Director David Dobkin Talks THE CHANGE-UP, JACK THE GIANT KILLER, R.I.P.D., His King Arthur Movie and the VACATION Reboot

     August 4, 2011


When I first heard that Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds were going to star in a body switching comedy, my first thought was, “Hasn’t this concept been beaten to death?”  But, when I found out the guys who wrote The Hangover (Jon Lucas and Scott Moore) were writing the script and the director of Wedding Crashers (David Dobkin) was helming the project, I thought The Change-Up had the chance to be very funny.  And it is.  It’s actually the hardest I’ve laughed in a theater in a long time and I absolutely recommend checking it out this weekend.

Anyhow, I recently got to talk with David Dobkin on the phone.  We talked about how the project came together, how hard it was to get made, casting, his thoughts on extended editions and director’s cuts, and deleted scenes.  In addition, we talked about how he’s producing Jack the Giant Killer and R.I.P.D., his King Arthur movie, the Vacation reboot, and a lot more.  Hit the jump to either read or listen to the interview.

As usual, I’m offering you two ways to get the interview: you can either click here for the audio or the full transcript is below.  If you have the time, I definitely recommend listing to the interview.

david-dobkin-01Collider: Congrats on the movie, I laughed my ass off.

David Dobkin: Thank you dude, it was a fun one.

So what was the genesis of the project?

Dobkin: I knew the writers, Lucas and Moore, and had worked with them for a while. Obviously everybody knows them now as the writers of The Hangover. They sent me the script, they wrote it on spec. When I first heard it was a body switching movie I wasn’t totally—you know I don’t think anyone’s looking to do a body switching movie in their career, but the script was so fucking good and so funny, that I was like “I have to make this movie.” It was insane. It was really smart too, because aside from being funny and using the premise of the movie to great comedic effect, it was just really human and emotional and insightful about men and the differences between being single and being married, and how you view sex and how you view love and how you view relationships. They just really succeded in making it a really well-rounded movie, so I really think they deserve most of the credit.

Some films are very hard to get a greenlight, and some films it’s a “no-brainer,” was this one of those projects where you took it to studios they were like “I’m in?”

Dobkin: Yeah there was a bit of a bidding war on the script, and Universal obviously won it. We sold the script for the progress to production deal, which means it was greenlit based on a couple of things: we had a shortlist of names and they were like if you can get two of the people off this list of eight names into the movie, and you can hit this budget number, you have a greenlight, so we were lucky we did all those things.

change-up-movie-image-ryan-reynolds-jason-bateman-02Well let’s jump into casting. Is this one of those things where you had different people read to see chemistry, or did you just pick these two out and go “yeah we got it?”

Dobkin: I thought these two guys were a really good idea, and I had gone to the studio initially with Bateman in mind, and was just like “I think this is a breakout role for him.” For me, I don’t just look for the person that I think fits the role and is familiar, I don’t actually like that, I actually wanna try to find something that you go, “Wow I’ve never seen that person do that.” They’re coming to see what they like from the star, but they’re not doing what you’ve seen before. You can see in Jason’s performances and the color of his work that obviously this is something that he could do, but he just had never had a movie that gave him the opportunity to open it up like this. So he was really the first person on, and then we went to Ryan and he really loved the script as well. Ryan was perfect because he can do—first of all both guys, and I say this with love and affection for everybody in the entertainment industry, but not all comedians are actors and not all actors are comedians, and finding people that can do both is very, very difficult, and this movie required there to be actors as well as comedians in the movie, guys that could really play both roles convincingly and perform them in a way where they’re not imitating each other. They have to make it realistic from the inside out, and both of these guys were of the highest skill set level to be able to do that. And for me Ryan, the thing that always jumped out at me that was always shocking, you know I’ve always been a fan of his and I loved the character he did in Adventureland, that was like a really cool character to me, but he’s amazing with physical comedy, which is really special and unique and unusual for a guy that’s as good-looking as he is and has that thing as well. He had a couple little moments in other movies that really stood out to me, and I thought “Wow, there’s so much reactionary humor in this film,” he just seemed like he’d be a really cool choice for that guy. And then look, I only knew afterwards that the two guys knew each other, that they were friends and knew each other from around. But I had no idea when we cast them that they would have that, but I think that also helps with some of the chemistry in the movie.

change-up-movie-image-ryan-reynolds-jason-bateman-01Definitely. I spoke to them both yesterday and they’re both funny in real life so I can’t even imagine directing them.

