Director Todd Phillips On Set Interview – THE HANGOVER

     April 27, 2009

Written by Steve ‘Frosty’ Weintraub

Opening this June is a comedy that looks great. It’s called “The Hangover” and it was directed by Todd Phillips (“Old School”). The premise is it’s a bachelor party gone horribly wrong.

The film is about a group of friends – Bradley Cooper, Justin Bartha, Zach Galifianakis and Ed Helms – who go to Caesars Palace in Las Vegas for Justin’s bachelor party and everything goes wrong. It ends up the group parties too hard, and when they wake up the next morning, they can’t remember a thing. Their posh hotel suite is trashed and the groom is nowhere to be found. With no clue of what happened and little time to spare, the trio attempt to retrace their bad decisions from the night before in order to figure out where things went wrong and hopefully get Justin back to L.A. in time for his wedding. However, the more they begin to uncover, the more they realize just how much trouble they’re really in.

And if you’re thinking this is going to be some stale and safe Vegas movie, it’s rated R, and I’ve heard from friends that have seen it that it’s great. But while I could go on and on about how much I’m looking forward to “The Hangover”, watch this trailer and then tell me you aren’t excited to check it out.

Anyhow, last year when they were filming in Vegas, I was invited – along with a few other online journalists – to the set of “The Hangover” to watch some filming and interview the cast. If you missed my set report you can read it here.

So while we were there we got to speak with the cast and the interview below is with director Todd Phillips. During our quick interview Todd talked about what appealed to him about the story, digital filmmaking versus film, cameos, how much easier it is to make a comedy when it’s going to be rated R and a lot more.

As always, you can either read the transcript below or listen to the audio by clicking here. “The Hangover” opens June 5th at theaters everywhere.

TP: That’s nice, you guys get to come in Vegas and hang.

We’ve been seeing these humongous crowds of people stopping, gawking, taking pictures, taking video. It seems like filming in this kind of live environment must be kind of difficult. What’s your experience been like?

TP: Yeah. Actually, people have been really good. It looks harder than it is. People stay back. People stay quiet in a weird way. They’re respectful when we say “roll camera,” as much as they should be. It actually hasn’t been that hard. And Caesar’s Palace has been so great to work with that it hasn’t been that bad. I mean it’s a little bit annoying I think for the actors but this kind of comes with the territory. We’re shutting down their only valet area so it’s a big deal.

What was it that appealed to you about this story?

TP: I just love stories—you might know from my other movies that are sort of centered around male friendships and going through something ridiculous and a bizarre situation and this seemed like a fun kind of way to test characters and put them through the paces. These movies are so much about casting. Old School is about casting, Starsky was about it, all the movies I’ve really done is about getting the right cast together. So for me I always loved Zack and Ed Helms. And I knew Bradley Cooper but I was a huge fan of Zack to begin with and I felt like he’d been in movies and hadn’t really been used correctly in movies and not really had a part where he could shine. So I had been looking for something in my head for Zack and Ed Helms the same way. So for me, I get really excited about the casting possibilities then, let’s just say, what the specifics or machinations of the story are. That said, I really like what we’re doing here.

Both Zack and Ed talked about the amount of improvisation and you talking about how you like them, how much do you rein them in to make sure that they stay authentic to their character and how much freedom do you give them?

TP: You know, again, I did Road Trip and Old School and all those guys—and everybody I worked with likes to improv to some extent, so I think any comedy director that’s any good at it certainly allows for that. And I think it’s up to the director and the actors to figure out if the improving fits the character. And that happens even before we start rolling. We figure out who the character is, and then ideally you have smart guys like Zack and Ed and Bradley and Justin and the improv they’re doing 90% of the time fits the character. Will (Ferrell) did it on Old School. What I generally like to do is: we shoot the scene as is, like you might’ve seen this morning and then we kind of just fuck around a little and do some free ones and try other stuff.

Do you find it freeing to know in advance that you have an R rating?

TP: Yes! Yeah it really is. It just enables me to do the stuff that’s more in my line of taste, as far as comedy goes and certainly you get a guy like Zack Galifianakis and it’d be tough to do a PG-13 movie and still let him go. Part of what makes Zack great is his inhibition and his inability to edit himself, if that makes sense. (laughs) And a lot of times that veers into R rated territory.

We know you have a few stunts in this movie, so what’s the most complicated one you shot so far or what’s the one that’s coming up that is the most daunting?

