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INT: HK2 directors

04.25.2008

Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg started out just like me. Quite literally just like me. They were two guys from New Jersey who hung out at diners and dreamed of writing funny movies. The only difference is that they actually moved to Hollywood, sold scripts and became successful. Me? Well, the less said about that the better...

Jon and Hayden were nice enough to call and chat outside the boundaries of studio regulated publicity. Which meant no PR rep on the line giving me the "one last question" bit just 10 minutes in. It's probably the longest interview I've ever done and easily one of the best. Kinda like talking to a couple of old buddies and asking them what they've been up to for the past couple years. Here Jon and Hayden talk about making the big leap to their first directing gig, what it's like to put out a NON Judd Apatow comedy and pubic hair wigs.

Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg

Are you really in the prep mode for marketing and publicity? Has that phase started yet for you?

JH: It has and it hasn't. It definitely started but it doesn't really come into full swing until about three weeks before the movie comes out. So it's gonna happen in about two weeks where you'll start seeing a ton of commercials and stuff like that. In the meantime we've been working on the commercials making sure that they're good and doing festivals and stuff like that.

Has New Line been pretty good about having a voice in the campaign for the movie?

JH: We definitely have a voice. We don't have final decision but we have -- if there's something we really don't like, then they don't really use it. Some of the things that you see come from some ideas that we generated and some aren't. But it's been a really great collaborative effort this time around. On the first HAROLD AND KUMAR we were just writers on it and there was a lot more being on the outside looking in. But after the experience of the first film and our knowledge of the fanbase, they kept us involved this time and it's been great.

How did you pitch New Line on making your directorial debuts?

JH: I'll back up a little bit because we obviously made the first movie and before it came out there was already interest on the studio side in doing a sequel. So we were commissioned before the first HAROLD AND KUMAR came out to write a sequel. Then when our movie came out and didn't do gangbusters at the box-office, we were told we weren't going to have the opportunity to do a sequel. As the years went on and it was proving to be more and more profitable on DVD, they kept coming to us and saying "OK, now we'll do a straight-to-DVD sequel." We would say, "No, if we're doing a sequel, we want it to be of the same quality or better than the first film." So we kept waiting until they would approach us about a theatrical sequel and they eventually did and at that point it was just us writing the sequel. We didn't really have to go through a huge pitch on our story. We kind of discussed with them our story and in general what we were planning to do and they let us go off and write. When they were really happy with the script it was time to look for directors. And Danny Leiner, who shot the first movie, wasn't available so then Hayden and I became very nervous. There's going to be some new guy or woman coming into this process who has no familiarity with Harold and Kumar. So that's the point when Hayden and I decided to throw our hats into the ring. We went in and it wasn't the easiest thing in the world. It wasn't, "Hey, let us direct this time because we know what we're doing." It was proving to them that we saw the film as directors. Which meant us coming in with a large presentation. We did a whole PowerPoint presentation that showed our visual command of what the film would be. Not just visual but musical and across the board explaining to them that we had a clear vision and demonstrating that. We got a storyboard artist to draw up a few scenes and we went in and convinced them.

How did watching Danny work on the first film inform your style as directors on the sequel?

HS: Yeah, we were on the set the entire time of HAROLD AND KUMAR. We were very involved in that entire process. We were very lucky because many writers aren't there the entire time. And Danny was very collaborative with us. He understood that we're the guys who wrote the script. We came up with a lot of the jokes so we should be there to watch them being executed. After each take we would talk and discuss how it was going and we had a lot of input in that movie. Not only in the shoot but in post-production. So watching Danny Leiner, we saw what it meant to be a director. I think we felt very comfortable doing that because the fears of becoming a director when you haven't directed anything in your life usually involve camera work and all the technical aspects. I think that when you are actually on a movie set and see what a director does, a lot of it is not technical. He has people working with him who are technical experts. It's really about communicating your vision to the technical people. So when we saw that we thought, we can do this. We have a vision because we wrote the script and as long as we're able to communicate that vision, we should be fine. The other thing we got from the first movie was a relationship with the main actors. With John Cho, Kal Penn and Neil Patrick Harris. We became really close and really friendly with them. So when we started approaching the idea of directing a sequel it seems reasonable considering that we had a good relationship with these actors and we had a command of the story. So while we didn't have the technical experience, we knew we could compensate by hiring technical people. It just felt like the right thing.

