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Interview with Dori Berinstein – Director of Carol Channing: Larger Than Life

Interview with Dori Berinstein - Director of Carol Channing: Larger Than Life

Women and Hollywood: You’ve been a producer of Broadway shows for a number of years.  How did you segue into becoming a documentary filmmaker?

Dori Berinstein: I’ve actually been in the film business (as a Studio Exec and as a Producer) longer than I’ve been producing Broadway Shows. (I supervised production on “Dirty Dancing”…). I’ve been a huge fan of doc films as long as I can remember. They have changed the way I see the world. My first doc experience was as the Executive Producer on Isaac Mizrahi’s “Unzipped”. I was completely hooked…but I wanted to direct.  I had dreamed about bringing William Goldman’s book “The Season”, chronicling Broadway behind-the-curtain for a year, to life. But I needed experience behind-the-camera. After many years directing TV, I felt ready. I dove in and captured an entire Broadway season inside out. I got very lucky. The season was spectacular. “ShowBusiness: The Road To Broadway” follows “Wicked”, “Avenue Q”, “Taboo” and “Caroline, or Change” from very early development thru to Opening Night and all the way to the most thrilling, hotly contested Tony Awards I can remember. Capturing Broadway backstage was an exhilarating experience.

WaH: Your films have a very theatrical bent.  How did you become interested in theatre and why do you think that theatre makes such a great topic for a documentary.

DB: Growing up in Los Angeles, I was incredibly fortunate to be taken to theatre by my parents to see everything at the Music Center, at UCLA and beyond. I just adored it. While I had no talent – alas – for an onstage career, I was determined to make my way to New York to produce Broadway Shows. I’ve been doing just that for almost 20 years now while sustaining a parallel life as a Studio Exec, Producer and Director in the movie business. When I’m able to bring together the two worlds that I love so much – film and TV – is a documentary feature, it’s nirvana! Theatre is filled w/ passion, risk and drama (as much behind-the-curtain as on stage), perfect ingredients for documentary storytelling.

WaH: How did you get the idea to do your latest film on Carol Channing?

DB: I was most fortunate to meet and become friends with Carol and her husband Harry Kullijian. Over dinner, I would hear INCREDIBLE theatrical stories, so beautifully told.  When Carol and Harry shared their own magical love story, reconnecting after a 70-year separation, I knew this was a film I had to make.

WaH: What did you learn about her in this process that was unexpected?

DB:Carol has stage fright…still does…Given her magically captivating stage presence and her high-voltage charisma, its hard to believe she’s nervous before she ‘goes on’…but its true. That ‘fright’ fuels her performance. When she first arrived on Broadway, Noel Coward gave her invaluable advice on how to tackle the problem: He told her to imagine “someone who loves you and who you love” in the audience. Carol has done that ever since. She says it works beautifully.

WaH: As you’ve become a more seasoned director what is the thing about your filmmaking that has changed or improved over time?

DB: I have an incredible team of collaborators that work with me on all my films. I adore them and respect them tremendously. I can’t wait to begin production on my next film so we can be reunited.

WaH: What was the biggest challenge in making this film?

DB: Editing this film was tremendously challenging – such an incredible life to chronicle…such a beautiful love story to share.  Thank goodness I had a phenomenal editor – Adam Zucker. We worked and worked to weave together the two storylines, trying so very hard to do doing justice to both. Of course, it was torture to leave so many important professional moments, great backstage stories and insight from many of Carol’s collaborators and friends on the cutting room floor. I’m thrilled that many of these moments will make their way onto the DVD!!

WaH: What advice do you have for other filmmakers?

DB: Like theatre, crafting a documentary film takes tremendous commitment, patience and passion. Our business isn’t easy…to be sure. When you decide to make a film, it’s imperative that it’s a story you just have to tell…no matter what. If so, then dive in. It won’t be ‘work’…it will be a thrilling, deeply satisfying experience. If that’s not the case, don’t take the plunge. The commitment of time, energy, money, etc…is way too great. You need to care deeply.

WaH: Tell us what you are working on next?

DB: I’m ecstatic to be working on several new Broadway Shows that mean the world to me. I’m also working on a thrilling live ‘event arena show involving flying, fire-breathing Dragons with DreamWorks Theatricals. And, of course, a new film is brewing….

The film opens today in NY.  More details here.


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