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Knocking Around Hollywood

Knocking Around HollywoodAfter an 18-month delay, Tufts graduate Brian Koppelman's new film "Knockaround Guys" has hit the nation's big screens. Hollywood.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [10.18.02] When "Knockaround Guys" debuted in theaters last week, writer/director Brian Koppelman was finally able to close a lengthy chapter in his Hollywood career. The Tufts graduate's directorial debut - which followed the success of his 1998 screenplay for "Rounders" which starred Matt Damon - took the long route through Hollywood, but for Koppelman, it's proving worth the wait.

"'When's your movie coming out?' These five words have been thrown at us so many times over the past 18 months that they've started to sound more like an accusation than a question," Koppelman wrote in the Los Angeles Times. "We've heard them on conference calls with studio execs, at neighborhood block parties, even in the middle of pickup basketball games. Our dentists, whom we see only at six-month intervals, have gotten the opportunity to ask three times."

When "Knockaround Guys" debuted on October 11, Koppelman and his co-writer/director David Levien finally had their answer.

But it took them a lot longer than they expected.

""When we set out to make 'Knockaround Guys'-- a film about the sons of gangsters trying to make their mark -- we didn't think about the way it would be sold," he wrote in the Times. "Our only intention was to make a solid movie."

The duo recruited a blockbuster cast - including Dennis Hopper, John Malkovich, Seth Green and a then-unknown Vin Diesel - and began shooting the gangster film, which they co-wrote after "Rounders" was released.

"The first day John Malkovich and Dennis Hopper were scheduled to come on set, I woke up and become aware of the enormity of it," Koppelman said in an interview with CNN.

But the rookie directors quickly inspired their cast, especially screen veteran Dennis Hopper.

"Brian and David were really wonderful - similar to the way the Coen brothers are, as far as giving you direction that is never overloading," Hopper told United Press International. "[They know] when to speak to you and when not to speak to you. [They are] really great."

And New Line's studio executives liked the script, which took an unusual approach to telling a mob story.

"'Knockaround Guys' is a coming-of-age gangster film set mainly in a small Montana town. The filmmaking duo says they mixed elements of the Western style with the gangster genre," reported CNN. "Barry Pepper plays Matty Demaret, the son of a crime boss. He and his buddies take a job for the father, played by Hopper, to prove they can cut the mustard. The result is a fish-out-of-water story where New York City boys clash with the culture of small-town folks."

It was inspired, in part, by the films the pair watched when they grew up together on Long Island.

"We grew up watching gangster movies," Koppelman - who has been working on films with Levien since they met in high school -- told CNN. "We wanted to make a film that people would quote to each other like 'Diner' and 'Godfather.'"

Test audiences loved the finished product.

"They laughed in the right spots, related to the characters, cheered at some points," Koppelman wrote in the Times. "The studio tentatively gave us a February 2001 release date."

But politics, marketing decisions and financial strains at New Line Films kept "Knockaround Guys" out of theaters for what seemed like an eternity, they said.

"The filmmaker's job doesn't feel finished until the public can see the film for itself," Koppelman wrote in the Times. "This viewing is essential to the creator's artistic growth. It is this final element of the process that gives one distance and objectivity - the ability, in a sense, to move on to the next work. And not being allowed to have it was worse than any question that might be lobbed by an interested relative across the barbecue."

This wasn't the first time the pair learned that Hollywood's waiting game - however frustrating - can have big payoffs.

When 'Rounders' was first released, it was expected to flop. "We learned to take the long view," Koppleman told CNN. "The initial reception to 'Rounders'was mixed - [but] over the last four years it has become a cult classic."

Many hope "Knockaround Guys" will take a similar course.

"Even though they shelved this movie for a long time, I'm so glad it's coming out. I think this is a wonderful movie," Dennis Hopper told United Press International. "I think this is a terrific job that these two guys did on their first directorial job in a film, and I wish them very well. I think this film will have legs. I hope it does anyway for them."


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