Posts Tagged ‘ comedy ’

Simon Baker and Dan Mazer talk I GIVE IT A YEAR at SXSW 2013


AUSTIN —  While Dan Mazer is usually known for his script work with Sacha Baron Cohen on films like “Borat” and “Bruno,” he has stepped up behind the camera for his directorial debut with “I Give it a Year.

The film follows an unlikely pair named Nat (Rose Byrne), an ambitious businesswoman, and Josh (Rafe Spall), a struggling novelist, through their first year of marriage. While they at first fall deliriously in love, they begin to discover that perhaps Josh’s ex-girlfriend, Chloe (Anna Faris), and Nat’s American client, Guy (Simon Baker), might be better suited for them.

Mazer and Baker sat down with myself and two other journalists to talk about being burned out by typical romantic comedies, the trust between actor and director, and whether or not any doves (or actors) were harmed in the making of this film.

After the round table at the Intercontinental - Stephen F. Austin Hotel in Austin, Texas on 3/10/13.(Photo Credit: Alex Gonzalez)

After the round table at the Intercontinental – Stephen F. Austin Hotel in Austin, Texas on 3/10/13.
(Photo Credit: Alex Gonzalez)

(Q represents a question from another outlet, and AG stands for a question from myself)

Q: I read the press notes and everything. Can you talk a little bit about improvisation in this film?
DM: I’m sort of a great believer in things feeling natural and real and authentic, and I think a lot of that often comes with a bit of improvisation. It’s interesting, because I wrote it as well as I directed it. Bizarrely, you’d imagine I’d be more precious about the words than perhaps somebody who hadn’t wrote it, but I sort of realized the process and it was raucous. I thought some of these jokes might just be shit (laughs). I was very encouraging of the actors to sort of improvise. The philosophy is that I wrote it, tried and tested it one way. “Let’s have a go. Let’s get the script into words and see what happens.” In the casting, one my primary objectives was to find people who were funny and sharp and bright and witty. I sat down with all the actors as opposed to just kind of reading most of them and sat in a room and chatted with them and laughed with them. I thought, if they do have all those attributes, if they are bright and funny and can sort of think on their feet – which some actors can and some actors can’t – then I sort of wanted them in the movie. I was very encouraging of a bit of improvisation, because then I essentially get the credit (laughs).
Q: So you’re okay with your actors maybe criticizing your script a little bit, like, “Hey, I think this might work better this way.”
DM: Yeah. I hate to deference in any shape or form. I’m certainly very good at not being deferential.
SB: It’s funny, because so often you get asked questions about improvisation and how it works in films. It’s such a loose term, because I always think it’s like the controlled improvisation. I mean, Dan wrote it, but there’s a lot of people that get this idea that writer/directors are like, “These are my words, this is the Bible, this is the Holy Grail. Don’t mess with it.” But Dan had this sort of next step on confidence in like, “I’m cutting this thing,” which means, in essence, “I’ll take whatever is going to come out, but before it gets passed on to anyone to watch, I’m still editing, so I’m still the writer in essence.” (laughs) So there was a lack of sort of any kind of fear. I mean, I thought with Dan there was no fear. I didn’t improvise at all. I barely improvised.
DM: Well, your character was different.
SB: Well, it depends on what I’m doing. My character didn’t really lend itself on that in this particular piece. Obviously, Rafe’s character totally was that character. Rafe and Dan had this thing where he would just go, and sometimes we’d all be sitting there going, “Where the fuck is Rafe going? Where is he going with this?” and Dan never got like, “Actually…” (makes disapproving face) You know, he just let him go. It’s an interesting game, because really, when you do improve – like, I improve a lot on my show (The Mentalist), but that’s sort of the role. In this, I had to sort of hit certain beats off of what other people were doing. It’s a very interesting game to see the trust between an actor and a director. It was interesting for me watching Rafe and Dan, because Dan didn’t get panicked. This comedy stuff, when it’s really like a full-blown comedy, it’s quite serious business. “Oh, that’s funny, that’s not funny, that’s funny.” It’s like, “Oh, geez.” It’s okay if you’re doing a drama and you throw a couple of gags in there, because no one’s expecting it to be funny. When you say, “This is a comedy,” it’s like saying to a woman before you have sex, “This is going to be some great love-making.” Right? (laughs) You set yourself up for sort of a situation.
DM: Oh, I’ve never done that.
SB: Nor have I! I’m always like, “This is going to be shit, but I’ll do my best.” (laughs) But yeah, it’s interesting like that, with the rules. Also, from watching Dan, he’s not undermining Rafe’s confidence when he is going off somewhere where it doesn’t necessarily work, he’s not going, “That didn’t really work,” because that can really crush you. Rafe had a big responsibility in this film, and he had to pull off a lot. He had to be a twat that’s sort of likeable and entertaining, but shouldn’t really be with this girl. It’s sort of a hard thing to do, a hard ask for a character. I thought he did it quite well. I thought you handled that really well.
DM: Thank you, you’re very kind, sir. Oh, Simon Baker (laughs).

Q: When you’re on the other end, and you’re watching them sort of doing some improvising, can you feel where it’s kind of not going anywhere like what you were saying?
SB: No, because a lot of the time I was this straight guy kind of waiting, just a little bit. Like anything, there’s the direct route, and then there’s the scenic route. Sometimes we get very scenic, and then we’re like, “Finally, we’re back on the main road again.” In my head, I was always often thinking, “That one works.” The cut is like a house of cards. Obviously, Dan knows more about this than I do. With this particular film, once you get into the edit, it can be like a house of cards. You really like this gag, but in order for that gag to work, you’ve got to have this bit and this bit and this bit.
DM: Obviously, I’ve spent the last 10 years with Sascha [Baron Cohen] where it’s a lot of improvisation. I’ve become, hopefully, quite adept to seeing what works and what doesn’t. Often, he can go off for an hour and a half, and you get like a minute out of it. You’re constantly thinking, “What minute is good?” So now this, in contrast, was much more controlled.

