2011-12-29 / Front Page

Following his star

Freeport’s Alexander Libby assists Oscar-nominated director with 9/11 film, London Olympics ceremony
BY DARREN FISHELL Times Record Staff


ALEXANDER LIBBY, 28, assistant to the director of the new film “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close,” stands in front of the cinema in his hometown of Freeport where the movie will have a private advance screening on Friday. 
TROY R. BENNETT / THE TIMES RECORD ALEXANDER LIBBY, 28, assistant to the director of the new film “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close,” stands in front of the cinema in his hometown of Freeport where the movie will have a private advance screening on Friday. TROY R. BENNETT / THE TIMES RECORD FREEPORT — As a child, Freeport native Alexander Libby didn’t know that putting on puppet shows and plays for his family would pay off.

But when a scene in the new Warner Bros. film “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” called for leading actor Tom Hanks to put on a shadow puppet show, Libby’s childhood experience proved essential to the veteran actor.

“I found myself there knowing exactly what I needed to do because I have been doing it since I was 5, just up the street,” Libby told The Times Record on Wednesday in Freeport.

On the set of that movie, Libby, 28, served as three-time Academy Award-nominated director Stephen Daldry’s right hand during the production of the film that deals with the fallout of the Sept. 11, 2001, World Trade Center attacks for one New York family.

On Friday, Libby will host 160 friends and family members for a private advance screening of the film at Freeport’s new Nordica Theatre.

The movie, based on a novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, follows 9-year-old Oskar Schell, played by Thomas Horn, who grapples to understand why he lost his father (played by Hanks) in the terrorist attacks. The film centers on Oskar’s scavenger hunt across New York City to unlock the mystery behind a key his father left behind.

The subject matter is not light, Libby said, and he knows firsthand. Libby said he led research on the film, listening to all of the phone calls made from inside the Twin Towers that day, and collaborating with organizations serving families affected by the attacks.

A recent screening — with members of the nonprofit Tuesday’s Children and the September 11th Families’ Association — ended in silence, Libby said.

“There is an amazing silence at the end of the movie,” Libby said. “ The main reaction is that we’re telling a story that nobody has told before.”

That story, Libby said, is about what families who lost loved ones went through on that day, after that day and to this day. Libby said reactions to the movie have been positive, including that of Lee Ielpi, president of the September 11th Families’ Association.

“That’s when I started getting proud of it,” Libby said. “When you have people like (Ielpi) who are saying that this is good.”

View the trailer here. Opening Jan. 20:

Opening ceremony

In 2001, as a senior at Cheverus High School in Portland, Libby wasn’t thinking about film. He was busy fulfilling a goal of starting his own theater company in Freeport, “ The Carriage House.”

Ten years later — after working his way into stage managing jobs on Broadway and his most recent job assisting director Daldry on the set of “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” — Libby finds himself again charting new territory.

After the film opens nationwide in January, Libby will follow Daldry to London to begin planning for the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Olympics, for which Daldry will serve as creative director.

Up to the time of the opening ceremonies at the end of July, Libby said, the crew will continue to attend international openings of “Extremely Loud” and, in between, there are trips to various locations in California, and a jaunt back to New York for the closing of the Tony-award winning musical “ Billy Eliot,” which Daldry directed.

All the while, Libby said, he hopes to dedicate time to a new movie production tool he started developing and used on the set of “ Extremely Loud.”

“(Daldry) asked me to start working on this project because he needed a way to visualize a script — like a (musical) score,” Libby said. “So I started working on it and now Oscar-winning directors are asking me to drop everything to make this happen.”

Libby said he hopes that the software, which he described as a visual representation of a movie script and production notes, will help established Hollywood and Broadway directors, as well as aspiring young theater entrepreneurs like he was 10 years ago.

“It’s so user-friendly that 18-year-old Alex at The Carriage House theater would be able to pick this up, add production and find it kind of fun to answer the (logistical) questions it’s asking,” Libby said. “It will allow someone to dig through the logistics so you can get to the art.”

For larger productions, Libby said, the software will aim to improve communication when the instructions of a director might change the day’s work.

“When you have 100 people working on a set and you have a director saying that we’re not going to work on that scene but this scene, the implications of that seem simple but they’re not at all,” Libby said. “ You have wardrobe that has to match continuity and look at the scene to find which extras were there from a scene that was maybe shot three months ago.”

The project, Libby said, is a culmination of putting together numerous productions on Broadway and his early stage management work at the Maine State Music Theatre ( MSMT), where he interned during the summers while enrolled at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa.

To the movies

Libby’s first theater internship, with MSMT, he said, began serendipitously after exhaustive recruiting for his production of Renee Rebman’s “Just A Little Crazy” at the Carriage House Theater.

At that time, Libby told The Times Record, he was working two jobs, completing coursework at Cheverus, and building his new theater company, for which finding actors was not going well.

So, Libby said Wednesday, he ended up going door- todoor around downtown Freeport and he found an actress new to the stage but with connections at MSMT and started considering a summer internship there.

Through four summers, Libby said, he learned stage management skills and spent his spring breaks with an uncle in Queens, N.Y., “knocking on the stage door of every Broadway house that I could.”

At the time, Libby said, his sights were set on seeing how Broadway productions come together.

“I wasn’t thinking about a career that was going to last forever or even that the person might give me a job, but that I needed to be over there seeing those things,” Libby said. “And I think that’s the passion you have to have.”

Eventually, Libby said, he scored an internship on Broadway with momentum that took him on the “Wicked” tour, away from finishing his degree in theater at Messiah, and onto the Broadway stage managing work full time.

A three- week opening to substitute as Daldry’s assistant after years on Broadway was the connection that launched him to the next chapter, where he said he is breaking through with chances to work creatively — like helping with daily rewrites of the script for “Extremely Loud.”

For those looking to start careers in theater as he did, Libby said a person might need to take risks if they’re not making progress toward their goals.

“ If you’re good at something but that’s not what you want to be doing, you have to move on, which will always be scary,” Libby said. “If your dream doesn’t make you want to ‘ Ralph’ every morning, you’re not dreaming big enough.”

For now, Libby said, that’s something of his feeling looking toward planning for the Olympics.

“We’re in uncharted territory and we get up every morning not knowing what this scene is going to be, but you have to push through that,” Libby said. “It will be fun.”

dfishell@timesrecord.com / @darrenfishell

Libby said any questions or comments about the film can be sent to him via Twitter to his address @zmemovies. For more from the interview that did not make it into our print story, visit reporter Darren Fishell's blog at midcoastreporter.tumblr.com.

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