Before Hollywood fame and fortune and multiple Academy Award nominations, American Hustle director David O. Russell was a Washington intern. He worked at the Robert F. Kennedy Foundation and lived in Georgetown one summer. He says he’s always been “enchanted by Washington,” but will he make a film here? “We’re getting closer,” noting that his previous film, Silver Linings Playbook, was shot in Philadelphia. “I see the romantic side of it,” he says of the nation’s capital, but “as I get older that becomes harder to hold on to.” He said he’d want a story about the people who live here, to be “in their homes and lives.”
Until Russell comes up with his Washington movie, Washington can settle in with his latest creation, which is, in its own way, a Washington movie. American Hustle begins with the message: “Some of this actually happened.” It is loosely based on ABSCAM, the post-Watergate bribery scandal of the 1970s and early 80s that resulted in convictions against a number of elected officials, including a United States senator, six House members, and state and city officials in New Jersey and Philadelphia. The characters are colorful, on the edge, loud, but also romantic and endearing, resulting in dream roles for a company of actors.
In the new film, which opens here Friday, Russell reunites with stars from Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter, including Jennifer Lawrence, who won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in Silver Linings, Christian Bale, who won Best Supporting Actor for Fighter, and Bradley Cooper, who was nominated for Best Actor for Silver Linings. The cast is rounded out by Amy Adams, who was nominated for an Oscar for Fighter, and Jeremy Renner, making his first appearance in a Russell film. The film has already received several Golden Globe nominations, for the director and actors, and is expected to do well in the Oscars race, as well.
Russell was in town for a private screening Wednesday evening and took some to talk to Washingtonian. Here are the highlights from our conversation:
On working with the same actors over again: It’s very special. I treasure the trust I have with the actors. I can write for them like a band or a singer. It’s a privilege to get them to take a risk they never took before, and it’s exciting to put them in combinations they haven’t been in before.
On the awards season: You can’t think about awards. It’s not a good way to think. You have to think it’s fortunate to make the film, and if it’s true—something that came out of their hearts and your heart—that’s hard to do. But you do root for people. You want your people to feel that what they did landed. That’s my responsibility. I feel I have to deliver for them.
On making it personal: American Hustle is personal in the sense that it’s probably as personal as The Fighter. I was never in a family of fighters, but I was definitely in a family that was operatic and had sides. That is personal to me. Beyond that, it isn’t personal for me except the question of reinvention for me is a very deep theme. An archetypal theme. In all these movies love, of life, of Duke Ellington, of your kid, or each other, I have to have that or can’t do the movie.
On the unique and incredible motion and vitality in his films: I like cinema. Cinema is about motion to me. I like to feel the motion of the emotion and the movement of the camera. That also includes something very romantic. For example, Amy Adams and Christian Bale dancing across Park Avenue. These people are living their dream. We played music as we were running down the street, “Parisian Thoroughfare.” It was so magical to be doing that on a day in May. That’s what I live for.
Are his actors improvising or following the letter of the script? We don’t really do improvisation, per se. Everything is scripted . . . carefully, and discussed, every beat is discussed. They are doing the script. It starts to feel loose because you don’t call cut. They are in this altered state of the scene for a long time, which is why it feels otherworldly, but it’s not really improv per se.
About whether American Hustle is a comedy: I’ve always been surprised how people categorize my films. I do what Duke Ellington does, it’s beyond category. I think it’s funny, funny and heartbreaking, but I would never call The Fighter a boxing movie or Silver Linings Playbook a romantic comedy. There’s an ear always for the human comedy and the human tragedy.
Advice for Washington authors who dream of getting their books made into movies: You have to find somebody who is passionate about it. Try every one and every thing. Things happen on [their] own timetables. There’s got to be showmanship with how you open the kimono. You have to create excitement that will create a kind of enchantment around your book. The more you wait, the more you want something, the more magical when you get it.
After four months of gazing into a camera feed, giant panda fans will finally be able to see the National Zoo's panda cub Bao Bao in person on January 18, the zoo announced today.
Glimpses of the Bao Bao, whose name means "precious" (or, depending on how hungry you are, "steamed pork bun"), have only been available on the zoo's vaunted Panda Cam or to famous celebrities like Hugh Jackman.
Bao Bao's appearance will also include the return to public view of her mother, Mei Xiang. However, the zoo is warning panting pandaholics that Mei Xiang and Bao Bao's appearances will be contingent on their behavior. "In the first few weeks they may not be on exhibit for long periods of time; they will spend more time on exhibit as Bao Bao gets older," the zoo writes in a press release.
Members of Friends of the National Zoo will get advance looks at the panda starting January 11. Memberships for the group start at $50, but that seems like a lot to pay to look at a panda that will be free a week later.
