Writers, cast members at Screening Series

LOS ANGELES — It looked a lot like Springfield Tuesday night at the Arclight as Variety hosted a special screening of ‘The Simpsons’ movie.

Fans traveled from across the country (two men from Springfield, VT) for a special Q&A afterwards with creator Matt Groening, writer/executive producers James L. Brooks, Al Jean, Mike Scully, director David Silverman and cast members Nancy Cartwright and Yeardley Smith.

Groening looked content as always with his drooping hair and neatly trimmed beard.

“It’s amazing to be back here at the Arclight,” he began. “I remember back in 1982 when I came here. I forget which movie I had seen but afterwards, as I walked across the street, I could see that two men were breaking into my car. I was like ‘hey you! hey you!’ They stopped and looked up for a moment then went back to breaking into my car.”

A lot has changed since Groening’s days as a comic strip writer. For instance, after 400 episodes and 19 heralded seasons on TV, ‘The Simpsons’ lept to the big-screen this summer and has grossed nearly half a billion dollars worldwide. Not bad for a cartoon Groening called his “back-up pitch” to FOX.

“We figured ‘why not make a movie now?’” Executive producer Al Jean recalls. “I mean, we wanted to do the movie while we were all still alive.”

Peter DeBruge, Variety’s moderator for the evening, inquired about the film’s plot, asking what inspired the family-centricity and why there were so few celebrity guest-spots, which tend to be a regular for the skein.

“The original cast are the A-list talent,” Scully said.

After a round of applause, Yeardley Smith, who does the voice of Lisa Simpson, added, “I think that working with the original castmembers is always the best. We’re like a well oiled machine. You can bring in celebrities and guest stars and yet they always look so perplexed and nervous during the reading, but the original six–we always just click and we have from the beginning. It’s like a real family.”

The film, however, didn’t come without the typical Hollywood roadblocks, taking nearly four years to complete. One of the pic’s biggest headaches, besides the perpetual re-writes, they admitted, were the test-screenings.

“We’re never going to test-screen in San Diego again,” Mike Scully joked.

“It’s amazing though,” James L. Brooks added. “We did these screenings with hundreds of people and begged them not to leak anything to the web and lo and behold, nothing was said. Ron Howard said he’d never seen anything like it. It was very impressive, especially with the way things are today.”

The night didn’t go without a reminder of the current WGA strike, as the ‘Simpsons’ clan (which consisted largely of writers) asked that Variety not post any photos or videos of the event because of the strict guidelines. Still, like the show, the evening went on with plenty of laughter and warm memories.

“We had a different joke at the end (that you didn’t see),” Silverman said. “Tell that joke.”

Jean chimed in, “Well, during the crowd shot outside the Simpson’s house we had all these people with signs saying ‘kill’ ‘kill’ ‘kill’ and then we had this dyslexic society at the end with signs that said ‘Lick’ ‘Lick’ ‘Lick’ ”

The joke brought the Q&A audience to a roaring chuckle.

“See?” Jean said. “They always laugh at these events but we didn’t get a single smile during the screen-tests!”

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