INT: David Zucker
If Hollywood really respected comedy, David Zucker would be mentioned in the same breath as legendary auteurs like Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and others. Zucker, who along with longtime collaborator Jim Abrahams gave us such offbeat classics as Airplane! and The Naked Gun, practically invented the modern spoof. So when it came time for the Wayans to hand over the Scary Movie reigns to a new director, Zucker was a logical choice to helm the third installment of the series. He returns for another go round this week with SCARY MOVIE 4. Check it out.
Which was the better experience as a filmmaker, Scary Movie 3 or 4?
4 was harder because we had only nine months to do it from conception, first page of writing to release was nine months. It's impossible. I've negotiated for my next deal to have merely an unreasonable schedule. [laughs] We're going to negotiate to have a year to do it. That would be like a luxury. We worked weekends, nights, just...it was...mainly because one of the big requirements is to have the main movies that we do...you know, we use two main movies.
For Scary 3, there was Signs and The Ring. And for this one, we were all set to do Ring 2, but Ring 2 was not accepted by the audience, so we couldn't hang our whole thing...It was just quickly forgotten, in part, maybe because of Scary Movie 3 [laughs]. Cuz we did that, the scary little girl. So then we had to wait for War of the Worlds. But the release date was already set. They wanted this April 14. So we all agreed, hey, we're just going to do it. So it ended up, for this one, it's War of the Worlds and The Grudge, and then a bunch of other movies thrown in, like the Saw.
Is there another Scary Movie in the pipeline if this is a success?
definitely. The great thing about the Scary Movie franchise is that they
just keep making horror movies. There will always be horror movies, so it
will always be fresh. So we don't have to follow the same premise, like in a
Are there any movies you had to leave out that you would have liked to parody?
No, we used every possible one. In the past two years, I think the pickings were thinner than they were for 3. So we had to really make the most of the movies that were in the popular mind, like the boxing one, Million Dollar Baby. Well, Grudge and War of the Worlds were big, Saw was big. So we really hit those pretty hard. And the Village, which wasn't as successful as some of the other M. Night movies, but was still...it was a very strikingly original movie.
What makes Anna Faris such a good foil for your spoofs?
Well, first of all, horror movies...it's scarier when it's a woman. It's scarier. And we kind of learned that the scarier it is, the funnier it is. And she's really a good actress. I mean, she is so convincing and can convey the sincerity. And so it just, the more the audience can be involved in the plot and believability of the characters, the funnier the jokes will be. Because I don't tell any of the actors to try to be funny. I always, my biggest direction is, let the lines do the work. You know, just let the script be funny. You just do the dramatic acting.
Has she ever said "wait a minute" to anything you've asked her to do, or is she fearless?
Fearless, yeah. She knows that when...like if I need her to take that baseball, she'll do it. Because you can't get a stunt double. It wouldn't be funny to have a stunt double from behind, or something. She had to take that thing. And the drinks cart, too. That wouldn't work with a stunt person. So that took a couple of takes, and it hurt. But she never objects to anything, because she's a trooper.
How does she keep a straight face?
not as hard. You know, Anna never cracks up. Or
For the opening scene with Shaq and Dr. Phil, do you cast it first or write it first?
Well, we had an outline that it was going to be two people in the Saw bathroom. But we couldn't write it...all those things are very Shaq and Dr. Phil specific. So Shaq's got to make a basket, Dr. Phil has to give advice. So that was written for them.
What's it like working with Jim Abrahams again?
Oh, it was great. We've been friends all these years, and wanted to work with each other again, and things just didn't, schedule-wise, work out. So we did it again, and it was really as if no time had passed. The shorthand that we developed was right there again. We had a lot of fun. And also, Craig Mazin, the new writer, well, new to...from Scary Movie 3, really enjoyed working with Jim also. So we made a good team.
Is there a moment where you're with Abrahams and you're clicking and thinking, "Glad you're back"?
Yes, many moments....We had a good laugh over the Michael Madsen line which Jim came up with. "We'll build our own Tripods. Ours will have four legs." And that's very much, that made me laugh pretty hard. Not only because it was funny, because that's a typical Jim Abrahams line. So he would think of stuff like that. [laughs]
Can you guys get it any better than Airplane?
You mean as an experience? No, it couldn't possibly because with Airplane, we came out of nowhere and we were the new kids. People were writing stuff like, "These kids saved Hollywood!" after the summer movies had bombed, and we came in. It was kind of blown even out of proportion for what it was, but...It'll never be an experience like that, even though the Scary Movies will make more money, I think. It's just a whole different thing now. But we were just three guys from Milwaukee, and that was something.
Doing this kind of press junket and going to Europe and doing the press, it was great. We got to meet Charlie Bluhdorn, the head of Gulf and Western, and at the same time, they were trying...we went to Europe with Michael Eisner and Jeff Katzenberg and Barry Diller, who were all executives there. And they all were working for Bluhdorn, and a little bit afraid of him. [laughs] I mean, imagine these guys...but Bluhdorn was this monster, and they had neglected to make a deal when we did Airplane.
They had no idea what they had. And so they just made a one picture deal. And so then we were in the driver's seat, so when we met Bluhdorn, we immediately said...he asked us, why aren't you making a deal? We want you to do another picture for us. And we immediately, we all said, well, we don't want to deal with these guys anymore...you know, Eisner and Diller and Katzenberg...we want to deal straight with the main guy. And he laughed, he thought it was funny.
Bill Pullman, who I've worked with before on Ruthless People...
He did a good self-parody, despite being a serious actor.
