Hayden Schlossberg and Jon Hurwitz talk about the sequel, a third film and other projects
Hayden Schlossberg and Jon Hurwitz were a couple of newbie writers with a project from the dude who directed Dude, Where's My Car? four years ago, but when their flick Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle was released in theaters, a sequel seemed ineveitable. The duo is back writing and making their directorial debuts with Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, which hit the shelves on DVD and Blu-Ray on July 29. I had a chance to talk with these filmmakers about the film, and here's what they had to say.
When you guys wrote the first one, was there plans for a sequel or was it something that came up afterwards?
Jon Hurwitz: We always wanted Harold and Kumar to be a franchise. When we were writing the first movie, we'd always thought it'd be fun to do more of these movies. Originally, we wrote Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle and set it up so that the sequel will be Harold and Kumar Go To Amsterdam. It took awhile for the sequel to get the go-ahead and we had to think of a story and a plot that we thought was more original, so we kind of switched gears, but it was always important to us that the second movie picked up right where the first did. We were huge fans of movies in the 80s like the Back to the Future series and things like that, so it was something that was important to us when we were doing the sequel.
So did you guys discuss everything with Jon (Cho) and Kal (Penn) before, that you wanted to have multiple films like this and were they on board right away?
Hayden Schlossberg: I think everybody knew that we were hoping this would become a franchise, but you just take everything one movie at a time. I remember when the first movie was getting made, we just hoped that it would see the light of day and we were really happy with the response that it got. It's one of those movies, like a "Dazed and Confused" that built a cult fanbase over time, with video and DVD. We always thought that there could be a sequel, if it was possible, and when the studio said yes, we all looked at each other and we were excited because we had a fun time doing the first movie and really wanted to do another one.
What was the process like in writing this? Was it any different than the first one and was it easier writing the second one than the first?
Jon Hurwitz: Both of these movies were kind of shockingly easy for Hayden and I to write. We'd written a lot of screenplays over the years and the Harold and Kumar ones are always the ones that come out the quickest. I think one of the benefits of writing the second one was we knew Jon, Kal and Neil (Patrick Harris) really well and how game they were as actors and knew a lot of what they could do. We put some thoughts into that while we were doing the writing, but I think both of them were similarly easy experiences to write. For some reason, these movies kind of fly off of the page.
Hayden Schlossberg: It seems to some fans that we take our time writing, but it took awhile for the studio to see the financial reasons to do the sequel, and that's really what took us so long between parts one and two. When they asked us to do it, we were done with it in a month, at least our first draft of it.
So the studio was hesitant to make the second one after the first came out?
Hayden Schlossberg: The first movie did well, relatively to what the budget was, but it wasn't this mega-blockbuster that demanded a sequel. Everybody liked the characters, it got really good reviews and we wanted to do a sequel, but it was important for us to do a sequel in the right way. Relatively soon after they approached us about doing some sort of straight-to-DVD movie, but it was important for us that any future Harold and Kumar movie to have at least the same quality as the originals did. We just stuck to our guns, hoping that they DVD would catch on and, as I said before, this is one of those movies that's a very word-of-mouth kind of movie. Obviously, the guys at the time weren't huge stars when the first movie came out and it really was a word-of-mouth thing that built over time and over time, the studio started to realize more and more then potential.
This is both your guys' first directing gig. What was that whole experience like and was it as nerve-wracking as I imagine it would be?
Jon Hurwitz: It was an incredible experience, from beginning to end. There's definitely the stresses and pressures of directing for the first time, but we were on set the entire time on Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, so we kind of knew the guys really well. Jon, Kal and Neil have become good friends of ours. We worked extremely close with Danny Leiner on the first movie and helping along as he was directing the film and even in the post process, seeing cuts of the movie and giving our thoughts throughout. We really had a front row seat of the process and, considering these movies are things that we've written, when we write them, we see the whole movie in our heads so I think the easiest thing about directing for us, was we knew exactly what we wanted and knew how to articulate that to the people we were working with. I think when you've written the material and know most of the actors very very well, that took a load off. As soon as we assembled the team of people we were working with, we just had a really incredible crew, from Daryn Okada, our DP, to Tony Fanning to George S. Clinton, Jeff Freeman. These are all people who have worked on a lot of movies and were just really talented and completely bought into the vision of the movie that we were going for. We felt that we were working with a really great team who was passionate about making the movie. Some of the days were long and challenging, but we loved every minute of it because, one day you're shooting a scene with a Cyclops in the room and the next day you've got George W. Bush smoking weed (Laughs). As professional as it was, there was always a ridiculousness around it, keeping it fun.
After the first one, Jon and Kal have really blown up. What kind of a style do you bring to these roles and how do you like working with them?
