With director Todd Phillips’ comedy sequel The Hangover Part III opening this week, I recently sat down with him for an extended interview. In the final installment to the popular franchise, we find Stu (Helms), Phil (Cooper), and Doug (Justin Bartha) en route to taking Alan (Galifianakis) to a psychiatric hospital when the gang is side-trekked by a mysterious man (John Goodman) who kidnaps Doug and forces the wolf pack to track down Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong), who stole $21 million from Goodman’s character. As you might expect, chaos ensues. For more on the film, watch the red band trailer or check out over forty images.
During the interview, Phillips and screenwriter Craig Mazin talked about his first cut versus the theatrical release, deleted scenes, what can fans expect on the Blu-ray, what it’s like working for Warner Bros. and the creative freedom he’s allowed, the writing process, how the story changed, film versus digital, thoughts on doing a 3D comedy, and more. In addition, Phillips reveals they’re talking about doing the ultimate Hangover box set which would include new interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, and more. Hit the jump for what they had to say.
TODD PHILLIPS: It was about 2 hours and 5 minutes. It wasn’t that long.
How long was the final release?
PHILLIPS: It’s about 100 minutes.
Now when you do a first cut, is your first cut everything or is it like a director’s cut?
PHILLIPS: It’s a director’s cut, it’s never just everything. I mean the first, first cut, like an editor’s cut, we don’t count that. That’s called an assembly.
PHILLIPS: But when I do a first cut, let’s say there’s two hours and five minutes, that’s everything that I thought, “Hmm this could work, maybe it needs to be massaged a little bit, but let’s just sort of look at this.” Then we – me, Craig and some people in my inner circle – we’ll screen the two hour and five minute cut and make decisions based on that, cut things out, clean it up, and then we’ll probably put it in front of an audience a few weeks later and see where we’re at.
For all your movies, is it an easy thing for you to be like, “Oh, I see the twenty minutes that are coming out right now”?
PHILLIPS: Yeah, it is. It becomes pretty crystal clear once you watch that first assembly the things that are just grinding it to a halt, so to speak, or slowing it down, or getting in the way, yeah.
Concerning deleted scenes, I think I’ve asked you-
PHILLIPS: I think you know me, yeah, I think I know this question.
Exactly, but I’m curious for Hangover 3, now that the series is over I would imagine you have clips that have never seen the light of day from the first two movies as well as the third. I’m sure that Warner Brothers would like to do the ultimate Hangover experience Blu-ray like Marvel did with their Phase 1 Blu-ray where they put a lot of shit out there that has never been seen. Is that something that appeals to you?
PHILLIPS: It doesn’t honestly appeal to me; however, we’ll probably do some version of that. It won’t be cut into the actual movie, but we’ve been talking about in the year after this DVD comes out doing a three DVD set, and we’ve talked about scenes that we’ve never put on as deleted scenes. But you have to know, AND you’ve talked to enough filmmakers to know, deleted scenes are deleted for a reason. It’s never like, “I’m going to take this scene out because it’s too good for the movie.” It’s generally because the scene doesn’t work in the body of the movie. So I hate when people take deleted scenes and put them back into the movie. I don’t mind if they sit there on their own and then as a viewer who’s a big fan, if you’re that big of a fan and you want to look at stuff we took out and say, “Oh, I wonder why they took that scene out?” That’s cool, because I like to do that too. I’ve watched deleted scenes of movies I love, like Fight Club or something like that. I’ll watch those deleted scenes and try to figure out, “Oh why didn’t that work? What did that slow down?” The other thing we’re talking about doing for the ultimate DVD box set or whatever you’re going to call it, is a really cool 60 or 90 minute documentary tying the movies together, tying the experience of making the movies together that my buddy’s going to do. Joey [Garner]’s going to do it.
CRAIG MAZIN: Joey’s going to do it?
PHILLIPS: Yeah we got Warner’s to – Joey’s my assistant for years, but he also is a filmmaker in his own right. So we got him, because he knows everybody, the guys love him, putting together this sort of 90 minute behind the scenes documentary where we’re doing new interviews for it and all this old footage. I think it’ll be really cool.
PHILLIPS: No we weren’t thinking about that honestly ever, but, that said, we have a ton of behind the scenes footage. Just like every movie you have crews around and this guy Joey, he directed Craigslist Joe, that documentary, he’s my assistant so he’s always got a camera running around on set. We’ve got a ton of footage.
You had creative freedom on the first movie, but with the success of this franchise talk a little bit about the studio’s involvement when you’re making the movie. Is it sort of like, “We’ll give them the script and this is what we’re going to make,” or is sort of like “We trust you at this point to go do what you’re going to do”?
