Seth Gordon made The King of Kong, and it changed his life. It was the film that got him making feature films, and doing TV work. His latest is Horrible Bosses and it’s his best film since Kong. An ensemble comedy with great talents, the film delivers great laughs and a solid plot. Gordon makes for a good conversation, too. He was forthcoming and dished on his upcoming Wargames remake and the feature remake of King of Kong. Check it out…
How did you become involved with Horrible Bosses?
Seth Gordon: I read the script a year and a half ago and I loved it, I laughed, cried. I can hardly ever finish a script because they’re kind of hard to get through – some of them – and this was especially good, especially Aniston’s character and I just felt compelled to get involved.
How was it working for New Line as it is now?
They had bought (King of) Kong so I felt like we had simpatico sensibilities with them. They sent me this because we were trying to do something else together. New Line… it seems like the whole notion that they’re downsizing is entirely Nikki Finke’s creation. She’s been able to characterize it so sensationally, and they’re doing The Hobbit and these giant movies like Jack and Giant Killer, Rock of Ages, these huge films, so to they’re shrinking is misleading.
It’s hard to know from the outside, and their glory days of Lord of the Rings… they’re a much smaller company.
Oh, you mean what is it like working there post-decimation. I haven’t really felt the effects, because the people I worked with then are still there. It’s just luck of the draw, I guess.
How was it finding your cast?
It was really fun, Charlie (Day), if you watch It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia you know how talented he is, and Jason Sudekis – if you watch SNL – he’s hilarious though he’s always playing older guys. He was great in Going the Distance, and he and Charlie were great together, and they had worked together on Sunny. Jason Bateman, I didn’t know if he’d be interested, he’s almost doing movies on his own now, and he was interested in the script, the ensemble. He was into it, so that was very easy to commit to, and staggeringly good chemistry was apparent. You hope for that, but you can’t plan on that, and they’re amazing together. I feel like the luckiest guy around.
Did you have a long rehearsal period?
No, I don’t rehearsing with comedy, it fucks it up. You want to be loose and playful, you want to know your material really well so you can rif, but they’re such pros.
So when you’re shooting, how much do you do before, a readthrough on set?
We did a couple table reads, one with just the three guys, and one with the whole cast, and then working through the scenes, with the antagonists like Jennifer I rehearsed in advance, and the stuff with Motherfucker Jones was in advance, and Colin too. But not to death, just to hear it, to get it in my head, and then every day you’d kick the tires on the scenes that we were doing that day. The script was always really good, but there never was a settling, it was always pushing it.
Well, you’ve got seven major players there, all who can put a little English on it. Was there anything that was too far?
No, we knew we were doing a rated R comedy, so there’s certain jokes I cut because I believe in giving the audience credit, and not trying to connect things so seemlessly. If you give them a little gap that they can close, it’s a more fun experience. A key example, when the cops pull them over to ask if they’ve been drinking? That was all improvised. When they did that, it was never written they would be in a cop car, but on the day I thought it would be hilarious if they were on the cut, so we added that. And there was a scene in the lobby which was them falling apart and turning on each other and getting angry, but it was funnier if they were (repeats joke from film), and if you cut and they’re in the interrogation room, it’s better for the audience to not necessarily have every step along the way spelled out.
It seems like you must be a fan of The Wire.
For sure. Bunk? The best, and Chad Coleman? I am a huge fan of The Wire, and that’s who I imagined it would be, the toughest grittiest dude, so get Bunk in there. He’s so smart, and he plays him so intelligently. The Wire? One of the best shows in history.
You’ve directed episodes Modern Family, and Community, which is the running for one of the great shows.
If it survives, yeah. Tough.
How do you compare directing the two?
I love it as an antidote to the speed of the movies, which move slow, and you have time to make things right. TV is just go go go, and “don’t sweat it too much.” Each have their problems, and it’s good to switch. There’s certainly times in the movie having directed at the speed of TV really helped me. We had a day where someone was sick and had to do something scheduled for two days in one day, and we did it.
So it makes you less precious.
Yeah, we just changed. “Let’s just shoot it handheld. We’ll shoot it cross coverage!” We were lighting a room that’s really small, and we were going to do the lights in a weird, crazy configuration and instead the DP took a china ball and was using it during the shot. The scene with the wetworks guy. And the handheld works for the sitatuion. You just get creative, TV defintely teaches you – you don’t want to do it all the time, but you should do it sometimes.
We’re also at this point with TV with Community is so much more interesting than… A Night at the Museum 2, it’s got a lot going on now.