Mayoral hopeful Jack Evans is tired of seeing DC played in the movies and television by other cities that look nothing like Washington. The DC Council member’s latest campaign plank is to revive the city’s long-dormant film incentive fund to the tune of $25 million, much more than the program ever contained when it was funded.
Evans says it’s an unpleasant viewing experience when he sees TV series set in Washington that are actually filmed in places like Baltimore (House of Cards, Veep) or Charlotte, North Carolina (Homeland).
“We have as much to offer as Baltimore,” he says. “There’s no reason we can’t do that.”
In fact, what Baltimore offers that DC hasn’t in years are generous tax incentives and other givebacks to production companies that bring in actors and directors and hire local professionals. And since DC’s film incentive fund zeroed out after contributing more than $2 million for the 2010 dud How Do You Know, Charm City has taken off as a hub for TV production, producing thousands of jobs for electricians, carpenters, cameramen, and other below-the-line positions.
House of Cards, with its seamy depictions of murderous congressmen and weaselly reporters, was a particularly rough loss for the District. The Netflix series’ producers wanted to make the show here, but only if DC could put up $3.5 million for expenses such as hiring city residents to work on the show and hotel stays visiting cast and crew member. The Office of Motion Picture and Television Development had no money to give, but Maryland did.
“We’re looking for jobs in this city,” says Evans. “The movie industry does produce jobs.” But the way the business works now, only if states and cities are willing to front some of the costs.
Despite a recent slowdown in income growth, DC residents are still well ahead of the rest of the United States when it comes to average takehome pay. The average District resident earned $74,733 in 2012, 70 percent over the national per capita income of $43,725, according to an economic trend report released yesterday by the Office of the Chief Financial Officer.
Overall, the District’s 632,000 residents earned $47.28 billion last year, combining wages, salaries, employee benefits, proprietary income, property income, and other payments like Social Security. Even taking out non-salary income, DC is still far ahead of the national pace, with a per capita wage income of $36,794, compared to $20,656 for the nation.
The relative strength of District residents’ incomes can be accredited to the private sector. Recent federal budget cuts have trimmed about $350 million from DC’s overall income, according to the CFO’s report.
Of course, not everyone is sharing in the growth. Although the average household income for the entire District was $118,384 in 2011, according to Census figures, the parts of the city that lie east of the Anacostia River lag far behind. The average household income was $57,080 in Ward 7, and $42,923 in Ward 8.
The uncomfortable intimacy between campaign donations and the legslative process has been on full display in the DC Council this week, with Council member Vincent Orange waging a last-ditch effort to derail a parking meter contract opposed by a company that happens to have also given $20,000 to his nascent mayoral campaign.
The Council gave its final approval to the contract today, awarding management of DC’s parking meters to Xerox, though not until a pitch from Orange that the contract should have gone to Rockville-based WorldWide Parking. The vote followed a committee hearing yesterday in which WorldWide Parking’s executives pleaded with Council members to reject Xerox’s $33 million bid, which was approved by the District Department of Transportation back in July 2012 and upheld this year by the city’s Contract Appeals Board.
But because the Council is tasked with approving all city government contracts, matters as inane as parking-meter management can become windows into the always squishy realm of campaign finance. Besides its donations to Orange, WorldWide Parking gave $18,000 to Council member Jack Evans’s mayoral campaign and $5,000 to Council member Muriel Bowser’s bid, though neither Evans or Bowser voted to hold up Xerox’s contract today.
In protesting the contract, Orange said he was trying to save the District money, not doing a donor’s bidding. “That’s the collateral issue the media wants to get you caught up in, because that’s sexy,” he said. “I cannot be bought for contributions. And anyone who thinks otherwise, you’re on another planet.”
The DC Council unanimously approved raising the District's minimum wage to $11.50 an hour by 2016, setting up the District to have the highest minimum hourly wage in the country. The bill calls for three gradual increases, starting with a jump from the current level of $8.25 to $9.50 an hour by next July 1, followed by one-dollar hikes the following two years.
The bill comes a few months after Mayor Vince Gray vetoed legislation that would have forced large retailers like Walmart to pay at least $12.50 an hour while leaving smaller businesses unaffected. Gray, after much hedging, said he would have preferred to raise DC's minimum wage to $10, but he does not plan to veto this bill, a spokesman says.
Some activists had pushed for an increase in the minimum wage paid to tipped restaurant workers, but lobbying from the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington kept that out of the final bill. Still, today's vote does include a partial victory for restaurant workers in requiring their employers to give them paid sick leave.
The federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009. The District bill approved today comes in conjunction with similar legislation approved by Montgomery and Prince George's counties, which recently adopted plans to raise their minimum wages to $11.50 by 2017.
