The Ten, an anthology comedy comprised of ten vignettes inspired by the ten commandments, is a bit of a throwback to scatter-shot comedies of the past like The Groove Tube and Amazon Women on the Moon; at the same time, it's possessed of an ultra-modern deadpan sensibility, with highbrow ideas sharing screen time with lowbrow cheap laughs. The Ten was co-written by Ken Marino and David Wain; Wain was also the director. The two have collaborated on other films (most notably Wet Hot American Summer) and also worked together in the comedy collaborative "The State." Wain and Marino spoke with Cinematical via telephone about the challenges of making The Ten, how you fake 40 CAT scan machines on a low budget, method mustache acting and cute-yet-terrifying animated animal orgies.
Ken Marino: (Singing) "... Band on the run! Band on the run!"
Cinematical: Is there nothing like Wings to cut the strain of the all-day, conducted-by-telephone promotional tour?
KM: You took the words right out of my mouth.
Cinematical: So let's start by just getting our praise of Krzysztof Kieslowski and his hard-to-pronounce name out of the way. Was The Decalogue really an inspiration for The Ten?
David Wain: Well, insomuch as it's exactly the same premise, yes.
Cinematical: But you guys didn't actually think ... Was the actual starting point "Let's do the Ten Commandments ..."?
KM: The starting point was 'Let's steal Kieslowski's idea and do our own funny version of it. ..."
Cinematical: Which you certainly succeeded in doing, but: Do you feel like maybe he's stolen the ten commandments and no one else can do them?
KM : I feel like he stole the ten commandments from some other book -- some other, dare I say, good book. ...
Cinematical: All I can think of is the "three tablets" joke from History of the World, Part One. With that said. ...
KM: I give you these fifteen ... Krrrrrsh! ... Ten! Ten commandments." "Only a miracle could save us now!"
Cinematical: "Hello, Miracle!" Oh, we could do this all day. ....
KM: "No! No, no no, no .. Yes!"
Cinematical: ... and that would be a little sad and yet hilarious. So ... some of the sketches sort of feel tangentially related to the requisite commandment. Were some of these ideas you had had for a while before you thought of the framing device of the ten commandments?
KM: (Laughs) One or two of them, maybe ... but honestly, we wrote most of them real fresh.
Cinematical: You had a very short shoot for this -- you had 28 days total, with 4 days in Mexico, 1 day in L.A., the rest in New York ... At what point do you stop feeling like a writer-director combo and start feeling like air traffic controllers?
KM: I feel like you're always doing all of it -- and definitely, traffic cop is one of the hats we had to wear -- especially when it was a puzzle of dealing with so many different actors, and so many different locations, and trying to figure out "How the hell are we going to get this done?" We did a lot of re-locating a scene to a different location or changing a character, a cast member to be a different character just to get it all shot.
Cinematical: What consumed more time and effort -- shooting in Mexico or waiting for the animation for the 'Lying Rhino' sequence?
DW: Waiting doesn't take time, because you can do other things, like play Scrabble ...
KM: We did a lot of animated Scrabble while we waited for the animation. ...
Cinematical: Did you always think "Hey, we're doing an anthology film -- why not have a wacky animated sequence that'll take longer than the rest of the film?"
DW: We thought exactly that, except for the 'Hey." ... I guess when we were writing it, actually, the Lying Rhino sequence was the last piece we came up with, and we were trying to figure out, what would be good there -- what would the story be? And I remember we took a walk around the block, and we figured it would be a good place to throw an animated piece, since we're doing all these different styles in the movie, and an animated piece would be a fun piece to have. And that gave us the freedom to kind of go with a big animal sex orgy place.
Cinematical: Which is simultaneously cute and disturbing. ...
DW: If we're doing our job.
Cinematical: David, what was the biggest challenge for you in directing all of this material?
DW: It was fun and challenging, I guess, to try and created ten different looks for the ten different segments and give each an individual style -- while still keeping some kind of cohesiveness to the style. And similarly, working with all different types of actors and finding that line between variety and cohesion. ...
KM: We were very lucky, though, in terms of the actors, because they were all game. They were all ready to play. We never had a moment where we had to sit somebody down and go 'Look, this is the tone, this is the style. ..." Everybody embraced the project before even showing up to the shoot, and I think that's an unusual thing, and something that in hindsight we really value.
Cinematical: And you do have some unusual choices in the cast; for one, when I think rib-tickling comedy, I don't think Liev Schrieber. How did you approach him -- did you know him socially, or. ...?
DW: He's somebody we've crossed paths with over the years; He did some appearances on our live Stella show and stuff; we'd never really worked with him. And I'd always wanted to, because we're such huge fans. And when this opportunity came up, we just asked him "Please, please, please do this. ..." And he was just coming back from vacation and he made the time and we did it.
Cinematical: Did Schrieber grow the mustache for the part?
DW: He did. As did Joe Lo Truglio. We suggested that they both have suburban mustaches. Which is the actual name of my garage band.
(Pause as Cinematical is about to laugh.)
KM: "Hey, you look like the Piss Boy!" "You look like a bucket of shit!"
