A chat with David Wain, David Wain interview, Role Models, Wet Hot American Summer, The State
David Wain

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One need only take a look at David Wain’s resume to see that his sense of humor has always skewed a little off-center: he’s been a member of The State as well as Stella (if you don’t own the DVD set of their Comedy Central series, you really should), and his first two films as a director were “Wet Hot American Summer” and “The Ten.” His latest directorial effort, however, was the surprisingly mainstream “Role Models,” which hits DVD on March 10th, and rumors are flying that he might be helming the next “Fockers” movie. True or false? We asked Wain about it, and we also got his comments on the status of the long-gestating “State” DVD set, whether or not “Wainy Days” will ever make it off the ‘net and onto home video, his thoughts on how people view “The Ten,” and how KISS felt about their presence in “Role Models.”

(Don’t forget to check out our interview with Wain’s ‘Role Models’ / ‘State’ co-star, Joe Lo Truglio, on Premium Hollywood)

David Wain: Hello, hello.

Bullz-Eye: Hello, David. How’s it going?

DW: Good. How are you?

BE: Pretty good. I feel like we know each other…because, of course, we’re Facebook friends.

DW: Well, I have…I don’t know, 10,000 Facebook friends? And I try to have coffee with each of them at one point or another each month.

BE: Well, put me on the list, if you would. I’m ready for that.

DW: All right.

BE: I’ll start with a two part question: what’s the percentage of ad-libbing versus the actual script in your films, and do you have a hard and fast rule about how many times you’ll film a scene?

"Gene Simmons came to the premiere (of ‘Role Models,’) and I was, like, all caught up in the red carpet stuff, and I didn’t get to meet him. And I was so upset. Both before and after the screening, everyone was all on me, saying, ‘Congratulations,’ which was very nice, but I never got to meet the guy."

DW: It has varied from project to project. In, for example, my first film, “Wet Hot American Summer,” it was on such an unbelievably low budget and tight schedule that there really wasn’t much time for any sort of improv. Because it took so long to raise the money to make that movie, we had years of time to work on the script. So a lot of the play and exploration happened while we were trying to raise money, and we had readings. We had numerous readings with cast people, and that’s, like, where we found things…which in a way, I think, is better. And so there’s still some improv that we did on camera in that first film, but I would say 90% was from the script. That’s true, I think, for the way the “Stella” work was done, and “The State.” Then, as we got into “The Ten,” it was still pretty much that way. But “Role Models” was a different model because we had sort of the inverse relationship, where we had not nearly enough time to get the script ready. And we also were working…you know, we were just working with a lot of different types of actors, so we decided to embrace a style that had more improv, and we took more time to play around while the camera was rolling. We also had a writers’ strike during “Role Models”.

BE: Oh, right, yeah.

DW: Yeah, so some of the scenes were entirely improved and had no scripts. And…I’m sorry, what was the second half of it, again?

BE: Do you have a hard and fast rule about how many times you will film a scene?

DW: Not at all. I mean, everything is situation dependent.

BE: So does that KISS pinball machine actually belong to someone from the cast or crew?

DW: No, believe it or not, we actually bought it on eBay. I don’t know what the fate of it was. I think they probably sold it on eBay.

BE: Did you hear from KISS about the film?

David WainDW: You know, Gene Simmons came to the premiere, and I was, like, all caught up in the red carpet stuff, and I didn’t get to meet him. And I was so upset. Both before and after the screening, everyone was all on me, saying, “Congratulations,” which was very nice, but I never got to meet the guy. But I heard through, like, an email that he said he thought it was great, or something like that. I wish I had heard more of a feedback, but I guess at least he saw it, because he did come to the premiere.

BE: As I was watching “Role Models,” I kept thinking that Ronnie Shields is the Arnold Jackson for the new millennium.

DW: Sounds good. Is Paul Rudd his generation’s Conrad Bain, then?

BE: I would like to think so. In fact, I said that long before this film.

DW: Okay. So did I.

BE: With the live action role-playing in the film, how hard was it to find a middle ground between showing the reality and making fun of it? Or did you just quickly find that it is what it is?

