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Set Visit: Unaccompanied Minors


Intro / Quinn Shephard / Gina Mantegna / James Tyler Christopher / Dyllan Christopher / Wilmer Valderrama

April 5, 2005: I woke up bright and early eager to participate in my first set visit. The anticipation of the unknown was nerve wrecking and exhilarating at the same time. We were in Salt Lake City, Utah where the movie was being filmed, and were picked up along with the other journalists in the lobby of our hotel at around 10:30 am. The city itself was astonishingly beautiful. The incredible mountains surrounding the city were breathtaking and surreal. It almost appeared to be a fake background or Hollywood set strategically placed for visual effects. Before I continue onto illustrating the set visit itself, here are some details about the movie.

The film, UNACCOMPANIED MINORS directed by Paul Feig (Freaks and Geeks) stars Wilmer Valderrama (That 70’s show), Tyler James Williams (Everybody hates Chris), Dyllan Christopher (Seabisuit), Bret Kelly (Bad Santa), newcomers Gina Mantegna, Quinn Shephard, among many other comedic actors. Originating from a screenplay by Paul Feig and Kate Kondell (First Daughter), the movie is produced by Lauren Shuler Donner (the X-Men franchise) and Michael Aguilar ( Constantine ). The film’s opening date has yet to be announced, although it will likely be in November of 2006.

As for the plot of the movie, it takes place in a fictional airport on Christmas Eve where 5 kids from divorced parents have been snowed in at the airport while traveling from one parent to the other. What happens when a bunch of kids are trapped together in one place? The usual disorder, chaos and a lot of adventure. The kids ultimately team up against a disgruntled airport official in the attempt to reunite with their families, and grow closer and wiser from their experience. The movie appears to be a heartwarming holiday story, a cross between HOME ALONE and THE BREAKFAST CLUB.

We arrive on the set inside the Delta center otherwise known as the home of the NBA’s Utah Jazz. They are shooting a chaotic scene in a holding room of the airport where all the kids are trapped and going bonkers. There are about a hundred other kids cast as extras running around, crashing into one another and throwing food and garbage all over the place. Definitely not a scene you want to get caught in unless you want to get run over or hit in the head. You can’t imagine how much work goes into filming a scene until you have witnessed it.

The first interview was with director, Paul Feig distinguished in a suit. He is a self proclaimed nerd who obviously adores working with kids. A grown up kid himself, he has a great appreciation for raw talent and encourages improvisation. Feig appears to be a cool, down to earth and easygoing director. He had a lot of great insight on the film and actors. Check out what he had to say.

Paul Feig

What was your inspiration to wear a suit everyday?

It’s two things. First of all, my dad wore a suit everyday of his life, an army shirt to the warehouse and he always had a suit and tie on so to me that what you wore to go to work. Plus I do like that, walking around in suit. And honestly I feel more comfortable running a staff dressed like, I don’t know, like the boss. Plus I think it shows respect for the actors and the crew and everything. You know, you guys are here helping me, the least I can do is dress for the occasion.

And you kids are saying, the one who talked about your father is that you are just like him.

Oh excellent. Oh yeah, that’s why I think I like doing things about kids, maybe the maturity level of maybe a sixteen year old. I’m the one always pushing a fart jokes and they’re like ‘back off on those’. It’s like what are we doing, making an are you a virgin film? If I can do that tastefully and in a way that it’s natural with a partner of life, that’s actually a lot of comedy in general and everyone’s all filled with energy. They’re two schools with such bad kid comedy because they’re so over the top and so, trying to help with the kids over-enunciating and everyone’s all filled with energy and that to me is horrible because it’s not like real kids but for me if you kind of create an absurd situation but then you put the kids in it, they’re acting the way kids would act in the real situation, then you’re great.

So for me it’s just really staying away from that amped up kind of. There’s nothing wrong the Nickelodeon, Disney kind of thing but it’s just, I never think I’m making stuff for kids, I think I’m making stuff about kids for adults that I think kids will enjoy too. It’s a comedy about kids; it’s not a kid’s comedy because I didn’t want to dumb it down. I think this stuff that I make, if I say it’s for kids it’s like people think different, and it’s like oh well you can’t do this because people will get that and you can’t do this because people will get that. You know kids will get it; they get a lot of stuff. You know we’re not making some big heavy thing but lets treat kids, I mean lets cast kids who look real and have real personalities and have their own thing going on as opposed to finding the models and saying be like this.

