At CinemaCon the other week, I got to talk with director Todd Phillips twice about his upcoming sequel, The Hangover Part II. The first time we spoke was on the red carpet before the Warner Bros. presentation. The second was backstage after I’d seen the latest trailer.
While Phillips is sometimes a bit guarded when talking to the press, I found him to be very open about how the latest test screenings had been going, the pressure (or lack of pressure) in making a sequel to the biggest R rated comedy of all time, what it was like to film in Bangkok, why certain characters are back and why some aren’t, and what kind of music is he getting for the sequel. Hit the jump for more.
“Sometimes the characters in sequels ignore the first movie in a way. These guys very much lived through the first Hangover and are very aware of it and reference it, and are aware at absurdities that are happening again or not. They’re going through this experience having the lens of going through the first one.”
We also talked about why some characters are coming back and why some aren’t. Phillips explains:
“It’s all story. I swear Steve, as a writer of the films also, it’s wherever the script takes you. I love Heather Graham, more than most male red-blooded Americans, I really do, like I’m obsessed with Heather Graham. But the storytelling didn’t take us in a place to bring that character back. So it wasn’t like I wanna jam these people in because I like them, it’s just where the story brought us to whether or not they came back. And when you see the movie you’ll I think understand and it’ll all make sense.”
One of the many things I loved about the first Hangover was the music. I also know Phillips is a music guy and I was curious what he was going for in the sequel. He told me that even though Jay-Z could have charged a lot of money for letting them use “Reminder” in the teaser trailer, he didn’t. Which is why they got to use it. Phillips also talked about how he got his friend Glenn Danzig to do an original song for the sequel:
“I’ve commissioned one original song for The Hangover Part II by my good friend Glenn Danzig, as you know my punk rock roots in my first movie. I love Danzig, always have, he sang the first song in the first Hangover, “Thirteen” but that was his song, and I went to him and said “would you write a song for The Hangover Part II for the title sequence?” and he did and it’s fuckin’ awesome.”
During the rest of the interviews, we talked about many other things. Here’s the print portion of the interview and at the bottom of the page, look for the video portion. It’s in the video portion that we talk about the test screenings and how they’ve been going and also what’s up with Project X.
Collider: After the most successful R-rated comedy of all-time, as the director, can you talk a little bit about the challenge of following that up?
Todd Phillips: Well I don’t see it as pressure really, it’s exciting. I’ve never made a movie that people were waiting for, this is my seventh film. And while it’s annoying to not fly under the radar, it takes a lot of pressure off of you to know there’s a lot of people waiting to see it. It was a lot harder to shoot The Hangover1 in Las Vegas and stand in a fuckin’ alley at 5 in the morning and look at Ken Jeong and go “That was brilliant, but I don’t know if anybody’s gonna see this movie.” It’s a lot more energizing to be in Bangkok and when shit hits the fan and going “Alright, don’t worry we’re making Thefuckin’ Hangover 2 let’s go.” So to me it’s the opposite of pressure. It’d be pressure if it was a different director, in other words, if I didn’t make the first one I’d be like “Holy shit I gotta make Hangover 2.” I made the first one, meaning I could do it. I’m ready to do it again. (laughs) You understand? Not to sound cocky, but it’s like it’s not really pressure, I’m betting on myself there.
Well you have a track record.
Phillips: Yeah. So it’s not pressure, it’s like “You mean I have to live up to something I did?” It’s not like I have to live up to something Steven Spielberg did, that’s pressure. I just have to live up to something Todd Phillips did. Well I’m Todd Phillips so I could probably do that (laughs).
You have some familiar faces coming back. How much did you feel that you wanted, all of these people coming back—
Phillips: It’s all story. I swear Steve, as a writer of the films also, it’s wherever the script takes you. I love Heather Graham, more than most male red-blooded Americans, I really do, like I’m obsessed with Heather Graham. But the storytelling didn’t take us in a place to bring that character back. So it wasn’t like I wanna jam these people in because I like them, it’s just where the story brought us to whether or not they came back. And when you see the movie you’ll I think understand and it’ll all make sense.
I definitely want you to talk a little bit about filming in Bangkok. Someone said something about how it was like going into the jungle.
Phillips: I did put that up and I was quoting Francis Ford Coppola. I said like the great Francis Ford Coppola said, “We had too much money, too much equipment and too many people, and little by little we all went insane” (laughs). That was a quote I read from him from Hearts of Darkness, and that is what it felt like many times just in that we were cut off from the world there, it’s not really a support system of filmmaking there that you’re used to. The inmates were running the asylum and I take full responsibility for that (laughs).
