“Harold & Kumar” creators Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg have been charged with the task of reheating the “American Pie” franchise for Universal. CLINT MORRIS chats to the filmmakers about the pros and cons of relaunching a successful film franchise, umpteen years after the release of the last film in the series.
As I said to you the other day Jon, I hate the movie…. No, no, I liked it a lot!
JH : [Laughs] I know you did. Thanks!
But I know you’ll likely run into a few journos that’ll tell you they didn’t; in fact, I’ve found that I’m usually the guy that has to come in after the guy that’s criticized the talent. Rob Schneider, I remember, said he had been attacked for how lousy “Big Stan” was just a few minutes before I spoke to him...
JH: I’m sure that went well.
Yeah. I could see the tears in his eyes. I had to console him for 20 minutes before I could start talking to him about his movie.
JH: Are any of these blunt journalists here today!?
I frigging hope not. You’ll know. You’ll know.
HS: Okay.. Okay.. I guess we will know [Laughs]
But the thing is, comedies aren’t usually critic’s movies – that’s what these kind of guys don’t seem to understand. They are ‘audience pleasers’.
HS: Yeah, this is a movie for the audience.
JH: It’s for the crowd.
HS: But you know, the thing is you would hope that the critic would appraise it by how crowd-pleasing it is.
I agree. Yeah.
HS: So for us what this movie is trying to be is a movie that a bunch of people go to see it and they laugh their ass off, you know? So does it accomplish that? That’s what’s most important.
At the same time, I know I’m not necessarily the target audience for these movies anymore either – and I have to remember that when reviewing it. You’ve got this other audience to take care of now that are no longer us guys. Times have changed too.
JH: Yeah, I think the thing for us was we were huge fans of the first American Pie, that was how we even got involved in this project, is that we were just huge fans of the original. Obviously we have experience with R-rated, or in America R-rated, crowd-pleasing comedies but it was just the fact that we loved that original so much, and when working on the script for American Pie Reunion our goal was sort of to make… Give you the kind of laughs and the kind of sensibility that you saw in the original, but the characters are now in their 30s so it can be a little bit more mature in this situation. It’s no longer just a group of kids who are all trying to get laid…
JH : But it’s interesting how the American Pie movies go beyond just comedy and it enters the realm of connecting to a generation.
I was going to say that, yeah.
HS: For example, all the actors in this movie are younger than the actors in The Hangover. In The Hangover they were in their late 30s, I think, when they were acting in that movie. And nobody said, “Oh well, The Hangover, that’s not for kids. High school, college, young kids aren’t going to be able to connect to that because they’re like almost 40.” No, I think that usually kids in high school or in college and in their teens and early 20s, they just like to laugh their ass off at outrageous shocking stuff. And I think that as long as the movie works in that capacity, young people are going to like the movie. But it’s interesting that the people who loved the first American Pie, they feel a connection to the movie where they assume that well, “People under a certain age aren’t going to be able to get this because this movie was me and my friends and I connected to this movie.” But that being said, having worked on this movie and worked on other movies, you’d be shocked that the American Pie generation really starts at a younger age. People who were ten years old when the first movie came out have a connection to these movies. It was the thing that their older brothers and sisters were really into and so we find that kids who are around 20 years old are really excited.
JH: Yeah, yeah. We had a test audience for Harold & Kumar 3 and they were talking about… The test audience went well for Harold & Kumar, and they were talking about in the focus group comparing it to other movies. And there was some 21-year-old kid talking about how, “It’s like in American Pie, which is a big movie for my generation.” I was like, “You’re 21, I’m in my 30s, it’s my generation’s movie. It’s mine. It’s our movie.”
HS: It’s a cool thing and I think for us, as I was saying earlier, it’s like they’re no longer a group of guys who are just trying to get laid. Now it’s let’s relate to them all in different… They all have different life circumstances. So it’s like, Jim, he was the sexually-frustrated guy in high school, now he’s the sexually-frustrated married guy with a kid. Stifler, he’s the guy who was the king of his high school, now he’s the guy who kind of peaked in high school and he still hasn’t changed and he longs for the days where he can just be who he was, and that’s why this reunion weekend is so much fun for him. And we’re taking each of the characters and making them sort of almost archetypes that you could think and you look back, we’re guys in our 30s, and you look back to your high school class and be like, “I could see, oh I know that guy is sort of like Chris Oz is sort of like this guy. Or… ”
Yeah. I did the same thing while I was watching the movie, you know these guys. And I think what works about your film and what worked about the first film, but not necessarily the sequels, is that you’ve got that tone of sweet and silly down pat. There’s a nice balance going on, whereas I think with the American Pie series it kind of just went… Just sweet and silly and that’s just, you know, let’s turn these guys into cartoons.
