American Pie changed things forever in film. The gross-out humour and the blatant disregard for the American modesty about sex and foul language set a precedent for a lot of the comedy we saw over the early 2000s.
One budding film maker clearly affected was Jon Hurwitz who, along with partner Hayden Schlossberg, wrote a little comedy starring two friends called Harold and Kumar and their attempts to get to a burger bar.
A successful trilogy later, he and his partner were given the keys to their inspiration. Having written and directed American Reunion with Schlossberg, we had a talk with Jon about the film, working with Eugene Levy’s eyebrows and bringing back Neil Patrick Harris.
So, for the few people out there who haven’t seen the film yet, can you give us the lowdown on American Reunion?
We’ll it’s the fourth theatrical movie in the American Pie franchise. It’s a high school reunion movie, reuniting the entire cast of the original film. All of those characters that people all around the world fell in love with in 1999 when they were in high school return to their home town and we get to catch up with them and take stock of how their lives have turned out.
We find out that even though they’re in their early 30s, they can still get mixed up in the same old craziness they did many years ago.
What was it like to get hold of the keys to this franchise?
It was the best. Like fans all over the world, Hayden and I be massive fans. Back when the first movie came out we were obsessed with it. We saw it six times in the movie theatre, we bought the DVD and watched it over and over again, our entire group of friends were all fans and we’d quote it all the time.
It was such a big inspiration to us that we created a whole movie franchise starring ‘MILF Guy Number Two’ John Cho with the Harold and Kumar movies. So, to say we were fans is an understatement and to be able to reunite this cast and figure out where they are all these years later was the ultimate in fan fiction.
This film series has been through the mill a bit with a load of straight to DVD sequels. What plans did you have to re-vitalise the franchise?
It was really going back to the basics. First of all, it was bringing the original cast back. With the straight to DVD stuff, there really wasn’t much of a connection to the earlier films. Occasionally they’d drop a name and Eugene Levy pops up in each of them, but it wasn’t the same thing.
So our goal was really to bring back the characters that everyone identified with and not just the core characters. Part of the fun of a reunion is not only seeing your close friends but seeing that random guy or girl you barely knew and saying “What happened to that person.”
So we made a point of bringing back the MILF guys and the Sherminator and Nadia and all these characters that had a smaller role and try to recapture the realism that we felt when we were watching that first movie.
When I watched that first American Pie, I felt like I was watching myself and my friends on the big screen going through what we were going through in our late teens. With this movie, we really wanted to capture storylines that felt authentic to characters in their late 20s/early 30s and examine the ridiculousness of having these characters back together in their home town revisiting their youth.
Eugene Levy is so good in this film, what was it like getting hold of him and his eyebrows?
Well, the greatest thing about him is that Eugene is an actor that me and Hayden have been fans of since our childhood. So when he showed up in American Pie for the first time it was amazing seeing a guy that you already love tacking in our opinion his best film role.
Not only was there so much comedy in that first American Pie, well, all of them with Eugene, but there was so much heart and that father-son relationship was something I think people really connected with. For us, we were excited about examining that in a different way you’ve seen before.
Before it was Eugene giving Jim advice in each movie and it was hitting the same beat in each film. Whereas in this one, we wanted to flip the script that sometimes when you’re in your 30s, you see your parents as just human beings other than just being your mom or dad. So, to make it where Jim’s father is now single, his wife has passed away and he has some issues going on his life it provides a great opportunity not only for Jim to serve as the person who could give his father advice but also it freed Eugene up to get out of the house and be a big part of the comedy and be involved in the same kinds of high jinks or sexual situations that the younger cast members have.
To be able to take this iconic character and bring him into new terrain was really fun.
You’re first film script was such a success, do you ever feel pressure from that?
No, every movie that we make is a movie that Hayden and I would want to see. Harold and Kumar wasn’t the first script we ever wrote. The first was in college, it was called Filthy and we sold it to MGM in 2000 and it allowed us to move out to LA and pursue writing. Over the couple of years before Harold and Kumar we had the experience of selling different projects, going through the development process and learned about filmmaking. You have projects that go, and projects that don’t.
