Having been a prominent member of the Broken Lizard comedy troupe since its inception, Jay Chandrasekhar has established himself as a director of movies and television beyond the group, whether it’s the 2005 movie remake of The Dukes of Hazzard starring Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott, or any number of television shows he regularly directs from “Community” and “Happy Endings” to “Chuck” and “Royal Pains.”
His latest movie, The Babymakers, stars Paul Schneider (“Parks and Recreation”) and Olivia Munn (“The Newsroom,” “Attack of the Show”) as a married couple who want to have a baby but after trying for a couple months and the blame seemingly being on his sterile sperm, he gets the crazy idea to break into a sperm bank and steal a few deposits he made before his marriage that he knows must still be potent. Besides paying another crazy role in it himself, Jay also brought along fellow Broken Lizard member Kevin Heffernan to play one of the friends who gets involved in the heist.
We’re pretty sure that between the Broken Lizard movies and projects like The Dukes of Hazzard and Strange Wilderness, we’ve spoken to both these guys many, many times, though it’s been a couple of years since the previous Broken Lizard movie The Slammin’ Salmon, so it seemed like a good time to catch up.
ComingSoon.net sat down with the two of them earlier this week to talk about The Babymakers as well as talking to Jay about the amount of television he’s been doing, which led to some interesting revelations about why Broken Lizard decided to focus on movies rather than television in the first place.
ComingSoon.net: It’s interesting to see you guys doing a movie you didn’t write because you have written so much material. I know this was a script you had when you were back at Warners, but why did you want to direct someone else’s script. Jay Chandrasekhar: When Broken Lizard writes a movie, we reject everything that doesn’t have five guys as leads, so it needs to be cops or a basketball team, that’s what we can do. When you read this script, it had a very satisfying, traditional story structure about his guy and his wife and the two of them trying to achieve a baby. Also included in that was all this humor that was very familiar to us, both in how the jokes were timed out, what kind of wild stuff happened, and then of course this concept of the heist. Within a relationship movie, there’s a heist that I think works in a “yeah, that can happen” kind of way.
CS: It’s true because there are things in the movie which are very much stuff we’ve seen Broken Lizard do, but like you say, the other three guys aren’t in it. Do you think people will see this as a Broken Lizard spin-off? I think most of the people interested in it will be due to your involvement. Chandrasekhar: Did you ever see the movie “A Fish Called Wanda”? I look at it sort of like that. It wasn’t a Python movie but those guys did it, and I think it’s just going to be satisfying in a different way ultimately. Purist Broken Lizard fans will miss the other guys, but we’ll be back. We’ll make another one.
CS: Since this was a screenplay you found through your Warner Bros. deal when you were looking for talent, who were these guys that wrote the screenplay? Kevin Heffernan: Well, I had done a movie called “Strange Wilderness” a few years back and the guy who wrote it and co-directed was this guy Pete Gawky, and he had written for “SNL” and he was a stand-up comic for years and he had a very similar sense of humor to us. I have actually written scripts with him since then, but we were making that movie and he gave me that script because we had that deal at Warner Bros. and we were looking for other movies, and he said, “This is right in your wheelhouse.” We read it and thought it was awesome. It had a couples datey side to it, and also this crazy heist thing that was appealing to us. So we brought it to Warner Bros. and set it up there and then it just went through different permutations and fell apart, then came back together again, then Jay finally found the money to put it together, and we said, “Let’s just shoot it” and the opportunity came up.
CS: It doesn’t look like an independent movie and has the same production values as “Beerfest” or the earlier movies. Chandrasekhar: Well, it’s the same crew. My producer Jason Blum, who produced “Paranormal Activity” and “Insidious,” he called me up and said, “Do you think we can do the same kind of thing with comedy?” and I said, “Yeah, yeah,” and he goes, “The key is to have a film that has a studio hook that can compete with the studios and can look like it would be a studio film.” And I said, “Look, I’ve shot a lot of television lately Up All Night,’ Community,’ Happy Endings’ and you’re forced to shoot a lot of pages at a high level in a short amount of time.” When I looked back at this script I thought that this is a very accomplishable movie and it’s gotta be done in 21 days. If we can make deals with the crews that make sense to them and we can shoot it fast, they won’t miss out on the next “Spider-Man” or “Mad Men”they can fit it in within “Mad Men” seasons. The key all along was to make something that could have been made at Warners for $13 to 20 million.
