If you’re nervous that Nicholas Stoller’s (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) second film would somehow disappoint, I’m happy to report Get Him to the Greek is extremely funny and definitely worth seeing. Since we’ve been covering the film a lot over the past few months (here’s my set report, a bunch of new images, on set interviews with Jonah Hill, Russell Brand and writer/director Nicholas Stoller) I’d like to think most of you are familiar with the film and are excited to see it. But for the three people that have no idea what it’s about, watch this awesome red band trailer. Trust me, you’ll laugh a lot.
So with the film about to come out, I recently got to talk on the phone with Nicholas Stoller for an extended interview. We talked about Get Him to the Greek and all his future projects (Muppets, Stretch Armstrong, more). He also talked about how he got started writing, what it was like to edit Greek, what it’s really like to make a movie, and so much more. Hit the jump to either read the transcript or listen to the audio:
As always, you can either read the transcript below or listen to the audio by clicking here. Get Him to the Greek opens this weekend. Go see it!
Collider: My first question is how much do you pay attention to the online sights, online buzz, or are you sort of like I’ve got to keep my head down and just make the movie I’m making. I’m just curious how much do you pay attention to reviews and since your movie is getting ready to come out, are you sort of paying attention to what people are saying?
Stoller: Yeah, certainly. I mean I certainly like when I’m like talking to people I’m like what did you think, what did you think, what did you think? You know that’s always in the back of my head. But having said that, regardless to what reviews come out whatever, I like love the movie. I think it’s great, and so people can think what they think about it, but I’m very happy with what we did. I’m really proud of whatever all the actors what we all kind of accomplished and so regardless of how well it does or whatever I’m very excited about it and I think we set out to do the thing and accomplished what we wanted to do. Our goal was met, so yeah.
When I did that set visit and exactly what you said on-set is exactly the movie that I saw, so…
Stoller: Yeah, I mean we certainly always shoot a lot of extra material, but our goal was to make kind of like a big kind of rock-and-roll road trip comedy that has heart and that has hopefully you feel bad for Russell and you feel bad for Aldeus and also I wanted to surprise people with some of the turns in the movie and I think when I watched it with audiences they certainly…the reactions made me think that we did and so all that I’m just very excited about it. And also, I’m most comfortable with like two people just sitting and talking about their feeling, you know, in a room with like two cameras and that’s it. And I wanted to do something where there was like action and running and you know crowd scenes and big set pieces and certainly did a lot of that, so yeah.
I’m actually going to ask you a question about your past. You went to Harvard and you wrote for The Harvard Lampoon. Is this accurate?
Stoller: Yes, yes.
How did that help you become who you are today and what would you sort of say to people who are, you know, in a similar position that maybe…you know if you could talk a little bit about your history like that?
Stoller: Oh yeah sure. Yeah, The Lampoon was definitely quite formative. You know there’s a crazy like kind of network of comedy writers from The Lampoon that are, that kind of you know like Seinfeld and The Simpsons and a lot of shows kind of had a lot of kind of Lampoon writers and so that was very formative. I mean, to me I got interested in comedy writing at an early like reading like Dave Barry. I remember reading Dave Barry for the first time and being like oh my God I can’t believe you can do this. Watching Mel Brooks and Monty Python and SNL and all that stuff really informed me as a writer and then at high school I started a satire magazine and the college like The Lampoon really introduced me to like you know a lot of very like-minded people who really wanted to like comedy was the center of their lives. And writing comedy and it really taught me how to kind of like craft jokes, it sounds like weird but really focus on crafting jokes and trying to make the writing really sharp. At the same time I did improv comedy in college, and that helped with understanding the performance aspect of comedy, you know, because it’s different when you improv something vs. when you write it and they’re both kind of part of my process now. And then afterwards I worked in advertising for a year which taught me about writing even when you don’t want to (laughter) because there’s never a moment that you want to write about an Erickson cell phone but you have to. And that’s really important you know obviously for the…like if you really want to write, you have to write every day no matter how you feel or you know. And then, yeah, and then I ended up working in TV and then from TV into movies and then directing, so.
No, totally. Jumping back into your film, I’m curious as you said you overshot. Judd is been known to overshoot. How long was the first cut on Get Him to the Greek?
