Tom Shadyac Spends Wads of Cash Building an Ark in Evan Almighty

Tom Shadyac talks about staging a flood of biblical proportions!

The new Steve Carell film Evan Almighty is rumored to be one of the most expensive comedies in the history of the medium. That doesn't really seem to bother its director, Tom Shadyac, though.

Shadyac is extremely proud of both the film, and the work his extraordinary cast put in. He feels that the money is evident on screen, and that the budget isn't any different than what you'd see thrown at your average summer action flick. He's okay with the expense allegations.

We recently got a chance to sit down with Tom over at Universal Studios and chat about his new film. Here is what he had to say about the whole ordeal:

Tom Shadyac: (Looking around the Universal Amphitheater the interview is taking place in) This is so surreal. We used to screen our effects shots in this room, checking to see if the water shots were real, or the animals' shots were coming together. I have fallen asleep in this room many times.

Hopefully you wont fall asleep today.

Tom Shadyac: I hope not. I don't think so. Are you kidding me? I have to empty my pockets whenever I do work like this. I can hardly see you guys. First question...

How are you doing?

Tom Shadyac: Fantastic.

This movie is rumored to have cost $200 million dollars.

Tom Shadyac: Really? Wow. That's kind of expensive.

How do you spend $200 million on Evan Almighty? Also, was the look that Steve Carell had in this movie influenced by your own look?

Tom Shadyac: Just the hairdressing alone was like $98 million. The budget thing kind of makes me smile because Spider-Man 3 just cost around $300. We're $170 million. I think that is the official figure, although I don't even know what it was. We're one of the cheaper summer movies, and yet we're a comedy so it's unique. But we're much more than a comedy. As you know we're a Biblical epic. We had an ark, we had thousands of animals, and we had a flood, which helped. If you look at the screen, I can point you specifically to where the money went. CG generation of water, composite shots that are hundred layers thick and deep. The good news is, ticket prices aren't going up because of this movie. People will get more for their money, and in this very competitive summer climate we're glad that we can offer a lot for the dollar. I'm also glad that a comedy is being given this kind of belief by a studio. That a comedy is being taken this seriously. Again we're a Bible story, too. We're a Bible parable, we're not just a comedy. It's not two guys on a road trip behind the wheel of a Pinto. Although I think I may do that movie, it sounds good. What was the other question? The look, you answered your own question, okay.

At what point did this turn into a Bible story?

Tom Shadyac: I was involved in the original idea. Day one we started writing the script, we knew we were doing a contemporized Noah's Ark story. It's another chapter in the God series, so we wanted to find a theme to hang it on. Every parable has a theme, every parable is going somewhere, and you have to arc out your characters. They have to learn their lessons. Arc out, yes, yes, yes, didn't want to be obvious.

What were the challenges of building such a large complicated set piece?

Tom Shadyac: You mean an ark? Well imagine it, "Okay, you have to build an ark, take care, bye bye then." You have to go do it. When we thought of this originally, we thought it would be cool to have a modern day ark. What if God came and told you to build an ark? Oh, man, that would be cool. Especially if you were working in a really serious job. Then you get there a couple of months before we start shooting and you go, "Oh, we have to actually build an ark.'" And you realize that the idea now has to come to life. And the answer in one word is "help!" We needed lots of help. It's the most extreme home makeover show ever done. We needed builders and engineers and structural engineers. Because Noah didn't have to worry about putting a film crew on his boat. We did. The equipment's very heavy. How does that work? Where are the weak points, the structural deficiencies? So, we had a lot of help. We also had to figure out how Steve was going to participate in the building of this thing. He actually had to learn how to build a boat. We know about the keel now, the rib pieces, skinning the ark, how all that works. So I'm the guy to come teach that class in Sunday school, not that anybody wants to see it.

Were there any divine intervention moments? Secondly, I received an email from PETA a couple of weeks ago, and they were upset by your use of exotic animals in the film.

Tom Shadyac: Have they seen the film? Did they know what exotics they were upset about? Because they could be CG exotics too, in which the CG PETA group would be very unhappy about. But the actual PETA group probably wouldn't have any complaints.

I think they were concerned about the chimps.