That’s where I think so much bad casting comes from. They’re like I want her to look like Britney Spears so let’s find the girl that’s like Britney Spears and then we’ll make her say these lines that a guy in his forties wrote because he thinks like ‘man if I were head of the hits back then I’d say this’ or yeah well if I were this age back then. It’s all this kind of righting the wrongs, so it’s fun for me to come with something real.

Is directing kids as difficult as like when they throw water on a chicken?

No, the thing is I think directing kids is only difficult when you don’t cast the right kids. You know, a scene like today where they have the kids going crazy, it just hardens the accounting nightmare, you know you have a good idea as the director team kind of telling the kids where to go, and you’re like I want one kid over here and this one over there and they kind of sort it out and it’s like you sit there with the camera and wait. Directing kids is not that tough because once again if you’re using the kids I like to use, which are really smart kids, they’re just going to figure out themselves and then you let them be themselves.

I’m never about like ‘say this line like this’ unless it’s a very specific joke but if a kid’s ever having trouble saying a line, for me there’s something wrong with the line, it’s not something wrong with the kid, not written in the kid’s voice, or this is the way the kid talks. So the only bad performances the kid comes from “say it just like this”. So this kid has to unnaturally kind of torture out this sentence but now he’s not a kid anymore, he’s a guy in his thirties or forties funneling the words of that person then it just all falls apart.

Are you a grown up kid yourself?

Yeah, I think my wife can attest to that. Yeah, I just wanted to poke fun. I just like their energy. I think maybe our references are a little different because it’s different times you grew up but I feel like we all kind of have the same sense of humor so things that they suggest that they think would be kind of funny and usually, 90% of the time you’re like well that’s great, we’ll try it.

And you have some of the greatest advisors in the world. I’ve seen half of these guys at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. You brought them in, I’m assuming, to improvise.

Yeah, oh yeah. For me like I hate to waste any role even though it’s like one line that I always call the ‘they want that away’ line. Roles which can easily populate the film but just knowing people are really good in that with all the people with one or two lines its’ like eh, you know, he’s got a local joke and I feel bad because I’ve been acting for years so I was always the guy trying to get those parts but at the same time, I don’t want to waste any of those parts. I just want people’s personalities to shine through. I want people who are going to bring something extra.

You know we’ve got Cedric Yarbrough from Reno 911 playing Charlie’s dad. He literally got one line but its like, Cedric’s great. Even though he’s reacting, you just know as an audience member, you trust the filmmaker because you go ‘well that guy’s great, okay now I can relax’. I don’t know, I feel like that just legitimizes everything and like you say, then I can improvise. You know, go ahead you guys, do what you want, we have three other kids in the hall, Ruth McCoulah, Mark McKenny, and Brian McDonald playing security guards who are guarding the kids when they get locked away. And I just wrote these scenes that we keep cutting back with them arguing about like they’re playing Name That Tune with Christmas carols.

I just say do what you want, you know we’ll just shoot a ton of it and then we’ll pick and choose and then find it but that’s the kind of goal you want. I don’t want to waste a moment. I want every moment to be funny.

You brought a couple of actors from Arrested Development.

Yeah, Jessica Walters plays sort of the irresponsible stewardess who’s put in charge of Spencer’s little sister and she’s got the nightmare girl with her Mary Lynn designer braces and stuff. So Jessica’s great and we’ve got Tony Hale comes for this quick little bit at the end where Santa’s handing out gifts to everybody’s who’s by themselves and you know, it’s like Allan Davy is like I’m 36 years old, Santa is like ‘hey you’re by yourself’ and he’s like ‘okay’. So once again Tony stays and Tony brings will bring this extra fun energy to it.

Will anyone ever cut Dave Brown’s hair?

He’s like Sampson, if you cut his hair, his powers all go away. He’s the crazy gas station attendant. The first time you see him, he’s a chain saw artist. He comes up with a chain saw and scares the crap out of everyone.

You talked about casting earlier. How quickly can you cast now? Can you look at someone in the first thirty seconds? I’m sure you’ve got great gut instincts.

