Kevin Heffernan takes over the directorial reigns on Broken Lizards' latest outing.
Broken Lizard are back in the hilarious new film The Slammin' Salmon. This time out, Former Heavy Weight Boxer Cleon "The Slammin'" Salmon (Michael Clark Duncan), who has since become a restaurant entrepreneur, is indebted to the Yakuza and thus challenges his wait staff to a $10,000 tip-off in order to pay back the money. Hilarity ensues when this one crazy night spins desperately out of control. The movie has often been described as a cross between Glengarry Glen Ross and Road House, and its being hailed by critics as one of Broken Lizard's best films to date. We recently caught up with director/star Kevin Heffernan, who for the first time is taking over the reigns from usual Lizard team leader Jay Chandrasekhar, to find out more about this rousing comedy. Here is our conversation:
How did you come to direct this one? Was it decided by committee or challenge? Or were you the only one that stepped up?
Kevin Heffernan: Indian leg wresting. You'd have thought Chandrasekhar would win. It was all five of us in a group Indian leg wrestle. We looked like a giant pretzel. Actually, this came together very quickly. Chandrasekhar had prior directorial obligations at the time, so he wasn't able to do it. I basically won the job of director by default.
IMDB doesn't have you listed as an actor in the film, but you're clearly on the poster and in the trailer. What's up with that? Are you going uncredited?
Kevin Heffernan: (Laughs) No way! Top billing for me. I am an actor in this. There are seven main characters, and I am one of them. I only play one guy, though. Paul Soter is the only one playing multiple characters in this particular movie.
How do you feel The Slammin' Salmon is different than past Broken Lizard comedies? What do you feel you brought to it, as a director, that is unique to your existing cannon?
Kevin Heffernan: I brought a lot of class, first of all. I wore a suit. Just like Alfred Hitchcock when he directed. We never had that kind of class before on one of our films.
You wore a suit. But wasn't that part of your costume? Weren't you acting and directing at the same time?
Kevin Heffernan: Yes, it's true. You got me. It wasn't a fashion choice by me. It was a character choice. The context on this film is different than what we've done in the past. It's a movie that is set in one night, and takes place in one location. It has a stage play feel to it. We were going for a comedic Glengarry Glen Ross sort of thing. The context feels different than all the other films we've made.
Was it strange for the other guys to have you step up and become the leader? How was your approach differed from Jay's? Or do you look at these films as a community effort in setting up and selling a joke?
Kevin Heffernan: It is all pretty collaborative. We've all been involved in all of the different steps, whether it is pre-production or post-production. It's a family type thing, so it wasn't too weird to switch gears. It's all the same crew, and the same cast. The feeling was the same. We've been working together for fifteen years, so the comedy was the same. There were a lot of whispers in the corner. Those guys were always second-guessing me when I'd make a decision. Especially Chandrasekhar.
You had to stay on set while the other guys were goofing off. Was that difficult for you?
Kevin Heffernan: That was every single day. That is the trade off you get for directing. You don't get to grab-ass the same way everyone else does. I used to be able to grab-ass, and Chandrasekhar would have to worry about where to put the lights. Then all of sudden, he got to grab-ass and I now had to worry about the technical stuff.
Did this experience change Jay's mind about directing these movies? Is he going to keep you in charge from now on?
Kevin Heffernan: No. I think he loves directing movies. There is no question about that. He certainly enjoyed his grab-assing experience, though. It's a taste he really likes. I suspect that he is going to try and grab-ass while he is directing in the near future.
The film was shot on a very short time schedule. How do you think that upped the energy of everyone involved?
Kevin Heffernan: It's the shortest shoot we have ever done. It was just twenty-five days. Even the first film we made, Puddle Cruiser, took twenty-eight days. It was interesting. It was a function of being in the same location. We didn't have to move, so we didn't have to spend any time doing that. The energy was great because of it. Being cooped up in this one spot gave us a fun energy. Even though the time constraint was heavy, it allowed us to improvise more, and have a lot of fun that way. It was a cool experience to do something aggressive in one location. We stuck to the script. Being in that one spot did allow you some freedom. We knew after two hours that you wouldn't be doing a big company move. Within the location, we had extra time. We could pop off one or two more takes where we threw in all that extra improve stuff. It was weird. It was a blessing in that sense. We were under the gun a lot. But because we never moved from that one space, we were able to make the best of our improvisational stuff.
Do you have a disconnect between the best shooting days and the worst shooting days, or does the whole experience sort of blur together?