CS: Did you tell the crew “Remember how much we paid you on Beerfest? Well, roll that over cause you’re not getting as much.” Heffernan: (laughs) No, that’s what’s challenging. It’s like you work with people and based on the size of the budget, you sometimes can’t pay them what they deserve. Chandrasekhar: But the difference is that 21 days is over before you know it, and we said, “Look, if you get a big job, take it. Replace yourself and take it.” Maybe the very final week, we lost one or two not key people who just said, “We have to go do this big movie.” And we were like, “Yeah, have fun.”
CS: You both had met Olivia while appearing on “Attack of the Show” and she appeared in “Slammin’ Salmon” so how did you end up with them as the leads of the movie? Chandrasekhar: When we had Brian Cox in “Super Troopers,” we learned that when you put a great actor in the center of our lunacy, it grounds everything. We went again with Juergen Prochnow, a great actor that people already have this respect for, and then hopefully some of that respect rubs off on us. So with Paul Schneider, I think that guy is one of the best actors of his age and he and I talked quite a few times on the phone about what the tone of this movie was going to be. Could he score in it, really? Could he do his good acting, could he act well, and still accomplish the kind of jokes that we like to do? And I thought, “Yeah.” I just said, “We’re going to keep it real. The big stuff will still have a cap on it and it’ll only get so big.”
CS: Right, he’s not really known for doing any sort of madcap humor, because he even plays a straight guy. Chandrasekhar: But he’s funny. I called up David Gordon Green, who he had worked with him a couple times like on “All the Real Girls” – those guys went to college together. David has sort of moved into the wild comedy stuff that we do, and he told me that he was one of the funniest guys he knew and thought he’d be great. So I got a little bit of checking on him and then Olivia had worked with us on “Slammin’ Salmon” and this movie “Freeloaders” that’s coming out next year that we produced and have a cameo in, and she just is great. It was a challenge to convince the producers that they should take a chance on her because she didn’t have “The Newsroom” yet, she didn’t have “Magic Mike” and I don’t think even Sarah Jessica Parker’s movie had come out yet.
CS: On “Attack of the Show,” she used to do all sorts of crazy stuff so it does seem like she’d fit in well with your humor. Chandrasekhar: She’s got great timing and a wicked comic mind. She can just generate jokes, she can also fix dramatic moments to make them work. She’s a real multiple threat person I think, so I just said, “I really sincerely believe she’ll be a discovery kind of person for people, and it’s a risk but I also have a feeling she’ll pick some stuff up over the next year,” and luckily, she did. Obviously, her work in “The Newsroom,” I don’t know if you watch it.
CS: I was actually surprised since that’s so different for her and she’s really good at the dramatic stuff as well. Heffernan: Yeah, she’s really trying to do a lot of different kinds of things to show what she can do. Chandrasekhar: But she and I are rewriting a script called “Shotgun Wedding” that I showed her.
CS: You’re writing that together? Chandrasekhar: Well, we’re sitting together and we’re going over her notes and ideas for scenes and also jokes, and she also has a very unique, high-level stand-up comic mind, so she writes a lot of jokes that are very specific that only women could know. We write women’s parts and we do our very best, and then we bring in the actors and say, “Okay, let’s make it your own.” Olivia is able to generate jokes that I think could have fit into “Bridesmaids.” I can’t write certain jokes about women because… Heffernan: You’re a man. Chandrasekhar: I have different equipment.
CS: Kevin, since you directed “Slammin’ Salmon,” did that experience make you want to direct more? In this movie, you’re just acting and being part of the ensemble again. Have you brought anything from the experience directing to movies where you’re just acting? Heffernan: I had a great time and I’d love to do it again. I thought it was fun and challenging. It’s nice to mix it up. It’s very freeing to go to a set and not be that guy, and not even be the writer, like on this movie. Just go in and be an actor on this movie, and that’s fun, too, at times. I like to kind of mix it up.