Dobkin: It was a lot of fun. Luckily we had a great blueprint, it is such a luxury in the comedy side of filmmaking to have a script that works. Most of the time you have a script that kind of works, and you go out there and you fix it as you go, and it’s a great idea and everyone gets the idea and there’s some stand-out scenes but there’s a lot of work to be done. This script was really very well-formed and it allows us to go into the process just trying to plus it. And I got the opportunity to go into some of their rehearsals and just listen to them, taking some of their ideas and helping to massage them into the existing script in a way that was going to continue to elevate it. They each brought a lot of stuff to the movie as far as lines here and there and ideas. It was a really fun collaboration between all of us.

Something that made me just laugh a lot in the theater and also the rest of the audience was the scenes with the babies. Could you talk about shooting some of those scenes?

Dobkin: The babies were really cool in the script and it wasn’t until you go to shoot it that it’s like, “Oh fuck, how am I gonna do this?” We had something like four sets of twins to bring in and out and to do different shots with, and on day one I looked to my producer and I was like, “Dude, I’m gonna have to shoot the real babies for the whole thing. You can see who they are. There’s no over-the-shoulders and stuff.” And that sounded like a catastrophe, we had to revamp the entire shoot schedule to accommodate shooting the babies in the morning from 7-10 when they were fresh and then shooting other stuff for the rest of the day. So it was really hard, it’s obviously a combination of in-camera tricks, training the babies to do certain things that you’ve never seen before, which is not easy because they figure it out and they get bored and they won’t do it again, and obviously visual effects and some other stuff that help you get there.

change-up-movie-image-jason-bateman-leslie-mann-01What’s your take on extended editions and director’s cut DVDs? Did you guys cut a lot of stuff out that might be in an extended edition?

Dobkin: There were some really funny scenes that we cut out of the movie, but we cut them out because—look there’s no doubt in my mind when I release a movie that the theatrical version is the best version, and I’ve been lucky that I’ve never been forced to make a cut to a film that I haven’t wanted to make. The good, the bad, and the ugly by the way, sometimes you fall on a sword over that and sometimes you win. But this movie really is the best version, it is quote-unquote a director’s cut, everyone’s had their influence and their collaboration but I’ve been fortunate to be able to interpret what’s there as what I think is best. Now I think extended cuts are really fun, [but] it really bums me out that a lot of people believe that, like a movie like Wedding Crashers, they believe that the extra 10 minutes that are in there, there are people that see it for the first time and think that’s the movie, and I don’t like that. I demand that the theatrical version of the movie is always available on the disc with the extended or unrated version, whatever they try to call it to sell more DVDs. I’m not a huge fan of it, but at the same time people have become more and more interested in the world of filmmaking and making movies, and it is fun to have some of those scenes out there. There’s a couple scenes from this movie that are insane, I mean they are really funny, unfortunately it tripped up the tracking, especially in a movie with body switching where characters are switching and you have to keep all of that clear, some scenes just tripped up the tracking of the characters, that’s why they had to come out because you’re like, “Well that doesn’t really make sense with where that character’s going,” but the scenes were hilarious. There’s a scene were Bateman and Leslie Mann almost have sex and it’s really, really funny but it couldn’t fit into the trajectory of what the storytelling was.

the-change-up-movie-image-jason-bateman-ryan-reynolds-01So you’re telling me that there’s 5-10 minutes of stuff that will be on the DVD?

Dobkin: (laughs) Yes, there it is, it’s seven and a half.

Switching gears a little bit, I’m fascinated with all the stuff that you’re producing.

Dobkin: Well the truth of the matter is I’m in Hollywood because of Star Wars. I saw that movie when I was eight years old and that’s what I came here to make, and somewhere along my road, you know the first commercials I got a chance to direct were these spec commercials and they were comedies and that was the first thing I could get, and they won awards, so from there on out I ended up following a comedy trajectory. Which I love, by the way, I’m a huge, huge Richard Pryor fan and Lenny Bruce, and 48 Hours is seminal for me. The R-rated comedy thing has been huge for me and my life as well, but there’s another part of me that as a storyteller—I originally thought I was coming to Hollywood as a writer—has always been wanting to develop that stuff so after Wedding Crashers I started to get involved in R.I.P.D. and Jack the Giant Killer were the first two things that I set up with intentions of stepping into a bigger tentpole arena. For various reasons of my availability and different things that were happening at different times, I wasn’t able to board those projects when they were ready. It was very hard for that to happen, but as a director I wasn’t able to board it, but I have stayed involved as a producer and I continue to build out those movies and be supportive of them. Bryan [Singer] is an incredible get for Jack the Giant Killer, and I can tell you from seeing dailies it’s amazing, it’s just amazing. The design work on that film is incredible, it’s a world no one’s ever seen before. And R.I.P.D. was something that was very personal to me after having lost my father, and I wanted to make a movie about life and death and create a love story across those lines and those boundaries. [Producers] Ori Marmur and Neal [Moritz] introduced me to the comic and I took it as a launching pad and brought in [screenwriters Matt] Manfredi and [Phil] Hay onto the movie and over the number of years we pumped that script out. It was something [like] two years ago that Ryan had come to me interested in [it], and we couldn’t make it work out at that time for various reasons, and it’s great that he got his way back into the movie and Jeff Bridges is absolutely perfect for that role, and it couldn’t be at a more perfect time in Jeff’s career. But that script is amazing; I’m very proud of it and I’m glad that that movie’s getting made as well. And then for me I’m finally getting to get into the chair behind one of these because of my King Arthur movie at Warner Bros.

