Producer Donald De Line On Set Interview OBSERVE AND REPORT

     March 30, 2009

Written by Steve ‘Frosty’ Weintraub

Last June I got to visit New Mexico for the first time. I was invited (along with a few other online journalists) to visit the set of the new Jody Hill film “Observe and Report.” If Jody Hill’s name sounds familiar to you, it’s because he previously directed “The Foot Fist Way” and he’s one of the people behind “Eastbound and Down”, a great new show on HBO that just finished its first season.

By now you’ve all heard of “Observe and Report”, but for the few that haven’t…

At the Forest Ridge Mall, head of security Ronnie Barnhardt (Seth Rogen) patrols his jurisdiction with an iron fist. The master of his domain, he combats skateboarders, shoplifters and the occasional unruly customer while dreaming of the day when he can swap his flashlight for a badge and a gun. Ronnie’s delusions of grandeur are put to the test when the mall is struck by a flasher.

Driven by his personal duty to protect and serve the mall and its patrons, Ronnie seizes the opportunity to showcase his underappreciated law enforcement talents on a grand scale, hoping his solution of this crime will earn him a coveted spot at the police academy and the heart of his elusive dream girl Brandi (Anna Faris), the hot make-up counter clerk who won’t give him the time of day. But his single-minded pursuit of glory launches a turf war with the equally competitive Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta) of the Conway Police, and Ronnie is confronted with the challenge of not only catching the flasher, but getting him before the real cops.

While I usually have to post on set interviews before I’ve seen the film, that’s not the case this time, as I recently caught a screening and loved it. Not only is the film laugh-out-loud funny, it’s a hell of a lot crazier than most studio released movies. Trust me, Jody Hill was given the freedom to make his movie and it’s absolutely worth checking out when it hits theaters on April 10th.

So with the release date fast approaching, WB has finally lifted the embargo on the interviews I participated in and the one below is with Producer Donald De Line.

During our extended interview with Donald we got to speak about everything – from how the film came about to almost every aspect of production. If you’re curious how a film gets made, this interview was very illuminating. As always, you can either read the transcript below or listen to the audio by clicking here.

Finally, before reading the interview, I strongly suggest watching this red band trailer for “Observe and Report”. After you see it, I promise you’ll want to watch this film. Also, this trailer is not false advertising. The film really is this crazy and awesome.

Question: So what can you tell us about the set here?

Donald De Line: Okay, so we’re in Winrock Mall, which was a thriving mall until the recent past. When we scouted here this whole mall was basically a ghost town except for 3 anchor stores. On one end there’s the Dillard’s department store, which is still open. On the other opposite end is the Bed, Bath and Beyond, which is great. You guys should go in there and shop around if you have a minute. I couldn’t believe it. I’d never been in one before. They have everything in the world. Anyway…and then Sports Authority, that was the only other open shop. Every other…the whole rest of the entire mall was completely a ghost town and just all boarded up and shut down and only thing it was used for was this phenomenon of mall walkers, which I had never seen before either, but I guess a lot of people go in neighborhoods to walk in malls for their exercise. I guess it’s safe and it’s enclosed and if it’s hot or if there’s pollution or whatever so you have a lot of kind of elderly people walking around the halls – but it was all empty. So we had this really unique opportunity to take over the entire mall and we’ve actually dressed every single store that you see in the mall – besides the 3 that I mentioned – are all part of our set, so we have this gigantic set and including this entire food court which was a food court when it was operational but it was completely empty and shut down so everything you see is completely dressed by our art department and production designer who’s done an amazing job. So it’s taken a couple of months actually to build out every single store and dress every single store. And then we have another set upstairs in the mall, which is an old Mervyns’s Department Store that we’ve re-dressed to be our hero department store in the show. And it was really hard to find a mall that was empty because you need to be able to control it 12 hours a day for your shooting and we have our production offices here. We have our art department here. We have our own mill set up. We have our entire base of operations so it’s like our own studio. And we had scouted here, we had scouted in Louisiana, we went to New Orleans, we were going to go to Michigan to Detroit; in fact there’s web sites like where you can…yeah. So we were combing web sites. We were everywhere. And strangely it’s harder to find a good empty mall than you would think. And the funny story on this one was there’s a mall across the street that’s the thriving mall that’s called Coronado Mall and we did a little bit of shooting over there as well, so we used like the live mall also. When we were over there the manager of the mall was really puffed up and kind of excited that they were kind of the new game in town and had won the fight and crushed the Winrock Mall. He said someone’s gotta win, someone’s gotta lose. You know, that’s the breaks of the game. He was all proud of his mall and his territory, which was funny because it’s just like Ronny Barnhardt’s character in the movie—Seth Rogan’s character.

