Tim and Eric (and Will Forte) on Their ‘Billion Dollar Movie’

The creators and stars of the Sundance 2012 comedy reveal their most hilarious and disgusting mall stories.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie premiered at Sundance as a midnight movie. The next morning Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim gave interviews, a little more exhausted than I was because they stayed for the Q&A and after party the night before. Joining them was Will Forte who plays sword shop owner Alan Bishopman, in the mall that Tim and Eric take over to try to raise the billion dollars they lost. I riffed with the comedians in this exclusive interview.


How many people actually follow the eye calibration test at the beginning of the movie?

Tim Heidecker: 210.

Eric Wareheim: We had the premiere last night with 450 people and we videotaped it. Our assistants looked at it and there were 210 people actually doing it.

Will Forte: And that percentage holds true for all screenings.

Eric Wareheim: Yeah, a little less than 50%. We’re hoping for around 80 to 90%.

Will Forte: It’s like the Fibonacci sequence in The Da Vinci Code where it talks about the ratio, all the proportions. It holds true for everybody which I wonder if that’s true.

Tim Heidecker:  It is true. Yeah, that’s confirmed. Can we not stop worrying about it?

Will Forte:That is true. He’s the answer man.


When you developed ideas for a feature film, how did you settle on the mall concept?

TH: Settling is a good word for it. We just wanted an environment where we could have flexibility with different characters being around. It was originally an idea of a town, but for the budget we had, it sort of made more sense to treat the mall as a sort of microcosm for the town, or a world, because you have all the same functions of a city in a mall. So it just kind of became a nice setting for all kinds of crazy sh*t to happen.


Were there other get rich quick ideas you had?

TH: No, we generally have one idea and try to stick with it, try to make that idea work.


Were there any crazy mall stores that didn’t make the movie?

EW: Yeah, we did. A lot of them got cut because of budgetary reasons. I can’t remember anything off hand but I remember our art director being like, “No, we don’t have any money to do that.”

TH: There was a music store. There was a whole scene where there was a music store.

EW: Oh, that was a great scene.

TH: It was an organ and piano store that you’d see in a mall, you know those organ stores they used to have in malls? It would just be the last person in there 25 years ago. Too many organs to rent, didn’t make sense.


Lucky that the sword store made it, right?

WF: Yes. Lucky for me.

TH: Fortuitous luck. Those stores really make us laugh. I think there are sword and dungeon and dragon style jewelry…

EW: Probably Chinese throwing stars.

TH: Yeah, throwing stars and goblets and all kinds of terrible decorative stuff.

WF: It’s been so long since I’ve walked through a mall.

TH: Do you have everything delivered to you directly from malls by your assistants and stuff?

WF: Yes.

EW: L.A. malls are so different than a “mall” mall like we probably all grew up with that had a food court and the sword shop, the yo-yo kiosk.

WF: Sun Valley Mall up in Northern California, I guess it has nothing to do with anything but one of the things we would do is go there and buy my friend a bunch of Taco Bell and then he would barf it from the second story onto the first story. The payment was we had to buy him the Taco Bell that he could barf out and then we would have to buy him replenishment Taco Bell afterwards so that he could have Taco Bell. That was the kind of sh*t we were doing.

EW: I had a friend, we went to the largest mall in Canada ever that has a pirate ship in the middle of this big watering area. We paid this guy four dollars to dive from the top level into this water and then we’re like, “We’ll meet you at the back gate because security will obviously get you.” He falls in and we’re laughing so far because he’s trying to swim and there’s no easy way to get out. It was awesome.

WF: How shallow was the water?

EW: It was deep.

WF: It was deep, okay good. Oh god.

EW: Six feet’s still pretty shallow. Anyways, we could tell mall stories all day.

TH: Tim and Eric’s Trillion Dollar Movie. Or Tim and Eric’s Million Dollar Movie if it’s a prequel.


Why is needing to raise money such comedy gold?

TH: Is it? I guess Blues Brothers, getting the money.


It goes back to classic comedies, we have to raise X amount of money by X date.

TH: What is that called in movies, the MacGuffin? Something that really doesn’t matter but pushes the story along. We wanted to make this story as thin as possible so that you wouldn’t get bogged down with plot and characters that you care about. We wanted to just cram in as many jokes and ideas as possible.

EW: The idea of wanting to have a PR company and focus on market research is so uncool that it’s really funny for us that we focused a huge part of the movie on that.


Did you ever consider a full on sketch movie?

TH: No, we pretty much very early on realized that that format doesn’t really work very well, that we’ve never seen it work very well. We had made some short films that were in the 15 to 20 minute range and felt pretty confident that we could tell a narrative story and also include a lot of weird sh*t.

WF: I have a question. Did you know that you wanted to make a movie and then found this idea?

TH: Yeah.

WF: So you didn’t have this idea and then go, “Oh, this would make a good movie?”

TH: It’s like let’s make a movie. Okay, what kind of movie do we want to make?


