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VIDEO: Director Randal Kleiser excited about FilmOut tribute, shares insight on making of "It's My Party"

Editor's note: San Diego Gay & Lesbian News has 40 tickets to give away for the Randal Kleiser Tribute on Sunday, Aug. 21, which includes the movie "It's My Party" and the Q&A with the director. To put your name in the drawing, send an email to ken@sdgln.com. In the message field, tag it this way: RANDAL KLEISER TRIBUTE. You must state your first and last name. Winners will be notified by email and the tickets will be available at Will Call at Birch North Park Theatre by 1 pm Aug. 21.

SAN DIEGO -- Writer-director Randal Kleiser is all pumped up for FilmOut San Diego’s LGBT Film Festival, which will feature the 15th anniversary screening of his bittersweet comedy-drama, “It’s My Party.”

Not only that, Kleiser will be given a lifetime achievement award from the FilmOut board of directors and he will conduct a free workshop after the screening. The film will show at 2 pm Sunday, Aug. 21, at Birch North Park Theater. Tickets are $10.

“It feels like as you get older, you get awards,” Kleiser said, laughing. “It’s great to have people appreciate your work, though.”

“It’s My Party” is deeply personal for Kleiser, who has been openly gay in Hollywood for many years. The film is loosely based on his own personal experience as a gay man and how he was impacted when his partner was diagnosed with an AIDS-related illness that is usually fatal.

In the film, Eric Roberts plays Nick Stark, who is dying and decides to throw a goodbye party for his friends and family. Afterwards, Nick plans to take his own life using painkillers, rationalizing that he wants to go out with dignity instead of being a burden for those who love him. Gregory Harrison plays Brandon, Nick’s estranged lover who had abandoned him after Nick was diagnosed with progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy.

Kleiser candidly addressed the question of whether the film was his penance for his breakup with Harry Klein, who threw his own real-life farewell party in 1992.

“It was a very traumatic event,” Kleiser recalled. “Parts of the story I cut out. I did not want to make him look brutal. Some of that can be seen in the DVD extras. But the film makes me look like a prick! It was a bit unbalanced, for the drama, obviously.

“We were friends at that time and had reached an understanding,” he said, adding that there was none of the drama between Harry and Randal at Harry’s own farewell party.

“Harry Stein was a California architect and designer who took charge of his death as he did his life,” Kleiser said. “He indeed threw a goodbye party. He was able to say things to his friends and family while he was lucid.”

How life has changed in 15 years

Contemporary audiences and especially the younger generation may be shocked by what was happening to AIDS patients in 1996. In the 21st century, people who have HIV or AIDS are living longer and the disease has become manageable with proper medicine and treatment.

“At that time,” Kleiser said, describing the mid-1990s, “everybody was going through this … There were underground gatherings for assisted suicide. And it was illegal. There were also issues involving insurance claims and term life insurance involving suicide and beneficiaries.”

As such, “It’s My Party” is considered groundbreaking, and Kleiser explains why.

“It documents a period of time when there wasn’t any hope,” Kleiser said, noting that AIDS was “like a death sentence” in the 1980s and 1990s.

Did movie studio let Randal Kleiser down?

Unlike the critically acclaimed “Philadelphia” (1993), which earned a Best Actor award for star Tom Hanks for playing a lawyer who is diagnosed with AIDS and fired from his job, “It’s My Party” did not enjoy the same box-office success. In fact, “It’s My Party” was considered a box-office flop despite the praise from many critics.

Kleiser reflected on the reasons why the film didn’t find a wider audience. He said MGM was divided over whether to even make the film, and when it was completed, failed to mount an effective marketing and promotional campaign to build an audience, despite having box-office winners in the cast such as Olivia Newton-John, Margaret Cho, Bronson Pinchot, George Segal, Lee Grant, Marlee Matlin, Roddy McDowall, Bruce Davison, Sally Kellerman, Devon Gummersall, Steve Antin, Christopher Atkins, Dennis Christopher, Nina Foch and Ron Glass.

He admits that the film was hard to get through. “It was about a guy who killed himself,” Kleiser summed up the plot in eight words. “Perhaps if it was on HBO, it might have found an audience. It was not a ‘good time’ date movie!”

Some critics dismissed it as a tear-jerker, but one man’s tragedy is a story worth telling.

As for the large cast, most knew Harry and Randal, the story of their life together and their split. To the actors, the movie was a work of love and respect. Kleiser praised Roberts for keeping his fellow actors loose on the set, because all knew the tragic ending.

With purpose, Kleiser decided to shoot the ending last, knowing that the actors would be getting emotional as the filming was winding down.

“The atmosphere on the set got really heavy at the end,” he said, “so when we shot the ending, the mood was very somber. As you can imagine, emotions were running high by then.” It made the semi-autobiographical story seem even more realistic.

Randal Kleiser will always be remembered for "Grease"

Kleiser said he pulled out all the stops to get his stellar cast, noting that many of the actors worked at union scale. Other actors begged to be in the film out of respect to Kleiser. Newton-John, for example, had recently made the mega-hit “Grease” with Kleiser, which will forever be associated with the both of them.

“I’m sure it will be the lead item on my obituary and carved onto my headstone,” Kleiser said, laughing.

Still, one gets the feeling that Kleiser is equally proud of “It’s My Party.”

Kleiser was considered a “hot” director after “Grease” (1978) became the biggest box-office musical of its time. He could write his own ticket, and the studios wanted him to make their next big hit.

“I was offered ‘George Of The Jungle’ and I turned them down so that I could make ‘Party.’ I was ready to shoot it on video or whatever,” he said. “It was personal therapy for me. … It was a turning point in my life, because I would work on movies that I wanted to do.”

The details

FilmOut San Diego’s 13th annual LGBT Film Festival will be conducted over two weekends: Aug. 19-21 and Aug. 26-28.

Almost 60 films and shorts will be shown at the historical Birch North Park Theatre.

To buy individual tickets, click HERE.

To buy a film festival pass to see all the movies and attend the opening night party at Top of the Park in Hillcrest as well as the closing night party at URBN Coal Fired Pizza in North Park, click HERE. The cost is $150.