Interview: American Reunion Directors Hurwitz & Schlossberg

For over seven years, Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg were the guys behind the “Harold & Kumar” movies, writing all three movies and directing the first sequel Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay. As they were prepping the third movie A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, they were made an offer they couldn’t refuse – to write and direct a reboot of the “American Pie” franchise which was such a big influence on them.

So was born American Reunion, a chance to reunite Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan, Seann William Scott, Chris Klein, Eugene Levy, Jennifer Coolidge, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Mena Suvari, Tara Reid and John Cho for the first time since the original movie in 1999. The gang are all returning to East Great Falls, Michigan for their 13th high school reunion, so we can learn where they’ve been and what they’ve been up to. For the married couple Jim and Michelle (Biggs, Hannigan), it’s a chance to get away from their kids and have some fun and they soon learn that while many of their friends have changed, Scott’s Steve Stifler is exactly the immature and sex-crazed guy he was back in high school.

ComingSoon.net spoke to the duo briefly about the movie last fall and we got back on the phone for a follow-up a couple of weeks back to get into some of the specifics.

ComingSoon.net: I have to say that I wasn’t a huge fan of the franchise but you guys really found a way to go back to what worked with the first movie.
Jon Hurwitz:
Thanks so much. We were really big fans of that very first “American Pie.” At the time, there weren’t any movies really coming out about young people that we felt represented our generation and what young people cared about and talked the way young people talk, so we really connected with that very first movie. When tackling this, we wanted to take the best of what really enjoyed in that first film, but now the characters are in their early 30s and we wanted the audience to relate to them in a whole new way and bring a little bit of our sensibility into it. It was an amazing experience for us.

CS: It’s interesting that you liked these characters when they were young but when you finally got a chance to work with them, they’re quite a bit older. You did a similar thing with the most recent Harold & Kumar movie where it also takes place six years later. Was it obvious from watching the first “American Pie” where they all might be at this point?
Hayden Schlossberg:
You’re right. We had just worked on a similar comedy sequel where the characters are getting older, and we liked that aspect of these movies. It’s not just, “Okay, find a new plot.” It’s really thinking about where the characters are in their new phase of life. When it came to “American Pie,” it was fun thinking about where everybody could be ’cause it wasn’t necessarily set in stone. I mean, Stifler could have become a success or he could have ended up a complete degenerate or somebody could have died. We get to play God of the universe and for us, the way we made most of the decisions was really just thinking about our lives and the people our age and some of the things that people can relate to. When you hit 30, it’s that time of self-reflection. Some people are a success. Some people feel like they haven’t achieved what they wanted to. Some people are married, some have kids, some are still single. We wanted to really explore all those different storylines that people in this age group could relate to.

CS: You guys are also the first writer/directors on the series as all the other movies were written by Adam Herz or other people and then directed by someone else. It’s not very common in comedy except for someone like Judd Apatow and Kevin Smith, not many people write and direct their own material. Was that part of the pitch when you came on board, that they wanted the same people to write and direct?
Hurwitz:
I think that was one of the things that was appealing about us to them. A lot of our favorite comedies in general are usually directed by writers, whether or not they wrote the original script themselves. Obviously, in our career, we’ve been writers from the beginning and a lot of what the movies ought to be starts off on the page, and it’s a dicey thing when you’re hiring a comedy director; you really need somebody who’s going to understand the material, focus on what’s important and really capture tone the right way. That’s something that a lot of times is a crap shoot for a studio.

It’s funny because Hayden and I, we’ve done sequels before but that’s been in a franchise that we created, so I don’t think we would typically be interested in coming in on the fourth movie of a franchise as writer/directors, but this particular franchise just really spoke to us many, many years ago when we were in college. When we saw that movie at the time, we felt like we almost could have written that movie. It was very similar to the kinds of things we were writing, so it is unique in the “American Pie” franchise–we’ve talked about that before–that Adam wrote all the other movies and then there was a new director on each one. We hope that the fact that we were there from the starting line through the very end of post manning the ship ended up with a quality product that the audience is going to really enjoy.

CS: Have you guys been in touch with Adam at all during this process? He’s listed as executive producer but did he look at any of the scripts or have any input?
Schlossberg:
We knew Adam before we signed on and he gave us his blessing. He knew that we were huge fans of the original “American Pie.” We made the movie. He’s seen it, he loved it, and we obviously respect him a lot, because without that first movie, we wouldn’t be doing this.

CS: How long ago did you guys come on board and start writing?
Schlossberg:
We were approached about “American Reunion” back in June 2010, and it was a couple months before we were going to shoot “A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas,” and it was a difficult situation for us, because we were planning on directing that but we made it very clear to the studio at the time that we wanted the experience to work on another movie that was different and we felt like we had an opportunity to still be involved creatively with “Harold & Kumar” while taking on something new. While “Harold & Kumar” was shooting, Jon and I, we would visit set where we were supervising as producers, and while that was going on, we were writing the script for “American Reunion” and about when “Harold & Kumar” wrapped was when we greenlit and we started shooting last summer of 2011.

