“American Reunion” is written and directed by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg who were more than up for the challenges. In fact, they were adamant about getting the job. The writers of all three films in the Harold & Kumar series (and directors of the second one), Hurwitz and Schlossberg were chomping at the bit to re-create the world of “American Pie” while bringing their trademark stamp to it. Both have been die-hard fans of the series since their first viewings and they’ve lost count of how many times they saw the first film when it came out in 1999.
At the film’s press day, MoviesOnline talked to Hurwitz and Schlossberg about the challenges of getting the original cast back together and trying to stay true to the characters created by Adam Herz. They told us about their collaborative process writing the script and directing the movie, how much R rated comedies have changed since “American Pie” first came out, and what it was like dealing with the pressure to go all out. They also discussed the importance of balancing the raunch of the film with the heartfelt, poignant themes like first love and the father-son relationship.
Q: Was it difficult getting all these actors back together again while at the same time staying true to the characters and expanding the concept? Did you talk to Adam Herz, the creator of the first “American Pie”?
JH: We were enormous fans of that first “American Pie.” We were in college when it came out. We watched it over and over and over again. We knew the characters and the franchise really, really well. We didn’t actually work with Adam on the project. We’ve known Adam for a very long time, and he knew that we were huge fans. When we took over on this one, he gave us his blessing and support. It is definitely a challenge, but it’s one of those things where we connected with these characters so much, especially in that first film, that the opportunity to bring them all back together and figure out where they are, in a high school reunion [was irresistible]. We all fell in love with them when they were in high school, so the reunion concept was just so perfect for us to take everybody in this large ensemble and give each person a storyline that’s hopefully really fun and has moments where they can shine.
Q: Was Adam Herz involved at all with the script?
HS: No, we wrote the script and directed the movie. We had the opportunity to decide what happens to the characters in their lives. Adam has seen the movie and he really likes it.
Q: Did you look to the Weitz Brothers, the directors of the original film, as inspiration when you were making this?
HS: We’ve actually had the chance to meet them over the course of the years. Once we signed on, they talked to us, but really their biggest suggestion was to make our own movie. They were out making their own movies, so they weren’t able to be there the whole way through. But, I think they understood that we were huge fans and we loved their first movie and what made it work. We got to know them a little bit more through the process, and I think they really like the movie.
Q: Finch has a great throwaway line about how lots of people have a 13-year reunion. Why did you decide to make this a 13-year reunion?
HS: That was definitely a frustrating thing on our part. We wished that we were approached in 2008 about doing a movie that comes out in 2009. It was just the scenario that we were in. We found out about it in 2010 and it was already 11 years. We did the math in our heads and were like, well, what are we going to do? But, the truth is that Jon and I didn’t have our 10-year reunion. After our school dropped the ball on it, they decided the next year to make it up by getting some people together. So, for us, it wasn’t the craziest idea in the world to get together at a time that isn’t a perfect round number.
Q: What was it like to get all of these actors back together? Was it kind of like coming back to school for them?
JH: For them, it absolutely was. It was cool because a lot of these actors got their careers launched off of this film. They did three movies. A lot of them haven’t seen each other in awhile, so for them it was totally like a reunion. We were like the new kids who were welcomed in there and we were right in the mix. I think they all really appreciated what fans we were of the franchise and of their characters, so it was fun to collaborate with all of them.
Q: In the 13 years since “American Pie,” there has been a lot of change and many more R-rated comedies. Did you feel the pressure to go balls out?
HS: One of the things that we love most about R comedy is that it goes all-out. Jon and I have always liked that type of comedy. I mean, we like all types of comedy. We’ve written a bunch of scripts now, and we’ve created the Harold & Kumar movies, which have definitely contributed to movies pushing the envelope. It’s a fun challenge to figure out what the new shit joke is going to be, or how you’re going to have nudity in a way that’s going to make people uncomfortable. It’s something that every single comedy director right now faces that question of “Are you going to push it?” The bad movies are trying to push it. You feel like they’re just trying to find something outrageous in them. For us, we just start with the character. We think of Stifler, and that usually just leads to something that’s outrageous.
Q: How do you balance the raunch of the film with the heart?
JH: It’s what we connected with, with that first film. What we loved about the original “American Pie” was that, yes, Jim has sex with a pie, but we also loved how it dealt with first love and father-son relationships, and things like that. When we approached the project, the very first thing we did was take each character and say, okay, where would this character be? We didn’t want them to be caricatures of themselves. We wanted them to live and breathe and grow with the audience and with us. When you start from that place and you’re taking the character seriously, it’s going to lead down a variety of paths, especially with an ensemble like this. There’s a core friendship with the guys, which has a lot of heart, and there’s the father-son relationship and all the love stories that bring that too. But, with the characters that have already been created and the areas that we were taking them to, it naturally led to the comedy as well. It just all started from a place of character.
Q: For each of you, who was a character that you were just dying to expand upon or maybe you identified with from the first movie?
HS: MILF Guy #2. For us, we’ve been talking to John Cho about the MILF guys for almost a decade now, since we’ve been working with him on the Harold & Kumar movies. He had this small, tiny part in “American Pie,” and yet it’s so memorable. A friend of ours is Asian American, and when we would go to bars, everybody would shout, “MILF!,” at him. We always joked to him about the other MILF Guy that’s there with him, and how John Cho was not MILF Guy #1 but MILF Guy #2. So, when we took on the franchise, we got to write not only Stifler and Jim but MILF Guy #2. We were actually writing this character.
