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Steve Pink Travels to the Past with Hot Tub Time Machine

By Jami Philbrick — March 23rd, 2010

The writer of Grosse Pointe Blank and director of Accepted discuses his hilarious new time traveling film starring John Cusack

Steve Pink is best known for writing the contemporary comedy classics Grosse Pointe Blank and High Fidelity, which starred his good friend and producing partner John Cusack. In fact, the Chicago born friends along with fellow producer D.V. DeVincentis formed a production company called New Crime Productions, which developed the popular films. However, the writer and occasional actor added director to his resume when he helmed the 2006 film Accepted starring Jonah Hill. Now Pink has returned to the director's chair with his new '80s homage movie Hot Tub Time Machine, opening in theaters on March 26th, which stars Cusack, Rob Corddry (What Happens In Vegas...), Craig Robinson (Pineapple Express) and Clark Duke (Sex Drive). In addition to Cusack the movie features many actors who had a big impact on '80s films including Crispin Glover (Back To The Future), Chevy Chase (Fletch) and William Zabka (Johnny from The Karate Kid). We recently had an opportunity to travel to Lake Tahoe, Nevada and sit down with the talented filmmaker to talk about his new film, collaborating with Cusack, the movie's hilarious cast and the '1980s. Here is what he had to say:

To begin with, Craig Robinson sings a Black Eyed Peas song in the film in the '80s and it's kind of the films "Johnny B. Goode" moment from "Back To The Future" so why did you choose that song? Were there any other contemporary songs that you considered using but weren't able to get the rights to?

Steve Pink: Well I just wanted it to be a song that would last a while if you saw the movie five years from now. I like Black Eyed Peas. I think their music has longevity so that was the criteria. Gnarls Barkley would have been great too, their music is terrific and it's going to be around a long time. So I try to find music that would be around a long time and I think the Black Eyed Peas is one of those groups to me. It had to be popular enough too, that was part of the criteria as well. There is a lot of music that I love that a lot of people wouldn't have even known. There's plenty of alternative music all the way from 1999 till now that I love that we could have also used but then it might not be clear that it was from the future if you didn't know the song. So a joke like that carries a lot of baggage that you have to try and carry.

You've always been pretty hands on with the music in your films so was there ever a song or group that you wanted to use that you just couldn't get the rights to?

Steve Pink: Sure, it happens all the time. Between Grosse Pointe Blank and High Fidelity there are always songs that are too expensive or won't clear. Even my film Accepted that I did, I wanted Arcade Fire for some of it and they were like, "For your teen movie? No. How about ... no!" Arcade Fire was like "You're not getting any of our music for your movie!" I love Arcade Fire and it was like 2006 and I wanted their music in the film but they said no. That happens, some bands will reject you. Some bands reject you because they don't like their music in movies period. So there's all these different reasons why the song you want doesn't end up in the movie. It could be that the rights are split between members of a band that is no longer together. So sometimes it's hard to wrangle all the rights you need to clear a song and sometimes it's just too expensive. Like I always watch Scorsese films with a calculator adding up all the Rolling Stones songs. I'm always like, Wow, another cool ass Stones song. Wow, he got "Monkey Man" for that cool ass montage.

Were there any iconic '80s moments that you couldn't fit in to the film that you wish you had?

Steve Pink: We were just talking about it and I don't know why I didn't have Craig in leather pants. They were so big in the 80's with Eddie Murphy and stuff. There were a lot of brothers wearing leather pants at the time. What was I thinking? Why isn't Run-DMC's "My Adidas" in the film? I was just trying to get everything in that I could and it became overwhelming so in that instance there is a ton of stuff that is underrepresented in the film.

Was it difficult convincing Crispin Glover to join the project and in a sense spoof himself?

Steve Pink: Well he's particular. He doesn't just do anything. He's going to decide what he wants to do. I think he liked the vibe enough to do it. I think its very important for Crispin to like what he is doing. He's very particular so he had to like us and to go along with this crazy ass idea. Knowing that he has an iconic personality by virtue of having done the most famous time travel movie ever. So I think he had to weigh that and figure out how to separate himself from that. Which was a choice obviously. I like the choice we made to let people live in the new reality and then those that picked up on the '80s references of these actors just enjoy it. A lot of people don't know that Crispin was in Back To The Future so they get to enjoy that weird ass one-armed bellhop character, so that on it's own works. We did that a lot. We did that with John, Chevy and with Billy Zabka. So we had tons of references but at the same time we wanted these characters to exist in there own right. I think its just more fun that way because otherwise it's just a parody movie.

