Recently, Simon Pegg and Greg Mottola had dinner with the online press to talk about the DVD and Blu-ray release of Paul. With hours around the dinner table, I got lots of questions in about the extra features, the movie Paul, upcoming films and just stuff we like on which we want to get these filmmakers thoughts.
Crave Online: Graeme and Clive’s hair were longer in the first test shots they show on the DVD. How did that change?
Simon Pegg: The first look that we had when we did that test in London with Bill Hader playing Paul, Nick looked like Brian May from Queen if he’d eaten more. I looked like a pedophile. Initially in the script, the look of Graeme and Clive was a little bit more outlandish. They were a little more strange looking. We did the test. Clive was a bit goth. He had a Red Dwarf T-shirt, a leather thong around his neck. In the script, when he came out of the hotel room from the shower and his hair was all wet, he shook his head and it all went like the Pink Panther when he came out of the washing machine. We just got notes from the studio saying, “Can they be a bit more relatable?” They’ve got to have their own little style and eventually what we ended up with was more normal looking than we initially planned.
Crave Online: I like references to other movies. Why has reference become a bad word?
Simon Pegg: I think there are less references in Paul. It was never about the references for me and Nick. The film itself in some respects is a reference because it accepts the existence of its progenitors. We didn’t go out there to make a film and say, “This is totally original.” It was like this film is the child of other films and we’re saying we know that. It’s a postmodern film in that respect in that it’s absolutely aware of its forbearers. There’s a difference between referencing and just copying stuff. We don’t have a list of films we wanted to nod out to. I have to give Greg credit for the cantina bar music in the bar because it felt like that was the way it would be. If Graeme and Clive walked into a bar that was shady, that’s how they would see it. Oh my God, it was like the cantina. The film is almost how they interpret their lives. Ever since Spaced which was very much about two people recanting their lives and using popular culture as a metaphor for their lives, Paul is a little bit of that as well, but there’s a difference between referencing and just recreating scenes. You see those films like Epic Movie and they just replay a scene from a film with other actors and that’s supposed to be funny? Just noticing it? There’s more farting. We didn’t want to get laughs like that in Paul. It was more a layer of intertextuality if I can sound really up on myself. I guess it’s quite nowish. Referencing is like things happen and then the mainstream catches up with it and it starts to do it too. I think the whole of nerd culture or geek culture, whatever it’s called, has now been slightly assimilated and hegemonized by the mainstream now that the marketing people have realized it earns money. All the big noises this summer are comic book franchises which were traditionally niche markets which are now making lots and lots of money. That’s partly to do with the fact that we as human beings have a tendency towards infantile regression and it’s partly because that’s the way society works.
Crave Online: Does the extended cut of the movie have more at Comic Con or with Adam Shadowchild?
Greg Motola: Yeah, there is more stuff with Shadowchild. There’s the quote that comes back. Stuff we liked but we sacrificed for pace.
Simon Pegg: I was a little against the idea just because I felt like we had our film and that should be it but I think Greg’s right. With the deleted scenes thing, there are loads of deleted scenes that we could’ve put on but they would have Paul in them. Of course Paul isn’t finished in those scenes. It’ll be the model or the ball or Seth’s weird superimposed face. Even though that would be quite interesting, I think it would be a little tiring to watch. They were nice scenes. There were scenes with Ruth and Paul talking about stuff outside the firework thing that we cut out. I would’ve liked to have seen those scenes on the deleted scenes but I think they would’ve been pretty unwatchable. I think it’s a good way to see a little bit of stuff you didn’t see in the theaters but not have to play all and all that sh*t that sometimes you have to do.
Greg Motola: In a perfect world, we probably would’ve made this a much lower budget film for various reasons of content and just to put more on the screen. The reality of doing an alien today was do we make him a puppet and save a lot of money or do we make him CG and try to make a funny CG character? Once we made him CG, the cost of putting Paul in CG in the movie is 1/3 of our budget. When you take Paul out of the movie, we’re not that much bigger budget than Superbad. At the same time, I think we felt like that was a challenge. It was an interesting challenge for me. I wanted to learn about the technology, but it’s a huge leap. I don’t know how you could’ve made such a fast talking character, wise cracking alien who’s puppeteered that an audience would accept now. You could make someone in prosthetics. You could put an actor in a suit.
Simon Pegg: Nick and I did say a couple times, “What if Paul was a giant rabbit? What if it was a guy in a bunny suit?”
Greg Mottola: Or just the Dark Star beach ball.
