Forgetting Sarah Marshall finds Jason Segel vacationing in Hawaii to forget the girl (Kristen Bell) who just dumped him. Alas, she's at the same resort with her new beau! It's the latest comedy from the Apatow camp, and it hits theaters this weekend. Cinematical spoke one-on-one with the film's director, Nicholas Stoller, regarding the movie, his upcoming Muppet project, and how much onscreen penis is too much onscreen penis.
Cinematical: Is it intimidating for you knowing that every movie associated with Apatow these days is such a comedy event? Does that put pressure on you as the director to live up to that standard?
Nicholas Stoller: Not really, I'm still excited I got to make a movie, so I'm not really thinking in terms of if it's going to be a big event. Our movie was cheap so we don't have to make up that much money. It amuses me, and I hope that it amuses more people.
Cinematical: It amused me, so there's one extra person anyway.
NS: We have you and me and we just need 30 million more Americans.
Cinematical: You worked on some of my favorite television shows, Strangers with Candy and Undeclared. What do you find the biggest differences between television and features?
NS: TV is much more of a social kind of thing. You're working in an office with twelve or thirteen other people, and you're working together and collaborating. Even though one person is said to have written a script, on most sitcoms everyone works on stuff together. Screenwriting is much more of a solitary thing. Even if several screenwriters are credited, each usually works on the draft separately. With some of these feature comedies we're doing now, we're trying to bring some of that television writing style into them. We bring a lot of writers into the process, or at least more than just one.
Cinematical: And that's seemed to work really well for you guys...
NS: Yeah. I think that's the way to write comedy. You get one guy alone in a room, you might not wind up with the funniest script, but you get two or three people working on it, it just gets funnier and funnier. And then when you have actors improvising on top of that, you wind up with a lot of different joke styles, and that really adds to the comedy.
Cinematical: How much improv is there in the movie?
NS: We went into the shooting process with a script that, as written, would have been a funny movie. I'm too terrified to do it any other way. In the end, the movie is probably sixty to seventy percent scripted and thirty to forty percent improv. But all the big scenes and the ideas behind each scene were all there in the script. Another thing we do is throw lines out -- myself and the executive producer, Rodney Rothman, and actors that weren't in the scene, like Paul Rudd and Jonah Hill, shouted out lines to try all the time. It's a really fun process. I call it an "open source" movie. Anyone can throw out lines if they want. The difference between writer and actor doesn't make sense to me, why not make it a situation where anyone and everyone can throw out funny stuff?
Cinematical: You wrote some Jason Segel-focused episodes of Undeclared, is that where you two met?
NS: Yes, we met on Undeclared, and we bonded over a shared love of grown men crying. We just find that to be a very comedic thing. I wrote the episode where he comes back to school to beat up Jay Baruchel, and this movie feels like the completion of that story arc.
Cinematical: The opening scenes of the film are going to have a lot of people talking, and I have to ask -- how do you decide how much onscreen penis is too much onscreen penis?
NS: It's very scientific! We had different amounts of penis in the movie, and we tested each version. So there are actually four brief flickers of "it" currently in the movie. But we tested two and we tested five, and four worked the best. And we even tested the frame count of each glimpse! So at one point when he stands up from the couch, we had thirteen frames of penis. We cut it to ten frames and it didn't work, so we had to add the three frames back. You want enough that people don't want to see it again, but you don't want so much that people get angry. We want to get rid of homophobia in America, so we figure the best way to do that is to show penis many times. How many seconds of penis do you think you saw in the movie?
Cinematical: I would have thought I saw ten seconds of penis total.
NS: It's two and a half seconds total! It's 73 frames, two and a half seconds.
Cinematical: I'll be damned! Well, it's just something you never see in comedy, and it's so ridiculous because no one has a problem with female nudity.
NS: It's all context. Like in Into the Wild, you see Emile Hirsch's penis when he's floating in the water, and it doesn't matter at all because it's an artsy movie. The audience didn't care. You expect to see penis in like Harvey Keitel movies. But you don't expect to see it in broad comedy. You expect that to be a penis-free viewing experience.
Cinematical: Do you think Jason Segel has an exhibitionist streak? He did write the movie, after all.
NS: He definitely has an exhibitionist streak. But when we shot the naked scenes, he was very nervous. He was most concerned that his penis look totally normal. It's cold in the studio, and he didn't want it to look too small. And he didn't want it to look too big, which is an MPAA issue also. You can show penis, but it can't be above ninety degrees! He had a little room on set to prepare himself, the prop guy got him some materials. It turns out he had shot a nude scene for SLC Punk too, but that got cut. So he definitely doesn't have an issue with showing it, but he got very nervous, and he was nervous when we did re-shoots too, even though he had already done it once.
Cinematical: Well, you've got to make sure you have penis continuity! I must say, I put myself in his shoes, and I doubt I would even care about my lines or the drama of the scene with my dong hanging out. I would be totally focused on how it looked.
NS: It's so funny you say that, because when he had his penis out, his acting was really good because he was so distracted and he wasn't thinking about his performance. When he covered up, I had to direct him back to some of that naturalism. It was very interesting to watch.
Cinematical: Okay, we really need to change topics, this is sounding like Penthouse Forum. What are some movies you consider perfect, that you hold up as ideals?
NS: I would say Annie Hall, Animal House, Rushmore. Those are perfect movies. The Apartment. When Harry Met Sally. To get pretentious, I love Ingmar Bergman's Scenes from a Marriage, I feel like that's a perfect six hours of television.
Cinematical: I wanted to ask you if Albert Brooks' Modern Romance was an influence on Forgetting Sarah Marshall. They both deal with the painful, stalkery side of love so well...
NS: I love Modern Romance. There's a little bit of Brooks in all modern romantic comedies. One of the best movies ever is Broadcast News. We tried to make our movie a little bit less painful than Modern Romance. That movie is almost hard to watch, it's so painful. We tried to put our bitter pill in a little bigger piece of cake, I guess.
Cinematical: I'm a huge fan of the Muppets, what can you tell me about the new Muppet movie you and Jason Segel are working on?
NS: Oh, I'm really excited. Basically, we're gonna do an old school Muppet movie, where the Muppets have to put on a show to save the studio. It's very simple. A big part of the movie is rounding up all the Muppets from around the world, because they've all been separated. So it's collecting them and bringing them together to put on this big show. It should hearken back to Great Muppet Caper and Muppets Take Manhattan and those kinds of Muppet movies. Jason and I are having a lot of fun writing it. We want to get as many cameos and guest stars as possible. Jason will play a human ventriloquist, and his puppet is alive and wants to be a Muppet. It came about because Jason had a general meeting at Disney, and he said "Why aren't you guys doing anything with the Muppets?" And there was an awkward pause, and they were like "We don't know." You expect these multi-million dollar conglomerate companies to have more of a handle on stuff, but when something like that happens you realize they really don't! Disney owns Jim Henson Productions now, and I'm not sure how it will all work because we're still writing the script, but we definitely want all the original Muppet people involved. And it'll be G or PG. There will be no puppet penis in it!
Forgetting Sarah Marshall opens on Friday.