Collider goes to the Set of STEP BROTHERS

     June 20, 2008

Back in October of 2007, I was invited to the set of “Step Brothers,” the upcoming Adam McKay/Will Ferrell comedy, along with a few other journalists. As a huge fan of their previous collaborations “Anchorman” and “Talladega Nights,” you could sort of say I was excited to go. Thankfully, watching them work on set was as cool as you’d think it would be.

Since many of you have never been to a movie set…let me explain how it works when you’re invited for a visit.

Even though the invite tells you you’re going to get to interview certain people and see various soundstages or scenes being shot, the truth is, you really never know what you’re going to see and do till you get there. So many things change in a moment’s notice that often the best laid plans fall away and you’re left with whatever plan B is.

That being said, the “Step Brothers” set visit was GREAT. We got to watch scenes get filmed, we were able to take a tour of the house and the various sets that were available, but without a doubt…my favorite part was watching director Adam McKay work.

As a huge fan of his since his days writing on “Saturday Night Live,” I’d always wondered how he worked a set and how the improv process worked with Will Ferrell. Being there, I was able to see John and Will do the scenes as scripted, then I could see takes where they’d insert their own lines and then, from off in the corner, we could hear Adam say things for Will and John to say. Often all of us were laughing so loud we were nervous we’d be thrown off set. And it wasn’t just us, the crew busted up just as bad. Seriously, we saw tons of takes that would be perfect and get huge laughs in a theater. It’s going to be very interesting to see which ones they’ll use for the final release. If the rest of the movie was filmed like we saw that scene getting made, they could release a DVD with 5 different versions of the same movie. Honestly, I wish they would.

But before we go any further…how about I explain what the film is all about.

“Step Brothers” stars Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly as two grown men that still live at home. Will plays Brennan Huff, a sporadically employed thirty-nine-year-old who lives with his mother, Nancy (Mary Steenburgen). John plays Dale Doback, a terminally unemployed forty-year-old who lives with his father, Robert (Richard Jenkins). When Robert and Nancy marry and move in together, Brennan and Dale are forced to live with each other as step brothers. As their narcissism and downright aggressive laziness threaten to tear the family apart, these two middle-aged, immature, overgrown boys will orchestrate an insane, elaborate plan to bring their parents back together. To pull it off, they must form an unlikely bond that maybe, just maybe, will get them out of the house.

Getting back to the set visit… I could bore you with the details of the house, or what the kitchen looked like, or how the bedrooms were on one side of the soundstage while the rest of the house was on another. The fact is, the behind the scenes part of making most movies is actually kind of boring.

Look, I love movies and TV shows…but when you watch them being made in front of you, you start to understand why actors and directors need to take a break after they wrap. Working sometimes 6 day weeks and 14 hour days takes a toll on you mentally and physically, even if you’re laughing all day long.

Obviously that’s not to say I wouldn’t do it myself…it’s just after going to all these set visits for the past year, I’m beginning to understand the behind the scenes process a lot more and I’ve come to respect how hard everyone – including actors – work to make things come to life. And the bigger the budget and the more action set pieces you have, the harder it is to make it all come together. It’s really not an easy job.

Okay, rant over.

Since I’m sure some of you want to know exactly what you do on a set visit…here’s a bullet point recap of what I did and saw in the order of how it happened:

  • Before going to the stage to see the locations and watch filming, we first met with costume designer Susan Matheson. She gave us a tour of where they keep the costumes and while walking through the trucks, we asked questions and conducted an interview. You can read what she said here.

  • We then went to Stage 26 where the house was built. Inside was a living room, dining room, stairways, kitchen. You couldn’t tell it was fake. The place looked lived in and you’d never know it was a movie soundstage.

  • We all walked to the upstairs portion of the house. Saw the bedroom where John and Will live. Posters on the wall were stuff that was popular when they were 15 – like Space Hunters in 3D, Metallica (from the 80’s), Island Fever 4. For me the highlight was the Ghostbusters hat and stickers I saw lying around. Imagine a bedroom from the 1980’s that never changed and the person living there never grew up.

  • Walked to what’s called “The Beat Laboratory.” It’s where John’s drum set was. They play a big part in the movie.

  • Went to location near the stage to watch filming. Saw a scene where John and Will are on the couch and their parents tell them they have to get a job or they’ll be kicked out. Part of that scene is in the trailer and a photo is on the right. Take after take we saw them improv lines with some takes running an extra 30 seconds so they could keep making things up. So many were very funny. Just imagine Will and John being screamed at and punished like they’re 15 years old…except they’re 40.

  • As I already said, Adam McKay would sometimes offer ideas between takes and sometimes he’d just scream them from off camera and say “Will! Now say this…!”

  • After laughing so much that my face hurt from laughing, Will and John came over and we did an interview. You can read that here.

  • Then, a little while later, we were able to interview Richard Jennings, Mary Steenburgen and director Adam McKay. You can read that interview here.

  • Shortly thereafter we left the set.

Again, I could go into intricate details about the house, the posters, the sneakers on the floor and what the drum set means to John and Will’s relationship…but I think it’s a lot better to just say everything I saw and heard on the set made me believe this movie is going to make you laugh. A lot. In fact…perhaps someone I know already saw the film and said it’s GREAT. Like hysterically funny and something well worth your time and money.

And with that…I hope you have a better idea of what it’s like being on a movie set. In the past 2 months I’ve been to a ton of them and in the coming weeks and months you can expect a lot more reports on Collider. Until then…

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