Opening this Friday in very limited release is “The Wendell Baker Story.” Recently the two men behind the film – Luke and Andrew Wilson – sat down to talk about how the film came together and what drove them to tell this story. Of course we all asked about future projects like Old School 2 and how Will Ferrell got to be involved.
But before you get to the transcript here is the synopsis:
In his return to screenwriting and debut as director, Luke Wilson plays a good-hearted conman named Wendell Baker whose latest scam lands him in jail and alienates him from his longtime girlfriend Doreen (Eva Mendes), best friend Reyes (Jacob Vargas) and even his dog, Junior. Eternally optimistic, Wendell makes the most of his time behind bars and vows to turn his life around. Upon release, he gets a job at the Shady Grove retirement hotel, where he befriends residents Boyd (Seymour Cassel), Skip (Harry Dean Stanton) and Nasher (Kris Kristofferson). Wendell’s new friends advise him on how to win back his girlfriend, while he helps them battle the hotel’s evil head nurse, Neil King (Owen Wilson) and right-hand man, McTeague (Eddie Griffin).
If you hate reading transcripts you can download the MP3 of the interview by clicking here.
“The Wendell Baker Story” opens this Friday
Question: The pluses of working with your whole family?
Andrew: yeah we had the whole…
Luke: I think like the pluses are that we get along and you do kind of know each other and you are able to hit the ground running. Sometimes when you get on a new movie you kind of how to figure out the way other people work and it can be like being the new kid in High School where you’re just trying to find out where your place is on the movie or on the set. And I don’t know what the minuses would be.
No sibling squabbles at all?
Luke: Not really…
Andrew: We didn’t really have time to have any sibling…we were on such a tight time constraint. You know, we had 35 days to shoot it and the producers called it an ambitious schedule which is euphemism for impossible, so we were just trying to get the thing done and we were always aware we really didn’t have time to mess around argue about this and that. Just try and get the best shot.
How long had you had this in you? Were you inspired by Owen writing his scripts?
Luke: Yeah, I mean that was kind of like the inspiration for it. Just kind of seeing, like the time he and Wes would put in. You get the script and you read it and it seems so kind of fluid and you just think, ‘Well, it just must have rolled right out of them.’ But you find out it does kind of take time and hard work. So I think in-between watching Owen and Wes and the way they work, I think that kind of gave us a good feeling that you do really have to sit down and take the time and it’s not always really fun. You can’t always think, ‘Oh, I’m gonna wait till I get inspired.’ Sometimes you just have to like sit down together and grind it out.
Do you all share a sense of humor?
Andrew: I think we do have a similar sensibility. I think we think the same things are funny. I mean Owen, obviously is a really funny, funny guy and he has been since we were little. It’s funny how you’re — I can remember, like my dad always saying ‘You think you’re the funniest person in the world don’t you?’ In a very negative way. And it turns out he may be one of the funniest people in the world. But yeah, we think kind of the same things are funny and when Luke showed me the script I thought it was funny and really well written. So, we tend to read the same things and be drawn to the same kind of interests.
How did you decide who would be responsible for what on the set in terms of the directing responsibilities?
Luke: We didn’t really have a planned way to do it. It just kind of worked out where I would block the scenes out with the actors. And Andrew and Steve Mason, the cinematographer, would kind of work out the shots. It was never the kind of thing were I had one idea and Andrew had another and we kind of had to take ten minutes to figure it out. If anything I feel like we kind of moved a little faster in doing it that way because we really would be able to – I would be able to block it and he’d be able to lay it out and figure out what shots they were going to do. And I can be rehearsing at the same time with them. Yeah, I think it worked out pretty well.
Andrew: Yeah, there wasn’t the kind of auteur effect where you had a director with a vision of what it should be and a writer with a different vision and then a big star that wanted to do something else that only benefited him. We were all trying to do the same thing which was get the script which we all really liked shot in the amount of time we had. That was really a very simple goal and also I think when you also have a short amount of time and I’ve worked on some bigger movies where there is a ton of money and a ton of time, you find that there isn’t the kind of creative tension that we had on this. When you know you only have a short time with a limited amount of money, it helped us come up with some kind of good creative solutions. Things we came up with quickly and on the fly that we knew mad it better.
Luke: And we knew we that didn’t want to do the conventional like one master over the shoulder and then a tight shot. We knew wanted to do like a lot of oners, just because we know that’s what we like like Woody Allen movies and things like that. So when you do have a close up it can have a little more of an impact and that’s where Steve Mason was really helpful, the cinematographer, to tell us certain times what you have to get just to make it work. And that you can’t always do that. You can’t always just have a master, just the one shot and move on. You really need it for the story and to keep people kind of interested. So, that was really helpful to have something like that.
Andrew: And also, I think since it was our first time also, we were more open to kind of doing things differently. Like Luke was saying, sometimes with Harry Dean and Seymour, y’know, those guys, sometimes it takes a little while to get them rolling in the morning. Harry Dean is sort of nocturnal, stays up all night and sleeps all day, so it would take him awhile. So, we’d sort of ease — we had the flexibility to do things a little differently. We wouldn’t be locked in to a certain way of doing things and I hope that made it better.
