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Exclusive 1:1 Interview: Bad Grandpa Director Jeff Tremaine!

10.23.2013

Director Jeff Tremaine - one of the main men behind JACKASS - has been a major force in bringing the wild antics of Johnny Knoxville front and center. He returns to direct Knoxville and the very talented Jackson Nicoll in the new comedy BAD GRANDPA. This wildly funny film features the JACKASS legend as the character Irving Zisman who takes his grandson on a truly inappropriate cross-country journey.

When I sat down with Mr. Tremaine, we talked about bringing Zisman to the big screen. From the unique ways to tell this story to the amount of film that didn’t make it into this feature, this seemed like a difficult task to bring to life. What they created is one incredibly hilarious flick which refreshingly pushes the boundaries of good taste in a way that only the folks behind JACKASS could. Look for BAD GRANDPA this Friday at a theatre near you.

What was the inspiration behind picking this particular character and creating a whole world around him?

Jeff Tremaine: We've had Irving now since the early TV show days. Knoxville loves to go out and f*ck with people but he can't do that as himself. Irving has been his alter ego, that's been going on thirteen years now. We talked about the idea in 2006, just very briefly if we could spin him out into his own movie. But we didn't get serious about it until about two years ago and we started coming up with the story. It seemed impossible. Yet it seemed less daunting the way we did it. We just started writing funny ideas down like we did with the JACKASS movies. Just funny scenarios to put him in. The original idea was to just put him in a loose scenario of particular ideas. As we started writing the story it took on more and more importance and then we started building these elaborate pranks into the story.

Talk about elaborate pranks, there are things in here that I don't know how you got away with them, like the beauty pageant. How do you go in and have someone not freak out?

We did have someone freak out on us and we weren't able to use it because it was an angry dad who got into it. It was a really funny confrontation but unfortunately the guy never wanted anything to do with the film. At least with the beauty pageant we were able to have three cameras out. Luckily we found these ladies who throw this pageant every year and they just intercept it.

I was watching the film thinking it's almost impossible to believe that this isn't staged, but you guys set it up at the end of the film to kind of give a glimpse of how you accomplished this.

On the DVD we did a lot of behind the scenes vignettes. Like we show you how we did the beauty pageant, we show you the funeral. But yeah they are complicated - especially the funeral where there is no camera out and it's not a real body or person that existed. That was a real complicated one for us to wrap our heads around. We had to figure out how are we going to get people to sit through a funeral for someone that didn't exist. We came up with the idea that she loved gospel music, so we hired a gospel choir to come sing and when they got there we asked them if they wouldn't mind sitting through the service. This poor old man’s family didn't show up and he didn't have anyone left. It was the same story with the caterers, and the limo driver, and the hearse driver. We started getting really creative thinking let’s get some sweet old ladies, so we called this cat loving society and said she loved cats and used to rescue them.

I don't want to spoil anything, but there are so many set pieces not in the trailer that are just hilarious. But one actor in particular, without going into too much detail, with the biker gang… I thought he was going to die.

We were trying to get him killed.

[Laughing] How did you avoid it?

It just escalated to a point and that's where our story ended, so we didn't need to take it further. It went better than we could've hoped. The biker gang, the head of that gang set him up. We got him in on it and he gave us some info on how to handle them. He said that if they don't take their vests off, chances are they're not going to do anything too gnarly to him. But if they take their colors off, then he had no control over them.

Wow, really?

There is one shot - it's on the DVD not the movie - where one of the main guys starts taking his vest off. The scene defused after that.

Your approach has changed and now obviously this is a more narrative story, so was it difficult for you guys as writers to take on that challenge?

It was difficult to start. This movie is a terrible idea from a production standpoint. You have to go through three hours of makeup before you can even start shooting. Then we're shooting with a little boy who has a ton of restrictions on the hours he can work and what you can do with him. Then it's all hidden camera, just hoping that you get something every day. After you get something you hope that they are ok with being in the movie. We started just kinda coming up with funny scenarios not really thinking story, but as we were writing it, the story just became front and center. We weren't sure that it was going to work. I wasn't sure it was going to work when we shot the funeral. We shot the funeral early on and when we pulled that off I knew we could do anything. That was unbelievable and that has the whole plot of the movie in that scene.