Q: Simon, what was it that drew you to the script when you first read it?
SB: I’ve read a lot of romantic comedies, like all of those “26 Dresses.”
DM: Or “27 Dresses.”
SB: (laughs) The prequel! They changed one number.
DM: Finishing the script, it was like, “I think we need another dress.”
SB: Yes, 27 is much more romantic. No, but I’ve read a lot of those. Ever since I did that movie, “The Devil Wears Prada,” I was sent a lot of those. Obviously, they always wanted me to play the guy that was an asshole, basically. They all tick these certain boxes of those sort of clichés of the genre. What I liked about this movie was that it actually ticked all those boxes of the genre but flipped them all upside down. So it was like, “Okay, we’re going to tick all those boxes, so we’re hitting the nail on the head with all of those bits that we expect, but we’ve got a total reverse story.” I thought that was just a fresh and interesting way to go about it. Little did I know that some people get a little bit like, “Well, what does that say about marriage?” Is this movie really about marriage? We’re just trying to make a piece of entertainment that takes the piss out of how far and how serious we are about the notion of committing to a marriage and sticking with it. I don’t know many people, but I’m from a broken home. My wife is from a broken home. So many people understand divorce. If they haven’t been through it, they certainly know someone that has been through it. Everyone knows the dreaded relationship where you lose a friend, because you’re like, “Oh no, please, what? That’s it. I can’t be friends with you anymore, because I can’t stand your wife!” (laughs) It’s like, “Can you come? Please don’t bring the missus. Of course she’s invited.” You know, the politics of that that we don’t talk about, is funny and interesting and awkward. I thought that was great. I thought, obviously if you can pull off that, that first anniversary scene. It was the most romantic moment in the whole script, I thought, when these two are being honest with each other and saying, “You’re not really the person that makes my heart sing.” I thought that was the challenge in the whole movie, and I was interested in that. I hadn’t done anything like this, so it’s always a challenge, sort of interesting.

AG: Kind of a random question, but you as a director, since this is so opposite of a romantic comedy, are there any famous couples or famous storylines in movies that you would love to take this route with?
DM: That’s interesting. Sort of all of them, really. If you take any romantic comedy, to me it’s sort of incredibly fascinating to see what happens the moment the credit rolls. If you talk about “What Happens in Rome” or “27 Dresses,” most romantic comedies are about people who absolutely shouldn’t be together. That’s the point of a romantic comedy.  It’s like, “Look at these opposites. They’ve attracted. Isn’t it going to be fantastic?” The cynic in me is sitting there like, “Well, it’s not going to be fantastic. They’re unbelievably ill-suited for each other. They’re going to get back from their honeymoon, and the thing that annoys you about the Irish sheep farmer, if you’re the San Diego PR girl, will absolutely drive you crazy within a week of moving in with each other, and it’s going to end in a horrific and acrimonious divorce.” So you sort of think, with all those things, it’s kind of the realist in me that looks behind the Hollywood curtain, if you like. I think you can take any romantic comedy, and almost all of them will end in divorce (laughs).

Q: I thought it was kind of interesting, because you made Anna Faris’ character and Simon’s character not conniving or evil trying to break them up. They were just kind of on the outskirts. His character didn’t even really know. I thought that was an interesting take. You obviously did it on purpose, because it follows the romantic comedy line to have this person trying to do something back-handed.
DM: Exactly. That tends to be what happens in a romantic comedy. A nasty guy swoops in and sweeps the girl off her feet. You think, “Please don’t end up with him, because he’s not very nice.” The challenge in this is that you’re rooting for a couple to split up. That’s really hard to do and not make it toxic and [make you] feel bad at the end when they do split up. So in order to do that and facilitate that, you need to pick another protagonist who you sort of want them to end up with. If they are kind of nasty or horrible, you’re going “Oh, don’t end up with that person.” You actually want them to end up with that [other] person, because Guy, Simon’s character, is lovely. He’s brilliant. Again, that was the interesting thing in Simon taking the part. When you see him on screen, you have an expectation. “Oh, he’s going to be a nasty guy. He’s going to come in and blah, blah, blah.” What’s brilliant, and what Simon does brilliant, is kind of flip that expectation. Guy’s actually a bit of a doofus, so you’re happy they end up with each other. Simon does that brilliantly. So the reason they’re not nasty is because ultimately, you want our characters to end up with them.

Q: Did you know Simon prior to this?
DM: Oh, no, not at all. Obviously, I knew Simon’s work and loved it and thought it was brilliant and just thought I would be only so lucky to have him. Obviously, the casting process was like playing Fantasy Football for me in a weird way. I came in and go, “Oh God, I love Simon in that, he’d be the perfect Guy; I loved Rose [Byrne] in ‘Bridesmaids,’ she was fantastic. I’ve worked with Anna [Faris] on ‘The Dictator,’” so, you know, it was amazing to have the opportunity to go out to these people. It was incredibly thrilling when they said yes. I think, universally, even if you don’t like the film necessarily or have problems with the film, universally everyone said “My God, you’ve got an amazing cast.” Almost in a way to kind of say, “How’d you fuck that up?” (laughs)
SB: That’s so English of you.
DM: (laughs) I got warned beforehand!
SB: I’m not even English, but it’s still in there.
DM: The PR people, before you come to America, just go, “We know you’re self-deprecating, but don’t be self-deprecating. Americans don’t understand it. They’ll just think you think the film’s shit.” (laughs)
SB: Oh, you’re so cute.
DM: Like Hugh Grant bumbling, sort of.