Since the beginning of the contemporary public education system, winter weather patterns bring youthful eagerness for a snow day. But in 2013, students can air such hopes on the Internet, and like many things that teenagers do, it gets out of hand pretty quickly.
Joshua Starr, the superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools, issued an open letter to the parents of his system’s 151,000 students last week in response to a flurry of harassing tweets and emails he received urging him to close the county’s schools for a pair of recent wintry storms.
“Some of these ‘tweets’ were clever, funny, and respectful, pleading for me to cancel school so they could sleep in or have more time to do their homework,” Starr wrote. “Many of these tweets, however, were offensive and disturbing. Some were threatening to me and others.”
Among the nastier messages, according to the Washington Post, were now-deleted tweets such as “i dont think your kids would be too happy with you if you didnt cancel school tomorrow” and “People go to hell for things like this.” (For the record, Montgomery County did have a two-hour delay last Monday, and closed all-day last Tuesday for a storm that dumped just a little bit of rain on most of the Washington area.)
DC Public Schools doesn’t have the same problem as its suburban neighbor, spokeswoman Melissa Salmanowitz says. Although DCPS got plenty of tweets about last week’s weather, many expressed incredulity about canceling a full day of classes for light rain instead of outrageous demands to close.
Smh the snow isn't bad at all now... Y'all missed school for this!!! HAHA DCPS getting soft— Big Irv (@BigIrv14) December 10, 2013
I think someone should start a petition to ban snow days in @dcps, especially when there IS NO SNOW.— Stephanie Mencimer (@smencimer) December 10, 2013
And, as Salmanowitz says, while DCPS observes its students’ social media, no flurry of tweets is going to compel the department into declaring a snow day. “We’re happy to hear from them, but we leave the decisions to the experts,” she says.
Here's a little something to inspire holiday season cheer. The Citizens Association of Georgetown held a small, private holiday dinner party Monday evening at the Georgetown Club on Wisconsin Avenue. While Santa Claus didn’t make an appearance, possibly the next best thing did: The Georgetown Chimes. Members of the all-male a capella group arrived just before dinner to sing carols.
The Chimes were formed in 1946. They say they are the university’s oldest a capella group and have performed for every president since Harry Truman, as well as traveled the country on behalf of Georgetown University.
How did Washington Google in 2013? Mostly like everybody else, according to the search giant’s year-end “Zeitgeist” list of the most popular seaches executed by its users in DC.
Just like the rest of the United States, Google’s DC users are celebrity- and event-obsessed, hooked on information about new electronic devices, and more than a little curious about twerking. The dance manuever in which one bends at a right angle thrusts one’s hips backward into something—a wall, thin air, Robin Thicke’s trousers—topped Google’s “what is” list and also appeared on the more practical list of “how to” searches.
After twerking, Washingtonians were most curious about ricin, hopefully a harmless credit to the finale of Breaking Bad, in which Walter White offs one of his enemies with the poisonous substance. Google users here also wanted to be educated about Obamacare, Easter, and even hummus.
Nelson Mandela and Paul Walker led Google's list of top searches around the world, but the late South African leader did not even crack any of the DC-focus lists. Walker, the star of the Fast and Furious movie series was the fifth-most searched person for Washington users. Aaron Hernandez, the former New England Patriots tight end now facing murder charges, led that list, followed by the rapper Lil' Wayne, the late Glee actor Cory Monteith, and show-trial murder convict Jodi Arias. (Quick, someone remind us: Did Weezy do anything in 2013 besides release a lousy album?)
Fifty years after the last trolley was pulled off the roads, streetcars are back in DC. Last Friday night, after years of delays, false starts, and missed schedules, the District Department of Transportation finally laid the first of three new streetcars on the rails embedded in H St., Northeast.
The 66-foot, Czech-made car was laid down about 9:45 PM following an all-day trip on a massive flatbed from a commissioning site in Southeast DC. There are still several months of field tests and safety inspections ahead before anyone can actually board the new light-rail line, but the trial runs started almost immediately after the car arrived. The streetcar, painted in a red-and-gray livery similar to DC’s Circulator express buses, made its way from the corner of H and Fifth streets to the top of the Hopscotch Bridge behind Union Station.
The H St. line, which runs about 2.4 miles between Union Station and the Anacostia River, is the first stretch of a planned 22-mile system. DDOT recently began studying the feasibility of building a north-south line running between Navy Yard and Silver Spring. The District has already spent $161 million on the H St. line, and plans to spend at least another $400 million to eventually connect it to Georgetown.
Watch video of the streetcar rolling off its transport and onto the tracks from YouTube user Kurt Raschke: