So here’s a guy who’s made three films since 1997 and
already he’s got a career retrospective at
the Museum of the Moving Image in New
York! Maybe it has something to do with the fact that
his second film. the Seth Rogen
cowritten/Judd Apatow produced raunchy teenaged comedy “Superbad” made over $120 million in the US alone and is now quoted by
movie geeks everywhere. His new film “Adventureland,” on the other hand, is a
more subdued and autobiographical coming of age story set in 1987 in the tacky
amusement park of the title. Here’s what he has to say.
Q: Congratulations on the retrospective.
GM: It was a shock to me and was quite nice. I was calling it the
compound word trilogy because every film I’ve done, “Daytrippers,” “Superbad” and “Adventureland” are all
compound words. That was coincidental, because I wrote “Daytrippers” and
Adventureland before I wrote “Superbad”. So “Superbad” fell nicely into my lap
and fit in with the trend. The next film I’m doing though is called Paul, so it
screws it all up. But it’s still one word.
Q: There were films between “Daytrippers” and “Superbad” that
didn’t have one word compound word
GM: That’s true. There was one called “Life of the Party,” and
that’s almost a sentence.
Q: But it didn't get made. In fact nothing got made for eleven years. What happened?
GM: It was the classic filmmaker making every mistake he can
in his career. “Daytrippers” did open doors for me and I wrote a script
afterwards that several companies wanted to make and the one who ended up
trying to do it was Columbia Pictures and we got as far as getting a green
light on the movie and it was cast and I was location scouting and hiring all
my department heads and all that good stuff and the studio got cold feet and
decided for a number of reasons that the film was just too big of a risk and
put it in turnaround. which was unusual because we had gotten very far and they
had spent some real money on it but at the end of the day they felt that the
cast wasn’t quite bankable enough and the movie was a little too dark and
Q And too many words in the title.
GM: ...and too many words in the title. And no compound words.
And I probably spent too much time after that trying to set it up elsewhere because there was still some interest and then I spent too much time feeling sorry for
myself that it didn’t work out and to make a long story a tiny bit longer I
saw myself as really wanting to be a kind of auteur-indie film maker who only
writes and directs his own movies and I’m not a terribly fast writer -- I went
through some real writer’s block -- and then when Judd Apatow called me up one day
and asked me if I wanted to direct episodes of "Undeclared", well, I think I was at LAX
before he hung up the phone. I was ready to make a change because I really
missed directing. I really wanted more experience.
He actually had asked me if I wanted to direct some “Freaks and
Geeks” episodes but I was in the throes of making the film that fell apart and
he really liked “Daytripper” so we had spoken and so Judd has attempted to save me several
times and luckily I opened my eyes and jumped at some of his offers.
Q: After “Superbad” you can do whatever you want, right?
GM: Well, I wish. It definitely helped a lot. "Adventureland" would
not have been financed without it. I finished a version of the script and I was
literarily days away from setting up potential investors when Judd called me
and said do you want to do “Superbad?” So I put it down and then picked it up
again after “Superbad” was done. Having said that, every place we showed them
the script said we will make this but only if you make it contemporary and
make it more like “Superbad,” in other
words a lot raunchier and a lot more jokes. Get rid of all the bittersweet
stuff. And not wanting to do that I just was stubborn until I found some people
who let me do it the way I saw it in my head but I had to do it on a much lower
budget than I had for “Superbad.”
Q: How much was the budget for each?
GM: I don’t know if I’m not allowed to say; nobody has ever told
me. But “Superbad” was well over twice the budget of “Adventureland.” And “Superbad” was around $20 million. Two
and a half really.
Q: So eventually it ended up being pretty much what you wrote
originally without making any accommodations?
GM: Whatever silly, childish and vulgar stuff that’s in it was already
in there. Because it was all from life. Like the Frigo character who keeps
hitting people in the groin was my next door neighbor.
Q: Somebody actually did that?
GM: Up until my wife told me she was pregnant I wasn’t sure I
could ever have children.
Q: How autobiographical is it altogether?
GM: Most of the characters have some person they were based on or
are some composite of some people. They didn’t all necessarily really co-exist
at the amusement park or they weren’t all part of my life the summer I worked at
an amusement park on Long island. But they’re
all from my late teens and early 20s and I mix them all in with the idea that
-- I wanted the Jesse Eisenberg character to be surrounded by people who are
all stuck or inhibited in their lives for some reason, like tragedy or narcissism
or their fear. I wanted to put him in a position where he would like to grow
up, needs to grow up, but has no one to turn to to help him.
Q: He’s about 21?
GM: Yeah, that’s what I pictured.
Q: He’s trying to become a journalist, which apparently wasn’t
your career ambition.
GM: It wasn’t, although I .. when I went to undergraduate school
I was an art student and I made the decision early on there that I wanted to
get into film somehow. I also went straight from undergraduate to grad film
school at Columbia University in New
York. But I’ve always been interested in it as a
career and an interesting world.
Q: You wanted to write “travel essays like Charles Dickens?”
GM: Well, he’s got a little naïve idea of what it’s going to be.
He has no idea about what actual journalism is but the fantasy of it appealed
Q: Given the status of journalism right now you made the right career
GM: Oh, my God. It’s a scary time for people who actually know
what they’re talking about.
Q: This is set in 1987?
GM: I actually worked there
[the anmusement park] in ’84. But I graduated from college in ’86. And there were certain songs in
the movie I wanted to use which were from
Q: Was that the year you met Steven Soderbergh?
GM: Let me think. I met Steven before “Sex Lies” came out. Was
that ‘89? He’d seen a student film I’d made and a mutual friend introduced us.
Q: Has he been a mentor or role model?
GM: He has. He produced and put money into “Daytrippers” and he’s
someone I periodically annoy by asking lots of naïve questions. But he’s read
scripts of mine and given me notes on them and looked at things I’ve done. I
always hoped I’d get to work with him again but it hasn’t happened yet. But I’m
always amazed by how open and accessible Steven has been when I’ve had
questions. Whether it’s advice on crew members or filmmaking or career advice.
Q: He has seemed to figure out away of beating the system by
making an “Oceans 11” followed by some
small personal project. Is that the pattern you hope to follow?
GM: That would be my fantasy career. To have some semblance of
what Steven’s created. When I realized how fortunate I was that “Superbad” was
going to be some kind of a moneymaker I thought, well, I have to exploit that into doing what I really want
to do, which is to go back and forth. I certainly could have taken a different
movie after “Superbad,” a higher paying studio comedy, but I decided to go into
the indie world again and now I’m doing a movie at Universal Pictures, the next
studio movie, and it’s very satisfying on a certain level. Though I liked doing
something I really wanted to do, after the frustrations of not having enough
time or money it’s nice to work on a bigger scale. I sort of scratched that
itch and have other things I want to do now and we’ll see when I go back.
Q; This is “Paul” that you’re
GM: Yeah. We shoot in June. We actually just officially got the
green light just a week ago.
Q: Simon Pegg is pretty cool. It’s not like you’re selling out.
GM: No. If my studio films could all be with people like Judd
Apatow or Simon I’ve really hit the jackpot. I really love Simon. This is not
by any means a typical mainstream script that he’s written.
NEXT: “Comedy Cassavettes;” the tradition and future of the film
bildungsroman; Lou Reed; aliens.