Simon Pegg: People these days I think demand so much from reality. When you think about how much we used to suspend our disbelief as kids, when we first saw the Cantina sequence in Star Wars, you look at it now and some of those masks are pretty ropy but they were certainly not in the day. They were amazing. It was fantastic. Any kind of artificiality we detected, we just let it go because we were prepared to meet them in the middle. We’re not now. If CG doesn’t look absolutely f***ing super real, we say it’s rubbish. I think it’s amazing in a way, but it’s a testament to how awful Jar Jar Binks was, he was actually an amazing for some animators to put a real CG character into a movie. That was pretty clever. It was just overshadowed by how terrible it was. Now a slight moment of artificiality and we fold our arms and say, “No good, sorry, that’s just not good enough.” So the idea of Paul being a puppet would seem like we’re making a comment about puppets. It had to be so real.
Crave Online: Is writing with Nick very different from writing with Edgar?
Simon Pegg: A little bit, because when I write with Edgar, he’s the whip cracker and I’m the savant. Nick and I are both just lazy bastards. I took on that role of the patriarch I guess. It was a lot of fun, I laughed. Edgar and I are very studious. We laugh a lot but we also spend a lot of time scratching our heads. I don’t think a day went by writing with Nick where I didn’t almost piss myself laughing because he makes me laugh so much and it was such a fun experience to write that film. It’s kind of different but we still sit opposite each other, it’s very collaborative, we rarely write alone. Edgar is my dear, dear friend but Nick’s my best friend so working with him is a bit of a treat.
Crave Online: Does the end result come out different?
Simon Pegg: I don’t think so. Not really. I think Nick might even take a part with our next film, we might bring him in a little sooner to help us with the creative process just because he’s a great natural talent, Nick. He’s got an amazing comic mind and he’s a really good person to have on side.
Crave Online: Is your next film with Edgar another genre movie?
Simon Pegg: I don’t know. One thing Edgar and me have discussed, we’ve been away for a weekend and got things going, is that we’re not going to just do what we’ve done before. Even though we want this film to be like Shaun of the Dead times Hot Fuzz, we’re not the genre guys. We didn’t set out to oh, let’s do zombie movies. We wanted to do a zombie movie and we wanted to do it in light of the fact that most British films were romantic comedies and we thought it’d be funny to make a romantic comedy and a zombie movie at the same time. We weren’t setting out to say anything about zombie films. Shaun of the Dead makes no comment about zombie films whatsoever. It simply dons that jacket. Hot Fuzz was a little bit more of a parody in some respects because we were offsetting very stereotypical ideas from action cinema by putting them in a different context. So that does comment on homoerotic subtext and the bizarre histrionics of that kind of violence. So that was more of a comment on a genre but that’s two films and they’re both different. This one might not be either of those things. I think people want to figure us out and they want to know who we are. That’s not it. So we’re not going to do okay, let’s do cowboys next. …
Crave Online: Will it end up called A World’s end?
Simon Pegg: Edgar said that in an interview and now it’s called A World’s End. It’s just like Paul again. Shaun of the Dead was a working title. We thought we can’t call a film Shaun of the Dead. That’s a terrible joke. And then it got out, so it did.
Crave Online: Even though it’s motion capture, does Tintin still feel like a Spielberg movie?
Simon Pegg: Yes, because you can feel his DNA in the way that it moves. I’ve seen some of it. It’s interesting actually because I’ve done two movies recently where someone who’s a master at one discipline in cinema has turned his hands to something different. Brad Bird who of course has made some of the best CG movies ever – The Incredibles, Ratatouille and Iron Giant actually – do Mission Impossible. Then Steven Spielberg turned his hand to motion capture. Motion capture is more like directing live action because you are dealing with a 3D environment. You’re moving the camera around a 3D environment, but that 3D environment is digital. It’s not real. All the way that the camera moves, it’s Steven and you definitely feel that.
Crave Online: Since there’s always a revolving team, were you surprised they had a role for you in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol?
Simon Pegg: Yes and no. I get on really well with J.J. and we’d always said if there was another Mission: Impossible, can Benji come back? It’d be fun for Benji to come back. I had two days on Mission: Impossible III. That was it. I did seven months on the fourth one so yeah, I go back.
Crave Online: What do people get wrong about genre?
