Interview Date: 03/13/2010
Run Date: 03/24/2010
Within five seconds of meeting “Hot Tub Time Machine” director Steve Pink, we learned something very important: you don’t interview Steve Pink; Steve Pink interviews you. Before he had even sat down to discuss the movie – heck, before he was even in hearing range of our recorders – he was asking us if we liked the movie, and just as quickly asking us what we didn’t like about the movie, all before he had sat down. Never in our lives had we met a Hollywood player so willing to admit that they’re not perfect, and that openness led to a candid and entertaining conversation in which yours truly played the bad guy, though not always willingly.
Be advised, the “Hot Tub” plot is discussed at length and in detail, so SPOILERS abound, to say the least.
Steve Pink: Did you guys see the movie?
Pink: Did you like it?
Pink: What didn’t you like?
Writers: (crickets chirping)
Pink: Come on!
Bullz-Eye: Wow, you’re going after us!
Pink: Well, I haven’t done that yet, but I’m curious. Yeah, you’re gonna write what you’re gonna write!
Writers: (crickets chirping)
Pink: I’m sorry, forgive me. It’s a perfect film.
Writer: We were just talking about the Oscar nods [for the title alone].
Pink: So what’s bumming you about the movie?
Writer: Why Craig Robinson had to gain weight from his younger character. (Note: the writer who said this is black, a tad heavy, and totally kidding.)
Writer: When I saw this, I was assuming the cast was in it as a come-on in the beginning, and then it would be the younger actors playing it, so I was surprised to see Cusack and all them in the main part of the movie. I thought it was a blast, it was a lot of fun.
Writer: I’ll come up with some criticism before you go.
Pink: Good. You (points to Bullz-Eye) have one locked and loaded.
Bullz-Eye: I want to see it again, for two reasons. One, just because I want to see it again, but two, the crowd last night was obnoxious.
Pink: I heard.
Bullz-Eye: They talked through the whole thing, which made it difficult to stay in the moment.
Pink: Do you think it’s because they’re watching stuff online?
Writer: We didn’t [hear] the follow-up [jokes]. You get the joke, and they talk in between.
Pink: Right. And I cut it fast, too, because I don’t like waiting around for a joke. Seriously, everything is cut. There is not a lot of air, because when you watch a DVD of a movie, and there’s all this air, because that’s where the laughs were? I hate that. So, when you watch the DVD, it’ll be that speed. You don’t have to wait around [for the next joke]. (Looks at Bullz-Eye) So you didn’t like the movie, then.
Bullz-Eye: (Begins to protest, then resigns) I felt it was uneven. But I need to think about it more.
Pink: Uneven’s fine with me, if that’s what you think. Some people are going to love the movie, some people are going to hate the movie, and some people are going to think it’s uneven.
Bullz-Eye: I wish I liked it more.
Writer: We were talking about the Black Eyed Peas song [“Let’s Get It Started”], and what other possibilities there could have been there. That is the “Back to the Future,” “Johnny Be Good” moment.
Writer: Were there other songs that you considered?
Pink: I just wanted it to be a song that would last, if you watched the movie five years from now. What I like about the Black Eyed Peas is I think their music has great longevity, so that was one of the criteria. Gnarls Barkley would have been great too, I think. Their music’s terrific, it’s going to be around for a long time, and I tried to find music that would be around a long time. And Black Eyed Peas is one of those groups, to me. It sounds like you’re not so…
Writer: I like their older stuff, but as they got more popular, I got less interested. And I heard [“Let’s Get It Started”] so much that it’s just burned in my brain.
Pink: But that’s the other thing; it had to be popular enough, too. Because there’s a lot of music I like that no one would have even known. I mean, there’s tons of alt-music from anywhere from 1999 to now that I love that we could have also [used], but I don’t know that it would have been clear that it was a song from the future if people didn’t know the song. A joke like that has a lot of weight.
Bullz-Eye: You’re pretty hands-on with the music [in your movies]. Were there any songs that you’ve wanted to use for a movie that just got away?
Pink: It happens all the time.
Writer: What was the biggest example?
Pink: There are always songs that are too expensive, or won’t clear [the artist’s permission]. Even “Accepted,” I wanted Arcade Fire for some of it. And they were like, “For your teen movie? No. How about ‘no’?” So that happens a lot. Some bands will reject you, and some bands will reject you because they don’t have their music in movies, period. There are always different reasons why the songs you want don’t even up in the movie. One could be the artist doesn’t even put their music in movies. It could be that the rights are split among a band that’s no longer together, between different publishers and musicians. So it’s difficult to wrangle everyone to get on the same page as you, and sometimes it’s just too expensive. I’ll watch Scorsese movies, and I’ll go get a calculator. “Ah, another Rolling Stones song. ‘Monkey Man’? That’s cool, man.”