Q: So is this almost the romantic comedy for people that don’t like romantic comedies?
DM: I think it sort of is. I’ve been burnt, as it were, by riding on an airplane or sitting down on a Tuesday night and going into Netflix and thinking, “Oh, this would be fun to see, this kinky story of this mismatched couple.” Most romantic comedies are neither particularly romantic nor particularly comedic, so it’s really a slightly pejorative term, “romantic comedy.” You go in with an expectation, and I understand why people want to market this as a “romantic comedy.” People go and see romantic comedies, so it’s not really a difficult sell. To me, it’s a movie about relationships as opposed to a romantic comedy, really.

AG: So what were the biggest challenges for both of you in flipping this genre on its head?
SB: There wasn’t really a challenge for me in that regard. I mean, it was all kind of laid out there for me. It was just the process of doing it, which always has its little challenges here and there, but there were no real major challenges. Like Dan’s saying, what the idea of a romantic comedy is, and it’s a term that I don’t really like. It does set you up. You look at a film like “Silver Linings Playbook,” and it’s really a drama. It’s a family drama that has romance in it and some comedic moments, but they’re focused on it being a story about a family and a guy kind of getting back into the family. When you do a film that is a “romantic comedy,” you think, “You’ve hit me with romance, now where’s the comedy?” If you don’t have equal parts, then you’re in trouble. No challenge. I really always, I don’t get to do a lot of films because of the amount of work that I do on my TV show, so when I do something, particularly if it’s in a mainstream sort of genre like we’re looking at here, I want it to be something that’s sort of fresh and interesting. I’d rather take the chance on something like “I Give it a Year” and take that risk than go and do the standard tried and true obvious choices that come along. There weren’t really any challenges in it for me. I mean, just logistically, walking off one set and walking onto another was the only kind of challenge.
DM: I think for me probably it was, like, just to actually try and make it romantic in some ways, because my natural instinct is my previous work. I definitely am much more towards the comedy side of things, and I have quite, sort of in life, a relatively cynical view of things and kind of, as a reaction to those romantic comedies, I was like, “Don’t want any sop in this,” because you feel like you’re selling out. So the challenge was really to make the romance feel real and authentic within a comedy framework. I was always very confident about the comedy part of it and just needed to kind of steer myself to make the romance not really feel cheesy. That was my challenge.

Q: No doves were harmed in the making of this film?
DM: Oh no, loads of doves. Loads of doves! (laughs)
SB: You would see on set just a pile of dead doves. No, I think Rose was harmed more than the doves. I think there was someone in the back of the truck that we didn’t see spray painting pigeons white, like, “Two more!” (enacts spray painting pigeons) No, that was a tricky day. Rose was genuinely petrified, properly frozen in fear.
Q: That made it much more fulfilling onscreen. You could tell, that’s not acting.
SB: On the DVD, there’s going to be an amazing kind of sort of blooper reel of her just like, “Ugh, oh, no!” (squirms) It’s about eight minutes long (laughs)That was a good day. We enjoyed that. We rehearsed that, too, didn’t we? We rehearsed with doves. I remember, at the church, doing rehearsals, and I remember at the end of that day, looking over at you across the room and you were so sort of restrained that you were like, it was almost like an eye roll and a sigh at the same time without doing anything, going “How are we going to do this?”
DM: It was May the 17th or whatever.
SB: Then, when the day came and we drove out to this pretty location out in Pinewood, it was a beautiful location. We got there, and Dan was like (makes anxious face). As soon as the doves came out, Rose was like (jerks around nervously).
DM: It was amazing to have an animal scene and not be worried about the animals at all. The animals, we knew they were going to behave. It was actually the star that was the worst (laughs). You didn’t love them, but you were just…
SB: No, I didn’t love them, but I was just trying to keep the woman from running away.
DM: Very manly.
Q: Great job by the violinist in that scene.
DM: Yeah, he’s a brilliant sketch comedy performer in Britain. He’s got his own TV show, and he’s really funny. He will be a big hit at some point in his life.

Q: How did you get Stephen Merchant on board to do this? You don’t see him in many films.
DM: No, you really don’t. I know Stephen. I knew Stephen a bit from around, and he’s the only part I wrote with someone specifically in mind. I wrote it and wanted Merchant to do it. I wanted it in his voice. “I know how he’d do it, he’d be brilliant at doing it.” Because he doesn’t do much, I was like, “Oh, he probably won’t do it, but we’ll just get someone to do a sort of Stephen Merchant impression.” (laughs) He read it and was just like, very simply, “Yeah. Funny. I’ll do it.” It was an incredible thing. We made it work in his schedule, and obviously he’s a scene stealer in every scene he’s in. It was a real thrill to me in terms of he’s sort of comedy royalty in England. To have one of your peers think that what you’ve written is kind of up to his standard, as it were, was incredibly thrilling for me. That was really nice.

