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Interview

Paul Scheer Q&A
The host of How Did This Get Made? talks terrible movies and Dan Aykroyd’s “penis nose”

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You may know comedian Paul Scheer from cult TV shows like Human Giant, The League or NTSF: SD: SUV. You may have spotted his cameos in Modern Family, 30 Rock or Party Down. Or, if you're unlucky, you may have rented Piranha 3DD, in which his return provides one of the few bright spots. But Scheer is best loved in the Empire office for his podcast How Did This Get Made?, in which he, wife June Diane Raphael and Jason Mantzoukas dissect atrocious films on a bi-weekly basis. We rang him up to get the skinny on Gymkata, Ving Rhames and being fired from Meet Dave...

Paul Scheer Q&A

When did you decide to do How Did This Get Made?
Jason, June and I sometimes like to go see movies that are dumb and fun, not too heavy. But the one that got us started was Old Dogs, the Robin Williams / John Travolta movie. It's so absolutely bizarre: it doesn't know whether it wants to be an adult movie, a kid's movie... it's all over the place. We were all in the theatre, laughing so hard that the manager came in and said, "You have to stop laughing - you're offending people!" And it was a comedy! After the movie we sat down at a restaurant and couldn't stop talking about it. And Jason was like, "This should be a podcast!" That's how the show was born, very naturally, out of friends sitting around a table, talking about a really bad movie.

Have you rewatched Old Dogs since?
Oh, I would watch it a million times. I say to people all the time, "You have to watch Old Dogs. Please watch Old Dogs." Because I guess there's a stigma attached to a movie like Wild Hogs, but this movie is different. It's just so weird and bizarre. One of the things most of the movies we pick have in common is that they're trying to please everybody at once. Those are the movies that are the biggest train wrecks, because they become nothing. They're just a big mess. Green Lantern was a good example of one of those: no-one knew exactly what to do with it, but they must have just thought, "It's a superhero movie! We got this!" TV is one episode a week, so you always get a chance to course-correct. But with a movie there's only one chance for everyone to get their hands in that pot and stir it up. And at the end of the day, if you don't have a strong enough voice protecting it, it just becomes a mish-mash.

Out of all the movies you've featured, is there one in particular you can't quite believe got made?
When I saw Fast & Furious 6 I was like, "For an unadulterated action movie, this is perfect. It's pitched to exactly the right level." That was a movie that surprised me.
We did one recently that's pretty bold - Gymkata. It's a movie where they create a new martial art that mixes karate with gymnastics. To me, it was mind-blowing because it's like, ‘Wait, why don't you just do a karate movie? Why are you taking this Olympic gold-medalist gymnast and making him an action star?" There are so many ‘wait, what?' moments and it's so bizarre, because for the movie to work, they need to put gymnastics equipment all around wherever he is fighting. A Steven Seagal movie may be ridiculous, but at least he can use his fists. This guy needs to find a pummel horse or parallel bars before he can do any fighting! The movie very clumsily drops in all these items of gymnastic equipment in random locations, without any explanation of why.

It's got a really complicated plot too.
Yeah. I said on the podcast that it's like a story told by a blind and deaf person who doesn't speak English but has seen a James Bond movie. One of our interns reached out to the author of the original book and he said that he had written a script that was much closer to the book, but it got re-written and re-written. When he finally saw it in the theatre, it was nothing of what he wrote. So who knows how these things get trampled about?

One of your episodes revolved around Crank 2, but you all ended up loving it...
I'm a huge, unabashed Jason Statham fan. Whatever he's selling, I am in. I remember seeing the first Crank with Aziz Ansari while we were making Human Giant, and getting excited about seeing the next one. We actually all went to a movie theatre and did a live Tweet-along. That was really fun.

Are there any other films you thought were going to be awful but fell in love with?
It's not Fruitvale Station, but when I saw Fast & Furious 6 I was like, "For an unadulterated action movie, this is perfect. It's pitched to exactly the right level." That was a movie that surprised me. It's one of those rare examples where by the time they got to the sixth one, they were firing on all cylinders. Franchises don't usually get better as they go. We shot some of NTSF in London this year and a lot of our crew had worked on Fast 6, shooting at Piccadilly Circus for that big race, which was cool.