Stoller: You know, we had…actually our first cut I think was not that bad. I think I want to say it was around 2 hours or 2 hours and 5 minutes. We had our internal first cut which was 2 hours and 45 minutes or maybe 3 hours. That was just for like me and the editor. I don’t even know…no Judd saw that one, Judd saw that one. So that was just like 3 of us watched it, you know? But it was very quickly like I learned with this movie that when you make a movie called Get Him to the Greek anything that doesn’t have to do with getting that guy to the Greek, you end up cutting. Like that was my like lesson. With Sara Marshall we could kind of wander a little bit because it’s a romantic comedy. It’s a little bit of a different genre, you know? There’s not quite as much of like a crazy drive to get to a certain thing, you know? So you can wander around. You can wander a little bit, which was nice. I like that but anytime you kind of strayed from the goal, the movie…you could feel it kind of…even if the individual scene was funny, you can feel the kind of narrative drive dropping out of it.
How long were you in the editing room on the movie and what is it like for you going to the editing room again and again and again, day after day? Does it ever sort of get old or are you sort of like every day is still exciting?
Stoller: You know every day is still exciting. I have like a very good system worked out with my editor. Some directors are in there every day, sitting there in the room with the editor. I lose perspective incredibly quickly, and so what I do is I watch…I come in the room and give very specific notes and then I go back to my house or in my office and I watch the dailies. And I watch all the dailies and I grade the jokes or the moments, you know, on a scale from… so I know exactly what we have. And so I can then go into the editing room and be like “I want you to do this moment, this moment, this joke, that joke. I’d like to see 3 versions.” And then my editor really likes that because he’s left alone to do what…to create those things instead of me breathing over his shoulder and I like it because I don’t have to sit in the editing room all day. I get to watch just dailies.
So how long did it take to actually edit Get Him to the Greek?
Stoller: Um, I’m like really bad at like remembering all these things, but basically we finished…we wrapped in August and we locked in February. It was like we did our first friends and family screening I would say 8-weeks after we locked…after we wrapped or 8-weeks after we wrapped. And then you know the picture was really for the most part nailed down in, I would say, January maybe?
Oh no, that’s fine.
Stoller: We had 2 days of additional photography. That was just, you know, because every comedy has that. So that was just to do a little punch up and clean up here and there. And that was it, yeah.
I guess what I’m trying to say is a lot of for the newbies who are going to be reading this interview or listening to this interview you know who don’t realize how long of a process it is to make a movie. It’s…
Stoller: Oh yeah, it’s long! This one was excellent because we shot stuff in 2008 at the 2008 VMA’s, so the summer of 2008 we were shooting stuff with Russell and like…that’s where he met Katie Perry. So Russell, Katie Perry, Pink, Christina Aguilera, all of those moments we shot like, you know, at this point what is it 2010—almost 2 years ago we started.
Yeah, which is crazy.
Stoller: Yeah, it’s nuts.
I’m curious obviously everyone’s going to ask you, but I’m going to ask you again about Sean Combs. Now that I’ve seen his work and I see how funny he was, were you ever nervous that maybe this isn’t going to play out?
Stoller: No, because…well when I was writing the script I thought he is this guy. I really hoped…I kept imagining him as that guy. And then he came in to audition and I was really nervous because I really wanted him to do Greek, you know? And he…I didn’t know who else I could cast. And he was amazing in the audition. Really funny. And then at the table read he killed. He was just hilarious in the table read. And I kept expanding his part because of that. And so then when we were shooting on-set, he was really…he was quite…he was just awesome. I mean he came to set really prepared and then we would have to kind of shake him out of just doing the script. Like he was focused on the script and it took him a little bit of time to realize that we do a lot of improv and we throw the script out. We tell him we throw out jokes and Jonah would actually like say weird stuff to try to get him to react in weird ways and he was just a genius. I mean he was really, really funny at improv and really just quick and came up with just the weirdest funniest stuff. And I remember like that scene with Pharrell where they’re at the music video shoot, we have this on camera actually, Pharrell’s confused because we weren’t doing the script. We were doing all this improv and then Diddy says to him… Pharrell’s like I don’t understand what’s going on and Diddy goes, “We do a lot of improv”. (laughter) I remember being we just made him into a comedy nerd. We somehow turned Sean Combs into a comedy nerd, so.
Jonah actually mentioned during the interview that he would specifically say things to make him upset. To specifically get the reaction.
Stoller: Oh Jonah did? Yeah, Jonah would yeah.
I think you could be playing with fire with Sean. I’m glad he went with it.
