INT: Todd Phillips

Interview 1: Ben Stiller/Owen Wilson
Interview 2: Snoop Dogg
Interview 3: Todd Phillips
Interview 4: Vince Vaughn

Todd Phillips is my favorite director working today. There, I said it.  Sure, he may not be the most skilled director by Hollywood standards (or anyone else’s standards, for that matter), but he arguably has the best eye for comedic talent. For his latest project, STARSKY & HUTCH, Phillips assembled a dream cast: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell. The great thing about these guys isn’t just that they’re funny – they’re the kind of guys you could just hang out and have a beer with. That’s what makes OLD SCHOOL such a cool DVD: even after you’ve seen it, you can pop it in, have a beer and hang with your buddies. I got a chance to hang with Todd recently at the Ritz Carlton in Marina Del Rey. Here’s what he had to say about STARSKY & HUTCH...


Ben didn’t want to call the film a parody. Can you talk a little about the tone of this movie?

Well, it certainly is a comedy. We don’t like to use the word ‘parody’ or ‘spoof’ because it just seems a little bit simple and I don’t think we ever set out to really parody it. We really set out almost in a way, it’s like a love letter to Starsky & Hutch. And it’s a comedy, clearly, but spoofing and parody was just something we tried to stay away from.  There’s a real fine line in the movie, with the tone. And it was a difficult thing to kind of like...cause it’s often times easy to say, “Oh, let’s do this, this will be really...”  But you’re sacrificing the tone of the movie overall when you do that. So we were just pretty careful with it.

So how do you achieve that tone?

A lot of it is done in the writing, a lot of it is done in the shooting, and some of it is done in the editing. It’s just saying, “Ok, if we do go this far here, the next thing we should pull back a little.”  It’s really your only job as a director. You’re sort of the purveyor of tone. And sometimes it’s a hard thing to explain exactly what it is.

How was this tailored for Ben and Owen?

Well, clearly we wrote the script for Ben and Owen. The script didn’t exist and then we cast Ben and Owen. Ben came to me with the idea and said, “Hey, let’s do Starsky & Hutch,” and then me and Scott went and really wrote that script based on that. So it was definitely tailored to them in every way.

When you’re writing a script for guys like Ben and Owen, do you have certain scenes where you plan for improv?

You want to write it as clear and as good as possible, because you always want to have something to shoot in case you can’t...improv is not magic – it doesn’t always work. So you want to definitely have something solid as a base, and then in certain scenes you say, “Ok, we got that. Now let’s fuck around and try something different and play with it a little bit.” 

What does Vince Vaughn bring to the party?

Vince, to me, always brings a sense of reality to a movie. I think Vince plays things really real, which really helped kind of ground the movie. And Vince – if I could make every movie with Vince Vaughn, I would be happy. He’s the best actor out there. I think he’s amazing.  Obviously, I had a great time with him on Old School. I was so happy when I asked him to play the villain in this, that he would do it, because I just love having him around.

How hard is it to cut a film like this, when you have so many different takes and so much ad-libbing and stuff like that?

Editing in general, probably for any kind of movie and all directors, you have to be extremely ruthless when you’re editing your movie, cause you just have to realize, “Ok, there’s only so much of this you can take. Ok we’re tapping the same nerve here.” You have to be willing to lose great stuff. I learned more about editing when I was doing documentaries. I’ve done like three documentaries before I started making narrative films, and I learned more about editing in that, because you really have to be ruthless on stuff. 

What are the different challenges in making this film, which is so much larger than your previous stuff?

This had a bigger scope to it. Bigger budget, bigger scope, bigger actors, more days, action. So, the challenges are sort of obvious in just the general scope of it. But you have a professional crew and you have people there to help you. It was intimidating for the first couple days, then you realize, “Ok. I’m getting the rhythm of it.” 

It is easier to shoot films where you have so much improvisation and so much more creative leeway?

You always want to allow for improvisation in comedy. You always want to keep the vibe really loose on the set so people feel safe to try things. And I think that is where you end up with a lot of good stuff often in comedy. It’s not more difficult to do or easier to do, it’s just definitely something you want to pay attention to. 

It seems that you like working with the same people over and over again...