All that said, what is it like the very first time you go on set as director, step behind the monitor and call "Action!"?

JH: It was the best feeling in the world. We grew up not even as writers, which is the crazy thing. We were two guys who dreamed of being in the film business but thought of it as the most ridiculous pipe dream of all time. Back there in New Jersey and hanging out at Alexis Diner on Friday nights... We would always talk about being in the film business but we didn't see it as a realistic possibility. So we went off to college for other things. I was a finance major and was going to be an investment banker and Hayden was studying law. It wasn't until midway through college that we started writing and we were lucky enough to sell our first script while we were seniors in college. That whole trip of just becoming a writer was the craziest trip in the world. And being on that first set for HAROLD AND KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE was like a kid in a candy store. We had been on one movie set for an hour before that. So to walk on that, it was the most surreal experience. This time around, we were there through preproduction the whole time and felt more comfortable in our skin being there but being able to call "action" and "cut" on the set was the greatest feeling in the world. It felt like everything we had talked about whether in somebody's basement in New Jersey or at the diner, it was, wow, we're actually doing this.

HS: It was really exciting that first moment. And then later, midway into the day it was the first experience of saying, "Oh my God, we're not going to finish this day!" And so we quickly realized that on a HAROLD AND KUMAR movie, when your budget is limited and we want to do so many things, every day is going to be impossible. But figuring out everything we can do that will make the movie work as opposed to everything we wanted to do. So we tried our best but I think our inexperience in many ways helped us out. Had we had a little more knowledge of directing going into it, we probably would have complained right before the first day of shooting, "This is impossible! We can't do this!..." But because we didn't know any better, we just said, "OK, we'll make it work."

JH: I remember we had an assistant director friend of ours who wasn't able to work with us on the film because we were doing the film non-DGA and he was a DGA A.D. But he looked at our script and said, "OK, this should basically be between a 53- and 56-day shoot." And we said, "Well we have 36 days." He's like, "You can't do this." We were a little concerned but the producers and the people at the studio were like, "No no no, you guys can do this, keep to the script, make sure you get all that stuff and keep plowing forward and you guys will be able to do this." And that's what ended up happening. Every day was extremely difficult. There were no days where you felt like you were coasting along. Every day was a race to get as much material shot as possible. Get as many takes as possible and a lot of times that meant two takes. Sometimes if we're doing a stunt, that meant one take. But it was doing anything we could to make a movie we felt was bigger and better and have a broader scope than the first HAROLD AND KUMAR. Take things up a notch like things you do in a sequel.

You guys are in the small minority of people releasing a studio comedy that has nothing to do with Judd Apatow.

JH: We've been joking around that our posters should say, "From The People Who Didn't Bring You KNOCKED UP and SUPERBAD." [Laughs] It's actually really funny. We're huge fans of Apatow and huge fans of the movies he and his team has put together. It's a crazy thing but it's a long time coming for Judd. He's been grinding it out and turning out great work in this business for a long time. It's nice to see that kind of success rewarded when he starts having these big hit movies that the people in the business start trusting his instincts more and you see a lot more good comedies coming out, frankly. So there's no pressure for us. It feels nice though outside of that. Hayden and I feel that in some kind of way, we've always been outsiders making our way in trying to make mainstream big comedies with the limited resources that we have and limited connections we have. Most people in the comedy feature world come through television. They'll work on TV shows and meet a ton of other comedy writers and actors. Over the years you build up a large stable of people you have a good relationship with so that now you can be Judd Apatow and all these people you've met over the years and built relationships with, you're able to work with all of them in a variety of capacities when you have that level of power. For the two of us, we were two guys who sold a script out of college, moved to LA and continued to write feature screenplays. It was just the two of us in an apartment for the most part. So working on HAROLD AND KUMAR has been the main area where we've gotten to meet other people and start forming those relationships. And we're thrilled that we have our movie coming out in general. We believe in our work and we think we know how to make an audience laugh similarly to the way Judd Apatow and his posse are able to make people laugh and we just hope people come and check out our movies as well so we can continue to make them.

