Lorne Michaels and Akiva Schaffer Interview – HOT ROD

     August 3, 2007

First of all a big apology to Paramount for my delay in posting all the interviews from “Hot Rod.” For some reason I thought the movie came out next weekend, otherwise I would’ve posted this much sooner. Again, sorry.

But now why we’re here. I recently got to sit down for roundtable interviews with a lot of people involved with making the movie and the interview below is with Akiva Schaffer and Lorne Michaels – the director and the producer of the film and SNL.

During the interview they both spoke about how the project came together, how Dick in a Box is up for an Emmy, the casting, the next season of SNL, how the digital shorts get made, and a ton of other subjects. While Lorne does most of the talking, it’s a great interview.

As always, you can either read the transcript or download the audio of the interview by clicking here. It’s an MP3 so you can easily place it on an iPod or any portable device. And if you missed all the movie clips I already posted you can click here to watch them.

Finally, due to running out of time, I won’t have transcripts up with Isla Fisher, Ian McShane or Bill Hader, Danny Mcbride and Jorma Taccone. So if you’d like to hear what they said just click on their names for the MP3’s.

And with that, here’s Lorne and Akiva.

Question: Do you guys mind if I ask my Emmy’s questions first again. Is it more satisfying for you to save some short like dick in the Box nominated for an Emmy or just the whole show and writing staff?

Lorne Michaels: Well one gets to go to the big Emmy’s and one gets to go to the little Emmy’s so I was thrilled for them, I thought it was great.

After all these years is it still a thrill when you get nominated?

Lorne Michaels: Yeah. The surprising thing about it is because I’ve been successful at it but every single time you’re there at the Emmy’s no matter what you were thinking in a sense of I have these and I won before, whatever defenses you come in with; the moment they read your category you’re sweating. You can’t believe how much you want it when you’re there.

There’s some stiff competition this year for even in the music category like there’s musical episodes of Scrubs. If it can’t be SNL, who are your favorites among the competition?

Lorne Michaels: Oh, I don’t know. I know most of the people involved so I’ll be happy for whoever wins.

Were you in charge of picking Dick in the Box to be submitted?

Lorne Michaels: I don’t know who submitted it.

Akiva Schaffer: I was just happy to see it on there.

Lorne Michaels: We’re not as well organized as you think.

Good luck.

Lorne Michaels: Thanks.

So how did the project originate like at work or how did you guys all come to it?

Lorne Michaels: I came to it with Will Farrell and Jimmy Miller came in with a writer they liked named Pam Brady who worked on South Park and who I liked immediately and they wanted to do the picture for Will and it got written and I think at the time Paramount was soft on making Will Farrell pictures. We’d made 2 or 3 of them but I think they just for whatever reason weren’t 100% on it. So it didn’t happen at that moment and then by the time they were eager for it, that wasn’t what Will wanted to do anymore. In the meantime, I continued to work with Pam on the script and we got it to a place where we liked it and the studio liked it and there was a lot of interest from various comedy stars and directors to do it. All of whom would have been a different kind of movie but might well have made a good movie. When it came down to my decision about how I wanted to do it the only thing I got excited about on this was doing it with Akivia and with Andy. Andy had read the script and really liked it. It was not as hard with the studio as it should have been because it’s a 1st time director and a 1st time movie star and it’s an expensive movie in the sense that it’s got stunts and as movie goes it’s not expensive but in that world it’s expensive. And they said well, if that’s what you want to do and so pulling the cast together and we got lucky on a lot of things and then the experience of making it was just great. We were in Vancouver and you know the team on the picture aside from the people we brought were like Nick Powell who was the stunt coordinator who’s done Gladiator and Bourne Identity and you know like so we have that and Andrew Dunn who’s the cinematographer. It was like The A-Team so you know if Akiva said how do we do this or you know there was a really interesting solutions to things and it was all in service of what is essentially a big dumb comedy.

Lorne, how involved are you on a day-to-day basis with it? Are you constantly flying back and forth from New York to Vancouver?

Lorne Michaels: I was there I think 3 times. I sort of keep an eye on it. Being a producer on a movie set is watching paint dry. It’s just really good for morale. You want to show people that you’re engaged but if you’ve done your work properly and the script is right and the cast is right and the director knows what he’s doing, then I think it’s a straight supporting role and you come back into it in post, you know? I mean it has to stay on schedule and those kinds of things.

What about creative input I mean, do you make any suggestions as to…?