Q: You guys mentioned rehearsals. You had rehearsals before you started filming? Before any film was shot, you had rehearsals?
DM: Yeah, we did a couple of weeks. Again, just as part of the process, I thought it would be nice to stand stuff up and see what would happen, encourage improvisation at rehearsals and play around with things, just really work it all out.
SB: It’s pretty luxurious. Doesn’t happen very often. No matter how, when you really look at it, it’s very vague, but what it does it get it all a little bit of, you get to have a little chat, things come out, ideas get popped up. Sometimes, when you get to shooting, all of that’s forgotten. It’s just something to sort of work through. I thought that was fun and luxurious.
DM: It really helps on the day you turn up at your place. Sometimes you just throw everything out and say, “I wasn’t really expecting that to happen.” Often, it just saves you that first hour, or an hour and a half, in the morning of your shoot where you can actually be getting stuff on camera as opposed to working things out. It was great, I loved it.


THIS IS THE END: First Official Trailer

In theaters June 14, 2013

In theaters June 14, 2013

The first official trailer and movie poster have been released for This Is the End, a comedy about the apocalyptic end of the world (right on time?). Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have come together yet again for their directorial debut, and I’m hoping the world really doesn’t end tomorrow so I can go and watch this movie. Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, James Franco, Danny McBride, and Craig Robinson find themselves stuck in a house in Los Angeles in the aftermath of the destruction of the world as we know it.

What’s most interesting to me — and you’ll see in the trailer — is that all of these guys will be playing (what I’m assuming to be) parodies of themselves rather than fictional characters. The movie also features Mindy Kaling, Emma Watson, Kevin Hart, Rihanna, and Judd Apatow film regulars David Krumholtz, Jason Segel, Michael Cera, Martin Starr and Paul Rudd. Let’s hope the Mayans were wrong and we can look forward past tomorrow to what looks like another comedic gem from Rogen and Goldberg.

Sam Jones talks TED

On BluRay and DVD today, December 11, 2012

On BluRay and DVD today, December 11, 2012

Most children of the 80s know exactly who Sam Jones is, but for those of you who don’t, he was the incomparable “Savior of the Universe,” Flash Gordon himself. He’s been laying low for some time now, but when he decided to come back into the public eye, he did it with a bang. Seth McFarlane‘s childhood hero plays a parody of himself in McFarlane’s first feature film endeavor, TED, on BluRay and DVD today.

Ted (McFarlane) is a teddy bear who is brought to life after 8-year-old John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) makes a wish on a shooting star that his stuffed animal could come to life and be friends with him forever. Twenty-seven years later, try as John might to become an adult for his girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis), he is stuck in adolescence with his obscene, foul-mouthed, pot-smoking teddy bear.

Jones appears in the R-rated comedy as an “extreme version” of himself, playing against the character most know him as. John and Ted are huge fans of Flash Gordon, and when Ted becomes friends with Sam Jones, John is in for one of the wildest nights of his life with his talking teddy bear and the real-life Flash Gordon. Jones spoke to The Reel Story about McFarlane’s work, his affinity for comedy, and what it was like working with a CGI teddy bear.

Sam Jones as Flash Gordon in 1980

Sam Jones as Flash Gordon in 1980

AG: Can you explain to me how you got involved in this project?
SJ: Seth called me personally. He called me out of the blue to let me know that he was a big fan of Flash Gordon and saw Flash Gordon at a very young age. He said that I inspired him to be this creative guy, to pursue the entertainment industry. I thought that was really cool, and the next question was he wanted to know if I was interested in being a part of this film. I said, “Absolutely. Let’s take a look at the script, let’s have a meeting, and let’s take it from there.” That’s exactly what happened.

AG: Were you a fan of Seth McFarlane’s work before you took the part in this film?
SJ: I respected his work. The fact that it’s a franchise – the three shows that he does – I’ve got a lot of respect for him for doing that. I like the guy a lot. This is going back to October 2010.

Present-day Sam Jones at the premiere of TED

Present-day Sam Jones at the premiere of TED

AG: What was your greatest motivation to take part in the film? What made you really want to do this?
SJ: I had been out of it for a while, and I always knew that I would be working in the business in my later years. I just always knew that. It was a great opportunity, and I wasn’t about to pass this up. I thought it was a bit challenging to sort of play myself, but not really myself. Parts and pieces of me – not all of these – were a bit of a challenge to portray without confusing everybody. I thought, “Let’s do it,” you know?

AG: Everybody knows Flash Gordon, so what was it like to kind of switch gears and play this parody of yourself, going against these preconceptions people have of you because of Flash Gordon?
SJ: I’ve done comedy before. I enjoy comedy. A lot of people don’t know I’ve done features and TV shows and guest spots, lots of different characters other than a super hero, and I just enjoy it. I really enjoy doing comedy. Look at my character, Flash Gordon. He does some things that are very funny (laughs).

AG: What was your favorite scene to film in this movie?
SJ: I enjoyed the scenes with [Mark] Wahlberg, and of course the Japanese guy who was having a flashback. It was just a lot of fun. I enjoyed it. We got a little bit carried away when he stuck the butcher knife through the little hole, and I end up biting his arm. I said, “I’m just going to do what feels natural.” When he stuck the knife through the hole, I said, “I’m probably going to bite down on your hand, and when I do, you need to drop the knife.” So he says okay, and I guess he got a little bit excited. When I bit down, he didn’t drop the knife, so I just kept digging my teeth deeper into his hand (laughs). He had a few teeth marks on his hand there for a while.

AG: What was it like filming scenes with Ted, the teddy bear?
SJ: It was a bit challenging, but I’m used to that stuff. I’m used to doing a scene with an actor who’s either not there, or he or she is there but you’re not getting much from them (laughs). So with the computer generated effects and all that, I had Seth’s voice in my ear. He gave me a little “earwig” for inside my ear so I could listen to him. He was obviously directing, but he was also playing Ted. So I’m looking at a little [c-stand] with a little piece of tape on it, and that’s the teddy bear. His voice came into my ear, so that’s how I did it.

