Thursday, March 4, 2004

Interviews with Broken Lizard Co-Writer/Director/Actor Jay Chandrasekhar and Co-Writer/Actor Erik Stolhanske

This interview was conducted on March 4th, 2004, via telephone with the two West Coast members of Broken Lizard, director/co-writer/star Jay Chandrasekhar and co-writer/star Erik Stolhanske, to promote the movie Broken Lizard's Club Dread. It was originally printed in my high school paper, and I'm posting it here for the sake of preservation.

Obviously, Club Dread is five years old at this point, and will only get older, but just in case you haven't seen it and you're really worried about it, the Erik Stolhanske interview contains a major spoiler at the end.

Jay Chandrasekhar: Hey, so, I guess we’re doing an interview?
Tyler Foster: Yeah.
Jay Chandrasekhar: And you’re in Seattle?
Tyler Foster: Yep.
Jay Chandrasekhar: I like Seattle, a friend of mine lives up there...I enjoyed it when we were up there for Super Troopers, with the tour bus. We went to the University of place.
Tyler Foster: Awesome. So, let’s just you do anything in the writing process that will make it easier for you to direct the movie later?
Jay Chandrasekhar: Yeah, in terms of scenes, when I just have a line or two in them, personally, as an actor, I’ll just give them off to someone else, and get out of the scene, particularly if it’s a big scene. Because, you know, there are certain scenes where it’s just a lot easier for me if I’m not in it, to direct it…when I’m not the central part of it, just an element. You know, there’s things where you end up writing jokes sometimes, and I’m an editor, on three films now, and you start to know what you’re gonna use and what you’re not gonna use, and really where scenes should end, and even when you have great, great jokes, you know they’re just going to be hanging out there when you shoot the movie. There’s a natural place to end scenes. You get better at seeing it, and when you see it, you know it, and you have to do as much editing in the script stage, because you run out of time on set, and ideally, you want to shoot as much of what you’re gonna use as possible, and maybe 20% extra.
Tyler Foster: So, in the editing process, are the other members there, or do you just do it alone?
Jay Chandrasekhar: Kevin Heffernan and I have worked together, and we hired another editor, Ryan Folsey, whose father actually worked on Blues Brothers, Animal House, Trading Places, and he’s sort of working his way up the ranks. But he did a cut, and then I did my own cut with Kevin, and then we had Ryan do another cut, and I tweaked it, and yeah, we worked together.
Tyler Foster: Then, when you write it, do you already have the balance of behind-the-camera, in-front-of-the-camera worked out?
Jay Chandrasekhar: Yeah, I mean, you try not to, because it’s sort of unnatural to do that, but inevitably, it happens…sometimes, there’s certain things, when you’re writing it…you’re looking at something, say if you didn’t write something in particular, you say, ‘What do you see here?’ because sometimes, number one, I don’t get it, or number two, I’m not sure if it’s funny, or if it’s a good way to open a scene, or end a scene, or whatever, and you’re really sort of able to push, and push, until...the bottom line is if you’re reading the script, and you’re a director, and you don’t get it…it’s not going to be good. It’s not going to come together magically. If you don’t get the joke, or don’t think the joke’s funny, you’re in trouble.
Tyler Foster: Who writes the actual screenplay?
Jay Chandrasekhar: We all do, actually, the five of us, and, there’s a point man, sure, but we all get together, and we’ll meet for days and days on it, and then give the point person a bunch of notes, we’ll write them all down, typed notes, and then he’ll go away, and make a new draft. We’ll do 20 or 30 drafts.
Tyler Foster: That’s cool. I felt that when I saw Club Dread, that it was a tighter film than Super Troopers, in that Super Troopers was great, no offense, but it felt like a bunch of little skits tied together. Did you work on that while you were writing it?