The fact that I’ve worked in that world with those guys, the talented creators and performers, was part of how I had the instinct to cast the trio from TV. That would have applied to Bateman more post-Arrested Development, but it defintitely informed my approach. And this will help convert those guys. Charlie is clearly a superstar.
Having broken out by making a documentary, do you still want to pursue that?
Absolutely, but you can’t make a living doing it, even though it’s my favorite thing in the world. Especially these days. I love documentaries, and I have been helping documentarians raise money to do them. Make Believe, which just came out, and Undefeated, which comes out in the fall.
I have to ask: is there a role for Eddie Deezen in the Wargames remake?
Maybe. (laughs) We’re so far from casting now, but I’m interested in finding ways to reprise folks, stunt cast, whatever.
Who doesn’t love Eddie Deezen? What are you working on now?
Well, we’re trying to find a writer. We know what the take on Wargames will be…
Not Eagle Eye.
I thought there were aspects of that that were cool, but it wasn’t diverve enough. I thought the sort of Spielbergian innocence of the original was great, so.. not Eagle Eye is a great way to put it.
So what else are you working on?
Well the (King of) Kong remake has a real chance, and the script for that came in three weeks ago is really good.
How hands on have you been?
Very, and we changed – and this was informed by Modern Family – we said “why don’t we just go for that in the script?” We took our doc style to expand the original and fill in the pieces that happened but we weren’t there to witness.
Are they still named Billy Mitchell and Steve Weibe?
Oh yeah. Billy Mitchell made more money on that movie than anybody else. (laughs) He hates me I think, but it hasn’t stopped him from embracing the doc, and his own infamy from it. He’s just created a King of Kong arcade at the Orlando airport which he owns that has got artwork he stole from the movie. He sells a King of Kong hot sauce, it never ends.
You’re now at the tail end of the experience with this film – it comes out Friday – what is your favorite part of the process?
Editing. I started in editing, it’s my most comfortable place, I just got a Macbook Air I’m very excited about. Editing is my favorite part. It’s also such a writerly task, but with more dimensions than words. It’s the best, and I don’t like sun too much.
Do you feel like you’re finding your movie in editing?
Always, you’ve heard the adage that you make your movie three times, right? Once in the writing, once in the directing and once in the editing? I think it’s very much that, but I think it’s more rewritten in post than anywhere else. In this movie we lopped a lot of stuff out of it – which will make great DVD extras. One thing I didn’t expect is audiences need very little evidence on why a boss deserves to die. You just need a scene or two. We had more. The line “we need to kill the bitch” was originally at minute thirty-five, but we moved it up to a minute twenty-two. So much stuff got cut out of the front for that exact reason.
Can you talk about working with Colin Farrell, because he seems like more of a movie star now than he did when they tried to tell us he was a movie star.
He’s just an incredible talent. I saw him in In Bruges, where he did comedy, and I hadn’t seen that from him before, and I was confident that he would be incredible in this role, and I was thrilled he wanted to do it and go for, and change his appearance. And we talk about him being a guy who goes to clubs, and he’s got a beer belly, and maybe he’s insecure about it, and maybe he’s going bald, and then we made those prosetitics, he got really into it. And I showed him King of Kong, and he said “this Billy guy’s good.” And it led to the character and the posture. And he was like “what if he does Kung Fu?” and I was like “Yes!”
You mentioned DVD, do you think about stuff for DVD?
Never intentionally, but knowing I’m a ruthless editor, if something doesn’t fit it’s out. There’s no “oh that one part’s so funny” it’s gone.
Do you leave any jokes in for yourself, that maybe you worry only you would find funny?
Well, the whole movie’s that way for me, because it’s what I respond to, but it stuns me there’s some jokes the audience gets. It wasn’t scripted that there would be two honks after the scene with the epi-pen, and we put them in at post, and I didn’t think it would get laughs, but the audience dies at that.
(THIS FEATURES NO SPOILERS) Can we talk about the cameo at the end of the film?
We had already shot the movie, and we had a rough cut, and we had an ending that had a different shape than it was in the script, and we needed to do something new. And Richard Brenner deserves all the credit for this, on who would be the final boss, who you would never expect to be a horrible boss, and that’s who came up, and it was his idea to approach him, and we showed him the rough cut, and he totally got it. He’s such a sweet man, he’s exactly like you’d think he is, but he could see the wicked fun side of this.
Horrible Bosses opens Friday, July 8. Check it out.