Ted (McFarlane) and John (Wahlberg) toasting to a night with their childhood hero

Ted (McFarlane) and John (Wahlberg) toasting to a night with their childhood hero

AG: Speaking of teddy bear, did you have a favorite toy or stuffed animal growing up? If you did, what would you have done if it came to life like Ted?
SJ: I had a big imagination as a kid. My parents would put us out in the backyard, and we would go out in the woods a lot of times. We would just make our own toys, pick up a couple twigs and make swords out of them. We’d use a lot of rocks and target practice on a tree. A lot of that. I grew up in Tennessee and places like that. I didn’t really have a favorite toy, though. What I really did like were those toy soldiers, those little army guys. I didn’t have a whole lot of those, but when I got them, I played with them a lot as a kid.

AG: Do you have any last words for the readers here in Houston about yourself or about the film on DVD?
SJ: I believe they’re going to laugh, because obviously, the numbers don’t lie. I mean, it’s the number one R-rated movie of all time. At the box office, it’s made well over half a billion dollars. I know maybe six or seven weeks ago, it surpassed 500 million, so it could be close to 600 million right now. A lot of people have enjoyed it. You can’t take the family, but as a family man myself, there is some offensive language. You just have to be careful with the younger kids. For instance, I think teenagers who have their head together and can look at this as a fun time, it’s a movie. Just go out, take the family, and have a good time. Actually, you don’t even have to go out, because it’s now on BluRay and DVD! All of my kids have seen it, except for my 11-year-old. Pop some popcorn at home and watch it.

TED – On BluRay & DVD December 11th

A foul-mouthed, hard-partying teddy bear and his 35-year-old best friend come together in the #1 comedy of the year, Ted, available on Blu-rayCombo Pack, DVD and On Demand on December 11, 2012, from Universal Studios Home Entertainment.  Directed by
Seth MacFarlane, creator of television’s uproarious and irreverent hits “Family Guy,”and “American Dad,” Ted stars Mark Wahlberg (Contraband, The Other Guys), Mila Kunis (Friends with Benefits, Black Swan),  Joel McHale (“Community”), Giovanni Ribisi (Contraband, Avatar) and Seth MacFarlane as the voice of Ted.

The film’s all-star cast also includes “Family Guy” favorites Jessica Barth, Alex Borstein, Ralph Garman and Patrick Warburton, as well as Sam Jones (“Flash Gordon”), Multi-Grammy® Award-winning recording artist Norah Jones and newcomer Brett Manley.  Both the Blu-ray Combo Pack and DVD feature an unrated extended version of the film – featuring laugh-out-loud footage not shown in theaters – a gag reel, feature commentary with Seth MacFarlane and Mark Wahlberg and an insider’s look at the making of the funniest buddy picture ever made.

Ted’s outrageous,off-color antics won the hearts and minds of critics and audiences alike, with Peter Travers of Rolling Stone declaring the movie “hysterically funny” and Trey Alexander of calling it “an instant classic.”  A critically hailed blockbuster that took in more than $218 million in North America alone, Ted is the third highest grossing R-rated comedy of all time and scored the highest debut ever for an original R-rated comedy.  Exclusively on the Ted Blu-ray Combo Pack are bonus features that include deleted scenes, alternate takes and a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of Ted’s already legendary fight scene.

The Ted Blu-ray Combo Pack also includes a Digital Copy of the film, compatible with iPhone®, iTunes®, iPad®, iPod®, iPod® touch, Android or online retail partners, as well as UltraViolet.  UltraVioletis the revolutionary new way for consumers to collect movies and TV shows in the cloud to instantly stream and download to tablets, smartphones, computers, and TVs.  Consumers can now truly enjoy Ted anytime, anywhere on the device of their choice.

“Pitch Perfect” release date moved up by a week

In theaters September 28, 2012

The musical comedy, Pitch Perfect, has received such good reviews that Universal has become confident enough to release the movie on September 28th, a week before its original release date.

The decision to open the film in select theaters early resulted from a number of factors, led by the wildly positive moviegoer feedback for Pitch Perfect from early screenings and indicators of a very engaged core audience avidly anticipating its release.  Universal is promoting Pitch Perfect with the most extensive screening campaign in the studio’s history.  Over the past few weeks, hundreds of screenings of Pitch Perfect across the country have consistently received raucous audience response.

“You have to be willing to break the rules for a film that you deeply love, and supporting Pitch Perfect in this unorthodox way is a result of our passion for the movie and confidence in its reception,” said Nikki Rocco, President of Distribution, Universal Pictures.  “After every screening, we’ve seen levels of reaction similar to how audiences responded to American Pie and Bring It On, other comedies for a young audience that grew into great success stories for Universal.”

Oscar nominee Anna Kendrick and Bridesmaids-breakout star, Rebel Wilson, star in this campy comedy that centers around a college a capella group.

Julian Narino & Raul Martinez talk ParaNorman

Focus Features releases its newest family film, ParaNorman, this Friday, August 17th, and rather than taking the usual CGI route, they decided to go against the grain and make it a stop-motion feature. A lot of tedious work goes into creating a stop-motion feature, and two of the artists behind it talk about what it takes to make a movie like ParaNorman.

