Set Visit: Observe and Report
When I was asked to go on a set visit to the new Seth Rogen/Jody Hill film: OBSERVE AND REPORT, I enthusiastically said yes and was eagerly anticipating finding out what exotic location and set I was going off to visit. Was it going to be off to Hawaii? Or maybe Budapest? I got a response quickly saying I was going to be whisked away to the beautiful…Albuquerque, NM? Not exactly the exotic location I was hoping for, but with the hilarious Seth Rogen, Jody Hill and more laughs than most humans can withstand in a day, we could have had the set visit in Antarctica and I would have had a blast! No offense to the noble Antarcticans.
OBSERVE AND REPORT follows the story of Ronnie (Seth Rogen) who is the head of security at a local mall. When a flasher starts to terrorize the shoppers, Ronnie and his right hand man, Dennis (Michael Pena) set out to find the culprit. Things take a turn for the worse when a thief starts stealing from the stores and they’re forced to call in Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta), who’d rather be anywhere than at the mall.
Our day started bright and early at 7:30 am when we rode a van over to an abandoned shopping mall in the heart of the city. Interestingly enough, the mall is not completely abandoned since there are still three stores that remain open on either side of the mall. This means the inside of the mall is still open to the public and has become the local “hangout” for elderly mall-walkers. If you’re not familiar with the mall-walker phenomenon, it’s the act of power walking around the mall for exercise. The mall provides a safe haven from all the perils that could befall the elderly by actually exercising outside. This particular mall happens to be very popular for them. And no, mall-walking is not when you run around behind your girlfriend carrying all of her shopping bags.
Just like every other mall, but with a pissed off security guard.
As I entered the mall, I was surprised this mall was abandoned since all of the stores were lit up and the signs were brand new. I was expecting tumbleweeds and cobwebs. Then I took a closer look at some of the signs, “Glam-her”, “Avocado Baby”, “High-Tops” and my personal favorite “Toast-A-Bun”, I realized this was not a real mall. Of course, I had to wait in line for an hour at Toast-A-Bun to figure that out (just kidding). I could tell right away that a lot of time and effort had been put into the set and after talking with Chris Spellman (the Production Designer), I was even more impressed that they did such a fantastic job with only four weeks of prep time. Other than the fake names on the signs, this was your typical “anywhere America” mall.
Shortly after we got there, the incredible and wonderful Unit Publicist Kim Langley met up with us and showed us around. As we were getting the tour, Director Jody Hill (FOOT FIST WAY) stopped by to shake our hands and welcome us to the set. I saw him walking towards us and I didn’t even recognize him from the pictures I’ve seen online. He was unshaven and wearing an I-just-rolled-out-of-bed outfit. But that fit right in with how he was running his set; laid back and relaxed.
Unfortunately, Ms. Faris couldn't be there.
Warner Brothers and Jody Hill were kind enough to invite us to appear as extras in the scene we were watching, so after the quick set tour, we were off to wardrobe to prepare for our big scene. As it turns out, I dress like your typical American guy and didn’t require a wardrobe change. After wardrobe, it was now time for my feature film debut.
In the first scene I saw, Ronnie and Detective Harrison run into Kevin (Aziz Ansari). Kevin (also known as Saddam) is a hilarious character that works at the lotion counter in the mall. I immediately recognized Ansari from his turn as the anti-Australian fruit stand worker from Flight of the Conchords. He and Ronnie have an ongoing feud and Ronnie suspects him of being the flasher and the thief. Of course, he has no reason to suspect him, but the conflict between the two characters makes for some funny scenes. In this case, Ronnie tries to convince Detective Harrison that Kevin is the criminal and that he should be arrested. He’s very insulting to Kevin and Kevin gets upset very quickly. This is the first instance Detective Harrison has seen Kevin and Ronnie together and he tries to diffuse the situation when it gets out of hand. Harrison acts as straight man, or Moe to their Larry and Curly.
