By Isabelle Khurshudyan
Bill Murray walks into a bar.
Or at least that's ideally what would happen in Chris and Emily White's next film, "Cinema Purgatorio."
They just have to find him first.
"We've been to all of the places where he supposedly always goes, and we've never seen him," Emily said. "He's his own urban legend."
The Greenville couple have created a website, lookingforbillmurray.com, to aid in convincing the award-winning actor, who has a home in Charleston, to be in their upcoming feature film. The movie is about a married filmmaking couple trying to win a 48-hour film festival in Folly Beach that Murray is supposed to be judging.
The website serves two purposes: to deputize people who may run into Murray so they can tell him to visit the website and to inform Murray of what his role in the movie would be. The Whites have a scene location secured, a script for Murray on the website and a nine-person team ready to drive to Charleston as soon as Murray comes on board — if Murray comes on board.
The script is a semi-autobiographical reflection of the couple's experiences and realizations as independent filmmakers, and now the real search for Murray has started to mimic the film characters' search for Murray.
The ending in both searches will be the same. Though finding and engaging with Murray would be nice, it's not essential to either the plot or the Whites' lives. Getting to do their dream job with the person they love is.
"You don't need to be rich and famous to get discovered and be happy," Chris said. "We're trying to say, ‘Hey, these people go on this journey and find out they had it all along.' It's the classic ‘Wizard of Oz' thing where there's no place like home. You just didn't know it yet."
The Whites are part embarrassed and part proud when describing their exploits in trying to find Murray. The quirky actor doesn't have an agent and is notoriously difficult to contact. He is rumored to have a 1-800 number that people can call to leave their movie pitches, but the Whites aren't convinced it exists.
Even the minor-league baseball team that Murray partially owns, the Charleston RiverDogs, has a hard time reaching him for his many media requests. Sean Houston, director of broadcasting and media relations for the RiverDogs, said he has to leave messages for Murray in his mailbox at the ballpark. Murray is known to frequent the ballpark when he's in town.
When filming in Charleston, the "Cinema Purgatorio" crew took shifts staking out the Rutledge Cab Co. bar, which Murray also partially owns. They check mentions of Murray on Instagram and Twitter to see whether he had recently taken any photos with anyone as a way to track his movements.
They have heard through a friend whose son met Murray that he has at least heard of the movie.
"Everybody in Charleston has a Bill Murray story," said Monica Foster, who has a role in the movie. "Either they know Bill Murray or they're his neighbor or they've seen him at this place or that place. If all of it were true, he'd have, like, 16 homes in Charleston."
The Whites have weekend trips to Charleston scheduled once a month. When Murray was a guest on ESPN's College GameDay show at Clemson, Chris frantically tried to get people he knew in the area to try to tell Murray about the movie. The Whites considered walking Greenville's Main Street that night because they suspected he might be staying at a hotel there, but they figured their chances were too slim. Then someone called Chris and told him he saw Murray leaving a hotel on the street and getting into a car.
"We're up against this needle in a haystack," Chris said. "We know what the needle looks like. We know where the haystack is, but it's still a needle in a haystack."
Without disclosing too many details, the Whites have shifted their focus to contacting Murray through his business partners and other acquaintances. On lookingforbillmurray.com, people can register to be "crowd stalkers." If they find Murray, they should tell him "Chris and Emily are looking for you," then refer him to the website.
Every scene in the movie is shot except for the one saved for Murray. In it, the husband filmmaker, Neil, played by Chris, is drinking at the Rutledge Cab Co. bar after his movie has lost in the film festival that Murray ultimately didn't show up to judge. Murray inadvertently helps Neil to an epiphany that chasing money and fame in filmmaking isn't what's most important.
It's a similar realization to the one the Whites came to nearly four years ago. Chris and Emily eloped, quit their jobs as high school teachers and started anew as poor independent filmmakers. Everyone told them they were crazy.
"A lot of people told us we were insane," Emily said. "They said, ‘It's never going to work. Why would you go into your first year of marriage on such tenuous ground?' Now, it's starting to be where people are sending us articles about how now is the time to get into film in this way, and it's stuff we were doing three years ago."
Their first two features were crowd-funded through Kickstarter, but they've been able to secure investors for "Cinema Purgatorio." The budget for "Cinema Purgatorio" was $50,000, and it premieres in Columbia on May 4.
"Cinema Purgatorio" has some true scenes that Chris and Emily included from their experience at film festivals, which the movie lampoons, and some scenes that are based on a collection of encounters. The main characters, Liz and Neil, are based on them, and the supporting roles are based on some of the Whites' friends.
Just as Liz and Neil try to get their feature in front of Murray at the film festival in the hopes of gaining his approval and potentially breaking through in the film industry, Chris and Emily want to get the "Cinema Purgatorio" script and lookingforbillmurray.com to Murray for him to agree to do one scene.
"I think it's a distinct possibility that Bill will be interested," said Foster, who plays the role of Liz's best friend in the movie. "We're coming at the poor man from so many different angles. I don't see why, if we got in front of him, why he wouldn't love the script."
With or without Murray, the show will go on. The Whites said they need to shoot the last scene before the middle of April for the movie to be ready by the premiere. They'll pay back their investors through private screenings of the film's current rough cut at homes. Once the movie is finalized, they'll sell tickets to premieres throughout South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.
Even though the final scene is posted on lookingforbillmurray.com, the ending will be a surprise. Whether the Whites find Murray and get him in the movie will be kept a secret.
Their story and the story of Liz and Neil is still ongoing.
Bill Murray: Out of left field
Murray has been known to do strange things and show up in strange places throughout his career.
Kyle Heck/Carolina Reporter