I’m awesome. I wrote a book. It’s got little to do with movies. Download and read “Thank You, Goodnight” right HERE for free.
True story. I took a girl on a date to see THREESOME. Now, for those among you who would give me the benefit of the doubt and think this was an honest mistake if I didn’t know what I was getting into should actually not give me said doubt. I had seen the movie the week prior and thought it was actually a funny, warm, careful examination of self-discovery at a time when it seems like so many of the jokes people make that start “When I was in college…” actually come from. I still value a lot of what the movie was about and what it ultimately had to say. Besides that, the soundtrack was just manna from heaven in the form of a compact disc; where else could you hear U2 mixed in with some Bryan Ferry, New Order, Apache Indian (a sweet track) and one of the greatest songs ever put to CD, The The’s “This Was The Day”? Yeah, I guess the REALITY BITES soundtrack was pretty damn close but Andrew’s film, however, had a little something extra to day about the lives of young people who were caught in that time in their lives when it wasn’t about a career as it was just finding a path that led to where you wanted to go.
Needless to say, and I wish I were kidding, after seeing the movie I think the girl pegged me for a perv. Que sera, sera.
On the other side of that spectrum you have Pam Brady. Extracting what part she had in making SOUTH PARK: BIGGER LONGER & UNCUT, along with TEAM AMERICA and many other co-writer credits she has, so sharp is a moot point. Pam, to her credit, knows how to take a subject that needs to be dressed down, stripped, tar and feathered and sent on its way with the kind of pop sensibility others simply can’t manage to do on their own. The reason why South Park has lasted as long as it has is because everyone involved in producing the show know how to make a show that is at once a piece of entertainment and a sly switchblade of social commentary that manages to stay just beneath the veneer of a jolly cartoon show.
HAMLET 2 marries together the best elements of Andrew Fleming’s directorial skills and Pam’s ability to take a situation an imbue it with a subversive element that is not always readily obvious. From the heart that Steve Coogan gives to the hapless teacher who means so well but is completely, throughly ill-equipped to do anything but mess his own life up to the kids who don’t necessarily fit the archetype of rising above their lot in life the film is simply a wonderful commentary on horrible teacher/student pictures and what it really means to finally face the one thing that has held one man back for so long. Besides, where else can you see Jesus re-enact the KARATE KID crane kick while dancing to a song that you absolutely, positively won’t be able to get out of your head.
HAMLET 2 opens this Friday, August 22nd.
CHRISTOPHER STIPP: I saw it last night and loved it. Loved the movie. I think it already was a good movie, but I was just telling Steve [Coogan] that what I thought really brought the movie together was The Gay Men’s Chorus of Tucson singing “Someone Saved My Life Tonight.” I think that was a pivotal point where everything is brought together. When you two were scripting it out, blocking it out, how did you get to that point? Did you have an idea to begin with and how did it eventually had get to that moment?
ANDREW FLEMING: That song, is the one. The play wasn’t really fleshed out. That song was always in the script from the very first draft
PAM BRADY: Yeah.
BRADY: But it’s way more emotional. You already knew it was going to be emotional but it seems like a joke. It seems like it would be funny for these guys to sing this. It kinda hits home.
CS: I was laughing but I got those little hairs on my arms standing up as I realized how important that scene was.
FLEMING: It’s a great song. And the words are like a poem about …..being near suicide from being in a bad relationship and breaking out of it by somebody leaving and that it can save somebody’s life. It wasn’t a joke but I don’t know why that song is so good.
I always love that thing about music – you can do all the legwork but you need the right piece of music to make you feel the right thing at the right time, at the right moment. Music is important. It really is.
CS: In scripting out Dana, he seems like a guy who would be almost easy to make stereotyped – failed actor, failed teacher – what was important to you when you wrote it out to not make him a hackneyed kind of character?
BRADY: We always love delusional characters because we truly love them. I don’t think there was ever any kind of superior feeling. I feel like everyone can kind of get in touch with that part of themselves that feels like they are just not going to make it and feel like a failure but put themselves up and motor through it. So I think the most important part was to never judge him as a character. We always truly pull for him. Know what I mean?
CS: Yes, exactly.
BRADY: We are trying to tell a story about someone we actually love as a character and then look at what happens to this guy.
FLEMING: And then putting on this play, everybody has something they are trying to do and they feel like everybody is against them. Obstacles are thrown in the way and you are just trying to pull through and it’s just chaos. And that play becomes – I remember feeling like that making the movie. Like, “You idiot….Get everybody on board!”
