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Role Models - David Wain Interview

by Rick Duran, Senior Editor

Director David Wain has developed a loyal cult following from his television work in Stella, the State and independent filmmaking efforts Wet Hot American Summer and The Ten. With the arrival of Universal Pictures' Role Models, Wain makes his first mainstream studio comedy, featuring many familiar faces from his past projects.

The Frat Pack Tribute sat down with David Wain at the Role Models press day in Santa Monica, California, for a chat about his career and the transition into mainstream comedy.

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Were you attracted to the, uh, "role play" aspect of this or the "frat" comic aspect of this?
David Wain: Um, you know, I definitely related to the theme of the story about guy who weren't quite grown up and needed to have interest in someone other than themselves. Um, in order to catalyze them, kind of growing them out of their own childhood. I relate to that a lot and I definitely enjoyed the 'live action role play' setting. I thought that was really fresh and funny.

Were you able to identify with the sort of 'geek' qualities?
DW: Oh yeah [laughs], I didn't do that specifically growing up, but I was definitely the geek who was into, you know, I was also doing magic shows. You know, I was always playing with my video stuff. I definitely, um, related to the Augie character that way and so, uh… That, as far as the storyline, those were the two things that really spoke to me.

How would you describe your sense of humor from movies like The Ten and Wet Hot American Summer? How do you adapt that to a mainstream studio comedy?
DW: I mean, you know, I've always made an attempt to, and have always had trouble labeling my sense of humor. You know, I definitely, in anything I do, try to be true to my voice in what I find funny and the way I see the world. And um… I knew that adapting that into a more mainstream studio project would be different. But I realized, um, that I was able to lend my voice to it. And you, certainly some of my previous work has a lot more 'absurdist' reality-bending flights of fancy. Um, but I felt like I didn't need to do that to still have my voice. And that was the fun part about this project. It still, under the surface, I feel like I was able to layer in my sensibility and put some of those slightly weirder moments in and, you know, things that appeal to me.

It's a lot more emotional than the two other films.
DW: Yeah, without question

Was it important to you to elate? It's about two guys who can't grow up in some kind of weird way. Do you think you grew up making a film like this?
DW: Maybe a little bit. I mean, yes, I think I grow as a filmmaker and a storyteller each time I try, whether it's a film thing or a tv thing. I try to learn every time. But uh, you know my previous two films by design, intentionally were undercutting whatever emotional stakes were being put forth. They were more, um, almost experiments in genre revision in some way. So this was less of a stunt in that way and more of a straight forward movie.

Did you have a good experience with the studio system this time around? Are you good working with that or are you going back to a more free-rounded thing?
DW: It definitely had its pros and cons. I mean you know, the unfortunate situation that working in independent film now is very tough and even in the last couple years, it's changed dramatically. And getting movies made and then out there in an independent level is very tough, I'm sad to say. The studio experience for me was largely positive though. The people I worked with and the way it worked was… you know, it had its frustrations and sometimes it felt like it had too many cooks. You know, some of the limitations or the machinery that you have to deal with, um, was annoying at times. But more than that, more importantly though, the people I was working with as far as producers and studio people were actually really smart and, you know, contributing ideas that helped the movies in ways I hadn't anticipated.

Was there ever any studio hesitation in casting guys like A.D. Miles or Joe Lo Truglio in fairly large roles?
DW: Well, you know, we benefited the, uh, fact that once the movie kind of got rolling it really had to move fast. And we basically had a six-week period where we had to kind of rewrite the script from scratch and um, cast everybody. [laughs] And so there wasn't a lot of time to mull it over. And I think I benefited from that. And also I think to the studio's credit, they hired me to do it. Like they didn't hire me to be a hack and just you know… be a puppet. They wanted me to bring my sensibility which includes bringing in my people.

How um, obviously you've worked with Paul before and know Paul very well, did you bring him on as an actor and a writer?
DW: He was involved as both an actor and a writer before I was involved.