Tom Shadyac: The chimps? Okay, okay, I understand. Let me speak to PETA first. I'll do them out of order. They're not wrong. There's a certain amount of hypocrisy whenever you work with animals. We hope We're showing that respect of all of God's creations. Appreciation for the gift of the earth and the animals and the life here. Then to use animals for our end, for their own end. Someone once told me that they looked at it as, "Those animals are heroes for their species." We did use a number of heroes, and I don't discount people having a problem with it. I respect their criticism. I don't respect it on species we didn't use, and also many of these animals were rescued. You know, Mark Forbes, our animal guy, is the most thoughtful person. He wouldn't harm an animal, he'd sooner do himself in. Many of these animals have been rescued from other situations and can't be returned to the wild. This is the life that they've come to know or grow into, probably due to man's hubris or whatever. Our ruling of the world. That was a longwinded answer, but go PETA. The other question...We felt this movie wanted to be made, first of all when I sat down to write it, Steve Oedekerk is our writer, but I'm very involved in the writing, I'm at a hotel in Santa Monica and literally the day I sit down to write, it starts raining and it doesn't stop raining for about a month. And we're thinking, 'Okay, this is interesting.' We go to Charlottesville and everybody is concerned about the weather, they say, 'You should shoot in California, California we have the right weather,' I said, 'No, it's got to be Virginia. He's a Congressman, the esthetic doesn't exist here.' We go to Virginia, the weather is not only stunning in Virginia, like a drought like in the movie, but in California it starts raining cats and dogs. It starts raining for about a month and a half off and on, and it would have destroyed our production schedule. We then leave Charlottesville, after being blessed with incredible weather, and when we leave Charlottesville, the day we left, it rained and flooded in the very valley that we built the ark. So we'll take this all as serendipitous good intentions from the great creative spirit, God, and we feel we were very blessed.

Two somewhat unrelated questions. Obviously this film is being marketed to religious people and groups and there's a lot in it for them. It also has a strong environmental message. Sometimes those two groups are somewhat opposed to each other because they support two different ideas. Are you concerned at all about how right wing Christians might view the environmental message and can you talk a little bit about the environmental message of this film?

Tom Shadyac: Well, first of all I don't think... I would like to bridge those two groups, if you will. I can talk a long time about this so please cut me off. First of all, when I think of the environment, I don't think just of a tree or the stream or the air. I think of... You're in my environment. What was your name again?

Bob.

Tom Shadyac: Bob, you're in my environment. I'm in your environment. We're creating an environment right here - a respectful one hopefully. So it's not just how you treat the air and the plants and the trees and the animals, it's how we treat each other, hence the theme of kindness in the movie - to be kind. Now I think again we look for common threads in religions and Christ is in all. Okay, that would be the Christian side of things if this is Christian media. I think it is. If not, we can go Judaic. We can go other faiths. Christ is in all meaning that the divine spark is in all things. There was a line originally in the movie that got me to do the movie which was about God saying 'You know I'm in all things - the plants, rivers, trees, oceans, wind, animals. Well you're killing me here, kid. You're killing me here.' Not too far, too preachy, not going to be in the movie, but that's the idea behind it. This is all a gift, you know, and the way we treat not only each other but this environment that we are leaving our children is important, and it's a reflection I think of our faith and our relationship with the divine that gave us this life. Alright that's enough. Amen. Can I get an amen?

Amen.

Tom Shadyac: Alright.

Congratulations on actually being able to put together a great spiritual message and comedy. It's not easy.

Tom Shadyac: Thank you.

You did it in a great way. I admire that. I just want to ask you, what is your spiritual orientation or religion?

Tom Shadyac: Let me say first of all that there is no bigger Jesus freak in this room than me because when I was as young as I can remember, having cognition and thought, I was looking at that Jesus guy going, 'Whoever this is, this is somebody that's blowing my mind.' At the same time, I'm also a subscriber of a poem that said 'Truth is revealed so much to me that I can no longer call myself' and then it would name various faiths. This is all I think about pretty much. This is the drive of my life - this relationship with this divine in you and me and in all things. So I don't give it a definition although it defines me. Thank you for that question.

Assuming this movie is a success, with there be a Packard Bell Almighty?

Tom Shadyac: Someone said that they noticed that God only comes to reporters from Buffalo to save the world. So she would be a Buffalo reporter and she is quite almighty. She is a great lady. We have an idea for the next one but I'll keep that under wraps.

When do you think that will get made?