BRADY: Yes, and I think everybody has the feeling where you sort of want to be cool and you sort of know – like you. You know how you want this interview to go and how you want it to come across but it probably isn’t but we sort of know how to play it a little bit – I think that feeling is a universal feeling. I don’t think it’s just me or Andy.
FLEMING: But it was a reaction to “Let’s do a movie about a teacher – What are other teacher movies?” and we were going down this list – there actually are some very good ones like BLACKBOARD JUNGLE, TO SIR WITH LOVE. Those are good but it gets worse from there. Some of them are fine movies but there was always like the sense of self-satisfaction or superiority – the teacher is there to teach and it’s like that’s really not how it works. The teacher is this person in the room and they are a human beings and they are not inherently superior to their students.
There was always this sanctimony to those characters.
BRADY: Yeah. And also that great white hope kind of feeling that we’re going to go into the inner-city school and jack up some kids against the locker to get through to them.
FLEMING: And teach those ethnics a thing or two.
BRADY: That’s why we wanted to make sure that Octavio [Joseph Julian Soria] was going to be brown because he was so incredibly high achieving. It’s insulting how it’s presented in movies.
FLEMING: And the kids are always “types.” And you just peg them and that’s all who they are. And we just wanted to come up with a fresh batch of who those kids are. We actually did a pilot, but it didn’t get picked up, and it was set in high school and we were shooting in Ventura and all of our characters – these cute skinny white kids in faux thrift store gear – it was actually all from Barney’s. Really adorable.
BRADY: Very bright colors.
FLEMING: And they were all done up. A cute bunch of kids but the real kids of the school where we were shooting were all wearing blue and black and all had this kind of attitude. It was like, “Why are we making a movie about them?” They are more interesting and is the reality. Let’s get something going about those kids.
CS: So it’s set in Tucson – I’m from Phoenix.
FLEMING: Phoenix is a big city – a big interesting city. Tucson is not.
CS: The idea of place – that this is where dreams go to die.
BRADY: Does sound rougher when you say it.
CS: Just speaking from experience. These kids they seem a little bit different – like you said – high achieving. “We’re going to put it on the big play, things are going to go well…” and so speaking about Steve it was that fine line of keeping the “Hey, look at me…I’m putting on a play about Jesus in Hamlet 2!” It’s a thin line of being subversive but not being obnoxious about it. Was that a problem? Was it effortless to know where that line was or was it back and forth?
FLEMING: I think we were trying to go for obnoxious.
No everything’s a fine line. I think for us it’s between silliness and sadness or lightness and darkness or something reassuring and heartwarming and something disturbing. Being in the netherworld between those two things is always of interest to us.
BRADY: And part of the songs too like RAPED IN THE FACE – it’s like, “What is the worst thing he could sing right now to this group?” And it’s not deliberately set out to be shocking but we sort of wanted to see how far we could push it. If we were in high school and we saw our teacher was getting in touch with his inner self and wrote a song about being raped in the face that would be pretty shocking. But it all works and it only works because the way he plays it and Andy directed it you feel it’s real. You feel like this guy exists. If he was a joke, it wouldn’t matter.
FLEMING: It comes from something he said. Some inner feeling he had and it’s an honest image. It’s coming from something he really feels.
It’s an inappropriate bunch of words to use around minors, of course, but it’s real.
CS: You’re right. In some ways you are pulling for Dana and he’s such a miserable man – one after another, failed this, failed that, but on the other hand he’s someone you genuinely try to root for, he’s trying to quit drinking and he genuinely cares about trying to make a difference. He ends up just getting shafted every which way. So where did you guys say – “We got this guy, we want to make him a loveable loser” - but at the end how do you want people to see Dana – after the play is done – how did you want the audience to look at him – like, “Ah, he’s been vindicated”?
FLEMING: No, I mean he’s had some kind of affirmation and it’s actually very important to us in that last scene he’s still a bit of a boob and he’s still peeing in the sink.
And he’s not really paying attention to what people are saying about protestors and the meaning of being on Broadway and the message. He’s still a bit of an ass but he’s a little happier than he was.
BRADY: And the fact that that the play becomes about his very destructive relationship with his father and it’s sort of like that he faced that straight on in the only way he knows how and it’s raw and the feelings are raw it’s almost that that’s what the movie is about – if you can face it down, then you can overcome it.
