When it comes to the world of spoof movies, no man is more respected for creating the parody movies than filmmaker and producer David Zucker. The man was one of the creative minds behind Kentucky Fried Movie, Airplane!, The Naked Gun, among many others. He continues his reign over the world of parody comedies with Scary Movie 5, a film that integrates the slapstick spoof comedy together with the latest horror movies and pop culture ephemera. In anticipation of the upcoming release, David Zucker reflected on the movies that catapulted his career along with where he stands now in the world of parody comedies.
How much of the “Evil Dead” movie did you get to see when you shot it?
David Zucker: Evil Dead? Nothing. Just the trailer. We watched the trailer and read the script, but we read an old script. It was an outdated script. I don’t advise anyone to make a movie this way. It’s completely insane.
But Mama in some ways is the bulk of the plot of the movie. How did that work?
David Zucker: I know! We’ve never done anything like this. This is unprecedented. We went to see Mama and it was so great. It just happened to be released too late to have enabled us to start with it. So we started with Paranormal Activity, Black Swan, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes. What those lacked were any kind of a physical monster. It was all kind of just scary. Like Black Swan, it was scary and she saw feathers come out of her, but it wasn’t really an evil presence. It was all in her mind. Rise of the Planet of the Apes isn’t even a scary movie and Paranormal [Activity] is just one of those movies where it’s just a presence. We realized, after we finished shooting the main part of the movie, that we really needed this. We didn’t know what to do, but fortunately Mama came up and we had our fingers crossed that it would be a good one.
The only thing better than Mama was The Ring. For a spoof, a videotape that kills you, you can’t ask for anything better than that. So anyways Mama came along and then Evil Dead, even to keep it more current, but we’ve never… I don’t think we’ve ever shot anything to be, to make it this current. In fact, I think it’s pretty seamless, but when most of the movie was shot Ashley [Tisdale] had blonde hair. That’s why we started with her being Mama and then we took off the hair so she would have the blonde wig. And the baby was part of Paranormal [Activity] but it wasn’t a part of Mama, so we hardly paid any lip service to the baby. [laughs] Then the baby is on the cliff, just shows up for no reason. It’s not even explained, but we think we can get away with it in a movie like this where pretty much the audience is putting their brains into their seat and away we are.
Tell me about pulling off the whole Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan sequence. How much effort was put into making that happen?
David Zucker: Well that was a big effort. It was four days of shooting, two days with Lindsay and Charlie. Half of that thing was done on a raised platform because so all of the people could get into the bed. So there would be a staircase under the mattress, so they lifted up the covers and went right in, including the horse. They had to train the horse to do that. So it was pretty elaborate. A lot of stunts for Charlie. We would shoot Charlie’s close-ups of him banging against the wall and then the stunt man would be floating up and hitting the wall.
Was there a lot of negotiations with their reps to be okay with the self-mocking of it?
David Zucker: Nope. They were both fine with it. In fact, our first meeting with Lindsay, she said she wanted to do a lot of… “Anything goes,” she said. “Anything you want to do is fine.” I was happy to see that. I mean you can’t get too mean with these things because it’s them right there. It’s not like getting a look-a-like. We’ve done this kind of thing before. Pam Anderson; people kind of winking at their own persona.
Now I saw Ted in the poster but I didn’t see him in the movie.
David Zucker: Ted? Cut out by the MPAA. We had, and this was the unrated version will be great because we have more… You see, when we spoof an R-rated movie like Black Swan, we kind of forget that it was R-rated and we just shoot what we think is funny and not grossly R. So we had people popping out… we had a shot from Ashley’s POV through her legs and people would pop up between her legs. The MPAA deemed it not proper for a PG-13 audience.
Was there a lot that the MPAA would not allow that will be on the DVD?
David Zucker: There’s that whole… little things here and there. There was more with the little girl finding the vibrators in the box. There was a lot more with that, because Simon says, “Oh no, that’s the new Apple iToothbrush!” He started brushing his teeth and the vibrator was rattling on his teeth. And so they said that we couldn’t do that. She says, “Look, beaded floss!” There were other things in that that were funny. Of course there’s the Black Swan scene…
Did you have MPAA problems on Airplane and The Naked Gun too?
David Zucker: I don’t remember any on The Naked Gun and Airplane! because that was like in those days. Airplane, in fact, despite having somebody actually sniffing coke onscreen, naked boobs, a lot of stuff and it was PG because PG-13 hadn’t even had been invented. Then The Naked Gun we had a shower scene with a lot of naked women in a shower. It’s like nobody blinked at that either. That was PG-13. I don’t remember any problem with (Scary Movie) 3 but starting after that, and it was because of I think Tipper Gore, that they clamped down and it got a lot harder. I remember on one movie there was… I think I was doing My Boss’s Daughter and Michael Madsen, it was a pee scene and they were trying to cut stuff out of that. I was really annoyed because in Mike Myers’ movie Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, they had a whole pee scene. That big, powerful, big franchise by a big studio, they get by and we don’t get anything. So what I did was, and it had just come out, I put our scene, a split screen with the Mike Myers scene and I had my assistant go and video tape the movie. You just don’t do that. That’s the most insane thing to do to the MPAA. They just shorted out. You could see the blood rose in their necks. They were so angry but we got it because it was irrefutable that it was the same scene. There’s a little known story there.