And on the other end of the spectrum, what could you never be convinced to sit through again?
We saw A Dungeon Tale or whatever it's called (actually In The Name Of The King: A Dungeon Siege Tale), another Jason Statham movie, and that one is no fun. It's a very fine line to find a movie that's crappy, but still entertaining enough to be enjoyable. There are so many bad movies that are just bad and there's nothing you can respond to. We're always trying to find that sweet spot and occasionally we'll miss it and it'll just be a slog. One movie that just kind of upset me was Nothing But Trouble, with Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase and Demi Moore. It's supposed to be funny, but it was like watching a Saw movie without the decapitations. It was a distressing experience. That prosthetic penis nose that Dan Aykroyd had was no fun at all.

Given that you slam other people's movies on the podcast, do you have to be careful now when picking film roles?
We've talked a lot about this. We try very hard to only pick things that are unaltered flops, that no-one can argue against. And we try to approach things in a genuine way. We're not haters. We hope not to burn any bridges, but we're also not like, "Let's see what came out this weekend and rip it apart!" We're a little bit more careful and I think we've been very lucky we've had no feedback or anything like that. Occasionally you'll be like, "Oh no. Does this person know I do a podcast?" But ultimately even executives and casting people genuinely enjoy it, because we're all in this business and know that things come out shitty sometimes.

Paul Scheer Q&A
Paul Hogan in Crocodile Dundee In Los Angeles

You haven't had any enraged calls from Dan Aykroyd, then, or Paul Hogan after your recent Crocodile Dundee In Los Angeles show?
No, Paul Hogan has not come after me, though that Crocodile Dundee show did get a lot of press. [Screenwriter] Matthew Berry was very vocal about Hogan, but it's funny because he's also been vocal about him in his book and on his website. But when he came on the show it spread a little bit more. So I wonder if Paul Hogan has got Google Search set up for his name.

Your occasional interviews with people behind the films are like hilarious confessionals. Have you ever had someone refuse to come on?
I never reach out to them; they're brought to us. I'm never going to say, "Hey, do you want to talk about that movie that's so bad?" Because the last thing you want is for them to say, "What do you mean? It's great - I love that movie!" A lot of times when we have a guest on there's one degree of separation. We talked about Crank and then a lot of listeners tweeted the directors about it. Patton Oswalt brought Lexi Alexander from Punisher: War Zone onto the show. We have an open-door policy: if you want to talk about it, that's cool. The writer of Skyline couldn't wait to talk about it. We've been lucky in that way.

Out of your own movies, we're guessing Piranha 3DD is the most likely to feature on your podcast. Did you return from contractual obligation?
The whole joke with that is they shot my death scene for the first movie, but couldn't afford the CGI to put in the piranhas. So my character just kind of mysteriously lived. And the Weinsteins, who have been very kind to me throughout my career, said, "Come back for a second go." The attraction for me, as a film fan, was that I would be spending a day hanging out with Ving Rhames in North Carolina. Being in close proximity to him was worth the price of admission. But yes, Piranha 3DD would probably be the one I'd like to talk about. The first Piranha is so perfectly done - it knows exactly what it wants to be and it does it very well. It's a fun, dumb horror movie. But the second one is all over the place. There's a lot to talk about!

What's Rhames like to work with?
The first Piranha is so perfectly done - it knows exactly what it wants to be and it does it very well. It's a fun, dumb horror movie. But the second one is all over the place.
He's one of the coolest guys you could ever meet. Anything you could want from Ving Rhames, he was that and more. This was a movie called Piranha 3DD, but he approached it super-seriously. He plays this character in a wheelchair, and the whole day he wouldn't get out of it. I was surprised by the level of intensity he brought to it. He committed.

Plus you share billing with Gary Busey...
Yeah! I remember when I was on set they were saying that he'd kicked the main actor in the stomach, for no reason. I was only on set for one day. But any movie where a fish swims into a girl's vagina and then bites onto a man's penis... you gotta say yes to that.