So he brought you into the project?
DW: Kind of, yeah. He um… he had given a lot of ideas to the studio that they really liked at a certain point in the development process. So they asked him to do a draft of the screenplay. And then at that point there was no director and I… he introduced me to the project and I came onboard. Then from that point forward, me, Paul and Ken Marino really, uh… you know, basically started over with the script and wrote the version of the script that we ended up shooting.

Had there been any shooting that had already started? I know that production had shut down for a couple weeks, hadn't it?
DW: No, there was no shooting. There… there'd been always different… it had started off I think at Regency. There were many different eras as development of the project. But they never started um, they never started shooting until I got there, prepped it and shot it.

Talk about your casting of Chris (Mintz-Plasse), because he is very, very funny and sweet in this. Had you seen him in Superbad and thought he'd be perfect for this?
DW: In fact, Superbad… I saw Superbad right in the middle of what was a nationwide search to find this kid to play Augie, because it was a really hard role to cast. It needed someone who was really funny but could also be relatable and seemed like the right type. It just was very tough. A lot of the child actors are a little… seemed kind of slick. You know, they just didn't have enough experience to really pull this off. And when I saw Superbad, it was just like, wow, unless this kid really is that kid and he wasn't really acting. [laughter] But then when I met him, I realized he's nothing like McLovin'. He's actually just a great actor who happens to be young. And so I made a huge push in that way, saying we gotta get this kid.

Was the "Young Marvin Hamlisch" line in the script before Chris came on?
DW: No, I mean, most of the script was written after he was cast. Because [laughs]… I came on I think eight weeks before shooting, and none of the script that was shot was really written or very little of it. And so the Marvin Hamlisch thing was actually Paul Rudd's idea, arrived just on set and threw that out.

How much improv was there?
DW: Quite a bit. You know Paul, and pretty much everyone, Jane Lynch and Elizabeth Banks and everyone sort comes from an improv background and really likes improv. So I tried to embrace this as a director. We did some scenes that were entirely without a script, some scenes we would just go off from the script. It was really fun that way.

What's going to be on the DVD?
DW: Um, well, we're going to have where you can watch the movie.

Oh nice! The movie's gonna be on the DVD!
DW: Really excited about that. We're have a menu where you can choose with chapter you want to watch, [laughter] which is great. We're gonna have subtitles, we're really excited about that one.

Are those going to be in English?
DW: I don't even know yet. Like that's how 'maverick' we are about this.

Is there gonna be an extended unrated cut?
DW: I don't know, I'm not sure if we're gonna do an unrated cut or we're just gonna put a ton of deleted scenes. There's a lot of stuff, um, that we did that's not in the film. So you know, there's gonna be a movie's worth of stuff. I'm not exactly sure what format it will be.

Do you see stuff how, when there's Blu-Ray there's going to be more. Do you think about that when you're shooting it?
DW: I think you can't help it. You know that uh… you're aware that more people will ultimately see the movie on DVD than in the theater. And so, you know, especially with a studio movie where you have the time and resources to plan ahead. You know, they're shooting the Behind the Scenes, you're kind of keeping the DVD in mind. I mean it's great… it's great for us because you know that you're shooting something, if you know it doesn't work out for the movie you know it still will be seen. That makes you less… actually, I think it improves the movie because it makes you… it makes it easier to cut scenes out of the movie.

They do say if it's a deleted scene, it was cut for a reason.
DW: Right

Do you think that when you put deleted scenes on the DVD that they are valuable?
DW: I think they're… I agree with you. Most deleted scenes are just a curiosity. If you liked the movie, and you're curious about the parts that didn't make it, you can watch them. I agree if it's an amazing scene… I mean that's, sometimes, I will say that often there's a scene that is really great in the vacuum that just didn't fit in the larger scope of a movie, uh, a lot of times for the pacing. So it depends.

Have you done the Blu-Ray yet? Are there some striking visuals in the movie?
DW: Uh, I have not done… we have not done the Blu-Ray yet, so I couldn't tell you. [laughs]

Will there be any Wainy Days coming up in the future, more of those web features?
DW: There could be. We've got 26 running right now. And so, uh, that's plenty to start with. And we're looking at a tv version of Wainy Days and then possibly more web videos.

