The Big Year Ramblings

When I first saw the cast of stars, I fully expected quite a bit of comedy.  I also had some trepidation and fear that birders would catch the brunt of the comedic force of Hollywood.  Thankfully, director David Frankel had told me the truth.  He really loved the book and wanted to represent it well.

When I read the script the first time, I was  a bit surprised.  Firstly, I did not realize it was going to be a fictional representation.  Secondly, it had far less comedy than I expected initially.  It painted birders as real people dealing with real passion in a real world.  I had to read it again and then I realized it was better than the first time around.  My own preconceived ideas had colored my ability to properly evaluate it with the first pass.

I read the script a couple more times before flying out to Vancouver to be on the set.  I watched the filming of the movie for 3 weeks.  I got to meet all 3 stars, Jack Black, Steve Martin, and Owen Wilson.  This team is gifted in comedy and I felt they had a good chemistry together.  I thought that although the script was fictional that it did a reasonable job of  capturing the essence of the book.  I was really quite optimistic that it would do well–or at least could do well.  Some of the actors I talked to really liked the script.  The general sentiment was one of anticipation.

I got to experience the amount of work and effort that went into movie-making.  I gained a lot more respect for the actors and the daily pressures and hardships that they faced each day in inclement weather and long days.  The movie crew was pleased to have me on set.  They told me that it gave them more motivation getting to see one of the real characters that made this story possible.  There were several birders who were a part of the movie crew and everyone seemed to have a great amount of respect for the story behind the written version of  The Big Year.

When I left the set I was reasonably pleased.  More of my changes and recommendations had been implemented than I expected.  There were still many errors, but I felt we had reached a place that would at least be acceptable to birders s and still be understandable to the general public.  I was really hopeful.

I did not get to see the movie until the advanced screening on October 10 in Richmond Heights, OH.  I was quite pleased overall.  There were only a handful of birding cringe moments and many things that had been added in post editing.  And many scenes had been cut, too.  My first time through I have to say even I had expected more humor–a bit more comedy than I witnessed.  Still there were laughs and a few chuckles and many places that made me smile.  It was lighthearted and endearing.

My biggest problem with the movie in my first viewing was that I expected more laughs and more comedy even though I had already read the script.  What built my expectations?  The marketing of the film.  They sold me on the comedy of the 3 stars.  I had seen a few scenes being made the previous year.  I had imagined in my mind that they had added a lot to the script.  But I was wrong.  They stayed pretty true to the script.  And truth be told, these comedic stars actually pulled off more dramatic acting than comedy.  I certainly did not see that coming.  Now that I have seen it 5 times, I can say they pulled off a rather nice job of character acting interspersed with comedy.  It’s really more a drama-comedy than a comedy.

And there is where I think the marketing for the movie fell flat.  I was mildly surprised.  Imagine what happened to the public.  I think that the promotion of huge comedic potential and then delivering with more of a drama proved to be detrimental to its performance in the theater.

Admittedly, I am no movie critic.  And this is not typically the kind of movie that I would choose to watch (a drama-comedy).  I often watch movies to escape reality, not experience it.  I enjoy a good action/adventure movie or a good thriller.  The Big Year falls into a “good date movie” in my opinion.   The cool thing about this movie?  Even to me I thought this movie stood on its own merit.  Ok.  I am biased with birding and I am INCREDIBLY biased about movies that I am involved with. <wide grin>  But I think I would have been surprised pleasantly by this movie even if I hadn’t been involved with the movie or with birding.  Still, that is just my opinion and it is impossible for me to give an objective opinion about something so hypothetical.

I enjoyed some of the elements of the script and I felt the actors and actresses all did an excellent job.  I even enjoyed Jack Black’s portrayal of me.  There were so many actors that there was no way to allow development of every character.  Even with bit parts, the stellar cast pulled its weight with believable performances.

Thanks to everyone who’s gone to the theater.  I applaud Hollywood’s effort to capture the essence of the book, The Big Year, by Mark Obmascik.  It was more than I expected.  And the cinematography was phenomenal!  I loved being in the Vancouver area with its stunning mountains and proximity to the placid Pacific Ocean.

Overall, I give the movie 3.5 stars out of 5.  We’ll have some more fun with the birds and songs and calls in the movie at a later time.  Out of curiosity, has anyone taken a non birder to this movie?  What were their reactions like?  Do you feel that this generated any interest at all in birding to the non birding viewers?  All the non birders I’ve attended the movie with know me and liked the movie.  I can’t say that is very fair.  A completely uninitiated non birder?  Now that would make me curious.

I’ll be at the movie tomorrow night, and Saturday, and several times next week, too.  I am glad I’m not bored with it yet!    So have you heard the Common Nighthawk?  ahhaha.