Harold and Kumar Get The Munchies happening was the ultimate dream come true. As writer’s we were able to be on set throughout that entire film and see it through the editing process and we blown away by how well received it was. We hoped it would be that well received, we felt like we were making movies that people like us would enjoy. When making the other Harold and Kumar films and American Pie we brought the same levels of enthusiasm and excitement to each of those projects.
We’ve been lucky enough that whenever we’ve tested our films or watched them in a theatre, the reactions been pretty much the same as with Harold and Kumar Get The Munchies, just huge laughs and people leaving the theatre smiling. That’s really our goal with making these movies.
In terms of critical acclaim, some of them have better responses than others, by and large our movies are enjoyed by fans all over the place, and we love them, which is what it’s all about.
What was it like moving from writing to directing?
It was incredible. On that first movie, we had never been on a movie set before, so we got to see what a director did and what we really learned was that it was the director’s job to really know what they want and be able to articulate that vision to a wide range of people. And as the guys who’ve written the scripts we’ve always had that vision and always known what we want our movies to be.
So moving into the director’s chair just felt like a natural progression, it didn’t feel more stressful in any major ways other than when you’re off set there’s time constraints and things like that. We approached all of that with excitement and enthusiasm and I think if you talk to anybody who’s ever worked on our movies you’ll find that kind of culture of people who are just trying to make something really fun and, well, funny that people can enjoy.
The best thing about moving into directing is that you get to have your voice heard in every part of the process. Whereas if you’re not directing and you see something you’re not sure the audience is going to like it’s not really in your control. When you’re directing you get to at least try out everything.
So, who came up with the whole Neil Patrick Harris joke?
It was really just a joint thing from Hayden and I. We can’t even remember who first said ‘Neil Patrick Harris’ out of our mouths, but we knew we wanted to have a celebrity that Harold and Kumar run into and is playing against type. So someone who everyone knows as more of a goody two shoes guy who’s on hard-core drugs and getting prostitutes and all that sort of stuff.
Hayden and I were just massive fans of Doogie Howser M.D when we were kids and we knew that Neil hadn’t been in movies and television for a while in a major way, he was mainly doing work on Broadway. We knew he was an incredible actor and we just knew that if we wrote this lines, and he could pull them off, it would be really funny and the audience would love it. Our hope was that because he’s such a good actor he could elevate things, and that’s exactly what he did.
He came in there, dove in with full force and became a comedy juggernaut in that first movie, which spring boarded the rest of this amazing leg of his career. We’re just grateful that we thought of that idea, that Neil agreed to do it and that he’s returned for every movie we’ve ever made.
I’m going to have to make you choose, who’s your favourite from the core gang?
It’s so hard to say. Stifler brings the funny and I love that about him, he’s the most consistent big laugh generator so as a filmmaker there’s a lot of value in that and you enjoy using that.
But, at the core, I love Jim and Jason Biggs. Jim is really the heart and soul of the movie, he’s the eveyman that people are following through and the way he works within the different relationships. Whether it’s the odd couple nature with Stifler or it’s the father-son dynamic with Eugene, there’s so much fun, heart and depth in that performance that goes beyond the comedy in a really exciting way. He’s also one of the most fearless performers you’ll ever find, as you can see from everything he’s done in all of the movies, including this one where he bares all.
So those two are at the forefront because they’re big roles. Obviously, Eugene Levy is such an amazing talent to work with and I have a major soft spot for Finch in particular.
When I was in high school when I first saw the American Pie movie I fell in love with Eddie Kaye Thomas‘s portrayal of this guy who’s wise beyond his years and a little different than other kids and it was something that Hayden and I really related to when we were younger. We thought that he was really quirky character and that led to us casting him in the Harold and Kumar films.
So, finishing up, what’s next you then?
We’re actually working on a Harold and Kumar animated series. So we’re getting that up and running and we have a number of projects after we made a deal with universal recently to open a production company to be a comedy pipeline for them.
Hayden and I right now are writing a project about a group of friends, who are our kinds of characters in an R-rated movie, who get a genie. It’s called ‘Gene’ but we have other projects we’re developing with other writers that we’re really excited about and all of these projects are going to start popping up in the next couple of years.
FemaleFirst Cameron Smith