Jason Lee talks about working with a CGI animal cast along with the status of My Name is Earl
Alvin and the Chipmunks, a global phenomenon to generations of fans, becomes a live action/CGI motion picture event with a contemporary comic sensibility. Songwriter Dave Seville transforms singing chipmunks Alvin, Simon and Theodore into pop sensations -- while the out-of-control trio lays waste to Dave's home, wreaks havoc on his career, and turns Dave's once-orderly life upside-down.
The film stars Jason Lee (My Name Is Earl) as Dave Seville, David Cross (Arrested Development), rising star Cameron Richardson, and as the voices of Alvin, Simon and Theodore, Justin Long (Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, Live Free or Die Hard), Matthew Gray Gubler (Criminal Minds, RV) and actor-pop sensation Jesse McCartney. Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties helmer Tim Hill directs from a screenplay by The Simpsons veteran Jon Vitti and Will McRobb & Chris Viscardi (The Tale of Despereaux). The producers are Ross Bagdasarian, Jr., son of Alvin and the Chipmunks creator Ross Bagdasarian, and his wife Janice Karman.
Alvin and the Chipmunks have been wreaking havoc for Dave Seville -- and delighting audiences around the world -- for nearly 50 years, in various incarnations. From the moment they sprung into being, the creative brainchild of singer/songwriter Ross Bagdasarian, Sr., the 'Munks' catchy sound has been a pop culture mainstay, for both young and old.
We got the chance to speak with Jason at the press junket for 20th Century Fox's Alvin and the Chipmunks and here is what he had to say about the movie, as well as his popular television series My Name Is Earl:
Any pressure playing Dave, because Ross (Baddasarian Jr.) is so literately available as...
Jason Lee: No, no pressure. He had me say "Alvin" a certain way. But no, I was just approaching the way I would any other character and where Dave's starting, and where does he get to and how does it all work out in the middle. They are chipmunks, yes ... but he treats them like kids and just sort of approached it like that. Tried to keep in likable and the payoff great at the end when he finally comes around and saves the boys.
How does this work with your schedule with the show?
Jason Lee: I've filmed this like 3 weeks after I wrapped season two of Earl, so it worked out perfectly. I was able to shave and I was done with that.
How long was the shoot itself?
Jason Lee: It was only 43 days and I still had 2-and-a-half months off, because we are a half-hour show so we have a 5 month hiatus, which is pretty exciting. I don't know how the one-hour shows handle it cause they only have like a month off every year and they work 16-hours a day ... we work 12 and shoot an episode in 5 days, so it's tough cause we have to squeeze six pages a day and shoot an episode in 5 days, but I have no complaints.
So are you guys still working right now?
Jason Lee: No, we had two pre-strike episodes that we filmed, that we wrapped a week ago, week-and-a-half, and now we're all just kind of on standby.
Where did the story leave Earl?
Jason Lee: Well, it's good. If there's no more season, the strike goes on until April or whatever, it ends at a good place fortunately, luckily.
Are you allowed to talk about it?
Jason Lee: Not really, but it's not an "oh crap, what are were going to do now?" It resolves something; something gets resolved at least, so if the season in fact ends then, it's not going to be a bad thing.
Are you worried about how long the strike will be?
Jason Lee: Yeah, I mean I can do movies maybe that have already been written, but I can't do anything for months at a time. It would have to be a week here, a week there. Cause they can call us back to My Name Is Earl at any time.
...and then the actor's strike can come.
Jason Lee: Yeah, there's that and I can't shave anymore. I just bought a house, so I have to try to find some work.
Was it difficult having your main co-stars being computer generated?
Jason Lee: Yeah, at first it was really tedious and frustrating, because I didn't have anything to work with. I had stuffed animals, if the chipmunks were off-camera or tape-marks. It all depended on the camera angle, really. Literally most of the time I had nothing and I would have to place eye-line always in three different places; always about this high above where they would be standing or sitting. It was kinda tough, but no complaints, I mean I had a great time.
What was the hardest scene with the chipmunks?
Jason Lee: Like in the kitchen. Going through the cupboards ... any time, I would have to move and they were moving and I am following them. Any of the following or moving stuff was the hardest, but of course, if they were just standing there, that was easy, but I'd get a tape mark with "A" and a "T" and an "S" on it, and at first I'd have a tendency to look at the tape and then I'd remember to look up as if they were standing here (as their heads are several inches above the tape mark) like this.
And then you'd have these stuffies or something?
