Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, the writing duo who brought us The Hangover, make their directing debut in the outrageous comedy 21 and Over opening March 1st. When straight-A college student Jeff Chang’s two friends Casey (Skylar Astin) and Miller (Miles Teller) pay him a surprise visit for his 21st birthday, what was supposed to be one beer becomes one night of chaos, over indulgence and utter debauchery just before a critical medical school interview the next morning.
At the Saddle Back Chop House on the Sunset Strip, Lucas and Moore sat down for a roundtable interview about the fun and challenges of co-directing their first feature, bringing to life an epic quest movie that’s also a drinking comedy, divvying up the directing chores, nailing the lingo of a 21-year-old, finding the perfect cast, balancing the outlandish humor, taking the stunts as far as they could go, not panicking when one lead drove over the other lead in a golf cart, and handling a complicated night shoot involving a pep rally with 500 kids, fire, a live buffalo and a drawstring bear on a penis. They also discussed shooting their new comedy pilot, Mixology, with Larry Charles directing. Hit the jump to read more.
Jon Lucas: When we write it? There’s a little involved. We try to stay sober. I will say writing with a couple of drinks in you is awesome because you think all it does is boost your confidence, and so you’re like, “Oh my God, I’m firing. This is awesome. I’m crushing it.” It’s like all drinking, the next day you read what you wrote and you’re like, “Ugh, that’s a total waste. It’s all garbage.” But we wrote it relatively sober and I think we were pretty sober on set. I’m not entirely sure. Sometimes I feel like the stories the guys tell us and the stories they tell you guys are probably a little different.
No, based on the stories they’ve been telling us, we have a consensus as to what was going on, on set.
Lucas: I think they had fun. Look, it’s a comedy. You want them having fun. You don’t want to run an uptight set and we definitely did not do that.
Scott Moore: Yeah, and they have the constitution to do that, too. They’re all in their early twenties, and we would shoot all day, and Jon would be like, “I’m going to bed.” They would go out and party and they’d show up the next day and they’re raring to go. We got a full 8 hours and we’re still exhausted.
Lucas: Yeah. We were dragging.
How do the two of you divide up the jobs when you’re co-directing? What’s your style?
Lucas: Seamless movement would not be terms anyone would use to describe our directing style. Fumbling to avoid failure is probably pretty much our ethos. This is our first time directing anything ever so it was all about both of us learning.
Moore: We were sort of learning as we go. We didn’t actually sit down and go, “Okay, you’re going to do this. I’m going to do that.” Every time we’d show up, it’d be like, “Okay, what are we doing today?” Someone explain this to us. It was pretty free form. We have been working together for 13 years so there is a shorthand and occasionally finishing each other’s sentences. I think we attacked each task in the same way. If there was a performance and you hated it, you would speak up. If you were like, “I don’t know. What do you want to do?”, then the other guy would talk.
Lucas: The hardest part, I think, in directing is you can’t have no answer. You have to either say it’s good or it’s bad. We talk about it being like a sport umpire. You can’t just be like, “I don’t know if it’s a strike.” You have to either call it one way or the other, and that indecision is what gets you killed because your crew is all looking at you and you can’t just shrug. The nice thing about having two people is you double the odds that someone has a mildly intelligent thing to say at any given moment.
During the process, did you find any particular areas that you gravitated towards or were more adept at?
Lucas: Sure. We both liked doing all of it. I will say personally, I loved working with the actors. I get a real kick. You’ve met them. I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to hang out with those guys. They’re so fun. It’s like hanging out with your friends and trying to make good jokes. You’re trying to top your jokes and have a good time with it. To me, I love that part of it.
You go pretty far in this film but you manage to keep the humor in it. How did you guys find the balance?
Lucas: I’m so glad you thought we found the balance. That’s awesome. Truthfully, we show the movie to a lot of people. That’s actually the best thing about comedy is laughter is verbal, so you can sit in the theater and say, “Okay, no one’s laughing. This isn’t [working]. We’ve been out of the comedy too long.” Or, we’ve never had a problem with our movies being too emotional, but I can imagine a world in which you’re like, “Okay, I‘m getting too stuck in the emotional stories. Let’s get the jokes going again.”