It’s amazing how fast you know, especially with kids. Because what you do is you throw the net wide and say bring in a million kids. And every body that sees your film is like ‘yeah that person okay, I can see that’. But every time the right person walks in you’re like ‘forget it, all those other people can just blow out of your mind’. That’s how good it was with me too, with all the roles really. You just have to know and the biggest thing is going is the studio will go for it, or can I talk the studio into it, or how am I going to talk the studio into it? Fortunately, I had the greatest thing happen on this, just when I was just gearing up to kind of push through my cast, Time magazine out of nowhere did this article about where like four Freaks and Geeks kids are now and how they’re famous.

Can you talk about casting Wilmer?

Yeah, it was one of those roles where at first glance you go ‘okay, but Wilmer contacted us and he and his manager got a hold of the script and they loved this role. They were like ‘we would love to play this role and at first we were kind of like ‘Wilmer, who I’m reading in the papers and he’s dating all these women, he’s going to be …9:18…but he came in and he met with us at lunch and I was like ‘I’m not really sure’ and he goes ‘I’d love to sit down with you and talk about the role’ and by the time he was done I was like ‘he’s the guy’. First of all, it’s not the way you would expect to go with the role and secondly, he just brings this whole kind of funny energy to it.

And we ended up cutting out this whole thing where he was in love with this flight attendant and he didn’t have the nerve to talk to her. That was the only reason I was pulling back and was like ‘am I going to buy that Wilmer Valderrama is afraid to talk to a flight attendant’? But then we ended up cutting that part out because he became one of the kids. …9:55…more than the kids are, and so this worked out perfect. He’s been great. He’s another great improviser. We pelted him with all this food and crap in the room the other day because the kids were all throwing stuff. Today he got dogpiled on by a bunch of kids. He’s great. He’s like Jason Friegler used to be on Freaks and Geeks used to be which was, Jason would just like ‘I’ll do it’. Will you stand in your underwear? ‘I’ll do it’. Will you disco dance? ‘I’ll do it’. So Wilmer was like, ‘sure I’ll do it’. I love that.

As an actor obviously you travel a lot. You traveled a lot when you’re an actor. Is that where the idea came to you, is being in a lot of airports and seeing a lot of people?

Well actually, honestly this idea was brought to me. It was a script that already existed. It was a Miss America life story that they, Warner Bros had developed through two sets of writers, and then they sent it to me and I really liked the idea of the script had a lot of great characters and the structure was kind of cool but then I wanted, (a) I wanted to make it my own and (b) I really wanted to make a bigger film. I wanted to make it much more physical because I’ve always been dying to bring back the John Lay of this, the Blake Edwards, big physical comedy and so I thought this was the perfect one to do it with.

So I did a very major rewrite on it and added all big, new chase down the hill and this scene where the kids get caught in this big luggage sorting machine, just a lot of the mayhem of running around and more than anything we sold it. I wanted to do that kind of thing and I feel like there’s not a lot of that around now. I kind of wanted to bring back a nod to the comedy I grew up with but try to do it modern so the people watching an old movie like that would feel like they were watching a new movie with this kind of action in it.

It’s got kind of a Breakfast Club feel to it.

Yeah but the irony was it really started out being much more breakfast clubby. By the time we got into production it became more Animal House than Breakfast Club. It’s like Animal House meets Home Alone if I may. But The Breakfast Club element is still in there but it kind of moves a lot faster than it used to. We also kind of realized you know what, this is just kind of a ride and we’re going to put the heart into the ride but I never want to have processed, you know, it’s all action but doesn’t mean anything. So at the end of the day I want to try to move the audience and try to get them interested. Because I like being the guy, so even when I read this script, the ending was sweet and I was like I love that.

Have you looked at all at airlines or airports to kind of understand or did you just kind of feel it out?

People kind of felt it out; I mean a lot of it came from Miss America’s life story, like the whole UN room. Basically that story was about the kids getting taken to the UN room and the nightmare it was and then being taken and having to bunk with this stewardess. And kind of that’s where it ended, but that to me kind of said it. That set the whole mood of like, if that happened to me I would want nothing more than to get out of there so then from there, you can see the mayhem of what would happen if you get in the way and the quote unquote bad guy is trying to stop you.

And obviously we don’t know a ton about the movie until you make it. So these kids are traveling, they’re stuck here so they ship them in a room?

Yeah, basically what it is, is when you’re flying and you’re an unaccompanied minor, they do if something happened like this where everything shuts down, they just put all the kids away into one room because legally they have since these kids could get into trouble so they have to lock them away. So what happens is that’s fine for the airport to have kids stuck in there, talk about my nightmare as a kid, to be stuck with all these kids you don’t know and most of them want to beat you up and stuff so then from there they escape and they get caught and they come back and then they really escape and trying to rescue, Spence wants to get to his sister because she was taken away to go to a hotel that they miss the train for. So they have to get to her because he knows she’s expecting Santa Claus at 4:30AM so he has to get to her to get her a present and save Christmas for her. So they did that.

Is it fun for you to direct stuff like The Office and Arrested Development?

Oh yeah, that’s a blast. I mean, in some ways it’s almost like a vacation. Shows like that are so great and the cast is so good that literally you almost feel guilty collecting a pay check for it because it’s so funny. I just laugh all day and my only responsibility is to make sure I capture it correctly so it’s as funny as it is on the set, but shows like that are so much fun. I mean The Office is just laughs because on top of everything we do a lot of improv and come up with a lot of the stuff on the spot like in the Halloween episode that I directed, the whole thing where Dwight’s trying to talk Michael that he’s got the hood. This big scene came out of it. It wasn’t in the script and Greg Daniels was so great, he had to do another scene just so they can have an extended homage Star Wars scene. Nerds rule. It was my people.

Have you been allowing kids to improv?

Oh yeah, the kids are really good at it. You’re always kind of surprised, you never know if the kids will be good at it or not, but they amazed me. There were a couple of scenes where you could just hear the A, B, and C and come in every time and do something differently. That was so funny and Tyler; they’re all really good at it. Tyler is an amazing kid. He just kind of hits everything and he just kind of nails everything. And then Quinn just brings this fresh energy because she hasn’t done much and she’s just like a force of nature running around. And Dylan’s like me, just an awkward guy in the middle trying to figure this all out.

Did you meet Bret at the audition?

Right, what happened Brett ended up, when we were casting, a tape came in from Toronto, because we had casting directors all over the country just auditioning people for this. And Brett cam in from Bad Santa, and his audition was hilarious. And so this part was a little different because he’s more of a stoic kid, the kind that doesn’t talk and all that and goes off on this journey and discovers who he is his ridiculous journey to find a Christmas tree. He had to wear a snow mobile suit so he’s very hot during shoot. I feel bad.

Has it been gratifying to see Freaks and Geeks become so popular?

Yeah it’s so cool. I mean getting it out on DVD was the greatest thing for us because it was a long time for sure we thought it was going to get out. Yeah, but it’s just really heartening and it’s really nice also just working with kids and you’re like ‘here, check this out’ as opposed to before there was the DVD on TV shows, you just had to say ‘oh I had a TV show and it’s good’. ‘Really’? ‘ yeah. So it’s fantastic and the more people discover it the happier I am.

Speaking of Geeks, did you enjoy watching movies like Revenge of the Nerds back in the 80’s?

Kind of. I actually, believe it or not, I didn’t buy that movie as much as other people did because that to me misrepresented, I thought it was really funny but it also represented what was thought as the big archetype of the nerd which, I don’t know, we were all nerds and none of us were like that. I still think it’s really funny and it kind of gets funnier as we get older but at the same times that’s what I wanted to fight against which is coke bottle glasses and snorting guys, so that’s one of the many motivations of what Freaks and Geeks really was. I knew a couple of guys who were super nerds even we didn’t hang out with them because they were like clinical, you know.

But as much as I can, you know sometimes you can’t, but I try to break the stereotype and try to go a different way so at least, I think you relate to it more as opposed to being the archetype. All that’s funny but, I guess that’s what they’re like. We all kind of know everybody; we all know all different types of people whether we know them well or not so to introduce the type of person you go ‘that’s weird, I don’t know anybody like that’ almost feels kind of fake to me because when you really break it down, there’s not that many different types of people.

Stay tuned for interviews with the cast...





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