The writer-director of this hilarious comedy talks about his hilarious cast, the wonderful DVD features, Little Fockers and more
Writer-director John Hamburg's career saw him go from cult-hit writer-director with Safe Men to writing the blockbuster comedy Meet the Parents and writing another cult comedy hit in Zoolander. Hamburg finds himself in the director's chair once again with his latest film, I Love You, Man, which comes to DVD and Blu-ray on August 11. I recently spoke on the phone with Hamburg about his new film and here's what he had to say.
I loved the film in the theaters and I checked out the special features and you have quite a DVD on your hands here.
John Hamburg: Oh, thanks man. This is the first movie that I directed where my editing crew and I did a lot of the special features on the DVD ourselves. It was really fun to get into that.
So you mentioned on the special features that Larry Levin's script kind of came to you and that's what you crafted this movie from, so can you talk about what was in that screenplay that was similar and different and how that lead to making this film?
John Hamburg: Yeah. They're pretty much different movies but with the same premise. He had this great idea, way before any of these "bromance" kind of movies, before that was ever a term. It was in 2001 when I first read it.
John Hamburg: Yeah. I just thought it was such a fresh idea and it was something that I would think about a lot, which is the awkwardness of male friendship and just plutonic friendship in general. That script just stuck with me and I went on and did other movies and went on with my career and a couple of years ago, I just started thinking again about the premise, without even knowing who was developing the script, because it had been rewritten by other writers who were involved with other directors over the years, because it was such a great premise. I wasn't the only one that thought it was good. I just started writing notebook pages of notes, of what I would do with this if I could get my hands on that story. It worked out and I hooked up with Donald De Line, who was the producer when it was called Let's Be Friends, all those years ago, and he and I would talk about it from time to time over the years. We got back together and I wrote what became I Love You, Man.
One of the things that I loved about the film was just the pure awkwardness of Paul Rudd and all this broken slang that he comes up with. So, if you had to nail it down, percentage-wise, how many of these were scripted and how many were Paul's creation?
John Hamburg: (Laughs) You know, it's hard to say. Some of them were in the script and Paul definitely took that idea and ran with that in a very profound and wonderful way. He totally gets all the credit in the world for making what was an awkward character on the page, sort of the poet laureate of awkwardness (Laughs).
That's very true. One of the other things I was impressed with was just this cast of amazing comedians, Paul, Jason, Rashida Jones, J.K. Simmons, Andy Samberg, Jon Favreau. I heard one of the challenges was to kind of reign these guys all in and give everyone their due, so what was it like working with those guys and get everyone equal credit?
John Hamburg: It was great. In movies, and comedies especially, you try to stack the deck with as many amazingly talented people as possible. I shoot a lot of extra film, because they're all so funny and you don't know what's exactly going to work until you get to the cutting room, really until you do your test screenings and stuff. It wasn't hard, but it was like we have this spirit and all these awesome people. Let's just play around and do a lot of different stuff and try different things. What you need are great actors who are kind of down with that way of working and these guys were, for sure. It was just super fun to show up every day.
I noticed on the Extras feature on the special features that there was a lot of different ways to say each line, so did you kind of do it like it was scripted first and then you just let them run for a bit? Is that kind of how it worked?
John Hamburg: It was a combo. We definitely did a bunch in the scripted way and then we would improv or I would throw ideas out or the actors would have ideas. It was a very collaborative way of doing it. Some scenes we did exactly how it was on the page and some we would try it and, sometimes it would be great the first way and we'd just try it a different way. Sometimes you do it because the scene doesn't quite have the energy you want yet, so by getting into alternate lines and improve, it can get a more realistic feel and make it funnier. Maybe sometimes I'll find my way back to the script after that. It's definitely a free-fall. The process is not to have a specific process and be open to what can go on during the day.
I thought it was odd about the dynamic between Peter and his brother Robbie. Peter is straight and Robbie is gay but it really seems the other way around, so can you talk about that dynamic at all and how that kind of came to life?