Stoller: Oh yeah, no. Everyone was like yeah, he is like a goofy….I wouldn’t say goofy but he’s like he’s very self-aware. And it took me awhile to figure out…he would always make like weird…like he would always…and he’s incredibly deadpan, so he would often say to me like, “Are you pitching that joke because I’m black?” And I’d be like ah, ah…and he’d be like “I’m just joking”. And it took me awhile to like figure out like he was just like he just likes to screw around with people. He’s like a hilarious guy and I think this movie showcases that. He just hasn’t been in a comedy yet, and now I think he’ll have a career in comedy but if he wants to. But the same thing…it’s kind of the same as like strangely I just realized I was like Rose Byrne, like she has just done very dramatic roles and she came in and auditioned and was so crazily funny. And the same thing, people hadn’t seen her do this so I don’t think people were expecting that out of her.
I’m curious about obviously you must be already working on the DVD/Blu-ray or maybe it’s already done by now. How many extra deleted scenes are you putting in and are you doing like an extended cut or are you putting the deleted scenes in a separate area?
Stoller: We have an extended cut. There actually is…I never liked the extended cut personally because I like…we spend a lot of time figuring out our final cut. We test and test and test it, whatnot. Having said that, there’s one sequence we’re adding back into the movie for the extended cut that is pretty amazing that I think people are going to love. And there’s so much extra material. I mean, I’ve certainly read as you asked about do I read reviews and stuff, like people are like none of the jokes in the trailers are like in the movie. And it’s like and we have whole sequences and scenes that weren’t in the movie. You know we have a whole opening sequence that took place at Hatfield House which is this like old castle in England where Rose and Russell like basically Rose dumps Russell in an opening sequence. And it’s like this crazy party and was cut. So that’s going to be in the additional scenes or cut scenes. We have tons of live performances that we’re putting on there. We have music videos. There’s a music video for the song called I Am Jesus what is one of the funniest music videos, like we just could not find a place for it in the movie, but it’s like crazy funny. And we have the whole video. Every video you see in the movie we have an entire video of it that will be on the DVD, so the whole video for African Child, the whole video for Super Tight, you know the Jackie Q songs.
So what you’re trying to say is the fans might get their money’s worth?
Stoller: Yes, the fans are going to get their money’s worth. It’s like…and everything on there is funny. It’s not like random crap they put in a movie. I think it’s all very funny, so.
So of course I’ve reached to point of where I ask, obviously, according to the always to the “always-accurate” IMDb and the trades, you’re attached to a few different things. What’s accurate and what do you think might be your next project?
Nicholas Stoller: Right now I’m attached to write a few things. The Muppets, Jason [Segel] and I have been working on for a while and James Bobin is attached to direct it and they actually had a table read on Saturday with all the puppets and that’s going to shoot in September. Just really excited about that. It’s kind of a dream-come-true for all three of us so that’s thrilling.
So that’s for September and then I’m writing Gulliver’s Travels with Rob Letterman directing and it’s coming out at Christmas time. And I saw a rough cut of it and it’s already just awesome. Even without any visual effects. Even with just Jack Black against a green screen, it’s all really great. I’m very excited about that. It’s kind of a great mix of comedy and action-adventure-fantasy that I think people are going to be really into it.
And then I’m writing Stretch Armstrong for Rob Letterman, which is pretty thrilling because of all these superhero movies and it’s just exciting to take a crack at a big superhero franchise and to really delve into that world.
I definitely want to jump in to asking you a Muppets question. For a while, it seemed like that project might not get off the ground. Then the new Disney leadership came in and made it a priority and all of a sudden it’s going. Can you talk a little bit about the behind-the-scenes? Were you nervous it might not actually go?
Stoller: I was pretty nervous because we’d worked on it for two years at that point. Maybe I’m just not that humble but our script is awesome. Like Jason is so into the Muppets and such a fan. I’m such a fan of Muppets. And I think the script’s actually pretty solid. It really is a labor of love for us to get this thing off the ground. It was scary but then there was the change in leadership and I think that the new guy in charge is basically like, “We should just do this.” It won’t be that expensive, the script is fun, the guys just love this thing, and with all of that, the world is just ready for the Muppets again. It’s strange that there hasn’t been one for so long. I think there were a lot of political reasons for why that was the case but it’s just exciting that now it’s going to happen.
Well I would say the same thing. I don’t mean to put myself in the interview but the Muppets seem like an easy merchandising opportunity for Disney for characters that people love.
Stoller: They literally have what they would call “a four-quadrant” movie that they could just release at any moment. Parents want to go there, kids want to go there, hipsters want to go there. It’s like everyone will want to see it.
