J.D. Shapiro [Interview]

In 1993, a brilliant film was brought to the world. It was called Robin Hood: Men In Tights, and it remains as my all time favorite Mel Brooks film. Easily. And then in 2000, another movie was released. It was called Battlefield Earth. And it was, well, it was a movie. It may have actually received an award for Worst Film of the Decade at the Razzie Awards. It’s a pretty memorable film to say the least. Maybe not in a good way. But, what is the connection between them? Well, I recently discovered that one man was involved in BOTH of these projects. And it made me wonder…how the fuck could this be? So, I did what I normally do….I hunt them down! And hunt them down I did!

J.D. Shapiro is an accomplished writer, director, actor, stand up comedian, and quite the fine dresser too if I might add. He has accomplished so damn much in his career that is on-going and fascinating. Although if you only rely on the first page of Google to check him out, you’re likely going to land on several articles about how he bravely accepted (twice!) the Razzie awards for Battlefield Earth that he “wrote”. But, with an accomplished career as it is, there is obviously a bit more to the story that what we initially see. We recently spoke with the film’s director, but he declined to talk about it. I wasn’t sure if J.D. would be willing to do so. But, oh was I fucking WRONG! Talk about it he did, and I am very excited to share his words with you! Of course, I want to make it clear, J.D.’s career has been vast and important and deserves a great deal of respect. But, he is also a guy who has great sense of humor. Which I believe you will find both to be true in the words below.

So, I will bow out now and stop babbling to introduce our new friend J.D. Shapiro!

You are an acclaimed writer of film, television, even books, on top of a great career as a stand up comedian. if you were forced to do so, what would you consider yourself as first, a writer or a stand up?

Well, acclaimed is in the eyes of the beholder. According to my sisters i’m the same idiot i’ve been since i was a kid.

A writer. Over anything. Directing. Acting. Anything.

This is because you start with nothing. to be cliche, it’s a blank canvis. Actually there isn’t even a canvis. If you want a canvis you have to write: “This is a canvis”.  You start with nothing. So, it’s the hardest of all to do. Oddly, it’s not the most rewarding. People giving you a stand O is incredibly rewarding. you don’t get that by writing a script. Sure, you do once it’s made. But then it’s not just your own. Nothing wrong with that, but when you’re writing it’s 100% yours. Brilliant or crap, you have to own it.


In 2000 you added director and actor to your credits with We Married Margo, which had an excellent showing at Slamdance. What made you decide you wanted to get behind the camera as a director? Acting seems logical as a professional stand up, but what made you want to get into that comfy chair and tell others how to portray your words?

I’m dyslexic. not just with letters and numbers, but in life. I actually was a succesful writer before I started doing standup. And I did We Married Margo before I did standup.  Years before. I started out as an actor, studied at one of the best places on earth: HB studios in NYC. with one of the best teachers on earth: Uta Hagen. and I was good. she yelled at me a lot so I knew I had something.

But the more I acted the more I was interested in what was going on behind the camera. I liked that creative process better. It hit on all pistons, I loved the pressure of directing, I love dealing with so many different kinds of people and situation. Like war without any bullets. So it’s nothing like war. But in your head and heart you feel the exciting and the pressure. Which I love. i’ve always worked better under pressure.  It was also way, way more proactive than acting. I’m not good at sitting around and waiting. And I liked being God. To me, the director was God (at the time I didn’t give enough credit to the writer. But once it’s in the director’s hands — he’s God.  Yes, studios have a say, money has a say, actors, etc… but let’s just say it’s as God like as one can be after the writer. So I always wanted to direct. I actually started to write to a means to an end, which was directing.

I did some theatre, some commercials and music vidoes to start. Got offers to do features but I couldn’t find a script I liked. So I decided to write my own.


So, Robin Hood: Men In Tights. what a god damned classic, to say the least. In your obviously professional opinion, how great do you believe it was for Mel Brooks to get to work with you? And vice versa, maybe?

I think Mel was incredibly lucky to work with me. The highlight of his life and career!  (Funny thing is I’m doing projects with Stan Lee now. And he jokes “Jakey, I think you’re the one that is finally going to make me famous!)

With Mel it’s a bit mixed. Best of times, worst of times thing. But overall I was very happy that he liked my script and wanted to make it. It was because of Mel that I eventually started doing standup. He was always performing. Whenever he met anyone or in most situations. so i started to do that when i met people. and i realized i could do this on stage.

I found this quote from you about Battlefield Earth: “no one sets out to make a train wreck. actually, comparing it to a train wreck isn’t really fair to train wrecks, because people actually want to watch those.” Obviously, we greatly appreciate this one.

Hahaha! I can not take full credit for that quote. I was dating a woman, Meredith Karasch, an attorney in L.A., who after I said “It’s like a train wreck” said something like “people want to watch train wrecks.” I burst out laughing, asked if I could use that and give her credit. she said yes but she didn’t want the credit.  Finally, I can give her the credit she deserves.


We actually just did an interview with Roger Christian, and he just really didn’t want to talk about Battlefield Earth, so we won’t try to make you either. But, I really do want to ask, what was it like to actually pick up your Razzie award in person? Was it a lighthearted jab or did it actually feel mean as hell?