You’re right, there are more bad ones than good ones, but you could always aim high for a ‘Kentucky Fried Movie.

TH: I’m not a huge fan of that movie to be honest. I mean, I guess you’re quoting me on that.


In the context of a Q&A, we’re chatting and riffing on comedy. I’d be interested to know what you think doesn’t work about ‘Kentucky Fried Movie.’

TH: It’s been a while since I’ve seen it but ultimately you’re not invested in it. You can’t care about what’s going on. It just becomes very thin. It is what it is. It’s just a bunch of sketches.

EW: Yeah, what we like are movies. Mostly non-comedies but that’s kind of what we aspire to.

TH: The other thing that’s going on in the movie I think, I realize this the more I watch it, is the movie is really, a lot of it is really a parody or satire of movies themselves. I think the structure of our movie becomes one of the jokes. There’s all these points that you’d find in a regular movie but they’re done in weird ways. That’s sort of making fun of that structure.


Would you have liked to break the fourth wall more?

EW: There’s definitely a limit. In a lot of scenes we turned to camera and goofed off, but we reduced it to one big scene.

TH: We wanted to keep it as a surprise really and we felt like if we did it more, it wouldn’t be a surprise. You’d see it coming or you’d expect it.

WF: That was perfect how long you waited for it to come out because you didn’t expect it then.

TH: I feel like the audience must be dying for a break in the story.

WF: The little lesson segments, those guys are so rad.

EW: The double apple bite. I just had never seen that before.

WF: They’re just delightful.


What is the importance of Alan Bishopman?

WF: I don’t know that I would attach importance to it. I mean, it’s important for me. Psychologically it’s very nice to have a job and to get to work with people you admire and think are super funny.

TH: The character provides a very important role in the movie as being this bad guy that makes you I think feel a little sympathetic for Tim and Eric because this guy’s so unreasonably *ssholey about the whole thing that he provides a nice little balance for us. We just want to always write stuff for Will where he can lose his mind and become so radically enraged and lose his temper, because we love seeing him in that way.

WF: It really is they provide me with scenarios in which I get free therapy. It’s like primal scream therapy almost. It really is so much fun.


Do you do a lot of work developing the character?

WF: He’s kind of developed inside my body.

TH: The development is the application of the moustache. It begins and ends.

WF: He’s one final straw away from coming out in my personal life at any moment.


What makes you fly into a rage?

WF: Discourteous drivers.

TH: Thank you.

WF: And parkers. Parking situations, like this would be something where I would maybe physically injure somebody, or try to, is if you’re waiting for a parking spot for a long, long time and somebody pulls out and some other person pulls right around you to get to it, that’s something that has happened several times in my life now.


Aren’t most people not good enough drivers to pull that move off?

WF: No, they’re just not big enough *ssholes to do it. I’m okay with it if people honestly just did not see you, because those people you can tell right away, they go, “Oh, I’m so sorry. Yeah, here, of course.” And there’s another person saying, “You could’ve got in there, man.”

EW: I’ve been doing this move when you’re set up for that and you see someone else trying to set up, I just lay on the horn full loud and it just scares everyone away. It’s like ooh, all right.


Have you been on the Sundance shuttles here where people push their way on?

EW: Oh, that’s the worse.


They’re screwing themselves because there won’t be any room if people don’t get off.

TH: It is a nightmare. I hear you.

EW: People are rude in general.

WF: Then they just kind of do more work for themselves. Or maybe it’s part of an exercise program that they’re doing by themselves, trying to get as many steps in as possible.

TH: It’s like the song by The Doors. People are strange.


Where do you find ‘80s chroma key video effects in this day and age?

TH: Well, a lot of them are kind of hand made in AfterEffects with our team that edits the things, but a lot of the actual VHS look is done by actually dumping stuff onto VHS, literally. Our editor pounds the VHS player and actually creates that because it’s the only way to get that look.


What’s coming up on television?

TH: We’re getting to work with some of our icons and it’s a dream. It’s a dream come true.

EW: We’re doing another series of Dr. Brule, Check it Out with Dr. Steve Brule, March on Adult Swim, six new episodes. The fabulous John C. Reilly.


How quickly do those come together?

TH: Well, we shot six episodes over the course of four weeks, so pretty quickly. It’ll take a couple months to edit them together, so pretty quick turnaround.


How quickly do your Funny or Die segments come up?

TH: Pretty much week of. The week before.


Will, MacGruber is awesome.

WF: Thank you very much.


I saw it at SXSW.

WF: Ah, that was one of the best experiences of my life. We are so proud of that movie and please spread the word because we would not change a thing about it except for the number of people that we wish would go see it because we’re intensely proud of it.


But you’re hearing people like it and quote it, right?

WF: I feel like once it got on cable and stuff, I really have felt more people coming up and telling me they got a chance to see it. That’s all we wanted. We didn’t care about the box office numbers or whatever. We just made a movie that we really were proud of and we want as many people to see it as possible.