Writer-directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg have a lot to thank the American Pie films for. Had the first smash hit movie not resurrected the long-dormant gross-out comedy genre back in 1999, they might not have been able to build their very own Harold and Kumar franchise in the years that followed. Hurwitz and Schlossberg are happy to give the American Pie saga credit for paving their way, and they’re now returning the favour by directing the latest instalment of the series: American Pie: Reunion. Hitting cinemas nine years after the last big screen outing for the East Great Falls graduates, it sees Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan, Seann William Scott, Mena Suvari, Chris Klein, and the rest of the gang reunite. This time though, they’re no longer sex-crazed teenagers, but sex-starved adults.
We spoke to Jon and Hayden about growing up with the American Pie films, the popularity of the direct-to-DVD sequels, and their feelings on A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas not hitting Australian cinemas (a distribution decision they call “bulls***”).
(L-R) Jon Hurwitz & Hayden Schlossberg.
SM: By my math, and correct me if I’m wrong, the two of you were in your early twenties when the first American Pie came out.
JH: Yeah, we were in college at the time. Juniors in college.
SM: Can you tell me a little bit about your relationship with the film?
JH: It’s interesting. Hayden and I were friends from high school, and we both studied in college things that were different from filmmaking. I was a finance major planning to be an investment banker, and Hayden was planning on going to law school. Midway through college we decided, “You know what? Let’s try writing a screenplay together so we can avoid those other jobs.” Because in high school we always thought, “Wouldn’t it be amazing to write and direct films?” The kind of movie that we were writing at the time – our very first screenplay – was very much like an American Pie. It was young people; it was R rated (when I say ‘R’ rated, that’s American ‘R’ rated); it was young people who sounded and acted like young people, with stories that were authentic to the world around us. At the time our attitude was, “We want to be the first guys to do a movie like Animal House, or like Porkys, or like Revenge of the Nerds, in years. There hasn’t been a movie like that in ages!” That was kind of our agenda when writing a screenplay. And then we saw the trailer for American Pie, and that was about a year later. I remember that I saw it first, and I left the movie theatre I was in and called Hayden up and said, “Somebody made our movie.” I’m looking at this trailer, and there’s this kid getting caught masturbating. In our script we had a kid getting caught masturbating. It was one of those things where I saw the trailer and thought, “This movie looks awesome. Everyone’s going to want to see this movie; it’s going to be huge.” We were also simultaneously frustrated, because someone beat us to the punch. Then when we saw the movie, and we just loved it. We saw it six times in the theatre. We bought the DVD – or the VHS even – watched it over and over again; quoted the characters; were obsessed with it; were so obsessed with the minor characters that we saw John Cho and we thought he was so funny as MILF Guy #2 that we wrote a whole franchise for him with the Harold and Kumar films.
SM: I think every budding screenwriter has a horror story of seeing a film like their own on the big screen, which gives them a kick in the pants to get working on it. And you guys are best known for the Harold and Kumar films; were you concerned about taking on an already established franchise like American Pie 13 years after the fact?
HS: We weren’t nervous about it, because as fans we were excited to see it. We had heard that the movie was coming together through John Cho; there were rumblings the studio wanted to make a new American Pie with the original cast. When we heard it, we as fans thought, “Oh, that’s going to be huge. We can’t wait to see it.” When we were approached a couple weeks later by the studio to see if we wanted to write and direct it, we felt like, “You know what? Clearly this is a movie that we would be willing to see.” That’s the most important factor that we decide when we take on a project. Would we see this? Would we like it? We approached this movie with excitement as fans, and the fact that it was pre-existing, for us was an opportunity to do something that was different. Because usually you don’t see a sequel 10, or whatever it is, 13 years after the first one. It seems like a unique cinematic experience to see these actors who are now in their 30s, when you saw them when they were teenagers. You deal with certain life-changing moments in a real way. We got excited about it.
