Writer/Director Jody Hill On Set Interview – OBSERVE AND REPORT

     March 30, 2009

Written by Steve ‘Frosty’ Weintraub

Last June I got to visit New Mexico for the first time. I was invited (along with a few other online journalists) to visit the set of the new Jody Hill film “Observe and Report.” If Jody Hill’s name sounds familiar to you, it’s because he previously directed “The Foot Fist Way” and he’s one of the people behind “Eastbound and Down”, a great new show on HBO that just finished its first season.

By now you’ve all heard of “Observe and Report”, but for the few that haven’t…

At the Forest Ridge Mall, head of security Ronnie Barnhardt (Seth Rogen) patrols his jurisdiction with an iron fist. The master of his domain, he combats skateboarders, shoplifters and the occasional unruly customer while dreaming of the day when he can swap his flashlight for a badge and a gun. Ronnie’s delusions of grandeur are put to the test when the mall is struck by a flasher.

Driven by his personal duty to protect and serve the mall and its patrons, Ronnie seizes the opportunity to showcase his underappreciated law enforcement talents on a grand scale, hoping his solution of this crime will earn him a coveted spot at the police academy and the heart of his elusive dream girl Brandi (Anna Faris), the hot make-up counter clerk who won’t give him the time of day. But his single-minded pursuit of glory launches a turf war with the equally competitive Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta) of the Conway Police, and Ronnie is confronted with the challenge of not only catching the flasher, but getting him before the real cops.

While I usually have to post on set interviews before I’ve seen the film, that’s not the case this time, as I recently caught a screening and loved it. Not only is the film laugh out loud funny, it’s a hell of a lot crazier than most studio released movies. Trust me, Jody Hill was given the freedom to make his movie and it’s absolutely worth checking out on April 10th.

So with the release date fast approaching, WB has finally lifted the embargo on the interviews I participated in and the one below is with writer/director Jody Hill. During our interview Jody talked about where this idea came from, what it was like making his first studio film, “Foot Fist Way” and a lot more.

As always, you can either read the transcript below or listen to the audio by clicking here.

Finally, before reading the interview, I strongly suggest watching this red band trailer for “Observe and Report”. After you see it, I promise you’ll want to watch this film. Also, this trailer is not false advertising. The film really is this crazy and awesome.

Question: How integral is this scene today? Because we all want to be sure we don’t get cut out.

Jody Hill: I’d say it’s right up there at the top. If not, the first, the second scene.

I want to end up on the Blu-ray.

Okay. Great. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not. Yeah, it’s pretty important. It’ll probably get cut down a lot, but it’s a good one.

With Foot Fist Way, the comedy in that, I know you guys reference The Office and things like that. Is this broader? What kind of comedy are you going for here with this?

I don’t know if I’d say it’s broader, because I don’t know, it’s certainly not for everybody. You know what I mean? It’s definitely more specific than what I would say, when you say broad comedy, kind of the movies that makes me think of. In a way, it’s like Foot Fist, where there are definitely moments that are uncomfortable and this kind of stuff. But also, there’s other types of things. There’s a lot of, like, just genuinely sad moments or action moments. I think people are going to come into this thinking, ‘Oh, we’re getting ready to see this comedy with Seth Rogan,’ and then when they leave, hopefully they won’t know what to think, because I think it’s going to break genre rules throughout.

Where did you get the idea for this movie from?

I don’t know, really. My dad used to own some stores, these coffee stores that were in malls. And I saw him fight with a security guard one time and I kind of always have remembered that, so I think I thought that would be funny.

What were they fighting over?

Warning tickets. There’s a scene in the movie where Seth gives a guy a warning ticket because he parks in the loading zone and the guy’s a store owner. And that’s kind of the fight. I remember my dad kept getting warning tickets, and he was a store owner.

This is clearly going to be rated R. Can you talk about the freedom of working with Seth, who clearly ad-libs in takes, and working in that environment?

Seth’s great. Like, I’m a big fan of films from the ’70s, like Cassavetes and things, where they just keep the dialogue really loose and just kind of roll, you know what I mean? Roll with it, and it’s more important the character than the actual dialogue, you know? Like trying to capture something that ‘s real. And Seth is kind of, maybe it’s because he comes from a comedy background, but then he style, it’s just adaptable to mine. I’ve never worked with Seth before, but it’s been real easy because if I’m like, ‘Oh, well just go off on this topic or whatever,’ he’s right there with it. And what’s good is in this movie, too, I think you’re going to see a bigger range from Seth than you’ve seen before. Seth’s always been great, but here he’s not playing– it’s a much different type of role than like the stoner, slacker guy. You have a guy who is trying to live by a code, he’s like focused on doing the right thing. All these kinds of things, which is kind of the opposite of what he’s played before.

How did you arrive on Seth, then? Because it is so outside of what his usual thing is.

