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Big Year Movie News & Rumors

I had a very interesting day tracking down information about the movie The Big Year (the movie based on the book with the same name about 3 guys who try to see the most birds in North America in one year) starring Jack Black (above), Steve Martin (above) and Owen Wilson.

First, let’s clear up some gossip that was making the rounds on the bird festival circuit this fall.

1.  The movie will open July 4th weekend in 2011.  According the movie’s publicist, there is no release date scheduled as of today.  And I believe that, because last night I got the following email from someone I will call a Henchman of my National Secret Network:

“I just saw the movie, The Big Year in NYC.  It was a focus group.  I never heard of the movie prior to tonight, and I know nothing about birding.  Steve Martin was at the showing.  If you’d like to ask me any questions, I’d be happy to answer.  I googled the movie and saw your website.”

More on that later in this email (WARNING THERE MIGHT BE SPOILERS).

If the production company is doing focus groups, they are deep in editing and wouldn’t come up with a release date until they got a sense of how the movie would work with audiences.

2. And this rumor is a Doozie: Debra Shearwater of Shearwater Journeys is suing the production company over something to do with the film, most likely her portrayal in the movie by Anjelica Huston.

NOT TRUE. I sent Debi a message telling her what I had heard (which I was surprised because I had  heard how excited she was about the production). According to Debi, “There is no chance of this rumor being true!!”

Big Year publicist knew nothing of it either.

Now…let’s get back to the email I received from my Henchman…and again, there may be spoilers in here so if you want the movie to be a total surprise, stop reading.  If you’ve read the book, you kind of know what happens and this fills in actors with characters in the book (and not in the book).  So here we go with the Henchman’s notes:

General Movie:

Henchman said, “I would describe the movie an informational dramedy.”

Birds looked real except for one owl that appeared to be CGI (and that they were still in the process of editing it, it was black).

Jim Parsons plays a blogger who tracks the three main characters on his blog called Ichabod Crane.

John Cleese narrates the movie and subtitles are used to give bird info throughout the movie.

A big part of the drama was keeping the fact that all three were doing a big year secret.  Almost every birding scene involved small groups of background actors doing the same.   They discussed the weather and the “fallout” from El Nino a good bit.

A birder takes his new wife to Attu and she expects it to be a an exotic getaway (oh, how many non birding spouses have fallen for that one?).

Steve Martin is playing the Al Levantin character in the book. I have heard from other sources that the characters will not have the same names as they had in the book. I’m sure it has something to do with not having to get permission from the actual people they are based on.

Steve Martin’s character reminded Henchman of the CEO in the movie Meet Joe Black, except he didn’t care what happened to the business he created.  He was just ready to move on in life and birds.

Martin’s character doesn’t have many of the jokes, but the woman playing his wife is funny (I think that is JoBeth Williams).  He’s constantly pestered by employees of his company while he’s out birding–even when he’s on Attu–yes, Attu is in the movie.

Jack Black is the Greg Miller character.

Jack Black’s character can id any bird by sound and is tested on this quite a bit.  His father is played by Brian Dennehy.

Jack Black’s love interest was shown to be the only person involved for the love of birds (which I believe is played by Rashida Jones).  Of course they all love birds, but the competition was priority number one.  Her life list is less than their year lists.

Black’s character gets most of the jokes.

Owen Wilson is the Sandy Komito character.

His nemesis bird is a Snowy Owl, he keeps missing it.

According to Henchman, Wilson’s best scenes are with Anjelica Huston when he starts a mutiny on her boat because he wants to go for a bird and she steers it towards a whale instead.  She wasn’t in the movie enough.

Owen’s character is married and his wife is pregnant, but birds come first for him and the wife and baby come second (I think his wife is played by Rosamund Pike).

So, a big thank you to my mysterious Henchman who fed me his notes on the movie.  One final thing he said was that the first part of the movie was slow, the last two thirds moved faster.  He found it good and that birders will probably get more out of it, “I think you will love the movie while I thought it was merely “good” because I was expecting so much from that cast.”

17 comments to Big Year Movie News & Rumors

  • His nemesis is the snowy owl?? I guess the rarer, less charismatic birds need a better agent

  • Nemesis birds are not just the rare ones. Mine was painted bunting for a loooooooooooooong time. I only got one in the last year and a half. My other nemesis is the boreal owl–and I live in a state where you go to see them. I’ve banded them, had one perched on my hand for educational programs and driven injured boreals to The Raptor Center, but I have never seen one in the wild.