Simon Pegg: I suppose you have to be true to them. If you’re going to do it, you should do it properly and not dilute stuff or mess with it. Running zombies, now that’s messing with a genre in my mind. Running zombies is like souping something up because somehow it’s not good enough, that they have to run. It’s well known that I don’t like running zombies because the brilliance of the zombie, if I can get into this, I can’t believe I am, is that it’s essentially a villain who is utterly sympathetic. Zombies are tragic. They’re people. They’re desperate accidents that have happened. They’re walking representations of our death. They’re the manifestation of our absolute worst fear walking and there’s something kind of pathetic about them and awful. Yet they’re the bad guys. The example I always use is that there could be one in this room now and we could lock the doors and we could just avoid it for hours and hours and hours, just walk around, push it over. But eventually you would have to go to sleep and then it would kill you. That’s death. We can avoid death, we can eat healthy, we can do all this stuff. Suddenly when it’s screaming and running at you, it’s like, “What the – -“
Greg Mottola: My feeling about genre is it allows us to tell stories we wouldn’t normally want to sit through otherwise. Film noir shows people behaving really terribly in the most venal human way. I think if you just told a straight drama where people acted that way, I like those movies actually but a lot of people would just run screaming from the theater and they’d only show at festivals. Turning it into a mystery story or turning it into a horror story, horror stories deal with the same stuff that a Bergman film will deal with but it just twists in a way that just makes the medicine go down a little bit better. Then I think it opens the audience up to feeling all these things we repress. That’s the genius of it, just the way comedy can open you up, a horror film can open you up to oh, these things that scare us on a spinal evolutionary level, now we can actually explore and share with each other and say oh, I actually am afraid of death chasing me around the room very slowly. For me, my big kid thing was werewolf films. I always had werewolf film nightmares and still do to this day because whatever it is, that Jungian thing… intuitively you sense when people cheat in the genres because they’re not paying attention to what actually gives it power. So fast zombies, just make it a movie about fast vampires.
Crave Online: I like post-apocalyptic movies where the survivors have to find supplies. What’s in my psyche?
Greg Mottola: I live in downtown Manhattan so there’s a very good chance I’m going to have to survive a nuclear blast, let’s face it. I got a big tub of sh*t. I got a Geiger counter, full on crazy paranoid behavior. Having kids made me do it because I also have those nightmares too so I totally relate. Those stories are part of our subconscious makeup and movies probably better than any other genre really can make them come along. That’s why genre stuff can be some of the best.
Simon Pegg: What’s amazing to me is that genre is so often overlooked in terms of the material backslapping that goes on in this town all the time. Genre is much more metaphorical and as such is more poetic and it’s kind of more artistic in a way because it’s not just a photocopy of life. You’re not just depicting some drama. It’s life through a glass darkly, whether it’s horror or post-apocalyptic thriller or whatever, it’s more artful because you’re saying certain things. It isn’t artful when it’s just someone torturing some kids. That’s horrible but good genre is really artful and isn’t really ever regarded as such because it’s nonserious. Because it’s nonserious it’s not taken seriously. There are obviously exceptions. There are great genre films which are seen as classics but I think often it’s something which is at first assumed it’s frivolous and throwaway. I think with Shaun of the Dead, Edgar and me have always been at pains to say it’s not a genre parody. It’s a film that uses a genre and it’s a comedy, but it’s not parody.
Crave Online: Is it gratifying to see American fans still discover Spaced?
Simon Pegg: It’s amazing. I remember the first time I realized that it was being seen here was at Comic-Con 2004 when I went out to get a coffee in the morning and I took a camera around the corner. There were two girls and they had Tim and Daisy T-shirts on. It was the weirdest thing because I didn’t even know it had been seen in America. This is when I learned that VHS copies had been passing around TV fans who had found it and it got this little cult following. Then four years later it finally came out on DVD here. Yeah, it’s lovely because it’s a very British show. For me it’s proof that audiences are smart. Yes, they had to remake The Office because the main body of American television watchers are going to find it hard to relate to slang. Even though Ricky’s performance is a tour de force, it’s still going to feel a little foreign. So remaking it is a good idea because then you get to bring a great idea to more people. The fact is, there are lots of American people who do watch the original Office and love it because there are smart people out there and we’re all a lot more intelligent than I think we’re given credit for.
Crave Online: Does shooting Star Trek 2 in the fall affect your plans with Edgar?
Simon Pegg: Well, what Edgar and I are trying to do is fit in some writing time before I start Star Trek. We’d like to be able to sit down long enough to be able to maybe even get a draft out even. Because I think this time we’ll be able to hit the ground running. We’ve written two films together. We procrastinated a lot on Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. We watched a lot of films. We luxuriated slightly. I think with this one, because we’re match fit, I think we can do a little bit more and write as good a script but do it slightly more efficiently.
Crave Online: Now you understand why I hope A World’s end means it’ll be apocalyptic.
Simon Pegg: I do, yeah.