Cinematical: I'm just feeling a bit thrown here. Uh, what was the biggest hope in putting all this material together? A lot of the bigger comedies this summer are just incredibly depressing -- they rely on the premise that all women are idiots, or rank homophobia ... a lot of the bigger comedies are really depressing. When you guys sat down to write The Ten, did you think, "Okay, this is going to be a shot across the bow of conventional big-budget comedy, and if people find it's funny, great, but we're just going to do something unusual?"
KM: That's pretty much it. Except we had a "Hey" at the top of that.
DW: Yeah; I think that we're very deliberately trying to do something different from what we've seen before, and that makes us laugh instead of makes us feel sick.
KM: Did you say 'rank homophobia?'
DW: I like that term.
KM: I love that term. I wish that was the name of my garage band. ... We were hoping to do this movie that was fresh and original and different. And for me, the way I thought about it was "What kind of movie would I want to see if I was in college?" Because David and I were college roommates, and Craig Wedren, who did the music, is a friend of David's from before high school, and was a roommate of ours ... and we used to , in college, say "Okay, which movie are we going to see?" And we'd open up The Village Voice and we'd look for the weirdest or trippiest or silliest movie to go see, and that's what I wanted to make; for me, that was the inspirational thing, to create something I would want to see.
DW: You and Craig would go to these movies; I would stay home and listen to Larry King on the Radio.
KM: That's actually true.
Cinematical: So there was an active choice to make something that's a modern equivalent of Amazon Women on the Moon?
KM: Yeah, or The Groove Tube ...
DW: But even more accurately, we were saying "What's a thing that can cater to our sensibility of the kind of comedy we do, the kind of actors we want to work with, that isn't hampered by one specific story, instead of doing something that we're trying to pretend is one long story, when we really just want to make different kinds of jokes in different ways; let's not have that pretense. Let's just say, 'No, this is ten separate stories.'"
KM: Let's not worry about, in act three, wrapping everything up and losing some of the jokes to get to the heart of it ... we wanted to make something that was chock full of jokes, so that when you came out, if that was your sense of humor, you'd say "Holy shit! That was chock full of jokes!"
DW: "... And really entertaining, but we don't have to discuss it now; we can discuss something else."
Cinematical: And is discussing it now, for you, its own circle of hell?
DW: No; there's nothing more fun that talking about yourself.
Cinematical: I'm always very curious talking to comedy professionals -- what's the one thing you as comedy professionals, know will get a laugh but regret? That sort of guilty feeling?
DW: To me, the definition of that would be when Paul (Rudd) goes up to the door of (his ex-wife, played by Famke Janssen) and says "I was in the neighborhood; I thought I'd come by and take a shit." That's the definition of what you call an easy joke, but it still makes us laugh.
KM: You know, a cartoon animal taking a shit, and then a flower growing out of it, gets me. But I know it's cheap. Clearly scatological.
DW: What's do you think is scatological about it exactly?
KM: Well, let me break it down. ...
Cinematical: Was there a lot of chance to collaborate with the actors? You're working with some people who are quite talented improvisers and writers in their own right -- was there room to collaborate, or did you just say, David Mamet-style, "Screw you, say the line."
DW: In all cases, we were very interested in collaborating with the actors; that's just how we work, But we didn't have a lot of room for improv on the set, or time to do much of it, because we were going so fast.
KM: but there was a lot of collaboration; (Rob) Corrdry would throw out a line when we were doing something, and if we thought it was funny, we'd be like "Absolutely; gotta keep that in." Paul (Rudd) would do that, too. Liev would ask questions about his character ...
DW: Winona (Ryder), too ...
KM: ... to ground, find the depth of the real place of their characters, and it made for a better scene. I remember there was this simple thing were Liev wanted the phone to wake him up -- he wanted to wake up where his character has gone with all the CAT scanner boxes lying around, instead of the doorbell waking him up. And as simple as that is, I love that moment ... So he wakes up and he's looking around, and the place is just a shambles ... and for an actor, I just love watching that stuff.
Cinematical: When you're working with a set designer and a production designer and you say "We need 40 fake CAT scanner machines. ..." Obviously, they've worked with you before; at any point, though, do they just say "What the hell do you want that for? "
DW: Well, actually, funnily enough, that was the biggest headache of the whole film for our production designer Mark White, because we kept going back and forth: How the hell are we going to do this on a no-budget film? And what we wound up creating was two prop CAT scan machines, and putting them in every shot; we only had the two to work with, and the rest was trick photography and photoshop.
Cinematical: What was the biggest surprise in filming The Ten for you?
KM: I think it was when we shot it over when my birthday was, and they brought me a cake.
DW: You were genuinely surprised when they brought that cake out.
KM: Not just surprised, but touched. ... The serious answer, for me, is that we were able to find the funding for it, and the people that did it so quickly, and turn it around so quickly.
DW: ... Every day we'd look at each other and say "I can't believe people are reading these lines that we wrote --and not just reading them, but great actors acting them."
KM: That was a pleasant surprise.