Set Visit: Bad Words - The Filmmakers
Click here to read Part One of our set visit: The Cast!
Jason Bateman, Director, Actor
On why he chose to direct:
They don’t hand out a lot of movies to direct. I guess there’s that. I did do a lot of television directing. Episodic. This is obviously… directing a movie is just so much more complicated and there’s so much more responsibility because the medium is very much a directors medium than a producer/writers medium. So a lot of times when you are directing TV they sort of already have a color pallet on set and there’s already a style that’s pre-determined. If you’re episode looks different from the last episode that another director did then you are doing a bad job. So it’s a different job.
If I had done this any earlier I don’t think I’d be having as much fun s I’m having right now and when I direct a film ten years from now I’ll have even more fun than I’m having now. You’re given so many incredibly talented craftsmen and people who are super skilled at their job and if you know a little bit of what you’re doing you can take full advantage of what you have to offer… I’m sure somebody has made this hacky analogy before but it’s like you’re conducting an orchestra and you decide what level those instruments are going to play, you have to be very familiar with each instrument so that together can kind of get a proper sound. To be honest it’s the greatest experience in my life. It’s the greatest job in the world directing. I could not be more envious of the guys who get to do it all the time, this is a real treat.
On an actor directing:
I’ve always learned a lot about what I need to do better by watching myself because you know you can feel like you’re communicating X level of anger or happiness or whatever the character is supposed to feel and then you watch it on film and you it might not be as good and it might be larger or smaller than you intended. You also learn lens sizes and what lighting can do, simple composition. It’s been really educational for me over the years. I’m always amazed at how some actors don’t watch themselves on screen and how there is a shyness about that because it’s antithetical to what they are doing. Though 9 times out of 10 those actors are fantastic (laughs).
As an actor I’ve always kind of nosed around, almost apologetically, each department and would say “boy wouldn’t it be interesting if you did this or that because isn’t this what we’re trying to get done with this scene?” And it’s just inappropriate to do anything but whisper because it’s the director’s film. It’s nice to be in a position where I don’t have to watch out for stepping on people’s toes. I can’t imagine not wanting to do this every day.
On the script for Bad Words:
The short, boring answer is that I thought it was something really funny with a tone that I kind of understand. Things that make me laugh were in this script so it was a good fit. We’re going for something with a little bit of dirt under the nails. Andrew and I started working on the script a couple of years ago. It was a matter of finding the right time between our jobs where we could effectively step away for nine months. It seemed like something I could handle. I didn’t want to take too big a swing, I didn’t want to be obnoxious either in what I was asking for you know? Like marching into a studio and asking for 30 million dollars for a movie with a bunch of effects or something. This was a small black comedy, under 10 (million).
I originally didn’t want to act in it. I wanted to focus on directing, so I thought it would be a good part that could attract a good. Ultimately I kind of thought it would make my job easier if I didn’t have to direct the lead actor. There’s a tricky tone to this movie because the character I’m playing is a bit prickly, if that guy is not likable then you’re kind of lost. So I hope that I’m playing him in the middle somewhere and betting on myself as opposed to running the risk of having to try to find that tone with another actor. We have a short schedule without a lot of money so I figured I could be hitting it the way I’ve been envisioning it without creative negotiations after ever five takes with another actor. In terms of other potential leads… There were some loose conversations I had with some friends of mine. I kind of knew what they had on their plate and knew this wouldn’t really work with their schedules so I ultimately said I’ll do it.
On the character:
He’s a bit of a misanthrope and he just recently found something out that really upset him and he’s trying to right a wrong and is doing it in an aggressive and petulant way. If he were any more advanced he wouldn’t do what he is doing. He’s acting out. By the time he does get a good head on his shoulders the movie may well be over. This is a spelling be that is the second best in the country, so the kids here, the judges here, the parents here… it’s all a bit dank. People in this world are a bit on the fringes. As a result they are capable of doing things you necessarily wouldn’t do, my character chief among them.
On the cast:
Each of these actors are perfect for their parts and they’re friends of mine. I also knew they’d appreciate the part too; they wouldn’t just be doing me a favor. They would be eager and helpful and would add a lot to the process as opposed to just giving me a few hours out of their day. I need the help from everybody because I’m a first timer.
On prickly roles:
I was a big Archie Bunker fan growing up and on paper that guy really said some nasty things. There was something in the way they played it in their body language that made it ok. Their ignorance or anger or intolerance… it’s an interesting combination to play because inherent in that is vulnerability and insecurity. To me that’s interesting because I think one of the keys to making an audience laugh is to show some flaws. There is nothing funny about a guy who’s got it all together. Acting like you’re more confident than you actually are is something I like. It was on the page here and even when it isn’t on the page there are places to maybe to something more nervous than bitter, per say. One sort of lends itself more to vulnerability than the other.
On film vs digital:
I’m not smart enough to break down the cost effectiveness between the two but I know certain processes are easier with digital. For this project I knew it was a quick and easy decision to make based on working with kids. I wanted to keep the camera rolling for a long time because trying to find that performance can be “catch what you can” with children sometimes. On top of all that, and not in this order, what digital is looking like now-a-days is incredible. The films I like the looks of are digital. Frankly if it’s good enough for Fincher… I mean I’ve watched you guys talk to him about it. We’ve got the pallet we’ve wanted here.
Andrew Dodge, Screenwriter
On the inception of BAD WORDS:
In high school I was a debater. I was in the National Forensic League and that world is very similar the Spelling Bee world. Parents are very insular. You can spend a bunch of money, buy a bunch of suits, and lose a lot of friends… that whole thing. I always wanted to bake some characters in a very similar world and I felt spelling bees are a little more visual than just argumentation. I was always a big fan of a movie called DUTCH, John Hughes wrote it and produced it. In that movie an adult and little boy dynamic and they take the boy out of his world and give him in the point of view of the adult. I thought it would be interesting to reverse that. So those two things combined kind of gave me a Eureka moment. On top of that, I was watching some spelling bees and thinking those kids are just fucking weirdo’s. We’re all thinking it when we watch these spelling bees. Nobody says it. The kids are under so much pressure; do they put themselves in it? Is it the parents? Is it both?
On getting the script off the ground:
It ended up in the hands of Mason and Jason and I got this call from my manager and he said, “guess who’s going to direct this movie? Jason Bateman.” This was right after I dropped my youngest daughter off at school and I almost hit some kids driving because I was so exited. Two hours later he called back and said you had to meet both of them to talk about it. So we meet and they’re talking about the script, which until then was just mine. I couldn’t believe these two guys were talking about my script.
When I heard Jason saying the lines for the first time going over the script I immediately could only imagine him. On the page it can live being 100% cynical. That’s great as a script but it on the screen it can become very one-dimensional very quickly. Occasionally I’ll envision Jack Lemon in a movie. He’s very modular. With BAD WORDS I didn’t imagine Jack Lemon because he wasn’t surely enough so I kept a blank face and put my cynical self in the viewpoint.
BAD WORDS opens in theaters on March 28, 2014.