CS: You mentioned getting Oscar-caliber actors for your movie and you actually have Nat Faxon in this one, although I guess he won the Oscar for co-writing “The Descendants” after being in this. And you have him running around completely naked, so has he regretted that decision? Heffernan: Nah. We were shooting and he was going through the nominations process, and winning awards while we were shooting. He got the WGA award, he got nominated and it was coming, so he plays a stoner in this movie and we just f*cked with him a lot. Chandrasekhar: And we did a reshoot which was that bit in the end where his d*ck is sort of wagging out, and he was standing outside in the cold with this big prosthetic d*ld*, naked, and it was in the winter, it was before the Oscars, but he had been nominated. So I just said, “Academy Award nominee Nat Faxon” we were trying to take as much of the cache he’s earned.
CS: He’s doing a TV show and he’s also co-directing a movie himself. Chandrasekhar: He just finished the Steve Carell movie and I’m going to direct his television show “Ben and Kate” in the fall.
CS: You’ve been doing so much TV since I last saw you. I think I counted something like 30 or 40 episodes of television Chandrasekhar: Here’s the thing. Every time you jump to another format in the “picture business,” meaning film, television, commercials, the people in the other format go, “Ah, yeah, you made a lot of features but you don’t know how to do TV” or the commercial people go “Oh, you can’t do 30 seconds.” I had a desire to work in the television business for a while, so I said, “I’m going to dive in and learn as much as I can from the director’s chair (which is a lot) about how they put together shows. What are the pressures on writers? How many writers are there? Why does this need to be done so fast” and there are all sorts of tricks you learn in television ’cause it’s accelerated production. “It’s gotta be on, it’s gotta be on. You gotta feed the beast.” And the studio’s like “Oh, you’re over-budget, can you shoot this in four days?” There are all sorts of things that are specific to television that you don’t know as a filmmaker. Now I’m developing a television show, Kevin and Steve (Lemme) are developing their own TV shows. I don’t want to be told “You can’t do this because you don’t know our world.” That was the goal. (laughs)
CS: Do you literally have every week for the next year lined up to direct a show? Chandrasekhar: I have the next I have eight jobs in a row starting August 15 and ending December 15.
CS: That’s a crazy schedule, especially doing a different show almost every week. Chandrasekhar: Yeah, but a bunch of them are on the Paramount lot, some of them are at Sony. You’re just at Paramount for a while, you just kind of hang out there. You stop in on the other show and shoot a quick scene you forgot.
CS: It’s funny because in some ways, it’s strange that Broken Lizard is always doing movies, because it is a format that normally would be doing television shows Kids in the Hall, Monty Python’s Flying Circusso it’s interesting that you did all those movies and now doing TV, but never having done a Broken Lizard TV show. Chandrasekhar: It all came about because MTV back in the 90s, we were doing a sketch show here in town and so was “The State,” and MTV told both of us, “We’re going to choose one of you guys to do a TV show” so they came down to our show Friday night and we murdered. We just had the best show of our lives, and we were pretty damn sure that we would get picked but then the State must have killed even a little better because they got the show. So we were like, “Well, there’s SNL, there’s Kids in the Hall, there’s Mad TV and now there’s going to be the State, let’s go into the movie business.” At the time, Kevin Smith, Ed Burns, Whit Stillman, Rick Linklater – all those guys were making first movies for whatever you could scrape together. So I got a job with the lawyer who represented all those guys who is now my lawyer and I just said, “We have a script, how do I do this?” so they did all the legal work, so we just said, “Alright” and we got into Sundance with this film “Puddle Cruiser” and then the next time out, we made “Super Troopers” and John Sloss, the lawyer, sold it.