I definitely wanna ask about the music. I love the songs you used in the first film.
Phillips: We have some great music in this movie. I take it so seriously, as you know we’ve talked about music before. I did it on Due Date and I’ve done it on Old School, meaning take it seriously. In Hangover 2, I mean yeah we’re over a couple million dollars in music budget right now, that’s the one thing I haven’t solidified because I just go crazy and then Warner Bros. goes, “You realize how much this costs?” and you start making wheeling and dealing with the artists and stuff like that.
I was gonna say, there has to be an element of you going to an artist and saying—
Phillips: There is. There are guys who are big names who are super cool with us and they’re like “Fuck yeah, do it.” And then there are other guys who are like “I don’t care what movie it is, this is what it is.” But like Jay-Z gave us that song in the teaser, “Reminder”, he’s fuckin’ Jay-Z, he could charge $1 million if he wants, but he didn’t ‘cause it’s Hangover 2 and it’s fuckin’ cool.
But that’s the thing, aligning yourself with a cool property.
Phillips: Yes, but they don’t all think like that because they don’t all have the confidence that Jay-Z does to know—whatever the music business is fractured so they make money how they have to, so I understand it too. But for me it’s the most fun part of doing a movie. The most fun part is doing the music.
Did you commission original songs, or are you picking from like a stable jukebox?
Phillips: That is a great question. I’ve commissioned one original song for The Hangover Part II by my good friend Glenn Danzig, as you know my punk rock roots in my first movie. I love Danzig, always have, he sang the first song in the first Hangover, “Thirteen” but that was his song, and I went to him and said “would you write a song for The Hangover Part II for the title sequence?” and he did and it’s fuckin’ awesome.
I’m sure he would not do that for a lot of people.
Phillips: No. Who else is gonna go to Danzig? I mean I’m sure he’s been approached, but he’s the coolest. So yeah, so that’s one example of an original. Others are stuff that’s been out or that I just love or that fits with the movie obviously, it’s just random. It’s random.
You mentioned you’re a few million dollars over [music budget].
Phillips: I was exaggerating, but yeah.
Say you’re three to five million dollars over.
Phillips: No, it’s not that [bad]. So let’s pretend you’re a million dollars over, cause it’s nowhere close to a million dollars over. But there’s some point where you have to be fiscally responsible, where it just doesn’t make sense to have a certain music budget that’s just insane. If you’re saying if I just went to them and said “No! This is the music.”
I don’t get that vibe from you.
Phillips: Right, I don’t do that. But yeah, you’re probably right, I could probably get every song I wanted. But oddly, when you put constraints on yourself financially, you think of creative ways to do things differently. It’s almost like you don’t want to be just—or I don’t, I mean certain directors I’m sure would love it. But there’s something about a budget and a thing that makes you think about different creative ways to solve problems that aren’t just throwing money at it. So sometimes I’ll stumble on a great fucking song by a band I’ve never heard because I’m trying to replace an $800,000 cue that’s just too big. And you’ll be like, “Let me just hear everything” and suddenly I stumble on something that’s better and I just would’ve never been exposed to it.
Don’t you think also that when you find like a really popular song, there’s an element that people associate that song with other things? When you find like a cool, hip song that’s like out of circulation that costs like nothing, and all of a sudden it’s like “the thing.”
Phillips: I know. But sometimes you want that cool thing that they associate with, because of what it associates with. For example, we don’t do this in the movie but remember in the first movie like the Jonas Brothers. You might want to use the Jonas Brothers, because Zach was talking about [them], you might want to use that and what it associates with, in an ironic way or not, so it just depends.
How much are the guys advanced as characters?
Phillips: That’s a great question. They are two years in advance it takes place in real time. The key part of that question is, yes it’s two years later because that’s when the movie comes out, two years have happened, but even more importantly sometimes the characters in sequels ignore the first movie in a way. These guys very much lived through the first Hangover and are very aware of it and reference it, and are aware at absurdities that are happening again or not. They’re going through this experience having the lens of going through the first one.
And for the other interview…here’s the red carpet interview. Sorry the audio isn’t perfect, it was recorded the one day I had some audio problems.
- Does he get any residuals from Caesar’s Palace
- What’s his karaoke song
- How have the test screenings been
- Project X talk – Does it have a title and how did the test screening go