I find I like to work with a lot of the same actors, because I find that there’s sort of a shorthand there, and there is this unspoken trust, both ways. They trust me and I trust them. And I know what I’m going to get from them, to an extent. It’s just fun, kind of creating this little family. I love working with Vince, I love working with Juliette Lewis, I love working with Will Ferrell. Amy Smart’s been in a couple of my movies. There are certain people I go to again and again, and I’ll probably always do that.

Amy (Smart) complained that she had to audition for it.

She complained? The only reason Amy had to audition – let me make it very clear to Amy. Amy wasn’t auditioning; it was about chemistry between her and Carmen. So I brought Amy in with three different girls: Carmen, another girl and another girl. So Amy wasn’t really auditioning; she was actually being there for the other person.

David Soul has been very outspoken in recent years about his Starsky & Hutch experience, selling off all his residuals, etc.  What was it like to bring back Paul, who’s obviously still working, still a director – but also David?

At first I thought was going to be some resistance because you’re right, he was a little bit bitter or however you want to put it about certain things, but he seemed into it once we approached him. It didn’t seem to be an issue. And he likes the movie and he’s supporting the movie. He’s done publicity in London and he’s gonna come to the premier, I think. It wasn’t difficult once we...

What about Huggy Bear? In the original series he was a pimp, but we don’t get to see him do any pimping in this movie.

Well, you never saw him do a lot of pimping in the original series, either.  I’ve watched probably 65 of the 88 episodes, and Huggy never pimped anybody.  He’s just a guy who was running his thing.  But you never knew what he did.  So we kinda kept it like that on purpose, in a way.  He actually owned a bar in the original, which is what we had him doing in this.  But you knew he had some side businesses that weren’t exactly on the up-and-up. 

Did you ever consider updating it?

We originally – funny enough – discussed updating it completely, and then we just realized it would be more fun if we really embraced the show and did it like in the seventies.  We’d have more fun with it. 

What plans do you have for the DVD?

You know, I think we’re going to do something different. We’re gonna not put it on DVD. (laughter all around)  We’re gonna do it on Beta because that is what they did in the seventies.

And the soundtrack on 8-track.

And the Soundtrack comes out on 8-track next week, so we’re looking forward to that. 

Do you have any legitimate DVD plans for this?

Yes we do. It is coming out on DVD. I swear.  (laughs) You know, typical – obviously deleted scenes, commentary, but we also have some special things we shot, like this fashion thing we did with Snoop, where he’s kind of going through the fashions of Huggy in the movie and different attitudes and inspirations for those. We did a little driving special with Ben and Owen, because Owen hated getting in the car with Ben, because Ben is a terrible driver. But Ben thinks he’s a good driver, so that was always very complicated and sort of explain in there he wasn’t good. 

How committed were you to the period details?

That was the fun stuff, doing all the details and adapting my directing style to sort of suit how it looked like on the show, which we did a little bit here and there. That, to me, was the fun stuff. It wasn’t so much difficult, but it was definitely--

Can you talk a little about the music supervision and the score? 

Teddy Shapiro scored the movie. Teddy did Old School with me and we just listened to a lot of movies from back then, listened to a lot of the Starsky & Hutch shows, and we just kinda found the vibe that was right for the score of the movie, and then of course there’s source music, which is actually music from the seventies. 

Was there more music from the seventies that you wanted to use, but couldn’t?

There was a couple songs that we couldn’t afford.  It’s very expensive to get songs from the seventies.  It ends up being really costly – the soundtrack goes really up.  There was a couple songs that were just like...you had to pick your battles, as a director.  It’s like, “Ok, we’re gonna give you Aerosmith’s ‘Sweet Emotion’ and that costs this much.  You can’t have Rod Stewart ‘Tonight’s the Night’.”  It kills me to this day.

Is it true that there were scenes added after preview audiences liked Snoop Dogg?

Yeah, Geraldo Rivera. It sounds like an expose question. Yes, it is true. It is true that there was a scene shot after we tested the movie. People just loved Snoop, so we wanted to shoot another scene with Snoop. Give them more. 

Which scene was it?

That was the scene actually where they approach in the bar, when the iguana’s tale gets shot off. We had a much smaller introduction to Snoop. But Snoop had a bigger impact on the movie, so we realized we wanted to make a bigger intro for Snoop.

How about the rumors of Old School 2?  Is it gonna happen?

No, we’re not gonna do Old School 2. 

Why not? 

