Was there any sanitizing of the script, or compromises that you were uncomfortable with during the process of adapting your play and into movie?
I was amazed… Because we had such a small executive staff, we kind of got to do whatever we wanted. (Director Bob Odenkirk) and I had to agree on everything—that was very important. So whatever I wanted to do, I definitely had to clear it with Bob. And regarding any major decisions, Bob and I would clear it with (the producers).
But with a studio movie, or a larger-budget movie, there are just a lot more people you’ve got to run stuff by—but because we were so small, we didn’t have to.
Can you give me an example of an issue that you and Bob Odenkirk needed to resolve?
One of our biggest disagreements, and this really was an argument, was over the title. Originally, the movie had the same title as the play: “Phyro-Giants.” Other than that, there were no real arguments. Bob and I had decided early on that, since we had both had creative partnerships before, that we were going to agree on every decision.
When you’re working with a partner, you often get into this kind of creative barter system, where you’re saying, “Well, you gave me that point, so I’m going to give you this point.” We decided not to do that, that we were going to make every decision together, and that we were going to feel good about every decision. So we sometimes took a long time to make decisions, and to go down several different roads, and try out several different things.
And there were a lot of things I was worried about, things that I ended up feeling great about. . . .Believe it or not, I was actually worried that Jack Black wouldn’t be the right person, and of course my fears were greatly assuaged.
You know, it was just a matter of talking everything through, and Bob would listen endlessly to everything I had to say, and I would listen to him.
Can you tell me what was behind the name change?
The producers just hated having this nonsense word, “Phyro-Giants.” At that point (the producers) were working full time with the movie, and they would have this conversation with people:
A: I’m producing a movie.
B: What’s it called?
And it was really this debacle for them, and they got really sick of it. They all came to me, through Bob, and said, “You must change the title.” I really fought it for a long time, but ultimately there was no fight. I was one of five. I couldn’t trump anyone.
The movie is on the short side, coming in at under ninety minutes. Has anyone commented that the movie was too short?
In comedy, the shows I did were always one hour long. For some reason, that was just the right length. I guess it comes from the fact that my background is in comedy, and in comedy things are generally shorter. Every theater show I’ve done—and I’ve done a lot—has always come out to about one hour.
And the original play was an hour and five minutes. Many people said it wasn’t a “proper” play. I ran it by some theater producers early on, and they asked me if I’d consider expanding it to make it a real play. I think an hour-long play is the perfect length: go to the theater, see the play, then go out to dinner and talk about it.
Also, I do believe in “shorter over longer” and (in the case of Melvin) the material really dictated the length of the movie.
What’s promoting Melvin been like? Have you been enjoying it?
Well, it feels like God’s work to me, even though I’m not religious. I told the producers that I wanted to act as the distributor for the movie, and none of them were very encouraging, because they couldn’t pay me to do it. So it had to be something that I’d be doing for free, for my own reasons.
You know, there’s no one whose going to believe in your movie more than you, and of course (there’s no one who) has more to gain from getting out there (and promoting it). There’s simply no better spokesperson for the movie. So it’s something that I thought was very important to do, and I have actually really enjoyed doing it.
That said, it’s been very difficult. It’s a difficult movie to promote. Just by the nature of what the movie actually is, and that no one knows any of the stars… I mean, it’s very hard, but I do enjoy it.
I get the impression that you are not a “movie person”. Is that true, and has making Melvin made you more of one?
That’s true, but it’s funny. Since doing (the movie) I pay much more attention to movies, and I dissect them a little bit more, or try to learn from them a little bit more.
I think there’s no way to understand the process of making a feature length film until you’ve done it. And then suddenly the whole process is illuminated, just enough to make you think that you’d like to do it again. It is such a complex organism that once you’ve got the bug, you’re always trying to understand it a little bit differently, and a little bit better. So now that I’m determined to do it again, and make a career out of it, there’s no choice but to become a student of film.
Get the rest of the interview in part three of CATCHING UP WITH MICHAEL BLIEDEN>>>
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- MICHAEL BLIEDEN: PLAYING WITH MELVIN
- CATCHING UP WITH MICHAEL BLIEDEN
- 2012 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL INTERVIEW WITH LUC DÉRY, KIM MCCRAW AND PHILIPPE FALARDEAU OF “MONSIEUR LAZHAR”
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