Kevin Heffernan: It was a pretty cohesive experience. You'd just put your head down and go. We didn't necessarily have time to have a bad day. We had to do four or five set-ups a day, or five pages of dialogue, just to get back where we needed to be. We put our heads down, and when we looked up, we were done. Its like when you go to your own wedding. You experience the fun of it in a different way. Because it's just suddenly done. The interesting thing about us is that there is no diplomacy. If you work with someone, and you have a difference of opinion, you have to think about how to get it out there. We don't have to do that, because we've been together for so long. We get into some arguments, definitely. The beauty of it is, ten minutes later, we're in the creative process again. You get over your arguments fairly quickly. The crewmembers will attest to the fact that there were a couple of arguments. You just think about the best way to put everything back together.
When you work with someone like Michael Clark Duncan or Bill Paxton, do they become Lizards by default? Or are they just looked at as glorified extras?
Kevin Heffernan: They become Lizards by default. We ended up having great relationships with these guys. Michael Clark Duncan said to me the other day, "I'd like to change Broken Lizard to Broken Lizardz. With a Z on the end. And I will be the Z." We have some awesome cameos this time around. I don't think I am spoiling anything by telling you that Will Forte is in there. He has a great cameo. We have Vivica A. Fox, Morgan Fairchild, Lance Hendrickson, Olivia Munn, Jim Gaffigan. The restaurant setting lent itself really well to having cameos. Because we shot in Los Angeles, we were able to stock it up. Just one after the other.
You had a lot of extras on set because of the restaurant setting as well. What was the food situation like?
Kevin Heffernan: The guy that did the food prep was amazing. We were talking about it, and as far as being an extra or background person on this movie, it had to be an awesome gig. Basically all you did was sit in a booth. And they brought out food you could eat. Like lobster and steak. It was a pretty good gig.
The film has been described by some of the Lizards as a cross between Glengarry Glenn Ross and Road House. Now that the film is finished, how do you think it stands up to those two perennial classics?
Kevin Heffernan: I think its pretty good. It has a different flavor. It's those two movies, and we've sprinkled in an element of the Marx Brothers. It's a parlor comedy with one joke after the other. We certainly bastardized Glengarry Glen Ross, but in a comedic way.
All of the Broken Lizard films play like classic rock albums. They get better with every viewing, and they have this pull that keeps bringing you back in again and again. What do you acquit that too, and do you feel The Slammin' Salmon is right up there with the best of the bunch?
Kevin Heffernan: We try to do that in the writing process. We try to layer things in for people to pick up on in multiple viewings. We spend our time trying to hone quotable dialogue. It's the stuff people like to say over and over again. That, to me, is the definition of a cult film. Yes, a cult film is one you discover, but its also one you watch over and over again. You come home and you pop it in. You watch it multiple times. That's something we strive for. Those are the movies that last longer. Those are the things that you remember more. We always try to hone that.
As a first time director on a Lizard film, how did you choreograph what was going on in the foreground with what was going on in the background? Is that a hard thing to orchestrate?
Kevin Heffernan: It was hard. That's what we did in the preparation of shooting this thing. Because you are in this one location, you are very limited in what you will see. When you point the camera in a certain direction, you want to make sure you are putting the most jokes in that direction. You want it to feel like a lot of stuff is going on in that small environment. That was the intention. Interestingly enough for me, as a director, and I didn't appreciate this as much as Chandrasekhar, is that when you put yourself into those scenarios as an actor, it feels like your head is going to pop. On top of delivering your lines, and acting, you are looking at everything else going on in the background. The lights, the other people that are acting. It becomes difficult to juggle all of that stuff in your mind. Luckily, I had a lot of help from the other guys. Everything is by design. We had a scene where one of the waiters is delivering a bottle of champagne to a table in the background. We went out and got one of those gigantic bottles of champagne. One of the comedy bottles. He puts that in his hand and pops it. You won't be able to tell unless you watch it multiple times and you notice it in the background. It will be the biggest bottle of champagne you have ever seen. Those were constructive situations that we found ourselves in.
With the decade coming to a close, what do you think your greatest achievements have been in the past ten years, both as a team player and as an individual?
Kevin Heffernan: I think it's a hard thing to do. To keep an entity together. Whether you are a band or a comedy team. And to keep making material. Over these ten years, we have made five movies. I think that is a great accomplishment. To keep your creative entity together over those years. And to keep cranking out the jokes. It almost feels like twenty years.
