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COM Alum Fleder Screens New Film at Fenway Tonight

Director of Things to Do in Denver talks the highs and lows of Hollywood

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In a pivotal scene in the 2003 film Runaway Jury, Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman face off in a men’s room during a tense court battle. The two actors had been friends since the 1950s, but it was the first time they had worked together. For director Gary Fleder, it was a career high point. “I remember the day we shot that,” says Fleder (COM’85). “I said to myself, this is as great as it’s going to get, to have these two legends going toe to toe, seeing that kind of friendship fuel their collaboration.”

That anecdote captures something essential about the filmmaker. By now he’s experienced enough to know that the glamour of Hollywood is mostly a myth. Making movies is hard labor, and he’s learned to value those rare moments of transcendence. He also values collaboration in all its forms — between actors on a set or between a director and his crew.

Take his friendship and his partnership with writer Scott Rosenberg (COM’85). They met during their sophomore year at BU and have collaborated ever since. When Fleder was in film school at the University of Southern California, Rosenberg wrote his thesis film. He also wrote Fleder’s first feature film, Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead, with Christopher Walken and Andy Garcia. Rosenberg writes for October Road, the television show they created together, which has finished its second season on ABC. And the two cosponsor a short screenplay contest at BU’s annual Redstone Film Festival.

“One of the great things that I realized at BU was the idea of how important partnerships are,” says Fleder. “It was a partnership that really got me my first big break, getting me an agent, getting me noticed in the community, in Hollywood. I think to make it in the business, you have to have talent, tenacity, and luck. I always felt that meeting Scott was part of my luck.”

Talent and tenacity helped Fleder build a directing résumé that includes Kiss the Girls, with Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd, and Don’t Say a Word, with Michael Douglas and Brittany Murphy, as well as a lot of television, including six episodes of October Road.

For a director with a strong track record in thrillers, Fleder’s latest film, The Express, starring Dennis Quaid and Rob Brown, is a departure. A drama based on the story of college football player Ernie Davis, who in the early ’60s became the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy, the film was “incredibly challenging and it came down to one thing — it lives and breathes and dies on being truthful.” The filmmakers he admires — Michael Mann, Martin Scorsese, John Cassavetes — all convey an essential truth, Fleder says. They have “found a way to bridge the gap between what is real and what is not real.” When you watch their work, “you really can’t discern between what’s real and what’s not because they found the truth in the feel of the movie, the performances, the look of the film. It feels authentic. That’s a word I go to a lot: it has to be authentic, emotionally authentic, visually authentic.”

As Fleder was finishing mixing the music and sound on The Express, he was thinking about what comes next. He’s developing The Deep Blue Goodbye, based on a novel by John D. MacDonald, for Fox. He’s interested in a bigger scale film, perhaps a fantasy. But he also wants to do another socially relevant drama like The Express, looking for that next moment of transcendence.

“Here’s a truth: making films is very, very difficult,” he says. “It’s physically demanding. It’s incredibly demanding emotionally. It may sound like it’s a lot of fun, but it’s not exactly what you see on Entertainment Tonight. It’s backbreaking work. And I think you look for those moments of sheer joy — working with a really amazing actor or something magical happening on the set between two actors. Or it could be the weather. All of a sudden some amazing sky comes into a shot, and you’re like, wow that was worth it.”

Gary Fleder will host a screening of his new film, The Express, at the AMC Fenway 13 theater tonight at 7:30 p.m. for BU students; a Q&A with Fleder follows the film. Tickets are available in the film and television office in the College of Communication, 640 Commonwealth Ave., Room 118.

On Thursday, April 10, writer Scott Rosenberg (COM’85) will join Fleder for a screening of their film Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead at 7 p.m. in COM Room B05. Tickets are available in the film and television office.

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