Crazed Fanboy home  |  Flash Fantastic  |  Dinosoldier  |  Schlockarama
  Crazed Fanboy Presents
As an aspiring screenwriter/director, Steven Brill took the long way towards success. A friendship with Steven Soderbergh put him in front of the camera in a small role in "Sex, Lies and Videotape." Small roles in films like "Edward Scissorhands," "Postcards From the Edge" and "Batman Returns" not only helped pay the bills, but gave him an opportunity to study two very different, but talented, directors: Tim Burton and Mike Nichols. In 1992, his screenplay for "The Mighty Ducks" was filmed and spawned not only two more films but a National Hockey League franchise. In 1995 he made his directing debut with the Ben Stiller comedy "Heavyweights," which he also co-wrote. His last two films as director have been collaborations with Adam Sandler: "Little Nicky" and "Mr. Deeds." His latest movie, which he both wrote and directed, is "Without A Paddle." Mr. Brill recently sat down with me at the Screenland theatre in Kansas City, in a room full of Walt Disney memorabilia, which holds a certain irony for Mr. Brill. After graciously signing my laser disc copy of "The Mighty Ducks" for my son (I told him he had worn it out, so he wrote, "Thanks for wearing this out!"), Brill talked about his career.

Mike Smith: In your films there seems to be more of a sense of camaraderie. Not thinking "let's make sure we have big box office" or "let's make sure we follow a formula." Would you agree with that?

Steven Brill: You mean having fun with our friends and making movies? Definitely. That's important. Sometimes it's paramount. We're always very professional and work really hard to make the best movie we can for whoever's paying for it. We, when I work with Sandler, feel that if it makes us laugh it's going to make others laugh and thereby it's going to be good business. So we just go with our gut, hang out, have fun and try to make each other laugh. It's kind of a good job when I talk about it out loud.

Seth Green
MS: Does it seem that way at the time?

SB: It's a lot of work. Directing is a lot of time. It's very time-consuming and detail-oriented which is not the most fun all the time. But it's more fun then not, that's for sure.

MS: What do you think about when planning a project? Is who you're going to work with your main consideration?

SB: It's really important. I mean, I wouldn't have done this movie if we didn't have the right cast for it because it's all about these three guys. You could say [Without A Paddle] is an outdoor/adventure movie but I thought of it as a character comedy.

MS: And were these three guys, Seth Green, Matthew Lillard and Dax Shepard, people you knew from work you had done or did you have auditions?

Matthew Lillard
SB: Well, Paramount Studios had just done "The Italian Job" with Seth and my producer had Seth Green on the top of his list. Then we went and got Matt. I wanted to make Matt a leading man more then the goofy guy. A lot of times Matt's the goofy guy and I thought "let's make Matt the lead character," which is the straight guy. It's a different brand of comedy for him and I thought he'd be great. And then Dax was the wild card, because we had two guys who were pretty well known so we were able to cast somebody a little less known, and that's where Dax came in.

MS: Where did you find Dax?

SB: He was on this show called "Punk'd" on MTV. We met him, had him audition and he kept working hard to get the job and eventually he did.

MS: Burt Reynolds seems like an inspired choice.

SB: It was pretty fun to work with Burt. We didn't even think Burt would do it, so we didn't even ask him for a while. But ultimately when we asked him, he came out and met us and it was really cool to hang out with him. Then he said he'd do the movie and I was really psyched about that. And it wasn't a piece of stunt casting, even though the movie does have a "Deliverance" feel to it, it did make me think of him. But I wanted an actor who could deliver on a dramatic scene and I always thought Burt was a great actor first, more then a celebrity. And I told Burt that he had to be able to dispense some wisdom to these's a very important scene. It can't be corny. And Burt was really up to it. Plus he loved hanging out with the guys and doing improv because Burt's funny. He's a funny guy.

MS: Where did you shoot the film?