Was SXSW the first public screening you had of this film?

HS: Well when you shoot a movie and finish editing it, you play it in front of test audiences. So we played it in front of about three test audiences each of about 300 people or so. Much like the first HAROLD AND KUMAR, it played huge. Numbers-wise bigger than the first HAROLD AND KUMAR. We didn't really have to do that much editing work because the first time we showed it, it got an enormous response. So we've been excited about it for a long time and it's been frustrating that we haven't been able to put this movie out yet. New Line had these big movies like THE GOLDEN COMPASS and SEMI-PRO that they had to release before us and there was a whole thing with that. But we've been doing touch-up things to the movie but we knew that it played well to an audience for a long time and then finally three weeks ago we had the big premiere at SXSW before an Austin crowd. And Jon and I got into this business because we love going to comedies where the whole audience is laughing outrageously the whole time. And without being at all egotistical we can say we've never been to a screening where a movie has gotten that kind of response. Just laughing and cheering. So the fact that we love those types of movies and that it was our movie, was the best experience of our lives. Like the first movie, we're going into this movie with a lot of confidence because we've seen how the movie plays. We'll see what happens at the box office.

JH: It's nice when you can do the world premiere of your movie in a 1200 person theater where most people there are inebriated. When you have a comedy you want your audience to be rowdy and excited and SXSW is a non-stop party. So that whole night was incredible and absolutely surreal.

Did you go and read any of the reviews on the web after these screenings?

JH: We read everything.

HS: There's nobody who scours the web for more HAROLD AND KUMAR stuff than we do. It's the only thing we've made. And people talk about it on the internet all the time. So you can't help but Google it or see what people are saying on the movie sites.

JH: It's always a really funny thing. Mike, you and I e-mailed in the past about this and those early reviews that were negative. It was one of those things where you'd come out of a test screening and you'd see the numbers and the numbers showed people liked this better than the first HAROLD AND KUMAR. The number of "excellents" and "very goods" and those things the studios look are through the roof. These are insane numbers. And it'd be like, out of 300 people, 12 rated the movie fair or poor. And one of those 12 goes on Ain't It Cool News and disses the movie like crazy. [Laughs] It's a bummer but the thing that always prevents you from really getting down on it is that time will tell. People will see the film and a few negative comments on the internet we would hope wouldn't prevent much of the country from seeing the movie. And when people see it, they can judge for themselves.

HS: The good news is, no matter what it's always been positive. Ain't It Cool News, for whatever reason, has always had a lot of HAROLD AND KUMAR haters. For the first movie and this new movie. But after SXSW we actually got a ton of good reviews. So we'll check all the time and most of the time what we see on the internet from people who've seen these sneak previews, most of it is positive. We're shocked every now and then that the very few people who didn't like it will go crazy on the internet.

JH: The movie is so crazy and has so many things that are "wrong" in it, there are things that an audience member, not only do they not like it, they get angry this is on the screen. So you'll see that kind of thing. The people that didn't like it but were sitting in a room full of people laughing the entire time, feel the need to get their voice out there in some way. It's always been fun for us though reading the response online.

Well Variety really liked it and Salon.com did as well...

JH: With the exception of those early random one or two early things from the test audiences, by and large it has been positive, positive, positive. We'd be a little bummed if it was people not liking it across the board--

HS: Let's face it, this is a stoner comedy and it shouldn't get good reviews. But it will because it's good. The first movie got good reviews and this one is as well. It's something we really like and care about though we know it's not important for the success of the movie. Our target audience doesn't care necessarily. At the same time it's good to see that consistently the reaction - whether it be critics or college kids - the reaction has always been positive. And there will always be people who don't like the movie because we have a "bottomless party" in it.