JH: Well especially for us, the third movie in particular was the one that for us, as fans, the second movie they were like money grab. “Let’s put this together.” And they did the best that they could…
HS : Yeah, exactly. They did what they could with that. The third movie was a bigger challenge because the concept had the potential to be sort of that wedding movie that your connecting with on every level, and it’s sort of like the comedy though, unfortunately, wasn’t always tied in with character or tied in with story. They fabricated, they came up with some reason to get Stifler to eat dog shit. And Stifler’s character almost became a caricature of himself.
JH: That doesn’t mean he didn’t make you laugh at points in the movie, but it was like you weren’t connecting the way you would.
HS: I think that’s one of these things as a director of a franchise and a sequel, one of the most important things is making sure that the actors are not… That the characters aren’t becoming caricatures. And it’s part of… As you’re an actor and you are in a sequel and another sequel, you know the characters so well that you almost know it too well. It’s like, “I know people want this and they want this and they want this.” And suddenly you’re just doing Stifler, you’re not being Stifler.
Yeah. They become lines and not a person, basically.
Yeah and that’s what I think with Stifler, particularly in the third film.
JH: Yeah. I think it’s one of those things where because… Especially those movies also got made one after another after another, and I think that they’re just trying to figure out what to do. And I think that one of the things that was great about this film is a lot of time has passed and now it’s easier to make it where Stifler has changed over a period of time. That, yes he still is that guy but now we see his life circumstances. One of the things that was important to us was you want to hit the old beats here and there, but you really want to make sure that you’re having the audience see these characters in a different light. So for us it was like, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if we actually get the audience to be emotionally invested in Stifler and feel bad for Stifler?” When he walks into that bar and all of his friends are having a good time and no one called him, you feel sad for him and you’ve seen him at work… And so it’s like that. And then the other fun that we had was new pairings. It’s like making it where Jim’s dad… One of the first things we said was, “Let’s kill off Jim’s mom.” It was like…
So that wasn’t like… Because I thought, “Oh this is a casting hiccup and you…
JH : No, no this was the very first thing…We got together and we were like, “Let’s kill off the mom.” And we’re like, “Okay. That doesn’t sound like a funny gag.
HS: That’s not. Definitely.
JH: It came from two places. One, we knew that in order for the movie to work it had to feel like you’re dealing with more mature themes. That doesn’t mean the movie needs to be mature but the idea is that as you get older… You have a wide group of actors, of characters in this movie, and as they get older there needs to be some sort of tragedy like that because it’s just relatable. By the time you’re in your 30s you know somebody that’s close to you that’s either passed away, or your parents just got divorced, or something like that and we wanted to add that in there. But what it also does it gives a sentimentality to Jim’s dad and that character in the movie but it also frees him to be a single guy now in his 60s, and to do things that he wasn’t able to do in the first movie. And we really feel like Eugene Levy was amazing in the first American Pie, but if you look at the sequels it was really doing the same thing. And this is a chance for him to be one of the guys, part of the group more.
HS: He’s part of the group and then you get to do things like, Jim’s dad and Stifler are now a duo for a period of time in the movie and you get to have that dynamic, and obviously Jim’s dad and Stifler’s mom. Eugene Levy and Jennifer Coolidge, they’ve worked together before many times with Christopher Guest, yet those two characters have never been together and we thought there would be magic if you put them together.
And it works, yeah. In terms of the brand, as you know I have done some work with Capital Arts who did the spin-off films, and one of them kind of worked but the rest no one’s really that pleased as punch about them. They’re just not… “Yeah, they made some money. Move on. Next.” Did they hurt the brand, in your opinion?
JH: I don’t know. I think that for us we understood the difference. I wouldn’t say it tremendously helped the brand, it made the studio money, but… And to be fair to those movies, there is millions of people who have seen them. I don’t think there is a lot of people out there saying that, “Oh, The Naked Mile is the best of all the movies.” But there is a lot of people out there that bought it.