Lorne Michaels: Yeah, yeah, yeah. When we were doing Wayne’s World, literally we were writing it the night before. We’d be writing scenes in my office at Paramount. We were shooting on the lot so it was …that and that’s the way we were used to it at the show. I think in this one because it’s so much more elaborate, you know, stunts and physical comedy, I think there was a lot more planning to do things but still we were…

Akiva Schaffer: It was still improv?

Lorne Michaels: Yeah.

Well speaking of the stunts, Akiva, going from small screen directing to big screen directing is a big deal just with the comedy but it’s something you know. The stunts is a whole different world. How did you sort of approach that?

Akiva Schaffer: Yeah, when he asked me read that script for the 1st time that was the one thing that made me nervous because everything else in it was kind of comedy based so I was like sure I know how to do that, I know how to do that. Then I’d read some stunt and I’d go I don’t know even where to begin on that. Like he said this guy Nick Powell that we got that we kind of lucked out and I knew how I wanted it to look in my head so I could describe the shot I was going to do. I could describe like how I wanted the crash to feel, how I wanted it to feel like home-made and you just caught it and not cut to the close-up of the crash in a way that like some comedies would do. Then a few days later he would kind of have it all set up— mocked up with the real people with wires and a gravel parking lot and he’d call me out there and I’d go out and he’d be all right are you ready? Are you watching? I’d be like yeah. And he’d be like go ahead. All of a sudden some dude would just swing in or explode or just go right in and do it and he’d turn to me and I’d go “that will work”.

Were there any stunts you wanted to do that you weren’t able to get in the movie?

Akiva Schaffer: No, he really figured it all out. There were some where I’d tell him and you could see his face kind of drop. If it was just somebody making a jump then that’s pretty safe because someone who makes a jump remains safe. But somebody who’s supposed to go full speed into something, it’s harder to fake that actually ‘cos no matter what to do it unless we were doing CG which I didn’t really want any of in the movie, I had to compromise a few times for people’s safety but in general there’s very little CG and so to do it—I was surprised how much the guy really had to do it. They just had to be willing to hurt themselves.

Lorne Michaels: Like a Roadrunner. You know, there was really 7 or 8 of those roadrunners not just 1.

Can you talk about the casting of Danny McBride?

Lorne Michaels: Sure.

Akiva Schaffer: Yeah, one of the other producers on the movie who works for him, Joe Messick, had gone to Sundance and had seen his movie Foot Fist Way which I think McKay and Ferrell just picked up for little distribution, so she actually brought a DVD in one day of it and was just like guys you probably want to see this. It wasn’t even necessarily the right role for him in the movie, she was just like I bet after seeing this you’re going to want to think of somebody you can kind of tweak to make for him and that’s really exactly what happened. We watched that thing and we weren’t’ even as quick to think of it as she was. We watched it and went well, he’s awesome but I don’t know where it fits and then as the months went by in pre-production we were just sitting there and we couldn’t get the movie out of our heads. So we were just like let’s see if we tweak this one guy a little bit let’s have him come out here, he’s in Virginia, let’s fly him out here and have him do a little table read and get to feel him out and as soon as we were hanging out with him we were like oh, he has to be in this movie. He has to be in there.

Lorne Michaels: He and Bill met at that first table read and it was an instant bonding. They were inseparable there and they’re off in Hawaii now…

Akiva Schaffer: They’re in the next room right now.

Lorne Michaels: They came in from Hawaii and they’re going back to Hawaii for Tropic Thunder.

Akiva Schaffer: They’ve been cast as…I don’t know how many scenes they have but they’ve been put in the same movie again.

Lorne, you’re obviously putting a lot of money into this. There’s a lot of spending going on. What is it about Jorma, Akiva and Andy that gives you so much confidence…

Lorne Michaels: I wouldn’t go that far! I think it’s this idea, done that way. I think when you’re choosing a director—because it’s all about choices, just the sheer physical task of it which is a grind and you want to make sure they have a physical but you want to know the choices and the intelligence behind it is one you want to work with because there’s a million choices along the way and if it’s not all of a piece—if it’s not all the same sensibility and taste, then the picture ends up being that kind of—doesn’t know what it is kind of movie. What I thought was if we make a good one of those, I think there’ll be an audience for it. That was sort of the bet was to make a good one of those and I think it was Akiva and Andy obviously and I think we knew and we sort knew Bill would be in it and then we were talking about who’d play Frank and there were a couple of names that came up then Ian McShane’s name came up, I think from Akiva?