Jason Lee: The stuffies were the stuffed animals. We'd always do a stuffy pass. So that Rhythm & Hues, the effects company saw kind-of the overall action of the scene, so they'd get an idea.
How is it to see it in a final product? ... like, Wow, there I am talking to chipmunks...
Jason Lee: It looked totally real. I was absolutely blown away. I was a little bit surprised, and just very pleased. It really looked like they were there.
If this movie makes a lot of money, how many more are you willing to do?
Jason Lee: I would do another one.
How is it working with David Cross?
Jason Lee: He's great. He's really sharp. Professional, sharp, funny. A good old fashioned smart-ass.
How is it doing more physical scene like when he dropped the jar on your head. Do they just put that in with effects?
Jason Lee: No They use sugar-glass. I love it, I get to do ... I always tell Greg Garcia on My Name Is Earl as much physical stuff as you can give me. Always write it in, I love getting hit by cars and falling ... I love it. It's just another side of comedy. Of course, the greats were (Peter) Sellers and Chevy Chase and I think that's a great part of comedy. Peter Sellers is one of my favorites.
I wondering if you had any immediate plans to be working with Kevin Smith again maybe. He on a cameo on your show or...
Jason Lee: Yeah, we've talked about him directing an episode and coming on and doing it, a role and he's always into it, but it's just never really happened and now I guess he's in Philly making that movie about the couple that make a porn movie. I don't talk to Kevin as much as I should, but the bastard hardly calls me, so we'll see. I haven't heard anything about me being in this movie at all, maybe a cameo or nothing. The guy hasn't emailed me.
You should get in there, sounds like it's going to be...
Jason Lee: Is it Seth Rogan?
Seth Rogan and Elizabeth Banks. Do you still get a chance to do any skateboarding at all?
Jason Lee: I've messed around a bit, within boundaries for injury, not wanting to get injured, but my son is doing it now. He's starting to skateboard a little bit. He's four. I started when I was five, so he has an edge over me. He wears a helmet. In Griffith Park, in LA, there's this long ditch, this embankment that goes all the way down. We'd go up there and he'll stand in the middle and I'll hold on to his hands and we go, we carve and go all the way down the hill, and it's so fun.. I mean how many kids can jump on a skateboard with their dad and cruise down this hill? So I don't things like that for granted ... he loves it.
As far as shooting, was there a lot of either retakes or come back the next day saying "you know what, we just couldn't get that computer animated just right for what you were doing", or was it pretty much you just do it, and they kind of do their CGI around any imperfections that...
Jason Lee: Luckily it was smooth, we did do some re-shooting for the end of the movie, to make it a little more, what it is now. But it was pretty smooth, these days, it's just kind of second nature how well these guys can read a scene and know where the chipmunks are going be. They'll tell you right away "that's not going to work. Maybe try this angle". So it was like a team constantly dissecting every scene for them just as the actors might dissect a scene for a performance, so it was really the director being with the actors, and then having to go to the effects guys and bouncing back and forth between the two worlds and dealing with the cinematographer right in the middle. And Tim Hill, very low-key guy in-between takes, he'd be playing his guitar and he was really mellow dude and he handled it really well, cause if I were directing something like that, I don't think ...I wouldn't in the first place.
How do you like the way Earl's told stories around the jail time. How you like that whole development.
Jason Lee: Yeah, the first thought was maybe we'll just see Earl already out of prison going into season three ... boring! What are we going to do with the first half of this season? If we keep him in prison, there's just too much that we get to do. What does he do with his list which he has turned in, and how does he adapt, and what is his brother going to do living on the outside?
What would you do with rodents if you had opened your door and found all these creatures in your house. Are you pretty merciful and like...?
Jason Lee: If they can sing and dance, I'd take them in and start recording records immediately.
You mentioned you wouldn't direct a movie like this. Is there any movie you would direct?
Jason Lee: I would direct for sure.
Is there anything you'd have a certain passion for in that realm yet ... or nothing hit you yet?
Jason Lee: I don't know yet, but I would definitely ... why not! I did a couple of music videos ... I directed a short film last year with Giovanni Ribisi. It's 30-minute short on 35(mm). It's beautiful, I'm actually, my photography website that I've been working on for about 3 months, it's finally going to be up in a few weeks or so, and my film is going to be on the website. It's called the White Door. I was going to do the whole DVD thing and try to distribute it independently, but why not just have it on my website, streaming full screen with the way things are going with websites theses days, it's so. I think everything's going to be on everybody's computer pretty soon, right?
Alvin and the Chipmunks arrives in theatres on December 14.