IN FOCUS: So I hear you guys are on triple shifts right now.
TREY PARKER: It’s three units at the same time — and of course [they’re shooting] three completely different parts of the movie. I can see why people don’t multi-task. It’s a bad idea.
MATT STONE: Yeah. We go from 7 to 8 or so, every day — and a lot of times, we have three, four or five cameras running at any time on the set, trying to get the stuff. I said that to my mom the other day: I’ve never worked this hard in my life.
At the same time, I’m really, really glad we have this horrible deadline — because it’s a finite amount of time. We have to have the movie done by the end of September. If I was working this hard and I didn’t know the movie was coming out, it would bum me out.
And you could argue that it removes any self-doubt filters.
MATT: Yeah. I’d say most things are overproduced. At the same time, even though it feels like this mad rush, we let the concept gestate for the better part of two-and-a-half years. But once you get the s*** on film, just get it out as soon as you can. That’s kind of our motto.
When you pitched “Team America,” were there Paramount executives who looked at you like you were on mescaline?
TREY: Yeah. I mean, they did not see any dollar signs with an R-rated puppet movie. [laughs] You know, they were basically like, “Well, [Scott] Rudin says it’s a good idea, so we’ll give you the minimum amount of money we have to give to make a movie.” [laughs]
MATT: We actually pitched “Team America” to Rudin first — and I don’t know if we would have gotten it made without his clout. And, you know, I mean, Rudin is Rudin — he’s a very complex man — but one thing he does have is pretty incredible taste in projects. He just gets things in a way that, a lot of times, other [executives] just don’t.
When we were doing the “South Park” movie, Rudin really did get “South Park.” And the thing he got was: We wanted to tell a really big, good story. Everyone else at that time was just, you know, “Get Cartman on the screen, 90 feet tall, have him fart and walk around. It’s a gold mine, guys! Just get it out!” And we were so interested in doing more — and he was the only guy who really got it.
TREY: But as soon as they started seeing [“Team America”] dailies…. They’re pretty excited now.
MATT: Now everyone at the studio’s f***ing totally loving it, and the press that’s come to the set has fallen head-over-heels. But when we first pitched this movie, it was like, “What the f*** do you wanna do?” And then, even after the first week of film, it was like, “Well, it’s cool-looking, but….” But after the second week of filming, when Trey and I started cutting scenes together and figuring out what the movie was, people starting jumping on board. But it was really people going, “Oh, we trust Scott, Matt and Trey — because this is too f***in’ weird.”
What was the non-“South Park” project you guys were contemplating before you stumbled onto the 1960s-TV “Thunderbirds”?
TREY: There was something I’d written for Rudin way early on, when I’d first come to town, before “South Park” — it was this almost fairy-tale kind of story that took place in the Colorado Rockies. We were sort of kicking that around again, and kind of sitting there going, “Man, I don’t know if I really want to make another movie.” It was so great working in animation and not dealing with actors, and being able to sort of just do whatever you want in animation — order up the Chinese Army if you want.
But then this idea struck us in the head and we kind of went with it. And now we kind of halfway regret it. But it looks good. [laughs]
Rumor has it, Trey, that you didn’t even discover “Thunderbirds” until very recently.
TREY: When I saw it, I was definitely, like, “I remember this.” And Matt was the same way: We both kind of remembered it, but we weren’t fans. And we realized a lot of our friends were in the same boat. And then once we started watching them, we realized the reason was: They couldn’t even hold our interest when we were kids. They’re so expository and slow — just dialogue and dialogue and dialogue, and it took itself really seriously.
And now I understand why, of course: It’s easy to have a puppet sit there and talk. [laughs] At first, we were like, “Why didn’t he do so much more?” And now we’re like, “Oh. That’s why.”
Has working on “Team America” given you new respect for Gerry Anderson?
TREY: Absolutely. I mean, actually, it doesn’t give me any respect for him — it makes me think he’s absolutely insane.
How you could do this and do it again, I do not understand. He did it for years and years and years — and I don’t understand how. I mean, you could threaten to kill my family and I would not make another puppet movie. If my mother would die if I would not make another puppet movie, she’d be dead. I’m totally serious.
MATT: Music that sounds effortless? Sometimes it’s really not. And I think some people will see this film and think, “Wow! That looks really easy.” When people come visit the set, they see what it takes to do it. And then you look at Gerry Anderson and you think, “Man, he did this for how many episodes?” I mean, the [“Thunderbirds”] episodes are really simplistic, movement-wise, but some of the stuff they did is pretty amazing, technically. It’s kind of too bad that he didn’t have better stories and scripts and characters, because it’s a pretty amazing look. It’s definitely what inspired the look of this film.
