Interview: Glenn Ficarra and John Requa Talk ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love,’ Diluted Characters, and Lessons from Film School
With Crazy, Stupid, Love, writer-director duo Glenn Ficarra and John Requa are coming off of the criminally under-seen I Love You Phillip Morris. Very few saw commercial appeal in their Ewan McGregor and Jim Carrey-starring love story, and the box office numbers were further proof that there was a definite, and very sad, truth to those predictions.
It doesn’t appear they have anything to worry about when it comes to their new, star-filled romantic comedy though.
I Love You Phillip Morris has a dark and divisive sensibility. Crazy, Stupid, Love is the opposite and shows obvious mass appeal. In making a film for a broader audience, Ficarra and Requa managed to make love stories ‐ it is an ensemble film ‐ that are neither cynical nor dopey.
Here’s what Glenn Ficarra and John Requa had to say about taking on the commercial project, their 3-hour version of the film, and their important lessons at film school:
To start off, this is far more commercial than I Love You Phillip Morris. Would you say that is a fair assessment?
GF: [Laughs] I think so, yeah.
[Laughs] Was it a conscious decision to do something more mainstream after that film?
JR: No. We got a script that we loved, and it was all as simple as that.
GF: As writers, we just thought it was a script that was well done and strong. Warner Brothers had been pursuing us to do a movie for a really long time, but we kept saying no because everything sucked.
[Laughs] Even with it being more mainstream, it’s still unique for a romantic comedy. Are you guys surprised by the type of movies you have gotten to make?
JR: Yeah, we’re very surprised.
GF: We’re surprised the studio would want to make the movie like this. When we got the script, we thought it was so insightful and that the way it was told was interesting.
Did your sensibilities change on-set for a film like this, knowing that it’s being targeted towards a mass audience?
JR: Dan, the writer on this, wrote a script that had its own style and life that lent itself to being a bigger movie. With Phillip Morris, it just came out the way it came out [Laughs]. We always knew it was never going to be ‐ you don’t write a movie like that thinking you’re going to get 50 million dollars [Laughs].
[Laughs] Even with it not doing too well did it help you guys get more work? It’s a well-respected movie, so I imagine it became a directing calling card.
JR: Yeah, people love it. We’ve always liked the movie and are really proud of it. When we were out doing press for this movie, we were finding people wanting to talk about it a lot more, and almost more than this movie [Laughs].
[Laughs] It must be nice seeing the movie now finding an audience on video.
GF: Oh yeah. It’s great it finally found people, because our legal situation prevented it from being seen, which was really heartbreaking. We wrote the script to be more of an exercise and something we’ve never done before. It was an adaptation, a biopic, and a romance, which we’ve never done before. Artistically, it was gratifying. We had been offered a lot of commercial comedies to direct beforehand, but we never took them. We could’ve made some silly comedy, where it doesn’t matter who directs it, or we could make something from the heart, which we did. I think it comes across in a big way.
For Crazy, Stupid, Love, I read that the script was picked up around Christmas. When did you guys start production?
GF: Oh gosh, it was fast. I think we were in production by April.
JR: Yeah, we were in pre-production by January.
GF: We were in Paris and Prague in January doing press when we found out we got the job. We were being interviewed over Skype. We started a week before we got to L.A..
JR: Steve [Carell] had The Office back then, so he had this straight and narrow window that they wanted to make it in. It was just rush, rush, and rush.
How long was your shoot?
GF: 54 days. It was nice. It was a long shoot for us. The studio was impressed at how quickly we shot the movie.
Were you on a time crunch when it came to editing?
GF: No. The movie’s been done for a few months. We were originally going to come out in April, but then Warners liked it so much that they wanted to release it in the summer. We were given a lot of time to tweak it. They let us shut the movie down, then reopen it. We finished the movie, took a couple of months off, did some writing, then came back, watched it, and tweaked it. It was such a luxury. Usually, they rush these things to theaters and you don’t get a chance to breathe and look at your movie.
I’m surprised it wasn’t more hectic.
GF: Well, it would’ve been hectic if the studio decided not to release it in the summer. They thought the movie had a bigger financial upside than its original April release.
Getting that summer release date must’ve been comforting, with that sign of confidence.
GF: It was pretty great. They promoted it and gave us extra money for music and to really explore.
The film is an ensemble piece. Was it difficult to find that structure in editing, or was it well-established in the script?
GF: Most of it was there in the script. We added a few extra scenes in the script to explore who the characters are and their situations a bit more, but some of those scenes got cut out or were edited into a shorter form.