ParaNorman, directed by Chris Butler and Sam Fell, is the story of a seemingly ordinary outcast named Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who has the ability to speak to the dead. Eventually, it’s up to Norman to save his small New England town Blithe Hollow from a centuries-old witch’s curse that threatens to overrun the town with the undead. The all-star cast includes Anna Kendrick as Norman’s sister, Courtney; Leslie Mann as his mother, Sandra; Casey Affleck as his friend Neil’s older brother, Mitch; John Goodman as Mr. Prenderghast; and Tempestt Bledsoe as Sheriff Hooper.

Julian Narino and Raul Martinez work for Laika, Inc., the stop-motion animation studio hired by Focus Features to create the world of ParaNorman. Narino is a story board artist who worked on ParaNorman as well as Laika’s other most notable feature film, Coraline. Martinez is a model maker, working specifically on the blue mini-van Mitch drives throughout the film. Four years and countless cups of coffee later, they talk about what it’s like to see their pride and joy on the big screen.
*You can watch the trailer at the end of the interview!

AG: Can you talk a little bit about ParaNorman for the readers?
JN: It’s about a boy who can see ghosts. He’s kind of the outcast at school, kind of a loner, and he befriends another boy at school. He finds out about this curse upon this town that he has to deal with. (laughs) It’s kind of hard to say much without giving it away! 

AG: Julian, you are a story board artist, and Raul, you are a model maker on the set of ParaNorman. Can you explain to the readers what exactly the two of you do?
JN: Story board artists, we’re kind of drawing out the movie, almost kind of like a comic book form. We’re given the script by the directors, and we take that script and draw it all out into scenes. Those go down to editorial where they put them together into a movie. It’s kind of like seeing animation, like traditionally drawn animation, but key-framed. So once we’re done, it goes down to editorial and is made into a movie, and they use that as a basis for the actual animation. That goes into production where they do the sets and the puppets. It’s a jumping-off point into the actual final animation.
RM: We build miniatures for the movies and sets and stuff like that. For ParaNorman, specifically, I built a blue van that you see Mitch drive. They’re about six-scale miniatures, and there are four exterior vans and four interior vans. They all have to interact and be part of the ParaNorman world, and my job was to make sure they worked, looked good, and made sure they didn’t break on set.

(L-R) Greg Boettcher, Raul Martinez, and Coby Lorang discussing how to shape the station wagon.

AG: That mini-van, did you come up with it on your own or did they tell you want they wanted it to look like?
RM: There is always some concept art out there, and they went through very many different stages and many different paint schemes. But I think they always wanted it to be a van, so after they got the final design approval, it went to the computer model makers. Tony Chen, he built it in the computer, and then built it in a way that it’s almost like a model kit you would buy at the hobby store. The parts were grown in a 3-D printer, and once those parts came out, there was a crew that made copies of them through a mold-making process. You take the parts and put them in rubber, and then take them out and make copies. Those copies came to me, and it was my job to assemble and fit and make sure everything worked. Obviously, nothing ever fits right the first time, so there was a lot of trial and error, a lot of sculpting, a lot of extra body work, and then a lot of welding, painting, shaping, electrical work, etc. There were a lot of things going into these vans, but there’s definitely a whole crew behind these vans.

AG: How did you two get into your lines of work?
JN: I went to school at California Institute of the Arts for character animation there, and they teach you all aspects of animation, like character design, story-boarding layout, pretty much all aspects of it. Story-boarding I found was something that was more appealing to me. That was my strong suit. We had made a film every year, so we performed every aspect of film-making. We’d get our own  little shorts, about three to four minutes long. Based off of that, I had a lot of inquiries, and I got picked up here at Laika to do story boards specifically for the studio.
RM: I started back in 2006 in LA for a studio called New Deal, and I started that right after college. I wanted to do this since I was a kid, watching movies like Star Wars, watching all the models in Star Wars, Star Trek and all the sci-fi movies. Also, there was a show called “Movie Magic” when I was a kid, and I would see these people build and create these beautiful, elaborate models to shoot and to blow up, so I knew that was what I wanted to do. I didn’t really have to go to school for this, but it’s something I wanted to do. Right after college, then, I started looking for jobs, and I was lucky enough to land something in LA, close by. In 2010, I moved up here for this movie.

AG: How did you go into that in college?
JN: I knew from a really young age that I wanted to get into film-making. My first obsession was more special effects, more like special effects horror make-up, but I was always drawing comics and making movies with my friends and things like that. I always knew some aspect of film-making was what I wanted to go into. In college, I tried to do some live-action, and eventually I decided to concentrate more on drawing and go into animation. It was just kind of a natural path. I just knew something in film was what I wanted to work in.

AG: So how did you get involved in this project specifically?
JN: I had worked on Coraline. I was brought up to the studio to work on a project in development, and I was moved onto Coraline when they needed help on the second half of production story boarding. It was there that I worked with Chris Butler at that time. The director of ParaNorman was our head of story for Coraline, so through him, that story board team ended up working on ParaNorman. We were the first ones on it, and we helped develop it with Chris off of his script.
RM: Like I said, I was working at New Deal Studios, and a few of my friends got a job up here at Laika. I was looking for work, too, so I went ahead and called them. They said, “Yeah, there are some openings!” So I went ahead and put in my application to LIKA, gave them my resume, and they called me in a couple days and hired me. I was very fortunate to come up when I did, and it was fairly early in the beginning of ParaNorman. I was very lucky.

