Finally, a chance to talk about a Cannes movie with some buzz - Jerry Seinfeld's new animated film, Bee Movie. Seinfeld, the eponymous star of one of the most successful sitcoms in the history of television (it ended nine years ago), unveiled the project he has been working on for the past four years. The 53-year-old comedian and DreamWorks founder Jeffrey Katzenberg showed 30 minutes of the work in progress to the press yesterday.
Katzenberg opened the press conference by describing Seinfeld as "one of the great comedians of our time and of all time," and expressed his enthusiasm for being to able to share in the next stage of Seinfeld's "journey" with his new animated movie. Seinfeld, who sat in the front row listening with a quizzical look, bounded up to the stage after his introduction and began going into something like a nightclub routine: "What about the coffee in this town? I've never felt more awake ..."
He then went on to describe the genesis of Bee Movie, which began in Nashville while Seinfeld was in town for a concert and was busy chewing on a red licorice stick called a Twizzler.
"I wish I had a Twizzler now. It would make it funnier," he said. While chewing on the licorice, he had a thought: What if they made a movie about bees called B-movie?
Shortly after, he contacted Steven Spielberg to ask him to direct a commercial. Spielberg turned him down but invited him to dinner, which, "for a Jewish kid from Long Island, is like having a second bar mitzvah." After waiting patiently all day, Seinfeld said, he finally met Spielberg "and we went to the dinner and we're having a nice time because you know, even though I'm Jerry Seinfeld, he's Steven Spielberg."
To fill a lull in the conversation, he said, he told the filmmaker, "You know I was thinking the other night it would be funny to make a movie about bees called B-movie. I said this just to fill the lull. I don't want to make the movie. I just want to get through the night and say, 'I had dinner with Steven Spielberg.' But Spielberg got excited and he calls Jeffrey Katzenberg on his cellphone and says, 'I'm here with Jerry Seinfeld and he has a fantastic idea.' And I'm going, 'It's not an idea. I was eating a Twizzler. It's just - it's a pun.' "
After DreamWorks showed him how the technology works, Seinfeld said, he began getting interested, because "after doing a television series, I didn't want to work with actors the way I had. And now it's been four years later, and all of this was because of a lull in the conversation. The next time there's a lull I'll just be quiet."
While working on the movie, Seinfeld also began making brief videos about making an animated film. "They're mini-sodes, or TV Juniors or tiny-tainment - I don't know what they are," he said, "but they're my little videos about what it's like to work and live at DreamWorks."
In any case, he sold them to NBC, which is going to run these in their prime-time schedule over the next few months because "they're looking for stuff. What a surprise."
As it happens, Seinfeld said he feels a deep affinity for bees because, unlike human beings, they never question the value of their assigned job: "Everyone in this room believes he should be doing something better," he said. "I feel I should be doing something better."
The movie, which is expected to be released at the end of the year, follows Barry B. Benson, who, unlike other bees, does question his assignment. He wants to be a "pollen jock," sort of a test pilot of the bee world, but during one scouting mission, he commits the cardinal bee sin of speaking to a human (a florist played by Renée Zellweger). They become friends and through her he discovers that humans have been stealing bee honey for years. He decides to make legal history by taking humans to court for reparations. Some of the guest voices include Oprah Winfrey as the judge, with Ray Liotta and Sting, playing themselves, as celebrity witnesses.
After a few minutes, Seinfeld introduced one of his co-stars, Chris Rock, who plays a mosquito. Rock, who has known Seinfeld for more than 20 years, said he viewed him as the "Jedi Knight" of comedy and he felt he was "two classes behind him." Rock claimed that Katzenberg originally wanted Eddie Murphy but "he's too busy with his comeback."
Finally, they attempted to take a couple of questions from the press, who seemed to want to practise their comic skills with the masters.
The first question, from a French woman, involved an attempt at a Shakespeare-mangling pun using the phrase: "To Bee or not to Bee. . ."
Seinfeld rolled his eyes: "The bee pun is something we've been struggling with for three years now. There are so many bee puns. The word comes up a lot in conversation -- but in the end, it's not good."
Another journalist, undaunted, pressed on: Could there be sequels? An "C, D and even an X movie." Seinfeld finally pulled comic rank: "Why don't we handle the humour?" he suggested.