Jay Chandrasekhar and Kevin Heffernan are two-fifths of the Broken Lizard comedy team. Chandrasekhar and Heffernan first garnered mainstream attention (and some notoriety) for their second feature, "Super Troopers," which has gone on to become a cult comedy fave. Since "Super Troopers," the duo have worked on several other features and been involved with a number of television series including "Arrested Development" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm".
"The Babymakers" marks their latest feature film collaboration. The film follows an impotent hubby's (Paul Schneider) quest to impregnant his wife (Olivia Munn) by any means, eventually attempting to steal his previously donated sperm from a cryobank. "Babymakers" is both a romantic comedy and a heist film, and through its romantic grounding, a slight departure from their previous work. [It opens in select theaters and hits VOD on August 3.]
Indiewire met with the two in Manhattan to discuss their process, the criticisms levied against their films, and their reasons and inspirations for making movies.
Did you do much research for the film? Investigate any sperm clinics?
Heffernan: Yes, months!
Chandrasekhar: We did several Google searches of sperm banks. You take what you need to make the story work for your plot and keep it as real as you can. The truth is a lot of people have gone through it and a lot of people haven't and they only imagine what's in there. One thing we know is in there is porn and sperm. The writer went through it and we said, "What do you think of this?" and he said, "Yeah, it's roughly that."
Have either of you ever donated sperm?
Chandrasekhar: My cousin did.
Heffernan: Have you done it?
No. I haven't yet faced that kind of financial necessity.
Heffernan: Right, right. But what about just the desire to?
Heffernan: Yeah, for fun.
I read this article about a guy who fathered 150 children around the country. That creeped me out. So, no I don't have any desire to. This is your 5th or 6th film together as Broken Lizard, right?
Heffernan: It's not technically a Broken Lizard film. It's more of an offshoot that the two of us did. We've done, including "Dukes of Hazzard," seven or eight films? This might be the eighth.
Do you feel that with all the collaborations you've done together there is a rhythm or a system to the filmmaking?
Chandrasekhar: Yeah, there's both a rhythm and a system. We don't worry about the details of how to create a script or how to shoot a movie anymore. We know how the technology works and how our own internal system works. We just need an idea and then we can push it all the way to the end.
How does that internal system work?
Chandrasekhar: We tend to do a lot of drafts of the script. We're not an improv based movie making group. Judd Apatow has his own system that is improv based, though he does a lot of rewriting off that improv and then rehearsals and then they'll shoot that. But they still keep the improv thing alive. We write and write and write until we think, "If we have to shoot this script, we'll be happy and it's going to be a great movie." I meet with all the actors two weeks before and I ask them, "What lines don't work? What is uncomfortable for you? What jokes do you think aren't good? If you're not getting it, here's what the joke is." You fix it. Then you get on the set and you shoot that. And then I also tell the actors, "We're going to do three takes of what we wrote, then be ready with another two or three with whatever the hell you want to say." Sometimes I'll be like, "This take is yours. Go as big or small as you want. Put in whatever jokes."
When you were drafting the script did the names Olivia Munn and Paul Schneider eventually come up?
Chandrasekhar: Paul and I talked about it three or four times and he wanted to make sure that this was a movie that fit in with what he's done. He's an actor's actor. He wanted to make sure that he could act in a grounded way and make me happy with what the movie could be. I wanted to make sure he could tell a joke.
Olivia interviewed us for "Attack of the Show" and we just fell for her totally. She's such a bright comic mind. We put her in the "Slammin' Salmon" and she nailed it. Then she acted in a movie that we produced called "The Freeloaders" and she nailed it. With this one it just felt like the right kind of vibe. Our audiences overlap a little bit. She is funny in the same way that I think we are. It just sort of all worked well I thought.
While "Babymakers" isn't a Broken Lizard film, it is in a similar vein. That said, films like "Beerfest" and "Super Troopers" had a fratty, absurdist approach, while "Babymakers" is set in a more adult and realistic world. Do you think that's indicative of a progression for you as filmmakers?
Chandrasekhar: I've been watching a lot of cable shows like "The Wire" and "Breaking Bad" and "Downton Abbey." I love how real the moments are. I've come to the realization that you can entertain people both through making them laugh and making them feel. You can be quiet and they can feel and you will have scored as well. I think that because this is not a Broken Lizard movie, it felt important to care about people from a feeling standpoint. If we make "Super Troopers 2," it will be in the exact tone that one was. It won't be all feeling and romance.