Do you still have that sort of contentious relationship with them now?
David Zucker: No. Everybody forgets about it. It’s like you forget and it’s not the same people. This is going back fifteen, twenty years. They have new people and everything. It’s less between the filmmakers than that one instance was, but it’s more between the MPAA and the studio. If they pick out one studio as being hard to deal with, that can be bad, but for this we just had to say okay. We didn’t fight anything.
What does it mean to you, thirty plus years ago, to really be on the ground floor of pioneering an entire genre of film? When you think about it, you probably were just screwing around.
David Zucker: Yeah, we were just screwing around. We just did something we thought was funny and we weren’t trying… One of the big things is we weren’t trying to emulate anyone else. We wanted to do what we thought was funny and we didn’t want to copy anybody’s style. We just thought it would be pretty cool to try this, why don’t we do this? We were far less influenced by other comedies than by the experience of watching serious movies, probably while smoking something late at night. And so what we started doing was throwing in the jokes as the old movie would play on TV, almost like redubbing it, so that’s what Airplane! became. We weren’t thinking of all that we were starting a new genre or we’re doing this, we just thought this would be funny.
When we did our live show on Pico Boulevard nobody had ever seen anything like that. So it didn’t mean that much to us that we were doing anything different but we weren’t hanging around with other comedians, we weren’t hanging around the comedy store. We weren’t in that crowd, and it was a good thing that we pretty much developed our style independently. We used the theater, which we ran for five years here in Los Angeles, as kind of a laboratory. Because we were so close to the audience, we were always getting feedback so we knew what worked. We wrote Airplane! while we were still doing that theater. Actually, the first draft of Airplane! was written in 1975, and it just took that long to get somebody to finance it. Right now, I joke about it, when anybody gives me any sh-t I say, “You realize I’m an international comedy icon.” But it’s like in my day-to-day life, it’s just like I have to take my kids to school. I don’t really think about it. That’s my answer; I just don’t really think about it. I’m not trying to lord it over someone.
So much of these found footage movies rely on the time lapse. Has that changed the way you’re doing physical comedy?
David Zucker: Absolutely. It opened up a whole thing because what we were able to do, and we weren’t able to do that in any other movies, and this is part of doing spoof and satire, we started using that convention of the sped up time lapse stuff to do the Charlie and Lindsay scene. Because we sped it up, that’s why we put the Benny Hill music in there because it reminded us of Benny Hill. You watch a straight movie and you see the Paranormal [Activity] thing where they set up the camera, they’re in bed and, in fast motion, they’re kind of shifting over.
As how we do spoof is okay, we just had them do it and we just shouted the directions to them as they were going. We were like, “Simon, jump on the bed! Simon, go around and get up!” Because it’s all silent movie stuff. The other great opportunity is setting up the cameras and the fight between Simon and the nanny Maria on the lawn, because you can’t do those things. It’s funny because it is an effect of fast motion.
When you’re trying to duplicate the look and feel of the movie you’re parodying, was there maybe a set or something that you were trying to recreate that was harder than another, or is it all pretty straightforward?
David Zucker: It’s all pretty straightforward. I mean in Evil Dead, we had the trailers, and Mama we were actually able to get a hold of a copy of the movie early on, we were trying to duplicate the lighting. And Paranormal [Activity] has its own lighting style, and of course Black Swan. That’s a little bit more grainy, a little bit more of that handheld feel, and initially we just had that style of everybody holding a camera for the Paranormal [Activity] stuff. But later, since it kind of morphed into Mama, often we just dispensed with it. It was like who cares. [laughs] It’s just everything is just to get a laugh. It’s not a great art.
Do you like the horror genre or do you just mind it for laughs?
David Zucker: I just mind it for laughs. I would never go to a horror movie. I’m not interested. It’s like, I guess roller coasters are fun but I don’t like roller coasters, and I don’t really like to be scared. It’s not fun for me. I have to sit through The Ring, and I actually didn’t like it because it was scary. I remember the first time I went to see Paranormal [Activity], this was before even being on this movie. I was just interested to see what all the fuss was about. I went to the theater with a friend and I left halfway through because I couldn’t make it through the whole thing for two reasons. Number one, it was just too slow of a movie. It was just too boring and I’m just too impatient to sit through it, and at the same time it scared the crap out of me. I thought it was really scary. I guess that’s a good thing, but I don’t have the patience to sit through it in a theater.
Is there a genre that hasn’t been done as a spoof yet that needs it?
David Zucker: Yes. I’ve been thinking of doing something in the international spy thriller genre. Bourne, Bond, Mission: Impossible. So I’m kind of interested in that. I would have a like Frank Drebin-like star for that, but not in the way that Mike Meyers did it. Mike Meyers, he’s wonderful what he did with the Austin Powers movies, but that’s a whole different style. He was really spoofing the early James Bond movies.
Scary Movie 5 comes out in theaters this Friday.