25 thoughts on “The Big Year Ramblings

  1. My husband and I saw The Big Year this past Tuesday and liked it. We’re not birders but we like birds and nature. We have bird feeders that can be viewed from my kitchen window and I have a back yard list of 57 birds, but that is the extent of our birding experience. I’m not sure what you expected, but this movie was a charming, inspiring, feel good flick. The characters were well developed and the message was clear. Be it birding or any anything else, the sacrifices made for excellence are great. Each of us must decide just how great those sacrifices will be and how much we are willing to give up to achieve greatness. Greatness must always be tempered with reqret. Like Steve Martin’s character, at 62 I also find myself thinking about my own mortality. I’ve viewed retirement as an opportunity to do all the things I’ve ever wanted to do but didn’t have money or time for. Now that retirement is getting close I see the folly of my plan. Putting off what you want to achieve or love to do is never wise, but I’ll just have to make the best of the time and resources left to me.
    Now that I’ve seen the movie, I want to read the book and when the movie comes out on DVD I’ll buy it. The scenery was gorgeous and whether they’ll ever know it or not, those who don’t see the movie are missing out on something special.

    • You are so right. Part of my motivation for doing the Big Year in 1998 was a story I had heard about a retired couple who waited all their lives to go on birding trips. But when they finally reached retirement they found that they couldn’t see as well, they couldn’t hear as well, they couldn’t get around (physically) as well, and their money didn’t go as far as they had hoped. In all, their experience was less than expected. It was certainly not what they had dreamed about.

  2. Well my wife and I, and our two friends saw it last night. A very funny movie. Our local newspaper review rated it a B. I agree and will get it on DVD.

    My grandfather enjoyed birds, perhaps birding, but only as a casual pastime. My wife and I go birding once a year at the Southern Colorado Crane festival. Otherwise I observer the high-desert raptors every day east of Colorado Springs, while on the way to work.

    Otherwise the movie was great, I hope you enjoy your story, and Jack Black’s acting – “you rock”.

  3. Greg,

    I just wanted to write and tell you how much my wife and I enjoyed the film. I will be buying it on Blu-Ray when it is released. I can definitely understand some of your emotions from your recent posts. We are not birders, however there is something about it that has always beckoned me (nature, animals, scenery, etc).

    We had no idea that the movie was about birders. In fact, we thought it was more of a comedy, as opposed to a dramedy (drama-comedy). About half the time I like Jack Black’s performances, and the other half I can’t stand them. I am happy to report this was one of his performances that I enjoyed most.

    As soon as the movie was over, we went to PetSmart to pick up some dog food. I couldn’t help but go straight to the birds and take in all of them and their beauty.

    Since the movie, I have done several searches on birding and the history/truth behind the film’s fiction. That’s how I found your site and a few others. I plan on getting your book to read more about it. I’m an artist so I plan making a few sketches to accompany my most recent interest.

    Thanks for sharing your life in a book that inspired others to make a film. We have already told several friends about this wonderfully warm and surprising movie. Hopefully, the ticket sales grow via word of mouth and Oscar buzz…it deserves it. We will surely do our part.

  4. I really enjoyed The Big Year book when it came out in 2004 .I went to the movie with my non birding wife and my sons who do enjoy birding.We all thoroughly enjoyed the movie.My wife really liked it and Even suggested her and I should go on a birding vacation some time.I too think the movie could have been marketed better by the makers.However,the casting,acting and story line were very very good.

  5. Hi Greg,

    We never really know the total impact of things we do in life. For you, I’m quite sure you could have never envisioned YOUR big year becoming a major motion picture. I mean- just how cool is that! Us serious birders have been wondering about what impact this will have for birds and birding, but until today I never considered how it would affect me personally.

    Because of your movie I will forever have a better relationship with my sister. My sister always felt slighted when she would ask me do do things with her and I would put my birding adventures, before her. Today, she saw The Big Year and immediately called me. She “gets it” now. Thank you, Greg.

    We didn’t see the movie together but we both loved the Great Gray Owl scene. My sister is NOT an outdoors person or nature lover in any way but she enjoyed the movie and found herself enthralled by that owl. Who wouldn’t be? And the father/son relationship was the icing on the cake. Dad “got it” too.

    Always remember that without YOU there would be no story, just another Nat Geo documentary. AND THAT WOULDN’T HAVE BEEN NEARLY AS MUCH FUN!

    Thank you from my sister and myself,

  6. I saw the movie last weekend and just loved it. I am happy to see a real story behind it, as well, and YES, I heard the nighthawk and actually was upset that they didn’t mention hearing it in the movie!!!