Moore: I think some filmmakers really complain about test screenings because they’re like, “This is my vision. I’m telling this story. I don’t care what anybody else thinks.” But I think in comedy it’s totally different. You’re trying to make people laugh and you’re trying to make people have a good time. We show the movie to audiences. It’s so clear if it’s working, if people are laughing.
Lucas: It’s so awful when they’re not.
Moore: It’s awful when they’re not. We would film the audience, and then, in the editing room, we would be watching the movie in one window and the audience in the other, and we were like, “Okay, that joke is not working.” There are jokes where I’m like, “That joke’s terrible. Cut it out of the movie.” And then, the audience is laughing so you can’t.
Lucas: And you also learn to find who you love in the audience.
Lucas: You’re like, “That guy laughs at everything. That guy is awesome. Let’s get that guy to every theater when it opens.” And then, there’s always the guy who’s like [not laughing].
Moore: And when you get that guy to laugh, that’s got to stay in it.
Lucas: Then that joke has to stay. There’s always that cross-armed guy who’s like, “I don’t want to like this movie.”
What scenes or sequences did you find the most challenging to direct?
Lucas: Without a question, the hardest was the pep rally. This is again an example of two idiots directing a movie for the first time, which is to say, “Oh let’s write a scene at night,” which is always harder, with a live buffalo running through crowds with 500 extras, and with a fire effect which has to be turned on and off between every take which is also your only light source, and we’re shooting in Seattle outside so the probability of rain is really high.
Lucas: And with extras that you couldn’t pay because we have no money so we had to get 500 people to stay overnight. We were raffling off, but not like cool stuff like an iPod. We were raffling off T-shirts and a pen. “Who wants to win a pen? I got a picture with The Hangover guys.”
Moore: Luckily, they’re all college students and they had a great time, because there were all these guys and girls and you’re like, “You dude, stand next to this girl and just hang out there,” and they’re chatting. It was like a great party to them. But that pep rally, when you write it, you’re like, “Oh, kids at a pep rally. Rah, rah.” It seems simple, but then you get there and it’s crazy. So that was complicated, and then, we shot at the Gorge during a huge festival for that concert at the end, and it didn’t really occur to us that you wouldn’t be able to hear anything. You’re trying to coordinate everything and there are 20,000 people who are not part of your show attending the festival.
Lucas: All of whom are just riding Ecstasy like you wouldn’t believe. They’re all just eaten out of their minds and they’ll wander up to your camera and put their face in it, and you’re like, “That’s not helpful. Hey dude, can you just kind of …?” You have no one to cordon it off. There’s no one. It was pretty crazy. It was fun. I like that stuff. I love that footage in the movie because it feels like you’re there.
Moore: It’s feels really authentic because we’re actually there trying to shoot something.
Lucas: But those were the funnest things. The hardest things were always sort of the funnest things because you survived them and you go home and you’re like, “I can’t believe we did it.” We thought we’d be doing a bunch of green screen stuff with the buffalo, and the guys are like, “No, no, no. Let’s run the buffalo through the kids.” And you’re like, “What?! No! You can’t!” But that’s the fun of it. You can’t believe it’s three in the morning, you’re in the middle of Seattle, you have 500 kids, and fire and a buffalo.
Lucas: The buffalo is one of the stars of the movie. He’s actually coming later. CAA has picked him up. He’s really good.
Who takes credit for using live buffalo and who takes credit for the bear on the penis?
Moore: I don’t know about using a live buffalo, but I went to the University of Colorado, Boulder and our mascot was a buffalo. And so, the first draft of the script was written for the University of Colorado. I called them up and I’m like, “Hey, I’m an alumni. I want to shoot this movie there.” And they’re like, “Fantastic! Send the script.” And then they read the script, and they were like, “No, no, no, no!” So the buffalo lived through the script and that’s why the buffalo is there. The bear on the penis, Jon has a whole bunch of different bears at home that he uses for different occasions.
Lucas: I wouldn’t judge it until you’ve tried it. It’s surprisingly comfortable. It’s a great afternoon and evening look. Did you talk to Justin about it?
