In a Summer deviation from politics and policy, this week our Political Punch Podcast is with Judd Apatow, writer, director and producer of the new film "Funny People," starring Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen.
You can listen to the (newly re-named) Political Punch Podcast HERE or on iTunes. The Podcast was produced by Huma Khan and Cait Taylor.
We profiled Apatow two years ago for Nightline right before "Knocked Up" came out and solidified his place as one of Hollywood's most successful comedy auteurs, having also been one of if not the creative force behind "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," "Superbad," "Talladega Nights," and so on.
"Funny People" is funny, but it's also something of a deviation for Apatow. Clocking in at 2 hours and twenty minutes (though it didn’t feel that long to me), the film follows comedian "George Simmons," played by Sandler, as he confronts the news that he faces a terminal illness.
Was he cautioned at all about the length?
"Well for me, I just thought, you know, 'We’re never going to see these characters again,'" Apatow said. "It’s not like Seinfeld. We get one shot at ‘em and, if you like the movie, and you like the journey of these people, you’d want to go deeper with them. And I talked to (writer/director) Harold Ramis about it, and I said, 'What do you think about length issues?' and he said, 'It just shows that you think your characters are worth the time.'"
Apatow noted that at two hours twenty minutes, the film is two minutes shorter than Transformers. "So, I think everyone can handle it," he said.
We noted that a 140-minute comedy isn't the kind of film just anyone could make.
"No, this isn’t the kind of movie you could make right after a huge bomb," he agreed. "It’s definitely taking a lot of creative chances. I think a lot of Hollywood is in retreat right now trying to figure out how to make money and make the safest bets. So there’s a lot of event movies, a lot of tent poles, and a lot of superheroes. I think they cut back on the human dramas and the human comedies, which is a shame. So I really hope the movie does well so they’ll continue to make these kinds of movies, in addition to the other movies which I also like."
But when one is as successful as Apatow, how does one guard against making films that are totally indulgent?
"Well, every movie is an experiment," he said. "And the only way you can grow at what you’re doing is to take chances. You can’t try to stick with what worked last time."
That said, Apatow relies a great deal on screening films with test audiences.
"The thing that is incredibly helpful is that we screen the movies and we ask the audience if they like it or not and we ask a lot of questions and do testing on the movies," he said. "For comedies, at least, it’s very helpful. If they’re not laughing and they don’t say that they loved it, then I have screwed up. This movie I tested seven times because I knew it was challenging and I wanted to make sure the audience loved it as much as 'Knocked Up' and the '40 Year-Old Virgin.' And they did. They loved it even more. But if I didn’t do that, which some directors do. Some directors say I’m gonna show it to eight friends at my house, and then they lock. For me, until I know that the audience really gets what I’m trying to communicate I’m not done."
Testing the film resulted in Apatow removing one subplot where Sandler's character kept enticing younger comedian "Ira Wright," played by Rogen, to pitch him movie ideas.
"The funny thing was when we had to think of bad movies that Seth could pitch, I had written almost all of them," Apatow said. "All of the ideas that I was never able to get made. There was a movie about a guy who donates sperm, and then suddenly twenty years later all the kids show up. It’s like Adam with 40 kids. And I did write that movie. And it was not made."
Apatow said the film's subject of mortality is one that hit close to home. "I have gone through this too many times, and as I get older — I’m 41 now — this circumstance as someone suddenly getting seriously ill is not that rare," he said. "I’ve watched people fight it. My first observation that led to the movie was that it really is difficult for people to survive sometimes because they’re faced with this wisdom when they think they’re going to pass. And suddenly the entire world makes sense, and they know what’s important to their friends and their family, and all the little things seem ridiculous. But when you get better, suddenly all your old neuroses start to trying to return, and the fight to stay in the wisdom is sometimes really brutal. It throws people in a way that I haven’t seen portrayed on film before. That was the part of the story that interested me."
Apatow also touched on his life rooming with Sandler 20 years ago, the impact his parents' divorce had on his comedy, Steve Martin's autobiography, and many other subjects. He said he hopes President Obama likes the film.
Again, you can listen to the Political Punch Podcast HERE or on iTunes.