  7. Hi Greg,
    We usually check Yahoo movie reviews to see how non-critics felt about a movie. I have never seen such a divergence…..either A+ or F for The Big Year. So off we went! We loved it! The many life lessons, lovely scenery, and the birds. Both of us wanted to know more about the real characters, about a Big Year, and more about the birds in Florida, where we live. We were full time RVer’s for 10 years and traveled from Southern Mexico to Labrador and also Alaska. We saw many wonderful birds along the way and now I want to start my life list. Even heard about an APP that can do what you can……identify a bird’s call. Think I may have to have that! Thank you and I think the movie may make a difference in the lives of all who see it!

  8. Greg, We went to see the movie a few days ago and loved it! We picked up on some of the “birding details” that were clearly not according to the real drama from 7 years ago but we understand that Hollywood needs to try to get a wider market for its product. Our favorite character (other than yours, of course) was how they turned Debi Shearwater into Annie Auklet … having been on a couple of her Pelagic trips and knowing the sea-sickness tendencies of the passengers (including ourselves) we laughed right through that part! We have the autographed copy of the book in a prominent place in our study … thanks for that. Hope to see you here in Ohio’s great northwest soon. D Johns

  9. Hi Greg!
    We finally got to go see the movie last week. Wife wasn’t expecting to like it at all (not a big comedy fan of Martin, Black, etc) but we both loved it. (It’s obviously not the “typical” comedy movie these guys have done in the past). Overall a very enjoyable movie!
    Unfortunately, it was a very “thin crowd” who was there—in fact it was just us two in the whole theater! (I told her I bought out the theater for a romantic private showing, but I don’t think she bought it!)
    A couple movie comments: 1) would have liked to have seen your dad a Little less grumpy (…not the way I remember him!) and a little mor bird knowledgable, and 2) pretty sure your mom wouldn’t say any bad words! But realize Hollywood does take some liberties!
    Sounds like this whole thing has opened a few opportunities for you! (maybe not Ohio Stadium, or Quicken Loans Arena, but a pretty good start!) Awesome! Hopefully there will be many more. Stan

  10. Greg,
    Paula and I finally saw the movie this week. We’re not birders, but, after seeing the movie, have a far deeper appreciation for those who are.

    The movie is fun, entertaining, comedic and heartwarming–a great evening.

    More important, when Jack Black spoke I often thought back to hearing your voice in the next room at college. He adopted some of your speech patterns and made the movie even better for both Paula and me. And that’s the most heartwarming part.

  11. Hello Greg,
    I loved the Book as well as my non birdy wife and 10 year old son. We all can’t wait to see the movie no matter what! We will buy the DVD when it comes out to show to our birdwatching guests. We live & run a Guesthouse on the most remote island in the UK. The Attu of Britain! pop. 65 people. Fair Isle, Shetland islands, Scotland is a British birding hot spot. As a relative new comer to birding I’ve been lucky! I’m the only American ever to find & identify a first record for Britain Bird. (Citril Finch)here is a link: They are making a movie sort of based on my experiences but it has been totally mixed around and I wont see a penny… Anyways I want to introduce myself and welcome/invite you to Fair Isle for some birding. If people saw us together they might think we were brothers. LOL! Cheers Tommy

    • What a great place, Fair Isle! And SUPER congratulations on a fabulous find, the citril finch! What a neat story, too! I would love to come and visit and do some birding. Now all I have to do is talk my billfold into going along with the plan! 🙂

  12. I didn’t even know birding existed or that there was something called a big year. I rented the movie for a comedy cuz it had some good actors and it blew my mind. I don’t know much about birds, but I love the one that was on Planet Earth that has the very colorful, flashy undercarriage for getting a mate. I love spotting birds now and see them in a new light. The movie was incredible and I’m an action buff. Thanks for sharing you’re world with me.

  13. Dear Greg,
    Thanks so much for writing the book that inspired the movie! I am not a birder, but the daughter-in-law of a dedicated birder who has taught me to appreciate the birding world over the course of my 25+ years with his son. I really enjoyed the movie, which not only highlighted this fascinating pastime, but also focused on the importance of family and relationships. My parents, who are non-birders, really enjoyed the film as well. I can’t wait to show it to my father-in-law when he gets back from his six-week cross country jaunt–on which he’s added many new birds to his life list!

    • Thanks Linda. Unfortunately, I cannot take credit for the writing of the book. That was author Mark Obmascik. He did a great job of relating our stories (Sandy Komito, Al Levantin, and me) to the public.

  14. I too, as a non-birder, watched the movie as I also thought is would be more comedic. I enjoyed it very much and since watching it, I have become a fledgling birder with 28 birds on my life list. I am fortunate to live in Southern California where I have a wide variety of habitats to visit and, so I’m told, a very large number of birds that call California home at one time or another during the year. Of course, my wife thinks I’ve gone nuts.

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