Jay Chandrasekhar: Well, you know, we originally were a sketch comedy group, so that’s something that people are automatically going to assume, that your movie is going to be very sketchy, you know, and we kind of reacted to that, tried to have reasonable substance to the plot, and we tried to do that in Super Troopers, we just weren’t as good at it. It’s an interesting phenomenon, we’ve only had two films out there, and we have a third, Puddle Cruiser, which we made earlier, but people come up and they sort of join one film, going, ‘You know, well, I like that film better.’ And I’m hearing both, really, ‘Oh, well, I thought Super Troopers was funnier,’ and I’m kinda, ‘Well, okay,’ but then people will come up and say, ‘No, no, Club Dread was way better,’ and there’s not much you can do but say, ‘Well, thanks for buying a ticket.’ [laughs]
Tyler Foster: Well, I’ve read about Puddle Cruiser, and I heard it was coming out in June of this year, and I was wondering what kind of things would be on the DVD, because I’m sure a lot of your fans haven’t been able to see it.
Jay Chandrasekhar: Well, not a lot, because we didn’t have the machines up, but there will be the film, and an audio commentary.
Tyler Foster: And what about the short film you did, Tinfoil Monkey Agenda?
Jay Chandrasekhar: Tinfoil Monkey Agenda...we’ll have that out someday...maybe we’ll put it on the DVD with all our old stage stuff.
Tyler Foster: Stage stuff?
Jay Chandrasekhar: Yeah, we have a bunch of short film, short videos, from back when we were on stage, in New York. We have a lot of stuff. [laughs] A lot of stuff we could put on DVDs.
Tyler Foster: Was it fun to direct a real thriller, aside from the comedy?
Jay Chandrasekhar:
Yeah, yeah, I thought it was, you get into it, and you get into it, and you kind of start thinking of the movie in that way, and I had a great time.
Tyler Foster: And what kind of experience do you get from doing other shows, like, you’ve done some episodes of "Arrested Development".
Jay Chandrasekhar: You know, it’s a great show, and the writing’s so good, so you can concentrate on being innovative as a filmmaker, and not trying to make the script better. You know sometimes, you work, and you think, ‘Ah, this is no good,’ but this show is so funny and great, and they want you to try interesting things.
Tyler Foster: Finally, I read on the Club Dread website that you posted the question about...
Jay Chandrasekhar: [laughing] Super Troopers 2!
Tyler Foster: Yeah, the fans seemed to go crazy for it.
Jay Chandrasekhar: What do you think?
Tyler Foster: I think it could be cool. What’s your opinion on it?
Jay Chandrasekhar: You’s interesting. I really, really enjoyed playing that character. I enjoyed having a mustache. And a crew cut. And having a gun belt. [laughs] I think it would be fun to do, now that we’re a little better at filmmaking. Of course, that film has a little bit of a loyal cult, and because of that, you wonder if people will go, ‘Ahh, it’s not as good.’ You know, how do we ultimately surprise people?
Tyler Foster: Yeah, I think that was something that threw some Club Dread viewers, was that you’re not playing the same characters all over again.
Jay Chandrasekhar: I think that’s a natural thing in this kind of group. People don’t know what we’re trying to do until they see one, or two, or three movies, and then they’ll go, ‘Oh, I get it.’ But I mean, a lot of people went, it was going to be Super Troopers 2, and it wasn’t. I have mixed feelings about it though. I think we could make a good movie, and you think of those movies, like Austin Powers, or Wayne’s World. I mean, I think the second Austin Powers is probably the best one.
Tyler Foster: Well, thanks for agreeing to this, thanks for talking to me, it was cool, I’m awaiting your next project, and good luck.
Jay Chandrasekhar: Alright. Your friends go to see Club Dread?
Tyler Foster: Yeah, a bunch of them went to see it.
Jay Chandrasekhar: We made the mistake of opening against The Passion...
Tyler Foster: Yeah, well, hopefully everyone’s seen it by now.
Jay Chandrasekhar: Hopefully. Alright, later.