Do you think young people can learn anything about listen to older people from this movie?
Luke: Yeah, that kind of came about for me like I’ve worked with Seymour Cassel on ‘Rushmore’ and he kind of looks lie your grandfather and he’s like ‘Let’s go out. It’s half priced drinks Ladies night at Sharkeys.’ And you’re like, ‘Huh? We have to be up at six Seymour.’ ‘Yeah, I know, I know. We gotta get going now.’ (Laughs.) But, literally like that. I mean the guy would have more energy than I did and still very vibrant to put it mildly. And then you think about all that these guys have been through and I just always like that they never got beaten down by life. And it’s not like they haven’t had hardships or ups and downs over the years. They have been in the biz since the 40’s and the 50’s and Seymour’s been in prison and things like that, to where, yeah, I felt like I had a lot to learn from them and it always kind of made me be upbeat and that helped me with the character of Wendell who is an upbeat guy and just kind of being around those guys. And not to mention Kristofferson and all that he’s done from being a Rhodes scholar to a helicopter pilot, to a janitor, to a singer-songwriter to a movie star and still doing it today. And that’s why when you year certain actors, ‘Yeah, I’m thinking of retiring and moving to Montecito.’ (Laughs.) Which is fine, but there is something that doesn’t ring quite true for me about something like that where these guys really love what they do. Despite, like I was saying, the ups and downs, not just of your personal life, not to mention professionally.
But you were thinking of them for the roles?
Luke: Yeah, definitely. I wrote it for Seymour and for Harry Dean. And I wrote the Nasher part, Kris Kristofferson’s part, just wrote it not knowing who would play it, but we were lucky enough to get him.
How did you get Will Ferrell to cameo?
Luke: He’s great. I didn’t write that for him. It’s funny, he and I had gone to Europe and Andrew was actually on the trip to do press for ‘Old School’ and Vince Vaughn was off doing a movie, but we just had so much fun on the trip and people would ask us what we were doing next. And we’d be in Germany and ‘What are you doing next?’ And Will would say, ‘I’m doing a character named Ron Burgundy, he’s a sexist newscaster.’ ‘And you?’ I’d go, ‘I’m playing Wendell Baker, and he’s a con man.’ We just got the worst reaction from those people and not only to those ideas, but they hated ‘Old School.’ So, we had the best of both worlds. We had a hit in the states and a flop here, which is exhilarating in it’s own way. And we just got to talking about our own projects and Will said, ‘Yeah, if you ever want me to do a little part on ‘Wendell,’ I’d be glad too.’ And then he got me to do ‘Anchorman.’ And then it was really funny. I did ‘Anchorman’ first and then like nine months later ‘Wendell Baker’ came along and he was nice enough to come to Austin for a couple of days and we’d gone jogging the day he was going to work and I was saying, ‘You didn’t think you were gonna get that ‘Wendell Baker call did you?’ And he was like, ‘No, I didn’t. Didn’t really think you were going to be able to pull that one together.’ (Laughs.) It was just one of those things you are so kind of lucky to get him to do it. Just like, I had kind of written the Owen part for him, but it’s the same idea where you get those guys and you kind of use that script as a blueprint. Let’s just get in the script like it is once and then let those guys get going. Like, Will Ferrell’s whole, that’s one of my favorite things is him, when you see him for the first time in the grocery store, you see him talking about playing football for the University of Texas and getting his ass shipped out of Austin. That was something we just came up with just waiting for them to light the scene.
Ivan Reitman just told us he got a new script for ‘Old School 2’.
Luke: Is that right? That’s the best news I’ve heard. (Laughs.) The problem is, I’m always kind of hoping in the back of my mind for Vince and Will to bomb so they have to do it with me, because I need it! That would be great. I always had confidence that if Todd Phillips, who directed it, and Scott Armstrong, who wrote it, I just know they wouldn’t want to ruin the goodwill of the first one and the people who seem to like it. So, I figure it would have to be just as good or better. But, that’s pretty cool.
I wonder why they haven’t shown it to you yet.
Luke: I don’t know. I always get people asking and I just never know. And it’s the kind of thing where once a year somebody will call, like my agent or something and go, “Hey, would you be up for doing ‘Old School 2’?’ And I say, ‘Yeah, definitely.’ It will probably end up being me and some two guys besides Will and Vince. (Laughs.)
How does that work – all of you guys starring in each other’s movies?
Luke: I think it kind of goes back to us, how we got started. Vince with ‘Swingers,’ us with ‘Bottle Rocket.’ Just kind of getting started at the same time. Honestly, it’s one of those things where you make the first call and the agent always gives you the brush off. And sometimes you have to kind of dig up that home number and do a little Wall Street cold call. Where it’s like, ‘Will? Luke here.’ Long pause. ‘Yeah?” You know it’s not going to be a ‘Hey, we’re having a BBQ call.’ It’s a ‘We need you in Austin.’ But no, with Owen and Ben, I just think we’ve always had fun doing each other’s movies. It’s always fun to do a little part like in ‘Blades of Glory.’ I just like being around Will. Like I know when Vince got Will to do that part in ‘Wedding Crashers’ with he and Owen, they just had so much fun. And Owen had never had the chance to work with Will. I think it’s just one of those things we just started doing.
