A comedy legend in his own right, David Zucker, along with his brother Jerry Zucker and childhood friend Jim Abrahams, redefined the cinematic spoof genre with films like The Kentucky Fried Movie, Airplane! and The Naked Gun. Lately, Zucker has been involved with the “Scary Movie” franchise, having directed both Scary Movie 3 and Scary Movie 4 before serving as both producer and screenwriter (alongside Pat Proft) on this Friday’s Scary Movie V.
Featuring a cast that includes Ashley Tisdale, Simon Rex, Molly Shannon, Charlie Sheen, Lindsay Lohan, Snoop Dogg, Katt Williams, Terry Crews and many more, Scary Movie V spoofs recent films like Paranormal Activity, Black Swan, Inception, Mama, Sinister, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and even the just-released Evil Dead.
Speaking with ComingSoon.net, Zucker goes into detail about what it takes to bring a Scary Movie film to the screen, how to maximize laughs for the big screen, and what gets cut out along the way (in this case, a full parody of The Hunger Games that was shot and ultimately removed from the final cut).
CS: What made this the time to return to the “Scary Movie” franchise? David Zucker: It’s always when enough movies bubble up that we think there’s enough to make one. We had a whole franchise of “Paranormal Activity’s” and “Black Swan.” “Planet of the Apes,” “Mama,” and “Evil Dead.” There was more than enough. There’s no harder movie to do than a “Scary Movie.” You have to weave so many movies together and the plot has to still make sense. That’s the trick.
CS: What ended up changing the most along the way? Zucker: We cut out some things. It was a bridge too far. The studio wanted us to do “Hunger Games.” We did our best. I think, more than anything, it tore the plot apart. It was too much of a side trip. No matter how silly, goofy, zany, stupid, whatever you can say about these movies, people still need a cohesive plot. I think that when you do a big side trip, it’s just obvious. In some scenes, the jokes may be funny, but it’s a gigantic eye roll. It’s like, “Why are they doing this?” That stuff gets cut out and they may put it on the DVD.
CS: So you actually shot the “Hunger Games” scenes? Zucker: Yeah, we did a whole scene.
CS: We interviewed leading man Simon Rex the other day and he talked quite a bit about your 15 rules for comedy. Can you talk about how they’ve evolved over the years? Zucker: They started evolving, I think, in the ’70s. I think we established the 15 rules before we even did “Kentucky Fried Movie.”
CS: Would you say that they’ve changed at all in the digital era? Zucker: No, that doesn’t have any affect on it. They’re mainly things that you shouldn’t do. The rules can’t make you funny. We just evolved them for this style of comedy. They’re not across-the-board rules of comedy. It’s just the ZAZ kind of spoof style. They’ve all pretty much held true, those rules. I can explain every one. We violate them at our peril. Some people say, “I don’t have to obey these rules!” People point to the 15th rule, “There are no rules.” I kind of have to remind them, “Only a Jedi can use that 15th rule.”
CS: Speaking of Jedi, or maybe Padawans, Malcolm Lee is a new director for the franchise after you helmed the last two films. Can you talk about handing over the reins? Zucker: He directed “Soul Men” for the Weinsteins. Bob was very high on having Malcolm come in and do this. He had to learn on the job like everyone else. It’s not enough that you’ve directed comedy before. Comedy, I would say, is harder than anything else. This style of spoof is harder than any comedy. The “Scary Movie” stuff, to try and combine five or six or seven different movies, just isn’t easy. But that’s more in the writing that we have to wrestle with that one. But as far as directing, Malcolm had to learn on the job and he did. I think he was surprised at how exacting it was.
CS: As a creative person, what makes you decide to direct or not direct over writing or producing? Zucker: The rule that has kind of emerged with me is that I think I can do two of them. A third is [tricky]. To direct is so hard. It takes a full year of your life. You have to run down every detail. If you don’t have a real passion and you’re not hungry, it’s a lot of work. I did two “Naked Guns” and that was enough for me. I produced the third. It was pretty much the same here. I did two “Scary Movie’s.” Been there, done that. I wanted them to break in somebody new to take it over.
CS: These films offer a very diverse cast of comedians and they’ve all got different styles of humor. What comes first? Do you know who is going to be in the film and write to their strengths or are you just surrounded by talent that can sort of roll with whatever is needed of them? Zucker: We start with the script first. The only exception, really, is the cold openings. We adapted it for Charlie [Sheen] and Dr. Phil. No, it was first Dr. Phil and Shaq. Then we adapted it to Charlie and Lindsay [Lohan]. The basic scene was written. In fact, it had been a Dan and Jody scene. The last one was adapted for Pamela Anderson and Jenny McCarthy. The other thing that was adapted was the psychic for Katt Williams. We really had to adapt that to him. In fact, he did a lot of improvisation. That’s a whole other tricky subject. We had to accommodate that. That’s what you do. You sometimes have to really adjust for the cast.
CS: Do you write sides into the script? Zucker: No, in the case of Katt Williams, he just started going off script and a lot of it was funny. We were lucky. Some of it wasn’t funny and we didn’t use it. But that’s what happens when you have an actor like that. You try to stick to the script in some parts, but then he’ll go off, too. We have done that in the “Scary Movie” films.
CS: When it comes down to the editing process, how much footage is usually left over? Zucker: Tons. We shoot like a 100 minutes to get 75. Then we do a ton of additional shooting after the principal photography is done. That was true on 3, 4 and this. In fact, to keep it current, we added the “Mama” plot in post-production.
CS: Are there ever parodies that you do and think are hilarious but, for whatever reason, they don’t play before test audiences? Zucker: The stuff that was specific to “Black Swan” was hard going. The audience didn’t get the parodies. The stuff that was just based on the basic, full-of-s–t dancer instructor and the eager young student, those are just bread and butter jokes. They just work. That didn’t require any familiarity with the specific movie.
CS: What’s next for you? Zucker: I have a couple of scripts. One is spoof on the international spy thriller genre and the other is a two-guy comedy. Kind of a modern day Laurel and Hardy. It’s a fat guy and a thin guy comedy that would be PG.