Interview with Eric Wareheim – “Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie” MovieFanFare.com
Guest Contributor – Irv Slifkin from www.moviefanfare.com
From out of the trenches of Bat Mitzvah videos, the depths of the Internet and even the grimy street corners of North Philadelphia came Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim. College friends since they met at Philly’s Temple University in the mid-1990s, the pair began cranking out DIY videos and CDs, selling them on street corners, honing their craft doing car commercials, shooting weddings and other social functions and, eventually, after a suggestion by a programmer at the Philadelphia Film Festival, putting their video stuff on the Internet flagpole to see if people would salute it. Their “Pumpers” music videos, in which they roam around Philly making illicit advances to the city’s landmarks, didn’t necessarily put another crack in the Liberty Bell, but it did win them a devoted cult following.
A move to Los Angeles…followed by a move back to the East Coast…followed by a move back to Los Angeles eventually paid off. They made the short film Tom Goes to the Mayor for their website, which attracted the attention of Mr. Cross guys David Cross and Bob Odenkirk and led to a show on Adult Swim. The off-kilter animated saga set in a small town called Jefferton comprised half of a strip mall and the other half of a trailer park focused on Tom, a loser filled with ideas, who teams with the town’s ever-meddling mayor to make improvements in the city. These ideas always self destruct. Bear traps for kids’ safety, real birds replaced by porcelain birds and a scheme in which a fake sea serpent is created to attract tourists are some of the concepts hatched for Jefferton in the deliriously deadpan show, which debuted on Adult Swim in 2004.
In 2007, Tim and Eric were rebranded, er, Tim and Eric, as they produced and starred in a 15 minute show on The Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block called Tim and Eric’s Awesome Show, Great Job! A following for their off-the-wall, heavy-on-the-weirdness, non-sequitor-filled, tackily shot material developed quickly, and, soon the likes of John C. Reilly, Zack Galifinakas, Michael Cera, Paul Reubens, “Weird” Al Yankovic, Fred Willard, Patton Oswalt, Rainn Wilson—many of whom supplied voices for Tom Goes to the Mayor–came aboard as guests.
Now, Tim and Eric are taking the next step—a big one—with a feature film called Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie. There is a story: Tim, the guy with the blond ehair, and Eric, the taller guy with the beard and glasses, are given $1 billion by a studio mogul (the hilariously crass Robert Loggia) to make a movie. They deliver a romantic short starring Johnny Depp shot in France. The mogul is so upset with them he demands they repay him. Out of work, the duo seek a new gig—and they get it, trying to resurrect a rundown shopping mall populated by derelicts and wolves and such non-popular businesses as—don’t ask– a used toilet paper store.
The film is true to the unpredictability, freewheeling spirit and surreal sensibilities of Tim & Eric’s TV show, but with the movie/mall plot serving as a framing device for non-fans. And also true to the TV show are a host of guest appearances by Reilly, Farrell and others.
On a recent late afternoon in a Philadelphia hotel, MovieFanFare met with Eric Wareheim to talk about his “billion dollar” movie. Partner Tim Heidickeran Allentown, PA native, was supposed to join in the conversation, but a virus caught the day before in Atlanta kept him out of action. In a few hours, the Audobon, PA native would be introducing Tim & Eric’s billion Dollar Movie at an advanced sold-out screening at the local arthouse, a place that Wareheim frequented regularly while attending Temple University. While advanced screenings are usually offered free to audience members, enthusiastic fans of Tim and Eric were happy to pay to see the film before its official opening—even thiough it was already being offered On Demand on cable TV!
Between sips of herbal tea, Eric Wareheim, 36, fielded the questions.
MovieFanFare: Many fans of your TV show seem to be annoyed with what you did with your movie by having John C. Reilly play a child-like mall maintenance man, a different part than the popular Dr. Steve Brule like he did on Tim and Eric TV show. And they appear disappointed you went with a real storyline, something else they are not used to. How do you respond to that?
Eric Wareheim: We wanted to surprise everyone. In our TV show, if there’s a popular character in a sketch, we try to kill off that character immediately. We don’t want it to have like a Saturday Night Live feel where it’s ‘I can’t believe you are doing this!” (to a character). To us, it is more challenging, like we have to try something new. A lot of our fans have been like ‘that’s not as wacky as your show, but others are like ‘Whoah, that’s a whole other thing.’ So we’ve been constantly trying to change this up. A lot of people ask about the movie experience. We want everyone to see it but not rely on our past. The ultimate goal is to please people familiar with us and please new people at the same time.
EW: We feel very lucky that we got to make it and having people like Zack Gallifinakas and Will Farrell in the movie. Everyone said, “We’ll give you a little bit of money and see what you can do.” Everyone (who gave us the money) knew our work from before. And we wondered “Do we make a note on (the actors’) script?” We’ll just let them go for it and they did. So far it is working.
MFF: Was your approach for the film similar to the one you take as your TV show?
