'Rent,' 'Crash' bow at <I>Variety</I> screening series

WHAT: Variety Screening Series unspools “Rent” (Nov. 8) and “Crash” (Nov. 9)

WHERE: Aero Theater, Santa Monica

Rent

WHO: Helmer-scripter Chris Columbus

COLUMBUS ON CASTING: Before nabbing six of the tuner’s original eight cast members for the film, Columbus said everyone’s name from Usher to Justin Timberlake was pulled out of the hat.

“I even met with Justin,” Columbus said. “But who was really gonna buy him as a broke, out-of-work singer in Manhattan?”

PERIOD CHALLENGES:Columbus said one of the primary challenges for the period piece (he set the pic in 1989-1990; the show never committed to a particular year) was finding pockets of Gotham’s East Village that have not been commandeered by Starbucks. Another ruffled feather was the city’s strict production curfew of 10 p.m., which led to lensing for opening number (“Rent”) to take place on an L.A. soundstage.

Crash

WHO: Helmer-scribe Paul Haggis, co-scribe Bobby Moresco; plus thesps Sandra Bullock and Terrence Howard

PLAY IT AGAIN: Lively Q&A saw much adulation from aud — many of whom were there for a repeat viewing. It turned into something of an actor’s master class, with Howard called on to dish out advice for budding thesps. “Persistence always beats resistance,” he proffered.

When asked about improvisation, talent revealed very little took place. Praising the script, Howard said: “The truth in this film made it impossible to do tricks. Once you’ve run through the streets naked, you never want to put your clothes on again.”

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