Just a Monday Evening with Judd Apatow and Mike Nichols

by susanedotcohen

It could have been Judd Apatow’s or Mike Nichols’ living room. For two hours last night, the two directors casually conversed as if it were a typical evening between two highly accomplished, intelligent, funny men. In place of the living room, it just happened to be in MoMA’s theater and have a title, “Judd Apatow Asks Mike Nichols for Advice: An Evening of Conversation.”

It was an evening of thought provoking questions, interesting discussions, and film clips from Apatow’s forthcoming This is Forty as well as clips from Nichols’ Carnal Knowledge and of course, The Graduate. Apatow was extraordinarily generous when it came to his new film. Not only did he start the evening with the first nine minutes of the film, but he went on to show several other clips. To add a cherry on top, the film’s two stars, Leslie Mann (Apatow’s wife) and Paul Rudd, were in attendance. It is fair to say that the audience – whose only price of admission was a MoMA membership (or in the self-publisher’s case an awesome friend with a membership) – received a lot of bang for their membership buck.

The night started off with humor as Apatow, after sharing the clip, joked about not getting a reintroduction. He then introduced Nicholas and asked if anyone had a question. One brave audience member asked if Apatow needed an assistant. He then asked how much she would want to be paid, and when she didn’t put a price on it, he said my assistant would name a price. With that, the conversation began.

Throughout the evening, Nichols offered insights into what he thinks about film. He explained that films really only have three types of scenes: seductions, fights, and negotiations. Nichols even cited Shakespeare on this point. He discussed the importance of films having a point and the need for some comedy in each work. He believes levity is important and that comedy films often have a greater impact on society than those that receive Academy Awards.

On a more personal note, Nichols shared how for a year before college he worked at a life insurance company. The time spent at the company made him realize that he wanted a job that he would love. Before finding it as a director, he was an actor and it was acting that made him realize that he was better suited to be a director. For fans of The Graduate, Nichols shared how the film  got its soundtrack including Mrs. Robinson. After explaining how he disliked one of Simon and Garfunkel’s songs for them, the two briefly stepped away, conversed, and came back with Mrs. Robinson. The song was not intended for the film and was actually supposed to be titled Mrs. Roosevelt.

Although it was supposed to be Apatow asking the questions, it was Nichols who ended up asking his interviewer many of the questions. Like the audience, he wanted to find out Apatow’s inner workings and opinions. He was very interested in discussing Apatow’s upcoming film as well as his genre in general. Nichols asked how Apatow approaches casting and working with his family. He feels strongly that Apatow’s work is relatable because it’s about us, the audience. Nichols even brought up Lena Dunham, which means there is a strong chance Nichols and his wife Diane Swayer may be tuning in to Girls like the rest of us. Apatow mentioned that Dunham provided constructive criticism for This is Forty.

At one point, Nichols’ mistakenly unclipped his microphone. As Apatow attempted to fix it, Nichols made light of the moment commenting how someone should be running up to fix it. As if it were a movie, someone ran down the aisle and did just that. Perhaps that “scene” best sums up the evening. The two men were gracious with their time and insights and most importantly, they were human. They addressed the audience as if they were guests and the guests in return, as Apatow pointed out, were an ideal audience. Minus one cell phone going off, everyone listened and when it was time for applause, they applauded with tremendous enthusiasm.

If you are wondering what the self-publisher thought, she enjoyed it immensely.  She just wishes she had the chance to discuss Working Girl with Nichols. Why Working Girl? She will leave that for another post.

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