I had a little falling-out with Dreamworks off of this movie EUROTRIP. I felt like they really marketed it off of my two movies, even though I had nothing to do with it and it just looked like the worst movie ever.  But somehow I got dragged into it and it made me crazy. And I said, if you do this, I won’t do Old School 2. And they said, “Well, this is business. We’ve gotta worry about this movie right now.”

It actually has pretty much the exact same plot as Road Trip.

I don’t even want to talk about it. I didn’t see it, I won’t see it and it kinda pissed me off. So, that’s why I won’t do business with them.

How are you going to approach Six Million Dollar Man?

He’s talking about a movie I’m gonna do with Jim Carrey, Six Million Dollar Man, we might do. Again, I don’t have this sort of goal as a filmmaker to make seventies shows into movies, but I did have this plan, it was always to work with great comic actors. Ben and Owen being two of them, and Jim Carrey, obviously, is another. So I really want to work with Jim and we’ve been talking about doing Six Million Dollar Man. I don’t have the approach yet figured out, so...

Is the Six Million Dollar Man something you have an affinity for, or is it just the chance to work with Jim?

I have an affinity to work with Jim Carrey. I mean, I like the show, but I’m not somebody – and this would probably upset a lot of people on the Starsky & Hutch websites –  I’m not somebody that treats it so holy and so sacredly. It’s a TV show that was on the air for four years. It wasn’t the second coming. 

What studio would that be with?


What will the tone be?

There’s been different talks and different combinations of actors and directors, but certainly if you had me and Jim Carrey doing it, we were gonna set out to make something funny, I think.

How was Dimension involved with Starsky & Hutch?

That’s a good question. Dimension is just a financial partner. They put up 50% of the money. A lot of times you’ll see two studios involved in movies, because they basically partner – the split the money and they split the profits, I guess.

Dimension did it because I have a deal with Bob and Harvey and they came in sort of, because they wanted to be involved in that movie.

So, who had the rights to Starsky & Hutch?

Warners. Warners had it, but Harvey and Bob Weinstein have a deal with me. Warners wanted to take a partner in the movie, because they like to lessen their exposure – this is all boring stuff – but I said, “Ok, if you’re gonna do that, can we take on Harvey and Bob, because I have a deal.” And they said, “Ok.”  And that’s how it happened.

So it wasn’t something where they were on the set?

No, no no. Who? Harvey and Bob? No.

Have you read the book (Down and Dirty Pictures) yet?

I’ve read the book.

What do you think?

I think that they (the Weinsteins) are legendary characters. They’re not going to write books about most studio executives and they’ll write books about Harvey and Bob because they’re the way they are and I think that they’re great. And I think that they’ve done a lot, lot, lot more good than they’ve done the little, little bad, you know what I mean? And I think the book is really fucked up because it blames them for ending independent film, but it doesn’t give them credit for starting it, you know what I’m saying? If you start something, it’s not your job to keep it going forever. It’s like, “I start it, now I hand it off to you. You do it, you know? I can’t do it forever.” 

Are you worried about younger audiences who haven’t seen the original show?

Yeah, but I think if you make a good one, it doesn’t really matter. I think that it doesn’t matter that the kids haven’t seen Starsky & Hutch. We screened this movie in Northridge for a bunch of 15 and 16 year-olds who’d never even heard of the word ‘Starsky & Hutch’, but it was a Ben and Owen movie and they got it on the first bounce and they love it.

But they’ve seen ‘Sabotage’ (The Spike Jonze-directed Beastie Boys video).

Right. Ideally, sure. But even when they saw ‘Sabotage’, I’m sure they didn’t get what Spike Jonze was referencing in that. But yeah, 16 year-olds are not just born. They know...

Do you think you got into the raunchy comedy business at the right time and are you getting out of it at the right time? 

It’s not so much ‘getting out of it.’ I think, if you do it right, it would still work today. I don’t think Eurotrip’s bad because people are suddenly over it – I think it’s probably a bad movie. Again, I haven’t seen it, but I know that if I went and did Old School 2 and we did a raunchy comedy, it would work because we know how to do it and we would do it right, I think. You know what I mean? So, I don’t know that I ‘got out of it,” certainly, yeah.

You don’t think the genre has run its course?

Again, people like to dismiss it as raunchy or gross-out comedies, but I think if you make it funny, they will come. You can’t just make it gross and raunchy; you have to make a funny movie. So, I think if we did Old School 2, we would have made it funny. It would work.

Source: JoBlo.com



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