Heffernan: All that crap! (laughs)
Chandrasekhar: You know what I mean! We're not going to do that shit in "Super Troopers 2." I love it in this movie and I'm going to do a whole lot more of it. I think romantic comedies in general are marketed towards women, and I think men are half the romance, so why not have some that are truly from a male point of view. I think Judd's movie, "Knocked Up" is somewhat like that. I think that's a great film from this male point of a view.
While it seems like you're now moving into that more dramatic world, throughout your career you've made comedies that have been criticized for being sophomoric or overly raunchy. Is that type of criticism something you've ever responded to or considered?
Heffernan: That never really bothered me. It was what we thought was funny. It's unfortunate that some people don't like it but comedy's subjective. The night before "Beerfest" came out, we went down to Camp Pendleton outside of San Diego and we showed "Beerfest" to hundreds of marines in a theater. It was a riot. They were going crazy and loving it and laughing. It was so exciting! The next day all the reviews came out and you get all these reviews like, "this movie sucks," or "it's not funny." And you're like, "Well I was just in a room with these guys and they thought it was hysterical." It's all subjective and you can't get too caught up in that.
Chandrasekhar: We only ever wrote jokes for each other. If I write a joke and he laughs, it's goin' in. That's all there is. I can't anticipate what somebody else who's not us thinks. We write jokes for ourselves and if other people laugh then we'll continue to make movies.
I also have this philosophy of going exactly where the joke is. If you want to make a joke about drinking beer, part of drinking beer is burping, part of it is late night eating, part of it is avoiding drunken driving, waking up in weird places. We could make the super sanitized version that would end up on television, but we want to go where the joke is. In "First Blood" Sylvester Stalone was naked getting hosed down, and that's the scene (referenced in "Super Troopers") we were making, so the dude had to be naked. And we added powdered sugar and we ended up showing his cock. That was where the funniest part of the joke was. If that offends a reviewer, OK. I wish "Super Troopers" got reviewed better.
Heffernan: Time has shown it's a movie people like.
Chandrasekhar: "Animal House" didn't get reviewed well. "Caddy Shack" didn't get reviewed well.
Do you see yourselves as part of a continuum of those kinds of comedic films?
Heffernan: I think so. There are lovable characters. There's some high brow mixed with some low brow humor. We make movies about guys hanging out together to have fun.
Chandrasekhar: I talked to Landis about our films and how the end the "Super Troopers" is like the end of "Animal House" and he said, "Oh I know. I've seen the movie. I know where you got it."
Was Landis a main source of inspiration?
Chandrasekhar: Yeah. Absolutely.
Heffernan: The movies that we watched when we were in the formative years or whatever were "Animal House" and "The Blues Brothers".
Chandrasekhar: "Trading Places."
Heffernan: Those were all in our wheelhouse when we were discovering comedy.
You shot "Babymakers" on 35mm film. Was that a choice made out of custom or habit, or an artistic preference?
Chandrasekhar: It's custom and habit, and a belief that the image looks better than digital video. Specifically when you're photographing older actors, and frankly women. There is far too much detail in (digital) video. If your lead actress doesn't look good, you're blowing the whole show business element of this. We're here to make jokes and look good.
Heffernan: It doesn't matter what you shoot me on!
Chandrasekhar: You look better on film than you do on digital video! That's a fact. The edges of the image aren't as rounded. In a 35mm frame everything is just softened a little bit. I mean, they'll figure it out in the next three years. There's a camera called the Alexa that's very impressive. Maybe we'll do that on the next one, but I don't know. While we were shooting this I heard Quentin (Tarantino) said, "If I have to shoot anything on digital video, I'll just stop making movies." I love that.
Tarantino and Nolan might be the last men standing.
Chandrasekhar: Yeah. I just like how it looks.
What's next for you guys? Is there a "Super Troopers 2" in production?
Chandrasekhar: Yeah, if we can work this legal issue out with Fox on "Super Troopers," there will be a "Super Troopers 2."
Heffernan: The script is written. We've handed it into the studio. They've loved it.
What's going on with Fox?
Chandrasekhar: It's really a financial problem.
Heffernan: There's an accounting thing on the first movie. Once we get passed that issue, which will happen very soon, we should be able to move forward.