Corey Mandell, the other writer on the film, is a fucking tool. A “pencil” is what real writers call someone like him in the business. Someone who takes the job for the money; not the project, not the passion— nothing. He doesn’t want to talk about it because he fucked up a potentially good movie. Anyone who wants to read my draft can. It still needed work because I was fired after I didn’t agree with the studo on the direction they suddenly wanted to go, so I never fully finsihed what I started. But it is like a billion times better then the shit Corey wrote. I heard him trying to put me down in an interview once by saying a couple of things, mainly that “How does J.D. know i wasn’t given the same notes he was?” of course I know you were given them, you asshole. But I had the integrity to say “No.” You were a pencil who said “Yes.”  Then he said I spend my life talking about BE. From what I know, and IMDb doesn’t get it all down because like 60% of the stuff I’ve done isn’t on it, Corey is a teacher— of screenwriting (those poor fucking students)… How the fuck is that possible? it’s like the guy who crashes the planes gets hired to teach people to be a pilot! Or the guy who builds a house that falls apart within an hour of the people moving in and he or her teaching a course in “How to build a house!”

Oh, I got off track.  Anyway, he’s doing nothing and I’ve sold several specs since BE and have been hired for many projects, including, as I mentioned, working with Stan Lee.

Anyway, to see how I feel about BE, people can Google my name and NY post.  my name and accepting razzie award.

I accepted it twice. When it won originally, and then when it won ‘Worst Movie of the Decade.” First time was on a radio show and I don’t remember much, other than I had fun. for the “Worst Movie of the Decade”, it was a blast. I wasn’t sure how the audience would react to me or my speech and it went great. If you listen to the speech you see I’m blaming Corey for the movie. Now— I took blame in the Post article I wrote because I did start the processes so I have to take blame even though I was gone and he finished it. But I loved the Razzies, it was a lot of fun.

That being said, I’d be very happy if I never win another Razzie again.

Also, we always tend to ask our statue holding friends this question, usually in reference to an Emmy, Oscar, etc., but in this case: where do you keep your Razzie Award? And does its physical location have any significance to you?

Most of the awards I have I’ve given to my mom and dad. I’ve actually won some good ones. but I don’t want to hold onto them because that’s the past. Life to me is about the moment and the future. Mainly the moment (which is what I love when I’m writing, directing or doing standup. No time to think when it’s going great. Have to be in the moment.  And sex.  Same thing. You must be in that moment for those two and a half minutes. Maybe three). The Razzie is somewhere in storage only because I got the original one that was first ever used. They asked me to call to switch it out, which I did. Several times. But never heard back.  So that’s somewhere in storage.

 

I understand you have a book coming out this year that we should all be very excited for. Can you tell us a bit about it? When can we check it out?

Thank you for allowing me to give a  not so obvious plug 🙂

It’s called Think Like a Man: The Only Guide You’ll Ever Need.

As I say in the book, I was writing stuff in my journal and realised this would make a great book. In a very humorous way I tell women what men really want. No bullshit, no political correctness, I tell them the truth and sometimes, the truth hurts. Me – because a few women wanted to throw the book at my head!  I tested it with around 300 women to see what they thought and actually like 95% loved it. They called it empowering. That makes me feel good. I gave it to about 20 men and they said I gave away good secrets. The idea being it’s a manual. If a woman understood a man, how amd what we thought—really thought, they’d be able to “use” us to get what they want— in the same time giving a man what he wants.

Win/win!

Unlike most of these books that are written by men who have never truly been in the field and just talk theories, or men who write books about what women want, or women who write books about what a man wants (both being rediculous because I’d never presume to write a book what a woman wants). Yes, I grew up with three sisters and know more than most men. But I’m not a women. So WTF do I really know.  As far as men go— I am a man, I’ve been in the field (so to speak) and I know what men want. Sure, we are all different, but there are basics that have to do with 300,000 years of biology and existence (or 6,500 years if you believe in fairytale books).


What else does the future hold for you? Anything you would like to plug to our readers?

Thank you again for giving me a chance to make a shameless plug.

The movies I have won’t be out until next year at the soonest.  But I did just complete a short that might get turned into a feature. It’s called Hard Day’s Nights. a drama/comedy about two women who have nothing in common but are stuck together. Not literaly. Through each other they help each other heal. If Woody Allen and Terrance Malik had a child— that’s the tone of the movie.  (How’s that for a mind fuck!). That should be done with post by september.

Presently I’m looking for financing for two scripts. So if you have money get out your check books.  One is going back to my Robin Hood: Men In Tights days. It’s called Knights of the Not So Round Table. It’s a lost footage movie. Dan Myrick is interested in eping it and I already have Stan Lee in it playing — Stan Lee. Not expensive because I want it to look and feel like a found footage movie (yes, it turns out that Camelot was recored by— I won’t say who yet— and that recording was in Area 54 and it got stolen and released). anyway the movie is around 1.6 million dollars.

The other is a rock/pop/rap/jazz/classical/country coming of age musical comedy. It’s if you took Grease and Moulin Rouge and thrust it together with Risky Business and American Pie… on acid.  I love this project, and have gotten close to getting it going but not yet. One studio said yes if I walked away as director. I said no. Budget isn’t even that big. 8.5 million dollars.

Whenever I decide what movie I’m writing, whether it be on spec, for me to direct or I’ve been hired to do, I decide “Do I want to see this movie?” and most importantly; would I watch it again and again. if I’m skimming channels at night, would I stop in the middle or the end of this movie to watch even though I’ve seen it 8 times already.  If the anwer is yes, then I write it. If no, I either toss that idea or tell my agents to say no.

What was the last thing that made you smile?

A dog video I watched prior to addressing this email. The dog sounds like he’s talking as a guy tells him he ate a sandwhich, made one for the cat, etc.  It’s very well done and very funny.  Google it.

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About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

One Response to J.D. Shapiro [Interview]

  1. Melissa Morris says:

    jD Shapiro is a genius. He has the entire package: intelligence, humor,kindness,confidence,assertive and most of all caring but you didn’t hear that from me! LOL

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