JH: It was more interesting for us to do this, than say, if there was another Austin Powers movie (not to say that we would never consider an Austin Powers movie, because we love that as well). But a character like Austin Powers is the same in every movie; it’s not really about his life and you’re not connecting with his life experiences. Hayden and I are drawn to things that put the real world on the big screen in a unique way, and a fun way, and tell stories that people can really relate to and connect with. These are characters that we love. We knew these characters as if we had written them. So taking them on and being able to revisit these characters all these years later and figure out, well, what happened to Stifler. What’s Stifler like as a guy in his 30s? What’s Jim like in his 30s? What happened to Jim’s dad? All these characters. It was really a dream come true for us.
SM: There is not the same emotional connection to Austin Powers as there is with the characters in these films. One of the great pleasures of this movie is seeing the characters interacting again. There are a lot of them though. Were you conscious of giving everyone ample screen time and having all those story threads work?
JH: That was a big thing for us. As fans we were disappointed not to see Oz at the wedding; we were disappointed that Kevin is there but didn’t really have anything to do. One of the first things when we sat down with the studio was, “We want to bring everybody back, and we want to make sure everybody has something to do.” We didn’t want to film a storyline with one of the core group of guys that not be in the movie. We wanted to make sure we were giving everyone material, and we felt like if you give everyone good material that’ll also draw everybody back. It’s one of the challenging elements of screenwriting; not a lot of screenwriters have taken on what we have, writing for such a huge ensemble, and the way you have to weave it together into the story. That was probably one of the most challenging elements, but what we enjoyed the most.
HS: I actually don’t know how we did it, now, thinking about it. It’s pretty amazing. Not only did we get all the cast back, but we’ve got new characters. Some of them have wives or girlfriends; there’s the younger kids in the movie. There’s definitely a lot, but as long as things are entertaining, it’s ok if it’s a little bit longer than 90 minutes.
SM: Did you watch any of the direct-to-DVD – the non-canonical – sequels to prepare?
HS: I think maybe I saw one of the Band Camp movies when they came out, but those movies aren’t what got us excited about doing this movie. As we’ve taken on this franchise, we see that there are actually a lot of fans of those movies; younger people that actually really like them. But what makes American Pie awesome are the original characters.
JH: Those characters in our mind weren’t relevant to this reunion story.
SM: For sure. Quickly on Harold and Kumar. I’m not sure if you’re aware, but the third film hasn’t arrived in Australia yet.
JH: We think that’s bulls***.
SM: As do I, I have to admit. Is there anyone you can talk to about that? Do we have to wait until Christmas?
JH: You know, that’s a real bummer for us. it kind of dates back to the original Harold and Kumar. When we made that first film, it was like one of those movies that some people at the studio really loved and really got and really got behind and really were excited about, and other people at the studio just didn’t get it and didn’t really know what it was and didn’t know how to market it. So, that first film, in America, wasn’t a big hit in theatres; yeah, it cost $9 million and took in $18 million, but it wasn’t something that broke out in a big way. As a result of that, it set the tone for the international release of the films, where they gave them very soft or minor releases in a lot of countries. When the third film came around, we were hoping that it would be released in a broader way overseas. We’re on Twitter; we’re on Facebook; we communicate with fans – in Australia – of the franchise and we see how bummed out they are. But I’m sure it’ll be coming here on DVD at some point. I really wish fans could have seen it on the big screen in 3D.
SM: Absolutely. Can you tell me what you’re working on next? I read somewhere about a project called Grandma vs. Grandma. Is that a thing?
JH: We have a few different projects that we’ve written over the years that we may revisit. Grandma vs. Grandma‘s one that we really, really love. But we spent the last two years working on American Pie: Reunion, and working on A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas, and in the meantime we’re constantly coming up with ideas for movies and TV shows, and we’re constantly starting new documents on our computer for those things. We just wrapped up editing on American Reunion a month ago, so, since we’ve sort of dug into these new projects, and we’re planning to kind of tackle those and figure out what’s next after American Pie comes out.
American Pie: Reunion arrives in Australian cinemas April 5, 2012.