Indie director David Gordon Green isn’t known for making comedies, but when he met Seth Rogen and the two really hit if off, everyone thought it would be interesting to see Green come onto Pineapple Express. Green talked to ComingSoon.net in his trailer on the set about what the transition from drama to comedy and his experience of working on a bigger studio film has been like. After talking with Green for a few minutes, it’s easy to see why Rogen wanted him to direct his latest flick. He’s funny.
David Gordon Green: Those are underwear that a guy wore, a g-string, in the movie that I just finished before this and the producer thought it would be a fun gag for them to stage them in my trailer today.
ComingSoon.net: Especially today of all days!
Green: Those belonged to Nicky Katt and I would never touch them. I would stay a mile away from those drawers.
CS: What is the project you just finished?
Green: It is a movie called “Snow Angels” it was up in Nova Scotia, a heavy drama, so I decided to come down here to the warmth and the comedic terrain.
CS: How did you get involved in this?
Green: I just met these guys and they were working on “Knocked Up” at the time and I started hanging out on that set a little bit and I don’t know, they seemed like a good group of folks and they work in a very similar manner in studio comedies that I do and low budget dramas and in terms of style and the way we got to work with actors and stuff like that. We just thought it would be an interesting experiment to see what happened if we took some of my team and some of their team and tried to make a movie together.
CS: After “All the Real Girls” and “Snow Angels” what’s it like doing an all out action-comedy?
Green: Honestly it is a ton of fun. The easy answer is it is a lot of fun. I needed, just for my head, after investing some serious level of passion and emotion in four movies, four dramatic movies, I just felt that it wouldn’t come from a healthy place to do another dramatic movie until I kind of, you know, exercised other muscles. You know, you don’t want to just do curls everyday, you want to every now and then go for a jog, otherwise you start getting weird, you know. Just trying to even it out, because there is nothing worse than a terrible drama that comes from an artificial place or that to me, my least favorite movies are really bad dramas. A bad comedy you can just have a drink or whatever and watch a little bit of it and have a snack and zone out on it, but a bad drama is just bad.
CS: Are all your movies this collaborative?
Green: Yeah. They always have been. On this team there are probably 15 guys on this crew that I went to college with. Same DP that’s done every movie I’ve done since film school, same sound mixer, the guy doing the behind the scenes documentary I’ve known for the past 10 years so you surround yourself with enough people you trust and have a relationship with and you are able to adapt to the learning curve that a production like this requires and then you surround yourself with people who have been doing these movies for 20, 30 years. You’ve got enough wisdom and experience to balance out our somewhat naïve enthusiasm. So if you bring both of those it meets in this pretty amazing creative place that I think we’re a breath of fresh air in terms of some of the guys who have been working in the genre a lot more frequently and have more expertise certainly, but we’re not just punching buttons we are trying to reinvent it, we’re trying to do different things and in a way a lot of these guys we’re going to, even some of the older guys that we go to, we want this to play like a lot of the ’80s action comedies that I grew up on. You know like Blues Brothers, one of my favorite movies and one of the big influences for something like this where it is so outrageous but it never turns quite into a cartoon, so bringing guys who had been working in the ’80s on action movies, on comedies was one of the things we were looking for on resumes, which is kinda cool stunt coordinators and special effects guys and bringing that sensibility to it because it is kind of a timeless movie, you know people who play Ataris on flat screen TVs, that’s kind of what our world is here.
CS: What’s it like working with a guy like Seth who is about to blow up it seems?
Green: I was telling someone earlier, it is a perfect time to be working with Seth and James because they are guys who have a fan base but they can still walk down the street and live everyday lives like normal people, but they’re on the brink with “Spider-Man 3” coming out and certainly people are more and more able to recognize these guys and over the next few weeks when “Knocked Up” comes out it is going to shoot that guy’s star through the roof. So this is the perfect time because you get the excitement and the enthusiasm and all the talent of a guy that you don’t bring the burden and the baggage of expectation to so we are still inventing him, he’s still inventing himself. He’s introducing himself to an audience because nobody really knows what to expect. At this point we’re starting to latch on to who Will Ferrell is, we are pretty damn sure what we are going to get when we buy a ticket to an Adam Sandler movie. But Seth’s at a great groundbreaking point where he can say “I want to do this and then I want to do something totally different over here” and mix it up. I don’t think he’s looking to do Shakespeare but he’s looking to have a good time and do different kinds of movies and every time somebody was like, “well we might not have the budget to do that explosion,” he’s like, “I want to do this movie, because we get to do a big explosion so let’s find the money and make it bigger.” We got a couple of extra days for the car chase sequence, otherwise they were trying to give us the comedy car chase sequence and we wanted the action movie car chase sequence. So it is cool getting a guy that people are wanting to invest in right now, but again without any of the baggage. So you don’t have people banging down his trailer and he doesn’t have an entourage. He’s just a good guy who is young and hungry and having fun and at a really amazing moment in his career.
