John Hamburg [Interview]
October 16, 2013 Leave a comment
It is no secret that there are a couple of dozen folks who are currently running the world of comedy as we speak. Essentially, the cast of Zoolander and Old School run the show. Throw in SNL and The Office, basically all of NBC comedy. As well as anyone who makes their way in to a Judd Apatow production of any kind (even his “failed” television shows Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared). We continue to see the same faces appearing alongside one another consistently. We could speculate as to why this truly has come to be, but let’s just stick with the facts….. they are hilarious and crazy talented. But even they can’t do it all on their own. It is the writers and filmmakers that bring their comedic wit and genius to the screen. It’s obvious if you think about it. These are the people who come up with this shit!
And one of the highlighted films of the Hollywood illuminati, and my personal favorite of the batch, was 2009’s I Love You Man starring Paul Rudd, Jason Siegel, Rashida Jones, Andy Sandberg, Thomas Lennon, and so many more regularly casted members of today’s comedy world. It is a beautiful tale of man who needs to find another man…..just as a friend. It also happens to be spawned from acclaimed screenwriter/filmmaker John Hamburg. And surprise! Hamburg is the amazing mastermind behind none other than the likes of Safe Men, Zoolander, the critically acclaimed Fokker series, and the hilarious and also Ben Stiller fronted film Along Came Polly. Yes, John Hamburg is obviously a key player in the world of comedy today. He has proved himself time and time again as one of the finest filmmakers and screenwriters of this day and age. And we are extremely excited that he has agreed to share a few words with us, and talk to us about some of his past works and what the future holds for him and the world of comedy as we know it. It is an incredible honor to have John Hamburg join the Trainwreck’d Society family. So bow your heads everyone! Now look up, and read on with our interview with the legendary John Hamburg!
What draws you to write and create in the world of comedy? Have you ever considered experimenting in other genres?
I simply see the world in comedic terms. I always have. Even the most dramatic or tragic situations – I tend to see the comedy in them. So it is not really by choice, it is just my nature. I have considered making movies or tv in other genres, but I think no matter the genre, my work will always have some kind of comic bend to it.
You’ve written no less than 5 screenplays that featured actor Ben Stiller. Is there something about his acting chops that intrigues you? If so, what? Or is it sort of a friends helping friends sort of set up?
Ben and I met after he saw my first movie, SAFE MEN, at the Nantucket Film Festival. I was already a huge fan of his from his early movies and The Ben Stiller Show on Fox. He is an incredible and underrated actor. I think his performance in MEET THE PARENTS is one of the great comic performances of all time. He doesn’t always get credit for being such a great actor, because his work can be very subtle and he is comfortable reacting to other actors in the scene. Ben and I click on many levels — but I think the idea of being sort of befuddled by the world, confused, anxious, tense, and finding ourselves in awkward situations is something I am interested in as a writer (and human being!) and that Ben connects to brilliantly as an actor.
How did you come up with the concept for the Fokker series?
I did not come up with the concept for the Focker series. It was based on a short film that Jim Herzfeld developed as a screenwriter. I came on to the first MEET THE PARENTS after several drafts had been written, primarily by Jim, and did many drafts of my own both before and during production.
You made your break with one of my personally favorite indie comedies, Safe Men. But, a couple of years prior to that films release, you had a short entitled Tick. Can you tell us a bit about this project? How did it come to life?
First off, I am deeply appreciative of the SAFE MEN fans out there, so thanks for saying that about my first feature. TICK was a short film that I made while at grad school at NYU Film School. At the time, Hollywood was making these big high-concept comedies (many of which I loved, some of which I thought were terrible), and I thought it would be funny to do a high concept comedy, but make the execution very lo-fi. So I came up with an idea about two slacker bomb-defusers in a town where bombs keep going off. There was very little danger to it, the bombs were basically harmless and the tone was very light. But something about the idea of two guys who were in a very dangerous field, but totally inept and, spending more time on romance and personal grievances when they were supposed to be defusing bombs struck me as a very funny idea for a 10 minute short.
The movie got into the Sundance Film Festival, and basically jump-started my career, because a Hollywood agent saw it, some producers saw it and were interested in doing a feature with me, etc. We did a special 10 year anniversary SAFE MEN DVD and I actually put TICK on the DVD.
On a macro-level, my greatest achievement is just being able to do the very thing that I dreamt about doing when I was a teenager – writing and directing comedy, be it in film, tv or commercials which I also direct on occasion. On a more specific level, while I’m both proud of (and find huge flaws!) in everything I’ve done, the movie I LOVE YOU, MAN, which I wrote, directed and produced, achieved a kind of tone that I had been working towards for many years. I was happy that it did well critically and commercially, but more importantly than that, was the idea that I made the exact movie that I set out to make, which can be a very challenging thing, especially in the studio system.
Was Rush always your band of choice when writing the script for I Love You Man? If so, what makes them so special? What other groups might you have considered?
RUSH was always the band. I love their music – they are incredible musicians – but also, they are a band that tends to have primarily male fans. And they are, of course, very popular, but not in the league of, say, The Rolling Stones, or The Who. People are fervent RUSH fans, but there are also many folks who just don’t “get’ them. So I felt that RUSH was the perfect band for two dudes to bond over in a movie about male friendship.
And it also turns out, having worked with them, and gotten to know them, that they are the most hard-working, grateful, and nicest guys in the world (they are Canadian after all). Forming a relationship with them has been one of the great by-products of the I LOVE YOU, MAN experience.
Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming project, Brother From Another Mother? Are you excited to get back in the director’s chair on a feature film?
BROTHER FROM ANOTHER MOTHER is a movie I wrote (my good friend and collaborator Ian Helfer co-wrote the story with me) about a 30 year old guy who escorts his 16 year old half-brother on his college tour. They go to the alma mater where the older brother dropped out of… and a lot of comedy, drama and awkward and painful family dynamics occur on the trip.
It’s been a challenging project to put together — I think it has a chance of being my funniest and most emotional movie — but it’s not a down the middle comedy — which is a lot of what is getting made by the studios right now. Fortunately, we are now working with a great independent financier to put the movie together, so hopefully, if it all comes together, I’ll shoot it within the next year.
I am every excited to direct another feature. Believe me, I hate having a long gap in between “Directed by” credits – even though I know that I’m not just taking a vacation between directing movies – I’m working on various things the whole time, I promise!
In the past few years I’ve written TV shows, directed commercials, produced other movies — but my true passion is writing/directing/producing feature films, so I can’t wait to get back that.
If you could create a biopic about any famous stand up comedian, who hasn’t had one yet, who would it be? And who could you see as the lead?
Oh, man that’s a tough one. I’d have to say Steve Martin. His book BORN STANDING UP is one of the great stories ever written about what it means to be an artist – and in particular an artist who expresses himself through comedy. I grew up listening to his comedy albums – my dad would play them on long car rides — he is the funniest, most unique stand-up I’ve ever experienced.
Who would play him? I have no freakin’ clue — maybe some brilliant actor who’s yet to be discovered.
So what is next for you? Any new projects in the works?
I have several projects in the works. In addition to BROTHER FROM ANOTHER MOTHER, I am about to write two more features I’ve been developing. I’m producing some television this year as well, and I also produced an insanely funny, filthy super low-budget movie that Paramount is releasing this year… I would tell you the title but we may be changing it, so suffice it to say — it’s about a DESTINATION WEDDING that goes awry. A super-talented young guy named Nick Weiss directed it with a cast of really great young actors, and it’s been a ton of fun to work on.
This morning, my two year old daughter told me to act like a sea lion (which I did, of course) and then she started feeding me fish. That really put a smile on my face.