CS: That’s pretty fast. When you guys came on board, had Universal already gotten the cast to commit about coming back? I imagine when you wrote the script, you had to know which actors you’d have to work with so you didn’t have to replace them because they didn’t want to do it, so did they already have that settled?
Hurwitz:
There was a clear sense of interest from the actors. The actors were not locked in yet, but the studio was well aware that most of the actors had already expressed interest in coming back, especially a lot of the key players, so we went into it with the assumption that if we wrote the script that we felt we were capable of for the movie that all those actors and the rest of them would all sign up and that’s kind of how it ended up playing out.

CS: I was really impressed with Jason Biggs who is just as funny as he was back then. I think over the years we forgot how funny he was.
Hurwitz:
He was the guy who we absolutely love. I mean, he’s fearless, he’s a great actor with the dramatic stuff, he can improv. He is one of the most underrated comedic performers in Hollywood, and I think that people forget that that first “American Pie,” he was the top of the youth comedy game in terms of his performance there. I think an unfortunate thing that happened was in the wake of “American Pie,” Hollywood was desperate to rush out a bunch of “American Pie” imitators in a sense, movies that didn’t really capture the magic of “American Pie” from a story standpoint, from a character standpoint, from relating to an audience standpoint–even though they had some edgy gags–and those were the parts that were available for Jason at the time, so post-”American Pie,” he was the top guy around so he was getting hired like crazy for stuff. He usually did a pretty good job in those movies that weren’t the greatest, but as time goes on, people sometimes forget the talent that’s there. When we were working on set with Jason, it was as good as anybody that we’ve ever worked with. We’ve worked with a lot of really talented people and he’s up there.
Schlossberg: And one other thing about Jason is that you watch him and obviously he’s really good at the reactive comedy, being the guy who is in embarrassing situations, but he’s also a really fun guy off-set in a completely different way. He’s like an edgy comic and we looked forward to working with him and doing a different kind of part. I would say a similar thing about Jon Cho in “Harold & Kumar.” Jon Cho usually plays the most relatable, realistic thing about the “Harold & Kumar” movies. He plays the grounded character and the more straight-laced guy, but we know Jon off-set as a crazy wild guy and that gave us an opportunity in this movie, the “MILF Guy #2″ part that was really well-defined and we could play around with it. We knew that Cho could deliver really weird absurdist comedy, and we gave Cho some new stuff that you haven’t seen in the “Harold & Kumar” movies in this movie. We feel like Jason is like that. He is beyond what you see in “American Pie.”

CS: I knew that Jon would have a small part in this movie but I was really amazed by what he did with a character who appeared maybe for five minutes in the original movie.
Hurwitz:
No, we love our Jon Cho, and we know him so well that we figured we knew how to put him on the screen in a way that’s different from what you’ve seen, but will deliver huge. When we’ve showed it to audiences, it’s just amazing to see the people reacting to Jon. When he shows up in this movie, we’ve seen a number of audiences sort of start applauding because of his entrance.
Schlossberg: We’ve had a very surreal career up until this point. When we were making the “Harold & Kumar” movies, we would talk to Jon about “American Pie,” because it’s so funny how he had such a small part in that movie and yet he was very memorable to a lot of people. We would talk a lot about the other MILF guy he’s with, Justin Isfeld, that actor. We talked about it for years on set. We loved how Jon Cho was “MILF Guy #2,” all those different things, so when we signed on to do this, it was this crazy opportunity to explore this character we’d been talking about for years.

CS: Seann William Scott also impressed me. I think most people assume he’s Stifler. I’ve met him and he’s actually pretty grounded and not that character at all. So was it hard for him to get back into the head of that character he hadn’t played in almost nine years?
Hurwitz: Sean, he’s such a nice guy, such a sweet guy, which is so opposite of Stifler, but he’s a really perfectionist and a real professional, who just wants to be amazing in the movie, so I think the first day he had first day of school jitters kind of stuff going on, but he was amazing. The moment he starts playing Stifler, he is Stifler.
Schlossberg:
You know what’s fun for us in this movie was we felt like it would be really interesting and different to make it you’re actually rooting for Stifler, sort of as the protagonist in the film. He’s always been that cocky jerk and we wanted to make him an underdog. You’ve always loved to hate him in a sense, and in this movie, he’s the guy who hasn’t really changed but the world around him has changed. So he can’t really get away with the same exact behavior that he has in the past always but this reunion weekend gives him a chance to relive his glory days. Seann, we can’t speak enough about what a talent he is. Anyone who sees this movie sees what a comedy powerhouse he is and I think they get to see another side of him as well.

