As usual, the good folks at Chrysler were the most consciencious about providing lovely eye candy to go along with their cars. We found some beautiful booth babes helping to promote some of their sexier cars, including an orange Dodge Challenger and a candy green SRT Viper. We also got to see the all-new Chrsyler 200 which looks like a great car and was promoted by a pretty brunette.
The biggest conundrum for the makers of “The LEGO Movie”: how to make a movie that promotes the product without playing like a 100-minute informercial. To that point, we have heard from friends who refuse to see the movie because, in their opinion, it is blatantly designed to sell more LEGOs. Well, sure, the LEGO Corporation would certainly like people to buy more of their product, but that in and of itself is not the point of the movie. If anything, the movie is quite subversive in tone, in that it encourages kids to take their uber-precise themed kits and build whatever the hell they want to with the pieces. It preaches against conformity and encourages imagination, both noble goals, and it has Morgan Freeman saying Milhouse Van Houten’s name out loud. Yes, yes, yes.
Emmet (Chris Pratt) is a construction worker who does everything he’s supposed to do. He follows the instructions set forth by President Business (Will Ferrell), which in a nutshell ask everyone to bend to his will in the friendliest manner possible. One day, Emmet sees the lovely Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) poking around his construction site, and as he goes to catch up to her, he discovers an underground group of rebels, led by the blind prophet Vitruvius (Freeman), who refuse to live by President Business’ law. Emmet has discovered a piece that Vitruvius believes will stop President Business’ insidious plan to glue all LEGO pieces together, and because of that, Vitruvius declares that Emmet is the one that an ancient legend predicted will lead them to victory. This group of rebels includes every superhero imaginable (in the DC universe, anyway), along with several other “master builders.” Emmet, on the other hand, doesn’t have an original thought in his head. The rebels have their doubts about him, to say the least.
I’ve said before – if not in this column, then certainly elsewhere on the ‘net – how a great deal of my long-term tastes were established during my teen years in the ’80s, and one of the shows that was must-see TV for 16-year-old me was the ABC sitcom Sledge Hammer!, created by Alan Spencer. As a result, my eyebrows shot skyward when I first learned about the IFC series Bullet in the Face, since the press release prominently featured Spencer’s previous credits. Too bad the network’s programming and promotional departments weren’t quite as enthused as I was: the show’s six-episode season was noticed by precious few, resulting in a quick departure from the airwaves.
Thank goodness for Shout Factory, then, a company who knows a future cult classic when they see one: they released Bullet in the Face on DVD a few weeks back – sorry, I was at the TCA tour at the time, or I would’ve been able to promote it more heavily right as it hit the shelves – and were kind enough to set me up with an interview with the aforementioned Mr. Spencer.
After discussing his most recent endeavor in considerable detail, you will be unsurprised to learn that I took a bit of time to geek out as well, enjoying the opportunity to learn more about his friendships with Marty Feldman, Andy Kaufman, and Anthony Perkins, and to find out if we’re likely to ever see Sledge Hammer! return.
Bullz-Eye: How did Bullet in the Face originally come about? It seems to owe at least a spiritual debt to Sledge Hammer!, but from what I can tell, it appears that the project existed in some form – if only as a vague concept – before you ever came aboard.
Alan Spencer: Well, first of all, there’s nothing spiritual about Sledge Hammer! [Laughs.] Basically, the IFC network… An executive I knew at the IFC network said they had a concept in development that wasn’t working. It was called Dieter Horn in Night Port, and if you Google it or use any search engine, I think you can see information about it. They had made a two-minute trailer – kind of a sizzle reel, as people are wont to do – and a Canadian production company was behind it. The trailer shows a spoof of ‘80s tropes about a German cop called Dieter Horn, who was apparently a bad guy who became a cop, and it’s heavily rooted in the ‘80s. It’s never explained why it was German, by the way. I couldn’t figure that out. But it’s a spoof of a Miami Vice sort of city, and it was… A lot of people are doing ‘80s parodies – MacGruber, and there’s a miniseries now (The Spoils of Babylon) – and it was an ‘80s spoof, and…that didn’t interest me. And I guess they developed scripts for it and it didn’t work, so it was a piece of… The term is “broken development.”
