Interview: Jorma Taccone
This interview below stars exactly how a writer doesn't want his interview to start.
"Let's start over."
About 11 minutes into my chat with one-third of comedy trio Loney Island, "Saturday Night Live" writer and MACGRUBER director Jorma Taccone, I notice the red light on my recorder isn't blinking. I glance down and my worst fear is confirmed; everything up to this point hasn't been recorded.
I won't bother trying to remember everything we discussed while the recorder is off. Let's just pretend that I left it off on purpose because Jorma and I had a juicy "off the record" conversation I couldn't possibly post on the site.
Technical glitches aside, I was the last hurdle Taccone had to overcome after a grueling press day on an otherwise glorious day in New York City. Nevertheless, the dude still had tons of energy and we mostly just chilled out in his hotel room.
Let's start over...
(Laughs) Oh shit!... Are you gonna remember all of that?
I'm going to completely forget everything and just completely make up everything you said.
Fuck. Shit that sucks! Yeah just make some shit up then. Is there anything you wanted to get again?
Maybe we'll get back to some stuff at the end but let's just continue.
[Ed.note: the original question was regarding the involvement of Jorma's "SNL" co-workers and the film's executive producers Akiva Schaffer and Seth Meyers.] So Akiva and Seth were with us on set for the first week and it's just sort of great to have really funny friends around. They were pitching extra jokes. Kiv has the best eye. He was so helpful in the editing process towards the end. And that's always something we'd do in the Digital Shorts too. We'd sort of help each out with the final touches of something. Like, "I don't think you need this part" or "you can get to this faster"... But yeah. I dunno. (Laughs) But obviously it was awesome to have this "SNL" family/friend vibe on set, which we obviously had with Will and Kristen. And Maya Rudolph is also in the movie. Having that be what permeated the tone of the set and that everyone was in it for the love of doing it. We just added to that family with Ryan (Phillippe) and Val (Kilmer) coming in and Powers (Boothe). We had such a good time together. It really helped with that crazy kind of schedule to have people in such good spirits.
Was it difficult to convince the Powers That Be that you could be the one to pull this movie off on that crazy kind of schedule?
It was really all Lorne (Michaels) that felt like I could do it. I had directed all the sketches but there's no reason to why I was supposed to be allowed to do this. I'm incredibly lucky that he trusted me and thought I'd do a good job. I also just felt lucky that this really stupid idea that I had years ago was now making it into a major motion picture sort of thing. So I just sort of felt like I didn't want to let anyone down, more than anything. Lorne, he had given me such an opportunity to do this.
Was this after you had already written the script or were you writing with an eye to direct?
We were writing to direct. I knew from the beginning that this was something he wanted me to do. It was up to me whether or not I wanted to step up to that challenge. I had done some Digital Short stuff on the show but that's such a very different thing than directing a feature. But I was really glad he gave me the opportunity. I'm very proud of the film. There are obviously some things I'd want to change but not as much as you'd think.
Have you been tinkering a lot? Did the film change much since you screened in Austin?
No, not really. I mean I said in Austin we'd still be making changes but they were VERY few things we wanted to change. A few trims here or there but as far as content and how rated-R it was, none of that changed. It ends the same way, it still has the same scenes you can't believe are in an "SNL" movie.
Is this the first rated-R movied based on an "SNL" skit?
I don't know. It might be. Was BLUES BROTHERS rated-R?
Back then it's so hard to tell what is and isn't rated-R.
Yeah the ratings system was totally different.
You could see boobs in a PG movie back then.
It's true. But this is certainly a pretty hard R. There's a lot of violence and nudity and sex so...
Was there any back-and-forth with the MPAA or the studio?
No. We were really excited actually. Our sound guy Shawn saw an early cut of the film, which wasn't very different than it is now, and he said, "I'm pretty sure this is NC-17 you guys..." "They count the number of pumps in a sex scene and you guys are WAY over the limit." So we were really glad when they came back with the R-rating. The sentence from the MPAA was something like "for strong crude and graphic language, violence, nudity and strong sexual content" and it was like, "we did it!" This was exactly the movie we wanted!
Sounds like something you'd see before a Cinemax softcore porn movie at 2am.
Exactly! And when you're 12-years-old you're like, "This is gonna be awesome!"
Speaking of that Austin screening, you were gonna live or die by the reception at SXSW. Were you nervous going into that?
I guess I've always believed in what we were trying to do with this movie. We made it on such a spec attitude with never actually knowing whether we were going to do it. So we just wrote exactly what we wanted to make and we were able to shoot whatever we wanted and edit the way we wanted. At the end of the idea, I was really proud of what we had. So going to South By actually felt like the right by to screen it. If anyone was going to get it, it'd be those people there. To have it go that well, cause it did really well there, it was shocking to us. That kind of response...I dunno, people got it on this level I didn't think was possible. It felt...I don't know if I'll ever have that kind of experience again. It was such a great moment. And sitting next to Forte and looking at him with his mouth open... I dunno. It was an amazing experience.
I was talking to Kristen (Wiig) and we were talking about how almost frustrating it was because people were laughing so hard, they were laughing over some of the other jokes.
There are so many parts I'm proud of and excited about and we kept trying to turn up the volume in the theater (laughs) and in print that must sound ridiculously cocky but there really were so many jokes that got lost. I was like, "Oh man, people are gonna have to see this again!" Some of my favorite jokes are ones they couldn't hear.
I knew I liked it though because outside of the big laughs at the obvious scenes, I was laughing to myself during some of the smaller parts.
I'm the exact same way. I've seen the movie so many times that now the only things that will make me laugh are the things that are the small things that nobody laughs at. Like when he walks up to Faith on the tarmac and he says, "One second Grubes, Yes, Mr. President?" and MacGruber looks at him like "Oooooh!!" Like he's so impressed that the President is on the line (laughs).
Regardless of how well this film does critically or commercially, do you think directing is the next step for you in your career?
No, no. Being at "Saturday Night Live" has been the biggest opportunity of my life. I can't believe all the things you're allowed to do there. The responsibility that they give you, just as a writer, being able to see your own sketch to fruition and talk to costumes and sets and props and decide where your sketch is going to go. And you learn to direct in that sort of fashion. Then obviously being able to direct some of the shorts and the "MacGrubers" and being able to edit all those things and the amount you learn from doing that. Not only that but being in HOT ROD and being in LAND OF THE LOST and stuff like that... And I get to do music on the show too! It's literally allows you to be creative on any spectrum that you motivate yourself to be. I've felt incredibly lucky to be in this position where maybe I'll be able to direct another movie if this goes well or be able to be in more movies. I just take it one day at a time now. I hope I can continue to do all of it. I guess what I love to do more than anything is just creating and being creative. And laughing with my friends I guess. In a lot of ways, I have the best job in the world, I guess, because that's all your doing every day, trying to make your friends laugh.
So there's no preconceived notion in your head of when you'd want to leave the show and move on to devote your career solely to film?
I don't know. I guess I just feel so grateful to have a job at the end of the day. To be able to make really dumb jokes for a living it sort of the greatest gift I could ask for. There's so many different things I want to do. I've certainly loved working at the show. It's weirdly like having a slumber party with your best friends on a Tuesday night at 5am coming up with dumb jokes with people with the hall.
Like the Boner Ghost?
I saw he got a "Special Thanks" in the end credits.
Oh yeah, he did! That's really funny because I put that in the credits for Will. It's the last credit that comes up after our families are all thanked. It says "BONER GHOST"