DW: No, I think that was a very conscious endeavor every day. You know, I think that’s actually sort of what you always do in filmmaking. You’re always trying to figure out the line between is it funny, but is it also grounded in something that is real? How much can you heighten something or point out someone’s foilbles before it’s just dumb? And with the Laire, riding that line was a daily endeavor. And, you know, that came down to the costuming, to the props, to the way we shot it, to everything. You know, certainly the performance, style, and dialogue and everything was a balance. That was one of my most challenging jobs as a director: to sort of modulate that line.

David Wain

BE: In the on-the-set featurette on the DVD, Elizabeth Banks says that she doesn’t think that you could ever make a film that isn’t R-rated. But yet there is a rumor that you’re in the running to direct the next “Fockers” movie.

DW: (Coyly) Um, well, how could both of those things possibly be true? That doesn’t compute. I don’t think either of those is necessarily true. I mean, I have only made three films so far, and I’m definitely interested in making things other than comedies. I’m interested in doing a lot of things and will hopefully have a career of varied types of material. As for “The Fockers,” who knows? I read about it in Variety, too.

BE: I was actually at Comic-Con, but I wasn’t able to get to your appearance on Adult Swim’s “Superjail” panel. How did that go over?

DW: It was good. It was neat to see that there was a hardcore fan base for “Superjail.” And it was fun for me to meet the other people who are involved in it, who I hadn’t met before.

BE: How did you get involved with “Superjail”?

DW: Because the animation director of “Superjail” (Aaron Augenblick) is a guy who I got to know because he did work on my movie “The Ten.” So that was the connection.

On the State reunion at Sketchfest: “Without email, I just don’t think that we would have ever gotten 11 people who have 11 careers in 11 different places together.”

BE: Will "Wainy Days" ever see a DVD release or are we stuck watching it on MyDamnChannel.com forever?

DW: You know, we are working on it. It’s certainly been something that everyone has been asking me for, so we are working on a really nice DVD.

BE: Okay. And speaking of DVDs, I have to ask the obligatory “State” DVD question.

DW: Working on it.

BE: That’s the obligatory answer, I think.

DW: Likely this year.

BE: How much work went into getting the State reunion to happen for Sketchfest? I mean, the scheduling alone, I’d think , would be impressive, but you guys actually did all new material.

DW: Many, many thousands of emails. Without email, I just don’t think that we would have ever gotten 11 people who have 11 careers in 11 different places together. The development of new material was also entirely through email. We had sort of a drop box set up online; we met in person very little.

BE: How did you feel “The Ten” was received? I mean, it was one of those films where a lot of people tended to like bits and pieces of it as much as they liked the whole.

David WainDW: You know, I love that movie. I feel like a lot of what I’ve done, it’s starting to get its appreciation just now. I know it’s a movie of ten parts, so people break it up and they’re, like, “Well, two of them were good,” or, “Five of them were good,” or whatever. And that’s fine. First of all, I don’t – especially with comedy, but, really, with anything – have any problem with anyone’s opinion at all, and it doesn’t bother me. Obviously, there is no right or wrong, you can say the whole thing was bad, and that’s fine, whatever. I think that people who see it a second time tend to, almost as a rule, 100% like it a lot more. Because, you know, for us, it’s not just ten random stories slapped together. For the filmmakers, it was like an album. You know, we really carefully picked and created these ten pieces to go in a particular order and be told as a piece. I think, at the time that it opened, some people definitely took it that way and loved the film. And as it started to show more on Showtime and other places, I think people are discovering it or seeing it a second time and starting to appreciate it. Some people, you know, hated it, and some people only liked one or two of the parts of it, and I think that’s fine.

BE: Last question: you’re from Shaker Heights. I’m led to believe that, by definition, this means you come from privileged stock. Is this true, or are you the exception to the rule?

DW: Both parts are not true. I mean…well, let me just explain. Shaker Heights is actually…even though it’s a small suburb, a small population bordering Cleveland, Ohio, there’s a wide range of socio-demographics in Shaker Heights. There are some very poor people there and some very rich people there, and everything in between. So I was not the exception in Shaker Heights, and I was from a somewhat privileged background.

BE: Fair enough. And just to clarify, I asked that because one of my best friends from college is from Shaker Heights.

DW: You know, it’s like everyone who went to college and especially people working in media seem to know at least one person from Shaker Heights. There’s just something about that place that made people go to the coast.

BE: And since we’re out of time, I guess whatever that is will remain a mystery. Thanks, David.

DW: Thank you.

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