By Peter Barell
Arts and Entertainment Editor
Students, faculty, and staff gathered in the Hillwood Commons lecture hall on Feb.25 at 7 p.m. to attend a free advance private screening of Samuel Goldwyn Films’ “Better Living Through Chemistry.” The film, which stars Sam Rockwell, Olivia Wilde, Michelle Monaghan, Jane Fonda, and Ray Liotta, will be in theaters on March 14.
“Better Living Through Chemistry” is the darkly comedic story of Douglas Varney (Rockwell): an unhappily married, uptight chemist who takes over the business of his domineering father-in-law. Varney soon begins abusing his drug stock after he meets a new customer – the alluring bad influence that is Elizabeth Roberts (Wilde). Varney’s otherwise uneventful life, highlighted by providing prescriptions to his customers, and trying to be a positive influence for his 12-year-old son, spirals out of control. He meets regularly with Roberts to party, and his passive world becomes full of adventure. Varney’s ego inflates, as he develops an addiction to pills and to his affair with Roberts.
Attendees composed predominantly of Film, Theater, and Media Arts Department majors, and they were able to ask questions directly to the co-directors and writers David Posamentier and Geoff Moore, who sat for a Q&A moderated by Norman Steinberg, professor at LIU Brooklyn’s TV Writer Studio.
Steinberg was lively and investigative, gearing the discussion toward informing students of the realities, difficulties, and joys of the creative industry, especially as television and film writers. Posamentier and Moore kept the discussion casual, and thanked the University for holding the screening. “Pay attention, filmmakers,” said Steinberg, “Because this could be you. What you see here are two filmmakers and their first film.”
Posamentier and Moore discussed casting changes and iffy financing. In 2010, “Better Living Through Chemistry” was looking to be a financial golden-child to producers, who maintained interest with the casting of Jeremy Renner. At the time, Renner was making waves with his work on “The Hurt Locker,” which earned him several Best Actor nominations.
Sadly, Renner had to leave the project due to his newly scheduled blockbusters like “The Bourne Legacy,” and “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.” With Renner’s departure, Jennifer Garner (“Dallas Buyers Club”), who was set to play the character of Elizabeth, also left. Thankfully, Rockwell, who had worked with Wilde on “Cowboys vs Aliens,” expressed interest. The rest of the cast filled out soon after. Posamentier and Moore have worked together as writing partners for years, and their story is one showing the often arduous path into the industry, like the Greek myth of Sisyphus: a man who was forced to carry a boulder up a hill every day, for it to fall down before next morning.
“In the midst of putting this [film] together, we probably had four or five other jobs as writers,” said Moore. “We’ve been writing for 10 years, and we still continue to write. That’s 10 years of actually working. Plus, a lot of time beforehand, before we had an agent, before [anybody] was willing to pay us.”
Posamentier noted that they have been fortunate enough to have access in the Writers Guild of America, a screenwriting union, and been able to make a living editing scripts and selling TV Pilots, many of which are not produced. “The failing percentage is so off the charts that if you get two of every 10 projects through, that’s a huge success,” he said. “Even one of 10 is a huge success. So, you have to get really, really accustomed to failure. Early on, it’s a tough pill to swallow, but you get used to it.” “Better Living Through Chemistry” marks their first directional collaboration.
Halfway into the screening, there was a malfunction with the Blu-Ray disk player, and viewers had to wait 15 minutes while staff scrambled to fix the problem. Water bottles and snacks were distributed to ease the waiting. The film began lagging, to the point where it skipped back to the first scene. The filmmakers briefly stepped on stage to begin the Q&A, before the problem was fixed.
After the screening, a reception was held by the University in the SAL Gallery. Students, faculty, and the filmmakers continued their discussion as they ate catered food and observed student artworks. A portrait painting featured in the film of Wilde, her on-screen husband (played by Ray Liotta) and their two intimidating German Shepard dogs adorned the wall, and was donated to the school by the filmmakers to be auctioned off for student scholarships.
LIU President Kimberly Cline attended the event, and was eager to point out the benefit of having opportunities such as film screenings on campus. “I think we have a great tradition. Our School of Visual and Performing Arts is renowned around the area,” said Cline. “We are beginning to be known as a destination for the arts, and that is a good thing. [It] means that for students, you will have more events to attend.”