Todd Phillips Talks Project X and The Hangover Part III

The producer of this weekend's found footage comedy talks discovering unknowns and just how much that sequel's going to cost.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

As producer of Project X, Todd Phillips joined director Nima Nourizadeh for roundtable interviews at the press junket in Los Angeles. He recognized me from all the other junkets we’ve done together, and in fact told the entire room of journalists about me. I’ve been interviewing him since Road Trip. So that familiarity let me get a lot of questions in with Phillips, including “going there” about Hangover III.


Todd Phillips: What’s up, buddy? This is my guy. How are you?


CraveOnline: Good. Has the found footage genre been good for the industry, giving actors a chance to work in a world where you need to have someone who’s not a recognizable star?

Todd Phillips: Actually, that’s a good way of putting it. I never thought of it like that. Movies doing well is always good for the industry. I don't know if the found footage thing is in itself good for the industry. I think all movies that do well are good. I just think it’s timely. People are used to watching stuff on YouTube, watching the clips we watch on the internet and send to each other. Yes, I never really thought of it the way you are which is it lends itself to discovering new talent because they can’t be recognizable.


CraveOnline: Have you wanted to cast unknowns and had resistance that it has to be someone established?

Todd Phillips: Always. Every movie. You always get that. We had it even in The Hangover, people didn’t know who Zach was at the studio. You always get that but if you do it for a price usually you can change their minds. For sure it’s always a big thing, but what’s great about this film is it was really an ultra low budget comedy and from inception, meaning from the very start of the idea, it was about discovering new talent. So that conversation never came up, and it never came up that we should do some kind of cameo with some big comedy star, because this doesn’t lend itself to that so it was fun to do. That part of it is great, discovering new talent in front of the camera but also behind the camera, to give the opportunity to somebody to make their first film. Like me, Ivan Reitman did for me with Road Trip quite honestly. I had just done some documentaries and some commercials and Ivan Reitman hired me to do Road Trip. That was sort of a similar vibe with Nima. It was exciting to do that.


CraveOnline: Was it important to be flexible with the found footage format, so you are editing different angles and the sound is polished?

Todd Phillips: Quite frankly, just thinking about shows like The Office, people have gotten used to that style of what is this? What is The Office? What are we actually watching? Is this a documentary being made? When is this documentary going to air? They have a lot of footage now. That documentary style of telling a story that is The Office or Parks and Recreation is an interesting language of telling a story that I think helps a movie like this, quite honestly.


CraveOnline: Has enough time passed since the Matthew Broderick movie that you can call a new movie Project X again?

Todd Phillips: Yeah, maybe they have on the internet, I don't know, but nobody’s brought that up to me. We didn’t even think of it quite honestly until one of the lawyers at Warners said, “You know, we have to clear this title with” whatever the studio was. I had forgotten about that movie oddly but yeah, there was enough distance from the original Project X.


CraveOnline: We know there’s a deal for The Hangover III and everyone’s getting paid handsomely. Do you have to keep the rest of the budget down to balance that, or is the studio just giving you freedom?

Todd Phillips: Comedies are just never that expensive quite frankly. They really aren’t. We aren’t doing green screen shooting, so even Hangover II in Bangkok might seem like it’s expensive, you’re flying over and back, but they’re just not that expensive to make when you do it the way we do it which is very focused and I’ve done it before. So to answer your question, no, they’re not but it’s also not going to be an insane amount of money. It’s still going to cost less even with these guys getting paid whatever they’re getting paid than the average studio movie, because the average studio movie is shooting effects and green screens and all these things that we just don’t do in comedy.


CraveOnline: How did you process the backlash you faced last summer?

Todd Phillips: Well, it’s so cheesy to say but you can’t find a comedy director who makes movies for critics. When a movie does $580 million worldwide, I’m not saying that proves anything except people were enjoying the experience. Yes, maybe Roger Ebert didn’t love it. I don't know actually. I shouldn’t pick on him because I don't actually know if he liked it or not but we didn’t make it for that person. We made it for an audience and you don’t sell that many movie tickets with people just hating the movie. I’m very proud of the movie. I think we got a little bit knocked around because people didn’t understand or critics dismissed the idea, they said, “Oh, they just copied and pasted the first movie. They took that and replaced it with Bangkok.” That’s actually not what we did. What we did was a well thought out, for us, execution of a second story. We’ll do a third one and people will like it or not, critics, but I think the audiences will love it. That’s who we do it for.