AG: How long does it take for these stop-motion movies to come together?
JN: I think it’s a four-year long project. I’m not sure how long ParaNorman kind of went on. I know we were boarding on it for three years, and I really don’t know the timeline. Everything is kind of blurred in my mind right now, but I think it’s usually three to four years of production on stop-motion films.
RM: Building the very first van took about three or four months, because it was the first one. We were still trying to get all the bugs out. Once the van was out and they started filming, it depended on the shot. Some shots were really quick and probably took days. Other shots can take a month or two months. It really depends on the shot. There is a shot where the van is tumbling down to the junkyard, or to the shop, and it falls apart. That was two different vans, and I think that took like a week or a week and a half. There were interior vans, too, where the vans actually became like little sets for the puppets. We have Norman and Courtney, they’re all inside the van. The animator is animating the characters. In that case, the van is the backdrop or the actual set. A lot of those shots took months.

AG: How many of these stop-motion films have you done?
JN: This is the second feature that I’ve worked on. Coraline was my first one, and now ParaNorman.
AG: I feel like that kind of work is just really tedious. How did you get through that four-year long process?
JN: A lot of patience. It is a lot of stress, but it’s also a lot of fun. I don’t know what else I would actually be doing. Coming to work every day, it’s amazing working with everybody. Seeing the puppets, the stages, everything. All the stress and everything just works up to that moment where you see that shot. It’s amazing. That feedback you get, it totally pays off in the end. You have the end product to push for, but it’s just a lot of fun. No matter how stressful it gets, it’s always just really rewarding work.
RM: Lots of coffee and lots of late nights. There were times where animators are working really late nights, so you’re kind of rushed to hurry up and get these sets or these models done so they can go ahead and animate them. There have been nights where I’ve stayed until midnight trying to get these vans or these sets done so that the animators have something to work with in the morning. So again, it depends on the shot. It can take months to finish that one shot, and a lot of times, too, they’ll come back to us to fix them. Sometimes they’ll put holes in them so the puppets can stand on them or hold their place or hold onto it, so they’ll come back and we have to fix them. It’s all part of the process.

AG: How long does it take to create one scene with these vans?
RM: Building the very first van took about three or four months, because it was the first one. We were still trying to get all the bugs out. Once the van was out and they started filming, it depended on the shot. Some shots were really quick and probably took days. Other shots can take a month or two months. It really depends on the shot. There is a shot where the van is tumbling down to the junkyard, or to the shop, and it falls apart. That was two different vans, and I think that took like a week or a week and a half. There were interior vans, too, where the vans actually became like little sets for the puppets. We have Norman and Courtney, they’re all inside the van. The animator is animating the characters. In that case, the van is the backdrop or the actual set. A lot of those shots took months.

AG: What was it like working with Chris Butler and Sam Fell? Their combined bodies of work are really impressive when it comes to stop-motion (Corpse Bride, Coraline, Flushed Away, Tale of Despereaux).
JN: It was great. I didn’t know it was going to go at first. Mostly, on Coraline, I just worked with Chris Butler as our head of story, and he would go and work with Henry, the director on that film. For this one, we didn’t have a head of story, so we worked directly with Sam and Chris. They worked great as a team, and they were really great with us. They trusted us quite a bit, so sometimes we would be handed the script pages and then they’d tell us, “Here, do whatever you think works. Work it out yourself and see what happens, and then we’ll review.” Sometimes they would actually do drawings and thumbnails of specific shots they would want, and they had a specific way they wanted the scenes to play out. So sometimes they would give us that, and we would just work with them back and forth. It was a really collaborative effort with the directors as well, just trying to guide it to what their vision was. They worked really great together, and we had a really great dynamic with the team. It was actually a pretty easy flow.
RM: They have a unique view, so there was a lot of trying to accomplish, or trying to figure out, what their vision for the movie was. There was a lot of going back and forth, and definitely trying to tweak the style to match their vision. It was definitely a challenge. It’s only hard to create something when it’s somebody else’s vision. It’s definitely a challenge to accomplish that, to fulfill their vision.

AG: Obviously they had a vision of how they wanted this to come out, but how different is the end product from what you start out with there on the story boards?
JN: It’s different in that when we start out, we have a sense of what the character designs are, but those are always evolving quite a bit. While the art department is designing the backgrounds and everything, we’re still working on the story at the same time. It’s a little bit of a back and forth, but we do do a pass where we put everything on model, and the final designs of the characters, we try to put them into the story boards so we can tell proportion-wise how those characters are going to work in the environment and how the camera angles are going to work and all that. The final boards you see are pretty close to the references from the art department and what the final look of the film is going to be. They’re definitely a lot more cartoonish. They’re drawings, so they’re going to look a lot different, but it’s fairly close to what it is. The lighting and the settings and everything add so much mood and atmosphere, and we’re working so fast with the boards that we don’t quite get it exactly. The animators add and just push all the acting and everything from our boards. They do these amazing things with the final product that it’s pretty incredible seeing what everybody – the whole studio – just adds on top of the boards. It really is just a jumping point for the rest of the film.
RM: I know there were several different changes throughout the movie. There were a couple of changes to the story, definitely some changes to the style, but from what I’ve seen from the original concept work, they kind of stayed on track. It wasn’t that far of a departure from the very original stuff, and just looking around the studio right now and some of the concept work, it’s more along the lines of tweaking a few lines there, some colors here and there. For the most part, they stayed on track. It was very enjoyable. There weren’t a whole lot of headaches when it came to style changes and story changes.