    *shakes fist*

  • aletamay

    So who is playing the birdchick character?

  • Aletamay: if I remember, there IS a bird blogger character in the movie, but it’s a guy and he’s being played by the fantastic Jim Parsons.

    Sharon, thank you so much for the updates on this movie. I can’t wait until it gets a release date and (better still) a trailer! It sounds like it will be a lot of fun, despite the fact that it’s taking lots of liberties with the real story.

  • Duncan

    I had no idea they were making this film. I love the casting!

  • Hi Sharon,

    A brief editorial note: It’s confusing what the rumor is and what your correction is in the first section. Does the movie have a July 4 release date, or is that the rumor that you’re correcting?

    You’re married to a film-maker, so I really shouldn’t speak as if I have any authority…but if they’re showing the completed film to actual test audiences, I would presume they’re a few months at most away from release? Surely not 7 months away. Maybe 3 or 4, so that it’s release as spring is opening up and people will be enthused about the coming of spring and going out in nature anyway? I can’t think they’d want to position to compete with the summer “big movies” anyway.

  • But anyway, this sounds like a load of fun. I love the cast; the’re all really gifted, and an off-beat relatively original story like this with some interesting character acting could be really really awesome. I can’t wait to see it!

  • They have set a release date–period. It’s not later than July 4, it’s not earlier.

    If the company is showing it to test audiences now, they are trying to determine what needs to be fixed–do they need to reshoot any scenes. Changes could be minor or they could be huge. They also want to wait and see what else is being released and who they will have to compete with. This could be released in May. I think the only thing we can speculate is that it won’t be a fall release, it doesn’t sound like there are Oscar worthy performances.

  • I am looking forward to the movie. Saw the talk show clip with Steve Martin and told a friend about it. He said “He’s too old for the part”. I haven’t read the book, but Steve Martin, actor, writer, art collector, is one of my favorite persons.

  • I’m relieved by this report. Some of my birder friends and I were concerned that this film would just make all birders look like buffoons, especially given the cast involved. But it sounds as though the filmmakers are laughing with us, and not at us. I hope it stays this way in the final cut!

  • Claire Baker

    I read this book. Isn’t this a “period” piece? The whole story would be changed if it is present-time. Cell phones? Imagine what those guys could have done with them?!! I am seeing current cars in the photos. I sure hope this is still a “period” piece. Good job hunting down the rumors, birdchick! Now for a film of “Kingbird Highway”!

  • I’m trying not to get my hopes up too much for this one because it seems to have been given the unjust and impossible burden of representing a genuinely quirky and diverse subculture by some accounts. Although if it does the book justice and this cast brings some laughs, we should all be happy for having seen it.

  • Karen

    This actual story took place in 1998….cell phones were around….maybe not as prevelant as today, but they were here. As for the “blogger” played by Jim Parsons, yes, that is a liberty…definitely no blogging in 1998. Also, I know that one particular birder from the book (I shall not say which one, just yet) was on set for a good period of time as a “bird consult”, so he kept them pretty honest about many details. These are all facts that I have. The following is my opinion: I think this movie is going to be great. I think they picked 3 phenomenal actors who can certainly portray Greg, Al, and Sandy. And I’m not a big Huston fan, but I bet she can do Debi awesomely!

  • Karen,

    ‘As for the “blogger” played by Jim Parsons, yes, that is a liberty…definitely no blogging in 1998. ‘

    The term “blogging” didn’t come around until well after 2000, I agree. But the concept and the practice was well under way in 2001, when I ran across Wil Wheaton’s online journal. So someone in 1998 wouldn’t have been called a “blogger” but it’s perfectly reasonable that they would have been doing that.

  • “it seems to have been given the unjust and impossible burden of representing a genuinely quirky and diverse subculture by some accounts.”

    True. But computer programmer types have been a pretty big economic and social group for 15 years +, and even slightly realistic portrayals of us are few and far between.

  • Thanks so much for the inside scoop onthe movie – I know so many people that are anxiously awaiting the release! Keep the updates coming :)

  • Gary

    I hope it comes out in the summer so I can attend the first showing in all my geeky birder glory wearing my binoculars over a teeshirt that says on the back “sleep can wait…I’m going birding”. I sure hope it doesn’t suck, but I fear that it might.