There's a rumor that Wet Hot American Summer could be a sequel.
DW: A prequel. A possible prequel where, uh, it would be more… we're… I'd like to do a short film of what happened the first day of camp the same summer where the movie takes place, with the same cast who instead of being ten years too old for their roles would now be twenty years too old. So uh, I hope to do that soon.

I saw it at Sundance.
DW: It was

It was sort of an odd film to be at the Sundance Film Festival in retrospect.
DW: Yeah

Do you think that was a really good launching pad for you and that movie?
DW: I think it was as good as any because it certainly was… it sold out every screening at Sundance. It got a lot of good press out of it, a lot of great reviews out of it, um, a lot of talk. It didn't make a sale at Sundance, but I don't know if it would've made a sale anywhere. It wasn't an easy sell as a film. It had a very tiny release, it kind came and went. But then over the intervening eight years since then, seven years since then, it has grown every year in visibility.

A giant cult
DW: Yeah, I think more people had seen it this year than any time. It's still playing in theaters now, midnight shows all across the country every summer. This summer we had a screening in Brooklyn which was like, I don't know how many thousands of people were there. Everyone dressed up. It's like become a definite favorite cult film for many events, very gratifying.

Why a short prequel, not a full length?
DW: I mean we do that… it just feels more possible we could do a short one and shoot for a few days, versus a whole movie. But you know… if someone came to me with a check to make a full-length prequel, I would probably arrange it.

Have you spoken to the cast about this?
DW: Yeah, the cast I think would be very into it. And the cast you know is Paul Rudd and Elizabeth Banks, Bradley Cooper

David Hyde Pierce
DW: David Hyde Pierce, Molly Shannon, Christopher Meloni, Janeane Garofalo.

Around the time The Ten came out, I went to rent Wet Hot American Summer, and I could only find a copy on VHS.
DW: [laughs]

And I figured that's an appropriate thing to see the film, since it's sort of a throwback to…
DW: [laughs] Yeah.

I wanted to share with you that when I told someone I saw Role Models and that it was directed by you, they asked, "Did they throw any kids out of a moving van?"
DW: [laughs] Not in this one. That might have been a good reference. There's a couple um, there's some stuff in the deleted scenes that makes specific reference to some of my earlier work.

I was gonna ask how is Bobb'e at doing improv?
DW: Amazing. Bobb'e is just like… he's a stand-up comedian. He really, you know… if I said, "Bobb'e, go off on this," he'd just go crazy. A lot of the funny he said will be improvised.

I know I was recommending The Ten to everyone I could find. What was the ultimate reception of that?
DW: The reviews were, um, mixed I would say. As is often the case, a lot of critics loved it, said it was one of the best comedies they'd seen in a long time. And many thought it was terrible and worthless. And uh… the one thing I can say for sure is that it got a horrible release. THINKFilm basically dropped it.

It wasn't even one of the main indie releases.
DW: No, it was a joke.

It was a very different response to it at Sundance as opposed to Wet Hot American Summer. This one's a little bit less kind…
DW: Well, I mean you probably saw that Friday screening.

DW: That screening, you know Sundance is so funny, the exact screening is so different. It was a boiling hot room. The projector was broken, the sound was bad. It had started a half-hour late, it was 12:30 at night. It was a bad first screening for the film. The rest, the other three, I think we had four more screenings of it, all of which were incredible. [laughter] Not to be defensive [laughs]

It got picked up at Sundance, right?
DW: It did. Every screening of The Ten, more so than Wet Hot, has been… you know, people rolling in the aisles. A few people walk out. But then the people who stay tend to be laughing very boisterously.

Did they walk out during the Rob Corddry segment?
DW: Yeah [laughs] if not sooner. [laughter]

What are you working on now?
DW: Well, in fact I'm working with Rob Corddry on a web series called Children's Hospital that's coming out soon. I also do the voice on this cartoon series called Superjail, which airs every Sunday night on Adult Swim. And I have a lot more things just sort of developing. Oh, and I'm going on tour with my comedy trio Stella right after Thanksgiving.