Was there a weekend brainstorming session of fake store names?

Yeah, we actually had a lot of brainstorming and we would have a list and everybody was encouraged to give ideas and then we’d all pick our favorites and then keep going from there and so it was really fun coming up with all the names for the stores.

Who came up with Baskin-Robbins?

Oh. What’s that guy…recently died that founded Baskin-Robbins. One of the two partners, I think Baskin maybe? Yeah, it was just in the paper like 10 days ago. But, yeah, we were lucky we got Baskin-Robbins. We have only a few real brands and stores that we are using in the movie and the rest is completely fictionalized. But you’ll see like walking down there we have like Echo and Justin Boots and like Dickey’s or something like that. A few little things.

So Jody is coming off of his indie film.

That’s right.

How did you sort of get hooked up with him and how did you come across this script and stuff?

The way this all came to be is my company is set up at Warner Brothers and a couple of guys who work for me and my company went to Sundance when “Footfist” was there and they came back all excited about what they thought was the funniest film…independent film they’d seen in a long time by this young writer/director Jody Hill, and they got me a copy of it on DVD before they were supposed to…because that’s what they do, and it was great. And I watched it and loved it and watched it with my niece who was 16 at the time. She cracked up the whole way. And we got him in the office as soon as he got back from Sundance and just basically said we love what your sensibility is and what are you thinking about, you know? And he said, “I’ve had this idea that I’ve kind of had about this character. He’s the head of mall security and he’s kind of this deluded guy” and we said great. Let’s let you kind of develop that and write a script and have Warner’s pay for it. And we took him in to meet the guys at the studio, showed them the movie, they loved it. And we set it up for him at Warner’s as his next project coming out of Sundance. So we just got lucky that we were aggressive about it out of the gate and he wasn’t even supposed to be pitching it. His agents were kind of annoyed that he even brought it up in the meeting.


Well, because they…

They don’t get a cut?

Well, they do get a cut but they like to sometimes strategize those kind of things, so they create situations where they might say, “okay everyone’s going to hear it next Wednesday at… he’ll go to each studio a hour apart”…I mean not that they were going to do that with Jody and it’s not necessarily Jody’s thing, but it’s generally the way they like to go.

Well, it’s sort of interesting, I mean the character of Ronnie sounds almost like a Danny McBride character, but you have Seth in this. It’s a different character for him to be playing.


How did you sort of decide on Seth? It’s so out of his usual thing.

Yeah, no. It’s a good question. Jody, you know he had this character in his head and he has some of that kind of deluded bravado and that kind of…but it’s so genuine and so heartfelt with the character which I think worked so well with Danny’s character in “Footfist” you know? That character is very honest and I think he had the same kind of take on this character of Ronnie Barnhardt and Seth saw “Footfist” because you know…Jody immediately with Will Farrell and Adam McKay coming on to executive produce “Footfist” it suddenly went out in that world and all the comedy guys started seeing the movie and then Jody was invited to set by Jud Apatow and he ended up doing little bits in some of his movies, so Seth and Jody got to talking and Seth was a big fan. And we had a chat with Seth’s agent. I’d known Seth for years because I was originally one of the producers along with Judd on the script that was originally supposed to be starring Seth Rogan when he was younger and that became…why am I blanking on the name of it?


Thank you. Superbad. So I had known him from those days because we had almost set that project up at Fox Searchlight with Seth in the starring role, not playing a cop. And then that fell apart back in the day and so we had Seth come in and sit and have Jody tell him the story and he loved it and we attached him to it like a good year ago I’d say. So he was kind of part of the development of the character and the movie.

What’s the scene that we’re going to be performing in today?

