Saturday, January 13, 2007

Scary Interview: Scary Movie’s Dave Sheridan on Buzzkill, Miramax and mullets 07.01.00

Although Scary Movie is Dave Sheridan’s feature film debut, he already has achieved cult status for the prank series MTV’s Buzzkill. However, Dave’s most notorious antics weren’t the ones that made it to air; his behind-the-scenes imbroglios with celebrities, producers and directors are infamous in insider circles.

Dave and I have known each other for years, starting out together training and working at The Second City improvisational theater in Chicago. Since then, our paths have crossed professionally many times. In fact, Dave is currently an actor in a short film I am producing. It was a particular pleasure to finally see Dave on the Big Screen, the culmination of a decade of blood, sweat and tears.

The two of us sat down at Maple Drive restaurant in Beverly Hills to talk about Scary Movie, his legendary capers and the Weinstein mafia.

You shot Scary Movie last fall in Vancouver. How’d you spend your time up in the Northwoods?
Just went to a lot of restaurants. Went up to the mountains. Saw this Lumberjack Contest. They take it very seriously up there.

Did you enter the contest?
I didn’t try to enter, but I heckled them. Like when the other guy wouldn’t win, I’d pretend to be a fervent fan. They would say like, “Here’s Jim, sponsored by Skil Saws,”-- you know the Skil Saw company? -- and they would be like “Let’s give it up for Hank Whoever,” and I’d pretend I was like a big fan of Jim. So when they would say Jim, I’d be like “Yeah!” And whenever they’d say Hank, I’d be like, “You suck, Hank.” Nobody else was… people don’t really get into it.

Did you stay at the Hollywood Hotel up there?
Sutton Place Hotel. Everyone was there. Tim Robbins was shooting Mission to Mars, Sherman Helmsley was doing something up there. And I remember getting Sherman Helmsley’s call sheet by accident. So I had to call down, I go, “Sherman Helmsley’s not in this room.” And they go, “I’m so sorry.” I go, “I believe he moved on upstairs." (laughs) Which was a joke. The woman didn’t get it.

Your character is in almost every scene; you must’ve been on-set most of the time. Did you get to see all the stunts?
Yep. Because I’m interested in directing and I write movies, it definitely helps to know how certain things are done, in terms of like, how is this even possible? Because I hate reading scripts that it’s obvious a writer had no care for a budget, and no care for thinking how a director, the actors or the stunt coordinator would have to do this, you know what I mean?

I’m writing a Jackie Chan movie now, so I read Shanghai Noon, the draft right-before-production, to see how they write Jackie’s fighting, how detailed they get. They did write it very detailed, but the fight scenes were completely different than the ones that ended up in the movie. So I knew right then and there that -- my writing partner, Jeffrey Ray Wine and I knew -- let’s not spend a lot of time detailing these fight scenes because Jackie’s just going to come with a choreographer and they’re gonna come up with their own stuff. None of that stuff ended up in the movie and I was like, “Of course it didn’t because you couldn’t even do it.”

For the most part, I did a lot of my own stunts. But I wanted to do that, just to be in an interview like this and say, “Yeah, I did my own stunts” for one thing. Gotta get the chicks. Gotta protect my image.

I just wanted as much screen time as possible. Not like onscreen time but as far as showing up. Like if I wasn’t actually being used in the film, I was sitting back watching some of the other stuff. I wanted to try to learn as much as possible. One day, the stuntmen took me out to lunch and as we went through the drive-thru, they told me that I need to understand that every time they do a stunt, they get paid. They get paid in general, but then they get paid double the money when they actually do the stunt. So by me doing my own stunts, I’m taking their money. And they showed me a picture of their kids! They go Dave, “Don’t forget when you’re doing your stunts, we’re responsible for your safety.” They’re the ones setting up these stunts. They’re like, “Just keep that in mind. You really should let us do the stunts. We really don’t want you to get injured.”

What did you learn watching Keenan direct?
As an actor, working with Keenan and the other cast, my improvisational background helped out a lot, because we were really just making stuff up as we were going along and he was real open for someone to come up and say, “Hey I thought of this.” Or, “What do you think of this?” Luckily, Keenan was quick enough with his decisions that he enabled people to say stuff because he could shoot it down. I mean he was quick to say “Yes” or quick to say “No.” Which was good. Because when you’re on the clock and you got an actor coming up with an idea, he made you feel comfortable. You could say your ideas, but he also nixed a lot of them really quick. Like “No, we’re going on.” “No, that was cool, but you know…”

He brought us up a month early and we all hung out together. We’re weren’t shooting for three weeks, so we were just rehearsing and more-or-less just going out to bars and getting to know each other and trying to get that ensemble feel together. Now I’m not saying we all hung out, but for the most part, we all ate dinner together.

As far as knowing what it’s like to be a performer or knowing what it’s like to relate to actors as an actor, I’m sure it will come in handy because, I’ve been mistreated by directors and producers in the past. It’s gonna be hard to keep that in check, but I gotta remember what I hated about certain directors and certain producers and how I was treated and to say I’m not gonna treat my actors that way. And that is simply just a respect issue, I think.

