Exclusive Interview : John Whitesell


Talks to Clint about the “Deck the Halls” DVD and “Meatballs” remake!

John Whitesell is only too happy to talk about his latest DVD release – not only because he’s darn proud of how the film turned out, but because, quite frankly, he’s got nothing else to do.

With the writer’s strike in full affect, it’s been ‘pens down’ for the filmmaker – whose credits include – for a couple of weeks now, and there’s no indication when he’ll be able to pick up his biro again.

“Everything’s stalled”, Whitesell, director of the new comedy ”Deck the Halls”, says in a phone interview from Los Angeles. “Its affecting me in a very big way. When you have great scripts that are nearly ready to go, but actors won’t commit to any of them, it’s frustrating.”

Whitesell, who made his film debut on 1993’s ”Calendar Girl” (starring 90210’s Jason Priestley), suffered through the last writer’s strike too. “It was a little more fractured back then – you didn’t have the actors and directors supporting the writers as much as you do now. They’re right in there together now.”

On a more happier note, Whitesell’s latest DVD is selling like hot cakes.

“I went into the store to see how it was going … and they were sold out!”.

A Christmas movie starring Matthew Broderick and Danny DeVito, ”Deck the Halls” tells of two neighbors who have it out after one of them decorates his house for the holidays so brightly that it can be seen from space!

“I had just finished Big Momma’s House 2, and that film’s writer Don Rhymer asked me whether I wanted to have a look at a Christmas movie they were doing”, explains the director. “The script needed some work at that stage, and they were quite aware of that, but wanted to know whether I’d be willing to jump in. I came in about a week later and agreed to do it. At that stage, there was about 80 pages to the script, and though that was enough to work with, we worked on adding more. And then, of course, we had to try and get some stars attached”.

Getting actors attached to anything is never easy, says the filmmaker, who cut his teeth working on TV shows like ”Law and Order”.

“We went out to Danny DeVito first, and he was the first to commit. I then flew to New York to meet with Matthew Broderick. At the time he had just finished The Odd Couple on stage and planned on spending the Summer with his son, so didn’t really want to work. We were able to persuade him though.”

Kristin Davis, of ”Sex and the City” fame, was the “first person we saw” for the part of Broderick’s long-suffering wife in the film, says Whitesell, and was so “perfect” that she was immediately cast.

Of the cast, DeVito is probably the most experienced – having also produced (he owns the Jersey Films shingle) and directed. Never did he try and take over the production though.

“No, he is great”, says Whitesell. “He only offers to help. He knows what he’s doing, and knows what’s going on. I now consider him a good friend”.

Whitesell, who counts ”The Grinch” and ”A Christmas Carol” among his favourite Christmas movies, filmed the flick in Vancouver – because, back then, they could save a little bit more money.

“Now, as you’re probably realizing in Australia, the dollar is getting a lot closer there to the American dollar so it’s not as cost effective to shoot in Vancouver anymore. You’re starting to see a lot of productions come back to Hollywood.”

It’s too early to say where Whitesell’s next movie, a remake of the comedy ”Meatballs”, will shoot – because the strike has halted the project for the moment.

“We were working on that – and a film I’m doing with comedian Kat Williams – before the strike hit. We have a script, and were just figuring out what the tone should be for the movie, and whether it’s quite ready to go. Now, it’s stalled”.

Whitesell jumped aboard the remake because he “loved [the original] as a kid. I went to Summer Camp, like a lot of kids did, and it was great – One Nature. On your Own. Its very Lord of the Flies.”

The remake, says Whitesell, isn’t so much a remake – yippee! – as it is a sequel.

“Bill Murray’s character now owns the camp. He’s not like he used to be – he’s changed; he doesn’t let kids do what they used to be able to do because he fears those things are ‘too dangerous’.”

And though he knows they’re going to have their work cut out for them trying to convince him to do it, Whitesell is hoping Murray agrees to reprise the role.

“Lets put it this way – when we’re ready, he gets the first offer. That first movie is Murray. I’d love him to come back”.

There’s also talk of a ”Big Momma’s House 3” says Whitesell – who says Malibu’s Most Wanted is his favourite of the films he’s directed – but when he last saw the script it “wasn’t quite ready”.

Until he can re-ink his typewriter ribbon, Whitesell’s just going to keep on watching the sales figures for the ”Deck the Halls” DVD. From the sounds of it, it might just finance the whole strike period for him.