Bullz-Eye: Aren’t the Stones one of those bands where they’ll let you use a song in a movie but it can’t be on the soundtrack?
Pink: A lot of bands do that, but that doesn’t make it cheaper.
Writer: Were there any iconic ‘80s moments that you decided to cut [from “Hot Tub”], or you couldn’t get in the movie for timing? You got so many things in there, from Alf to Reagan, I was wondering what didn’t get in.
Pink: I’m trying to think what I didn’t get in there. Well, Prince, for example…there’s a whole African-American pop culture thing going on in the ‘80s, and..
Writer [the previously mentioned black one]: …and we didn’t even know Poison.
Pink: Exactly. Prince should have been in the movie. I think I tried to get “Kiss.” I don’t think I tried, actually, because I was like, “What about ‘Kiss’?” And they were like, “Ha!” You’re not gonna ask, because he’s just one of those guys who doesn’t give his music away.
Writer: “Girl 6,” the Spike Lee movie, was the only time he did it.
Pink: And that’s just a random filmmaker, too. He’s only the foremost black filmmaker, so yeah. He could get that shit; we couldn’t. We were just talking about, why didn’t I have Nick in leather pants? Because that was so big. Eddie Murphy in “Raw,” like, brothers were wearing leather pants!
Writer: Craig told us he had a pair.
Pink: Yeah! I was like, what was I thinking? What was he thinking? Yeah, “My Adidas,” why didn’t I have Run-DMC and “My Adidas” in my movie? There were just tons of references. I wish I had more…some of it was a selection process, but other times, I was just trying to get as much as I could in, and make it work. But there are tons of ideas that are totally underrepresented in the movie.
Writer: Was it easy to bring Crispin Glover in? Because he’s not doing so many films now.
Pink: It’s because he’s particular. He isn’t going to do just anything; he decides what he wants to do, and I think he liked the vibe enough to do it. I think it’s very important for Crispin to like what he’s doing, so he had to really like us and go along with this crazy-ass idea, knowing that he has an iconic status by virtue of doing the most famous time travel movie. So he had to weigh that and figure out how to separate himself from that. I liked the choice we made where we let everyone live in the new reality. A lot of people don’t know Crispin was in “Back to the Future,” but they enjoy that weird-ass, one-armed bellhop. And we did that a lot. We did it with Zapka [William Zapka, a.k.a. Johnny from “The Karate Kid,” who makes a memorable cameo], we did it with John [Cusack], so we had tons of references, but at the same time, we wanted things to exist in their own right. And I think it’s just more fun that way. Otherwise, it would just be a parody movie. (Looks to Bullz-Eye) So as uneven as it was… (Smiles), we didn’t fuck that up.
Pink: I actually have a good relationship with critics. You have to identify everything that you like and don’t like that you see, and that’s your job.
Bullz-Eye: So you’re not going to pull a Noah Baumbach and ban me from the screening of your next movie?
Pink: No, because people are going to see it whether you like it or not. And people are not going to see it whether you like it or not. Are all 300 million people in America going to see this movie? Obviously not. “The Hangover” is its own great thing that occurred last year, and we’re just another comedy. We share a lot of similarities, but we were shooting…I’m not even going to compare [“Hot Tub” to “The Hangover”], because they’re the fucking masters. Like it or not, they have one of the most successful R-rated movies in history. So I’m not going to compare us to that. We’re just trying to provide 90 minutes of comedy and get out alive.
Writer: So that is Zapka, that is Johnny from “The Karate Kid.”
Pink: Right. And we could have had him come in and be the “Karate Kid” guy, but it was more fun to have him fill that role for that ridiculous club scene. And we said, “You don’t have to be that guy, you don’t have to be a parody of yourself,” because that’s a little depressing. And (again looks at Bullz-Eye), I hate to keep going back to you, but I’m happy with the choices I made. There may be things about the movie that you don’t like that I also don’t like. Like, ‘I wasn’t able to execute these things that I really wanted to execute well, and didn’t for various reasons, and I agree with you.’ On the other hand, my approach, say, with a character like that, whether you like it or not, I like. So it’s fine that you don’t like something, I guess that’s what I’m getting at. You always want the movie to be better, so the areas that you identify aren’t as good, I’ll be like, “Yeah, I wish that was better, too.” And for all of you, areas that you didn’t like in the movie that I just love? Well, awesome! Sorry you didn’t like it, bro. I fucking love it! That’s my thing. That’s what I’m doing, that’s what I’m presenting to you. If you don’t like it? That’s fine. I fucking think it’s awesome.
