Every kid dreams of running away to Hollywood someday, but most people just know that fame and fortune are not in the cards for an average kid from the Midwest.
Not so for Madison filmmaker Dan Klein. Klein is an up-and-coming movie director whose first full-length feature film, “Making Revolution,” debuts this weekend, and all it took was one really long car ride and a dream to get him where he is today.
Raised in Madison and a graduate of Madison West High School, Klein decided to forgo college in exchange for some real-life education. Shortly after his high school graduation, Klein packed up his things and left for L.A. despite his parents’ (who are both ophthalmology professors at the UW Medical School) concerns and the enormous risks involved. Just barely legal and with only one friend, Klein was pretty much on his own in the city of broken dreams.
Luckily for him though, his friends had connections. Jim Abrahams, the famous writer, director and producer of such hits as “Airplane!,” “The Naked Gun” and “Hotshots” was the uncle of a good friend. In a recent interview over coffee with The Badger Herald, Klein recalled the influence Abrahams had on his early days in Hollywood.
“He is just a wonderful, wonderful person and was somewhat of a mentor figure to me. He allowed me to be on-set for the making of some of his films, and really kind of invited me in to learn how the process works for a Hollywood feature, so it was very exciting.
“[When] I moved out to L.A. and got to hang out around him and the productions he was working on at the time, I learned more and more that, while I love writing, it’s very exciting to actually get to see these products through to fruition. He helped to introduce me to the want to make films.”
Now a writer, director and producer in his own right, Klein has come home to Madison for the premiere of “Making Revolution,” a film detailing the trials and tribulations of a group of disillusioned college students trying to start their own revolution.
The movie, set in August 2001, shows the hilarity and humility the students endure as they realize that the initial lures of free food and booze are insufficient compared to the magnitude of work involved in actually organizing a modern revolution.
The comedy features such Madison legends as Kevin Bozeman, winner of the HBO Comedy Competition, and the late Dave Gray. “Making Revolution” is Gray’s last recorded performance due to his untimely death last January as a result of complications from epilepsy. Klein decided to dedicate the film to him.
“[He] was much loved and delivers a very poignant and beautiful performance in the film. There was a group of us that always wanted to make films, and he was a part of that group, so I’m proud that the film features him, and I’m proud that he delivers such a great performance in it. I hope that people turn out to see him in the film and to honor him, [as well as] honor the other performers who are in it.”
In a time of such political unrest and widespread activism, “Making Revolution” allows viewers to laugh at the calamity and dysfunction that are all-too-common in modern revolutions. Filmed in the summers of 2000 and 2001, the pre-Sept. 11, 2001 movie was initially meant to satirize the complications of an activist lifestyle, but the World Trade Tower attacks prompted a re-evaluation of what the movie was really trying to say.
And now, with the war in Iraq and the rise in protests throughout the country, the objectives of “Making Revolution” are even more risky. Aware that some viewers may take offense to the mocking nature of the film, Klein hopes that the movie will instead prompt viewers to “stir up a dialogue” about the issues involved in organizing a political front.
“Initially, I was a little concerned about it because I thought that people would think we were belittling activists and activism in general, and we’re not at all,” Klein said.
“Our goal was merely to point out that it’s difficult for these activists to find some means to unify, you know, to stand united. Prior to the war, there wasn’t really one cause that brought everybody together and created kind of a concentrated front. But now, all of the activism in the United States has really brought people’s attention to activism in general and more people are aware of it and cognitive of it, and I think that the issues that we bring up in the film still exist.
“Our point in the making of this film was to just kind of identify that there were issues in bringing everybody together behind one cause in the absence of a war.”
The inspiration for the movie was derived from Klein’s own experiences as an activist, as well as those of his friends. Demonstrations such as the looting- and chaos-laden protests against the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Seattle, as well as others in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., highlighted the mayhem that disunited activists can incur.
With so many different messages being relayed at once, all that Klein and the rest of the general public could hear was “a wall of noise,” and the resulting irony prompted Klein and his two friends, Brandon Krueger and Colin Trevorrow, both Madison natives, to make a movie based loosely on their experiences.
The film was shot in Madison and Milwaukee, and even features some unlikely residents as cast members. While Madison locals such as Library Mall, State Street and the Orpheum Theatre all appear in “Making Revolution,” it’s the inclusion of actual Madison citizens such as judges, lawyers and businessmen that really give the film hometown appeal.
When asked why he continues to return to Madison to make films (he also filmed his award-winning short film “Bar Mitzvah!” here), Klein smiled and said, “I love Madison — I just love it. I love how I feel here. It’s a very supportive environment, it’s a very intelligent environment, and I think it breeds, by and large, great people. No matter what, I’ll always have an affinity for Madison.”
“Making Revolution” premiers this Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Orpheum Theatre, 216 State St., and runs through the following Sunday, April 27. Tickets can be purchased at the Orpheum Theatre box office weekdays 6-10 p.m. and weekends 2-10 p.m. or by phone at (608) 255-8755.