Interview : Steve Rash


The director of “American Pie : Band Camp”

JOHN MILLAR recently had the chance to sit down with Steve Rash, director of the outrageous “American Pie : Band Camp”, now on DVD.

Q: Were you a fan of the original movies?
A: I was a fan of the first one. Actually I went to see the first one more out of a sense of duty than anything else, because I did not expect to like it. I was surprised that I did like it. What surprised me most was the blend of unacceptable behaviour with a sort of odd morality underlying it, and there was a range of emotion in that film that I did not expect. In addition to all the scandalous, teenage boy behaviour, brief nudity and all of the language and sexual innuendo etc, underlying that was what I would call a very simple, little morality play about young men trying to find their way in the world and fixated on sex but not knowing completely what it was – and in the process of discovering what sex is all about, they discovered something about themselves. And I thought that was a universal truth that has probably been true for 50,000 years of human development. It was probably the same dynamic in the caveman days…and will probably be the same dynamic 100,000 years from now. That was a surprise to me and I liked the movie. When I read Band Camp I saw in it what I had been so pleasantly surprised to see in the first American Pie.

Q: Why did you want to continue the series with Band Camp?
A: I thought there was an opportunity to make a very definite turn in the franchise. I thought the second and third instalments had pretty well developed and exhausted the potential of that particular frame of mind. For the franchise to continue it needed to be reborn in a way, so that it’s not yet another example of the same things that we have seen before. I thought there was an opportunity to bring it to a new generation of kids – both on screen and in the audience. It was a challenge for me to make a mark on the franchise and hopefully to give it a new life for several more.

Q: Was surrounding yourself with a largely new cast a big part of breathing new life into the franchise?
A: I enjoy working with young people. I keep rediscovering that, and this time I promise not to forget it. I had forgotten how much fun it is to work with fresh young actors because they haven’t had time to develop any bad habits. They are so totally open to direction, they want so much to be good in their craft. They want to learn.

Q: What did you see in Tad?
A: When Tad came into audition I could see that he had a lot of native talent. But he didn’t look or behave anything like Stifler. After the first audition I took him aside and I said ‘Tad, I can see that you have got talent. But you need to rent the other movies and study Steve Stifler, as his little brother did his entire life. The little brother has copied his older brother – but that’s not who he really is.’ So I said I was going to call him back but he needed to return as Steve Stifler’s little brother. When Tad came back a week later he was the character that you see on screen. And that is not Tad, Tad is so not that guy. I just love what he did. Before we started shooting I told him he couldn’t watch himself; he had to do what his soul and instincts told him to do and to be willing to take it over the top. I would tell him when it was too far. He had to let me pull him back and not try to decide how far he should go. A few times I did pull him back but for the most part what he did worked.

Q: How do you walk the tight rope of broad comedy and little bits of nudity?
A: I don’t believe in reality on screen because reality is sort of boring. But while I do believe that behaviour on screen doesn’t have to be real, it does have to be natural. It must seem to spring out of human comedy. And as long as I believe that a human would do this, then as far as I’m concerned that’s not too far.

Q: Why did you decide to cast Arielle?
A: Arielle is talented and an extraordinary human being. She has so much life in her and it bubbles out in every way at all times. I just adore, love, love watching her and I think she’s going to be a big star. Yes she is talented but what will make her a big star is her character, she is an extraordinary human being. I love being around her and I think the audience likes watching her.

Q: How did the scene when Tad plays the bagpipes come about?
A: The challenge was to make it believable and at the same time make it unbelievable. How could he possibly pull this off! But there is an underlying rationale…the kilt was made from the bedroom curtains in his dorm room. That scene was Tad’s first day in front of a camera. He arrived only weeks before his home town, we cast him, rehearsed and I said we would start with the hardest thing…the bagpipes scene. He walked out there and he did it.

Q: What was working with Eugene Levy like?
A: He is exactly who you hope he is. I think Eugene saw in the character a continuance of his role that was credible enough. The character has always fancied himself as an expert in talking to teenagers when he is actually the absolute worst. He could see that this might be fun and so he jumped in and he was a delight to work with.

Q: What about the fantasy sequence?
A: While we were shooting other scenes we had a green screen set up in one of the rooms and we took an entire day to shoot the foreground. Originally it was intended to be a fantasy with the background of the swimming pool and then we decided that was a little too literal and it needed to be more of an adolescent bizarre fantasy and that is how we decided on the backgrounds of flowers.

Q: Why are band camps so popular in the States?
A: It is an old part of the culture. I went to band camp when I was in high school. I played trombone during marching season and baritone in concert season. I continued through high school and into college. I was in the Texas Longhorn Band. The cheerleading is what has changed most dramatically. The rest of the spectacle is relatively unchanged since the 1930s.

Q: American Pie is a guy kind of comedy so what’s in it for girls?
A: There is a boy/girl story that is valid. Then the character turn that Matt Stifler must make to honour his affection for this girl has enough substance and despite all the outrageous language and behaviour there is a story that is true. Girls will forgive some of the salacious behaviour because it is comforting for them to realise that even in the most outrageous young man, there beats a heart that is true.

Q: Are you a fan of the DVD revolution?
A: I believe that DVD is the future of visual entertainment. Even now theatrical releases have become little more than commercials for the DVD. In the States DVD revenue has already outstripped theatrical revenue and within the next five years it is largely believed that DVD will become almost the preferred medium for release. In the meantime there will be a period when there are simultaneous releases of material on DVD and theatrical. It is quite clear to me that the audience is going to demand, and be entitled to see the picture in the form they choose, rather than have it spoon fed to them…you have to go the theatre and wait six months before you see it on demand and then you can buy it on DVD…that’s old marketing which is on the way out. So I am moving into the DVD world because I want to learn what I need to know in order to do the best possible job making material for that medium. For Band Camp – rather than do the standard value added fare – this has a lot of interesting, new approaches to value added material. Like the robot which was filmed to show what it saw. We also gave the cast mini DVD cameras and they did their own guerilla documentaries. That’s fun.

Q: Are you a DVD collector?
A: I have some classics like The Philadelphia Story which you can watch many times and never get tired of it. Another in my collection is Chinatown.