CS: I don’t want to spoil any of the cameos, but was there anyone who was really hard to get and it took a long time?
Hurwitz:
Some people were pretty easy in the sense that we can make a phone call and talk it through. Other people were a process here and there. Everybody who’s in the movie wanted to be in the movie, so occasionally, an actor would have a negotiation with the studio that goes on longer than anyone really expected or hoped, but it was never a sense of “I don’t want to be in this so you have to pay me to be in it.” It was really just the film business and people doing their jobs. Most people signed off really quickly and in terms of the cameos, we’re really excited about that. That’s one of those things that for us, that’s bringing a little bit of our sensibilities into the franchise because in the “American Pies,” you wouldn’t really see the cameos that we have in this film.

CS: Was it hard keeping the movie under two hours? You must have had tons of ideas and once you got on set, so much stuff must have developed from out of the screenplay.
Hurwitz:
In a sense, yeah, because we cared so much about each character from the top to “MILF Guy #1″ so we wanted everybody to have a storyline, and we have such an ensemble where “Harold & Kumar” was just a duo. We had twelve, thirteen, fourteen characters, plus we added new characters with new girlfriends and wives, so there’s fifteen, sixteen characters that we cared about in the movie and you don’t want to trim it down so much where they don’t have a function in the story anymore, but things just find their natural shape. When we first got to the editing room it was close to three hours and that’s not scary for us. We experienced that before. There’s a period of time where you’re like, “How the hell are we going to hit two hours?” then you just watch the movie and the fat just starts to fall off the bone, and suddenly, you realize, “Oh God, it’s an hour and forty five minutes? That’s actually not bad, and it has a good momentum.”

CS: Do you guys get a discount on the soundtrack by using so many songs from the ’90s? I think you used every popular ’90s movie song including Third Eye Blind, Lit, “Closing Time,” So did you get a package deal for all of them?
Hurwitz:
I don’t know if there was a package deal, but I know the music budget on this movie ended up ballooning a little bit at the end. The good news is the movie came in under budget and we didn’t need to do any reshoots so there was some money to spend on music, but music was a hugely important thing to us in this film. We loved the music in the other films. This one’s really fun because you want to have a lot of those songs from the ’90s that bring you back in a nostalgic way and help you enhance those scenes. At the same time, you want modern hits ’cause these characters are living in today, so it was fun to work with our music supervisor and find the right blend, but it’s definitely for people who grew up in the ’90s. There’s a lot of fun especially when you get to the reunion portion of the movie.

CS: Last time we spoke you were editing and finishing this, so do you have any idea what you might want to do next? I know there was a “Harold & Kumar” animated series in the works so is that still on your plate?
Schlossberg:
I think we summed up “Harold & Kumar” where we’re not done working on those movies and frankly, we had a great experience with “American Pie” and we’ll see how this one does, but definitely one of the main things that Jon and I are working on now is we have a couple new original ideas that we want to write, and sometimes we just don’t have the time to do it because we get an opportunity to do a movie like this that’s a lot of fun, but our first two movies that we directed were sequels to a franchise and it’s our goal to do something that’s original, I think, soon.

CS: If “American Reunion” does really well, is there a danger of doing another sequel? I feel like this movie found a good way of wrapping things up. While “American Wedding” was fine for its time, this movie found some real closure for the characters.
Hurwitz:
It really depends. The good thing about these movies is that you’re following characters through different phases of life, so this movie definitely feels like a nice tight bow in a sense, but these characters, they get older, so you never know if there’s going to be another one. I’m sure if there’s a right idea and we can make it great, I think audiences might want to see Stifler again, they may want to see Jim again, so you never know. For now, we’re not entirely sure.

CS: You mentioned before that you have a three-hour cut, so is this going to have a huge Blu-ray full of all this other stuff or do you feel most of that was cut out for a good reason?
Hurwitz:
The three-hour cut is the editor’s assembly, so he was just giving us all of our material. In the unrated cut, we added a little bit of material–there’s definitely some new stuff in there–but we didn’t want to overdo it. We recognize that a lot of people watch the unrated version of the movie for the very first time, and we didn’t want to hurt the integrity of the film by making it too bloated. That being said, the DVD, people will be able to see a ton of extra material – some extended scenes, some deleted scenes.
Schlossberg: Yeah, there was a lot of great stuff that just couldn’t fit in the movie, because we had so many characters and it’s difficult sometimes to make those choices, but that’s the beauty of special features.

CS: Is there more stuff with Natasha Lyonne’s character?
Schlossberg:
Yeah, yeah, there’s a little more with her definitely. It was really difficult, because at the end of the movie you’re wrapping things up, and you’re introducing new characters in the third act, so it’s a challenge sometimes to give everybody everything they want, like I said, that’s why they have DVD extras.

American Reunion opens nationwide on April 6.

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