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ORANGE COUNTY CALENDAR: ARTS, ENTERTAINMENT, LEISURE

Coming Attraction: New Host

September 29, 2000|DENNIS McLELLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Coming Attractions, the fall UC Irvine Extension class that previews films before they are released, has a new host--producer and screenwriter Michael Berlin.

But one thing hasn't changed since The Times' arts editor emeritus Charles Champlin began hosting the class in 1994: Class members, who will meet at Edwards University Theatre on six consecutive Monday nights beginning Oct. 16, still won't know what film they'll be seeing until they show up at the theater each night.

That element of surprise, along with a surprise guest--a director, writer, actor or someone else involved with the film--makes Coming Attractions one of UCI Extension's most popular classes.

Indeed, the suspense factor typically has a big payoff. Films and guests last fall included "Crazy in Alabama" with producers Debra Hill and Linda Goldstein, "With Friends Like These" with director Philip Messina, and "Tumbleweeds" with screenwriter Angela Shelton.

Berlin said the course is not for film professionals. "It is really for people who love going to the movies."

Not knowing what film will be screened adds to the fun. "There's always that element of 'What's it going to be?' You come with no expectations about the film," Berlin said by phone from his home in West L.A. "In some ways it's the best way to see a film--cold--so you don't come in with all the baggage of 'I hear this is a great film.' You sit back, the credits come on, and it takes you where it takes you: You have a slightly clearer view of things."

But there's also a practical reason for the "sneak preview" aspect of the class, he said. A film or guest speaker might not be available at the last minute, which would only disappoint class members if they knew what films were scheduled.

With help from Extension film instructor Bob Woolery, Berlin has been assembling a wish list of films he'd like to screen.

"We're literally trying to now finalize the first couple of films," he said, adding that he'd like to land some Thanksgiving and end-of-the-year holiday releases.

Although films starring John Travolta, Nicolas Cage and Tom Hanks are among those on his wish list, Berlin says an ideal lineup would include "some really high-profile films with some high-profile people and then smaller films that are equally wonderful"--as well as guest filmmakers and actors whom class members may not be familiar with but who can offer different perspectives on how a film gets made.

In the past, as Champlin experienced health problems, "Good Morning America" Hollywood correspondent Chantal Westerman and film historian Joseph McBride have filled in as host of Coming Attractions. With Champlin no longer available to moderate the class, Berlin was asked to take over as permanent host.

A former psychologist in New York before moving to Los Angeles, Berlin has written and produced more than 150 episodes of television series such as "Cagney & Lacey," "Miami Vice," and "Murder, She Wrote." His screenplay credits include "Breaking Point," "Robo Warriors," and "Anguish."

Berlin also has taught college film classes and is co-founder and moderator of the Orange County Jewish Film Festival, co-sponsored by University Synagogue in Irvine.

As a filmgoer, Berlin said he always has dozens of questions that he'd like to ask the filmmaker or actors after seeing a film, so taking over as Coming Attractions host "is sort of a dream come true. I can ask them every one of those questions."

And, he said, he expects class members "to jump into the discussion."

After accepting the job as host, Berlin had lunch with Champlin to discuss the class--a long conversation that centered on their mutual love of movies.

"He was very generous, and his feeling was, 'You'll enjoy the films. People are happy to be there. Just go with it and have fun.' "

With a laugh, Berlin added, "The day the film or the guest doesn't show up I'm going to keep repeating that: 'Have fun.' "

BE THERE

Coming Attractions starts Oct. 16 and continues every Monday through Nov. 20 from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at Edwards University Theatre, University Center, 4245 Campus Drive, Irvine. $125 for full series; $25 for individual tickets. For more information or to enroll, call (949) 824-5414, or enroll online at http://www.unex.uci.edu.

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