INT: Jon Favreau

Interview #1 Jon Favreau
Interview #2 Zooey Deschanel
Interview #3 Will Ferrell

Christmas always seems to come a bit earlier every year and 2003 is no different. The first festive film of the year is ELF and it opens on November 7th. The man directing the film is none other than the man behind the man: Jon Favreau, my favorite swinger-- not that I swing that way or anything. They’re really pushing this film to be the next big holiday classic and the chances are excellent with this cool cat directing, Ferrell being Ferrell and the enchanting Zooey Deschanel bringing visions of sugarplums (and a couple of other things) to my X-Mas wish list. A very good combination.

I got my Christmas gift early as I got to chat with Favreau after the screening at a private ELF party at the top of the Empire State Building (and shake hands with James Caan...great man!) and he was, not surprisingly, very candid, down to earth and quite appreciative of my senseless jabbering about the genius that was the film SWINGERS. I even had the will power to not remark about how he was indeed “the money” (he was, by the way...so much so, he didn’t even know it) After toasting to Elf’s success (which I genuinely enjoyed) and handing him a copy of JoBlo's Movie Book (SWINGERS was obviously one of the top 50 coolest movies), I slinked back into my corner and began the holiday drinking season early and…well, I don’t remember the rest.

Here is what the ultra-cool Favreau offered us during the next day's interview…


Is this your first movie that your kids can see?

It is, because it's the first movie I made since I've had kids too. But it's the first one certainly that's appropriate. I've acted in movies - well, not really actually, even like DAREDEVIL which sort of skewed young is still incredibly violent. And RUDY is appropriate for older kids, but this is probably the first one that they'll ever see that I'm involved with as they grow up.

Talk about the special effects...

Yeah, I really refrained from using the CGI, the computer generated animated effects in the movie as much as I could. I never really buy them when I see them in movies. So at the beginning of the film, there's no CGI. It's all done with forced perspective and stop-motion animation. I wanted to give it that nostalgic, low- tech feel. But then later on in the movie, we do use special effects, computer generated effects sparingly. But especially whenever you're animating something that's alive, like a reindeer or a human, always looks kind of fake to me. So we purposely shot away from the reindeer. They go through shadowy frames and you see them sort of fleetingly going through. We used as little shots as we could of that to make it not about that either. This isn't an effects movie. It was more about the people in the sleigh and not the sleigh itself.

Did you have to change anything from the original story?

Yeah, I did. The original script that I had read, Buddy had been riding on the reindeer and putting magic dust on them. There was nothing to do with Christmas spirit in the original draft and it was all very much like an action sequence. And in rewriting the script, it became more about the city coming together and the spirit being elevated. So we sort of took the emphasis off of the reindeer and put it more on what was going on around the park.

How long to do the Christmas decorations?

Like the stuff in the apartments? Rusty Smith, my production designer had his art department working for days on end. Because the whole idea is that Buddy loves decorating and he's a very fast worker because he was raised by elves working in the workshop. But he didn't really have any materials to work with so he would use cotton balls, CDs and silverware and cut up typewriter paper. So we had all of our art department making handmade Christmas decorations so that it filled up the apartment.

Will Will do anything you ask him too?

Will will usually do more. I never really asked Will to do anything specifically. He would always come up with a really exciting choice. He has very good instincts especially with physical comedy. My only job when we're doing the broad stuff was to either build him sets that he could play off of or put him in a costume that he could really work, or suggest things that might inspire him to try something different and go further than he had. But he's a performer and so he would always feel- if that camera was rolling, he would use that as an opportunity to go for it.

Did the suit make the mood more comfortable?

A great costume, which I think is always a great tool for an actor. It's almost like working with a mask. And the costume gave him a certain posture and a certain way of moving. He lacks self-consciousness and you really have to if you're going to wear that suit around. And it brought out the character, which is a very un-self conscious character, a guy who thinks he's an elf coming from the North Pole.

Do you consider yourself a comedian?

I did improv comedy, but I never did standup comedy so I don't really consider myself a comedian.

Were you in awe of Bob Newhart?

