Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa was one of last year's big surprise hits, coming out of nowhere to dominate the box office. On its way to over $100 million, the comedy is coming home on Blu-ray January 28th. To usher in the release, we caught up with director Jeff Tremaine, the master chef behind all of the Jackass movies. He let us in on the making of the film itself, some of the challenges it posed and where they plan to go in the future.
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa is interesting in that it takes a different approach than past films in the Jackass franchise. It sets up a clear narrative, with Johnny Knoxville never breaking character as the 86 year-old Irving Zisman, though most of the interactions seen in the film between him, his on-screen grandson Billy (played by the greatest child actor of his time Jackson Nicoll) and the people around them are completely real. This poses a daunting challenge in building a sequel based once again in this world, with these characters.
That's okay, though. The filmmaking team already has a 'sort-of' sequel in the can, tentatively titled Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa 0.5, which will feature Spike Jonze and Catherine Keener in major supporting roles, culled together from unused material. Jeff Tremaine shared more about this impending release, as well as what it means for the brand name we, as a country, have grown to love unconditionally.
Here is our conversation.
The awareness on Bad Grandpa seems to be a little mixed and all over the map, despite it being such a huge hit at the box office. I have relatives out in the small town of Dierks, Arkansas, and it's clear the kids there know what the movie is, and what you guys are about. But then I talk to my folks out in tiny Philomath, Oregon, and they have no clue what I'm talking about when I bring up Bad Grandpa. So how do you find these small pockets of population across America, where you are comfortable knowing they're not going to catch on to what you guys are doing right away?
Jeff Tremaine: You never know. You can outsmart it to a degree. We hate shooting this kind of stuff in Los Angeles. When you go up and ask someone to sign a release form, they're like, "Let me call my agent. Here's my SAG number." When you go places that aren't used to having production? That is a good place to start. Where they are not entertainment minded people. When we shot this movie, we intentionally shot in Ohio, and North Carolina. We just thought, those won't be people that expect to see us there. Within the rules of that, we also know not to shoot it in front of a bunch of skateboarders and people that love Jackass. We do target our demographic as much as we can. We try to shoot away from our fanbase.
I listened to an interview with Johnny Knoxville when the movie was in theaters. He said he had pretty good radar. He could tell when someone knew what was going on, but was still playing along with the bit. Because they wanted to be in the movie. How does that work for you? Do you know automatically if someone has caught on?
Jeff Tremaine: When we're watching the footage, when we're watching it happen...One of the big things...We have little moles planted....Say we are shooting a big scene, like the biker bar or the beauty pageant. If we sense someone is catching on, we try to send someone over there, we tap them on the shoulder, and we pull them aside. We talk to them. We try to yank them out of the scene, so they don't poison the well. I have to have these eyes and ears while I'm watching the shooting. I have to fill inJohnny Knoxville, and I sometimes have to feed Jackson Nicoll his lines. But also, my ears are wide open to hear if anyone is catching in on to it. We have all these mics around. So I can hear what all these people are saying. I make sure I 'm keyed in on whether reactions are authentic.
This Jackson kid is so bold in this movie. You guys first were introduced to him when Johnny Knoxville worked with him on the set of Fun Size, right?
Jeff Tremaine: Yeah. That's how we met him...
He's doing some pretty crazy stuff in this movie. Was there ever a moment where he was like, 'No, guys. I'm not doing that.' Or was he game for all of it? Because, when I first saw the footage from the beauty pageant, I couldn't believe you'd be able to convince a boy that age to do something that outrageous.
Jeff Tremaine: No, this kid is the bravest kid I have ever met. Most of my job was backing him down, not jacking him up. He loves when things get crazy. When he stood there, and knocked on the strip club door, and that guy starts yelling at him? He's intense, this kid. He can't wait for shit to get out of control.
So, will he instigate stuff that you guys aren't catching right away?
Jeff Tremaine: Yes, he does. Yes, I have to back him down. I have to say, 'Jackson, you are playing a sweet innocent little boy. Don't say fuck off to that person.' It's so funny.
Now, I over heard that Spike Jonze is going to have a major role in this Bad Grandpa 0.5 that you are working on...
Maybe I heard this wrong, but is Gina Gershon also in the follow-up movie?
Jeff Tremaine: It was actually Catherine Keener. She got cut out of the first one, but she is all over Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa 0.5. She plays...You know the dead body in the movie? That is actually her face as an old woman. We had it written in, we showed flashbacks of Elle and Irving...Elle was Irving's deceased wife...We had some flashback scenes from earlier in their life, and we got some really funny stuff. The movie to us, when we started paring it down, it was all about just spending time with Irving and Billy, and cutting out all this extra stuff.
And this is going to be an all-new feature length movie, right? This second one is all-new?
Jeff Tremaine: Yes. It's all-new. It has some behind-the-scenes elements to it. If you've seen Jackass 3.5, its like that. Its everything else we shot. Some of the stuff is funnier than what is in the movie, if you have a little context to it. If you know why this piece failed, or that piece failed, it becomes even funnier.
I'm interested to know how the promotional side of this thing worked out. The movie was announced pretty close to its release date. Usually, these movies spend years trying to build an awareness, and you guys had just a couple of short months, but the movie went onto be one of the biggest money earners of the year.
Jeff Tremaine: It's a testimony to the power of the word Jackass. To be honest, I think...I think they played it masterfully. We didn't have a lot to do with that side of it, other than we told everybody, 'No press. No leaking of information that we're doing this until its in the can.' But once it was in the can, we turned it over to Paramount's marketing team, and I think they did an awesome job of getting the word out. This movie performed way better than we could have ever hoped for.
It was the perfect secret. But then these domain names get registered, and that is such a tiny thing...But people see that and they pick it up and run with it...That happened about a year before the movie came out...
Jeff Tremaine: Yeah, that stressed us out! It became a news story while we were shooting. Actually, it happened before we even starting shooting. They started registering these domain names. Paramount not knowing what we were going to call it. I understand, they have to do that. But all of a sudden, it became a little news blip. We got really pissed off about it. But I don't know...We'd have to think way ahead of it. We'd have to register the domain names, and then wait and not shoot it for another year or two. People forgot about it pretty quick. It didn't really hit the BIG press.
I understand social media, and the fact that the movie was a huge success...But do you feel there are still enough people in America who don't know what is going on that you feel you could take this character back on the road and do a sequel? Or do you think you could take Irving overseas? Or does he retire?
Jeff Tremaine: Yeah, I don't know. We've talked about all kinds of ways we could do this. We haven't gone deep into it. We're still exhausted from this. We haven't started talking about a sequel or if its even possible. The fact that it did so well makes it harder to do a sequel. But I wouldn't say that it's impossible. We will leave the door open. Right now, we are just enjoying this run, and we're not going to worry about it.
It also helps that you kind of already made the sequel while you were in the midst of shooting this one...
Jeff Tremaine: Yeah, look...If we then decided to shoot a real sequel? Then we'd have even more extra stuff. That's just the way we do it.