change-up-movie-image-ryan-reynolds-olivia-wilde-01Well I was gonna say to you, what’s up with the King Arthur movie?

Dobkin: So I sat down and wrote one (laughs). Aside from developing them with other writers for a number of years, I had this idea for almost a decade about how to reinvent it and I sat down and wrote that script over the last few years. It went out on the town about a month ago and there was an—you know I’m sure it’s been in the trades and everything—there was a big bidding war for it. Warner Bros. scooped it up and they said “we’ll make it right away,” so we are in the process of casting and crewing up the movie and you know we’re off to the races, we’re looking at a sometime in the first quarter, hopefully January, start to that.

I’m sure you’re ecstatic.

Dobkin: I’m totally ecstatic, it’s gonna be so much fun.

Is it on the level of one of these big tentpole kind of things?

Dobkin: It is, it’s kinda put like somewhere between Sherlock Holmes and, I don’t know what, I don’t know what you would call it. I loved Excalibur as a kid I just never, you know I watch it as an adult [and] it’s hard for it to hold up because of the special effects and all that and it’s never really had an opportunity—you know the great thing about fantasy films now, and what was so thrilling about Lord of the Rings and everyone who loved this genre, I grew up with comic books and Dungeons and Dragons and all this fantasy stuff and digital effects have finally had their moment when you can create those worlds for real. The opportunity’s never been this cool, and so it’s really exciting as an audience member and as a filmmaker to jump in that arena and get to play in there.

ryan-reynolds-the-change-up-movie-imageIs it PG-13?

Dobkin: It is PG-13.

Are you shooting in 3D, are you post-converting, or are there no plans for 3D?

Dobkin: Right now there’s no plan for 3D. You know, the studio may want to discuss that in the future. I respect Chris Nolan for holding to his guns.

(laughs) I do too.

Dobkin: There are times when it’s great, look I really loved Avatar, I really did. He helped me get over the “3D is a gimmick” concept. I think the thing I’m most excited to see is Great Gatsby in 3D, I think Baz Luhrmann’s gonna do something insane.

Just my own personal take, Avatar’s an animated movie, and for me all the animated films are incredible in 3D, but I have yet to be blown away by live-action 3D

Dobkin: I don’t like it, man. It just doesn’t feel natural and it feels like too many people push it too hard. It’s really weird, it’s like you do wanna do something with it, if you’re gonna do it, do it, but you also can’t make it the focal point of the storytelling and make it self-conscious. It hasn’t been convincing to me. Look, I loved Thor as a movie, I felt like they didn’t push it too far with the 3D, but honestly I probably would have preferred to have just seen it in 2D.

the-change-up-movie-image-jason-bateman-ryan-reynolds-02Yeah I didn’t think the 3D conversion on that was all that. I just saw Captain America and the 3D on that was not bad for post-conversion.

Dobkin: I’m psyched to see it but I’m probably gonna go see it in 2D.

I’m not knocking that, I’m not knocking that at all.

Dobkin: It’s just like, there’s nothing better than being in a great looking movie. Are they doing Hobbit in 3D?

He is shooting it at 48 frames/second and he’s doing it in 3D.

Dobkin: Oh that’s right, I saw that.

James Cameron did this presentation at CinemaCon and I saw the 60 frames/second that he demoed and it was like taking, he said this and it was really accurate: it was like taking the glass out of the window.

Dobkin: That’s amazing. There was something I had seen shot at 60 once before, a few years ago, a test that was pretty astounding. I couldn’t tell if it was gonna cross over and feel like video because it was so crisp. It wasn’t, but it felt like it could fall into that. Look, there’s guys that shoot video now that, you know I thought The Social Network looked fantastic, although I would not have the balls to do it still.

