Will Shortz, editor of the New York Times crossword puzzle and subject of the new documentary Wordplay.
An eight-letter word for box-office hit
By Steven Snyder
A year ago, Patrick Creadon attended the Tribeca Film Festival to see a friends movie and speculated how amazing it would be if his first film made it into the event.
A year later, in an interview on the first full day of the 2006 festival, he said it felt surreal to be scrambling to finish the final cut of his documentary Wordplay for both its May 3 Tribeca premiere, and its theatrical debut at IFC Center, scheduled for June.
The last year has been incredible, and also a bit surreal, he said. Heres just an example: Two days ago, Im in our editing room which is essentially our spare bedroom with a dog sitting at my feet and one of my daughters running in and out of the room and suddenly the phone rings and I find out that our film was just talked about on The Today Show.
And Im like,
Is this really happening?
As far as first years go for emerging filmmakers, they dont get much better than Creadons 2005. Wordplay was an official selection of the 2005 Sundance Film festival one the few documentaries to make the cut from over 700 submissions and Creadon said the surprise of being accepted into that festival was only outdone by the chaos of the bidding war that broke out as multiple studios vied to release Wordplay theatrically.
Months later Creadon submitted the documentary, which profiles Will Shortz, the famed editor of the New York Times crossword puzzle, to Tribeca. Its very much a New York story, he said, but it also goes beyond New York to all those people who get their news from the Times every day.
Considered the most popular and respected daily crossword puzzle in the country, Creadon said he knew from the moment Shortz returned his initial phone call the next day, no less that his film would come together. And in chronicling the popularity of both Shortz and his daily puzzle, Creadon said he was shocked at how quickly and how easily he found himself scheduling meetings with former President Bill Clinton, former Senator Bob Dole and television host Jon Stewart, among others. It was at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in Stamford, CT, though, where Creadon first saw the respect the pros have for Shortzs work.
The timing of the films release could not be better, now that audiences have made their appetite for word game entertainment known. First came the popular spelling bee documentary Spellbound, followed by the current Broadway hit The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and last weekends premiere of Akeelah and the Bee, a family film critics loved. Not to mention the wildly successful book Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive ScrabblePlayers.
We didnt set out to make a film on the fringe, said Creadon, who hopes Wordplay reaches viewers beyond the crossword community. We think that if you take good material, and tell it well, its a film that anyone can relate to and enjoy.
For both Creadon and wife Christine OMalley, who produced the film, part of the films larger story is a sense of how something as simple as a crossword can become integral to a persons life, and even connect people in different parts of the world. For the subjects of Wordplay, he said, a staple of their daily existence is the puzzle Shortz puts out day after day.
It didnt make it into the film, but I was amazed to hear Jon Stewart talk about how he read the New York Times every day and that doing the puzzle at the end of the day, winding down with his wife, is really important to him, Creadon recalled.
In fact, Stewart proposed to his wife by calling Will Shortz to make a puzzle for her. How much more essential to someones life can you get?