JH: Yeah, we got to figure it out and expand upon that. I would say that Stifler was a really fun one for us because he was the king of high school and the jerk amongst the group of guys, but we really wanted to make it where you’re rooting for Stifler. At the beginning of this film, you end up seeing Stifler as a little bit of an underdog and you feel bad for him. We wanted Stifler to be Stifler, and this weekend is when he gets to turn back the clock and be the guy that he loved being and had fun being. But, at the same time, we loved the idea of making a movie where you’re actually rooting for Stifler to succeed.
Q: Was it difficult reuniting the original cast?
JH: Luckily, that’s not our job to negotiate the deals. What we told the studio is we wanted everybody back, not just the same five guys. We want MILF Guy #2 back. But we also wanted MILF Guy #1 back. We wanted Jessica. We wanted “The Shermanator.” We wanted all the characters. This is one of the reasons why “American Pie” was so successful. You suddenly got to know 15 or 16 people and you identified and related to the characters. For us, that’s what’s going to make this feel like an event. That’s going to make the movie more successful and more people will like it.
HS: I think what we brought to the table was the fact that we loved all the characters and we made sure we gave everybody something to do. We didn’t want to just bring everybody back, each character just randomly showing up or sitting around in scenes. We wanted everybody to have a moment to shine in the movie and a lot of the major characters to all have storylines that they could dig into.
JH: This is MILF Guy #1’s best part I think.
HS: Yes, absolutely. There’s no doubt about that.
Q: Were there any unusual changes or adjustments to the storyline that weren’t originally planned or that evolved during the course of the production?
JH: Most of the storylines that you see are very similar to what we had originally pitched. For example, there are certain things when you are dealing with actors’ schedules. Alyson Hannigan is on a TV show and had a limited amount of time that she was able to be there, so you’re like, okay, I have 11 days with her. You realize she can’t be in every single one of these locations, so then you end up changing it. We used to have her at the bonfire party, and there were things at the beach with Jim and Michelle, but we ended up having to make some adjustments there. In the end, you always try to find a way with whatever challenge you have to enhance the movie.
HS: There is one scene in the movie where Stifler gets back at the young guys. In our original script, it involved Stifler on a boat, ruining their boat, and it ended up costing too much money. We figured that out already a week into the shoot, so there became this blank space in the movie. We know Stifler needs to get back at these young guys in some way at a beach. We spit-balled and it ended up being him shitting in a cooler.
Q: How do you guys work together as writers and directors, especially when you’re on set?
JH: Hayden and I were friends from high school. We always talked about doing these kinds of movies, and when we started writing together, it was really just us in a room figuring everything out. We’d put together the whole outline, and then we would split up different things. We’d each write separate things. We’d read each other’s stuff. But, by the time you had the finished script, it was a joint vision that we both really had. That leads to a really good situation on set because we already know the movie that we’re trying to make there. In terms of making decisions, we do a lot of the stuff together. We’re usually both sitting at the monitor, we both talk to actors, we both talk to all the members of the crew. But, there’s a lot of work to be done when you’re directing a film, so we’re able to split up. Sometimes one person is talking to an actor and another person is talking to the D.P. We’ll switch on and off.
HS: We take turns saying, “Action!” and “Cut!” After we shoot something, we look at each other, we talk about it. Occasionally we’ll disagree, but that’s always a good thing because sometimes that leads to new ideas.
Q: What extras or unrated additions will be on the DVD?
JH: There are a lot of deleted scenes and a lot of extra material. When you have this many storylines, the challenge is packing them all into one movie. We didn’t want this to be a movie that’s two and a half hours long. We shot a lot of stuff. Pretty much every character in there, you’re going to find something new on the DVD. There’s some added raunch on the DVD. It wasn’t about censoring it from the movie, but just things that didn’t fit, maybe some toe sucking.
HS: There’s Stifler offending different people, and maybe a little bit more nudity.
Q: Could the extended version be two and a half hours?
JH: It could be.
Q: Why not?
HS: I think because we want people to watch the movie and enjoy it. It’s not that the scenes themselves aren’t good. In the past, when you have a special DVD like that, you’ll put all these different things that you would have liked to have put in there. But then, when you watch it, you’re like, okay, now it’s slow, and how many millions of people are watching this version? There is going to be an unrated DVD and we are going to put some things in there, but we were careful not to throw in so much that it actually hurts the movie because there’s a reason why we didn’t keep it in there.
Q: What inspired you to get Jim’s dad and Stifler’s mom together?
JH: That was one of the very first ideas we had. We love Eugene Levy and we love Jennifer Coolidge. They’re two major assets that you have in this franchise. The thing that we discussed right away was that they’ve never shared a scene together in this franchise, even though they’ve worked together on other films. So, one of the first days, we were like, should we kill off Jim’s mom? We were like that doesn’t sound very funny, but maybe it will add certain layers of heart and put Jim in a position where there’s some role reversal in how he’s dealing with his father.
HS: It’s also just so perfect because Eugene Levy plays a character named “Jim’s dad” and Jennifer Coolidge plays a character named “Stifler’s mom.” It just felt like they were fated to be together.
Q: Is that really Jason Biggs’ penis in the film?
JH: Yes, that’s actually Jason.
HS: You can tell because the first shot looks like it could have been a stunt person, but then we had the wider shot to show that it is him. He was actually very adamant about it being him.
“American Reunion” opens in theaters on April 6th.