Interview: Guy Mottola, Part II

Is all of comedy destined to be variations on 80s classics like “Porky’s” and “Revenge of the Nerds?” Are they merely falling in the noble tradition of such coming of age classics as Truffaut’s “The 400 Blows” and Fellini’s “I Vitelloni” but with vomit takes and fart jokes? Those are just a couple of questions I didn’t ask, and probably just as well.[If you missed Part 1 of this interview, it's right here.]

 Q: It [“Paul”] also falls into that geek as hero theme, like “Superbad” and “Adventureland.” It seems to be dominating comedy right now.

GM: Well I like misfits and geeks because that’s been the world of my friends and myself for so long. When a lot of articles started appear about how Seth Rogen or Michael Cera could be a leading man or Jonah Hill I kind of would roll my eyes and say, well, you know, funny people often don’t look like Clark Gable. They tend to look more like Buster Keaton and Laurel and Hardy and Woody Allen. Having said that these guys are starring in romantic comedies and that’s different. Judd may have instigated all this, but I like to think there was an audience out there that wanted something different and Judd gave it to them. And everyone, of course, in classic Hollywood fashion is doing it over and over again. As a fan of Judd’s I’m looking forward to what he’s doing on his next film. He’s working on a slightly different level; it’s not a complete repeat. And I hope I get to work with him again. But nothing so far.

Q: Was there a lot of improvisation in “Adventureland” as well as on “Superbad?”

GM: When you’re working with Judd you’re going to be getting a lot of improve and an enormous amount of material that can be edited in different ways. So the actors are expected to come up with variations on every line and also emotional variations -- different pitches, not just changing punch lines but giving variety to the style of acting so you can rewrite the film again in the cutting room. I’ve used this line before and I’m sure Judd has as well -- it is kind of like comedy Cassavetes. It’s all about the performance and capturing light in a bottle. There are drawbacks from a filmmaking point of view. It’s hard to move the camera or have the characters move around too much if you want to cut the film 20 different ways. It’s a very specific way of working. I think there’s some life to it that you can see in those movies.

Q: Do you think there’s a mini-movement of these coming-of-age stories? All starring Jesse Eisenberg, who is also in “The Squid and the Whale?”

GM: I remember a quote from I think it was one of the screenwriters of “Casablanca” and he was asked if he thought based on “American Graffiti” that George Lucas was talented -- because he liked the movie. And he said that everyone has one autobiographical story in them. I guess everybody who writes wants to tell that story. I know that I could never have written something about my youth when I was younger. I needed 20 years to pass because I found it all so cringey and I’m so thin skinned. But for better or worse I love personal story-telling. I loved “The Squid and the Whale;”  it was one of my favorite movies of the last few years. I loved "The 400 Blows." I love Fellini. I love people who write about the specifics of their own experience but I think you run the risk of losing audience members who haven’t had similar experiences or just don’t want to know about your life. That’s why it’s appropriate to make these films on a smaller scale. They’re meant to find a likeminded audience.

Q: Like people who were 21 in 1987?

GM: The movie definitely played differently for people who were around in the ‘80s than those  who weren’t born yet. Some of the sexual mores might be different and the pre-internet-twitter-iTunes technology might seem quaint.  It might well have been set in the 1880s. I’ve had enough feedback from people that are hoping that it’s going to be "Superbad 2" and are disappointed that it’s not and then there are others who are feeling some of the same things the characters are going through and can appreciate it. I don’t think that it’s as universal for them because they haven’t had these experiences but when we do test screenings there is a percentage that’s a young audience and Miramax, of course, is trying to sell it to young people because thy are the people who go to the movies mostly. And a lot of them do go with it.

Q: Has Lou Reed seen it?

GM: I don’t think he has, but his manager has seen it and he’s pleased by the way Lou is evoked as a legendary figure somebody may or may not be lying about. During pre-production we approached Lou Reed and his manager and said here’s the script, here are the songs we’d like to use  and we’d like to get your permission because if you don’t give it we’ll just find another way to have this running through line. But the music had to be for to be that of an artist I cared about, whose music fit the movie. It had to be someone whom someone who grew up on classic rock radio would know and someone who went to college and fell in love with the Velvet Underground would love too, but in a different way.

Q:  Plus isn’t the album title “Transformer” a metaphor that is used throughout the film?

GM: Yeah, there’s a lot of talk about transformative experiences and things like that and “Satellite of Love” is essentially a song about a woman who has multiple lovers.

Q: So tell me about “Paul.”

GM: It’s a science fiction comedy in which two sci-fi nerds go on a roadtrip from the San Diego Comic Con to Area 51 because that’s where their idea of a dream American road trip should go. They’re from the UK.  And they meet an alien along the way. It’s like “Easy Rider” or “Five Easy Pieces” with an alien.

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