EW: Our TV show is heavily improvised. But the movie has a lot higher production values so we had to go by the script. We had to tell a story and think “This thought has to be translated in this scene.” It was not as improvised at the show. Will Farrell’s scene was 50 percent improvised. We told him ‘Here’s a bunch of lines. Teach us about this weird mall.’
MFF: So you set up the scene and told them to go for it?
EW: Yes, we had solid ideas. For John C. Reilly’s character, we really knew the story of him being raised by wolves in a mall. We’d give him the framework and he would just fill in the lines. John is so amazing on the first day of the shoot, the wardrobe people made him little boy outfits and he said, “No, go get me real little boy outfits because I want to feel like I am busting out of this.” And they did and it looks so good and authentic. Will Farrell wanted to get in that fine space as a mindless lunatic who runs this mall. They are so talented it really transfers up to the screen in real, true badness.
MFF: What were some of the challenges of taking your act to the big screen?
EW: Tim and I direct everything and we were in 90 percent of shots. We only had so much money and when we’re in a scene we want to watch and sometimes we can’t and we had to trust we got the comedy and move on. For the next one (Tim and Eric’s Trillion Dollar Movie, in planning stages right now) , we should have a little more time so we can review things and improvise more. We didn’t have the chance to goof off until we found the joke. We learned a lot making it.
MFF: You’ve worked with John C. Reilly for a while. He’s played Dr. Steve Brule, a wacky doctor on your show, and now he has his own spinoff show that you produce. How is he taking his new career as a cult icon on Adult Swim?
EW: We love it but he has a different take on it. He says “You ruined my career, man!” When he does interviews like this, I would say 90 percent of the questions are about Dr. Steve Brule. Before it was like “What was it like working with Roman Polanski (in Carnage).” He really loves Brule and he is a truly wonderful character. (With this film) he was like, “C’mon, it’s time to try something else here.”
MFF: Along with the name actors like Farrell, Reilly, Galifinakis, Robert Loggia, Ray Wise, Jeff Goldblum, Twink Kaplan, Will Arnett and William Atherton, you have quite a rogue’s gallery of other performers here, mostly playing denizens of the dilapidated shopping mall. Where did you find them?
EW: We used some from our TV show and we kind of dredged the bottom of the barrel in Los Angeles. Everyone in Hollywood has a head shot and they’re like ‘ I can be an actor.” And there are these websites you can go and find these interesting faces. We always wanted our show and movie to be populated by real people instead of Hollywood people and comedians. They seem more real to us and funnier and just have a more interesting look. Just the guys we worked with on the show knew the style. Every extra in the movie we approved. There’s no kind of mass extras. We actually care about every reaction shot.
MFF: Can you compare your humor to people not familiar with it? To tell you the truth, it took me a while to appreciate it and I think the plot of the film helped me appreciate your show on some level. It’s been called stream of consciousness?
EW: We haven’t had any comparisons. We weren’t trying to make films like anyone else. Our favorite things are the Christopher Guest films like This is Spinal Tap!, but that is so different from our work. People say (the feature) it feels like a classic midnight movie, but that’s only the style that relates to it I think.
MFF: So you really can’t label what you do?
EW: We don’t have a name for it—it’s just Tim and Eric. A lot of my friends work in the ad world and they say ‘A lot of people use your name as a kind of thing, like ‘We want this to be a Tim and Eric commercial,; which means weird edits, bad people on camera that shouldn’t be on camera…you know…crazy colors that are putrid.
MFF: Can you at least define what Tim and Eric, the characters, are all about?
TH: they are two idiots who are kind of competitive, friends trying to get ahead without any real work or skills or anything. We see that in LA all the time. These two guys who don’t know what they are doing. They are scared to be on camera. Those are two guys we kind of clicked onto right away in the early days.
MFF: Let’s talk about drugs. Your humor has been described as “trippy.” People say, “They must have been on something when they did that?”
EW: At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter (to me). Our jokes are pretty calculated, obviously. We hear: ‘Dude are you guys are on ‘srooms or something?’ But we never do anything while we’re producing or making it or even viewing it. This is just how we work. At the same time, it’s kind of wild and we understand that some people think that. But all of our ideas come from some place of reality and are grounded. Sometimes it will come off our heads that sounds like a hallucination but it’s never about the drugs.
MFF: Do you and Tim pay attention to what is written about you or people who criticize you or your style of humor?
EW: We care about it a lot but we know everything we do is going to be a very polarized situation. They’re either going to love it or hate it or they’re not going to get it. There’ are few people who are like ‘It’s just ok.’ And we’re fine with that. Because were making stuff that is pretty on edge and that’s where we want to be. We know we are never going to have a huge mainstream success as long as we continue with this stuff and that’s fine.
MFF: Seems that you guys are keeping busy even though you are polarizing the world. What’s next?
EW: Well, there’s Tim and Eric’s Trllion Dollar Movie, something in the same vein as this. There are six new episodes of Dr. Steve Brule coming out in March. And we have a new tv show in development we’re shopping around. It will be a new Tim and Eric Show. We’re taking our time with it, so it’s really good.