Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Wolf Pack is back! (and the guy who wrote it)

Check out our exclusive interview with Craig Mazin, screenwriter of THE HANGOVER: Part II and 2011 AFF panelist. Craig Mazin is the co-writer of the hit comedies SCARY MOVIE 3 and 4. Most recently, he wrote THE HANGOVER: Part II with director Todd Phillips. Craig served on the Board of Directors of the Writers Guild of America, West from 2004 to 2006. He also runs The Artful Writer—a website for professional and aspiring screenwriters.

The sequel to 2009's smash hit comedy hits theaters this weekend, May 26th! Grab your friends and extended family members and check it out. Repeat.

AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL: How did your 'audition' process for THE HANGOVER: Part II go? Were you up against a ton of other writers, lobbying like crazy, knocking people in the knee caps?

CRAIG MAZIN: There wasn't really an audition. I've known Todd Phillips for years, and we've always made each other laugh as friends. So if there was any kind of audition, that was probably it. He was in a tough spot in terms of schedule, because he was editing DUE DATE while having to immediately get a draft going on THE HANGOVER: Part II, so he brought me in along with Scot Armstrong so that we could triple team it.

I wish there were more of a violent, bare-knuckles brawl story to tell about that, but it came down to this: "Hey Mazin, you wanna come write Hangover 2?" "Uhhhhh, YES."

AFF: Did you have table reads with the cast? Was there a lot of improvisation by the actors that made it into the final cut, or did everyone go straight from the script?

CM: We did have a table read shortly before we began shooting, which was really about helping us refine the script. Screenwriting is a big guess. Once you hear the cast perform the script, you can start to see where things might seem a bit too slow, or where a joke might not work. That said, I think the table read we had with the actors gave us a ton of confidence that we were in a good place with the script.

Most of the cast's improv and scene enhancement happened on the shooting days themselves. Todd and the guys would get the scene up on its feet in rehearsal, and then everyone would take a beat to figure out how to make the scene work as best as it could. At least in comedy, there's really no substitute for finding the right moment in the moment.

AFF: You went to Thailand during shooting and working on set isn't something screenwriters are always welcome to do. What was it like? Did you get to enjoy any of Thailand, or were you glued to your laptop the whole time?

CM: It was an incredible experience. Todd is great-- and smart-- in that he really appreciates having another storyteller with him on set to help get the most out of the pages. He's an excellent writer himself, so the funny thing is that he actually doesn't need another writer with him the way that many directors do... and yet he put a real premium on me being there, which is a testament to his confidence and sense of creative security.

Being on set is a job. I take that job seriously. There's nothing worse than being "that guy" on a set who isn't working. It's like being a non-combatant on a battlefield. Everyone else just stares at you like, "C'mon... do something or get lost." So yeah, I was glued to a monitor or glued to my laptop or standing with Todd and the cast while the guys got a scene up on its feet. I knew my role, and that was to watch and wait and be available for those moments here and there where I could help. The great thing about working with Todd is that he's the total package as a director. It's his set, he's the ultimate creative authority, but most importantly, he's really good at it. I trust him, the cast trusts him... and everything works as a function of that trust.

AFF: What are you working on now?

I'm writing and producing an animated feature film called "Turkeys," starring Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson and Steve Martin. I just finished an original screenplay that I did for producers Michael & Carla Shamberg and Stacey Sher. But as for what's next? You know, whatever Phillips wants to do. If he wants me there, I'm there. I don't care what it is. I just love writing for him.

AFF: You're a repeat offender at AFF. What's your advice for the uninitiated?

CM: If you don't like cigar smoke, avoid the balcony at the Driskill. That's our spot.

Have your own questions for Craig? Ask him at the 18th Annual Austin Film Festival, October 20 - 27, 2011!

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