JR: Also, there’s a lot of montages in the movie. For the montage pieces, we shot scenes, even though they were suppose to be silent. We said just roll sound and roll film. Let’s see if the actors just got with it, and see if we can get anything good from it. We came into the editing room with this insane amount of stuff, so the skinning down was pretty exhausting. Our original cut was 3 hours long.
Was that an assembly cut or a director’s cut?
GF: Yeah, kind of [a director’s cut].
JR: It was a watchable, good movie, we thought [Laughs].
GF: [Laughs] That was the original director’s cut. We had another 2 and a half hour cut.
What was taken out?
JR: It was just a lot of scenes that were long. There were scenes that just had to go that are on the DVD, fortunately. Some of them are great scenes.
GF: A lot of them were just very talky, and it still is, but they were just very verbose scenes. We just had to trim them down. It was just a matter of tightening. Some scenes were pretty painful to cut.
Will you get to release a director’s cut?
GF: You know what? We’re happy with this cut. When it comes down to it, this is the cut we’re the most happy with.
Specifically, what scenes were cut?
GF: There’s this scene where Cal goes apartment hunting, and it killed us to cut it out [Laughs]. It was this beige building where this woman is talking about the building in this monotone voice and a symbolic crow flies by the frame. They go into the apartment, and everything is beige.
JR: All the actors were in beige [Laughs].
GF: Cal says, “What’s that smell?” He waits a few seconds and says, “I’m going to die here…” [Laughs]
[Laughs] That sounds great. Did you have to cut that for pacing?
JR: The joke of it was that it was slow.
GF: There’s more of everything. There’s great, longer stuff with Ryan and Steve that was just painful cut.
With Ryan and Steve’s characters, there’s no real malice in them. What attracts you both to writing good-natured people?
GF: Yeah, I think that’s the best thing. That happy-go-lucky disaster area thing makes us laugh, like Ed Wood or something.
JR: We love diluted characters that firmly have their heads planted up their own asses, and it just makes us laugh.
GF: We have a lot of affection for our characters and we just have a hard time to write characters we have contempt for, even our villains. If we even have a villain, we want him to have human frailty. We love characters that are haunted by their past that constantly plays a role in their day-to-day life.
It’s surprising you didn’t make David, Kevin Bacon’s character, a villain.
GF: What would be more threatening to a marriage: Some douchebag you know is going to get his in the end? Or a guy that’s nice? He’s a really great guy. He’s a sweet guy who is like what Cal used to be 20 years earlier, which is a well-intentioned guy.
He’s pretty likable. For both of your films, you guys genuinely play around with the camera. Is it important to be visually interesting as well, rather than not moving the camera and letting the actors do their thing?
GF: We went to film school, so we weren’t always writers that became directors. I think there’s a lot of that in comedies; writers who became directors who aren’t necessarily filmmakers. We set out to be filmmakers. We think about the camera, how it can be used, and how to enhance the scene. We storyboard everything, which comes from our desire to have all of our fights before we get to set. In the process of boarding, you just come up with ideas. You’re in this environment a month before shooting in this room thinking, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we did this or that?”
Did you guys enjoy film school?
GF: Oh, yeah. It was great, because we were in this very small program and had access to all this equipment. We didn’t have a heavy academic load. We were just interested in making movies and drinking.
[Laughs] Do you think film school is worthwhile?
GF: Well, I think it’s a great place to be creative and meet people. As far as the formal education of it, I’m not sure how important it is, because I think it’s more important to just be making movies. We now have all these tools, too. I can’t imagine if I had a Flip Cam and a laptop back then. I probably would’ve made 30 times the movies I did.
Is there anything from film school you remember that has heavily affected the way you make your films?
JR: We had three major professors in school, and two of them are dead. We dedicated I Love You Phillip Morris to one of them, because he died of AIDS and was a dear friend of ours. The one still surviving ‐ the lone survivor! ‐ came to the premieres for both of our movies.
We would cut these little comedy shorts for his class. We’d have our 10 minutes cut, we’d show it to him and then he’d say to cut it in half and show it to him again. We’d curse his name, “Motherfucker!” So we’d cut it in half and show it to him again, and he’d say to cut in half again and make sure he understood the story and the characters. Again, we cut it in half again and showed it to him, and then he said to cut it in half again and make sure he can understand the characters and the story. The videos would end up being two minutes long, but they’d become dense and funny.
GF: We learned that lesson and several others he taught us about cutting that we use everyday in the editing room.
So you’re not calling him “motherfucker” anymore?
JR: No, no, no.
GF: All the lessons you learn in film school from the people you hate are always the ones that are important. The lessons you think are great and thankful for never end up meaning anything to you.
Crazy, Stupid, Love is now in theaters.