TV GEMS: Dinner for Five (2001-2005)

Jon Favreau and a revolving door of celebrities discuss the ins-and-outs of the movie business over a bite to eat in IFC’s classy chat show. 

There should be more light entertainment shows like Dinner for Five.

The Independent Film Channel series ran for forty-eight episodes from 2001-2005, and is sorely missed by anyone with a voracious appetite for motion picture trivia. For movie aficionados, it remains must-see stuff, managing to coax candid soundbites from some true industry legends. In most respects, it is the crème de la crème of film chat shows, and I’ve yet to see anything else do it better.

The recipe for its success is born out of simplicity. As devised and hosted by filmmaker/actor Jon Favreau (SwingersIron Man), each instalment of Dinner for Five plays out in a swanky LA or NY restaurant with four guests casually discussing their line of work over a hearty meal (and booze, they’re usually plied with booze). How could that not make for memorable wordplay, especially when there is no script to fall back on? Diners were given a detailed bio of each guest before filming, leading to natural, often random conversations that no formal interview could ever produce.

Perhaps it was the lack of formality and the copious amounts of wine that allowed these stars to drop their defences and engage in sometimes vulgar repartee, but Favreau and his camera operators were also smart enough to make the filming process as unobtrusive as possible. Five cameras were used per episode (one for each person, natch), and shot through long lenses so that the crew could be ten feet away from the table and never interrupt. It creates a genuine sense of spontaneity and reveals these larger-than-life personalities as normal people. Dinner for Five completely demystified the concept of celebrity and cuts through the ass-kissing bullshit that typifies so many chat shows. And who better to moderate the discussions than a man who works in showbiz himself?

Favreau, being a veteran of both indie film and Hollywood, was ideally placed to entice impressive guest stars. While he often invited people he had worked with at the time – including his Swingers compatriot and long-time friend Vince Vaughn – the full list of participants is really something. Other than those listed below, the luminaries include: Alec Baldwin, Burt Reynolds, Carrie Fisher, David Duchovny, Famke Janssen, Frank Darabont, George Carlin, Jason Biggs, Jeff Goldblum, John Landis, John Waters, Judd Apatow, Katie Holmes, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Marilyn Manson, Seth MacFarlane, Tony Hawk, Will Ferrell and Zooey Deschanel. There are far too many memorable guests to list here, and suffice it to say that many of the episodes are worth discovering on YouTube.

Dinner for Five is an absolute pleasure. Imagine Come Dine with Me minus the sarcastic voice-over and attempts at cookery content, and you’re almost there. It has made all further attempts at film chat shows obsolete, which is a bold claim for a series that has been off the airwaves for a long time. In short, it should be found and enjoyed by as many people as possible. It certainly didn’t deserve to be cancelled in favour of The Henry Rollins Show. Although, I won’t hold that against him…

Favourite Episodes

Bruce Campbell, Rob Zombie, Roger Corman, Faizon Love

Everything from watching The Evil Dead on acid to the pitfalls of interview etiquette is dissected here, with the combined awesomeness of Campbell, Zombie and Corman having a field day. For cult movie fans, this is the one that should be watched first.

Vince Vaughn, Brian Cox, Rory Cochrane, Cole Hauser

Favreau’s buddy Vaughn proves to be as unpredictable as ever, particularly when he launches into a battle of words with Cochrane (Dazed and Confused, CSI: Miami). The wise old Cox, God bless him, can only look on in disbelief. One of the more memorable editions of the show, even if you’ll forget most of the topics discussed.

Kevin Smith, Mark Hamill, J.J. Abrams, Stan Lee, Jason Lee

The ever-talkative Smith sits in for Favreau and it’s an absolute belter. Just to have Luke Skywalker and the creator of a dozen Marvel superheroes is good enough, but there is also some valued input from Abrams, who has gone on to more success in subsequent years. The star wattage of this table is ludicrous.

Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, Colin Farrell, Kevin Smith

The cast of Daredevil get into a foul-mouthed discussion about pissing off big-name directors, the sexual preferences of Joel Schumacher, and winning Academy Awards. If you needed proof that something good came out of Daredevil, this it (well, Affleck got a wife out of it, too, who is practically eye-fucking him throughout this whole show).

Martin Scorsese

Breaking the format of the show, Favreau goes one-on-one with America’s greatest living filmmaker.

Dave James

Editor-in-Chief at Film freak, music minion, professional procrastinator, podcaster, video-maker, all around talented git.

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