With Get Him to the Greek getting ready to come out in a few weeks, I got to talk to writer-director Nicholas Stoller on the phone yesterday. While I’ll have the entire interview online soon, I was able to get updates on all the various projects he’s working on like the upcoming Muppet Movie (tentatively titled The Greatest Muppet Movie Ever Made), Gulliver’s Travels, Stretch Armstrong, Five-Year Engagement and Einstein Theory. Here’s some of the highlights:
The Muppet Movie
- They had a table read a few days ago and they start filming this September
- They wrote in a ton of cameos and he said it breaks the fourth wall every five minutes
- Compared the tone to the original Muppet movies
- Filming in Los Angeles. Thinks it’s a 6 or 8 week shoot
- To accommodate Jason Segal and his work on How I Met Your Mother, he’ll shoot HIMYM 3 or 4 days a week and the other days will be on the Muppet movie. They will film on weekends.
- Calls The Muppets a “comedy gateway-drug”
- Confirmed he’s writing it for director Rob Letterman
- Says it has a light tone like Iron Man
- They’re creating their own universe for the character and other Hasbro characters aren’t making any appearances
- Confirms it’s an origin story
- He saw a rough cut without effects and said it’s awesome
- Said it’s “a great mix of comedy and action-adventure-fantasy that I think people are going to be really into.”
- Is thinking about directing this next
Hit the jump for a lot more. Look for the entire interview with audio soon:
Collider: 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.
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.
Look for the full interview very soon.