TP: None of them are too daunting. Not to talk about my movies but it’s my only experience. Having done Starsky & Hutch, we did a fair amount of stunts. Nothing in this movie outweighs the stunts in that, so the stunts we have are all in the name of comedy. It’s not like there’s crazy stunts, huge car chases for no reason. If there’s a car moment it’s about comedy or certainly about story. So there’s nothing too daunting, we have one coming up this week where there’s a little bit of car stuff and driving through a bus stop and stuff like that. I like doing that stuff actually, it’s fun. We did a car crash the other night on Fremont street that I guess was daunting but we had a great time with it.

What about the tiger? What’s it like working with the tiger?

TP: We haven’t worked with him yet. Yeah, I’m not looking forward to that. (laughs) That I’m not looking forward to.

So there’s been a recent, bunch of Vegas movies where crazy things happen. How do you make sure that your movie has stuff that’s still fresh and different?

TP: Well, I’m familiar with movies that took place in Vegas but I think this one has some pretty crazy stuff that’s never happened. I don’t think it has much to do with Vegas as again it’s the situation of what we’re doing here. Vegas is the backdrop. It’s not so much about Vegas as it is about these three guys being put through the paces. It could’ve happened in New York. Love being here and all that. Hopefully, it’s not Vegas that’ll define the movie.

Got any cameo surprises in store for us?

TP: Yeah, we got some surprises I’d like to keep as a surprise. (laughs) Yeah, we do, we have a couple good ones.

We’ve been here a day and we’re pretty tired. How’re you guys holding up after being here a month?

TP: It’s a dark place, we’ve already lost a few crew members to Vegas. (laughs) Not dead but

Lost to the dark side.

TP: Yeah, it’s a hard thing to balance that and shooting a movie. I’m not going to lie to you. It is exhausting. I’m excited to get back to L.A.

You’re shooting this obviously on film, so as a filmmaker have you ever thought about going into the digital realm of HD?

TP: I’ve done some things on HD. I’ve done some commercial things. I’ve done some projects on HD. For this, there was no benefit to it. I mean, it’s still not financially, necessarily a benefit to shoot HD. It really is a filmmaker’s choice. We’re still doing our dailies on HD and all that stuff, so it’s not that big of a leap. I just love the look of film. But I have nothing against HD. This just wasn’t a movie that called for it. Generally, if it’s super, super low budget I guess it makes sense because you can shoot a ton and I guess effects movies it makes sense. For this kind of thing, it doesn’t make sense for us. I actually went and met with Steven Soderbergh on the set of The Informant because he was shooting the Red Cam. And it was really an amazing experience for me because he like to took an hour away from his day and showing it to me and showing me footage and walking me through stuff. He’s really been pushing that Red Cam. We were thinking about shooting that on this for a little bit. I would do it if I were as great a filmmaker as him in that, if I could operate and do everything he does–you know he does everything—to then get somebody to shoot that Red Cam that hasn’t done it before. He’s just more confident than anybody in his own knowledge. I don’t operate and that kind of stuff, so after I saw it I go, “let me wait a movie or two before I would try that.”

Was the footage on the Red Cam as good as everyone talks about?

TP: Yeah. I mean, you know his movies are his movies. It’s hard to judge when you see a Steven Soderbergh thing because he knows exactly what he wants and he’ll make whatever camera he uses give him exactly that, so you know the footage looks exactly the way he wanted and it looked beautiful. I mean all his movies look beautiful. So it’s a hard thing—it confused me more actually after meeting with him. I asked him to shoot it. (laughs) I did! I said, “How about you shoot it then I’ll use the Red Cam.” He’s like, “You know if I didn’t have this, it would be fun to just go on a set and just be a DP and not have to talk and deal with the acting part of it. When actor comes to you and asks what their motivation is, I’ll just go, ‘I’ll be in craft service.’”

You talk about this theme that runs current through your movies of this sort of fraternal bond between guys. Is that something that you consciously pursue?

TP: I think it’s a thing I’ll always gravitate towards, I was raised by three women. I never had a ton of male friends and it’s always been something that’s really interesting to me, what brings guys together? The bonding. Old School is a good example of that. And even Starsky and even Road Trip. Yeah, it’s always something I’ve been interested in. I think that’s what it is. I never had a father, there. I’m just kidding. (laughs)

And for more interviews from the set of “The Hangover”, just click on the links:

Bradley Cooper

Justin Bartha

Zach Galifianakis

Ed Helms

Latest News