Erik Stolhanske: Hey. So, you’re in Seattle? High school?
Tyler Foster: Yep.
Erik Stolhanske: All right.
Tyler Foster: So, when you guys write a movie, how do you guys sit down and choose what kind of theme you’re going to have, what kind of plot you’re gonna chose for that particular film?
Erik Stolhanske: Well, it usually hinges on the fact that there’s five of us, and...I guess, I wish I could say there was some sort of exact science to it, but, it’s just sort of a concept or an idea pops up into our mind. Kind of like, with Super Troopers, we thought it would just be kind of cool if we had this stretch of highway, out in the middle of nowhere, kind of like American Graffiti, this stretch of highway, and what do people do when they just have nothing to do with their time?
Tyler Foster: And so you just work it out until you come upon an idea that everyone agrees on, that everyone thinks could be the most funny?
Erik Stolhanske: Yeah, we just sort of grind out plot ideas, and where we could work in something like this, you know. Club Dread evolved from the same idea as Ten Little Indians, like, you get stuck on an island, you can’t get off, there’s a killer running around, and to that, we had the idea how all the people would be constantly trying to have fun all the time, and these other people, that’s their job, to help them have fun, even in this situation, with someone trying to kill you.
Tyler Foster: As performers, I noticed you tried to switch things up, and play different roles than what you did in Super Troopers. Is it hard to do that while playing to a performer’s individual strengths?
Erik Stolhanske: No, I think that’s kind the fun of it. I think that’s why we’re excited about making a whole library of films for the future, is that we’ll get a crack at trying different things, going along, doing what things interest us. And to not do the same thing at one time helps keep it from becoming as stale.
Tyler Foster: How does improv work with you guys? Do you just do it whenever, hold it until the end of shots, wait for specific scenes that are sort of geared toward that?
Erik Stolhanske: You know, unfortunately, we’ve always sort of had a situation where we never have any money to make movies, so we’ve never had the freedom to really improvise on the set. So what we do is we get together maybe two weeks before the shoot, and we just take what we have scripted, and try to get it on its feet, and during that time we have time to improvise, and if jokes come out of that, we’ll write them down, but most of it’s scripted, because we don’t have the ability to do so many takes when we’re on the set.
Tyler Foster: What’s it like working with people like Brian Cox, and Bill Paxton? They seemed to blend right in with your guys’s brand of comedy.
Erik Stolhanske: Yeah, it’s great, you know, a lot of actors don’t get a chance to do comedy so much, like you were saying about being a certain role, so for instance, Brian is perceived as being very, very serious, but he said that when he was growing up, he loved Jerry Lewis, so he kind of came across our script, which was this really broad comedy, and he was really excited to kind of jump on it. Both Bill and Brian kind of came to us, approached us, because they were excited about the idea of doing comedy. And when you’re with those guys, it kind of grounds you, it raises you up to another level, hopefully. It was great, lots of fun.
Tyler Foster:
You’re one of the people in the group that has other stuff going on. What’s coming up with you?
Erik Stolhanske: I just finished The Onion Movie, for the newspaper, The Onion, it was a sketch comedy movie.
Tyler Foster: I heard about that awhile ago, and I love The Onion. What’s the plot about?
Erik Stolhanske: Yeah, it’s going to be great, it’s a really funny movie. The plot, it’s kind of all over the place, it’s really random sketch comedy we just squeezed in, but there’s one sort of central plot, about this anchor guy, a sort of Walter Cronkite character, who’s sort of trying to present serious news every night, but there’s this huge corporation, which keeps trying to promote this movie called Cockpuncher that’s coming out, and this little animated penguin keeps coming across the screen, and he has to deal with reporting the war, but then reporting this movie that’s sweeping the nation called Cockpuncher. It’s pretty funny.
Tyler Foster: As a group, how do you guys feel about comparisons to Monty Python?
Erik Stolhanske: Well, you know, the only similarities there are that there are five guys, five of us, in both groups. Five guys that make movies. I mean, you know, they’re five intellectual British guys who make intellectual comedy, and we’re more broad. I think that you’ll see, over the years, a whole range of films from us. Club Dread won’t be the style of our next movie, just as Club Dread wasn’t the same style as Super Troopers. But I think really, the only comparison is that there are five guys.
Tyler Foster: I was just talking to Jay, and I was asking him about his post on the Club Dread website about Super Troopers 2 and I was wondering how you felt about that?
Erik Stolhanske: You know, it would be so fun to do Super Troopers 2, people have been asking, and I have some great ideas for it, some great sketches. The thing is, it just feels like we’re going back, saying like this is the only thing we can do. Creatively, what would be great, is if we created a completely different movie, and then maybe come back to Super Troopers 2 after that. There’s such an appetite for it, but you know, it takes years to make a film, and get it out there, and find the right weekend to put it out, and then, a few years goes by, and it would be like after six years, all we’ve done is Super Troopers, Club Dread and Super Troopers 2.
Tyler Foster: What are you guys working on now?
Erik Stolhanske: We have about six projects that we’re working on, we always have a bunch of scripts that we’re writing, and it’s just sort of a matter of finding the right budget.
Tyler Foster: Yeah, like, which one gets the most ideas right off the bat?
Erik Stolhanske: Yeah, we’ll go to a studio and pitch five ideas to them, and we’ll see which one they’re most excited about, and which one we can get off the ground the quickest. Like, we may have one that’s budgeted at $25 million dollars, and a studio will take forever to get that going, as they try to get co-financing, and try to cast it, but if there’s a project that’s in the $5 million dollar range, they’ll just give us the money to go make it with the five of us. It kind of depends on something that all works out at the time.
Tyler Foster: And, just a question of personal interest...
Erik Stolhanske: Sure...
Tyler Foster: What was it like playing the bad guy?
Erik Stolhanske: [laughs] I loved it. It’s kind of cool, because I’m kind of like the wholesome, nice guy in the group, and I don’t often get the chance to play the bad guy, so it was kind of a cool thing in our situation, where we get to play the opposites of roles, maybe I’d get to play the romantic lead, which also could be good, which could be real sappy if you don’t play it right, so, yeah, I just loved playing the bad guy, to get to do that. You know, over the years, the classics, I love Nicholson, the guys you really remember from Halloween, Freddy, and Jason from Friday the 13th, it might be a hard act to follow, but it’s fun. You have to go to a really dark place, you know, I try to draw from my acting background, I studied acting for two years, and just try to be as real as possible. You’re playing a serial killer, and you have to go a sort of weird place in your mind and sometimes, it doesn’t wear off for a bit.
Tyler Foster: Just walk around on set, attacking people?
Erik Stolhanske: [laughs] Yeah.
Tyler Foster: Well, thanks for your time, and good luck on your next project.
Erik Stolhanske: Thanks, man.

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