Borat
The Back Story
Published on November 13, 2006

But first, very briefly, from the DNC, and echoing the 2000 Time profile I borrowed from recently:

But first, very briefly, from the DNC, and echoing the 2000 Time profile I borrowed from recently:

 

Washington, DC - The Democratic National Committee responded to news reports that John McCain is entering the 2008 presidential race today.  “If the reports are correct, we welcome John McCain to the race,” said DNC Communications Director Karen Finney. “The question is, which McCain is running: the McCain who called right wing extremists like Jerry Falwell an evil influence, or the McCain who spoke at Liberty University as he attempted to cater to the far right in advance of a presidential run? Or the McCain who opposed overturning Roe vs. Wade or the McCain who said he would support South Dakota's ban? As an opportunist who supports the Bush Administration’s failed policy in Iraq and changed his mind on tax cuts, a woman's right to make her own decisions about her health care, and campaign finance reform, it's hard to tell which John McCain will enter the race."

 

And now:

 

MORE THAN YOU COULD POSSIBLY WANT TO KNOW ABOUT

BORAT’S HOTEL CHECK-IN SCENE

Isn’t it nice to get back to something not unimportant?  Even if it is playing on four screens simultaneously at my local multiplex?

 

Friends told me that Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan is the funniest movie they’ve seen in . . . maybe forever.  (If you loved it, don’t miss, also, the website, complete with deleted scenes.) 

 

I like funny movies, and I majored in Slavic Languages and Literatures, so Borat had my name written all over it.  Somehow, though, for all the laughs (and there’s much about it that’s pretty wonderful), I was feeling vaguely uncomfortable during much of the movie – and now I understand why.  (Well, there was the “Jew” stuff and the nude wrestling scene and the excrement at dinner, but apart from that.) 

 

First, though, by way of background, in case you haven’t seen Borat, here’s a snippet from Reuters:

 

College frat boys in "Borat" movie sue filmmakers

Nov 10, 2006

By Steve Gorman

 

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Two of the college fraternity brothers shown guzzling alcohol and making racist remarks in the "Borat" movie have sued the studio and producers for fraud, saying filmmakers duped them into appearing in the movie by getting them drunk.

 

. . .  In a lawsuit filed on Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court, plaintiffs named as John Doe 1 and John Doe 2, both from South Carolina, agreed to appear in the film after producers promised it would never be shown in the United States.

 

The movie, "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan," debuted last weekend as the No. 1 film in North America, grossing more than $26 million in domestic ticket sales.

 

The film stars British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen as the title character, Borat Sagdiyev, an unwittingly offensive TV journalist from Central Asia whose boorish sensibilities clash with ordinary Americans he meets on a cross-country road trip.

 

The story line is driven by a series of improvised encounters with people who become Cohen's unsuspecting foils while taking part in what they think is a real documentary.

 

. . . Fallout from the movie, Tailleiu said, cost one of the students a job at a major corporation and another "a very prestigious internship. . . .

 

As I was watching the movie, I kept wondering whether some of the players, besides Borat and his Kazakh sidekick, were actors – or at least in on the gag.  Because to the extent they were, it would be a little less funny; while, to the extent they really weren't, I would feel embarrassed for them. 

 

So I spent some of my brain that should been laughing trying to imagine how this was done.  Did the civilians have any clue?  Did they sign releases?

 

Well, it turns out that a long-time friend and sometime reader – one of you, that is – was in the movie!

 

He’s an executive at a grand old Dallas Hotel, and is an exceptionally polite, shy, and hospitable soul.

 

Those of you who have seen the movie will know him as “Vanilla Face.”

 

I was so focused on Borat, as he walked into an elegant hotel with his pants down below his underwear, I didn’t even realize it was my friend in the scene with him until we had occasion to exchange emails about something else:

 

I’m in “Borat” [he wrote], much to my embarrassment.  Borat tried to check into The Adolphus, and I had security throw him out.  He was making racial slurs, spouting profanity, and generally making a spectacle of himself.  They “cast” me in the role of the sophisticated hotelier.  The location scouts lied to me; they told me they were filming a piece on The Adolphus’s art collection, history, and so on.

 

I had a million questions.  “What did you say?  Did they get you to sign a release?  How?  Did they give you lines to say?  Did they all burst out laughing after they filmed it and let you in on the joke?  Have you seen it?  Are you famous now?”

