'Meatballs' celebrates 35th anniversary with a reunion

Jim Slotek, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:01 PM ET

As the executive head of production on Meatballs, Don Carmody was one of the first people ever to play “Where’s Bill?” with the movie’s star Bill Murray.

Now Canada’s only real super-producer, with a 100-film resume (including the Resident Evil series, the Silent Hill series, Porky’s, Goon and the Oscar-winning Chicago), Carmody was then with Cinepix, the production company that shot the comedy about a summer camp of losers-that-could.

“Yeah, I was a little worried,” Carmody admits, as the first day of shooting approached at the real-life Camp White Pine near Haliburton, Ont. “I mean, we didn’t have a contract, and we couldn’t reach him. It was very worrying, but Ivan (director Ivan Reitman) always believed he would show up.”

Murray did show up on that first day, though he didn’t sign a contract until three days later.

“Bill’s odd, but he’s very professional,” Carmody says. “I haven’t seen him in a while, but I hear stories that he’s gotten a little odder. He still has that reputation that you’re not sure you’ve got him until he shows up.”

On the occasion of Meatballs’ 35th anniversary, Toronto’s TIFF Bell Lighthouse is hosting a celebration of the movie Wednesday night, with Carmody, producer/writer Daniel Goldberg, Chris Makepeace (who played Rudy Gerner, the shy kid Murray’s cool counsellor Trip Harrison took under his wing) and Harvey Atkin (schlemiel head counsellor Morty Melnick). The event is a fundraiser for the international charity Action Against Hunger.

“It really was the movie that launched me and Ivan into L.A.,” Carmody says of the surprise blockbuster comedy. “The funny thing is that things become less tough with age. And success is a great sweetener.”

Carmody recalls only a handful of visits thereafter to cottage country during filming, “mostly to make sure Bill was still showing up,” he jokes.

“I remember one day there was a night shoot and the craft service guy was making burgers. And there was a big hedge of cedars and I told the guy, ‘C’mon, take a look!’ And he had a flashlight and he parted the hedge. There must have been 300 raccoons ready to pounce.”

Carmody considers Meatballs one of three key moments in his career – the others being Chicago (which gave him the title “Oscar-winner”) and Porky’s, which became the highest-grossing Canadian movie ever for a generation. Ironically, its record would be eclipsed by the fourth and fifth Resident Evil movies – a case of Carmody breaking his own record twice. “Porky’s took me to another level, because it established my credentials on my own,” says Carmody, who’d gone into business as a producer for himself by then.

Of course, it was a different movie world then, with some “blockbusters” acquiring that title only after they’d been in theatres for months.

“Meatballs and Porky’s played in many areas for over a year. That’s unheard of today.”

He recalls a test run of screenings for Porky’s in Colorado Springs, Colo. “Bob (director Bob Clark) and I went and it was depressing. The first screening, there was nobody in that theatre. And the theatre manager said ‘Don’t you boys worry. That’s a funny movie, you’re gonna do okay.’ By that evening’s screening, we had like 15. The next day 50 or 60 and it built every day and it ran for a year. It was like every man, woman and child in Colorado Springs saw the movie three times.”

As for Meatballs, Carmody wasn’t a huge Saturday Night Live fan, and wasn’t aware of his problematic star’s drawing power.

“I do remember being at the first preview screening in L.A. and being taken by surprise when Bill Murray’s name came up on the credits and everybody squealed. I had no idea he was that big a deal.”

Twitter: @jimslotek

jim.slotek@sunmedia.ca


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