He said the drawstring bear was very painful.
Lucas: (laughs) Oh my God! I know they don’t give Oscars for something like this because it’s light comedy, but someone should give the Best Sport Oscar for an Actor. We put him through…
Moore: We put him on a dashboard and naked with a bear and he never complained.
Lucas: We did so much stuff. Everything we did, he’d come on set and he’d be like, “What am I doing today?” “We’re going to shove you into the dashboard of a Smart car and then drive you around campus for a while and shoot you,” and he said, “Great! Let’s get in there and go!” I don’t know how many actors would do that, much less stars. No stars would do that ever. But that’s again what’s so fun about working with young guys. They’re just psyched to be there. I think that comes through in the movie. Some movies you can feel the tension and the actors look like they don’t want to be there, but these guys were just like every day they showed up and brought it, which was so fun.
Given the success that you guys had with The Hangover and creating those characters and the actors who brought that to life in such a great way, with this, did it feel like a risky move doing a similar concept with that kind of ensemble? Will lightning strike twice?
Lucas: (laughs) Yes.
Moore: Probably not. When we launched into it, we didn’t set out to rip off The Hangover. We see The Hangover as more of an amnesia movie, sort of like Bourne Identity but like a drinking comedy. It’s really them piecing it together. It’s a mystery. They’re trying to figure out what happened that night so they’re playing detectives. And when we came up with this idea, we’re like, “Let’s do an epic quest movie as a drinking comedy.” It’s like Lord of the Rings, but instead of trying to get the ring to Mordor, they’re getting a little drunk Asian kid back to his apartment. And so, structurally, that’s what we thought would be fun for the movie. And then, there definitely are some similarities, but as you start hammering out the script, you’re like, “Okay, maybe it’s two guys. Well, we need a third guy.” And so, things just happen to be similar, but to us, they feel like different movies.
How did you go about putting your minds around being 21 again and nailing that lingo?
Lucas: We’re both 21 years old.
Moore: Well, we’re 22 now.
Lucas: That’s a really good question. There’s two ways we solved that. First, you hire young actors. We wrote stuff and then we were like, “Does this sound like old people writing it?” and they would fix things. They would come in and we’d be like, “Say it the way you’d naturally say it” which we’ve always done on everything we’ve worked on. It always sounds better when an actor is just saying it as opposed to actors trying to hit their mark and do their line.
Moore: The other thing is they often tell writers to write what you know, but if I was to write what I know, it’d be terribly boring. No one would go see that. So, we often write about fond memories. We both had a really fun college experience. I think a lot of our movies are sort of the life that we wish we had and how we imagine that to be. Our drinking stories are also pretty boring, but as you keep telling that story, it gets to be a funnier, bigger story. It’s just imagining yourself being in that world again.
Moore: People are very disappointing when they meet the writers of The Hangover.
Lucas: It’s actually dudes. We do these talks at schools and stuff, and they’ll come up to you afterwards and say, “Hey man, what’s up?” “Hey, how ya doing? I can feel your disappointment. I’m wearing a sweater. I know I’m not [what you expected]. I’ve got to go home and change my baby.” But I think for us, we write from a place of nostalgia. I don’t know if that comes through, but that’s why I think these movies don’t just hit a 17-year-old audience. With The Hangover, an incredible number of older women saw the movie and liked it. It was because everyone has that fond memory of being young and dumb and making fabulously bad choices and then laughing about it the next day.
Moore: They’re living vicariously through the characters.
Lucas: You go watch it because you can’t do it anymore. You’ve got responsibility. You can’t possibly live that way anymore if you’re a socially responsible person. But yeah, that’s the fun of it.
What do you think your kids will say about this film when they’re old enough to see it?
Moore: My 8-year-old daughter loves it. It’s her favorite movie. No, I’m just kidding.
Lucas: I will say, just to cut you off, we have gone on a few press things. We do an open mic where you talk to people about the movie and there will be kids that are nine years old. I’m pretty cool however you want to raise your kids, but every now and then, I’m like, “Who let you watch this thing?” I don’t totally believe in “R” ratings, but there’s a reason you should probably wait a few years.