PHILLIPS: I mean of course they read a script, but they essentially, basically say, “Hey, see you at the premiere.” And I don’t mean that in a negative way to them or them to me, but we’ve just built up a trust over the years now. It’s very much we keep these– even Hangover 3 we make these movies at a price, relatively speaking to the world of Hollywood, we make these movies at a pretty good price for what they are that we’re able to keep that freedom and have that vibe. Now, that said, there are some really bright people that work at Warner Brothers, that we work with , that we want feedback from so I’ll show them the script, they’ll come look at dailies, I’ll show them early cuts – the thing I was just telling you, the two hour and five minute cut – some of them will actually be in that room because I actually respect their opinions, but it’s never the law of the land at Warners. Does that make sense?
PHILLIPS: This is the thing that I think people don’t realize, and I actually hate talking about it too much because I actually like keeping it kind of quiet but…whatever, the point is it is a really special place to work and I feel like if every director knew it they would basically all just be working there. There’s a reason Ben Affleck, Chris Nolan, Zack Snyder, myself are fiercely loyal to this studio and it’s because they are a filmmaker driven studio. That started years ago with Alan Horn and Jeff Robinov has continued that torch in that they are a director driven studio. There are some studios that are movie star driven, there are some studios that are producer driven, and then there are some studios that are director driven and Warners has really been a filmmaker, director driven studio. They take the guys they trust, whether it’s Ben Affleck, Chris Nolan, Zack Snyder, me, there are others, and they go, “Here go make your movie.” Why would you go anywhere else? This is all you ever wanted. So it’s kind of amazing.
I’m curious about the writing process; this is a question for both of you. Obviously, you have created two hugely successful films. When you’re sitting there getting ready to do the third movie is there any additional pressure on you like, “Oh my god, there’s going to be millions of people that are anxiously awaiting watching this. Fuck man, we’ve got to step up”?
PHILLIPS: I wouldn’t mind answering real quick my version of, because get asked that a lot, and I feel like it’s the opposite. I feel like I felt so much more pressure when we were making the first Hangover and we were sitting there going, “I wonder if anyone’s going to see this movie.” Where, when you say, “There are millions of people waiting for this movie.” It’s so liberating as a filmmaker to know the part that you worry most about, which is – is anybody going to show up? The part that you worry most about, that’s handled. People are going to show up. People are curious about this film. So now all we have to do is make this movie and take the reins off, fuck around, be funny, and try stuff. So in a weird way it’s not pressure, it’s the opposite. It’s liberating. That’s for me as a writer-director; I don’t know what you feel.
PHILLIPS: It’s exciting to know that people are waiting.
MAZIN: Yeah, the pressure that you feel is the pressure that you feel when you write any movie, you just want people, if you’re writing a comedy in particular, you want them to laugh. You want the audience to laugh. That pressure doesn’t change depending on what your expectations are for how many people are going to show up. You hope that everybody shows up. Then the thing is – are people going to laugh? You push yourself no matter what you do. The only pressure that I would feel is – okay it’s the second or third movie, how do you retell the story? How do you recombine these elements to do it again?
PHILLIPS: Yeah because the thing that you’re never going to be able to do in a second or third movie is recapture the discovery element. Part of the reason The Hangover was so big was because people felt like it was theirs, because it wasn’t forced to them by the studio machine, because it wasn’t actors they’ve known, you know what I mean? So it was like in a weird way the audience owned that movie. It was like they discovered it. It became their movie and it was such a surprised because it came out of nowhere. You can’t recreate that. None of them will ever be The Hangover 1, because so much of what made that movie so special was the surprise of it, which you just can’t replicate.
At The Hangover 2 junket-
PHILLIPS: [Sighs] Oh, right I got in a fight. Go ahead.
No, this was before you got mad at me.
MAZIN: There was a time before the time you got mad at him.
PHILLIPS: I wonder why.
PHILLIPS: I really wonder why.
I don’t know, I asked you a question about music at the Hangover 2 junket, there was a press conference, whatever, let’s get past that.
What I’m curious about is you mentioned at that junket how you had an idea for the third movie.
And I’m curious now, what you guys made, how early on did you guys know that this was the direction of the franchise? Or was the script and story of the third something that you discovered in the writing process?
PHILLIPS: I would say probably when I said that probably 50% of it was there, maybe, I honestly don’t remember the timeline so specifically. But Craig and I had been talking about doing a third one on the set of Hangover 2, so probably some of that was there.
MAZIN: The basics – we knew pretty early on that we wanted to make a movie about Alan, that we wanted to resolve this story, and that we wanted to take an unblinking look at a character that otherwise you’d just look at as the wild, crazy guy and say, “Yeah, but really, what’s wrong with this guy?”
PHILLIPS: Yeah, because you look at John Belushi in Animal House you go, “He’s unfixable.” But what happens if you try to fix him? That was sort of the idea.
PHILLIPS: “So maybe we should fix the root of the cause.”
MAZIN: Yes, exactly. That idea was in place.
PHILLIPS: So when I said, “Oh, we have this thing,” maybe that was the thing I was referring to, but we hadn’t figured it all out.