We saw several different takes of the scene and it was nearly impossible to tell what was scripted and what was not. For the most part, they just made up their own lines and Jody Hill went with whatever worked. Let’s just say that in the scene they went with, the f-bomb was dropped about 20 times. I asked Seth Rogen how many times the f-bomb was actually written in the script and he looked it over and said “once”. But as Larry David says, “You throw in a ‘Fuck’ you double your laughs.”
The scene itself was actually pretty funny. It relies heavily on Kevin going ape-shit on Ronnie and that works really well. I think Kevin is a character that could get old fast, but it seems Jody Hill is using him perfectly as a shot of comedy sporadically throughout the film. However, the best thing I got from this scene is the notion that Jody Hill is really letting his actors go crazy with the script. He would throw out ideas and words and they would just go with it. Oh, and if you see a camera-stealing guy in the background shopping at “Storage”, that’s me.
Throughout the set visit and during the interviews, I heard a lot about Michael Pena’s character, Dennis. It wasn’t until the very end of the day that I was able to see him in action. In the second scene, Dennis and Ronnie are standing outside “Glam-Her” (think Victoria’s Secret) checking out the hotties walking by. They had every mildly attractive extra lined up and then just had them walk in front of Ronnie and Dennis as Dennis made comments about them. They also gave Dennis a laser pointer that he strategically placed on various parts of the girls’ anatomy. This was reminiscent of an old SNL skit done back in the early 90’s with Jon Lovitz and Tom Hanks, but works better with more vulgarity for the R-rating.
I remember the girl in the blue shirt turned bright red after Pena said his lines.
Virtually all of this was improvised as Michael Pena would look at the girl and use whatever she was wearing, or whatever feature she had that stood out to him and he would make a comment about it. I saw the look on the faces of the girls as they walked off camera and all of them were bright red from embarrassment. Just imagine being in front of about 30 people and a camera, walking in front of someone while he made disparaging remarks about your body and said the nastiest stuff about you. Not my idea of a good time, but I laughed so hard I almost cried. At one point he made a comment about the mannequin behind them and it took every muscle in my face to stop from busting out laughing and ruining the shot.
I have to admit that Michael Pena did not disappoint and even surprised me because of the dramatic work he’s done. I know you probably think of him as a dramatic actor only, but this movie is going to wipe that thought from your memory. In this film, he has a goatee, curly hair that he actually got permed and talks with the funniest accent I’ve heard in a while. He’s basically playing a Latino that thinks he’s African American. Whatever I write here will not do it justice, but trust me, he’s hilarious. He’s giving the kind of performance and saying the lines that we’re going to be quoting as soon as this movie is released.
Perhaps the best part of the set visit was just getting to hang out with Seth Rogen on the set. Towards the end of the day, and after the “official” set visit was over, he would come over and we would just BS about random things. Also, Jody Hill would stop by and see how things were going. I can’t tell you how cool that is that they let me stay on set and watch them in action. It was a real treat and definitely the highlight of the trip. I can’t say enough nice things about these two guys.
So after a loooonnnnngggg day on the set I went back to my room to crash. Overall, I have to say that this was one of the best trips of my life. Everyone was incredibly cool to us and I have to thank Joblo.com for sending me, and everyone at Warner Brothers and on the set of OBSERVE AND REPORT for being so accommodating. Producer Donald De Line seems like a great guy and was genuinely interested and involved in making sure we were having a good time. Seth Rogen was especially cool to us as he would make his way over to us between takes to chat and answer questions. This was after we were done with the official interviews, so he didn’t have to even look at us. He’s just a genuinely funny and likable guy and loved talking with “journalists” from movie sites that he visits on a regular basis.
As for the film, I think we’re in for a great time. Jody Hill clearly knows what he’s doing and has a knack for comedy. We all know Seth Rogen and Ray Liotta are great, and I’m convinced they both hit home runs in this one. But I think the guy who will get everyone talking is Michael Pena. I’m still laughing at some of his lines and I can’t wait to see this at the theaters.
Stay tuned for the interviews with Donald DeLine, Jody Hill, Michael Pena, Ray Liotta and Seth Rogen.