You mentioned William Zabka, so that was Johnny from "The Karate Kid" in your film? Can you talk about casting him and getting him to agree to appear in the film?

Steve Pink: You know that was just another choice. We could have had him come in and be from The Karate Kid guy but it was just more fun to have him play that character and fulfill that role for that ridiculous club sequence. We were like, Billy "Fucking" Zabka; lets see if he'll do this? In a way it was precisely because we said that he didn't have to be that guy, he didn't have to be a parody of himself. Because that's a little depressing, being a parody of your self. But I'm happy with that choice.

Like the other actors from the '80s did John, who is also a producer on the film, have any concerns about appearing in the movie himself and sort of spoofing his body of work from the '80s?

Steve Pink: I think he had the same concern as the others who were also big actors from that era. He was concerned about it, which is why we took a subtle approach to it. We just wanted to stuff it with the references and then if you are catching them, great and if you're not, well that's fine too. I think he was really satisfied with that because we needed to make it funny and tell a story without being supported entirely by that stuff. We didn't want to be stuck with the idea that if people don't know those movies than they won't think ours is funny. We couldn't rely on it that much so we thought how do we expose it in the film but not rely on it? There's a variation to that. Something's we pay big attention to it like when I'm pushing in on Reagan and the Miami Vice guy, but in other cases, for example, John's just wearing the trench coat from Say Anything. I didn't even show him putting it on. We don't play the Rocky theme and have him put it on in those like gearing up montages. So some things we just let exist and then other things we just shined a light on.

Was the film always designed to be a vehicle for Cusack?

Well yeah, he developed it with MGM before I was brought on. So he joined Hot Tub Time Machine before I did and then brought me on.

How did you experience and friendship with him from past projects help you with making this film?

Steve Pink: Well it helps tone wise. You don't have to have a lot of conversations about what the tone of it is. We struck, however a ridiculous tone but also there is a real authentic tone that I use, which is similar to the tones that we've struck in other movies. John's always kind of had a darkly comic view of the world and he's always managing crazy and absurd circumstances. Whether it's in High Fidelity, where he is managing all these things hammering him from both sides like his girlfriend or Jack Black, or in Grosse Pointe Blank, where obviously he's trying to manage people killing him and going to his high school reunion. So I think he's always been brilliant at managing crazy circumstances and then having these cool and darkly views of it. As our protagonist he's always had I think a wise, funny and intelligent way. So him being our guide through Hot Tub Time Machine kind of satisfies that again very well. He's totally confused in these crazy circumstances, everyone else is kind of going crazy and he's trying to keep his shit together, which is part of what he does so well. Then it's just figuring out the tone. My shorthand with John just comes with the territory of knowing him for so long. We're like Highlander. We're like the warrior friends who battle throughout the centuries and in the end know, that there can be only one. We've kind of done it so much that we just have that shorthand.

"Grosse Pointe Blank" was really the "breakout film" for actor Jeremy Piven and the same can be said for Jack Black in "High Fidelity," so it seems that this could be that film for comedic actors Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry and Clark Duke, can you talk about what they bring to this movie?

Steve Pink: To me they all have a great comedic speed so they mesh well together. They don't crowd together. These guys all have a different way of delivering their comedy in that they don't crowd each other and they are able top work together well. They all get laughs in different places and in that they are a great group because they all give you something great to enjoy. If they are all the same guy then it's not funny and it's the same joke over and over, which is not bad if it's a really funny joke but its better to have that dynamic.

In the film, Crispin Glover plays a present day one-armed bellhop but when the film travels to the '80s he has both of his limbs, which starts a great run-on-gag of waiting for him to loose the appendage so were there any other arm-loss gags that you wanted to use but couldn't or had to cut for some reason?

Steve Pink: Well there were some that he Crispin kept rejecting. He had a really good point because he didn't want to be passive in the gag, which is really smart. That being said I thought of a bunch of funny gags. Like in Winterfest, being on a giant turntable and having people throwing hatchets at him. I just thought that was a really funny winter game. I think if you were with the gag we would have gotten more license as it went on but he was right that it shouldn't be passive. Like that he should be operating in something because it's funnier. So we came up with the elevator gag that is in the film.

Finally, How do you feel about comparisons between your film and the extremely successful comedy, "The Hangover?"

Steve Pink:The Hangover is its own great thing that occurred last year and we're just another comedy. We share a lot of similarities and we were shooting when they came out. But I'm not going to compare us because they are the fucking masters. Like it or not they did the most successful R-rated comedy in history. So I'm not going to compare our selves to that we're just also trying to provide 90 minutes of comedy and get out alive.

Hot Tub Time Machine travels back to the '80s in theaters on March 26th.

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