There were a lot of rumors that the third movie was going to Alan in a mental institution.
PHILLIPS: That is the power of the internet. That wasn’t rumors.
MAZIN: [Laughs] It was. It was on Collider.
It was a Collider story [Laughs].
PHILLIPS: I’ll tell you what that was. That was Zack making a joke-
PHILLIPS: -because he’s a comedian-
PHILLIPS: -to somebody on the internet-
MAZIN: And then he does a story!
PHILLIPS: -who wanted to get web hits ,who knew it was a joke, pretends that it’s not, makes it a story and links to these other nerds, and then all the sudden that becomes the truth – and that’s how the internet works. Anyway, that’s what that was. They know that it’s a joke they print it as truth so it become a source.
MAZIN: Is that true?
PHILLIPS: No, he didn’t.
MAZIN: No, but is his theory correct?
PHILLIPS: Of course.
I’ll defend Todd. Todd is an expert of all things internet and knows exactly how my site works. No, I’m busting his balls. I’m curious though, in your writing process in your writing process were there any radical or different ideas that you originally were pretty far along on and you were like, “Hey this isn’t working”? I’m curious the way you guys figure out storylines and how much changes as you’re writing.
PHILLIPS: It took a lot for us, as just two guys who love making each other laugh, it took a lot for us to not do another wakeup movie, quite honestly, partly in response to the response to Hangover 2. Partly like, “Oh really? Okay, it can’t happen twice to somebody in their life? Watch it’s going to happen a third time and it’s going to be fucking more ridiculous.” It took a lot for us to be mature and go, “Well no, let’s go back to that original idea we had about Alan, and about him being fixed.” There are legitimately three other Hangover 3 movies that we could have written that took a totally different path, but we really feel like the Alan story is the most emotional, the most interesting, and ultimately the most satisfying way to conclude this trilogy, so to speak.
MAZIN: That’s true. There are versions – basically the intentions that you see in a lot of these scenes, we have different versions of. Mr. Chow escaping from prison, there’s a version where he got paroled and there’s a whole scene where he talks-
PHILLIPS: Yeah, but those are just scene differences. I’m talking about there’s actually different movies.
MAZIN: There were, before we started writing, there were vastly different suggestions about what we could do, and it got pretty wild and it got pretty interesting, but ultimately you have to start settling in and landing on something. We didn’t go down any path too far that we then said, “Oh, let’s back out of here.” The way we like to do it is if we’re able to tell each other the movie like we just saw it, we’re walking out of the theater, here’s what happened scene to scene to scene – it’s time to start writing. We don’t waste time exploring stuff on paper.
PHILLIPS: Yeah, we basically just brainstorm it for a long time before we even start writing. For months, we just talk.
I don’t know if you did film or digital on this one.
PHILLIPS: We did film 90%, we did some digital.
The labs that can develop film are literally closing so it’s going to be hard to get out there. IMAX, for example, is creating this new digital 3D camera that Bay is using on Transformers 4, clearly the industry is moving toward digital. Are you at that stage where you’re thinking, “I’m going to have to transition to digital fully?”
PHILLIPS: Yeah, I’ve never shot digital fully. We did on this movie for a couple of stunt sequences for practical reasons. I’m okay transferring to digital. I’m not excited about it. But, I will say, the reason we resisted on Hangover 3 is because I believe these movies exist as kind of one movie, they all take place in the same world. So it would be a shame to have shot Hangover 1 and 2 on film entirely and then all the sudden switch to digital in the middle of this trilogy. If I was going to go start tomorrow a new low-budget movie, and we’re going to make it for 10 million dollars and bang it out in 35 days, would I shoot it on Alexa? Sure. I’m not anti-digital, but I do think The Hangover, and I’ve talked about it, has a real look to it that I thought the film and that sort of authentic feel to it really is just part of The Hangover. So I was adamant about shooting film on this one.
PHILLIPS: Yeah, I don’t know.
MAZIN: That would be a terrible idea.
PHILLIPS: Would it be? I feel like they made one, didn’t they?
PHILLIPS: Wasn’t one of those Epic Movie movies one?
MAZIN: I think it’s a bad idea personally. I think it’s like a pointless distraction. The point of comedy is that it’s real or you’re…I don’t know.
PHILLIPS: I don’t know, I don’t have as much as an aversion to 3D.
MAZIN: In a comedy?
PHILLIPS: When 3D’s done well I actually kind of dig it.
MAZIN: I love 3D in action, but in a comedy?
PHILLIPS: Why not? To me it’s like saying, “Color? Really? Why do you want color?”
MAZIN: Well, no I get color.
PHILLIPS: It’s just another tool, so I could imagine 3D comedies working for sure. But again, Hangover 3 to be in 3D would be absurd because the others weren’t. I just want them to all live in the same world, you know? I know you’re not talking about it for Hangover 3, but I’m saying I think it will happen and I’d be interested to see it. I don’t think it’s a bad idea.