Yeah, I mean, it was really exciting to have Bob Newheart, Ed Asner, Jimmy Caan. These were all icons that I grew up watching, so it was very exciting to come to the set. But more so it's exciting when I watch the movie and I see Bob Newhart opening it up, and everybody chuckle as they recognize that the guy in the elf suit is Bob Newhart. And there he is narrating the movie with his dry delivery. It really adds a certain authenticity and nostalgia to the movie that it really needs.

What would you say are the merits of settling down?

Oh, I don't know. Maybe I'll have to do another movie about settling down. I'm sure I'll have something to say soon. This was sort of an intermediate step. But if you look at SWINGERS, although there are tips on dating and picking up women, the real message of the movie is that when you find the person that's right for you, when you become comfortable with yourself, you're able to move on to the next step. That character is left meeting a person who he has connected with on a very pure level. And almost transcends to the next step and gets out of that world. So that was a step, and then if you look at MADE, it deals a little bit with parenthood. Now I'm sort of at the point where I'll figure out a way to do something about a guy living in the suburbs.

Your current idea of a wild night out?

Wild night out is somebody watching the kids and getting a meal and not having to change diapers. Either that or TIVO-ing a children's movie.

Where do you and Vince Vaughn go for a drink?

We don't hang out because he sleeps during the day and I sleep at night. We're like two people who work different shifts.

Are you trying to make people tear up?

I tear up but I don't know if I'm just so happy I've finished the movie, but I get excited being in an audience. I'll know I did my job on this movie if it pops up on TV every year. That'll be the real test of time.

Do you see it going that direction?

I hope. I got spoiled because RUDY did it. That pops up every year around Thanksgiving, and SWINGERS is on cable all the time now. Those are two movies that didn't make the most of any movies I've ever made, and not necessarily the best reviewed. But they were the ones that made a ripple in our culture and sort of have stood the test of time. In making ELF, on the one hand, you could make a movie about Christmas that's just utter crap and parents will take the kids to go see it and there's a very low bar. But the upside is if you make something that really has emotional resonance and that you put a lot of care into, it could become part of our culture for years to come and be played like no other movie is ever played.

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE was really a nothing movie when it came out, but it has emerged as something that's very important to our society and our culture. And still if I turn it on and there's 10 minutes left in it, I'll turn it on, keep it on, sit down and watch it and I'll be in tears. It's embarrassing. You're getting ready to go out, putting your tie on, your wife finds you sitting at the foot of the bed watching the TV and you're all teared up. That's something that's like the brass ring for a Christmas movie and we always set out to make something that we knew if we did our job right that this could turn into something that people would see year after year.

Do you want to go back into the independent world where you’re a bit more comfortable?

I do. You know, I just worked on a movie called THE BIG EMPTY that’s coming out with the AFI Film Festival. I was an actor in it. First-time director named Steve Anderson did it and it was a $2 million dollar movie that I acted in. So it’s fun to stay involved in that world but it’s a frustrating world because a lot of the times, those movies are never seen. I think it has more to do with the subject matter. If I want to do something that’s too far to the left of the mainstream, you can’t expect to get the same amount of money like when you make ELF. It depends on what story I want to tell. If I want to do something that appeals to a lot of people, I’ll stay in this world. But if I want to do something like “The Marshall of Revelation,” the Western I’ve been trying to make with Vince [Vaughn] for a while, then we’ll have to switch.

Why would you put Radioman in your movie?

You gotta keep Radioman. Radioman got trimmed down in MADE so I told him I'd put him in this one. He gets a close-up right at the climax of the movie.

How important is it for kids to believe in Santa?

I don't know that they need to believe in Santa, but it certainly is nice to believe in the spirit of Christmas and certainly in the values that Buddy espouses and how innocence and enthusiasm and perseverance could bring people together and make people change. You can change somebody who's cynical. Innocence will always win out and life always wins out over darkness, light over darkness and death and cynicism. And shows how powerful Buddy is even though he's an incredibly flawed, naïve character and how he sort of turns everybody else around. That's sort of the message of RUDY also. I looked at that film a lot, thought about that as I went into this one.

Could the story have been anywhere else but NY?

No, it couldn't. I mean, this is a New York movie and especially after the events of the last couple years, I really thought it was important to set it here and to shoot it here and to not fake another city for the streets of New York and what's New York like now is different from what it was like when I was growing up. There is a sadness to it based on what it's had to endure over the last few years and I think that that really serves the movie as Will Ferrell does a comedy and brightens up people who are kind of gloomy and cynical. And New York is the most magical place that I've ever been around Christmas time, and it was really nice to be able to shoot here and capture that and incorporate the people in the city and give it a real genuine texture.

