Phyllis Diller has given her final performance after announcing in 2002 that she would be retiring from the biz we know as show. Filmmaker Gregg Barson was there to capture this farewell performance, as well as the preparations leading up to it. “Goodnight, We Love You” offers a glimpse into the life of this legendary performer and provides us with proof of why that legend has been intact for over 40 years.
We recently spoke with Gregg Barson about “Goodnight, We Love You.”
So, was doing a documentary on Phyllis Diller kind of like a dream come true? ^ Yes, not to sound overly dramatic, but it changed my life. I am now linked to this legendary performer in my own small way. I’ve admired her for years and I never thought that someday I would be able to meet her and, on top of that, to capture a piece of her history.
How did you get a hold of Phyllis for the film? Was she immediately receptive to the idea? ^ My wife (Julie Ashton) is a prominent casting director in Hollywood. She had a meeting with Phyllis Diller about five years ago and mentioned to Ms.Diller how much I loved her. After hearing that, Phyllis remarked that we should all get together and do a “power lunch”. My wife laughed it off until about a week later when she received a call from Ms. Diller asking… “How about that power lunch?” We all met at The Palm restaurant in West Hollywood where Phyllis walked in wearing a powder blue suit with matching lenses in her sunglasses. She was very attractive and full of life, even a few weeks after a hip replacement surgery. Needless to say, heads were turning to see her and I felt honored to be having a three-martini lunch with her. She was hysterical and candid about any topic thrown at her. It was then that I realized how very intelligent she was. We drove her home and she gave us a tour of her beautiful estate in Brentwood, CA where we all laughed like crazy. This tour would later become an inspiration for what later became a major part of my film. I left with my wife and didn’t have any contact with Ms. Diller for a year or so until I read in the paper that she was retiring her stand-up act for good, in Las Vegas. I thought that this had to be documented so I pitched the idea to her manager and he arranged a meeting at her home. Lucky for me, Phyllis got what I wanted to do and instantly was receptive to the idea. She liked that fact that it would be more of an art film, for festivals at first. She even started to consider her wardrobe for different set-ups! We definitely have chemistry between us and I feel that, above all else, really sealed the deal.
During your filming, I imagine you saw sides of Phyllis that you couldn’t have been aware of. Has your image of her changed at all? ^ My image of her changed immensely after and during the filming. She is such a perfectionist and is the master of her own destiny. She knows what works for her. I didn’t realize that she would have to rehearse her act after doing it for 47 years…but she sure did! My cameras captured her final rehearsal where she demanded perfection. As one of the “Dust biters” (former road secretaries to Ms. Diller) points out in the film- “her career has been perfection, and she demanded that from everyone else.” I also learned how many talents this one woman has. She is an accomplished concert pianist, a gourmet chef, a masterful painter, a writer and a brilliant comic. She is always funny, but never “on”. All I can say is this is one classy lady.
What were some difficulties you ran across during the making of “Goodnight, We Love You”? ^ I was blessed not to have many difficulties filming this project. I did know that the final stand-up performance had to be done right. I used a 3-camera shoot along with some handhelds for that final show. Phyllis did two shows in the days leading up to the final show so I was able to block my shots, etc.
At one point some camera people were telling me to shoot the two shows leading up to the final performance for safety and to perhaps use in case there were better takes. I didn’t want to do this for two reasons; I didn’t have the budget to do this and more importantly, I didn’t want to fake anything. I wanted the actual final show to be the only one shot so I could capture the real emotions and energy of her final show with her last audience. You can feel the energy and love jump off the screen due to this one decision.
Where can people see “Goodnight, We Love You”? ^ People can see this film at film festivals around the country. Coming up this week is the USA Film Festival in Dallas, Texas on 4/24 at 5:00 PM. Then the next day it will be screening at the Newport Beach Film Festival in Newport Beach, CA on 4/25 at 12:00 noon at the historic Lido Theater. For tickets and info on these shows please go to www.GoodnightWeLoveYou.com
What’s up next for you? ^ I am currently trying to promote Goodnight, We Love You” and land some type of distribution deal. This film was self financed and I am actively seeking a broadcast and/or home video deal. If anyone is interested, please contact me through www.GoodnightWeLoveYou.com.
My next dream project would be to do this same type of documentary with another major star and capture an historical event in a legend’s life. I have a few subjects I am considering, but I’d like to keep it under wraps for a while.