Chicago’s Richard Roeper loves his (prolific) movie work
Best-known nationally as half of the Ebert and Roeper TV reviewing team, Roeper, 52, has been a Chicago kind of guy for a lifetime. Raised in a suburb, he is a lifelong White Sox fan who wrote a 2006 book, “Sox and the City,” about his team. He has been a Sun-Times columnist for 25 years.
In 2000, he was chosen, after many other critics tried out, to join fellow Sun-Times writer Roger Ebert on the syndicated “At the Movies” show. Roeper replaced Gene Siskel, who died of brain tumor in 1999.
Roeper stayed with the show until 2008, a few years after Ebert left because of his battle with cancer and complications from surgery that left him unable to speak, though still able to write prodigiously.
Roeper still reviews films every week for RichardRoeper.com and the Reelz channel. His four-times-a-week Sun-Times column takes on subjects ranging from the Golden Globes to Denver quarterback Tim Tebow to the Italian cruise-ship disaster. Roeper and co-host Roe Conn also discuss a broad range of topics on their four-hour daily WLS radio show, “Roe & Roeper.”
Roeper called last week from Chicago, in between filing his Sun-Times column and preparing for the radio show.
What topics will you cover when you come to Sacramento?
The evolution of movies. Not just in terms of special effects and things like that, but the marketing and the coverage of it. For example, in 1977, when “Star Wars” came out, it was 14 days before there was a story about the box office, and it was two paragraphs in the New York Times with a headline (like) “Sci-Fi Cowboy Movie Does Well.”
Nowadays, of course, leading into every weekend you get the box-office projections, and by Friday night at midnight, you know if a movie’s a bomb.
I want to talk about how all of that has changed and how the business has changed … and the difference in how movies are released.
“The Godfather” opened on five screens in New York, and had a long time to build, and to become this huge hit. These days, you are on 4,000 screens, and if you don’t perform, you’re gone in three weeks.
I also want to talk about the delivery systems and how there are more and more movies you can get on demand, on iTunes and on Netflix, and how that is going to affect the business. I don’t want to get too inside baseball in talking to a wide cross section, but I do want to talk about the business as well as the quality of films.
Will you talk about the Oscar nominations?
Yeah, it’s perfect timing (the Academy Awards are Feb. 26). That is actually kind of fascinating – the voting (a new process that resulted in nine best-picture nominees instead of 10). They have made it more convoluted this year. The voting makes the Iowa caucuses look streamlined and perfect. And I will make my predictions, so people can write them down and mock me later (laughs).
You have been a columnist for a long time, and your column and radio show cover a broad range of topics. How prominently have movies figured in your career?
Movies have always been a huge part of it, even though my column isn’t about movies per se, it is more about pop culture and news. But I have written probably a thousand columns about movies, and I have always been a huge movie fan.
It is interesting because nine times out of 10, when I see a reference to me, they call me the Chicago Sun-Times film critic. We actually have a film critic (laughs). It’s this fellow by the name of Roger, and he’s been doing it for a couple of years.
I do occasionally write reviews for the paper when Roger is off or doing something else. I have such admiration for Roger on so many levels, one of which is that he has devoted his whole career pretty much to movies, although he now writes about a lot of other things.
I think it’s better if a film critic does other things as well. I think if all you do is immerse yourself in the world of movies, sometimes you lose some sense of perspective about things. When film critics are talking to each other, it’s like, “Are you writing reviews for each other or the general audience?”
Roger Ebert seems to keep an eye on the broader picture.
Yes, especially in the last five years or so. He is writing a lot about other subjects.
Do you see him very often? Do you see him at movie screenings?
I do, I see him at screenings all the time, and obviously, we stay in touch, email and that kind of stuff.
When you started on “At the Movies,” did he give you advice on reviewing films?
Most of the advice wasn’t about reviewing movies. It was about how to do it within the context of the show – time constraints and things like that. The best thing he did for me, from the very start, was say, “Look, you are not my sidekick, you’re my co-host, and it has to be an equal 50-50 partnership or it won’t work.”
I think, honestly, that’s why I got the job. Because so many guest critics kind of acted like they were guests on a talk show, and they were more deferential, and I was more like, “No, you’ve got to mix it up.”
I think so. I grew up here, and I have been doing newspapers and radio and that kind of stuff for so long. Here, people just kind of feel like you are one of their own, and yeah, they’ll come up to you and say hello. They’re more likely in Chicago just to strike up a conversation. In New York or L.A., especially in L.A., people come up and they are more like, “Oh, I am a big fan,” or they are in the business, because everybody in L.A. is in the business or trying to be in the business (laughs). Here, if I am in a coffee shop or a local bar, people who come up are just as likely to want to talk about the Bulls or the Bears or Rahm Emanuel as they are about a movie.
The newspaper industry has faced a lot of challenges in recent years. You have experience in other media. Are you committed to remaining a newspaper columnist?
Yes, I would love to keep doing it for as long as they will have me do it. The column is my favorite thing to do every day. To get up in the morning and say, “What am I going to write about?” and then write about it. And of course, now you get to update it, because you can go back on the website.
Is it fun working for a newspaper in a city with such a rich journalistic history?
Yes. I had chances to go other places, fairly early in my career, and I never considered going anywhere, because it is home, and I feel most comfortable writing about what I know, but also, yeah, that great tradition. When I started at the Sun-Times, (Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Mike) Royko was still hanging out at the Billy Goat Tavern, and all these other columnists I had grown up with. It still feels that way. It’s great to be in a two-news- paper town.
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Community Center Theater, 1301 L St., Sacramento
Cost: $120-$210, via a prorated subscription to the Roeper event and forthcoming talks by CBS News travel editor Peter Greenberg and television journalist and Sacramento native Lisa Ling
Information: (916) 388-1100, www.sacramentospeakers.com