Where do you perform?
DW: In… you know, theaters around the country.

What kind of… what do you poke fun at?
DW: Oh it's the three of us doing our sort of… uh… strange act which is basically the three of us onstage kind of bickering with each other. It's not really political or…

So there's nothing about the election or any of that?
DW: No

You did that on Comedy Central for a while, was that a good format?
DW: Yeah, that was the same trio, but a diff… it was like a sitcom format that we did on Comedy Central. We loved that and that was another 'cult' thing that a very small group of people really loved and were obsessed with, and um… wanted to keep going, but not enough and we got cancelled.

I heard that there's supposed a full-fledged "State" reunion that's coming out.
DW: There could be, yeah. We're working on that for next year. We are going to do a live show at the San Francisco Sketch Fest in January, all eleven of us.

It's pretty impressive that the whole troupe have been pretty noticeable these past few years.
DW: Yeah, what I want to… one thing in particular that I just picked out, there's eleven of us in that troupe and I think seven of us have directed feature films. And all of us, everybody in the group, has become majorly busy in the entertainment industry which is, you know, Reno 911 and Night at the Museum and… on and on and on.

Are a lot of writers part of that group as well?
DW: Tom and Ben who wrote that are part of group. And um, Michael Ian Black who does a lot of stuff is part of our group. Michael Showalter, Kerri Kenney-Silver, it's become like this supergroup.

Has the comedy business changed?
DW: Well, you know, when we started we were doing our short films, you know, showing them at our live shows. There was no YouTube or nothing like that. And uh, I think the internet has changed a lot. Certainly in New York and L.A., the advent of the UCB Theatre has changed sort of the path that a lot of comedians go on. We were sort of more on our own. There wasn't a lot of sketch comedy groups when we started out.

Do you think that your sense of humor has changed in the last decade?
DW: [laughs] Shockingly, not that much. I don't know if it's changed much since I was eight. Um, but maybe that's for the better.

Were you always interested in comedy when you were growing up?
DW: I've always been interested in comedy. I uh… I worshipped Steve Martin when I was seven, eight years old, Woody Allen as well. I kind of, you know… I didn't consciously know I wanted to be a comedian or a filmmaker, but I knew it was something that, you know, I really cared about and was always trying to make people laugh.

Sounds like most of your work is focused on the stage. How much are movies part of your focus?
DW: You know, it's not really like… I don't think it's, maybe to my detriment, I don't think of it in that way. I just, I have things that I care about and whatever medium feels right for them. For example, Stella is a sort of comedy entity that is important to me. And right now, what opportunity we have to do is a live tour, so that's what we'll do. If we have the opportunity or we were gonna do a movie, that would be great too, I think for example. I definitely want to keep making movies because I do feel like that encompasses, in the most complete way, all the experience that I have and all the skill that I have to offer. To make a movie like Role Models, I used my skills and experiences as a writer, a director, an editor, a performer… you know, all for a year and half, putting it together. So it's satisfying that way.

You have a cameo in there by Jorma Taccone. When you talk, do you hear that him and Samberg and Akiva, do you feel like they've been largely influenced by the stuff that you've done?
DW: I mean I only say yes because they've told me so numerous times. [laughs] Those are incredibly awesome, talented guys who I really admire and kind of worship, myself. I think the work they do is really top-notch. And uh, they're really great guys and I've become friendly with them. And so I was happy to have Jorma in our film.

Now do you see yourself writing another studio comedy any time soon?
DW: I don't know. I'm working on two scripts that uh… either of them could become a studio comedy or not, depending on what happens. You know? Certainly there's… there's… you know, sort of resource and financial and time benefits in doing studio comedy which I wouldn't be unhappy to go back to, but then there's the freedom and certain feeling you get doing independent film which is good too. Thank you, nice to see you guys.

Role Models opens November 7th, 2008

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