Paul Set Visit: Greg Mottola

ON has spoken numerous times with director Greg Mottola over the years, first for Superbad then again before his personal indie film Adventureland last year, so it was great to finally get a chance to watch him working on the set of Paul with the stars of two of our favorite movies, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. The following is a fairly typical short on-set interview done during the few moments Greg could break away from working:

Q: When “Superbad” premiered at Comic-Con in 2007, Edgar Wright and Nick Frost were there. It seemed like a moment when these two groups came together and all these projects came out of it. Did you also feel that was start of this relationship?
Greg Mottola: Yeah, I mean that’s where I met those guys. It was a collision of kingdoms.That was when Edgar did the fake interview that was really funny with Jonah (Hill) and Michael (Cera)… where he pretended to be really angry.

Q: At Comic-Con 2007, wasn’t there a party where Edgar and Michael and like everyone… were you at that gathering?
Mottola: Yeah, I think it was at Seth Rogen’s hotel room at the famous “Some Like It Hot” – Coronado, that big hotel.

Q: This movie seems really different from what you’ve done before in that it’s more fantastical and possibly more absurdist. Is that the case?
Mottola: It is, but you know, like all these guys – I was seven when I saw “2001: A Space Odyssey,” I was twelve when “Star Wars” came out. I have a long love of fantasy and science-fiction. I read a lot of (Isaac) Asimov, and I had old-school geek credentials and comic books. This movie’s been a challenge because we haven’t had that many more days than “Superbad” had, but this movie has a whole other level of fantasy. The irony is that the parts of the movie that I’m really trying hard to shoot like a Spielberg film, which is very difficult and I don’t know if I’m good enough to pull it off, but the parts that have most of the special effects with Paul, the CGI characters, I’m shooting much more like “Superbad” or a character-comedy road movieĀ—”Five Easy Pieces,” like handheld camera ’cause I want the audience to hopefully not think about the CGI alien as anything but a character in the story. So there’s a very low-key part of the film that’s very conversational and jokey and talky, and then there are these huge set pieces and chases and explosions and craziness and sci-fi fantasy stuff… without giving too much away, but you know, spaceships and that is a whole world I knew nothing about and was thrown into and we’ll see how it goes (laughs) but it’s been really exciting.

Q: And what are you shooting here? Just the guys checking everything out and all of the booths?
Mottola: Yeah, the movie begins at Comic-Con. It’s like their fantasy road trip. Their idea of a fantasy America road trip, their first time in America is to come straight to San Diego Comic-Con. They have very little interest in anything to do with America except for that and Area 51, and they’re going to sort of hit the UFO sites in the southwest of America.

Q: Are you a UFO enthusiast? Do you listen to the Art Bell show?
Mottola: I’ve listened to Art Bell, I used to listen to Art Bell in college, yeah. I was kind of lobbying that we should try and get him in [the movie] somehow…

Q: Did you go to Roswell or watch that documentary the Trekkies guys did?
Mottola: I haven’t. I’ve heard about it, but I haven’t. This is all happening so fast.

Q: We were impressed that this is the most accurate recreation of Comic-Con we’ve seen in a film. Why is this so important?
Mottola: It’s attached to why we wanted the action-adventure stuff to be good–and hopefully we’ll pull it off–because for people who love those kinds of movies, we wanted to get it right. Comic-Con, it’s a big production design challenge. We don’t have a gigantic budget and we saved a big chunk of money to do this right, but luckily the people who worked on the movie just killed themselves. I mean, there were people setting this up for the last four days, 24 hours a day, making it happen and obsessively went and researched it, but a lot of the vendors and the smaller independent publishing companies jumped onboard and said, “We’ll donate our stuff. We’ll bring our graphics.” I have to say, people like [George] Lucas and “Star Trek” people have been incredibly generous in letting us use their stuff and be cool about it. It goes so far in creating a verisimilitude.

Q: How hard has it been compared to “Adventureland” when you had an amusement park to this where you’re wrangling all these people and trying to recreate the most chaotic place on Earth?
Mottola: In many ways, this is easier ’cause I have an army of people helping me pull it off, and more time for fewer scenes. The cool thing is the enthusiasm, the thing we shot earlier today with the audience. I wanted that surge of enthusiasm, that love of this world, to be palpable onscreen, and it was really quite lovely to me to see everyone get so into it because even though we don’t even know what they’re looking at onstage. We keep thinking what the reverse [shot] is and we don’t honestly know what it is. And Simon, who’s saying, “We should turn around and it’s that little robot [Twiki] from ‘Buck Rogers’ the TV show, just going “Bidi-bidi-bidi.” (laughter) So, the rest of the world will be like, “What the f*ck?” For certain people–and I was one of them–it would like, “Oh my God, I can’t believe this is happening!”

Q: That scene that we were apart of earlier is pretty quick and we’re seeing some stuff here that makes it seem like Comic-Con is a montage. Is there extended stuff that goes on here or is it a very brief part of the film?
Mottola: It’s a pretty brief part of the film. It is kind of the set-up. It’s probably less than the first ten minutes of the film.

Q: So it’s like the opening credits.
Mottola: It could end up being that. I mean, the pieces we’re shooting now are montage pieces. There are some actual scenes that are coming up, but we’re trying to get the story rolling so we don’t spend an enormous amount of time at Comic-Con.

Q: Can you talk about the challenge of working with Nick and Simon together in the shadow of what they’ve done with Edgar?
Mottola: Well it is a challenge. I mean, it’s very intimidating because I think Edgar is an extraordinary director. I just made a decision I wasn’t going to try to do what he does or try to make it feel like his style, because I wouldn’t ever be as good at it as he is. But what I did do is I did go back and re-watch a lot of Spielberg stuff–early stuff like “Duel” and “The Sugarland Express” ’cause this is a road movie in the Southwest–and he has–I mean he’s a genius, but he has very deliberate – every shot counts for something. It’s just like going back to film school, watching his films over and over again. I hope I absorbed some of it. This is a comedy and it has demands of a comedy. But I do feel that comedies are not usually expected to be cinematic and the studios don’t give you enough time to make them cinematic (laughs), and we made a decision: we’re going to try to make this cinematic.

Q: How is Paul’s life affected by befriending Graham and Clive and why does he come out of the shadows?
Mottola: Seth Rogen made a good point. Seth’s analogy was: Eddie Murphy in “Beverly Hills Cop,” and Simon’s is: “Ferris Bueller.” He’s not that guy who changes, he changes the people around him. He’s actually quite fine the way he is. He’s just sort of a catalyst for a bunch of people who are a bit repressed or need to come out of their shell or whatever, and he affects them. He’s actually quite a liberal guy, and there’s some stuff in this movie that hopefully you all think will be kind of cool for a mainstream film. I mean, there’s discussions of theology and sexuality, ’cause Paul is a totally liberated character who has no hang-ups whatsoever. It pushes some buttons about Christianity and stuff like that, that I think we can sneak in because he’s a fantasy character and you can say those things with a guy who’s not real. If one of your favorite comics got up in a movie and started preaching about atheism, it might ruffle some feathers. But I think we can let our little alien guy say a whole bunch of things that are kind of provocative.

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