The scene you’re going to be performing in today is Officer Barnhardt is escorting Detective Harrison from the Comway Country Police through the mall because there’s been a burglary in the mall. They’re doing an investigation about it. He’s coming to look at the crime scene—Detective Harrison. That’s Ray Liotta’s character. And Ronnie doesn’t like this because he feels like it’s basically stepping on his territory because he’s head of mall security and it’s his domain, so he does not like the fact that this joker—Detective Harrison—is coming in kind of stepping on his turf. And it’s kind of the beginning of what becomes a turf war in Ronnie’s mind between the head of mall security and the police department. So you’re going to see him escorting Detective Harrison the first morning through the mall to show him to the crime scene and on the way he’s basically saying, “I don’t like the fact that you’re here. I don’t like the fact you’re stepping into my territory. And I’ve already got the whole thing figured out anyway and I know exactly who did it.” Which, of course, is a fallacy. He sees a kiosk operator—a character named Saddamn played by Aziz Ansari, who’s very funny who you guys might know from “Human Giant” and he has an on-going battle, which you’ll discover, in this scene with the guy Aziz and you find out this guy—Aziz—has taken out a restraining order against Ronnie Barnhardt to have him keep 20 feet away from him at all times. But he’s insisting to Detective Harrison in this scene that in fact that guy, Saddamn, he knows is the guy who committed this robbery in the mall. And so you’re going to see him have a confrontation with Aziz Ansari, with the Saddamn character and Detective Harrison is kind of completely dumbfounded at the idiocy and lunacy of the whole thing. And Ray Liotta just wants to get the hell out of there and do his job because he has a hangover and can’t believe he’s been saddled with this joker. So that’s what you’re going to see.

“Observe and Report” is that a working title or…

That is a working title that we hope to actually have to be the actual title. It’s the title we all want, we just haven’t completely cleared it legally but we’re in the process of doing that…so it is what we’ve always called the movie and it’s what it’s known as. And “Observe and Report” are the 2 kind of rules that security guards live by basically which is how Jody kind of was part of his conceiving the whole idea is that they can observe and report. Those are basically their responsibilities and that is their domain.

Very benign.


Was it Jody’s idea to have Danny McBride…because I know he plays a small part as the drug dealer?

Yes, yes, yes. Exactly. Yes, of course because he’s part of Jody’s crew and Danny and Ben Best also came and did a role. We had a little trouble because we really obviously wanted to get both guys in the movie in any way we could and right now they’re shooting “Land of the Lost” with Will Farrell. Yeah, so it was a bit of a scheduling problem but we got him here finally what…2 weeks ago on a Saturday night, like his one night off, because they’re shooting 6 day weeks.

Memorial Day weekend?

Yeah, to try to finish pre-strike.

Any other big cameos?

Just a lot of really good funny actors. Anna Faris plays the female lead, Brandi. And she’s delicious and hilarious and I wish you could see her while you’re here but she won’t be working today. She comes back tomorrow. A wonderful character actress named Celia Weston who’s done a lot of work on Broadway and in film and television plays Seth’s mother in the film who is a completely kind of crazy alcoholic, but has a special love for her son who has his own special needs and problems. They have a very unique relationship. They live together in a trailer…doublewide trailer and it’s a strangely kind of twisted supportive relationship that they have. She’s fantastic. I’m trying to think…any other…Dan Bakkedahl is the mall manager. I was just trying to think if there was any other kind of cameo things. I think from Jody’s world, probably no and you probably know who most of the other major players are. I have to say Michael Pena who really is kind of a revelation in this movie, I’m sorry you’re not going to see him work today either, but he’s basically known as a dramatic actor. You know Michael Pena—things like “World Trade Center” like very…

And “Crash”.

Yeah, and “Crash”. Very serious things. And he really like…who knew. He came in to read for this and he created a whole character. He’s part of Ronnie’s elite task force at the mall. He’s his right-hand man. And he is really, really funny and he just is doing something brilliant and I think it’s going to be a whole side of him that people have never seen before. And there’s these 2 identical twins, the Ewing twins, that are actually friends of Jody’s. They actually were night security guards at a factory and being identical twins, they each were stationed at one opposite end of the mall and they would sit in a car all night and talk to each other by walkie-talkie. So they had some real life experience doing this, so you see them in the movie—the Ewing twins. They’re part of the elite task force. They’re really good and funny and it’s their first acting role. And a great kid named Jesse Plemmons who is on “Friday Night Lights”, the series who’s the last kind of new recruit that becomes part of Ronnie Barnhardt’s elite task force.

