NOTE: When I moved to a new site, this “Beer Wars” series was mangled/destroyed during the move. I’ve reconstructed it by copying/pasting another copy of the original posts. I also lost the comments in their original form. I’ve copied/pasted the comments, but had to do so under my own name. So although it looks as though I’m the only commenter, I’m not. In each case, I’ve identified the original commenter.
The point is that I knew that the critics would start in even before they’d seen the film. It’s all part of the deal. Fortunately, Anat also knew that would happen, and all she or anyone else could do was try to, well, educate people about how and why filmmakers and writers (and even brewers) make the choices they make.
So on April 16, Anat and I and others gathered in Los Angeles for the event. I should explain that up to that point, no one had seen the film except Anat, her crew, and Ben Stein. (She hired Ben as moderator because she needed someone who was experienced at public speaking and who was not involved in any way in the beer industry. Ben fit the bill.)
Digression: Anat hired Ben as moderator because he’s an experienced speaker and, more important, an outsider. He doesn’t make beer, sell beer, or promote beer. No surprise, the crowd of critics were annoyed. How, they demanded to know, could he serve as a moderator when he’s not a beer person? And what about his politics?, of which, apparently, many beer geeks disapprove.
They seemed not to understand his role in this event: He was there to MODERATE. Got that? MODERATE. He wasn’t there to share his brewing expertise (there were four other people on stage to do that). He wasn’t there because he was knowledgeable about the industry. He wasn’t there because he holds a specific political point of view (which, I might point out, was and is irrelevant to the proceedings.) He was there to ask questions and keep the half hour panel on track. End of story.
End of digression. The panelists — myself, Rhonda Kallman, Sam Caligione, Todd Alstrom, Greg Koch, and Charlie Papazian — spent that afternoon in the “green room” waiting our turn for makeup and talking. Those who had cell phones tweeted and blogged the green room activity. Etc.
It’s worth noting that I’d never met Rhonda or Sam or Todd. I’d had one brief conversation with Greg a few months earlier at the Great American Beer Festival, and have known Charlie for about four years (I interviewed him for the book). It was an interesting experience to be, in effect, stranded in the Green Room with what amounted to total strangers, all of whom have what can only be described as oversized personalities. Toss Anat and Ben into the mix and it made for an amazing and memorable afternoon.
(If I were Jane Smiley, I would have been taking notes for a novel titled Five Hours in the Green Room, a riff on her Ten Days in the Hills, which I loved.) (But I’m definitely not a novelist, so that’s one book that’s not gonna get written, at least not by me.)
Another (brief) digression: Makeup. I hate wearing makeup. I own almost no makeup (I keep a bit on hand for the TV gig I do, just in case the studio’s makeup person isn’t there.) But high-def cameras can make a 20-year-old with fabulous skin look like an aged crone. So: makeup. I asked the person doing my makeup (which, no surprise, took a looooooong time; I’m old) if men got as much makeup as women. “Oh, no,” she said. “Men usually only need a light touch. But people expect women to wear makeup, so we always put more on them.”
About an hour before the film was to begin, we all trouped onstage for a run-through of the live event. The crew wired us, checked sound levels, checked camera angles, and so forth. Ben ran us through a series of questions (none of which he re-asked during the live event.) We all argued; a minor shouting match ensued (because many of us disagreed about a number of topics). (Not to worry; it was a friendly shouting match.)
(The crew, by the way, consisted of dozens of people. You want to know why tickets cost $15? Staging an event like this requires a HUGE amount of equipment and a lot of highly skilled theater tech people. The satellite trucks were marvels of mobile high-technity, and there were miles of cables, wires, and so forth all over, all of which required a human being to set up and operate.)
Then we went backstage again to wait for the screening to begin. When it was time, we — the panelists, Anat, and Ben — took our seats in the auditorium so we could watch the film. (Again, note that only Anat and Ben had seen the film. The rest of us were “Beer Wars” virgins.)
The lights dimmed. The screen lit up. The film rolled. We watched. Five minutes before the film ended, we crept from our theater seats, returned to the stage (which was concealed by the movie screen), took our assigned seats for the panel discussion, got re-wired, received still more makeup (ugh). The film ended, the screen rose, and the panel discussion began.
Next: You want depth? You’re not gonna get it in a half hour.