Julian Narino, story board artist on the set of ParaNorman

AG: Are there any stop-animation movies in the past or any movies in general that you wish you could worked on?
JN: My favorite stop-motion film is definitely The Nightmare Before Christmas. I grew up watching that movie when I was younger, and that’s one of those that actually made me want to get into animation specifically. I was a huge Nightmare Before Christmas fan. All of Henry’s movies as well. Visually, they’re amazing movies.
RM: I would have loved to work on the Wallace and Gromit movies. I know that wasn’t possible — that was in England — but there are actually a few people that worked on Wallace and Gromit that work here. I was fortunate enough to speak with them and just kind of get some feedback and some fun stories from that. But yeah, Wallace and Gromit are probably some of my favorite stop-motion films. Also, of course, I think for people in my generation is The Nightmare Before Christmas. I think that’s probably the biggest influencing one for us.

AG: Are there any kind of stop-motion movies you haven’t seen yet that you would love to create? What is your dream stop-motion movie job?
RM: It would have to be something sci-fi. Something with a lot of robots, spaceships, anything mechanical. I love the mechanical stuff, so if they were to make some sort of robot war stop-motion, I would be all over it. It’s definitely something I would love to do.

AG: Are there any last things you think the readers need to know about ParaNorman or about your line of work?
RM: Yeah, I mean, I think the line of work I’m in is, I think anything, the beauty of hands-on stuff, I think, any time you can see a movie where a crew has created something physically and caught on camera, it’s definitely a unique experience nowadays. With so many movies being CG, computer graphics, it’s such a refreshing thing to see things that are hand-built and moved around by hand. It’s just so personal and so interactive. I think it’s definitely a chance for a younger generation to see what can be done with hand-created objects, with different skill sets and different people with different backgrounds, not just a movie done all on computer, I think that’s going to be the biggest difference. These kids will see that it’s not a computer graphics movie, and it’s something very unique.

Spider-Man vs. The Amazing Spider-Man

The original Spider-Man was released on May 3, 2002

So I am just now posting about this, because it wasn’t until I re-watched the original Sam Raimi Spider-Man from 2002 yesterday that I finally realized why I was disappointed with the Marc Webb reboot. I’ll try not to be completely negative about The Amazing Spider-Man and begin with the things I did like about it.


The reboot was released exactly 10 years and 2 months later on July 3, 2012

First of all, Andrew Garfield was a great Spidey. He was much more like the comic book version of Peter Parker, more of a loner and misunderstood than a full-on nerd. Tobey Maguire‘s Peter Parker was a little goofy and a caricatured nerd, always picked on and made fun of. I enjoyed that, but Garfield gave Parker layers. He was better at the emotional, tortured soul thing than Maguire for sure.

Second, I enjoyed that the screenplay-writers kept this new version of the film closer to the comic books. The mystery surrounding Parker’s dad with Dr. Connors, dating Gwen Stacy instead of Mary Jane, the mechanical web launchers, etc. Which by the way, while re-watching Spider-Man, when Peter walks into his apartment and Harry and Norman Osborn are waiting for him, they ask him where he’s been and he says, “I was late this morning, and Dr. Connors fired me.” Easter egg! Anyway, to re-iterate my point, keeping it closer to the comic books is the second thing I like about the reboot.

Lastly, the special effects were awesome. It has been 10 years since the first Spider-Man, so obviously special effects have come a long way. The Lizard was pretty crazy, and Rhys Ifans did a good job of not being inherently evil, just a little obsessed with getting his arm back. I also almost forgot to mention that I noticed Peter Parker took his mask off more and way more people knew he was Spider-Man in the reboot than in the original, but I didn’t want to make a whole paragraph about that. That was about it for that point.


Okay, so now that I’ve listed the things I enjoyed about the reboot, here are my criticisms. One of my favorite things about the original was when Peter found out he had radioactive spider powers and toyed with his new abilities and created his Spidey suit. In the reboot, I feel like all of that was fast-forwarded. There was not nearly enough time spent on it, and Andrew Garfield could definitely have done great stuff with that material. To top it off, the 5-second montage of Peter testing out his new-found powers is set to “Til Kingdom Come” by Coldplay. Don’t get me wrong, I love that song, but really? The last time that song was relevant was back when it was released in 2004, and even then, it was a closet hit. My point is, it really felt like everything that made Peter Parker into Spider-Man was just thrown together like the last-minute Power-Point presentations I used to give in college after staying at the PCL until 2 a.m. perusing Facebook.

Garfield and Emma Stone (Gwen Stacy) steam up the screen more than Maguire and Kirsten Dunst (Mary Jane Watson)

My second criticism is still related to story development. Peter’s relationship with Aunt Mae and Uncle Ben was not given nearly enough time to build. SPOILER ALERT: When Uncle Ben died, I hardly felt sad, unlike when I wept like a baby watching the original on a field trip with my eighth-grade class. Martin Sheen was a good choice, and he could’ve been a great Uncle Ben had they given him enough script and screen-time. Unfortunately, they spent more time developing Peter’s romance with Gwen than they did the relationship between Peter and his aunt and uncle.

I guess my beef with the reboot is that it seemed so much more superficial than the original. I was thinking it would be the opposite. My expectation was a “Dark Knight”-like reboot, darker and more realistic than the cartoon-ish originals. While Garfield does a great job of giving Peter Parker/Spider-Man emotional layers, the rest fell flat and forced. It was entertaining, though, and I did enjoy it, just not as much as the original. I like them both for different reasons, and I would recommend Spidey-lovers everywhere give the reboot a chance. This was just my personal opinion! Below are some visual comparisons.

Tobey’s take on discovering his Spidey powers

Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker discovers his Spidey powers on the way home from the lab on the subway

Tobey played Spidey a little goofier than Andrew Garfield, but it worked for him

Garfield as the more sarcastic and obviously ganglier Spidey