It actually is pretty brilliant. Now with the child, how difficult was it to find the right young actor? First of all to let him do it, second of all be up to the task.

Knoxville and him did a movie together [FUN SIZE] and when he was done shooting the movie he came to me and said 'man I just worked with the funniest, coolest kid. We gotta do something with him.' We hadn't started the idea for BAD GRANDPA yet but we knew we had this ace in our back pocket. So when we started writing the grandfather idea, he was the obvious choice. We did have to test him though because it's one thing to be on a set and perform in a controlled environment. Out in the real world, we'd done other things with kids and we thought we had the right kid but when we got out there they froze up. So we had to do little tests with Jack and he passed it with flying colors.

When I was getting ready to talk with you I saw him doing interviews. Even in an interview, he's just sharp as a tack.

He's sharp. Half the movie, when he got a little microphone under his shirt, as we're just about to start the shooting he would lift up the microphone to his mouth and say 'hey Jeff, f*ck off' and then we'd start shooting. Half the movie I'm just asking him to be nice and don't tell people to f*ck off. My job was just keeping him calmed down instead of stirring everything up further.

My favorite interview I saw him do, he said he learned how to punch people in the zipper.

Yes, he's the perfect height.

How often did this happen on set?

Everyday, multiple times a day! But he would only do it to a few of us. I'm one of the lucky people I guess. The hard thing about it is that he is so short that he isn't in your eye line. He can sneak up behind you easily and he just has to punch straight and he'll hit you right in the spot.

Do you see another BAD GRANDPA or is there another character you'd like to explore?

Knock on wood this movie does well. I'm sure there's a way to do a sequel. It'll be harder. We will get recognized more and we'd have to be smarter where we'd do it. I'm not convinced the idea is impossible to do.

I'm surprised you were able to do as much as you did. With JACKASS fans, Irving is a very recognizable character.

We were very careful not to shoot in places - if we saw a kid on a skateboard or something he would tuck away. There are certain groups of people that would recognize him and certain groups that won't. Younger college age kids we try to avoid.

When you come up with an idea like the beauty pageant or the biker bar, what is the process and how long does it take to figure out you can do it and are willing to try it?

Basically, the way this movie worked we were shooting in places they would never expect us to be shooting. We honed in on the Midwest and the South. We shot in Ohio quite a bit, in Columbus and Cleveland and North Carolina a lot. We have the ideas written and we start doing research. One of our producers found the biker gang "Guardians of Children". That just fell into our lap, we didn't know they even existed and we already had the idea. So they were perfect.

That was the most tension filled moment though.

Yeah, that wasn't even funny. That was really dramatic. I think we shot the first hidden camera drama scene ever.

I think you're right. I literally felt bad for that guy because he had to be such a scumbag.

He is awesome! He is incredible. He was nervous at first but he's very good at getting under people's skin.

Were there any moments that didn't make it into the movie where you tried but just couldn't use it?

We shot a whole series of pranks with Spike Jonze dressed as an old lady - he's in the credits. He played Irving's love interest and we caught some hilarious stuff. A chunk of the narration was about that. But as we were editing the movie, it just sort of clunked up the story. When we starting cutting the movie, what was working, you wanted more of. When you're watching it, it is about Billy and Irving and their relationship and it just sort of got in the way of the story I thought. So it got cut out. It's really funny stuff. We'll put out some sort of GRANDPA 1.5 or something, I don't know what we'll call it.

Doesn't that give you a lot of freedom, you did that with JACKASS as well? Sort of a sequel…?

Well it's not really a sequel as it's almost like a documentary. It's a place to put all the failed bits in, and when you give them context then they become almost funnier than anything in the movie.

Source: JoBlo.com

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