Thursday, April 29, 2004
IS "RUN RONNIE RUN" OVERRATED?
You bet. Here's why.
By Bob Odenkirk (as told to Henry Owings)
FROM CHUNKLET MAGAZINE:
"RUN RONNIE RUN" was written by David Cross and myself with Scott Auckerman, BJ Porter, and Brian Posehn — most of the writers of the last season of “Mr. Show.” The goal of the script was this strange kind of hybrid between telling a linear story with a single character as our focal point — it included telling something you would see in a typical big-budget studio comedy, say your Rob Schneider, Adam Sandler, David Spade-type comedy — [and] something that would, on the poster and in the preview, look like a traditional comedy, a typical mall theatre comedy with one very funny crazy main character and his story, so that we wouldn't scare away [the audience]. Our goal was to reach out to those who don't know “Mr. Show,” which is a lot of people. Our goal was to present a movie to them that, on the face of it, looked like a typical comedy that they would seem very willing to take a chance on.
Our further goal was to very cleverly skip off our little linear story and do little scenic bits that would be more like “Mr. Show,” and that would hopefully enhance the story, and make the movie a more interesting experience, and yet not intimidating, because you return to the story that you're used to. We thought we could gently prod people into seeing a movie with an alternative sensibility, but mask it in a kind of traditional structure. That was our high-minded goal.
I would argue that the script was not airtight, or perfect, and I never thought it was. I thought it was just the best we could do in the time we had, and good enough to go shoot and try to make work. The only thing that matters in that little formula is [that] in order to make it work, you need David and I in the editing room, just like we edited “Mr. Show.” David and I were the executive producers of “Mr. Show,” and we oversaw the directors, the writing, and all the editing.
Well, what happened with Run, Ronnie, Run, was [that] the director, who was somebody we'd known for six years — I'll refer to him as Jack Frost — had been very cooperative and willing to execute our vision, and pretty much give it up to us at any time in the process, whether it was in the editing, or even in the directing. However, in this film, he got really distant from us, and then when it came time to edit, he asked us to leave. He came to us after the film was shot, and asked, “Is it okay if I do the first cut?” We said, “Sure, you worked so hard, go ahead and do the first cut. Just do us a favor and don't overcut it, so you don't mind changing anything.” He assured us he wouldn't, but of course he did. He cut like crazy. He was extremely proud. He thought he'd made a perfect film. And then when we went in and started giving notes, he immediately got really frustrated and angry, and on the second day of our effort at editing, he kicked us out. And from that day on, we were not allowed to call him directly anymore, only talk to his assistant; we were never allowed to see dailies of the movie; we could only make suggestions based on cuts that he had already made, or on our memory of the shooting from weeks before. We had no recourse, and he knew it.
Michael De Luca — who was the executive at New Line who helped get the movie made — was a huge “Mr. Show” fan, and he understood that it was David's and my sensibility that made “Mr. Show” great, but he'd been fired in the course of shooting our movie. So Jack Frost knew that we had nowhere to go over his head. On top of this is the fact that we'd given up our producer credits in this movie—at Jack Frost's request before it was made. He came to us and said, “In order to get these two guys, Warren Burgin and Mark Coolis, to help—to be producers on the movie, and to help get it made, we need you guys to give up your credit, ‘cuz there's too many producers on the banner.” And we immediately agreed, because at that point, Jack Frost had been nothing but friendly and cooperative and great to us, and we never foresaw that he would be anything else.
I think the reason he did it was twofold. One, I think he walked away from the shooting thinking, “There's no way I can fuck this up.” David Koechner, David Cross, everybody had been so funny in their parts. I think he was grinning ear to ear when it was over, and he pretty much felt like, “I don't need anyone to tell me how to make this funny.” And just so you know, he still thinks it's a great movie. It may have some good moments, but it's not a great movie. But he still thinks it's fucking awesome. And secondly, I think he'd had enough of doing whatever we told him, over the six years of “Mr. Show.” Everybody has an ego, and in this case, his ego finally decided, “That's enough. I'm not going to listen to anybody anymore.” And it was a horrible, horrible experience. The worst experience I've ever had in my career by far. It was a nightmare!
If you rent the DVD — and I encourage people to rent, not buy — what you see is a much slower, less focused, much less funny movie in its first edit. We basically polished a turd; we didn't do any alchemy. So as the editing process went on, we basically influenced it with arguments, begging, kissing ass, and long emails thanking Jack Frost for putting jokes in that had been cut, and begging him to try other things that we thought would work. I feel like there's a chance that, based on the weaknesses of the script, and let's even point out my own weaknesses as a performer, maybe there's no great movie there. But I can't say that unless I get a chance to edit it first. The things that are wrong with the movie are that it shifts gears between being kind of dry and funny and a little bit harsh, which is very Mr. Showy, to being saccharin-sweet and strangely emotionally cloying, and begging for your sympathy in a very weird way with this music and these shots that have no sense of irony to them at all. So it's this really weird gearshift that happens constantly throughout the movie. It's one of the reasons the movie feels so long. It's a very short movie, but it feels really long.