As people start doing this frame rate thing, it’ll be interesting how it goes because I’m telling you, the 60 frames/second is jaw dropping. Then he showed how you can down-convert 60 frames to 24 frames and there was like no motion blur in action. The issue is, audiences are so used to that blur and when you don’t provide it, it’s almost so real that it’s hard.

Dobkin: It’s jarring. People will just have to figure out how to shoot it again. By the way, motion blur is what we rely on in visual effects. Imagine what you would have to do in Transformers if you didn’t have motion blur, I mean half of what you’re seeing you’re not seeing. It’s still a magic trick, it’s all slight of hand.

the-change-up-movie-poster-01Yeah well Cameron was saying you’ll have to pick and choose your moments. Because the truth is, when you’re walking across a plane in The Hobbit, and you can see this stuff in 48 frames/second it’s gonna look insane. And then the action stuff, bring it back to 24 frames and use movie magic.

Dobkin: Yeah, that’s cool. Dude I’m digging it. I like anything that’s gonna keep taking it, cinema has to remain an experience.

Back to the Arthur thing, how much is it based on the legend and how much are you coming up with?

Dobkin: I pulled the legend apart. I only kept a few things. I kept certain characters, I recreated the entire launch of the legend and why it starts the way that it starts, I don’t want to give away too much but it’s always had a flaw. I pulled the flaws out, I reinvented the characters as grounded characters. I took a much more realistic and grounded approach towards everybody, you know why would this character be this way and why would this character be that way? You know Arthur’s superpower is compassion and vision. I will tell you this, the whole thing is wrapped around the birth of democracy as a concept and it’s positing Arthur as the first man to say all men are created equal.

Are you shooting in L.A. or are you going to Europe to shoot it?

Dobkin: I’m shooting in London.

Everyone seems to be shooting in London now.

Dobkin: Well you know with the big digital effects movie’s it’s a big help, because while you’re shooting you can have them working the pipeline and you’re there to see it and do it. I’ve shot there twice, I’ve had a great experience in London both times. And the tax rebate is significant and it works in a way that’s percentage-wise often more advantageous than some of the tax breaks that are happening here stateside.

Are you also producing the Vacation reboot?

Dobkin: I am. Oh my God dude, this script came out so good it’s crazy. It’s not a total reboot by the way, it’s a reboot of the franchise but it’s Rusty’s story. It’s not trying to start again from zero.

vacation-movie-posterSo you’re basically doing it where he’s grown up and he’s basically doing the same thing to his family?

Dobkin: Yeah, but it’s great because it’s all about how you make the mistakes your father made, that your parents made (laughs).  It’s so smart, and it’s insanely funny. The guys that wrote Horrible Bosses, Goldstein and Daly, wrote it. We’re just about to go out for casting for that.

So that things moving forward?

Dobkin: Oh yeah, yeah yeah we’re makin it.

Is it still Wally World?

Dobkin: To be determined. TBD. This is actually one of the things that we were on the phone with New Line discussing the destination. In some ways it works brilliantly, and then for other obvious reasons it may or may not. But it’s really cool, it’s insanely funny. Look one of the things I love about the original movie is comedies overall do not stand up over time, the sense of comedy changes in each generation, but Vacation is still as shocking and as funny as it was when it was made. There’s stuff int hat movie that you would think was insane today: “Daddy taught me how to French kiss,” I mean there’s just things that are insane, it’s off it’s head. So that’s why I went for it, cause I really loved it and I just love the themes of that movie. The whole thing about how family is so fucked up and all of our good memories are somehow memories only in the photographs and the real experiences are all on the borderline of being horrendous. There’s just a great universal truth in that thing. And look they destroyed the franchise in the second and third movie, but the first is just an absolutely brilliant piece of filmmaking.

Of course I have to ask, is there a role for Chevy Chase in the movie?

Dobkin: I absolutely have to take the 5th on that (laughs). I cannot answer it.

(laughs) I respectfully understand why you would not wanna reveal why he’s not in the movie.

Dobkin: No I have a very good understanding.

Obviously he’s on such a roll now with Community, which is one of the best shows on television.

Dobkin: No it’s great. It’s fuckin’ retarded that he made it back. I love how these old guys keep coming back and doing it.

Yeah, I’m a huge fan of his and Community is just a whole other level of amazing.

Dobkin: Yeah it’s super smart.

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