You’re filming at a mall that’s open. Have you had to deal with any of the people coming in just to take pictures of what’s going on?

No, yeah. The mall walkers have been our only issue and they’re like these nice mostly senior citizens who are very quiet and kind of pat around in their athletic shoes and you know, glimpse over to see what’s going on and get a picture but it’s been really easy and smooth. We’ve had absolutely no issues and you know, the Dillard’s and the other operating stores weren’t thrilled about having us here because they didn’t want it interrupting their traffic and their shoppers and it’s been really easy and they’ve been really cooperative because we’ve shot also outside in the parking lot and around their entrances and stuff and it’s been good.

How far along are you?

We’re pretty far along. We’ll wrap the 21st of June, so we’re what today? The 3rd? . So, yeah, we’re on our home stretch.

Do you know what rating you’re going for?

It’s firmly an R-rating. You know, we have a lot of language in the movie. A lot of language. We have some sexual situations.

You have a flasher.

We have a flasher. We have male full-frontal nudity. Yeah, we have violence. We have blood. Everything a good comedy should have.

There’s been a lot of frontal nudity in these comedies these days.

Yeah, “Sarah Marshall”.

Is that such a big deal anymore?

You know I think it’s…it used to be such a big deal and studio films didn’t do it, and now I think, suddenly, you’re going to kind of see more and more of it in some strange way. So we do have it in this movie.

Does that mean casting the flasher was a pretty awkward audition?

Well, you know, that’s a really good question. Jody’s buddy, Randy Gamble, is playing the flasher and he’s another one…Jody has a ….there’s a lot of members of the crew and some cast members that are all part of this posse of Jody’s from North Carolina – like our DP and our sound guy and our boom man and our composer and they all went to the North Carolina School of the Arts with Jody. Also this guy Randy Gamble was part of that and he’s the pervert and he told Jody he said, “I’ll drop trow and run around naked” and he’s not an actor either and he’s just running around naked all the time and we love him. God bless him. He doesn’t complain, he’ll do it anytime and he’s run around the parking lot naked.

He’s a streaker.

He’s a flasher.

Why does he run around the parking lot naked like flashing people in their cars?

Oh yeah. Oh yeah. In their cars.

Isn’t he afraid someone might run him over as he’s flashing them? I would.

Well, we control…we have stunt people driving the cars. We have stunt people so…

That’s hilarious.

Yeah, it’s really funny.

You’re also producing many other projects besides this and I wanted to know if you could give an update as to what else you have in the horizon?

Yeah, I’ve got another movie for Warner’s that’s going to come out in October that’s called “House of Lies” that Ridley Scott directed. Leo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe are starring in it and we’re just finishing post-production on that and that’ll come out October 10th and that’s a spy thriller. A very, very different kind of movie than this. We shot it mostly in Morocco. The body of the movie is set in Jordan. And then I’ve got an animated film that we’re making there which is being made in Australia that Animalogic is doing the CGI animation for. Zack Snyder is directing who you guys know from “300” and he’s got “Watchman” coming out. And I’ve got a movie that actually will wrap next Wednesday for Dreamworks called “I Love You Man” that John Hamburg wrote and is directing, that Jason Siegel and Paul Rudd are starring in. And speaking of full-frontal male nudity—because Jason just did a few shots himself in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”. Yeah, and that’s a really funny movie and we’ve had a lot of people in that from Jon Favreau to Jamie Presley to Tom Lennon to all kinds of crazy comedy people.

Lou Ferrigno I saw.

Lou Ferrigno who does…he drops Jason Siegel on the Venice boardwalk with a sleep hold—choker hold and put the sleeper hold and drops him to the boardwalk. It’s really funny. I think it’s out on YouTube. We just shot it last week. And J.K. Simmons from “Juno” plays Paul Rudd’s dad and Jane Curtain, who’s one of the comedy greats, plays his mom and Andy Sandberg is in it. We got all kinds of really funny people.

Your animated project you’re doing with Zach, is that moving forward even with how busy he is with “Watchman”?

Yes, because…well Zach’s an animal. I mean, he’s one of these guys. “Watchman” is in post-production and this being an animated film has a long lead time, you know. It won’t be out until 2010, so he’s been involved in all his spare time ‘quote unquote’ doing character design and working on the screenplay and laying down a scratch track and doing all kinds of stuff.