Your mistreating at the hands of producers and directors is notorious. With MTV’s Buzzkill for instance…
You know, they just played the Whitney Houston footage. They finally played it just this year. It’s the infamous Whitney Houston footage.

Ah yes, the infamous Whitney Houston footage.
It was one of our final episodes. It was one of the guillotine things that got us canned from MTV. Basically, what we did was, we went to the MTV Movie Awards and Frank (Hudetz) looks a lot like Isaac Mizrahi, so we went and posed as Isaac Mizrahi and his entourage, filming backstage another documentary. We had people like Jamie Lee Curtis, and Shaquille O’Neal, and Faye Dunaway and all these people believing it was Isaac. Whitney Houston heard Isaac was back there, and she’s a huge Isaac fan, and she came back and just went nuts.

The whole entire joke of the piece was that I had a camera, but I would pretend not to roll during the initial instance of someone coming up to Isaac. But we actually caught it all on hidden cameras. So Whitney just went nuts and they were circling each other and jumping in the air and screaming and they finally hugged and then I would be like, “Oh Whitney, Whitney, I’m so sorry, we didn’t get that. I wasn’t rolling. Can you do your entrance again? Can you go back…?” And I’d get her to go back and she would be like, “This far?” and I’m like, “No, a little bit farther”, “Here?”, “A little bit more”, “Here?”, “Okay and… action!” And she would come back and go “Isaac!” and just act out what she did, but it was even worse and the whole thing was a show about how phony people are, you know? And when she found out it was fake, she had these bouncers just grab us and they took our tapes, and MTV just took her aside saying, “Oh, we knew nothing about them. Kick them out!” and they kicked us out.

Bad Buzzkill!
Yeah! (laughs) I sat in the parking lot. We arrived in a limo, and I sat it the parking lot waiting for a shuttle to come pick me up and take me to my car. I felt really bad.

Was that the nail in the coffin for Buzzkill?
It was one of them, yeah. But the funny thing was, because they didn’t want to wreck their relationship with her, they promised her that it would never air. Now she’s down, she doesn’t have any big hits, she’s like an alcoholic or something, her husband is like in jail, she’s the butt of every joke on Jay Leno, MTV aired that segment, not completely edited together like a Buzzkill, but more like a behind-the-scenes thing with the producers and the executive producers of the Movie Awards.

Was it part of that History of MTV thing?
Yeah, it was a history. It was uncensored. Iit was called MTV Movie Awards Uncensored.

Didn’t you invade the MTV Beach House as well? And started a mosh pit?
Oh yeah, that made it on the air. We had this idea of somehow crashing the Beach House. We didn’t know what we were gonna do. And then, our producers set up this cake thing where, basically, it was the fourth anniversary of the Beach House, and we were gonna bring a cake and the cake had these explosives in it so it would spray on John Sensio and Kennedy or something like that. But what they didn’t know was we didn’t want to do the cake thing. We were like, “What’s a cake blowing up thing?” That’s lame, right? So we got together and said, “Okay, as soon as the cake blows up, everybody’s going in the pool. We’re gonna throw all the VJ’s in the pool. And start throwing the cake around and try to give wedgies.” Like I wanted to wedgie that guy Simon Rex really bad.

They fought back and I’m not sure who got the brunt of it, because I would almost say it was pretty much even. But in terms of real physical abuse, I think we suffered more because we were outnumbered. But in terms of prettiness, there was that girl -- what was her name? Idalis -- I just nailed her with cake in her hair, and I guess it takes her hours to do her hair and she was just really upset. Travis (Draft) was getting yanked in by this PA guy, and he just got totally bruised up on the wooden deck, dragged in, and one of our hidden cameras got ruined. So that was like a $1,000. MTV was livid. They were threatening to take it out of Travis’ paycheck.

And he makes like $4 a week at MTV…
Let’s put it this way, it was gonna be two weeks of his pay. (laughs) Because they were like, “You weren’t supposed to touch them, we could have had a lawsuit there!” Because they bring in these kids who don’t get paid -- they’re just suppose to dance -- and we’re throwing these kids into a pool. They start to not trust you after awhile. I guess we deserved it.

Stewart is a project and character you developed about seven or eight years ago in Chicago that has certainly taken a bizarre route in not being made…
I wrote a screenplay, and I looked at that as that was going to be my first feature film. Scary Movie turned out to be my first feature that I acted in. This was going to be like my Citizen Kane. (laughs) Not really, but you know, it was going to be my first break in the film business. I was gonna write it, direct it and star in it. But after I wrote it, I ended up getting producers involved. That’s the first step in making a film, you have to have these people who know how to either get the thing set up at a studio or go get money. So I got these producers, and in order to get the money, they were like, “We’re gonna have to get another director, you’re not gonna be able to direct it.” So I was like “Okay.”

That’s the first mistake right there. I folded on my original vision. For anyone out there, if you’re writing something that you really have a strong vision for, unless you’re working on it with the director from the beginning, I would suggest just directing it yourself, because you’re not gonna be happy. Especially if you’re gonna be an actor in it. You can’t write something and have a strong vision and then have a director tell you how to do your own material that you wrote. I literally sat there for hours with the director that we ended up getting. And we would talk about a scene and he would tell me what the scenes were about. He would say “Now, you know what I just realized what this scene’s about.” And I’m like, “Well, I realized what the scene was about when I wrote it.”