 

1.  I don't believe I said anything; I was dumbstruck.  It obviously shows in my face that I was appalled by what he said to me.

 

2.  They lie about what they are going to film and have one sign a release on that basis.  They refused – after the fact – to give me a copy of the release that I signed.  (I have an e-mail from them describing the nature of the filming, and it is a pack of lies, to be blunt.)  I've signed countless releases over the years and never suspected that this one was any different, given the e-mail I was sent.  I can forward it to you, if you want to see it.  (They choose location scouts who appear completely trustworthy.  It took me a long time to get over this trust issue, believe me.)

 

3.  It was unscripted.  They are looking for a completely natural reaction (at least, in my case it was!).

 

4.  They never let me in on the gag; the director maintained that he was just as surprised by what happened as I was.

 

5.  I’ve never seen it, and I would be too embarrassed to watch it.  Friends have told me that I fare far better than the rest of the victims in the film.

 

6.  Oh, I'm famous all right.  People stare at me on the DART light rail and wonder where they've seen me.  (I've been in movie trailers all summer long.)  Friends all over the country - and abroad! – have e-mailed and called me.  Of course, the reaction is:  OH MY GOSH, I KNOW THAT GUY!  THAT'S DAVID DAVIS FROM THE ADOLPHUS!  WHAT IN THE WORLD IS HE DOING IN THIS FILM?  Friends in Hollywood have said, "When did you start acting?"  I was recently introduced to Michael Sheen (he plays Tony Blair in THE QUEEN) as a fellow thespian.  His face lit up as though I were truly a legitimate actor.  I could've have crawled under the carpet and died.

 

My face has been as red as a tomato almost constantly since the trailers started - and now it's worse with the movie hitting 2,500 screens.  Somebody shoot me!

 

Dave, the reluctant movie star  

 

It seems they set it up as a travel documentary – no mention of Borat, just wanting to film this grand old hotel.  Then, in the midst of the walking tour, as they are passing the front desk, in walks Borat with his pants eight inches below the top of his underwear.

 

He had no advance reservation; he was a "walk in."

 

They were supposedly filming my walking tour of The Adolphus.  The director, in fact, said, "Does this kind of thing happen often?”  He acted as though it was a complete surprise to him, too.  The camera crew immediately followed the action (Borat's unceremonious eviction from the hotel), which was a dead giveaway that this was what they were really after.  We started putting the pieces together when the crew were unresponsive to my calls to the location scout, after they went outside.  The next day we pulled the security camera tapes to see what was going on outside and discovered that they had a production crew setting up Borat's "grand entrance."  That's when we knew absolutely that we had been set up.  I also called a friend at the Dallas Film Commission and she told me that she was certain that this had some connection to a man who had been spotted driving around Dallas in an ice-cream truck with a bear in the back of it.  Of course – not knowing the plot – it all sounded completely absurd.

 

I walked them through The Adolphus, showing them the hotel's art collection, The French Room restaurant, etc.  As we walked through the Lobby Living Room, I talked about the hotel's history (i.e., the hotel was founded by Adolphus Busch in 1912, the year the Titanic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic, etc.).  This went very quickly because there were no re-takes – which I thought was rather odd.  I'm not exactly Cary Grant or Michael C. Hall.  It seemed rather perfunctory.  They seemed eager to get on with it – and move to the registration lobby.  When we arrived there, the director asked if I wouldn't mind stepping behind the front desk and answering some questions about the famous people who have stayed at The Adolphus.  It was getting late, so I didn't protest (even though I thought it was very odd).  I had just started talking about Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip's visit to The Adolphus when Borat walked into the registration lobby and headed straight for me.  The first words out of his mouth were, "Hey, Vanilla Face!"  Since he followed that with racial slurs and profanity, I immediately turned to signal our front desk manager to call security.  I was stunned by what Borat said, but I was more concerned that guests and staff might hear him and be offended by his insane remarks.  Fortunately, our security staff is top-notch and had him out the door before he had a chance to say anything more.

 

The crew offered no apologies, nor did they admit that they were in on the plot.  In fact, the director said, "We will come back next week and reshoot this.  You are obviously shaken by what has just happened."  The location scouts stayed behind and acted as though they were completely baffled by what had occurred, too.  Afterward, I called and left voice mail messages for the location scout who had initially contacted me, but she never returned my call.  I was completely shell-shocked and went home that night trying to make sense of it all.