Akiva Schaffer: Yeah, we were huge fans of Deadwood and as soon as we read that script we were like who’d be the cool new person that hasn’t been in a silly comedy yet? We didn’t know if he’d read the script and be like of course not or be game at all. We just knew we loved him and were fans. Actually I didn’t even know they sent him a script then he called me in my office at Rockefeller from his office about 50 feet away. He called me one day at the show—which is like Ian read it he’s in and we hadn’t even met him yet, we were just like oh my God. Awesome. I talked to him on the phone and I think he knew again, like Brian Dennehey in Tommy Boy or…I don’t think they get asked to be in comedies and then when they do it’s….my experience on the show is like whether it’s Christopher Walken or Alec Baldwin or lots of people who are essentially known as serious actors, when they get to do comedy they’re very happy for the…and they have all those years—DiNero being one of the great examples—all those years of being cast one way then suddenly they’re funny and it’s disarming.

Continued on the next page ———>


Speaking of SNL, you announced LeBron is going to be hosting.

Lorne Michaels: The 1st show, yeah.

Do you have any other casting—any other people you guys are gunning for already?

Lorne Michaels: Seth Rogan is doing the 2nd show and I can’t think past October right now but I think by the time we go on the air we’ll have the first 8 or 9 set. I never like to get too full because the decisions you make in the summer aren’t necessarily the ones you feel good about in the winter so you know, well who’s music were you listening to over the summer—I think it’s going to be Amy Winehouse on that first show and you go there are lots of people with albums coming out but you go how does that sound like it’s 2007 and so I think then we’re in an election year and so that is traditionally really good for us and you want to leave a little space for that and then there’s the unknown, you know.

And what can we look forward to on 30 Rock this season besides Jerry Seinfeld being on the premiere?

Lorne Michaels: On the first one yeah. I think that that show was born with a lot of severe strikes against it. There was a feeding frenzy about the Sorkin show and we were also doing a backstage show about late night comedy show is Tina Fey and I think Alec from the beginning knew that this was the right show to be on and I think it took—we were on Tuesdays, we were on Wednesdays and finally got to Thursdays and gradually you could just see it got better and better and they were trusting the characters more and more and I think it will be as I say it’s a comedy phrase but I think it will be less dense. I think the first year of show you’re trying to do everything you ever thought of and put everything into one thing and I think the more confident you get the more easy you get with it. It just relaxes and takes on another…and from what I know from the stories so far I think it will jump to another level. And I think this will be the year it becomes a popular hit.

Are you developing other shows right now?

Lorne Michaels: I wish I were better organized but I think it’s too hard a process to not go into…I always go into it the same way. There’s not too much difference between making Hot Rod or making this is that Tina Fey is at the center of that show—creative center of that show—and I know the choices she’ll make and her taste. While I won’t always be in agreement, I know it’s coming from a place of intelligence and that it wants to be good or what the phrase I use is hits with honor, you know. They know has to be a hit because you don’t get to be in another one if it’s not a hit but you also have to do it with some honor so it’s …so you can be really proud of it.

Lorne, a 2-parter. You recently put out that amazing 1st season SNL DVD. Is there going to be a 2nd season?

Lorne Michaels: Yeah, that’s coming out, too. I think there’s only another 30 left.

I just didn’t know if it sold enough to do because it’s amazing. It’s amazing to watch because it’s interesting to watch the evolution of the show from this sort of scrappy gorilla program to what it is now. But I’m curious now that the show is an institution you have the cast who’s never lived in the world without SNL, is it tough to recruit sort of the edgier newer people because you’ve gone from being the underdog to being the institution? Does it make it tough?

Lorne Michaels: I think probably yes is the answer. I think but at the same time they tend to find us. In the sense that Chris Farley was the child that Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi never had you get or Adam Sandler or Dana or every generation grows up on their cast. So there’s some echos but I never put anyone in that I think is like somebody we’ve ever had before. It’s almost always chemistry. This cast this year, some of them have been there for a while and some are brand new, it just all connected. It was just one of those great seasons where everybody was good. You were happy when you looked around the room between dress and hair and there wasn’t any that ohhh I can’t believe it. There was just a…they were all there for each other and it was just no different than the 1st season.

Andy kind of touched on the question earlier—but since you have a lot more riding on it I think, are you intimidated a little bit by the fact that this movie is going to be released with along side The Simpsons and along side Superbad at the same time?

Lorne Michaels: I think the idea was that if we came on in the summer there would be a longer time for people out of school and people would find the picture. I have complete faith in the picture and obviously we don’t have the established franchise that The Simpsons has and I think Superbad from everything I hear is great so I’m real happy with the movie and I have a feeling that it’s going to work. But we’ll see.

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