Well that’s the thing, they keep renting so within two months we’d be like, “There’s another one coming…”
JH: Yeah, and the thing is in terms of helping or hurting the brand, I think that it was our job, as when we were bringing the original cast back together, to make sure that this movie was good. To make sure that this movie… If there is any uphill battle is that making sure that film-goers know that everybody is back from the original movie, and not only that but it has captured the vibe and the tone of that first movie. Like you said, even the theatrical sequels didn’t work as well for you, but the hope is that this movie works the way the first movie worked but at a more adult level.
It does. It does, yeah
JH: And that’s really just getting that sentiment across is what we are all doing.
Yeah. Exactly. In terms of those spin-offs, though, did you look at them? Chris Owen’s character is the principle in “Band Camp”…
JH: As we were huge fans of the movie when the first one came out, I was curious and so we saw that.
HS: We saw Band Camp.
JH: We saw Band Camp and it wasn’t the worst thing in the world, but it was also not American Pie. Quickly after that, I realized I don’t need to see the other ones because it’s not giving me… You know what it is? It’s like when you’re addicted to a certain drug and they water it down. It’s oregano, it’s not marijuana.
No, believe me, Band Camp was good. You know what I mean? When you go and look at the others…
JH: I remember thinking it was a confident movie. It was they did the best that they could without having the original cast. But that wasn’t… I didn’t fall in love with those characters. I fell in love with the original characters, and that’s who we like to see.
How hard was it to convince everyone to come back for “Reunion”?
JH: I think it was, the sense that we had when we initially got hired was that they had put some feelers out and there was an open-mindedness amongst the cast members. And so it was our job to deliver a script that would make it really worth everyone’s time to come back. And for us as fans, by the time they got to American Wedding, for example, we as fans were upset that Oz isn’t there and Oz is not at the wedding. And wait, Kevin’s there but I feel bad for Kevin. I feel bad for Thomas Ian Nicholas as an actor because he’s sort of sitting in these scenes, he has nothing to do and so our attitude was sort of, “When we’re writing the script it’s going to be like the original movie. It’s a true ensemble again. Yes, Jim and Michelle are a little bit at the forefront, as Jim always has been to some degree. But everybody needs to have their own story line and we need to be tracking their story line.” And the great thing about the reunion concept is that there’s a huge amount of people who have already seen these characters when they were in high school, so you know their frame of reference, you know the things that were important to them in high school and who they were. And now, you get to figure out who they are now and they’re in this weekend where it’s only natural to reflect upon high school.
Yeah, I totally agree. And if the truth of Bill Murray shredded the script I wouldn’t complain. [laughter]
JH : That son of a bitch.
But there was no one that you didn’t get back?
JH :The only guy that we made a play for that we were hoping to get that didn’t come back was Casey Affleck, played Kevin’s older brother. But the truth is, it became sort of impractical during the shoot, and then the scene that he would have been in, we did something else with it and it worked really well. So there’s no real regrets.
And, of course, Casey is one of the most in-demand actors around today anyways. I mean, wow, of anyone in the American Pie cast and it’s amazing.
JH : It is. Damn Afflecks.
Have you decided that this is going to be the starting chapter of a new American Pie franchise? Or…
JH : I think for us, we just looked at this as one movie. This is a high school reunion movie that John and I could connect with because we’re of the age of those characters. And we know, of course, we think all the time about could there be a sequel to a movie?
HS: We kind of left it open with that question.
JH: We’re the kinds of guys, we fall in love with the characters that we’re working with. So we enjoy doing more movies with them. We’ve also learned from our experiences not to think too far ahead when it comes to things. You wait to see how the movie comes out, how people respond to it, if the studio wants to do another one. If the studio wants to do another one, then it’s something that we’ll talk about seriously, because we had such a great time in every phase of the process on this movie. From the script phase to getting to know all these actors and the shoot, it was a reunion for them. It was for a group of people who really had a fun time being back together again and it was cool to be a part of it.
HS: The one thing I could say is, if we were to do another American Pie movie, for us, we would need to believe that there’s a real reason for it. And that it’s not just, “Okay, they are paying us this amount of money and we’ll just find a way to do it.” The reason that American Pie worked, and the reason why American Pie Reunion works is because there’s a story that people can really connect with. And believe me, if Universal wants to pay us a lot of money, we’ll rack our brains to think of what that story is but we won’t do it unless we can, because that’s how we generate a lot of our deals.