What sort of aesthetic does Zach Snyder bring to an animated film?

Well, you know he brings…his aesthetic ….even though it’s a movie that will be for all ages, it’s an epic story so it’s more of…you have to think more of I’ll say “Harry Potter” as a kind of feel and a tone than “Happy Feet”. So it’s an owl kingdom and it’s 2 brothers. One is evil and one is good, who go up against each other in battle. And so it’s a big kind of epic story. There’s 14 books in the series and so it’s more of that feel to it. “Lord of the Rings” might be another analogy; you know that kind of scope.

How many of the books are being adapted for this one movie?

For the first…the first 3 books will comprise what will be the first movie.

Have you cast voices yet?

No, we just laid down scratch tracks with just good character actors and we are in the process of starting to cast the real characters.

Am I wrong? Are you producing “Green Lantern”?

Yeah, it’s in development. We haven’t…we’re waiting for the first draft of the screenplay which Greg Berlanti is writing.

Is Jack Black still attached to it? He was attached to it.

No, he’s not attached to “Green Lantern”. I think that was an idea for a certain specific comedic take on it and this take that Greg Berlanti is writing is more of a classic character origin piece.

With WB being interested in kicking around this “Justice League” movie, does that affect you guys on “Green Lantern”? I mean, are you developing totally separate from that?

We’re developing totally separate from it. I’ve never read “Justice League” but we’re very well aware of it obviously and also we’re involved with DC Comics and basically our story is very much a kind of stand alone about the origin of that character and Hal Jordan becoming The Green Lantern and that’s the whole focus of our movie. I don’t think it’s that big a piece of the “Justice League”—from what I understand.

With the success of all the comic book movies, do you feel like the studio is saying, “let’s get this thing going as quick as we can” you know now that Justice League fell apart. It seems like more and more comic book movies are being made. What’s your take on all that?

You know, I think…yeah I think that as all studios…there’s a real hunger in the marketplace and audiences are really loving the ones that are well done, and I think DC being part of the Warner’s family obviously it’s a big asset for them. And it is a very much kind of right in the wheelhouse for what Warner’s does really well—big kind of global event style movies. That’s what’s the backbone of Warner’s, so they’ve got obviously “The Dark Knight” coming out this summer and yeah, so they’re eager for it and we’re working really hard to try to deliver them a good first draft.

Do you think there’s ever going to be a sequel to “The Italian Job”?

You know, we developed a script which was “The Brazilian Job” and they were all excited about the script at Paramount, and we actually budgeted it and everything and we were kind of ready to go, and then a lot of things were happening with various management changes and it got tabled. But funny you should mention it because I feel the time is right to make a call over there and say like maybe we should reconsider it now. They’ve had a good summer after all. You know, “Iron Man” and “Indy”. They should feel flush.

You’re involved with “Green Lantern”. Are there any other superhero things that you grew up with that you want to tackle or that you’re thinking about getting involved with?

That’s a good question. Nothing I can really think of off the top of my head. You know, I personally am excited about “Get Smart” because I grew up loving and watching “Get Smart”. Not a superhero, but obviously an old series that was a favorite of mine, but nothing comes to mind right now.

What kind of comedy is “I Love You Man”?

“I Love You Man” is an intelligent character comedy. I think if you look at Hamburg’s work as a writer and a director—you know both from “Meet the Parents” or “Meet the Focker’s” or “Along Came Polly”, it’s very much in that vein. And it explores and idea that I think is really interesting in a really kind of a real thing about how men make friendships and how men maintain friendships and it’s something that hasn’t really been explored. And it’s kind of an awkward kind of funny, interesting thing. And so he takes a very real honest look at that and then kind of heightens it in his way, but it’s very character based and smart.

“The Brazilian Job” it’s going to be Rio?

A part of the film…the film actually opens in Rio and there is one heist that takes place…the setup of the movie takes place in Rio and then like the remake we made of “The Italian Job” started in Venice and then moved to the United States. “The Brazilian Job” starts in Brazil, the set up is in Rio and the picture moves to Belgium where there’s something involving diamonds.

You guys made the Mini Cooper famous.


What are you going to make famous this time?