CS: I noticed online there is a lot of buzz about you doing a comedy. Do you feel some pressure from your fans and what they might expect from this?
Green: I don’t know. I think all the films I’ve made have had a degree of humor in them and I just felt somewhat monitored by the fact that to a degree there is a line you don’t want to cross in a dramatic movie and still be faithful and considerate of the characters and respectful of the material. Again, bringing so much of the same manner and sensibility, you know we are doing a little bit different lighting in this movie because you light differently for comedies. It is a totally different tone and it is ridiculous and over-animated sometimes. I always divide people, people love one movie and hate the next. Hate all of them, love all of them so for me personally it is valuable to do something totally different and if it sucks or I’m not happy with it or audiences don’t respond it might be difficult to do it again or I might not be interested in doing it again, but right now I think the funnest thing to do would be the unexpected.
CS: Seth was telling us a little about your directing techniques. Can you tell us a little bit about your style and does it differ from when you are directing a drama?
Green: The great thing about this entire ensemble is they bring wonderful improvisational skills to the table so you won’t see me looking through a script on set. If a scene works we want to make sure we hit certain beats and I’ll have the script supervisor say “This is an emotional point we might want to nail” but we are so unspecific about it, so that’s kind of how I do all of my movies. Here you are searching for a laugh, you are searching for what makes it a little bit different. I think it is a similar bag of tricks and tools, just trying to do things that are outrageous and throw people curve balls because what I try to avoid is people who are so rehearsed and prepared and performances that are so designed and scenes that are so story boarded and kind of prefabricated that it just feels manufactured. So I just try to make it feel loose and imperfect, because imperfect to me is a lot more interesting.
CS: So you are ok with them just going and riffing on each other?
Green: I don’t know who was there for the last take where you know the scene is done and just let them see what comes out because you might just find a button there that you can cut to for the last beat. So the whole thing is pretty much in that manner. Yesterday we had one set up and I said let’s get Craig and Kevin, who were two kind of side characters, and got this lighting set up, there were going to be some wardrobe changes for the other characters before they would be ready and just bring them in and improv a scene and see what happens if Kevin is eating coos coos here and Craig wants to get him out of there. What happens there when you film them and shout stuff off camera to them, see if they throw a line. If I’ve got an idea I’ll give it to them and say “say this” and then they will take that as a cue and go off on some tangent. This is the first time I’ve ever really had the value of basically infinite film stock. That’s the cheapest part of this movie is burning film and you want to capture all those little moments because that’s what makes this interesting. All the movies that Judd and the producers are really supportive of in finding an enormous commercial following is being able to have those kind of loose and ridiculous actors that riff and improvise and shoot it like this, which is not so stylized and composed as how I might approach a drama, but performance wise it is some of that same energy.
CS: How involved has Judd been? Has he been on the set a lot?
Green: Yeah, he comes by a bit. He’s got like three movies going right now. He’s juggling a lot. I have a lot of questions for him and I learn a lot from him and as far as having a producer who is supportive of what you are doing I couldn’t be in a better situation for making a studio transition. Everyone including myself look to him for answers. The studio says how do we make good movies, how do we make people laugh and how do we get people to buy the DVDs? They look to him because of his track record the last few years. I look to him to see how I might approach something a little more economically in terms of not wasting time and getting right to the joke without it feeling like a set up and a pay off. How do you write a comedy when you are balancing, you know we have some pretty brutal violence, but you know I want to make sure it doesn’t feel cartoony. So there is a lot of value in his experience there. There is always some degree of some political and financial, not battles but issues that your dealing with and trying to balance and iron out because you only have so much money and so much time and he’s just got a lot of experience on various scenarios and budget levels so it is great to have a big brother for sure.
CS: Speaking of violence are you guys looking at a PG-13 or an R?