John Hamburg: Yeah. When I was writing the character, I thought it would be good if he has a gay brother, because there is definitely a kind of subtext to these movies about guy friendship. I mean, Humpday hits it on the head, it's like, 'What's the deal with these guys?' I thought it would be good to just kind of get it out of there by having him have a gay brother. The character I was writing with Peter was more metrosexual and it just struck me as being funny and fresh and people liked the Andy Samberg character. They weren't defined by their sexuality, basically. He's just like anybody. He's like, 'I sleep with dudes. I hang out with my dad and go fishing. Whatever.' I didn't want to make it a big deal.
So you mentioned earlier that you actually did a lot of the work with your crew on the DVD yourselves and I have to say that gag reel is probably one of the best gag reels I've ever seen.
John Hamburg: Oh, great.
It actually seemed like a short film. I haven't really seen a gag reel like that before, so was that one of the things you cut yourself?
John Hamburg: Yeah. You know what, a version of that, a little bit longer, was what we played at the wrap party for the cast and crew. There were a few hundred people there and we got a big screen and played it. At that point, the cast and crew had barely seen any of the footage, so it was really fun to screen some stuff for them. We liked it so much that, we shortened it for sure, but we put a version of that on the DVD. So the editing crew did that for the wrap party and when we did the DVD we got together and said, 'All right. This is a little bit long for the average viewer at home who didn't actually work on the movie for five or six months,' but it's not that dissimilar to what we played there. We definitely put a lot of effort into it and the only difference is, at the wrap party, it wasn't for commercial use and we had probably $5 million worth of music cues. Beatles songs and Stones, stuff like that we had to delete, but we had some good composed music and I think it still works.
I also saw that on the deleted scenes, there's a deleted man-date with the rugby guy that didn't quite make it. Were there other kinds of man-date ideas that were kicked around that were either filmed or in the development process that didn't kind of make it?
John Hamburg: The only one that we filmed was the rugby one, which we loved, but it just felt broader than the movie we were making. That didn't make the final cut and the only other one that I conceived that we didn't actually shoot was there was going to be a scene where Peter goes to a strip club with Tevin, Rob Huebel's character, and he ends up touching the girl's breast and gets thrown out of the strip club. We cut it in pre-production because we felt that we didn't need it.
So you have Little Fockers coming up and it seems there are more adult issues going on, so will there be more dramatic elements going on in that film?
John Hamburg: It's not going to be darker. It's going to be a total out-and-out comedy. It's just that some of the things the movie deals with are things that people deal with - I mean, these characters have been together for 10 years and Pam and Greg have gotten married and they have kids. De Niro's character is getting older so they're kind of thinking about those kinds of things. It's definitely a pure comedy.
You have a couple of other films that are in development so is there anything you can tell us about Secret Agent Man or The Troubleshooter or anything else you might be developing?
John Hamburg: You know, The Troubleshooter is a movie I wrote that I definitely want to make some day. It's like a comic, disturbing thriller, kind of like those movies like Foul Play. I haven't seen a version of that in awhile. I don't know if it will be my next movie, but I definitely want to make it in the next few years. Secret Agent Man is a movie that some really talented young writers are writing for my production company. It's a funny action comedy and hopefully we'll make that soon too. That doesn't have to be a huge-budgeted movie, but it's definitely got some special effects and stuff. We're working on the script and those guys are also working on another movie for me to direct, maybe sometime next spring. I'm working a lot on Little Fockers and, in between, trying to figure out the next one as well.
So, finally, for those who missed out on the hilarity in the theaters, can you talk about why those who haven't seen this should pick this up on DVD or Blu-ray this week?
John Hamburg: Yeah. I Love You, Man is, I think, a very believable, laugh-out-loud character comedy. I think it's about something that everyone can relate to, which is how can you make friends? Who is my best friend and how did we become friends? It's kind of a universal theme and it's got an incredible cast with really really funny, smart actors. I think that if you're sitting at home, chilling on a Wednesday night, then you might as well get 90 minutes of laughs in there.
Well, that's about all I have for you, John. Thanks so much for your time, and best of luck with your new films.
John Hamburg: My pleasure. Thank you very much.
Get ready to laugh when writer-director John Hamburg's I Love You, Man comes out on DVD and Blu-ray on August 11.