SB: We shot in New Zealand. I was skeptical when the studio suggested it. The film takes place in the Pacific Northwest and I think I thought the climate was tropical. (laughs) But we got there and.....when you see the movie, I think it doubles perfectly. When we got there, Peter Jackson had just finished his movies so his crew became our crew.......we got to use the "Lord of the Rings" crew. It was a great situation.

MS: As a writer, does that affect what you do when you direct if an actor wants to do a line differently?

Abraham Benrubi and Ethan Suplee
SB: No, I'm pretty rigid and flexible at the same time. I'm really rigid about getting it the way I wrote it's like you don't get dessert if you don't eat your meat! And then, the reward is playing around with it. And I have no problem with it. Everyone throws out ideas. That's part of the mix.....part of the process.

MS: You've done a lot of acting in the past. Was that a way to get to your goal, to write and direct your own projects?

SB: The acting came out of writing scripts. A producer had optioned a script of mine and Steven Soderbergh was writing "Sex, Lies and Videotape" in the office next door and we became friends. One day I asked him "could I be in his movie" and he said "sure." And, of course, "Sex, Lies and Videotape" became such a big thing that everybody thought I was an actor. An agent hired me. I was still a writer/director in my mind, but I did it because I could hang out with other directors in a close up way, some cool directors like Tim Burton and Mike Nichols. I didn't care about the size of the part.

MS: In working with Soderbergh, Burton and Nichols did you learn anything from them that you use now?

SB: Yes. Sure. Those were my formative experiences. I didn't know how to act like a director or what a director was. Steve Soderbergh, when I got my first directing job I asked him and he gave me the best advice that I ever got and that is that directing is just a function of taste. It's your taste. Every answer to every question is what you's your taste. Exercise your taste. There's no right or wrong so just go with your gut. Mike Nichols was really cool because he was an actor's director. He would do long takes, not cut all the time. And Tim is a visual stylist/genius with which I have the least in common but I have the most respect for. I love watching him do his thing. There wasn't much I could get from him because he's so specific and unique.

MS: He's very visual.

SB: Yeah, yeah.

MS: Growing up, who were your favorite comedy influences?

SB: I was really into Bill Murray....."Stripes" and "Animal House." The National Lampoon group and the first wave of "Saturday Night Live" people. Plus Monty Python, both the "Holy Grail" and the TV show. Second City Television. Woody Allen. I just thought "Animal House" was the greatest movie of all time when I saw it. I still do!

MS: Is there more life in the Mighty Ducks?

SB: No, I think they're done. I actually had to sue Disney for the hockey team and stuff.......we're not in good shape, me and Disney.

MS: That was my next question, if you got anything from the sales of the hockey jerseys and other items.

SB: No, no that was what my lawsuit was about.

MS: Can I ask the outcome of the suit?

SB: They settled. I really can't talk about it.

MS: You won.

SB: (smiles)

MS: What is your next project?

SB: I just finished a script for Paramount called "Step-Dude," which you maybe can figure out from the title. It's about a 28-year-old guy whose mom marries another 28-year-old guy. Hopefully when I get back (to California) we'll start casting it and shoot it this fall. It's supposed to come out this time next year. So maybe we'll do this again next year.

After a brief discussion of the various kinds of Kansas City Bar-B-Que, Mr. Brill said his good-byes. At least until next year.

Other interviews by Mike Smith
From 2004:
Martha Coolidge
From 2003:
Paul Williams
The Hillanbrand Brothers
The Great Luke Ski
Linda Harrison
"The Steven Brill Interview by Mike Smith" is ©2004 by Michael A. Smith. Our sincere thanks to Steven Brill for participating in this interview series, we hope "Without A Paddle" is a success! Any graphics from the movie are used for illustrative and promotional purposes only and are the property of the copyright holder. All remaining graphics are the creation of Nolan B. Canova. All contents of Crazed Fanboy™ dotcom and Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2004 by Nolan B. Canova

Crazed Fanboy home  |  Flash Fantastic  |  Dinosoldier  |  Schlockarama