Director Jay Chandrasekhar discusses his new comedy The Babymakers, debuting on Blu-ray and DVD September 18
As a member of the Broken Lizard comedy troupe, Jay Chandrasekhar starred in, co-wrote, and directed comedy hits such as Super Troopers and Beerfest. He has also forged his own path as a sought-after TV director, working on shows such as Arrested Development, Chuck, Up All Night, Community, Happy Endings, Psych, Royal Pains, and Warehouse 13. The filmmaker makes his return to the big screen with the comedy The Babymakers, arriving on Blu-ray and DVD September 18. I recently had the chance to speak with this multi-hyphenate over the phone. Here's what he had to say.
This is one of the few projects that you didn't co-write with the Broken Lizard guys. Was that something you were looking for, something outside of that?
Jay Chandrasekhar: This came to Kevin Heffernan, and he brought it to me. It felt like it was right in our sense of humor. I was looking to make a movie that was sort of a date movie. My wife is very anti-violence, so I've been dragged to a lot of chick flicks like Julie & Julia, The Devil Wears Prada, and Confessions of a Shopaholic. Although I liked them all (Laughs), I wanted to make a movie for guys who are in this situation where they're like, 'OK, I can go to this movie. There's a relationship at the center, my wife will like it, and yet it will have some of the Broken Lizard stuff.' I was also interested in trying a movie that was more traditionally structured, about a guy trying to get one thing and all of the stuff that gets in the way. When you make a Broken Lizard movie, it's starring five guys, and it's often a challenging puzzle to figure out. This one came that way, and we sort of made it our own, with a lot of development with the writers.
Can you talk a bit about getting the cast lined up?
Jay Chandrasekhar: Well, it's a small movie. We wanted to hire somebody who felt a little bit fresh and original. Paul (Schneider) is such a good actor. I talked to him and we sort of felt each other out. I wanted to see if he was willing to do the kinds of jokes you have to do to be in this movie, and he wanted to see if I was willing to find someone who wants the kind of acting he likes to do. We both eventually came to an agreement that we can work with each other, and now we're buddies and I'm sure we'll work together again. Olivia (Munn), we've been pals for awhile. She's been in a couple of films, one that I produced and one that Kevin Heffernan directed The Slammin' Salmon. She read it and said, 'I need to be in this movie.' She's really persuasive, and she really has made quite a career for herself.
A lot of these supporting cast members are accomplished improvisers as well. Was there room in the script for a lot of improvisation?
Jay Chandrasekhar: You know what, I have people read the script and then we get together and rehearse as much as they're available. The others that aren't available, I call them and say, 'What jokes aren't working for you? Let's deal with it now.' They'd say, 'How about this,' and we'll work together to rewrite a new one. Then, on the day, we know what the jokes are, but they come up with some other options. Once we have what's written down, feel free to take a few takes and go nuts. I just choose the best ones, scripted or not. Aisha Tyler did a lot of improvisation and, when I was working with her, I was like, 'Man, we need to make a movie where you have a bigger part,' because she's got quite a bright mind. There are all these great people like Wood Harris from The Wire is in it. I'm such a big Wire fan, and I can't believe directing scenes with Wood Harris!
The plight of Tommy is interesting too. This ploy is kind of deplorable, but you're rooting for him at the same time. Did you have conversations with Paul about the delicacy of that, and how to walk that line?
Jay Chandrasekhar: We really focused on the idea of manhood. The movie, if you think about it, is about a guy and his wife trying to have a baby, and there's nothing more primal than that, right? If you're the guy, and you can't do that, then your manhood is questioned. We kind of lean on this idea that he feels bad about not being able to do what he's supposed to do. In terms of stealing from a sperm bank, I always try to put characters in situations that are difficult and, even if they make an outrageous choice, you'd say, 'I can see why he made that choice.' If I had the choice of getting my own sperm back, or not doing that and adopting or whatever, I would try to get my own sperm back. You try to make it so the audience goes, 'Yeah, I see why he did that.'
How big or small of a shooting schedule do you have on a movie like this?
Jay Chandrasekhar: This one, we shot in 21 days. I made it with this friend of mine Jason Blum, who made the Paranormal Activity movies. He said, 'Do you think we can make this kind of movie with a comedy?' I said, 'Absolutely.' I have shot a lot of television, and you have to shoot a real high page count every day, but it has to be at a real high level, because it's network. I was comfortable in prep, to make sure the script was written all the way, fully developed, everything is great, in your opinion. Then you can shoot quickly. You have to be a filmmaker and know what shots you need.
People have been talking about Pot Quest and Super Troopers 2. Are any of these on the horizon at all? Is there anything else you're developing that you can talk about?
Jay Chandrasekhar: We have a legal situation we have to sort of resolve with Fox, before Super Troopers 2 can happen. We're close to some resolution, one way or another. We don't know. We hope so. In terms of Pot Quest, we just really have to write it. We're a little stacked up on other jobs right now, but I have opened the file and started typing away on it. I believe both movies will happen, it just may be a little while.
Last year you also directed episodes of two of my favorite comedies shows, Community and Happy Endings. Do you have any plans to go back to either show?
Jay Chandrasekhar: I just wrapped a Happy Endings episode. I'm shooting Community this fall, and I'm working on this new show Animal Practice right now. I'm doing about eight shows this fall. I like to keep working in television. It's fun.
I interviewed Brad Anderson last year, and in between movies, he directs episodes of Fringe, Supernatural, and all sorts of other shows. Do you enjoy the TV side, keeping you busy until the next film comes around?
Jay Chandrasekhar: Even when I'm shooting television, in between set-ups, I'm writing movies (Laughs). To me, it's all just sort of a lot of fun. Movies take a long time to get up and running, with the casting and raising the money. To me, it's all exciting and fun. You just have to keep writing. This business is fueled by scripts, and if you keep having good scripts, you can keep making stuff. In the meantime, I work on other people's scripts, which I'm really grateful and lucky to do. I work with all these great actors. I directed four Arrested Development episodes, not this run, but all these other shows like Up All Night, Community, Happy Endings. It's a great honor, and I'm privileged I get to do it.
What would you like to say to anyone who didn't get a chance to see The Babymakers in theaters about why they should pick it up on Blu-ray and DVD?
Jay Chandrasekhar: For those who are looking for Broken Lizard material, I think you're going to get a healthy dose of it. For those who love Paul Schneider and Olivia Munn, there's a really relatable relationship at the center of it.
Great. Thanks so much. It was great talking to you.
Jay Chandrasekhar: Thanks.