JH: Whenever John or I read a bad review, we look at each other and say, "That was the risk when we put a "bottomless party" in the script. And it was worth it."

HS: For every bad review, there's 100 13-year-old boys thanking us.

30-year-old men too! I still love a good bottomless scene.

JH: So do we! It wasn't until then that we felt like we really accomplished something.

That's got to be a little surreal to be on set filming a bottomless party.

JH: It is! The crazy thing about it is like we were saying earlier, every day was such a struggle to get the work done, you couldn't really enjoy it that much. There were 25 or 30 bottomless women walking around and you'd have to make sure they were walking in the right places and the actors are getting the right direction. But there were some moments you'd have a minute of down time and you'd be like, "This is absolutely insane." John Cho put it best. He said to Kal Penn the day it happened, "Remember this day because every day for the rest of your life people are going to be asking you what it was like to be there." [Laughs] This is absolutely insane!

How do you cast a bottomless party? That can border on pervy.

HS: There's definitely a sleaze factor when you're searching for women who'll take their pants off.

JH: That's our producer Greg Shapiro's department [laughs].

HS: We had a good local casting director. Our attitude this entire time was that this was going to be a good, fun and funny scene and we live in a country where there are millions of women willing to take their pants off so I'm sure we can find 30. We had casting people looking and some people from the crew maybe made some strip club trips to see if there were any people there willing to do it. And you try to find anybody that's willing to take their pants off.

JH: You find anyone that's willing and then you do the screening process of figuring out who you're able to put in the party without ruining the image of this high-end Miami vibe that's supposed to be going on.

HS: Yeah, we needed the hottest chicks possible. Not only that but to get the R-rating... We're allowed to show frontal female nudity, but our goal was to show more female frontal nudity than any movie ever, which we felt we could get away with. The thing that we were unsure about was actually showing specifically the labia or clitoris. So the fear was the women we'd get to partake in this scene wouldn't have any hair down there.

That would be a problem.

HS: That would be a problem. Especially considering how close we wanted to shoot to that area. Our vision required a lot of close-ups. We had to find the right women who didn't have their stuff sticking out too much.

JH: And beyond that, our makeup department did an amazing job putting together a bunch of merkins.

Stunt pubes.

JH: Exactly. They were specially made because the traditional merkin that you might be able to buy in a catalog are like old school, 70s-style bush. You know, like the big triangle. We needed it to feel more like a modern day party. Even though some people might be completely bare down there, we needed to be able to have the Hitler moustache.

HS: Rather than the big bush, we made sure that we created just little pubes. So basically it looks like there's nothing there and we're able to get away with it and some how we were able to get away with women who had actually nothing there too. At the end of the day, you watch the scene and think, how were they able to get away with this? The truth is that we really played by the rules, got specific and got really down and dirty with what we were able to get away with.

Did you get the R-rating on the first try?

JH: We did get an R on the first try. We were shocked. There were four or five different parts of the movie where there was some concern thinking, well we're definitely gonna have to cut this down. I don't know if we're gonna be able to show them fisting a bag of weed's vagina. Things like that that were weird. It just kinda made it through on the first time. One of the things we heard from people who work a lot with the MPAA, a lot of it is just the context in which you're seeing nudity and things like that. The truth is the bottomless party is not overly pervy. It's very matter of fact. This is a guy, a wealthy Persian guy in Miami who has this beautiful place and throws these crazy types of parties and everyone who's there is just walking around casually enjoying the party. Everyone's walking around behaving themselves. It's not like Ogre from REVENGE OF THE NERDS grabbing women and raping them in the pool or something like that.

HS: It's more like Harold and Kumar walking into a scene from EYES WIDE SHUT. It plays really well and really funny. Men and women love the scene. The reason we're able to get away with it is that it's not sexual. It's funny and it's got a fun vibe to it, yet we're able to get away with more female frontal nudity than any movie ever.

Source: JoBlo.com

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