Writer: Talk about the arm-loss gags. Crispin mentioned one about a tire.
Pink: The tire was one of those things. When they originally go to the ski patrol house, he’s fixing a tire, which is why, you know he drives them there? Why does the one-armed bellhop drive them to the ski patrol? Because they asked him to! Awesome. But in the original script, he happens to be fixing a partier’s flat or something, so he was there when they got there, which seemed to be a little more organic. The gag is funny when you’re coming upon the gag, so that was another version where we were coming upon the gag, and the truck’s going to fall on his arm. But because of the circumstances of how much time we had to shoot in that location, we couldn’t do it. So we had to think of another gag. Did he tell you about some of the others? There were some things he kept rejecting. We’d pitch them and he…and he had a really good point, which was that he didn’t want to be passive in the gag, which was really smart. That being said, I thought of a lot of funny passive gags. At Winterfest, we had a giant turntable, and people were throwing knives at him. I just thought that was really funny as the Winterfest game. Or maybe it was hatchets. But he was right in that it shouldn’t be passive. So we came up with the elevator gag. Also, his arm catching on fire was a favorite.
Writer: Along with having Crispin and Chevy [Chase] in the film, John signed on and produced it. With references to “Better Off Dead,” skiing movies and ‘80s movies, did he have any concerns about doing this project?
Pink: I think he had the same concerns as the other actors who worked on the project. That’s why we took a subtle approach to it, so we stuffed it with the references, and if you’re getting them, great, and if not, great. I think he was satisfied with that, because he’s right that we had to make it funny and tell a story without being supported entirely by [the ‘80s references]. If people don’t know those references, they don’t get the movie. So we couldn’t rely on it that much, anyway. So then how do you expose it in the film, but not rely on it? There’s a variation on that. Some things we’re pushing attention to, like Reagan and the “Miami Vice” guy, and in other cases, he’s just wearing the trench coat. I didn’t even show him putting it on. There’s no (starts singing the theme from “Rocky”), we didn’t play “Rocky” and have him put it on in one of those gearing-up montages. Some things, we just let exist, and if you get it, great. And others, we shined a light on.
Writer: Was it always designed to be a vehicle for John?
Pink: Yeah. He developed it before I was brought on. He joined “Hot Tub Time Machine” before I did, and then he brought me in.
Writer: And then having the experience of working with him on “Grosse Pointe Blank…”
Pink: It helps tone-wise. You don’t have to have a lot of conversations about what the tone of it is. We struck our however ridiculous tone. Also, I think there is a certain authentic tone that you can argue is similar to the tones we struck in other movies. John’s always had a darkly comic view of the world, and he’s always managing, I wouldn’t say extraordinary circumstances, but certainly crazy and absurd circumstances. Whether it’s “High Fidelity,” where he’s got all these things hammering him from all sides, whether it’s his girlfriend of Jack Black. And in “Grosse Pointe Blank,” he’s managing people trying to kill him and going to his high school reunion. So he’s always been brilliant, I think, at managing crazy circumstances and having this cool and darkly comic view of it. As our protagonist, he’s always looked at things in this funny and intelligent way. So him being our guide through “Hot Tub,” he satisfies that very well, that ‘Fuck, I’m in these crazy circumstances.’ And everyone else is going crazy, and he’s trying to keep his shit together, which is part of what he does so well.
Bullz-Eye: Clark Duke said that you and Cusack are like twins, that you have your own language.
Pink: Yeah. It goes with the territory of knowing him so long, I think. Like, we’re like “Highlander.” We’re the warrior princes that battle throughout the centuries knowing that there can be only one. We have a shorthand at this.
Bullz-Eye: So who’s going to be the one?
Pink: Me! Well, I don’t know, whoever has empathy at that moment…
Bullz-Eye: …and you drop your sword a little bit.
Pink: That’s right. If you flinch in the moment, “I’ve known you for centuries, you’re my good friend”? You’re fucking toast. It’s either him or me, you know what I’m saying?
Writer: Craig Robinson said that before a scene, you’d both offer advice, and it would be the polar opposite of the other.
Pink: Me and John?
Bullz-Eye: And that he’d ignore you both.
Pink: That’s good advice. I have actually relied on actors to ignore my advice on pretty much everything I said throughout most of the movie.
Writer: Craig and Rob and Clark are blowing up now as comedy guys. What were you looking for in the characters that you found in them?
Pink: Well, to me, they all have a different speed. So they don’t crowd each other. (Laughs, looks to Bullz-Eye) You’re actually in a terrible position, because I want to keep saying, “With all due respect…”
Bullz-Eye: Don’t worry about me. Just let me have it. It’s all right, I can take it.