Don’t tell me what the scene is. Don’t tell me what the character is thinking. I wrote the damn thing! We ended up setting it up at Dimension Films. And this is prior to Scary Movie. The idea was I would come off of Scary Movie, and people will be like, “Who is this guy playing Doofy? Oh look, he’s got his own film coming out!” Stewart. That was the idea. How it fell apart, I don’t know.

Maybe because the director was trying to tell you how to do a character you’ve been doing for eight years?
Exactly, trying to tell me how to do a character I did for eight years and he just wasn’t catching the vision that I was seeing and that was affecting me, so I was not in a good mood. I’m trying to think of what that word is, but it’s like, I sent these signals out that might have gotten the whole thing to fall apart, because I basically called up my managers about two weeks out, “How can I get out of this. If I can get out of this, can I still get my money? Can I get paid and we can just bring someone else in there?” And I was literally in tears. I had put that energy out there and then two weeks later, they shut down the whole thing.

And now they’ve offered Stewart to Seth Green?
I don’t know because right now they don’t know who to go with. They’ve brought in a lot of actors: Matt Lillard, Lochlyn Monroe, who’s in Scary Movie. Lochlyn said to me, “Yeah, I’ve gone in for your film like three times. They really want me to do it, and I keep saying ‘No, it’s Dave’s character, it’s Dave’s character’!”

They’ve gone the gamut. Their A-list was David Arquette or Jimmy Fallon. I can at least understand Jimmy Fallon, but he doesn’t want to do a character that I’ve created and wrote. He wants to do a character that he created and wrote. I don’t really find Arquette that funny, but they did throw in names like that guy Jason Biggs. And I was like, “Wait a second, Jason Biggs, he’s not a guy that plays Stewart. Jason Biggs is this generation’s answer to Anthony Michael Hall.” You know what I mean? Oh yeah! That guy Mark Borchard from American Movie.

He’s the real-life Stewart!
Yeah, they brought him in. Now I’m just thinking, why are they bringing in Mark Borchard, who is not an actor, not comedically-trained.? He’s done a movie that you know about and I know about, but I don’t think across America, it did that well. I mean, I don’t know how much money it made…

Did you ever get into a fistfight with the Weinsteins (of Miramax).
I did. Are you rolling on that?

Yes I am.
Yeah, Bob did, he twisted my arm. This could be my big Hollywood story. I went up to Bob’s hotel room, basically. He was in L.A., and he was having meetings with people in his hotel room. And so my meeting came up and I went in with my manager and Mike Judge, who was a producer on Stewart. We were trying to come up with a third act change for this Stewart script. This is what’s lying between the movie getting made and not being made. It’s like, Bob is not happy with the third act. So we’re pitching it around, we finally figured it out we say, “This is what it’s gonna be. Bob’s like, “I love it! I love it!” I go, “Let’s do it! Let’s do it.”

So the end of the meeting comes and he’s like, “Okay guys, this was great, this was great, I think we finally have a script idea. Let’s make this thing!” And then I said, and I was only joking, “Just give us a start date and I’ll give you a script” right? And he took my left hand -- he’s leading me at the door at this point -- he takes my left hand and he twists it and grabs it and yanks it backwards, like owww, one of those things. Squeezing the fingers as hard as possible and he just turned red all of sudden -- he just lost it like that -- and he said, “You give me a f*cking script first and then I’ll give you a start date.” And I was like, “Alright!”.

As an actor, other than playing a kung fu cop in my film, do you have anything coming up?
I did play a guy named Doug in this movie Ghost World. It’s directed by Terry Zwigoff, who did Crumb and based on the comic book Ghost World, Eight Ball Comics. And it’s with Thora Birch, Steve Buscemi, Brad Renfro and the girl from The Horse Whisperer. I played a small role; I was only on for two days. From what I understand, there were a lot of these roles that are, a lot of day players. David Cross plays this record collector. What happened was, Stewart disbanded and I was left with this mullet and a mustache. Here, I’ll show you. That’s what I looked like in Texas.

Is this a for-real license?
Yeah, I got my Texas license when I was there.

That’s awesome. That is the greatest mullet I’ve ever seen.
Yeah, basically it’s like, I came back home, and I was pretty bummed out and this guy, Terry Zwigoff called me and said he had a role for me. And they sent me over the script and it was basically verbatim the way I looked. It said like “bad haircut, mustache…” and I’m just this loser that hangs out at 7-Eleven, and I’m only in like two scenes, but I get to beat up Steve Buscemi.

What’s funny about the Scary Movie character, is it is sort of a stand-out character. And at the end I get the big money shot ending of the whole like stripping Doofy off and becoming Dave and hopping in the car. At least I get the big movie star ending. And it’s the same thing with this Ghost World, I’m only on for two days, but I’m in the climax. The end of the movie is me kicking the crap out of Steve Buscemi. It’s a perfect little scene-stealer.

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