Green: I don’t think there is any way around a pretty hard R.
CS: Good to hear.
Green: Yeah, there is some pretty graphic gore.
CS: Oh, fantastic.
Green: There is unstoppable language and pretty substantial drug use.
CS: Oh, thank God! We need more hard R.
Green: I agree too, because again going back to the ’80s and things when movies really could push the envelope a little bit and those are the movies we look back to in terms of comedy because they were less fleeting. Kids today are still watching “Caddyshack” and “Meatballs”
CS: “Animal House.”
Green: Yeah, they just live longer. I’m trying to make something that doesn’t feel like it is so contemporary that it is out of style by the time it comes out. It is different too because I didn’t write this movie which is a breath of fresh air in a way and Seth and Evan being the writers and producers that are unpossessive of the words. I had one impression of it when I read it and another impression when we started talking about it and sculpting it and now the actors who are there are the characters. I don’t feel any authorship to it so I get to surrender it to the actors a lot more so they really do take it in some outrageous directions.
CS: How much stoner exclusive humor is there here?
Green: I don’t think any of it is exclusive because I’m not a big pothead and I can’t stop laughing at these guys, so trying to make something that is not so genre specific that would only appeal to Cheech and Chong fans. I did my homework and watched a lot of the stoner movies of the last decade and I don’t think any of them are particularly funny and I even tried getting high for a couple of them and it still didn’t (laughs) so it has got to work on different levels. This is a movie that hopefully 17-37 year olds will really sink their teeth into and be able to identify with some of the situations. There is enough fart jokes to keep the kids happy, but I think it is pretty subversive and interesting sense of humor that they are bringing layers to it that it is not too well you know we are shooting so much that who knows what will be in the editing room. I’m getting assemblies all the time and I’m watching sequences, but we already have three hours of movie edited and it could go in a lot of different directions and that is another situation I’m unfamiliar with is what happens when you start test screening it? I want to make a movie that the crowd likes, because you don’t make this for yourself. That’s why I’d go make “Snow Angels 2” or whatever, you make this to have a bunch of college kids rolling in the aisles and when it is not funny, it is not funny. It is not like “well, I think it is funny and I’m going to keep it and fight for it” if nobody is laughing you look like an idiot. You know what I mean? So that will be a fun learning experience there. Then the MPAA, it’s like are we allowed to have 13-year-olds smoking weed in movies?
CS: This will probably be your first huge DVD too, right?
Green: Yeah, we’re actually having a whole day where we are having the actors back on Tuesday to do some crazy things that we’ve designed and we have some guest actors coming in to do cameo appearances and some stuff it will totally be freestyle improv stuff. Behind the scenes documentary that the guys there, Darius he’s here all the time everyday catching every bruise and chuckle. It is good to have that kind of a document I think. It would be great if an audience turns out for the movie. I’ve never had the pleasure of having a commercially received movie. This seems as primed for that as I’ve been a part of. The other good thing that would be funny is that “Snow Angels”, my last movie, is probably going to come out in ’08 I would love nothing more than within a month to have this really bleak heavy winter drama and this totally ridiculous far out stoner comedy just to give you guys something to write about (laughs). I’ve also woven in some minor subtle links between them too, so we’ll see, they are for totally different audiences, but we’ll see. It’s all a great experiment and experience. So far there hasn’t been any drastic drama. Everybody is on the same page. We are all just shooting a film and having a lot of fun and hopefully that translates to the audience in the same kind of way.
CS: This is your last night?
Green: Yeah, I’ve been shooting all night all this week and I can’t sleep during the day time so I’m kind of a zombie right now. I’m glad we have that DVD day because otherwise it would be saying goodbye to all these people. You know, I made a ton of new friends on this movie, some days we have like 600 people working on the action scenes and set pieces so it has been huge and I would hate to be totally out of it on my salute away. It would be good to get a couple days, clear head come back and have a good fun loose day where everybody gets crazy and then part ways and maybe gather again for the sequel. You know what I want to do that will never happen, but would be amazing is to do a sequel to “Tango and Cash” and “Pineapple Express” at the same time so you’d get, I like the idea of combining sequels like “Alien” and “Predator” or whatever. Bringing two franchises into the same sequel would be pretty cool. I like the idea of taking the director of another franchise and he directs his actors and I direct mine doing something weird. Try something different. We’ll see what’s next.
Pineapple Express hits theaters in 2008.