You were able to have your family members on set with you while you shot. What does having your mom and your aunt next to you during a scene bring to the experience/ Does it improve you as a director? Do they ever come up with suggestions that get in the movie?
Kevin Heffernan: I don't know about that. I know my mom and aunt were having a conversation as extras that the microphones picked up. They were talking about the day I was born. The crew got a huge kick out of that. The situation is more about embarrassing me. They don't necessarily help out the movie.
Was it nerve wracking to have your mom sitting right behind you while you try to work?
Kevin Heffernan: Maybe the first time. My mom was in Puddle Cruiser. One of the first big things my parents did was Super Troopers. They were in the Chicken Fuckers scene. Where my character, Favra runs up to a van and calls the people inside chicken fuckers. Those people were played by my parents. To go up there and do twenty takes where you are calling your parents chicken fuckers was a little unnerving. Since that moment, they have figured out what they are in for. They enjoy it.
Olivia Munn is in both The Slammin Salmon and your upcoming film Freeloaders. How did you get paired up with her, and what does she bring to both projects?
Kevin Heffernan: Her and her show over at G4 are fans of Super Troopers. We'd been on the show a few times. We became friendly with her. When we were casting this movie, we asked if she'd come in and do a part. She is so funny, and smart, and quick on her feet. And beautiful, of course. We felt she should be doing comedy movies, so we asked her to be in this. Once we had her, we realized that the camera loves her. She is a freeform comedy genius. After we worked with her once, I decided that I could work with her in every movie. She is that great.
Can you tell me a little more about Freeloaders? The Broken Lizard are in the film, but it's not necessarily a Lizard film, is it?
Kevin Heffernan: That is a producing project for us. Adam Duritz of the Counting Crows, and two friends of his, were writing partners on this film. It had a very similar vibe to the movies we make. They asked if we would work with them to make the film. We helped Shepard the project through, and got it made. We all have cameos. We do one little scene in the film. For the most part, it's other actors. It's just a producing project for us. We literally have two minutes of screen time. But the other actors are awesome. And it's pretty funny, too.
Everyone wants to know about Super Troopers 2. Where are you guys at as far as a shooting schedule and what can we expect to see out of Favra this round?
Kevin Heffernan: We went back and forth on doing it for a long time. We just recently decided that we would do it. We've written about three drafts of the screenplay. We are taking our time on it. We haven't shown it to the studio yet. It's the kind of thing we don't want to screw up. So we are going to write multiple drafts, get in to a place where we love it, and then get it made. I would imagine that we'd start shooting it in the later part of 2010. There has been a lot of talk about what it is going to be. It's not going to be a prequel. I know there was a lot of talk about that. Its actually going to be a sequel that picks up the story where we left off. It is going to happen. I think Favra goes back to school. No. As we have him right now, he will continue to be the foil that he is. The loveable jerk we know. We are going to set up a situation that puts these guys back on the highway. Favra ends up being their huge pain in the ass once again.
Any chance we will see a cameo from Seth Rogen or Kevin James as security guards?
Kevin Heffernan: (Laughs) That's pretty funny. I guess that's possible. That would be pretty funny. We'll get anyone that ever played a cop to come do a cameo.
That would be great. You'll have to get Robert Blake in there from Electric Glide in Blue.
Kevin Heffernan: (Laughs) Exactly.
There has been a lot of talk about a Broken Lizard TV show. How is that progressing? And what, exactly, will we see from it?
Kevin Heffernan: We have a couple of different TV scripts. The timing hasn't ever matched up right. We're going to go back to the drawing board at the beginning of the New Year. It seems like there are a lot of great things happening on TV nowadays. You get a certain amount of leeway. You get to do what you want to do. We have talked to a few different places, and we are going to figure out something to do. We are going to try and crack an idea open. We've been thinking about turning The Slammin' Salmon into a restaurant type sitcom. We are debating. It's hard to find something that has five male lead parts. I think we are trying to find some way to have a narrative world.
As we head into the next decade, what are your final thoughts on the last ten years?
Kevin Heffernan: Career-wise, it has been a pretty fun ride for us. We've had a career where we haven't made that one big splash. It has been a slow burn, where people discover us. As we've gone through the past ten years, our fanbase has grown. I think that's great. We have culminated all of this with a live tour. We hit about forty cities, and we got a good feeling for the fans we have out there. It's mostly about the fanbase for us.
The Slammin' Salmon opens this Friday, December 9th, 2009.