Moore: I have two hopes for my daughter. I’m not going to let her watch it until she’s 18. But when she finally sees it, it’s two things. To me, this movie is really about this friendship and that point in your life where people go off to college and after high school they go different directions, and do you have the wherewithal to keep the friendship together or are you going to make new friends and that’s just the way life goes? I hope that she feels that message and has good friendships. The other thing that I hope happens is that ten years from now, by the time she’s 18, this is going to be super tame. It’s not going to be that alarming. It’s like those movies …
Lucas: It’s like those crazy movies from the 80s that you watch and you’re like, “This isn’t even remotely crazy.” I don’t know what they’re going to be doing in comedy in ten years, but I’m sure it’s going to be far more insane than this.
Do you think the friendship between guys is different than the friendship between women?
Lucas: It’s interesting. We obviously are guys so we write from a pretty male point of view, but I know my wife’s friends are pretty rowdy. Please print that too. Put that all in there. That’s really going to help me at home. You see a movie like Bridesmaids, for example, and again the female reaction. I thought this movie would really appeal to guys, but the reaction from women has been really strong. Everyone has old friends. Everyone made bad choices in college. I don’t think it was just guys. In some ways, we found the remarkable thing about working in R-rated comedy is how bawdy women secretly are. It’s something that we’ve really been exposed to in our careers. Men don’t hide it as well, but I think deep down there are freaks on both sides of the aisle is all I’m going to say.
Maybe the women like it because you made the guys show their asses?
Moore: We’re surprised. Our movies tend to have a lot of male nudity. We don’t plan to do it that way but it works out that way.
Lucas: I think naked women are beautiful. I think naked dudes are funny. The male body to me is hilarious. You put a sock on a guy and you don’t have to write anymore jokes. It’s like just have him walk around.
Does that come up in the audition process? What kind of conversations do you have to have with the actors to make sure they’re comfortable with it?
Lucas: One thing you want is it has to be in the script. You can’t show up on Day 20 of shooting and be like, “Okay, we rewrote the scene last night. The scene where you talk to your dad, that’s out. We’re now putting a cock sock on you and you have to walk through a public place.” That’s going to be a long, hard morning for the actor. I feel like the script is a contract between me and the actor. If they sign on to do the movie, everything in that script is fair game, and if you’re not comfortable with it, you have to tell me now. You can’t decide on the day of shooting that you’re not comfortable with, for example, getting paddled in a church and then making out with your best friend.
Going from writing to directing, when you got on set, what was the biggest challenge that you had to adapt to?
Lucas: Everyone actually listens to you. When you’re a writer on set, you’re just mostly eating. You sit there and don’t really do anything. It’s crazy. Being in charge is fun, but you have to have answers for everything all the time. It’s weird. I don’t know on TV, but on a movie set, the writer is not doing anything almost ever. You might write a few jokes, but you’re almost the least [important]. No one really notices you. You’re just in the way like a dog on set. You’re a pet. But in directing, you go from that to being the most important person on set, and so if not literally, but in terms of you’re the last, you’re the person answering all the questions.
Moore: And all the questions, it is daunting. I was surprised at how many questions you get asked. If we’re going to shoot this scene, you’d have questions like, “What sort of drinks do you want?” “What shaped glasses?” “How many tape recorders?” “What are the people wearing?” “Should they be wearing blue?” It’s like every last little thing is a question that comes your way, and you have to be like, “Okay, I want a Starbucks cup. I want Bloody Marys.” You have to have answers for everything at any given time. It’s pretty amazing. “What music is playing in the background?” It’s a million decisions.
Lucas: And you have to sound confident even when you aren’t confident that you’re making any sense at all. “That has to be a Bloody Mary right there! Or else I’ll throw a tantrum!” The last thing that you want is indecision. That’s what cripples the crew and cripples everything is if you’re like, “I don’t know. What do you think?” They don’t want to hear that. They want to believe that you are firmly in command and you have a vision for everything. And generally, you do, but there’s a lot of stuff that frankly you don’t, so you have to convey that.
Moore: When you’re writing, you have the luxury of time. You can sit there and go, “Ah, the scene…Bloody Mary? Screwdriver?” But on set, you’ve got to have those answers really fast.
