Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Exclusive Interview with Nicholas Stoller

Daniel Solzman: Nick, thank you for taking some time off of writing to join the Kentucky Democrat for a blog interview. How are things going?

Nicholas Stoller: Things are going well. My daughter is turning one in a couple weeks. She's crazily cute.

DS: When did you decide to become a comedy writer and how did you come to that decision?

NS: I was obsessed with SNL, Mel Brooks and Zucker brother movies growing up. Then when I was twelve I read Dave Barry, at the time he was a local Miami writer. He made me realize you could write funny stuff. It was mindblowing. A Sort of History of the United States I must have read 800 times.

DS: What was your experience like when you were writing for the Harvard Lampoon? Aren’t Harvard grads supposed to be doctors, lawyers, or politicians? You don’t see too many Harvard grads pursuing comedy careers, do you?

NS: Among the consultants and ibankers, there's a fine tradition of Harvard grads doing to the Lampoon and going onto professional comedy writing. The Lampoon was a great experience. You meet a lot of likeminded nerds. I also did improv comedy which really helped me understand comedy from the performance angle. And the spazzy angle.

DS: When you wrote for Undeclared, did you ever think that Judd Apatow would become one of the biggest names in comedy? And how did you land that gig anyway?

NS: I had no idea. I knew he was incredibly talented and we all thought that what we were doing was really funny, but what's happened since is kind of a dream. Everyone in Hollywood talks about how stupid the movies are that are being made and how we could do a whole lot better. The fact that we've been briefly given the wheel is pretty awesome.

DS: I want to talk a bit about Forgetting Sarah Marshall. That comes out on DVD soon, right? When the release date was selected, did anyone consider looking at the calendar to see if it conflicted with a holiday? Next to Talladega Nights, it’s the first Apatow-produced movie that I did not see opening weekend because of Passover.

NS: It comes out Sept. 30th on DVD and blu-ray! There are many different things that come into play when selecting a date. We were originally going to open against Sex and the City. When the powers that be recognized that we'd be crushed under that thing, they moved us earlier.

DS: How are things shaping for the 2-disc collector’s set? Will there be anything exclusive to the Blu-Ray release that won’t be on the standard two-disc release?

NS: There are going to be karaoke scenes on the blu-ray and I think a third digital version on blu-ray. There's so much extra stuff it's hard to keep track of it all.

DS: Writing-wise, how far are you and Jason Segel on Five Year Engagement and the upcoming Muppets movie? Or is there some sort of confidentiality agreement that keeps you from talking about that?

NS: We're doing well. We've been focusing on the Muppets movie because I'm going to direct Get Him to the Greek first. The Muppets is going along well. I'm actually going to get into the draft after this interview. It's an old school Muppets movie which has been really fun to write. It has a lot of puns. Puns are harder than normal jokes because you have to think about them for a while.

DS: What about Get Him to the Greek? One rumor I read says that it’s a sequel to Sarah Marshall. Is there any truth to that?

NS: It is indeed a spinoff. I wanted to do a movie with Russell as a rock star who's fallen off the wagon and it seemed impossible to avoid his rock star character from Sarah Marshall. So we decided to own our laziness and make it a spin off.

DS: If Wikipedia is to be trusted, Five Year Engagement seems like a prequel to Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Is that a fair assumption?

NS: It's not a prequel. It actually will have nothing to do with Sarah Marshall. Except for Jason and my obsession with pain and romance and comedy.

DS: Speaking of writing, I know Line-a-Rama is on many DVDs from the films produced by Judd Apatow. How much of the shooting script actually lands in the final cut that people see on the big screen?

NS: I would say about sixty to seventy percent of the shooting script lands on the big screen. We make sure the script is rock solid before we go into shooting. Then we discover stuff during rehearsals. And then, of course, on the day as well. But the script is already in tight shape once we start shooting. Also my self and my exec producer, this hilarious guy named Rodney Rothman, write down a ton of jokes/lines and throw them out at the actors while we're shooting.

DS: Yes Man marks the return of Jim Carrey to the big screen in a movie you wrote. How did that come about? Is there added pressure when you know that a movie you write will have a huge A-lister being the star? Or was he added to the cast after you wrote the movie?

NS: I was hired to adapt the Danny Wallace memoir before Jim Carrey was attached. Then my draft got him interested. Once he was attached, Sarah Marshall started heating up so I had to jump over to that. They hired a great writing team to take over. I saw an early cut of it. It's really, really funny. Petyon Reed directed and did an awesome job. There's also pressure to deliver, but to me it doesn't vacillate whether it's a big star or not. It needs to be top notch funny or as a writer you're not doing your job.

DS: Did the writer’s strike delay production on any of the films that you were hired to write or considered writing?

NS: Thankfully, no.

DS: And how are things developing with the talks between SAG and the AMPTP?

NS: I'm a bad guild member in that I don't really understand what's going on in any other union except the WGA.

DS: What’s your day like on a typical writing day?

NS: I wake up and depending on what I need to get done I sit down in front of my computer and start writing. If I'm writing a draft of a script, I try to write a set number of pages a day, no matter the quality. I call this the vomit draft. Then I go back in and start rewriting once that draft is done. Usually I write from 9 to 2, but it depends on what's going on.

DS: And a day when you are directing?

NS: It depends on the shoot day, but it's a lot more physically demanding then writing. You wake up at 6, get in the car at 7, get to the set at 7:30 or whatever and then start shooting by 8 or 8:30 usually ending by 7. Directing is all about making choices, which shot, which gun looks good, which sweater vest looks good, how many sizes of his penis should we shoot, etc. We also do a lot of extra lines so there's a lot of time spent thinking of new jokes.

DS: Jack Benny or Groucho Marx?

NS: Groucho Marx.

DS: Jon Stewart or Bill O’Reilly?

NS: Jon Stewart.

DS: Why do you think it is that so many Jewish people chose comedy or comedy writing for their profession?

NS: There's a wonderful strain of neurotic self-awareness that all Jews seem to have. Maybe it comes from having had to survive so many horrible events in our past and maintain our sanity. As far as I can tell all comedy writers/comedians are Jewish, Black, Catholic or from Wisconsin. I don't know why. Guilt, being subjugated, enjoying cheese. I'll just say it's difficult to find an Episcopalian or Baptist comedy writer.

All I know is that in my family laughter is inexorably tied to everything. It's the great catharsis. And it seems that way with most of my Jewish friends.

DS: Thanks again for joining the Kentucky Democrat. If there’s anything else you wish to plug (that I forgot), please do so now.

NS: Thanks so much for having me!

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