Yeah. He's a serious actor, yeah. And always had it perfect on the first take. He has such a great instinct, which is good because every time I would direct him, he would do something...he was un-directable. [laughs] It was funny, because he...thank God...he had it perfect. And I always try to like tweak things and everything, and he would just, you know, he didn't respond well...[laughs] Nicest guy in the world. Really, he wanted to do everything he could to do what I wanted. But he didn't need my help.
Was Leslie Nielsen fine with being naked?
Yeah, Leslie's game. We read him the script for that, and he cracked up. That was one of the things we shot later.
No body double?
There was a body double, yeah. The guy from behind, yeah. [laughs]
How was that casting process?
That's weird. That's part of my weird job. I had to actually look at asses.
How much of the script or the jokes were improvised?
Very little. But Craig Bierko is so good at improvisation, it turned out, which we didn't know when we cast him. But remember the scene where he's trying to let D. Ray Davis, the Marvin character, in the door, the automatic door locks? That was all improvised. Craig Mazin wrote like a half a page. It was a couple of exchanges. But there was none of that "count to three." They just went off and did that all improvised. And then also, Craig Mazin wrote a page of the Oprah scene, and then Craig Bierko did the rest. He did all that.
Was anything added sort of at the last minute in reaction to entertainment news developing?
Well, Brokeback Mountain was definitely not in the movie as it was written. That was added later, because while we were shooting, that whole Brokeback Mountain story kind of broke and that became so talked about and such a cultural phenomenon that we wrote the scene. And also, the audience wanted to see Anthony and Kevin back, so we got that for them.
Did they have parts if not for the Brokeback Mountain scenes?
Yeah, they were all set to do the zombie scene and the meeting Tom in the bar, but the Brokeback thing was added later.
Did you think that every Brokeback joke had already been done?
Yes. We didn't know how that would play, and we were all set for people not to laugh at all. But when we shot it, we thought, "Well this is pretty funny." But we were always thinking in the back of our minds, well, a lot of jokes had been made in print...you know, Letterman and Leno. So how many more laughs can you get out of this movie? But it worked. And another big surprise was that just a mere mention of Myspace...And we just thought, well, there's a clever thing. And it was almost like an ad lib. We threw that in a couple days before. But it just gets such a big reaction because it's so current.
It looks like you had a generous budget for special effects.
Yeah, it was mainly because of War of the Worlds. We had to do the Tripods, because our audience has to feel that they're in that movie, and we wanted to do the jokes of the clothing and the bling.
A lot of women and children get punched in the face.
Well, you know, the women and children being punched in the face...I can't think of women being punched...which are the ones that are women?
Oh, just Anna Faris's scenes.
Oh, Anna Faris gets it all the time, yeah. And the children. Well, most of that is just...Anna is the lead character, and in a horror movie, it seems that the best horror movies are with women in the lead because it's just scarier. They seem more vulnerable. But the lead character's always going to get bonked around, because that's been comedy since vaudeville [laughs] and Ben Turpin, Charlie Chaplin, Marx Brothers. That physical comedy is definitely a component of it. And the fact that there's always children in horror movies, and they're always treated with great reverence in current cinema.
And that's something that we just dive in there. We say, "We're not going to hold these kids sacred. They're movie actors, and we're going to knock them around the same way." So in that way, it's a satire on how they're treated in movies, really. You know, my mom loved Airplane! like everybody else, but she didn't like...the one thing...she hated the scene of Peter Graves talking to the child. And I could never convince her that it wasn't just a joke on pedophilia, we were really doing a joke on the image portrayed in American cinema of the squeaky clean, all-American airline captain. And this is the one thing that really undercut that image. And that's what made people laugh.
Because personally, I don't think pedophilia is very funny at all. But I have no qualms about using that...Or about child abuse. Of course, who thinks that's funny? But I think people can take all these jokes in the context of we're doing a spoof, and we're satirizing movies. This is not a real life comedy. We think that we're following rules that are different from other comedies. And believe me, if the test audiences didn't laugh, that would mean that this is offensive and we can't do it. And so anything like that...if we make a bad guess about something, it's out.
What's going on with Superhero?
Craig Mazin has written a script, and it's a...You know, we've identified about a dozen characteristics that are common to all these superhero movies, like Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, X-Men...and if you can get those common characteristics, there's a pretty good chance that the audience will share those references and you can poke fun at the cliches. So it's going to be pretty interesting.
Are you waiting for Superman Returns?
Well, we'll start writing. We'll really do the draft this summer, and then start pre-production in the fall.
What movies are you going to parody?
Just all the usual suspects, I think: Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, X-Men.
Do you look forward to or fear running into Tom Cruise or Dakota Fanning?
No, not at all. You know, Tom Cruise...first of all, it's not mean-spirited. And I think Tom Cruise, I think he has a sense of humor, and he ought to just laugh. I mean, he put himself out there, and he must be aware of, you know, he went a little over the top. But I think people...also, people wouldn't laugh at this stuff if they didn't like Tom Cruise. I think he is the biggest movie star probably of all time. A lot of people love him, and he deserves it. He's really an amazing actor. So we can poke fun at him and Oprah. You know, the only...I don't have any qualms about running into Tom Cruise at all. Only O.J. I don't want to run into O.J. [laughs] I don't want to discuss old times with him.
Did you have to convince Shaq to do the Kobe line?
No. Not only did we not have to convince him, (but) that was his ad lib. Honest to God, he ad libbed it.
Questions? Comments? Manifestos? Send them to me at email@example.com.
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