When you visit a set, it's difficult knowing you're a bit of an interruption. No one actually treats you as such, of course, but you have to wonder what it would be like if someone came to your place of work and started chatting about your life and work. On sets, this is especially evident in directors. They're up against all kinds of crunches and pressure, they're trying to concentrate, and they have to come and explain it all to you.
Greg Mottola was a super busy man on Paul. He took his time with everything. The scenes we saw were small -- Clive (Nick Frost) and Graham (Simon Pegg) stand open-mouthed at the exhibit hall as the camera whirls around them. They examine the schedule, and run in opposite directions. They take part in a virtual reality battle with two young boys. (Watching these kids clumsily bow and punch was hysterical.) It was all energetic and loose, yet painstakingly plotted out. I'm anxious to see it come together. This is, as Pegg and Frost took care to point out, not an Edgar Wright film. But I'm not sure it's what you might expect out of Mottola, either.
But let's just let him talk, shall we?
It's funny, out of Comic-Con in 2007 when they had the Superbad premiere there, and Edgar [Wright] and Nick [Frost] were there, it seemed like there was this moment where basically these two groups kind of came together and just formed all of these projects. Did you feel that also, that that was the central point of [the relationship/project]?
Greg Mottola: Yeah, I mean that's where I met those guys. It was a collision of kingdoms.
I mean, Scott Pilgrim [vs. the World] came out of it, sort of, because Michael's [Cera] working with Edgar...
Yeah, and that was when Edgar did the fake interview that was really funny with Jonah [Hill] and Michael ... where he pretended to be really angry.
At Comic-Con 2007, wasn't there a party where Edgar and Michael and like everyone ... were you at that gathering?
Yeah, I think it was at Seth's [Rogen] hotel room at the famous Some Like It Hotel. [Hotel Del] Coronado, that big hotel.
This movie seems really different from what you've done before, in that it's more fantastical and possibly more absurdist. Is that the case?
It is, but you know, like all these guys -- I was seven when I saw 2001 [A Space Odyssey], I was twelve when Star Wars came out. I have a long love of fantasy and science-fiction. I read a lot of [Isaac] Asimov and ...you know, I [had] old-school geek credentials and comic books ... And this movie's been a challenge because we haven't had that many more days than Superbad had, but this movie has a whole other level of fantasy. The irony is that the parts of the movie that I'm really trying hard to shoot like a Spielberg film, which is very difficult and I don't know if I'm good enough to pull it off. But the parts that have most of the special effects with Paul, the CGI characters, I'm shooting much more like Superbad or a character-comedy road movie -- Five Easy Pieces, like handheld camera cause I want the audience to hopefully not think about the CGI alien as anything but a character in the story. So there's a very low-key part of the film that's very conversational and jokey and talky. And then there are these huge set pieces and chases and explosions and craziness and sci-fi fantasy stuff ... without giving too much away, but you know, spaceships and that is a whole world I knew nothing about and was thrown into and we'll see how it goes [laughs]. But it's been really exciting.
And what are you shooting [on this Comic-Con floor set]? Just the guys checking everything out and all of the booths?
Yeah, the movie begins at Comic-Con. It's like their fantasy road trip. Their idea of a fantasy America road trip, their first time in America, is to come straight to San Diego Comic-Con. They have very little interest in anything to do with America except for that and Area 51, and they're going to sort of hit the UFO sites in the southwest of America.
Are you a UFO enthusiast? Do you listen to the Art Bell show?
I've listened to Art Bell, I used to listen to Art Bell in college, yeah. I was kind of lobbying that we should try and get him in [the movie] somehow ...
Did you go to Roswell or watch that documentary the Trekkies guys did [Trekkies, 1997]?
I haven't. I've heard about it, but I haven't. This is all happening so fast.
We were impressed that this is the most accurate recreation of Comic-Con we've seen in a film. Why is this so important?