Hayden Schlossberg: I think the thing that we love most about Jon and Kal as actors is that, first and foremost, these are actors. These aren't comedy guys in a movie, they can play a variety of different parts. They're very versatile. So, that's important for us because in the Harold and Kumar movies, the comedy is obviously the most important thing and making the audience laugh hysterically is our primary goal. However, in order for the movies to work, you need to relate to the main characters and really believe that they feel real and that their friendship is real. A lot of times in movies, especially in sequels, the characters become caricatures and just sort of improv machines and joke machines, rather than people you can actually connect to. I think that it's important for us, but it's also important for them, to stay in character. There will be times when we're shooting a scene and there'll be the urge for Jon and Kal to do something funny, but that's not necessarily what they need to be doing in the scene. They're the vessel that we're sort of riding and it's important for them to stay grounded while all this crazy stuff is happening around them. Jokes like Neil Patrick Harris and George W. Bush and Freakshow in the first movie, all that stuff works best if you start the movie off feeling these guys and their friendship and relating to them and I think the odd-couple dynamic that we created with the characters sets that up, but their abilities as actors to understand that, 'Hey, it's not all about us being goofy here, it's about us staying in character,' and understanding when it's time to be funny, how to deliver the jokes and how to execute it. They're just perfect at it and the chemistry is great and we're all friends, so it couldn't be better.
So is there a third movie being lined up and can you tell us anything about that?
Jon Hurwitz: Hayden and I were recently commissioned to write the third movie, so we're pumped up about it. The details are currently under wraps, partly because we want to leave some surprise for the audience and partly because we haven't written it yet (Laughs). We haven't shared our ideas yet with the studio, but all I know is that our goal with the third movie is to put another Harold and Kumar movie out there that the fans are going to love. That brings the laughs, that brings that second layer of social relevance to the movie, but, first and foremost, just bringing back the guys in a new adventure and bringing out a whole new set of laughs for everyone.
Do you guys have anything planned, aside from Harold and Kumar? Are there any other scripts that you're developing?
Hayden Schlossberg: Yeah. We have a project at Warner Brothers, a script that we sold to them called Till Beth Do Us Part. It's a comedy, similar to Harold and Kumar in that it will keep you laughing a lot, but it's a little more grounded than Harold and Kumar. It's really about the way male friendship changes when one friend, in a duo of friends, decidees to get married. It's the type of thing that a lot of people who are getting to that age of getting married relate to, how meeting that person affects the dynamic of their friendship. We're trying to do that in a very real, grounded way, while also being really funny. We handed the script in so we're starting to work on the cast of that movie. After that, we have a couple of things that aren't "official" official, but we feel like are our next couple of things lined up after that. We're very excited without Harold and Kumar, but now that there's a Harold & Kumar 3, we're more excited about it.
So do you have any cast lined up for that Till Beth Do Us Part?
Jon Hurwitz: We do not yet. We're in the early stages where we're discussing cast and stuff like that with the studio, so we haven't signed anybody on yet, but it's something that will hopefully be coming together soon and we're just pumped up to get another movie going.
Finally, I think it's fairly safe to say that expectations were fairly low with the first Harold and Kumar, but it ended up succeeding vastly compared do what was expected. What do you think that this series of movies has to say to audiences and why do you think it's been such a success over the years?
Hayden Schlossberg: Jon and I, we write these movies to be crowd-pleasers and it's not obviously for everybody. There are certain people who may not like this certain kind of comedy, but we know that there are a lot of people out there that do. When I say 'this type of comedy,' I really mean all types of comedy, because I think that's what is most unique and original about Harold and Kumar, that it's not one type of joke. Yeah, we have gross-out jokes, we have physical jokes, but we also have character dialogue jokes, we have satire, we have just absurd, out of left field stoner jokes, and, of course, we have the racial humor in the movie.
Jon Hurwitz: Just jumping in for a second, the racial comedy is one of those things that you almost never see in feature films. You see it at the comedy club, you see it on certain TV shows and stuff like that, but that's one of those things that you don't often see on the big screen and we enjoy having that as part of the canon.
Hayden Schlossberg: That's obviously a huge part, the racial comedy part, but it's the fact that there are all these different types of comedy that I think that fans of comedy end up liking it because there's something to latch on to, they're laughing. At the end of the day, the reason why we made movies is that we thought most comedies out there just aren't that good and the ones we really like, that's what we're really trying to achieve with these Harold and Kumar movies. As we write a third one, and hopefully continue to do them, it's our goal to maintain that whole philosophy that we have of pleasing the crowd, not making it too over the top, grounding the characters in reality so that the audience can relate to Harold and Kumar and just have a fun time with the adventure that they're on.
Excellent. That's about all I have for you guys. Thank you so much for your time today.
Jon Hurwitz: Thanks a lot.
Hayden Schlossberg: Thanks, Brian.
You can pick up all the laughs in Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay on DVD and Blu-Ray, starting on July 29.