Ithaca College Quarterly 2005/1




by Jennifer B. Brown

On Friday, August 5, 2005, My Date with Drew was released in several U.S. cities. It's now in wider release in 11 U.S. and Canadian cities, with more to follow.

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Three alumni make a movie about one's romantic longings.

"The movie is about the quest," says Jon Gunn '95. It's a documentary but "plays like a romantic comedy," says Brett Winn '95. They're referring to My Date with Drew, the film starring Brian Herzlinger '97 that the three Park School graduates directed, edited, and produced.

The film, which made its debut at the 2004 HBO U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, is all about Brian's 30-day quest to land a date with his dream woman, movie star Drew Barrymore. It is a quest replete with omens, cruel twists of fate, and feats of physical endurance. Mostly it's the tale of a man trying to make his dreams happen.

The story began in 1982, when young Brian first viewed Steven Spielberg's E.T. and was smitten with both the idea of making movies and the movie's young costar, Barrymore. That first idea led Brian to Ithaca College, where, while working on the ICTV soap opera Semesters, his collaborations with Brett and Jon began in earnest. All three spent a semester in the IC communications program in Los Angeles and made some good connections while there.

When Jon and Brett graduated they moved to Los Angeles; Brian joined them two years later. Brett currently works as a producer and editor for Trailer Park, which makes film trailers (among them three for Drew Barrymore vehicles) and has helped Jon produce and edit films, including Jon's original Mercy Streets. Made while Jon worked on the production team at Signal Hill Pictures, Mercy Streets stars Eric Roberts and won the Best Feature Film Award at the 2000 What You See Is What You Get Film Festival. Brian, who has had various Hollywood jobs since moving to Los Angeles, has also written and produced his own short films: Krutch, Malicious Intent, and The Film Contest.

Date with Drew crew with Al Roker

    . . . with director of American Pie and About a Boy, Chris Weitz

     . . . with Jay Leno

Despite these achievements, Brian and Brett were frustrated that they hadn't really done what they went to Los Angeles to do: make feature films. Over dinner one night the two were discussing Brian's faltering finances. Having recently won $1,100 on a game show, Brian decided he had two options: use that money to pay the bills for a month, or use it to make his dream come true. He decided to throw caution to the wind. He would spend the next 30 days trying to get a date with Barrymore, and make a documentary about the quest. "Documentaries," notes Brett, "are cheaper to make." It also seemed appropriate that the $1,100 -- won for responding correctly to a question to which the answer was "Drew Barrymore" -- be used to make a film chronicling Brian's efforts to get a date with her. Using their network and the small-world idea of "six degrees of separation," the men would blanket their contacts with pleas for connections to anyone who knew Barrymore.

They had a story, and a budget, however small. They called Jon and pitched the idea. Initially hesitant, Jon was persuaded by his wife's comment: "I'd pay to see Brian try to get a date with Drew Barrymore." So he signed on. "Then, says Brett, "We just needed the footage."

But for that you need a camera. Enter one generous 30-day, no-hassle, no-questions return policy at Circuit City (a policy that has since been curtailed considerably). They bought the camera with Brett's credit card and began filming that day.

They signed on coproducer Kerry David and shot more than 85 hours of footage in 30 days, cutting the film as they went along. "We had about five hours of favorite moments," says Brian.

Moments that made it to the final version include Brian's meetings with director John August (Charlie's Angels) and actors Corey Feldman (Goonies, Stand by Me) and Eric Roberts (The Pope of Greenwich Village, Purgatory), as well as a date with a Drew look-alike. "If you ever want to be truly humbled," says Brian, "tape yourself on a date. I was horrified."

As it turns out, his friends were horrified, too. In one of the film's more memorable scenes, Jon, Brett, and friends point out all of Brian's dating blunders. Brian also visits his childhood home to float the idea to his parents ("Why not Gwyneth Paltrow?" asks his father) and sits poolside with Drew's cousin (who, it turns out, doesn't actually know Drew). The degrees of separation fluctuate from eight to two as Brian visits the Los Angeles spa where Drew gets her facials done and later sneaks into the Charlie's Angels 2 premiere.

Beyond the pop culture sheen, it is the human struggle that shines in the movie. There are frequent moments of genuine warmth and heart, coupled with cathartic rushes of hope as Brian gets closer to his goal.

When they showed early footage to friends and family, the filmmakers realized they were capturing the spirit they'd envisioned. "We knew right away we had something. It was rough, but the response was great," says Jon.

Later audiences, like the one at the Park School in March, have loved the film. Festival crowds have honored it with several awards, including the Audience Award for best feature at HBO Comedy Arts, which won over such indie hits as Napoleon Dynamite, Garden State, Saved, and Supersize Me.

Receiving the Audience Award for Best Feature HBO Comedy Arts Festival

"We didn't know we'd have this kind of uplifting response," says Brett. "We'd thought that if we were lucky, it'd be funny. " The friends appreciate each other's involvement. "Every one of us brought something to the table that made the film what it is," Jon says. Brett agrees: "Without any one of us, it wouldn't have happened."

Friendship is certainly a big element in the film. When they were denied the rights to the song they'd all felt "had the right feel" for the title, they called their friend Tony DeSare '98, a singer-songwriter. With his friend and bandmate Mike Lee '00, Tony composed and recorded the movie's theme song, If I Had Drew, in just 20 days.

Despite the festival successes and high-end agency representation, no major studios opted to pick up the movie at its industry screening. Instead, the three were advised to recut the film and package it as a reality show. The filmmakers were astonished. "We made a movie," says Brian. When their agents suggested they follow that advice, they dropped the agents.

With the same guerrilla style they'd used to try to contact Barrymore, they took the film out on their own, showing it at festivals and whenever and wherever they could. Brian appeared on numerous radio and TV talk shows. "That's where perseverance comes in," says Brian. "People see it as an overnight success story, but it's really been going on for two years now."

The "Drew crew" Jon, Kerry, Brian, and Brett at their first industry screening in Hollywood.

Their vision and persistence have paid off. My Date with Drew was picked up by DEJ Productions, a division of Blockbuster, and is slated for a release this summer in New York and Los Angeles, with additional cities to be added later.

The three friends have turned to other projects including a reality show, which has already been optioned. Jon and Kerry David's Lucky Crow Productions is involved with 65 Roses, a feature film slated to star William H. Macy, and recently optioned the rights to The Queen's Mark, described as a swashbuckling period piece. Brett has cofounded a company, Rusty Bear Entertainment, and is working on several projects.

And Brian's mission certainly succeeded in at least one goal -- launching his filmmaking career. As for the date with Drew, you'll have to see for yourself.

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