Set Visit: Looney Tunes: Back in Action
TUNES: THE MOVIE!!!
By John Gunn
Last week Warner Brothers invited yours truly to visit the set of their upcoming animated/live action film LOONEY TUNES: BACK IN ACTION. The movie, starring Daffy, Bugs, etc…plus real-life actors like Jenna Elfman, Brendan Fraser, Joan Cusack and Steve Martin (all directed by GREMLINS' Joe Dante), is set in the live-action world and involves the cartoon characters and cast going all over the globe in search of Fraser's missing father and the mythical Blue Monkey Diamond. According to the folks at WB, the characters go from Hollywood studio lots, to Paris, to even Las Vegas (there they visit a casino run by none other than Yosemite Sam…but run by ACME Entertainment, for the record).
Anyway, after navigating my way through the tight security, I found myself in one of the larger stages on the Burbank lot. And what they had done to it for this movie was amazing, and quite hilarious. The set was supposed to be a fictional, highly confidential government precinct called Area 52 (so top secret, they devised Area 51 just to keep it under wraps). One sign on the set read "Area 52: Keeping things from the American people since 1947." In it was a high-tech command center housing various creatures (which I couldn't see, of course, cuz…well…they'll be drawn in later), run by Joan Cusack (she was in some goofy white lab coat-type outfit…kind of a mad scientist-like role). In the scene, Elfman and Fraser are there to survey Cusack's assortment of trinkets and high tech spy toys (all of which are built by ACME, of course) before they begin their adventure.
After watching a few scenes, they gave me a look into Stage 16, the biggest on the WB lot. There they had a built an enormous, and I mean ENORMOUS Monkey Island…the locale where the final scene takes place. It looked like a cross between INDIANA JONES' Temple of Doom and some place from
THE MUMMY. It was incredible…huge stone-looking structures built from styrofoam blocks, and a lava river. Supposedly that stage housed all the scenes on the boat from
THE PERFECT STORM, and some caverns from
THE GOONIES. Pretty sweet.
So once I got back to the set, I was able to chat with a couple folks about the production. First off was Larry Doyle, the Executive Producer and screenwriter. Doyle's resume is pretty solid…wrote for BEAVIS AND BUTTHEAD and THE SIMPSONS. So, needless to say, I was in awe. He said their goal with this film was to bring back the original Looney Tunes characters, but keep them fresh and new…while all the while staying true to their original personalities. So, Daffy is Daffy and Bugs is Bugs. Don't worry about that. He also told me that, aside from this story, he's writing and producing several animated Looney Tunes shorts to run in theaters some time next year.
After chatting about the task at hand, I was able to slip in a couple questions about The Simpsons, being the die hard that I am. A couple cool side notes came out of our conversation…1) His favorite episode he wrote for them was "Worst Episode Ever", from a couple years back. Comic Book Guy has a heart attack, so Millhouse and Bart take over the comic book store. A classic. 2) He said the show will continue to run until either a) Dan Castellaneta decides to quit as the voice of Homer or b) Fox decides to put another show in its place that somehow they think will rate higher (never happen). So, needless to say, it'll be around for a while.
I also got a chance to talk with Jenna Elfman. She was nice, but in a bit of a rush. Very cute, and extremely tall and tan (it's funny, but they for some reason decided to cast 2 of Hollywood's taller lead actors for roles in this movie, knowing they'd have a bitch of a time animating the Looney characters to scale right next to them…hmm). Here's a little bit from our conversation…
What did you do to prepare for talking to a green screen?
There's not really much to do to prepare, other than just muck up the reality in your mind that they do exist. You need to really boost your belief system, and loosen up…You have to have a big imagination, but you have to totally believe with all the total genuineness you have in your soul to do both drama and comedy. But with this you have to believe even more, but you have to also be extremely non-serious in order to pull it off.
Who's your favorite Looney character?
Bugs. He's a cool guy. He has a good sense of humor but he's not evil. He just sort of charismatic, and very Cary Grant to me.
How important were the Looney Tunes to you growing up?
They kind of babysat you when you were young. Come home from school, have your little snack and watch Looney Tunes.