That’s sort of like our attitude with the Harold and Kumar movies, is we love each of the Harold and Kumar movies as an individual movie, and we like how they all tie together. But with Harold and Kumar, we feel like the first movie, it’s just sort of two young guys on a road trip, a crazy road trip about something so minor and so small. The second movie is just a weird balls-to-the-wall political satire on the war on terror. And the third movie is a warm and fuzzy, 3D Christmas movie. And it’s like that’s what we loved about the Harold and Kumar…
I thought that that was great, by the way.
JH: Yeah, thank you. I’m glad. Our attitude is like, we love each of those movies for different reasons, and we were inspired by each of them. And when it comes to this, it’s like we love these characters. We’d have to get inspired that way, be like, “You know what, I’d love to see these guys doing this.
HS: The thing is there’s just a lot of characters and since it’s rooted in character, the movie, as they get older, there’s different life experiences and areas of life and comedy that you can explore. As opposed to, I’m just saying a comedy like Austin Powers where all the jokes are kind of coming from one source.
Yeah, on top of that, that’s all about the gags, where as this is…
JH: You couldn’t relate to Austin Powers? [Laughs]
HS: No, exactly. The point being that’s all about the gags. It’s about the character, the comedy. Where this is about first and foremost it’s the story and then you go with the comedy on the table.
And that’s the thing. And just want to remind us of that, that these guys are people and I think that’s what I liked about it, too. You actually gave a shit again.
JH: Yeah exactly.
HS: There you go, that’s exactly it. That was the thought.
JH: And really, we don’t profess to be like Shakespeare, when it comes to this stuff. The real meat and potatoes of what we do is make people laugh and have outrageous scenes. But there’s a lot of comedies out there that do that. If you could actually do it while giving a shit about the characters, then you’ll connect with the movie on a deeper level and it’s overall just a better experience.
And in terms of other company franchises out there, say Stakeout or Police Academy, or [Laughs] Iron Eagle, would you guys like to get into something else and try and breathe new life into it? Is something out there…
JH: It depends. If something, first of all, whenever we’re coming up with our own original ideas, often times there are things where we’re like, on our second day of workout “Oh! And the sequel can be called this!” We’re all on our own. We’re naturally, we fall in love with the characters and the concepts. We don’t have that specific old franchise that we’re dying to bring back.
HS: Yeah, but we don’t have that old franchise.
JH : ….we’re going to reboot the Star Wars prequels [Laughs]
HS: Yeah. [chuckle]
JH: I’d love to actually do a Star Wars movie without George Lucas getting involved. [chuckle] That’s funny because you were joking about Ghostbusters, but that’s the kind of movie that we loved the original and we think it’s time for another Ghostbusters kind of movie. That’s the kind of franchise that’s intriguing to us.
HS: I don’t think there’s going to be a day when the Spielbergs and the Zemeckises are no longer in charge. Whether they’re really old and past their prime and all of their movies…
JH : And we want Back to the Future, just come out and say it.
HS : I mean, the bottom line is, I wouldn’t want to do it now because people would be like, “Oh, there’s no way it will be as good as the original.” But 30 years from now when Spielberg’s like 90 and those guys are kind of on their way out, and those movies just look really old because we’re watching movies that are old, literally in two dimensions or something, it would be great to have all these classics that you’re able to remake.
Back to the Future, and I don’t know if you’re serious, if you’d like to do that or not..but I love that series. I long for… something else in that world.
JH : That’s our favorite trilogy.
I represent Claudia Wells, by the way via my PR firm.
JH : That’s crazy!
And we’re always having this conversation.
JH: Well the truth is, The Back to the Future movies are… I think, are… There’s an influence in this movie and the Harold and Kumar movies in the sense that I remember, we both remember loving Back to the Future, and the second one coming out, and just feeling the excitement of seeing it, and people can debate and argue how good it is and everything but that’s what I love about franchises and sequels is, “Oh my God, it’s coming out.” So for us American Pie Reunion, it’s… If it’s a fraction of the excitement of what that was, that’s the kind of movie going experience that we like, we like to try to get.