 

I obviously need to buy a TV, watch HBO, and thumb through PEOPLE MAGAZINE occasionally.

 

It's not that I don't have a sense of humor; it's that I was deceived into participating in a film that I would never have agreed to appear in had I known the truth.  They also took away something very precious to me:  trust.  I've worked with many location scouts over the years who do their level best to live up to their promises – and make the movie industry look sterling in the eyes of those who take them at their word.  A decade or so of trust vanished with BORAT.

 

I almost avoided the whole mess because I initially turned them down because we were very busy.  But, they came back to me a couple of days later and said they really wanted us to be in this travel piece.  The location scout came to the hotel and "interviewed" several people for the on-camera role. 

 

I wasn't keen on doing it myself, since my dad had died recently and my family was experiencing those horrible firsts:  the first Father's Day without him, his birthday, etc.  In short, I wasn't my usual perky self.  After interviewing everyone, the location scout came back to me and said, "You're the one that we want.”  I turned them down, and, then, they came back, again – and I felt guilty that I wasn't doing my job.  I agreed to do it on a Sunday night.

 

I pulled myself together to help them, only to find myself the subject of a practical joke from which I could not extricate myself.  The producers of the film didn't know me or my background, other than I fit the profile of someone they could picture looking ridiculous on screen.  It wasn't that they were unpleasant or unkind.  It was that I wasn't even a person to them.

 

Of course, you can imagine the teasing I've been getting from everyone at the hotel.  They have a sense of humor about it, even if I don't!

 

Dave has nothing to be embarrassed about, of course.  But even so, talk about a loss of privacy – and control!  It’s not like Candid Camera, where, after the prank, everyone has a good laugh and then the subject is persuaded to sign a release.  This has a meaner edge to it.

 

[When, initially skeptical, he questioned the location scout about what they wanted to do, here’s the explanation he got:]

 

                From: jenny hunter

                Sent: Wednesday, July 20, 2005 11:02 AM

                To: David Davis

                Subject: Filming Request - The Adolphus Hotel

              

                July 20, 2005

              

                Mr. David Davis

                The Adolphus Hotel

                1321 Commerce Street

                Dallas, Texas 75202

              

                Dear David:

              

                It was great speaking with you today! I do appreciate

                your taking the time work with us. Per our

                conversation, I spoke with my producer who provided me

                with the below information. I do hope it proves to be

                helpful to you.

              

                As you well know, America does not fit one stereotype;

                it is a diverse country that operates on a variety of

                accepted attitudes and practices. In New York City we

                see a place that embraces the hustle and bustle and

                the "tell it like it is mentality." We see tight

                spaces, large crowds and bright lights. In Washington,

                DC, the people of this capital city abide by a strict

                set of rules and regulations, serving as role models

                for the rest of the world. In Dallas, we see the 'New

                America,' where sophistication, patience and Southern

                hospitality are a complete package. Each of the above

                cities is unique in its own way, but they have one

                thing in common:  success.

              

                Haverford Mills is privileged to be a part of a new

                documentary style film that highlights America at its

                best. It is our hope that we may capture that 'New

                America' - sophistication and Southern hospitality -

                in Dallas. One way of illustrating this would be to

                film in a historic Dallas hotel, shooting anything

                from the grandness of the hotel lobby to the

                professional look and nature of an experienced service

                agent.

              

                For this project, our camera crew would be using two

                unobtrusive handheld cameras, and the shoot should

                take approximately 30 minutes-1 hour. Our intent is

                for the film to be distributed to and seen in theaters

                worldwide.

              

                We do hope we may arrange to film with The Adolphus

                Hotel, David. Please do feel free to call or e-mail me

                with any questions you may have. Thank you in advance

                for your consideration.

              

                Best regards,

              

                Jenny Hunter

                Haverford Mills Productions

                Field Department Coordinator

                

So there you have it.  A little Borat back story.  When you’re in Dallas, if you’re on expense account, stay at the Adolphus.  One of the hoteliers there – very shy, and not the tannest guy in the lobby – is a friend of mine and one of your fellow readers.



© 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 Andrew Tobias