Tom Shadyac: Well who knows? I mean I can't even think about it. I have to survive the premiere. I've seen this movie a million times. I'm ready to do something else. We'll see. We'll see.

Can you talk a little about casting Steve Carell? Also, did his injury stop production for 6 weeks?

Tom Shadyac: We didn't have to stop for 6 weeks. We actually stopped for maybe 6 hours. He sprained his ankle when he was jumping out of the car, you know, getting away from the animals that were on him. The spiders and the snakes. So very little. He did have to go to the hospital because he turned his ankle pretty bad. He wanted to keep shooting but we said 'Get out of here.' But we started shooting pretty soon thereafter. He couldn't run for a while so maybe we had to put some running scenes later - some more physical stuff. And the first question was?

When did he come into the casting process?

Tom Shadyac: You know we originally thought about this with Jim Carrey. Bruce 2: The Ark was going to be the name of that. We even wrote a draft. Oedekerk, with myself involved, we wrote a draft for Jim but Jim couldn't decide either way. But I think ultimately he felt that his character had kind of arced out. There it is again. He'd kind of arked out. So he felt his character was kind of done. He had learned his lesson and we as filmmakers felt and as a studio felt there are more stories to be told than just Bruce - you know in the bible how many stories where God visits someone and has a story to tell. So we think now there's more potential down the road. Whether we tap that potential, we'll see.

So when did Steve come into it?

Tom Shadyac: Steve came into it right after Jim said, 'Mmm, can't decide.' And we thought about Steve. My agent, Dan Maloney, had brought him up as a possible choice if Jim didn't want to do the movie 6 months before we chose him. And I thought okay that's interesting. He was brilliant in 'Bruce.' He stole the movie. He stole the scenes he was in, certainly not the movie. That's Jim's movie, but he stole scenes and then I said, 'Well what was his Virgin movie like? I heard he was good.' And so I got an early screening of The 40 Year Old Virgin and thought this guy can carry a movie. I had a conversation with him about it and I don't think I've ever had this happen before. I pitched him the idea and told him the story and he said, "I'm in." I said, "Well you know your people are going to want to get involved and you may want to have script approval." And he said, "No, I'm in. I'm in. I want to do the movie." I've never had that happen before meaning he said, "I trust you. I trust you, I trust Steve Oedekerk, I trust your creative team, I've worked with you, and I want to do the movie."

Setting aside the ark aspect, how conscious were you of parallels to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington?

Tom Shadyac: Good question, very perceptive. I'm a Capra freak. I love Frank Capra. He believed in the goodness of people and one man's ability to fight and often triumph. I did watch 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' although I'd seen it. I like being mentioned in the same sentence so feel free. It's a very different movie but I do think that there are some core similarities.

Can I just ask about the dancing at the end? Was it in the middle of the movie that you decided to do that or when did you decide that would happen?

Tom Shadyac: Steve improvised.

Really?

Tom Shadyac: Very early on. He improvised a joyful moment. You know he was very high in the beginning of the movie. He's got a big house, he's got his new gig, he's a Congressman, and he's full of power. He took a moment and did the new house dance and then I thought, "This is what I do, see that's really good, maybe that could be a runner in the movie. Let's see if we can't find places for that." And then we liked it so much that we thought with about two months left to go in shooting maybe we could do a sequence with this. If not just for the DVD, we'll get the crew dancing and it became...

It kept people through the credits. Everyone wanted to see that.

Tom Shadyac: Oh it's really fun. It's really fun and I think it's very spiritual - you know, celebration, joy, dance. I think it's a very spiritual theme, a good theme. If it was up to me, I'd make the 11th commandment "Do the Dance."

Will there be a lot of extra things in the DVD?

Tom Shadyac: Oh yes, lots of extra things. You'll see how far we went in terms of some scenes that we decided were overstated or slowing things down or got too expensive. Didn't want you guys asking about the money.

How much did you just let Wanda go? Were her lines scripted or did she ad-lib most of that stuff?

Tom Shadyac: Wanda is a genius. I mean I started calling her Rita Almighty. That woman rocked it so hard. Once I met with Wanda and my editor worked with her on another movie, I knew that it would be insane not to tap into her genius. So about 90 percent of what you see of Wanda is Wanda. Not necessarily the story lines that are driving things forward but if you're laughing, I'll bet that's Wanda.

Evan Almighty opens June 22nd, 2007.