But honestly, I don’t know what the hell’s wrong with that guy. I mean, we’re in, so we have to finish this f***in’ thing, but I hate it. I do. I hate it.
I remember that you guys were planning, before Sept. 11, to make a movie called, if memory serves, “George W. Bush and the Secret of the Glass Tiger”….
MATT: Hey, that’s right. Yeah.
It was going to be an Indiana Jones-style adventure —
MATT: Yeah, I forgot about that. He was going to cruise around. It was going to completely ignore the fact that he was the President or a guy from Texas — anything real about him — and just make him an action hero. That was funny.
TREY: At the time, we were doing “That’s My Bush!” And we just loved the cast and really loved the show. And it got put to us by Comedy Central: “Guys, we can’t afford to do ‘That’s My Bush!’ and ‘South Park,’ so you’ve gotta pick one.”
So we were like, “How can we do both?” And we started thinking, “Let’s do a ‘That’s My Bush!’ movie.” [On TV,] “That’s My Bush!” was making fun of sitcoms — so we’ll do it completely different, where we’re doing an action movie, still starring Tim [Bottoms] as George Bush. That’s still a pretty sweet idea. But it was ahead of its time, actually.
How many ideas from that have been subsumed into “Team America”?
TREY: I don’t know. Probably in the back of our minds, a lot of them.
MATT: I think that “Team America” kind of became its own thing. But that’s a really good idea for a movie. We should do that.
Would “That’s My Bush!” have proven more successful had it starred marionettes?
MATT: No — that would have failed, because we wouldn’t have gotten past two episodes on that.
I have to ask you about the recent Drudge Report item, where an anonymous “White House official” charged that “Team America” was trivializing the war on Terror: Why does the White House respond to a teaser trailer for a movie starring puppets, but not to “Fahrenheit 9/11”?
MATT: Well, first of all, I think “Fahrenheit 9/11” was … well, it was a different kind of movie. I just wonder how real that “news” really was. That’s all I’m gonna say.
I mean, “an anonymous White House staffer”? Drudge said “a senior Bush administration official,” and when we got on the radio with him, it was “a junior staffer.” What is it — junior or senior? What are we talking about here? Who knows? It might have been the janitor.
It was free publicity, so it was fun for us.
TREY: Yeah, exactly. It’s funny when someone responds with, “Oh, well they think this is funny?” No, we just think that everything’s funny. We think that “funny” is a great thing and “funny” is a great way to think about things and deal with things.
People who don’t have great senses of humor think that comedy is that you just think something’s trite and stupid and you don’t care about it. [They think] if you’re laughing, it’s because what you think you’re laughing at is stupid — because that’s about as far as their sense of humor goes. People don’t realize that it can be something a lot deeper than that.
Oh, sure. One of the most interesting things about “South Park” is that the right and the left sort of claim it as their own.
I don’t know if you’ve heard about this, but there have been essays written about the concept of the “South Park Republican.”
TREY: Yeah, we have seen that. What we’re sick of — and it’s getting even worse — is: You either like Michael Moore or you wanna f***in’ go overseas and shoot Iraqis. There can’t be a middle ground. Basically,if you think Michael Moore’s full of s***, then you are a super-Christian right-wing whatever. And we’re both just pretty middle-ground guys. We find just as many things to rip on on the left as we do on the right. People on the far left and the far right are the same exact person to us. [laughs]
Are there any good guys in Team America?
TREY: Yeah, they’re all good guys. That’s sort of the misconception. This isn’t about “them” the government and “them” the terrorists. It’s about “us,” the people who have to sit here and say, “F*** — everyone kind of hates us right now. How do I feel about that?”
Really, all the Team America members are people you’re supposed to like; they’re kind of mess-ups and they get it wrong sometimes, but gosh-darn it, they’re tryin’. [laughs]
Just like everything we do — and the “South Park” movie was this way, too — [our scripts] always start off being about 120 pages of politics and basically expository crap. And then you whittle it down and whittle it down, and you start to look at stuff, and then you realize, “Okay, the funniest stuff is watching a puppet falling out of a car — and that’s what the movie’s really about.” [laughs] You weed it out and let the politics take a back seat. Because I know I’m sick of politics. It’s more about f***in’ up puppets.
Who do you think wants you to shut up the most: the right or the left? Putting it another way: Would Janeane Garofalo or Sean Hannity tell you to shut your yap faster?
TREY: Janeane Garofalo wouldn’t do that because she’d know it would be hypocritical. The left never really tells you to shut up. The right just likes to think the left is stupid and the left just likes to think the right is evil. [laughs]
Any thoughts on the fact that you may have ended up making a more reverent homage to “Thunderbirds” than Jonathan Frakes did?