You're also in Meet Dave, another non-classic...
Oh my God. Another insane experience. I can proudly say that I've never seen Meet Dave, so I don't even know if it fulfills the criteria. I played a character called Lieutenant Buttocks and was essentially fired after my first take. It was me on my own, on a pedestal, saying Lieutenant Buttocks' classic line, "Sir, we have a gas leak. It was silent but not deadly." And the director was getting upset with me: "Again! Again!" I kept doing it in different styles, not knowing what I'm doing wrong, and then I was sent back to my trailer, where they told me they were recasting my role. To cut a long story shot, Brian Robbins basically forgot who he'd cast in the role and when he saw me realised I wasn't fat enough. He thought Buttocks needed a big ass-crack. While I was walking off set these producers ran up to me and said, "Hey, where are you going, man?" I told them I'd been fired, and they recast me on the spot as Lieutenant Kneecap. We went into my trailer, which was the size of a large bathroom, and wrote this scene where I'm eating a giant hot dog, because Eddie Murphy's planet is fuelled by salt, and say, "Sure beats protein squares." That part was also cut from the film.

That sounds rough...
Well, I will say, and not to be a kiss-ass, that Eddie Murphy was there when I shot that second scene and he couldn't have been cooler or more nice. He was one of the best guys I've ever met. And that was a real thrill for me because I was a huge fan growing up.

Paul Scheer Q&A
Paul Scheer (centre) with the cast of NTSF: SD: SUV

We're big fans of NTSF: SD: SUV, your extremely silly action spoof. What have you got lined up for Season 3?
We've got Karen Gillan on the show this year, and we shot a big two-part episode in London. Basically the idea is that San Diego has an area called Little London, which looks just like the real London. But we're supposedly in San Diego the whole time. We shot with great people: Anthony Stewart Head, Julian Barratt, Colin Salmon... I'm a big fan of Luther, so we have Saskia Reeves, who plays Luther's boss on that show. We got to geek out over every great British actor we're a fan of.

Where did the original idea come from? Was it inspired by 24?
Basically, yeah. I love 24. But as the show went on I started watching Hawaii Five-O and CSI and NCIS and so on. And anything we can think up to do on our show, they've already done! There's literally an episode in one of them where someone's killed in a space shuttle and the team have to go into outer space to investigate. It's so bonkers. So we always say that we do as much plot as they do per episode, but we do it in 15 minutes.

The title (which stands for National Terrorist Strike Force: San Diego: Sports Utility Vehicle) is brilliantly protracted. Was there any resistance to it at an executive level?
Favourite bad movie? It has to be The Room. It's terrible in every way, but yet amazingly rewatchable.
Actually, exactly the opposite. Again, all these shows are called things like CSI: Los Angeles and NCIS: New York. So we just wanted to make our title as crazy and long-winded as we could. Originally it was NTSF: SD. And then the head of the network just got excited and went, "You should make it even longer!" He was actually the one responsible for it. And meanwhile it's become the bane of everyone's existence!

You have Peter Serafinowicz in the show as the voice of robot SAM. Are you friendly with a lot of British comedians?
I know a handful of them, just because our paths cross every now and then. I know Rich Fulcher and he introduced me to Matt Berry. That's how I got Julian Barratt on the show. We tried so hard to get Matt on the UK show too, but he was in the middle of doing something else. Rich Fulcher's a good conduit, because he's the American who pops up in all our shows.

Do you listen to any other podcasts?
I listen to a ton of them. I like The Treatment, with Elvis Mitchell - it's always a fun interview. I like You Made It Weird, with Pete Holmes - they're usually quite deep conversations. And I love The Sound Of Young America, with Jesse Thorn. There's also a science podcast on NPR, which makes me feel a little smarter.

What's your favourite bad movie?
It has to be The Room. It's terrible in every way, but yet amazingly rewatchable. There's a million bad-bad movies, but The Room is good-bad.

And what's your favourite good movie?
It always comes down to Raiders Of The Lost Ark and Ghostbusters. I actually saw John Williams conduct this weekend in Hollywood, and he did the opening ten minutes of Raiders live. It was amazing. Those two are the movies I watched over and over as a kid.

Interview by Nick de Semlyen

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