Was the Lego city real?

Yeah. They built that. You could only do one take of the Lego city getting broken up, but I got the idea because I was like, "Okay, he's in a toy store, what's he building?" And I wanted to use all the old school toys. I wanted to use the Light Brite and Barbie dolls and Etch-a-Sketches and that type of stuff. I wanted the film to feel like it could've been something that was done when I was a kid. And the North Pole certainly felt that way and I wanted to limit the toys there to pretty much that. I threw in a couple of things like Elmo and Bob the Builder.

I had to. I mean, I have kids. I understand the significance of those guys, but beyond that, I wanted to make it feel like a movie that could've been from the '70s as far as the cultural references go. And so I had the idea late in the day of, "Hey, why doesn't he build a Lego skyline?" And Rusty Smith, my production designer, God bless him, he was like, "Okay." And then day and night, they were building the skyline and there it was.

Did they cry when it was over?

I think they like -I think they were so fed up with building that thing, they were happy to see it destroyed. But when you're an art department person, any time your work is featured, you're excited by it.

Did you ask Will to improv?

We come from a similar background. Will studied at the Groundlings. I studied at Second City. He came through Saturday Night Live and certainly I was influenced a great deal by the people who were on that show, and a lot of people I worked with have worked on that show. So we both have very similar sensibilities and a similar way of working, coming from an improv background. Although he didn't improvise dialogue that much, I was not afraid to put him in situations that were unplanned.

And as a matter of fact, the last day of shooting in New York, we just took cameras. We didn't even have the director of photography. We just took a camera man and a film loader and some PA's and went around the city in a van, jumped out and threw people some money and got to use all different locations like him getting his shoe shined or him crossing the street with all real people around him. So I put him in those situations and he had to improvise and stay in character while dealing with people who for the most part didn't even know they were in a movie.

DVD plans?

There's a lot of scenes that were cut out, especially in the North Pole, to help the movie move faster. There's a lot of that in there, and something that I was really proud of that we did on this is we did a film school for kids where the DVD crew would go around and interview everybody on the set and ask them what job they did and to explain it so a kid could understand it. I also went and explained the way special effects work and how you work with actors and what everybody's job is. I thought that was really unique. I'd never seen anything like that and I think it's a good companion piece to this movie because there are a lot of kids that just don't even understand. Even for adults, a lot of people might not know how it all works.

Gag reel?

There wasn't really a gag reel surprisingly. It wasn't that kind of movie. Everybody was really professional so everybody stayed in- - people didn't blow takes. There are a couple times where a kid would chuckle when Will was burping in his face, but beyond that, most of the funny stuff was actually when the cameras were rolling.

Action commentary?

Maybe we'll get the telestrator again. That was fun, where you draw on the screen.

Are you where you want to be in the industry?

I think this is a good step and I feel like I took a big chance by jumping into a movie of this size. I'm really happy with how it turned out, so right now I'm really satisfied. I'm always sort of moving forward and that makes you feel like you're not wasting your opportunities.

Your TV show, acting and directing?

It's pretty good. Right now it's a lot of work and I have a family. That's a big deal too. To have kids, to be a good dad. The hard part right now is staying in L.A. and not going to Canada all the time or flying to another country, another city to work because it's cheaper. The next movie I'm doing will be in L.A. and San Francisco. I'm starting to have enough of a cache as a director to be able to select where I want to work and work on projects and with people I want to work with. So with success, that gives me more leverage to do that. That's the only thing I'd really like to change is to be able to not have to be away from my family for five months like I was on this movie.

Your next film?

DATE SCHOOL with Drew Barrymore for Dreamworks, I'm directing. It's a romantic comedy basically about somebody who is learning how to date. A woman is learning the ropes of dating.

What dating advice will you give your kids?

I don't know. For the girl, don't sleep with anybody. And for the guy, be very careful who you sleep with.


Thanks to Latinoreview.com and Cinema Confidential for their help with this transcript.


Source: JoBlo.com



Latest Entertainment News Headlines