Lucas: Those guys are awesome. They said they might come by today. Hoberman’s always at the Saddle Ranch drinking by himself so… and definitely print that. We love those guys. They’re great. One of the things is we’re first-time directors and the studio was very excited to have us do it, but I think they’re a little nervous. We’re open and we’ve even told you how little we knew going into this. And so, I think they wanted veteran guys like that who have produced tons of movies and the steady hand at the wheel, that in case we frankly lost our shit, they could pick up the pieces of the movie and keep it going.
Moore: There was more than once when we started spinning, “Oh my God, the movie is falling apart,” and Dave would be like, “Guys, it’s okay.”
Lucas: In that way, it’s great. They were super helpful. And then creatively, it’s fun too because again I think there’s so much anxiety in the business. Even though our movie was really cheap, there’s so much money being thrown around so quickly and there are so many decisions that you’re making. Like Scott said, you have five seconds to think about something that’s going to affect the movie forever and there’s so much anxiety on so many levels that you need a guy like that who’s the Yoda and says, “I’m just going to be calm. I’m going to keep all the people calm.” It’s a really important job.
Moore: David used to run the Walt Disney Studios, so when everybody’s freaking out, he’d be like, “Well, when I was running the studio…” and everybody would go, “Ahhhh…”
Lucas: “Someone has the answers.”
Moore: It’s so calming.
In terms of casting, was any one of the characters harder to find? Was it a long process?
Moore: We saw a lot of people because we wanted unknowns, and like Jon said, you sort of know when the guy walks in. It’s almost like when you find your wife. You’re like, “Wait a minute.” It just makes sense. They’re perfect. It just clicks.
Lucas: Scott’s been married six times by the way.
Moore: It’s Valentine’s Day.
Lucas: Every time he’s felt it so it counts.
Moore: Each role is very tricky, like Justin’s.
Lucas: I thought Skylar took the longest to find.
Moore: But Skylar, finding the straight man, the guy who can be the core of the movie and the grounding factor and also funny, was pretty tricky.
Lucas: It’s funny, you’d think it’d be like the Miller role, because he’s the funniest guy. He’s kind of the comedic engine. I’m not saying it’s easy, but I think Miles Teller, we’re all just going to hitch our wagon to that star. He came in and it was like being funny and nailing that in auditions is fairly easy because the whole room is erupting with laughter. It’s immediately obvious when someone comes in. But when someone comes in and does a nice emotional read like Skylar had to do for his role, you don’t have…it’s not an eruption. It’s like, “Oh, he was good. But let’s figure this out.” And then, you start putting him in a room with Miles and then you’re like, “Oh, this is really working. These guys are great.”
Moore: That’s where we knew we had that pair, when we put Skylar and Miles together and had them read the script. “Okay, done. Let’s go home.”
Lucas: Straight men are hard, because like Scott said, you have to be handsome. You’ve got to be the romantic lead. You have to be funny, but you can’t be quite so jokey as the comedic lead is. And it’s funny, I’m sure we’ve all seen shows or movies where the romantic lead is actually boring. He’s not bad, but there’s nothing interesting about him. A straight man can easily go into that generic category. That’s what’s so great about Skylar. He’s got a distinctive look. He puts a spin on the ball. He’s very funny. He’s a funny dude. He can carry the comedy on his own. We felt really lucky. I think everything we did wrong was covered over by our cast to be totally honest. They would always save us whenever we were drowning on the movie.
Lucas: Francois Chau was awesome. We loved him from Lost. There’s a few moments where you can tell he’s like, “I’m not sure what I’m doing in this movie.” He’s so intimidating and he’s like the nicest guy. It’s a shame he’s not here. When we met him, we were all like [in awe]. “Okay. It’s nice to meet you.” But that’s what you want. You want the scary dad. You’re not going to cast the nice jolly dad. If you want an intimidating dad, you’ve got to get someone who’s like part of the Dharma Initiative or whatever he does. He was great and I think he had a lot of fun, too. He had a fun time with the guys. Their rapport was [good]. In between takes, when he wasn’t totally terrifying them, they had a lot of fun. (to Scott) Didn’t they call him Shredder because he was like Shredder from [Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles]? They called him Shredder on set and we were like, “Is he going to be cool with being called Shredder? Are we cool?” But he liked it.