MATT: Oh, no — we definitely did.
TREY: I sure hope so. God. I mean, if you aren’t using puppets, then you ain’t got nothin’. They sure didn’t have a story.
MATT: I would have said this before it opened so terribly, but what a terrible miscalculation. What an awful thing to do with that franchise. The only good thing about “Thunderbirds” was the artistry of the puppets and the look — it’s really what made it “Thunderbirds.” The concept and the characters and the stories are pretty mediocre — but what’s made it last is the time and care that the people who did that show put into the marionettes. I mean, they really formed an entirely new niche of filmmaking — and f***in’ Universal or some idiot somewhere, some exec, decides it has to be a “Spy Kids.” That’s just Hollywood in a nutshell.
TREY: I’m pretty confident that we can beat “Thunderbirds”’ first weekend out. All we have to do is make 2 million bucks and we’ve won. For about half the price, too. [laughs]
Now, you’d originally discussed doing an all-puppet version of a major Hollywood script like “The Day After Tomorrow.”
TREY: Yeah. We thought “Day After Tomorrow” would be great with puppets.
Now that the summer has worn on, are there any other movies that deserved the all-puppet treatment?
TREY: I think you could take any Bruckheimer movie and do it with puppets, and it would be screamingly funny.
MATT: The whole movie has that kind of feel. We ask this question about four times a day on the set: “What Would Jerry do?” We’re gonna get bracelets made — like the “What Would Jesus Do?” bracelets. Because we’d ask, “What would Jerry Bruckheimer do?” when we were trying to figure something out. “Jerry would put this kind of song here,” or “Jerry would do this kind of move here.” “This is the way he would introduce the team base.”
How important is it to get this movie in theatres before the November elections?
TREY: It actually has nothing to do with the election. In fact, it was actually supposed to come out sooner — and then it just took so goddamn long. I don’t think anyone will be coming out of this movie going, “Oh! I think I’ll be voting for so-and-so!” At all. It really is just about: We have to be back at “South Park” on Oct. 20 — and so the 15th was about as far as we could push the movie. [laughs]
Are you turning this around in such a short window because the deal came together so late?
TREY: Yes — and because everything just took a lot longer than we thought.
MATT: We got about five or six shots today on second unit and we were like, “Whoa! That was a pretty good day!” Our third unit got two that they’d set up last night and three or four shots today…. And there are between 1,500 and 2,000 shots in a normal film, I think.
It’s really hard to get into a creative groove, because you do one little piece, and then three hours later, you do another little piece, and then later you do another little piece that’s four weeks later — and you just don’t get into a normal groove of “Let’s do a scene! Let’s get crazy!”
The nightly edit sessions would help with that, I’d imagine.
MATT: Even if this movie wasn’t coming out until next year, we’d edit at night. After the first week of filming, we edited all weekend — and we completely changed the script. Now, not all the plot elements, not all the characters — but we completely changed the tone of the script after the first week of shooting. Because we knew the film had to be kind of serious in tone to be funny, because it’s puppets — but we didn’t even know how serious it had to be. And it wasn’t one of those things where you could go shoot a bunch of film for 12 weeks and start editing, because we would have ended up with a s***ty film. Especially when you’re doing something like this, in a new medium.
I don’t understand how anyone could do a film and not want to edit while they’re doing it — because that’s when you know what you’re getting. Shooting, or animating, editing, songwriting, voicing — you do it all at once. I don’t understand how people go, “First we’ll do this, and then we’ll do that, and then we’ll edit, and then we’ll be done!” Because it just doesn’t work that way.
A film emerges very organically from the process.
MATT: [kind of sarcastically] That’s a good euphemism for “controlled chaos.”
George Clooney, one of the “limousine liberals” being mocked in the movie, loves you guys — he even played a gay dog on an early episode.
TREY: Yeah. We’re, like, light friends with George. We’ve hung out with George. But the thing is, he was on that list, man — he was on that MoveOn.org. So we weren’t gonna be hypocritical and be, like, “Well, let’s not pick on George. He’s our friend.” We’re like, “Nope — f*** you, George. You went on the news shows, too, and talked about Iraq like you knew what was going on. We’re taking you down, buddy.”
Did you talk to him before you did it?
TREY: Oh, no. I don’t know if he even knows right now.
Do you fear that Tim Robbins is gonna sucker-punch you at the Oscars?
TREY: Oh, I’ll kick his f***in’ ass. Are you kidding?
for the rest of the interview which includes some tidbits on what to expect of a sequel as well as the ongoing "South Park" cartoon series!