Since I’m one of the few people that had done and sustained a successful half-hour action comedy, they came to me and asked if I’d be willing to supervise the writers and retool this. It was basically… I was given, like, carte blanche for whatever I could come up with to fix this. So, anyway, I took the one kernel, one idea from it, and threw everything else out. And the only kernel from it was the German, formerly a bad guy, turning into a cop. So that was it. I threw everything out, re-titled it, and came up with all new characters, an all new milieu, and the kind of a graphic-novel city I set it in.
I also threw out the ‘80s baby with the ‘80s bathwater, because a lot of people can’t reference the ‘80s. I lived through the ‘80s already, and that didn’t interest me to go through it again. I don’t have that hair anymore, I don’t wear the pastels, I wear socks… [Laughs.] So I didn’t want to deal with that at all. I wanted something new and fresh. Also, since I had some creative freedom, I really wanted to go for it, so they were kind of thrilled when I decided to write it myself. I just said, “Let me write it,” as opposed to going through the machinations that we would’ve to find some writers. So they were surprised and happy, but I think that was their agenda all along, to have me write it myself.
So I indulged myself. I didn’t imagine this getting made, so I wrote something very, very extreme, and going further than the restraints that I was used to working on in network television. And then, lo and behold, I was surprised. I got a call from the network saying, “We’re not going to make a pilot for this.” I said, “Oh, all right.” They said, “We’re going to go straight to series!” So it was a six-episode order with the contingency that I write them all. I knew something was up before I got that call, because on Facebook all of a sudden I was being getting friended by IFC executives. [Laughs.] That was kind of the hint that something was in the works. That’s how social media works now, right? If social media was existing during World War II, and if all my Japanese friends were unfriending me, I think I would’ve anticipated Pearl Harbor. That’s sort of how it works.
Tags: Alan Spencer, Alfred Hitchcock, Andy Kaufman, Anthony Perkins, Barry Took, Bullet in the Face, Dan Pasternack, Dieter Horn in Night Port, Eddie Izzard, Eric Roberts, IFC, Kurt Paul, Leonard Nimoy, Marty Feldman, Marty Feldman: Biography of a Comic Legend, Mel Brooks, Robert Ross, Sledge Hammer!, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Taxi, The Facts of Life, The Ghost Writer, The Last of Sheila, The Nutt House, William Shatner
Before we begin, let me backpedal for a second and set the stage for “ditching TV”.
Here’s how I’d word it:
• Watching TV is the actual act of sitting down in front of one to consume entertainment
• Ditching TV is removing all those setbacks that come from viewing
What I’m trying to convey is the difference between being a zombie in front of a TV set versus having an a la carte choice in what shows and movies you watch. Instead of getting stuck with commercials and waiting for shows during primetime – you’re cutting those setbacks so you can binge.
As far as Oscar nominations go, this morning’s announcements weren’t nearly as contentious as they have been in years past, but that doesn’t mean there still wasn’t a snub or two to complain about. With that in mind, I took a look at several of the major award categories and graded the Academy on their selections.
No real surprises here, expect perhaps for the absence of Joel and Ethan Coen’s “Inside Llewyn Davis,” which had more than its share of champions. I’m also a little shocked to see “Philomena” make the final list (that one reeks of the Harvey Weinstein School of Schmoozing), especially over the likes of Palm d’Or winner “Blue is the Warmest Color,” which was ineligible for Best Foreign Language Film due to a silly technicality. Of course, this category is essentially down to the three biggest nominee getters: “Gravity” (my pick for the prize), “American Hustle” and “12 Years a Slave.”
Alfonso Cuarón, “Gravity”
Steve McQueen, “12 Years a Slave”
Alexander Payne, “Nebraska”
David O. Russell, “American Hustle”
Martin Scorsese, “The Wolf of Wall Street”
This one is Alfonso Cuarón’s to lose. The only thing standing in his way is that the Academy gave the award to Ang Lee last year for a similar reason, in which case, Steve McQueen could end up making history as the first African-American director to win the prize. The only real snub here is Paul Greengrass for “Captain Phillips,” though he was likely on the bubble.
This is one of the best crops of Best Actor nominees in ages, with the Oscar virtually up for grabs. Chiwetel Ejiofor is the frontrunner, but considering that some people thought Tom Hanks (“Captain Phillips”) and Robert Redford (“All Is Lost”) were also shoo-ins to receive nominations, it just goes to show how competitive this category is really is. It was essentially a seven- or eight-horse race, and only five were invited to the party. Still, I would have chosen Hanks over Bruce Dern for that final scene alone.