It's attached to why we wanted the action-adventure stuff to be good -- and hopefully we'll pull it off -- because for people who love those kinds of movies, we wanted to get it right. And you know, Comic-Con, it's a big production design challenge. We don't have a gigantic budget and we saved a big chunk of money to do this right. But luckily the people who worked on the movie just killed themselves. I mean, there are people setting this up for the last four days, 24 hours a day, making it happen and obsessively went and researched it. But, you know, a lot of the vendors and the smaller independent publishing companies jumped onboard and said, "We'll donate our stuff. We'll bring our graphics." I have to say, people like [George] Lucas and Star Trek people have been incredibly generous in letting use their stuff and be cool about it. It goes so far in creating a verisimilitude.
How hard has it been compared to Adventureland when you had an amusement park and you had all of the people, trying to wrangle them, to doing this where you have to make it seem natural when you're trying to recreate the most chaotic place on Earth?
In many ways, this is easier cause I have an army of people helping me pull it off, and more time for fewer scenes. The cool thing is the enthusiasm, the thing we shot earlier today with the audience [in a mock-Comic-Con auditorium]. I mean, I wanted that surge of enthusiasm, that love of this world, to be palpable onscreen. And it was really quite lovely to me to see everyone get so into it because even though we don't even know what [the audience] is looking at [onstage] -- we keep thinking what the reverse [shot] is and we don't honestly know what it is. And Simon, who's saying, "We should turn around and it's that little robot [Twiki] from Buck Rogers the TV show, just going "Bidi-bidi-bidi." So, the rest of the world will be like, "What the f***?" For certain people -- and I was one of them -- it would like, "Oh my God, I can't believe this is happening!"
That shot [in the audience] that we were apart of earlier is pretty quick and we're seeing some stuff here that makes it seem like Comic-Con is a montage. Is there extended stuff that goes on here or is it a very brief part of the film?
It's a pretty brief part of the film. It is kind of the set-up. It's probably less than the first ten minutes of the film.
So it's like the opening credit type.
It could end up being that. I mean, the pieces we're shooting now are montage pieces. There are some actual scenes that are coming up, but we're trying to get the story rolling so we don't spend an enormous amount of time at Comic-Con.
Can you talk about the challenge of working with Nick [Frost] and Simon [Pegg] together in the shadow of what they've done with Edgar?
Well it is a challenge. I mean, it's very intimidating because I think Edgar is an extraordinary director. I just made a decision I wasn't going to try to do what he does or try to make it feel like his style, because I wouldn't never be as good at it as he is. But what I did do is I did go back and re-watch a lot of Spielberg stuff -- early stuff like Duel and The Sugarland Express 'cause this is a road movie in the southwest -- and he has -- I mean he's a genius, but he has very deliberate, every shot counts for something. It's just like going back to film school, watching his films over and over again. I hope I absorbed some of it. This is a comedy and it has demands of a comedy. But I do feel that comedies are not usually expected to be cinematic and the studios don't give you enough time to make them cinematic [laughs], and we made a decision: we're going to try to make this cinematic.
How is Paul's life affected by befriending [Graham and Clive, Pegg and Frost's characters] and why does he come out of the shadows?
Seth Rogen made a good point. Seth's analogy was: Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop, and Simon's is: Ferris Bueller. He's not that guy who changes, he changes the people around him. He's actually quite fine the way he is. He's just sort of a catalyst for a bunch of people who are a bit repressed or need to come out of their shell or whatever, and he affects them. He's actually quite a liberal guy. And there's some stuff in this movie that hopefully you all think will be kind of cool for a mainstream film. I mean, there's discussions of theology and sexuality, 'cause Paul is a totally liberated character who has no hang-ups whatsoever. It pushes some buttons about Christianity and stuff like that, that I think we can sneak in because he's a fantasy character and you can say those things with a guy who's not real. If one of your favorite comics got up in a movie and started preaching about atheism, it might ruffle some feathers. But I think we can let our little alien guy say a whole bunch of things that are kind of provocative.