I couldn’t agree more but the one thing I heard a rumor of—and I’m pretty sure it’s accurate and I want you to confirm—I heard that when you were writing the script, you wrote in a lot of real cameos and you actually asked the people you were writing cameos for if they wanted to be in the movie. Is this actually true?
Stoller: Yeah, because we wanted to go back to the original tone. It’s one of the original movies like The Muppet Movie, Muppets Take Manhattan, The Great Muppet Caper. Those kinds of movies. So that was really important that we hit that tone and those have a lot of cameos in them and so Jason and I started asking people and everyone we asked just wants to do it. Like everyone is either, “I grew up with it,” or “I loved it,” or loved them now. And when you watch The Muppet Movie now, it is so current. It’s like The Simpsons before The Simpsons. It’s not as cynical as The Simpsons would be but it’s self-aware and there are a billion jokes, it breaks the fourth wall every five minutes, it’s astounding, it’s awesome. It’s very exciting to be a part of that.
So it’s filming this September. How long is the film shoot on that? Is it filming here in L.A?
Stoller: It’s all in L.A. There might be some location shooting as well. I think it’s pretty short. I heard it was like six to eight weeks, which is pretty short. But you don’t have to do makeup or anything. There’s no hair, there’s no makeup, there’s like one trailer for Jason and one for the actors who do cameos. It’s quick. So that’s what they’re saying. I don’t know if that will change.
Totally. So Jason is set to star. What about his TV show [How I Met Your Mother]?
Stoller: He’s basically not going to sleep while they’re shooting. He’s going to arrange his TV show in such a way that—I think his show shoots 3-4 days a week—and he’ll shoot the rest of the week and weekends.
I see. So this is really the passion project.
Stoller: Oh yeah, yeah. It’s going to be intense for him but he’s thriller. I’m really excited for him. I don’t know if I said this to you, but I consider the Muppets to be a comedy gateway-drug. It’s like the first thing you see when you’re a kid and you’re like, “Oh my God. This is what I have to do for the rest of my life. So just to be a part of that, and I have a two-and-a-half-year-old girl and she’s going to see this and it’s really just very exciting.
I definitely can’t wait to see what you guys have cooked up. I want to ask you about Stretch Armstrong and obviously what’s your take on the material, what’s your take on the tone, and when you’re basing it on a toy, are you getting specific notes or are they saying to you, go with whatever you’re going to write?
Stoller: Rob, the director, had a really great take on it. What attracted both Rob and I to this project was the chance to do a serious, big superhero action movie. Because that’s what it is. It has a light tone like Iron Man does, but we want it to be a thrilling, exciting superhero movie. Like Hasbro, I actually got to tour their facilities last week, and it’s literally like going to Willy Wonka’s factory or something. You get to see where all these toys are made, they have like 3D printers and stuff. Literally you just put it in and it creates a toy. So they have ideas, certainly, but it’s pretty much a blank slate, so were brining our story ideas to this toy and really the only thing that they have is: It’s Taylor Lautner and he stretches. Everything else is kind of up-for-grabs. We kind of created our own universe for it and I think the tone and—I think for the lack of a better term—we’re going for that Iron Man funny-tone so it’s not going to be a super-dark movie, but with serious undertones.
This is obviously being planned for—if it’s successful—a series. Is this movie going to be the origin story and are you spending a lot of time on the origin? How is that going to go?
Stoller: Yeah, it’s an origin story. But you very quickly get into the origin and then it’s off to the races. It is an origin story, certainly, but it’s not like the movie ends and somebody stretches. It happens pretty quickly and I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to say about it, but I think when people see that first hint, they’ll be pretty excited about it. I’ve been putting together the story with Rob and putting all the details of it together and looking at all the various designs they have for the toys and stuff, it’s pretty exciting.
You’re basically creating a new universe that Hasbro can play in and with the success of the Marvel movies and them combining things and stuff, are you trying to work in other Hasbro characters or is Stretch Armstrong going to exist inside his own universe?
Stoller: He’s his own universe. It’s not like suddenly Optimus Prime is going to walk into frame.
(laughs) No, I wasn’t thinking about that. But they have a lot of other toys and I was wondering if they were like, “Let’s put in a throwaway gag of another character.”
Stoller: It’s totally not going to be like that. We’re taking it pretty seriously so I think that would take you out of the movie and out of the universe. So there are no plans to have any other character cameos or anything like that. It’s going to be totally its own thing.
When you talked about going to Hasbro, were you talking about the facility in Providence, Rhode Island?
I’ve been into the lobby of that building. It’s a pretty crazy place.
Stoller: Yeah, absolutely.