We heard about Miles’ accident. As first-time directors, what goes through your mind when one of your leads runs over another of your leads with a golf cart?
Lucas: My first reaction was, “Throw some dirt on it. We’ve got to shoot all night.” Then your line producer comes up to you and he’s like, “We can’t really say that. We’ve got to take him to the hospital.” It’s just for the insurance and all that stuff. He was a trooper because basically for the entire last week of shooting he had a broken foot. And there are a few places that I notice still. No one else would notice because we cut around it pretty well.
Moore: He’s limping a little bit.
Lucas: He’ll turn out of camera really quick, and basically what he’s doing is taking a fake run and then immediately stopping. And then, there are a couple of chase scenes where we had his double running. That scene where Justin is in his teddy bear and he’s running through campus, we shot that the last week and that guy is actually a double. Skylar did a great job always staying between the camera and him, because that guy didn’t really look that much like Miles. He was a trooper about it, to be honest.
Moore: He was great. All the guys were great. They rolled with anything. They did whatever we asked them to do. It was fantastic. What goes through your mind, I don’t know. You don’t have time to panic on set. It’s like, “Okay, man down? Okay, we’re going to shoot the buffalo.” You just keep going with the scene until you find out exactly how broken is it and what can you do and then you adjust the scene.
Lucas: And truthfully, to be totally honest, every day we did so much dumb stuff on this movie physically to our actors and they were such game and we had such little time and budgetary help to make it. I’m shocked that we walked away from this movie with only one broken foot.
Moore: It’s actually great because they took him to the hospital, and then he came back, and we shot a couple more small scenes with him later that night. And so now, in our next movies, when actors are being wusses, we’ll be like, “Hey, we ran over a guy’s foot and broke it and we made him keep shooting. That’s how we roll.”
Lucas: We had a lot of Jeff Changs because of all the stunt guys. On any given day on set, there’d be like six little Jeff Changs running around, because we had to make sure if one fell, we could just throw another Jeff Chang in. When we dropped him out of the window, I remember that day. We dropped him out of a window onto a car. The guy’s on a rig. It’s called a decelerator, but it didn’t seem to decelerate him very much. If you saw the shot, he nails that car, and all he’s wearing is a neck guard and a pad, and they cut out the beams in the roof. I learned all this and it was fascinating. They cut out the beams of the roof of the car so it’s a softer roof, but it’s still metal, and then they put a neck guard like a football player might wear, and they put this guy on a cable and they just dropped him out of a window. I’m like, “That’s it? There’s no mattress or secret thing?” They dropped him once and everybody applauds, but everyone’s more applauding like, “Oh, please get up. Don’t be dead. Don’t be dead.” Again, remarkably, no one got hurt. Our stunt guy, Mike Smith, who was awesome and a total lunatic, because all stunt guys are crazy, when they dropped him the first time, I turned to him and said, “Is he alright, because he’s not moving?” He told me he was just holding for the shot. He didn’t want him to get up until we called “Cut.” And literally, Mike says, “Oh, he’s hurt, but he’s not injured.” Only a stuntman would think that way. I guess that means he’s in an incredible amount of pain but he hasn’t broken anything. That might have gotten lost in translation, but that’s how those guys think. We had a lot of fun. We were lucky to only have a broken foot.
What are the two of you working on next?
Lucas: We sold a pilot that we’re shooting in a few weeks for ABC. It’s going to be less rated “R” than this. We’ve never done television before but we had this idea that we’re really passionate about. It’s a half-hour comedy called Mixology and we got Larry Charles to direct it who’s like a hero to us. Every day with Larry Charles is a trip. It’s going great so far. We’re casting it right now and we love casting because it’s frustrating. Actually casting is horrible until the second you find that person, like when we found our guys, Miles and all those guys. When someone walks in and finally does it the way you imagined or better than you imagined, it’s incredible. We’re in the thick of it on the pilot right now.