In this film you play a studio exec. Is this somewhat of a revenge thing for you?
No. Can't get into playing that game. No. I just played it from the viewpoint of someone who's very driven and someone who has very specifically defined goals for herself and her career. And if you lay those down really heavily in cement, you have big problems with Daffy and Bugs…and it creates big comedy, with big problems, and a big conflict.
Talk about your relationship with Brendan's character.
It's the love-hate thing. He's completely annoying and I'm completely in love with him at the same time.
What was your original response to this role?
I was hesitant. I read the script on Monday, after getting five hours of sleep at night from shooting another film, I kind of needed a meeting to see what it was about. So they had a video presentation of what the live action mixed with the animation would look like, which really helped me. I didn't quite know what to imagine, so it was hard to say yes. And then I saw it. I just wanted it to be funny and appeal to everyone, not just children. And it is very much that way.
What's the most important thing you learned for doing film work from DHARMA & GREG?
Well, I really learned a lot about camera and lighting and when I'm not in light, when I'm casting shadows on others. You know, sort of that dance around light and camera…It also gave me a lot of experience in working in Hollywood on many dynamics.
Why did it end?
It seemed like it was the right time for it to be over. And I had a great run at it. I loved doing it. I loved playing Dharma. But I'm happy to be doing films now, so it was kind of just the right time, I guess.
Also got a couple questions in with Brendan Fraser. He seemed cool, like he was having a blast shooting this film. He is a little tough to keep on track, as his thoughts tend to wander a bit. But overall he was good. He talked about how he enjoyed working with Jenna, but couldn't explain why he's now going to be in yet another film with animated characters. Just shrugged it off, saying that, for a chance to act with the Looney Tunes, all other scripts can wait. Here's more from Fraser…
What was the attraction of doing this movie for you?
Just the novelty of being able to work with Bugs and Daffy. And anybody who says they don't enjoy their cartoons is a liar. I personally owe a debt of gratitude to them for what they taught me.
Who do you like best…Bugs or Daffy?
I'd have to go with Bugs. Bugs is the iceman. Daffy gets no respect. He's a greedy duck….In this film Daffy and I are unwilling partners. He's trying to be a scene stealer all the time.
How do you approach doing a comedy?
I picture it like straight-ahead drama, because once you start thinking you're funny, you're not. I promise you that. Once you put quotation marks around your head, nobody laughs.
Tell me about the scene we're watching today.
Today we're in the middle of Area 52, not to be confused with Area 51, which doesn't exist, right? As you can see, there's all kinds of high-tech, important stuff in here. All sorts of spy gizmos, and other things. It's a place where all robots and monsters have come to have experiments done on them, nice experiments. We've got puppies, baby aliens, etc…And Jenna and I are getting a guided tour from Mother (Joan Cusack).
What's your commitment to a third MUMMY film?
My commitment is an understanding that if people want this film to get made again, and the director says let's do it…he knows my number.
What's it like working with two puppeteers on set, while shooting scenes?
They help us out, for sure. In the first couple of days we feel a little daft sitting there talking to puppets. But then you remove them and instinctively you remember where the object was and then you can make sure your eyeline is correct so it's not, on film, you looking cross-eyed at these guys.
How much improvising is in the film?
There's always a lot of leeway. Every script goes through some transitions. Once you get here you realize that maybe, the way the room is set up, it requires you to make some different choices to be funny.
What are you doing after this movie?
Taking a long nap. No, um, I don't have any plans right now actually.
What kind of fun are you having between takes?
It's nice talking to you guys. No, um, you know, I've got a scooter. I'm probably not supposed to have it, so don't tell the studio that. But I do.
Did you have any hesitation doing another animated film?
Man, it's Looney Tunes and live action. They're bringing all the classic characters, shining them up and buffing them up and putting them out there again. And they're not being presented as any kind of plush toy, which is ok. But it's not just for a specific child audience. Yes, it's a cartoon film, but it has all the integrity of what we remember from what they were. These were cartoons that were subversive, they had an agenda, and certainly they were timely and funny and I think that they just speak volumes to what we as adults know about the rise of television that we watched as we grew up. So I would be a fool to pass up this opportunity.