So again, according to the always-accurate IMDb [sarcasm]: Five-Year Engagement, Einstein Theory, Opposite Day—are these on the drawing board or are these just projects that have been linked to you for a while?
Stoller: Opposite Day was a while ago and I have not worked on that in a long time. And Five-Year Engagement is something I’m considering to be the next thing to direct. I’m trying to figure that out right now. And then the Einstein Theory is something I’m producing along with the Mark Gordon Company at Warner Bros. and we’ve been working on a script for a while.
What’s that been like for you? You’ve delivered two solid movies so are you being offered more scripts or are you saying, “I want to keep writing my own thing, I’m going to direct my own thing.” So could you talk about the behind-the-scenes of how you pick your next project?
Stoller: Well I like writing for other people. I love it. I’m so excited I get to write for Rob and I get to write for James Bobin. It’s great because you write it and then you hand it off to someone else. But yeah, in terms of directing, anything I direct will be something I’ve written or re-written. I’m in no crazy rush to direct. I feel very creatively satisfied and lucky that I get to write for other people, but for something I direct, it has to be something I completely understand every facet of. I really want to delve into the two years it takes to write and direct something. When I just write something, it’s usually because I love it, I love the material, but I feel like I really need a creative partner to crack it. And while I certainly need and have a lot of creative partners as a director, like Rodney Rothman for example, like for a huge creative thing I couldn’t work without him. With Sarah Marshall, I understood the kind of emotionals and with Greek too I felt like I really understood it.
Do you see your next directing project as something similar to your last two films or do you think you’ll do some big, summer action special effects spectacle or do you think that’s something that’s a little further down the road?
Stoller: It doesn’t interest me right now, but I can imagine down the road, “Oh, my kid loves Night at the Museum, so I’d like to do a movie like that.” I can imagine going down a VFX route. Visual effects are so, to me, complicated and boring. It’s so much easier to set up two cameras have a guy and a girl just riff about their feelings or just joking around. It’s so much more immediately satisfying. For example, Rob Letterman is just a genius with VFX stuff. He understands every aspect of it. He’s obsessed with it and I think you have to be obsessed with it to understand the VFX world. Having said that, yeah, I’m sure at some point I’ll do something where lots of shit explodes. It sounds fun.
Russell and Jonah have terrific chemistry together. They had some fun on Sarah Marshall but in Greek they prove they have a lot of fun. Have you guys sat down and said, “The three of us really work well together and we’ve made good movies together. We should make another movie together”?
Stoller: Yeah, we’ve certainly talked about stuff. I think all three of us that we want to try something new every time so to immediately jump into another Jonah-Russ movie would creatively be a mistake. But I’m sure down the road they’ll want to. I knew after Sarah Marshall that my favorite genre is romantic comedy. Nothing is more satisfying than a great romantic comedy. And I knew after Sarah Marshall I knew I shouldn’t do another romantic comedy right away. I think I’ll be, not bored, but it will feel too immediate. I just did this. That’s why I chose Greek, which is more like a road-trip, crazy rock-n-roll comedy I guess you’d call it. But now, having done that, we call the movie “Running and Screaming” because that’s all Jonah and Russell do in the movie is run and scream. Now having done a movie where there’s running and screaming for an hour and forty-five minutes and, now it’s just a movie where it’s sitting and talking to a girl about their relationship. That sounds nice to me.
I know I’m running out of time, but I wanted to ask you—you did Sarah Marshall in Hawaii, you did Get Him to the Greek in London and all over the United States. Is your next movie going to take place in like Moscow? It seems like you’re traveling on the studio’s dime and I’m wondering where you’re going to end up.
Stoller: If I could shoot the next movie in my living room, I would. Definitely that much travel was a bit tiring so I’m ready to settle down. Maybe Tahiti. But Couples Retreat already did that. Couples Retreat was genius to do that. We were like, “We got away with shooting in Hawaii!” and they were like, “No you didn’t. We’re shooting in Tahiti. We’re shooting in Bora Bora.”
Well that’s why I’m asking you. I figure write the next script in Johannesburg or something.
Stoller: I know exactly. Shoot down in Rio. Go like Michael Mann and shoot down in that drug triangle in South America.
Totally! Well listen, I know you have other people to talk to and you’ve given me so much of your time. I really want to say thank you for talking to me this much. Obviously I’ll be at that junket at the Greek Theatre which should be a lot of fun. I just want to say thanks, man, and congrats on the movie.
Stoller: Oh, thanks very much. It was good talking to you.