Bill, Bill, Bill.” Then I bought him a subscription to this magazine. He’ll come around.