I don’t know. Whenever I wrote this, I had Seth in mind to play this role. We had made friends right before I kind of pitched it. I had been a fan of his since Freeks and Geeks. I don’t know. Just figured he’d be good for the role. I mean, he kind of looks like a mall security guard with the haircut. Thought it would be funny. He’s really good. He cries in this thing and there’s some parts where he like — he and Ray Liotta have a genuine fight that’s like I’d say it rivals any fight that’s out there in terms of how hard core it is and this kind of stuff, so it’s good.

What’s it like working with a studio budget versus trying to come up with the money to fund the movie yourself?

It’s kind of crazy. I think the rental fee on one of those cranes is like how much I made my first movie for. It’s kind of crazy. It’s weird at night when they break out, like, you’ll look down the street and there’ll be lights way up in the sky and you’re like, ‘Wow, those are ours. We did that.’ And in this mall. In one way it’s a lot different, just in terms of when you look around and you see the scope of it. But in other ways it’s kind of similar to where it’s just, you talk to your D.P. and your main actor and everybody uses the walkies and it kind of spreads out from there.

Foot Fist actually opened Friday and you’ve been here working on this film. How’s your weekend been?

It’s been good. I’ve been on the Internet when I can, like looking it up. We did good, though. We were third highest per screen average for Foot Fist, which was really good. Yeah. So next weekend it’s going to go bigger.

Have you had feedback from the studio or audiences?

The critics seem to like it, except for Roper and Ebert. Ebert wasn’t there, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, but the other guy hated it.

You’ve been able to bring a lot of the same people onto this film. Was it important to have those guys around you?

Yeah. Definitely. I think maybe 10 or 11 people on this crew are all from North Carolina School of the Arts, where I went to college. Tim, the D.P.’ Matt, the camera operator; our sound mixer, Chris Gebert; even a lot of the actors, like I don’t know if you guys saw Foot Fist, but the guy who does the demo right before Chuck the Truck and knocks a guy out, he plays the pervert in this movie, Randy. He has his nudity to look forward to.

Speaking of nudity, we heard that you guys are going to have male nudity in this as well.


Why do you think all of a sudden all these movies are pushing that? What do you find so great about it?

Who doesn’t like male nudity? I don’t know. The movie’s about a pervert who attacks this mall and Ronnie’s here to save it, so it just seemed natural. I don’t think I did it for shock value. I don’t know what other people think when they do it, but for me it just seemed like, ‘Well, we have a pervert in the movie, might as well show the pervert flashing people.’ That’s about as much as I thought about it.

Can you talk about casting Ray Liotta for this?

Oh, Ray Liotta is– I don’t know, I grew up watching Ray Liotta in Goodfellas. So when I heard he wanted to do it, I jumped at the opportunity. Plus, something about Seth Rogen and Ray Liotta, it just sounds so crazy that it was almost like I felt like I had to put him in the movie just to see what that looked like. And it’s great. It’s a Ray Liotta that I think people are going to like, too, where he yells at Seth and they fight and stuff. It’s like, you know what I mean? That angry Ray Liotta where you think he might murder somebody. It’s really going to be cool.

Foot Fist way is showing in the U.S., but what about the rest of the world? I’m asking because I’m from Brazil.

I hope it comes to Brazil. We sold the U.K. rights, right at Sundance. And then, shortly after we sold to Paramount Vantage worldwide rights. Who knows. I guess if it makes money then you might see it in Brazil. So we’ll see. It’s up to Paramount Vantage, I guess.

Foot Fist was also about the mall culture, with the chain dojos. Do you have a third part of the mall culture trilogy?

You know, kind of. I’m glad you asked that, because that is kind of the thought process. I’ve thought about doing a third one, but there’s definitely something similar I’m interested in. It’s more like ordinary people given a sense of power, but yet don’t have any power. You know what I mean? I’ve always been fascinated by the kind of guy you meet who, no matter what he does, like ticket-taker at the movie, who will yell at you for being five minutes late because he can. You know what I mean? It’s like that kind of guy. There’s something tragic and funny about it. So yeah, I’ve been talking to Danny about maybe doing a third installment. I won’t say anything just yet.

Anything else in your back pocket?

Yeah, I’ve got a few, but I’m going to wait until this one’s finished before I do it. I’m going to write the next one before I set it up anywhere, so I can kind of keep control of it.

Is that sort of the plan for your whole career, to be writing your own stuff? Would you ever see yourself possibly directing somebody else’s film?

I like writing my own stuff. If a book came along I would maybe do that. I don’t see myself making comedies always. I was never into comedies growing up. I don’t come from an improv background or anything like that. So I just kind of fell into it because I had a comedy idea for Foot Fist Way. So it started from there. But I probably will end up writing most of the stuff I do. I mean, who’s to say? You know what I mean? If there’s maybe some summer blockbuster someday that seems cool, maybe I’ll do that. But for right now, I’m enjoying this.

You said before, this movie might not be for everybody. Does Warner Bros. understand that?

I don’t know. Maybe a movie that’s not for everybody is what everybody wants to see right now. So that’s what I think they’re betting on.

What did Danny do when he came on set?

Danny plays a gang member. I’ll say he plays a father. I’ll say that.

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