HS: The other franchise we talked about is Major League. That’s one of those ones where whether it was like we talked about it as a TV show, but with the original cast members but new cast members. We know exactly what we would do if there was a Major League, and if we were put in charge of doing a Major League TV show, we’d know how to incorporate Berenger and Sheen and all these characters in a way that you would love, but also we have ideas for new characters. That’s just one of those things we’ll occasionally joke around like we’re huge fans of baseball and sports in general and that’s one of those random thoughts.
I love it. I love… Well I don’t love the sequel, but I love the first one.
HS: No, the first one.
I was talking to David Ward, the chap in-charge of the Major League movies and he’s already written the third one and he’s been trying to get Morgan Creek to bankroll it but no dice, largely because Berenger, Sheen and Bernsen aren’t huge names these days…
HS: Well, hopefully when they see that we’ve worked with, like actors that hadn’t been in a movie in years and they’re back together…… If we could make a movie like that.
Yeah, that’s exactly the thing though, it is sad that, in some respect, that’s kind of how… Besides ”American Reunion”… Hollywood operates now, it’s so… star driven. When we were shopping around “Radio America” to production companies, one guy said to us, “Has it got special effects and has it got Seth Rogen?” And we say, “No, of course not.” They go, “But that’s what it comes down to.” Really.
JH: It does. It really does it has it’s challenges, but a brand, a successful brand, if there’s a new re-imagining of it that is really well executed, then you could potentially get a studio behind it.
Yeah. What’s your take from the whole reboot though? Reboot versus a sequel? Because…
JH: I’d rather a sequel.
HS: I personally would far rather a sequel, unless it’s something that is so old that the general movie going public hasn’t really seen the movie, and then you could consider it a reboot.
JH : I mean like Dark Knight, or rather the Batman, Christopher Nolan…
HS: That’s a rare… To me a rare occurrence.
JH: Well I guess you use it when somebody ruins the franchise. For example, the Superman movie it just didn’t connect with audiences. You wouldn’t do a sequel to the Bryan Singer version, you need to reinvent it. Our take on it is just that, don’t blame Hollywood for recent trends because it’s always been that way. They’ve always tried to make sequels, remakes. It has always…
HS : There have been like six versions of Brewster’s Millions and four or five of them were pre-1930 or pre-1940. It’s like, forever people have been rebooting, redoing, remaking sequels and it’s weird because there is all this negativity towards sequels, or reboots when it’s just been happening this entire time.
JH: Listen. Let me just say, I can’t stand that there was a new Karate Kid.
You got the jab in about it in A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas!
JH: Yes exactly.
HS: Well that was for us, that was a great movie generational joke. When you had… Kumar is like, “What Karate Kid are you talking about?” And there’s this little punk who’s like, “There’s only one Karate Kid, it’s just Jackie Chan, my man Jaden Smith.” And we’re like, “Fuck that kid. Fuck that generation.” Yet the reality is they’re like, “Fuck you, that other movie’s old-looking. I wouldn’t wanna watch.” [laughter] So it’s just a great… It’s just a reality of life.
And so you think “Back to the Future” will be remade sometime too?
JH :The problem is 2015 [in “BTTF II”], that’s why I feel it is inevitably going to be remade because it is dependent on time periods that people won’t connect with. It’s the perfect movie to remake, but it’s so loved by a generation that is still with it and going to be with it. You brought up Karate Kid. My college roommate wrote Hot Tub Time Machine, and when they were doing a re-shoot they got William Zabka in there and we got to meet Zabka on set. And it’s like, all of us, we’ve talked to Zabka about it, about the remake. So I think that he just has the right attitude about it, it’s one of those things that, you know…At the core he knows that his Karate Kid is special to a lot of people, but you just got to accept it.
That’s like my four-year-old. She would rather watch the Star Wars prequels over the old ones. It’s all “Missa trade federation Missa Anakin Missa Missa…” or nothing
JH: Well, that’s just, she’s just wrong [Laughs]
I know she is. And I tell her that. I tell her. I’m constantly reminding her, “This isn’t right, we’re not watching this – we’re going to Dagobah to see Jedi Master Yoda, not to hear what the Chancellor has to say at the Senate”…
JH : You’re protecting her…
It’s sad. Guys, thanks so much, but just two words, while on the subject of remakes : 18 Again
JH : Nice, that’s one to think about. That’s a good one. Who could do the George Burns part though?
You already have him – Mr Eugene Levy.
“American Pie : Reunion” commences Thursday