I was talking to somebody about it, and it occurred to me that there's a lot of comedies that come out where people like only four or five scenes. I remember the last Austin Powers. You know, you'd talk to people about it and they'd go, “Oh, it's great! I didn't like Goldmember, but I liked this, and that, and this!” And they name, like—everybody names, like, three things. And it's like, “So you liked three things and that makes it a great movie?” And the difference between that movie, which I do think is a good comedy, and Run, Ronnie, Run, which I think is a bad comedy, is that when there's a weak joke in Goldmember, it still belongs in the movie. When there's a weak moment in the movie, it's not from another movie; it's just an attempt at an Austin Powers joke that maybe isn't the best, but somehow it all works together, and when you're done, you're thinking only about the parts that work. But with Run, Ronnie, Run, the parts that don't work and don't fit are so wrong in tone, they're like from a different movie, and they weigh the movie down. They drag it down. You can't just dismiss them and forget they happened after they're over.
The thing that's missing is the gap that exists between our reputation and movie studio executives' awareness. To “Mr. Show” fans and people who know us, it's ludicrous that we would get kicked out of the editing room of a movie that I wrote. But movie executives have never heard of “Mr. Show.” Ever. None of them. Except for the lower-level execs at pretty much all of the studios — they've heard of it and are fans. But all the top guys, these 50-year old German billionaires, they don't know “Mr. Show.” And they do pay attention to what goes on their networks, and they do pay attention to what movies they put out, and they've just now started to hear about, you know—they're barely gonna become familiar with Jack Black in the next year. He's a new face to them that just has never done anything before until this new movie comes out. They live in Aspen, they live in Europe, they live in, you know—they go to Japan and Australia, they just aren't living anywhere near the level that you and I live, and when these younger executives who are so excited about us and want to work with us, go to them, the guy who writes the check, and say, “I want to do a movie with this guy,” they say, “No fucking way, I've never heard of him.” “Well, he's got this TV show, and he's done this, and college kids like it...” “Well, I'm not a college kid, and I've never heard of it, so you can't have $8 million. No.” There is a major disconnect there. It's a strange thing, but it's really true.
And the reason the movie is so overrated is because it was buried by New Line, which was a relief to David and I. It was a very strange situation, because we were under the impression that it was going to get released, so we fought like crazy to champion the movie, to be on its side, so we could have as much influence as possible over the content of movie. If we were seen to be slagging the movie off before the edit was done, nobody would've even read our e-mails, or our long memos that begged for changes and jokes and all of these moments to be protected, or put back in, or discovered. So we had to fight for the movie. And people say, “Why did you seemingly change your opinion on your movie?” For months on the website, we were fighting for the movie, but we had no choice. We very quickly sized up our situation. We could tell everybody, “the movie's gonna suck and we hate it and we're angry,” but then the movie was planning to come out. So our effort was to have as much influence on it as we could, and the way to do that was to appear to be championing the movie and hoping for the best. The day that we found out they weren't going to release it was a huge relief for David and I. We were even deluded by our own efforts to go, “Yeah, yeah, it's gonna be good, we're gonna try and make it good!” And then we find out they're not gonna be releasing it, this strange feeling of joy descends, like, “Oh, wow, I don't have to lie anymore! I can just tell people it's just not good.”
Look, people are angry at New Line. Don't be angry at New Line. The only thing New Line did “wrong” was not defend us. But in their defense, they didn't know who we were! There's nobody at New Line, and certainly nobody in the upper echelon, who has ever heard of “Mr. Show.” Never heard of us at all! People in the movie business don't watch TV. They barely know the top movie stars. They're very busy going to parties and flying around on private jets. They really have a lot to do. So in New Line's defense, they didn't know who we were, and they just saw a movie that was sluggish, slow, oddly offbeat and unpleasant, and that didn't test that well. And I agree with them. They would've lost their fucking shirts if they'd put that movie out and spent another $12 million on promotions. On the other hand, the person to blame is the director, who knew us, and knew how important we were to our own comedy, and chose to freeze us out, hold us at arm's length and not let us influence the movie nearly on the scale that we should have.
Movies can be made and broken in editing. Everybody knows that. Let me re-edit Casablanca for you and turn it into a big fat piece of shit. The raw comedy is so much about little moments, playing the tone just so, and taking a scene and just hanging on it a little bit longer than you would normally, and giving it that awkward moment that makes it human and raises the level of humor. It's all about tone, and the person editing it has to have a sensitivity and a sensibility to that. It's overrated because it was shit on by the studio. It's [considered] this “lost gem” when really it's a lost fucked-up gem.