We don’t have a plan for that. That’s a good question but we got lucky with the timing.

The Smart car?

Yeah, we thought about that. That’s already kind of yesterday’s news but we got lucky with the timing of that because it was like that project had been gestating for a long time. It just so happened that it was about to be the reaper, so it all timed together. It was like one of those nice kismet things.

You’re obviously producing a lot of projects, do you find yourself trying to focus on one movie at a time or do you constantly like have 8 things on the burner because you don’t know what the studio is going to green light?

Definitely in development always a lot of irons in the fire. And I’ve never had this situation where I’ve had 2 movies shooting simultaneously, so it’s kind of a happy accident or a good problem to have. It’s not the way I like to do it. I like to be on one set and focus entirely on that; however a lot of things got shoehorned into the same funnel because of the June 30th deadline of a potential actors strike. Everybody had to get movies that were just about to go done under that wire. So it kind of forced a strange confluence of events there.

Do you think the strike will happen?

Gosh, I hope not. I don’t have a crystal ball but…I mean what do you guys hear? Anything new?

I haven’t heard a lot.

It’s quiet.

It’s been very quiet.

Negotiations are going on which is good.

Right. Exactly, which is a hopeful thing.

I wanted to ask you, you’re involved with the Ridley Scott film that comes out in October.

Exactly, yeah.

Is that…Ridley’s been known to have like the best picture. He’s been known to be the adult type of thriller. I hate like putting a best picture thing next to the film but is it that kind of a film or is it more like just…what kind of film is it I guess?

I think it is a film that is a spy thriller—a suspense thriller first and foremost, but it’s very intelligently written and it does tackle issues that are in the world today politically and socially and it’s written by Bill Monahan. You know, Russell and Leo give brilliant performances in it so I do think it could also fall into that category of being an important movie, but it doesn’t lead with that foot. Do you know what I’m saying? It doesn’t….

I know what you’re saying. I wanted to ask you, Bill’s been known to write long screenplays.


Is the length of the film one of those epic kind of 3 hour things?

Nope. In fact, it’s clocking in right now at just over 2 hours and yeah, so we’re pretty tight.

Do you see it as a beginning of a franchise?

I sure hope so. I sure hope so.

And so you’ve seen an early cut already?

Oh yeah. We’re doing a final mix right now. Scoring and all that stuff, so.

What do you see…a lot of comedies you know like the Jud Apatow comedies sometimes go over 2 hours? What do you guys think about for this? Are you thinking the 90-minute? Is it a 2 hour?

I think Jody’s always seen it more in the 90 minute to 105 as opposed to the…you know what I’m saying? I think he’s always seen it more in the slightly shorter version.

Can you talk about Jody in terms of being an up-and-coming director and he’s sort of kind of burst on the scene with his own little North Carolina group intact? Can you talk about what you see for him in the future and what makes him right for things like this?

Well, I think he’s, you know, I think he’s really a true writer/director. I mean, so far between “Footfist” and then he did the HBO pilot with Danny McBride and I’m not exactly sure, you can ask him what’s going on with that as a series, but you know, and then this piece. Very much he has I think a voice and a style and a real sensibility that he brings which I think is great and I think he very much wants to protect and maintain that. He is a really focused guy on the set and he’s really impressed me because it is a big leap from doing a movie that he made on credit cards for a couple hundred thousand dollars, you know to make a full built studio film and he’s handled it wonderfully, but he likes to retain that independent edge. I mean, he’s definitely a bit of a maverick and wants to keep his edge on things and it was very important to him and to Seth also going into this movie with Warner Brothers, you know, they were very much on the table. This is an R-rated movie, We’re going to do things that you’re probably not used to seeing and hearing. We need to be able to do it and have our process and I have to say and they were great. Jeff Robinov and Kevin and those guys, we all sat in a room and they said, “great we’re backing you guys” and we’re out here doing it and they’ve been really supportive and great.

Has it been easier at the studio with the success of R-rated comedies and the R-rated films for like a film like this? How is it like with the budget when you’re dealing with an R vs. a PG-13?

Yeah, I think you definitely have an eye out for that and we’re making this movie for a reasonable price, so it’s definitely something that gets factored into the mix.

We’re ready to get you guys into the scene.

Okay, cool. Oh, we’re right on. Well have fun guys.

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