CS: What have you been up to, Kevin? Heffernan: For the last year I’ve been traveling with Steve Lemme, we’ve been doing stand-up shows and we’ve also been developing shows for NBC actually. We developed one last year, it didn’t go, and we’re going to develop one this year with them.
CS: So do you generally try to develop a show for pilot season each year and see what happens? Heffernan: Yeah, see what happens and there were times when we did Broken Lizard where we’d develop a TV show here and there. We had different ideas that went but never got shot, so every year, you take a shot at it and see if you can get into that group. There’s so much TV in the TV world going on that it’s a good world to create for.
CS: Do you want to try and direct TV at all? Have you been inspired by what Jay’s been doing? Heffernan: Yeah, I mean, I would. Jay would tell you that I think it’s the kind of thing where work begets work in that world and once you get your foot in that door. My foot’s not in that door, but I’m trying to get it in the door. I’ll have to be Jay’s assistant for a while.
CS: I’m sure we’ve discussed this before but the world of R-rated comedy, you guys came into this before it really took off and it’s kind of funny how studios are so hot and cold on R-rated humor. Heffernan: It’s cyclical, yeah.
CS: You have a big hit like “The Hangover” or “Bridesmaids” and then every movie is R-rated whether it needs to be or not. Heffernan: That’s how we ended up making “Beerfest.” When we made “Beerfest” at Warner Bros. it was right in that stretch of “40-Year-Old Virgin” and there was a renaissance of R-rated comedy and then it went down again and then “The Hangover” brought it back and it went down again and then “Bridesmaids” brought it back. Chandrasekhar: Look, I don’t believe that we can make a PG-13 movie, personally. You may feel differently, but I don’t feel like our fans will feel satisfied. It’s not that I think that we’re bawdy, it’s just wherever the joke is, we go there. When people have sex in real life, women don’t keep their shirts on. It’s not that we’re trying to show boobs–maybe we are–but we’re just trying to show sex and when we’re sitting around writing a joke, we’re like, “Wouldn’t it be funny if this distraction was that this guy was naked and had a large c*ck. Well, can you show a large c*ck in an R-rated movie? I think we can show it.” We don’t have this filter
CS: Does the MPAA have a ruler for how big a c*ck can be shown? Chandrasekhar: As long as there’s no blood in the c*ck, it’s okay Heffernan: What? Chandrasekhar: That’s how it is, it can’t be hard. Heffernan: Oh, I see. I thought you said, “blood on the c*ck.”
CS: It’s funny that you’re doing so much television now because they have much tougher standards. Chandrasekhar: Oh, for sure, and I’ll talk to the writers and “You know, a better version would be ” and they’d be like, “Yeah, we already had that joke and couldn’t do it. They wouldn’t let us do that joke.” “Okay, okay, so let’s try to do the most artful clean way we can,” but in our movies, we always sort of laid it out there. I’d prefer to make them for lower budgets and have them be truer to our voice than to try to make PG-13 movies, even though the studios don’t seem to want PG-13 movies now.
CS: It’s really weird how it goes up and down and then a movie like “Die Hard” comes out PG-13 or “Terminator” and the fans flip out. Chandrasekhar: Violence is totally accepted in this country. Even though the internet is swimming in nakedness, sex is not.
You can read what Jay and Kevin had to say about the status of a couple Broken Lizard sequels here and here’s another little bit of that conversation we left out before we wrap things up.
CS: It seems like everyone would want another “Super Troopers” movie because the fanbase has just grown even bigger since it was in theaters. Heffernan: That’s the thing. It made $20 million theatrically and that was the first real theatrical movie we ever did and then it sold 6 million DVDs. Chandrasekhar: It made $80 million bucks on DVD. Heffernan: So the fans are out there as we travel around doing live shows, that’s all people ask for. They want that. We’d love to. Chandrasekhar: We’re in show business. We want to give them what they want. Heffernan: We had a great time writing the script though, too. It’s like eight or nine years later, revisit those characters? It was fun to write. Chandrasekhar: I would love to grow that moustache again. Heffernan: I gotta start now. It’s hard.
The Babymakers hits theaters in select cities and VOD on Friday, August 3.