It was never anything by design. It was just one of those things we fell into. We never wanted to direct or I never wanted to direct. I mean I was always kind of interested in writing. I have only done that one script, I mean I have another one done now and another couple of things I’m trying to work on, but that’s really fun when it’s kind of going well. But it can also make your heart sink when you run out of steam or can’t seem to break through the story and you give it to somebody and they say, ‘It doesn’t make sense.’ (Laughs.) But, yeah, I think we just had fun in the producing of the movie like making the call to Will to do the movie. Or in finding a cinematographer like Steve Mason and you just get lucky and it’s so exciting to think about all the people we’ve read about from Hal Ashby to Peckinpaugh to Martin Scorsese like working with the same people again. Like you see the same names, like Scorsese’s editor, that woman, Thelma Shoemaker. You just wonder, ‘Who are these people? Are they friends or do they just working together?’ It seems like a fun way to do it, not that it’s not fun to branch out and work with different people, but I’d say yeah, maybe the writing of it and putting the team together is really fun.
Continued on the next page ————–>
Can you guys say what you are working on now?
Andrew: Well Luke wrote this script called ‘Electric Avenue’ that Luke just mentioned that we are going to try and get going. We would direct that together.
Luke: It’s an idea I talked to Martin Lawrence about. A few years ago we done a movie called “Blue Streak’ and we just had fun working together. And always said we should try and do something together. Yeah, he liked the idea but now we just have to show him the script and see if he’s still into it or if he has the time. But, that’s what we are going to try and get going. And then we have this Jim Leher book called ‘White Widow’ that we have to write the script to and get that going.
Can you tell us what ‘Electric Avenue’ is about?
Luke: It’s just kind of about a newspaperman whose life has kind of hit the skids and I’m hired to kind of keep an eye on him. It’s kind of a buddy picture.
Andy, what does Luke have that’s like Wendell and how is he different?
Andrew: Not the con man, but just somebody that sticks to it and isn’t easily. Wendell is somebody who has tired a lot of different things and some of them haven’t worked out, but he keeps plugging along.
Andrew: You can kind of make that analogy for writing which is a very, very difficult thing to do. As Luke was saying, you sometimes get the response that you want, but you’ve just got to keep trying. And that’s what I sort of admire about Wendell; he gets thrown in jail and ends up loving jail. (Laughs.) He loves the camaraderie, loved the courts. That’s a quality that Luke has that I admire a lot. He sticks to it and is kind of tough.
Is your brother wanting his own trailer?
Luke: Yeah, he really talks a lot of smack about the dog in ‘My Dog Skip.’ He didn’t shed a lot of tears when that dog died. No, my brother is great, but he’s currently residing in Texas, but I am gonna get him back out here as the heat kicks in. But Andrew and I are going to Texas tomorrow to do some things for ‘Wendell,’ so I can’t wait to see him. My mother said she saw him yesterday and told him that Andrew and I were coming into town and he just yawned and smiled. (Laughs.)
Did you use any of the Robert Rodriguez facilities in Austin while making your movie?
Luke: Yeah, when we were there I don’t even know that you could call them glorified airplane hangers. You better have pigeon sounds somewhere worked in, because you hear them fluttering around. But, no, it’s a great town, because you’ve got Mike Judge there. You’ve got Richard Linklater and Rodriguez. I’ve heard that Rodriguez’s house he’s got all his mixing stuff and sounds.
But he’s not loaning it out to you?
Luke: I met him, he couldn’t be a nicer guy and the same with Linklater. Yeah, those guys are really the real deal. It’s so nice just for kids and movie fans and just kids and just people who want to get into the business. Like, you see those guys out and about around town in coffee shops and they are the kind of people you could say ‘Hi’ to them if you could.
Can you talk about the pictures in the trailer, were there any you couldn’t use?
Andrew: It’s funny you mention that, because we had – they said, basically every picture they said, ‘No you can’t use that. You can’t use Herve Villechaize.’ We had — J-Lo was one of them. They said, ‘No, you can’t use J-Lo,’ but we just kind of steamrolled them and said we had to. It’s kind of funny, it’s one of my favorite scenes in the movie. But, that’s one of the things that they tried to scare [us with] that they were going to shut down the production. If J-Lo found out we were making fun of her, she was going to shut down production.
Luke: We had one too where we said, ‘Menudo. The first Latino super group. The Mexican Beatles, but like them too many strong personalities and it blew the band apart.’ (everyone starts laughing) Shoot, I guess we should have had that in.
Is there anything for the DVD?
Luke: Yeah, yeah, we’re working on it right now. It will come out in October. We are just trying to figure it out. We are working with a really good company on it where we will have, they call them bloopers, but hopefully they will just kind of be funny outtakes. We cut a ton of stuff out of the movie. And then we are going to try and do a bunch of other little interesting ideas and not have the usual boring ‘Making of’ type of thing. Try to have something a little more fun.
Well there be a commentary?
Luke: Yeah, we did the commentary, but yeah, we’re gonna try and figure out some good things for that.