Even if you have no talent.
CS: It is so cathartic at the end when they were singing that song – what pulls it all together is that he’s confronted it. It was like, “I was laughing just moments ago and here’s this great moment that just shines right through.” Honestly, I didn’t get it until that moment happens and then I get it. Hamlet – the father, the ghost.
BRADY: He was haunted by his father.
CS: So, what came first, Hamlet or Jesus?
BRADY: That’s a good question.
FLEMING: I think there was always some talk about Jesus and Jesus being hot….
CS: It’s the truth. Those abs!
FLEMING: Jesus has been sexualized throughout the millennium.
BRADY: Yeah. I was raised Catholic and he’s up on that cross and it’s no accident that he’s cut, like a swimmer.
CS: Describe the collaborative process when you guys came together. Day one when you started to write it out – what was that like – back and forth? Pam, did you have the idea?
BRADY: Oh yeah, it was all me.
FLEMING: We were already working together so we just said “Let’s write a script” and went through it step by step and it was a shared madness.
BRADY: It’s true. I was actually cleaning out Andy’s gutters doing some odd job and he said, “Hey, do you want to come in here?”
But we started with the character first. It all started with the character. We wanted to find the guy that you would feel the most sorry for.
FLEMING: Which is good. In the past we told stories and started with structure and then found the character but we built everything around who this guy is, which made it go better and easier and took our time, which is really good. We didn’t have any deadline – kept going back to it because we enjoyed it.
CS: You obviously did because you got someone to independently finance it. You’ve worked with major studios – Paramount, what have you – What made you think you were going to take this one privately and do something else with it?
FLEMING: I think we were feeling adrift and we did set it up briefly at New Line. It was mostly to give us a sense of self worth.
BRADY: I know. That’s true.
FLEMING: We could have begged.
BRADY: Just option it for six months.
FLEMING: Which they did and nothing happened and I think we were very lucky we didn’t make it there because we would have gotten caught in a maelstrom.
BRADY: We did it for fun. That’s part of the story – that we enjoyed it and I think when we work together (we did two pilots together) it’s so much fun except that you keep getting these questions all the time like, ” Why would he do that?” And sometimes with comedy I don’t know. You can’t go to meetings and just defend everything.
FLEMING: We instinctively, for no logical reason, just realized later that that was a good idea after the fact. We only made HAMLET 2 because it made us laugh.
BRADY: And with a 2 to make it look like LETHAL WEAPON. That’s the worst idea.
FLEMING: And we had to go like, ” Wait, what happens in Hamlet?” We actually didn’t do the homework we should have.
BRADY: I actually watched the Mel Gibson version of it.
FLEMING: But it turned out to be the perfect play to use. It wasn’t even until the last minute we thought, “Let’s take all these characters and undue the tragedy?” – That evolved much later.
BRADY: But it’s normally towards the end of the process that you realize what you are writing about. What you are trying to say. And the idea that culturally we are taught that everything can be worked through with therapy.
FLEMING: The Oprah of it all.
BRADY: But in a way that actually ended up being true with us.
FLEMING: That’s what I love about that.
BRADY: Making fun of it.
FLEMING: It really is frustrating watching Hamlet. It’s like, “Why doesn’t he just get his shit together and work though his stuff?”
BRADY: Hamlet 1 wouldn’t be a hit today I don’t think. I don’t think the audiences are up for that.
CS: Although if he was the Dark Knight – if it was Batman - it probably could work.
BRADY: Maybe Christian Bale can play him.
FLEMING: Christian Bale can play anything.
BRADY: I was going to say something rude but I didn’t. Laughs. I held back because it’s Sunday. The Lord’s day.
FLEMING: Be nice. We’re being recorded.
CS: Looking back on it, you have the finished product - you’ve now seen it with audiences - how do you two look at what you’ve done and what you put on the screen? What kind of distance do you have – you know, is it thrilling from a personal standpoint in that “We’ve done something that we love and this is what we have to show for it”?
FLEMING: Basically it’s our way of saying, “Screw you world.”
BRADY: How funny. I thought you would say it’s a love letter to the world.
BRADY: It’s both. Take that.
FLEMING: It’s fun. It’s a lot of work to make a movie and at the end of it when people are laughing and telling you that they like it it feels good. There is no denying that.
BRADY: It fills up all the empty places.
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