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Boy seeks girl, gets distribution deal

The festival darling 'My Date With Drew' grew from an aspiring filmmaker's quest to date actress Barrymore.

July 24, 2005|Michael Goldman | Special to The Times

According to those who know him best, Brian Herzlinger hasn't changed in the 2 1/2 years since he took his place at the center of a small, quixotically charming phenomenon known as "My Date With Drew." He's still the guy "everyone loves instantly," according to Brett Winn, his childhood friend from New Jersey, college buddy and co-director/editor/producer -- along with their other old pal, Jon Gunn -- on the documentary that hits theaters in limited release in five cities Aug. 5.

Quite simply, "Drew" chronicles Herzlinger's quest to score a date with his lifelong crush, actress Drew Barrymore.

Indeed, as he reflects on his "Drew" saga, Herzlinger, now 29, oozes the unpretentious charm Winn describes, and which is on display throughout the documentary. The kind of charm that results when one honestly exposes one's foibles to the world.

For instance: his concern about being labeled a stalker, his insistence on practicing for a hypothetical date with Barrymore, his fear of being arrested while sneaking into the "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle" premiere after-party, and so on.

The movie is made up of that kind of modest human drama, largely because it was made in ultra-guerrilla fashion. Herzlinger and his mates simply passed around a consumer-level mini-DV camera, taping each other as they brainstorm, argue, kibitz, make phone calls, read e-mails, eat, exercise and interview people who might help them eventually connect with Barrymore. Even when they were all on camera together, they never bothered to use a tripod -- they simply placed the camera on a counter or table.

The production may have been casual, but as Herzlinger talks about the movie between bites of an English muffin, it's obvious that he is now far savvier about Hollywood's nooks and crannies than when the journey started. The goofy, self-deprecating Herzlinger depicted in "My Date With Drew" is clearly present, but so is an ambitious young filmmaker.

One moment, he jokes that the movie's mere existence is nothing short of a miracle considering the story arc is built entirely around his private, unlikely hopes and dreams. "After all, I'm a nobody to the public," he chuckles. "I'm still a nobody to most of the girls I went to high school with, for that matter."

The next moment, though, he offers a dead-serious tutorial on what budding filmmakers had better understand about Hollywood. "At its core, everything you need to know about Hollywood, you learned in kindergarten," he offers. "People forget the rules of the sandbox: Don't throw sand in somebody's face, don't point and laugh at somebody if they fall and scrape their knee. It's just not nice.

"So my advice is to just be honest, and never take no for an answer. If you really have a story to tell, there is no excuse not to tell it. Inexpensive technology is now available -- we shot this movie on a digital video camera, we edited it on a laptop. We got it into festivals." And now, theaters.

Indeed, a major story point is that Herzlinger and his friends, with no money, influence or camera to call their own, simply "purchased" a Panasonic mini-DV camcorder at Circuit City on Winn's credit card, and shot most of the movie before the end of the 30-day return period. Then they simply gave the camera back. All audio was recorded with the camera microphone. No other tools or crew were used during production.

The plan was basically hatched over dinner one night in May 2003, shortly after a financially strapped Herzlinger won $1,100 on a game-show pilot. The winning answer: "Drew Barrymore." Winn had helped edit the "Full Throttle" trailer, featuring Barrymore, that year, and Herzlinger took all this as a sign that perhaps the torch he'd carried for the actress since he first saw her in "E.T." at age 6 was about to ignite once more.

Over dinner, he and Winn also discussed their frustration at having failed "to make movies" since coming to Los Angeles fresh out of Ithaca College's undergraduate film program. They joked about making a documentary about Herzlinger's dream date idea, using his $1,100 winnings as their "budget." They had nothing to lose by formatting the quest around the Circuit City return policy, they decided, and agreed to spend a month on the project. After that, Herzlinger recalls, they would evaluate "if we might make something out of it, or if it would end up being a forgotten summer project."

The green light

Herzlinger and Winn immediately brought their old college friend Gunn on board, and he invited producer Kerry David, a friend of Gunn's wife and now Gunn's partner. They dubbed themselves "The Drew Crew," "greenlit" their project on a Friday, and began documenting their mission the next Monday.

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