Pink: (Chuckles) Contrary to the way some people might imagine it…in this room…these guys all have a different way of delivering their comedy, in that they don’t crowd each other and are able to work together well. They all get laughs from different places. Again, contrary to some beliefs in the room…
Bullz-Eye: Did I say that? (Note: I never said that. In fact, I totally agree with him.)
Pink: No, and by the way, I think it’s clear that they all get laughs from different places, so they are a great group. They all give you something different to enjoy, and that’s how the dynamic of the group is created. If they’re all the same ‘guy’…
Bullz-Eye: It’s just chatter.
Pink: ...then it’s not funny, and it’s just the same joke over and over. Which is not bad, if it’s a really good joke. But it’s better to be more dynamic.
Writer: “Grosse Pointe Blank” is one of my favorite movies of all time.
Writer: Me, too.
Pink: Oh, thanks, guys.
Writer: Have you and John discussed a sequel, or is “War, Inc.” the unofficial sequel?
Pink: You’d have to ask John, because I didn’t do “War, Inc.,” but I think that “War, Inc.” is definitely a cousin, it could have been [“Grosse Pointe’s”] twin brother, in a way. The world that it’s in, the similarities are incontrovertible, but I wouldn’t say it’s a sequel. It’s more like “The Simarillion.” You know that reference? “It’s more like ‘The Simarillion,’ gents!” It’s J.R.R. Tolkein’s historical…there’s “Lord of the Rings,” and “The Hobbit,” and then “The Simarillion” is a book he wrote which is massively boring, and gives detailed ancestry of Middle Earth. But (back to the question) I’d love to do a sequel. There’s been talk about it for a long time.
Writer: If there is any project you could reboot, which one would it be?
Pink: Of my own? Of anyone else’s?
Bullz-Eye: How about one of each?
Pink: Well, I have a really weird one, because…the weird one is “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” John and I co-directed the American Stage premiere of the movie, we revised our own adaptation of it, which ran in Chicago for a couple of months. I love Terry Gilliam and Johnny Depp’s version, but we want to do our own version, so I would have liked to have gotten a shot to do that movie. We really loved the Hunter S. Thompson aesthetic, and this was not a movie, but “Fear and Loathing in Elko” was this great article that Thompson wrote. So I think that there’s a Hunter S. Thompson movie in us, too. Everyone gives it a shot, and I’m convinced that we know how to do it the best. Sorry, great actors Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro and brilliant director Terry Gilliam, I still think that we have something to offer in the Hunter S. Thompson canon. In terms of remaking movies, I’d make “Grosse Pointe Blank 2.” I’d love that.
Writer: If not “Grosse Pointe Blank 2,” have you and John talked about another project together?
Pink: Yeah, we’ve had a lot of them over the years. I was his partner for ten years, in film, when we were doing those movies, and there were a lot of great projects. There is one that we didn’t get to make that I love still. It’s based on a book called “The Man Who Robbed the Pierre.” It’s a true story about these guys in the 1970s who went around robbing all the five-star hotels in New York. And the reason no one knows about it is because the Association of Hotels kept it really quiet, because it would kill tourism in New York. But Bobby Comfort, the mastermind of it, his partner in it had a gambling problem and he fenced the stuff they stole too early, and Bobby Comfort was connected to it and did four years. But when he got out, he had many millions of dollars that they didn’t confiscate, so he lived on a horse farm in Jersey. And they would do these outrageous things, the biggest one being that they robbed the Pierre on New Year’s Eve, I think it was in ’71 or ’72, and supposedly Nixon was going to stay there that night. So they would keep the hotel operating at night, and then they would rob it. And they would wear outrageous costumes, because if anyone identified them, they would say, “He was wearing platform shoes and a velvet suit.” They stole Sofia Loren’s jewelry, and then gave some of it back/ They stole $750,000 from the Republic…(in suspicious tone) there was $750,000 of the Republican National Committee’s money in the safe that night, for some reason, and they stole it.
Bullz-Eye: I’d see that movie.
Pink: It’d be awesome, right? A great heist movie from the 1970s. We developed that for a long time with [Robert] Zemeckis’ company, actually. And it’s just one of those things, you know? It’s hard to get movies made.
At this point, we were five minutes over our 20-minute time, and the rep called it a day.
Post Script: So after taking that verbal beating from Pink for 25 minutes - he may have said that he was okay with someone telling him they thought his movie was uneven, but he clearly wasn't okay with it - I saw the movie a second time...and liked it much, much more. What was the difference the second time around? I could actually hear the dialogue, rather than having it get drowned out by the incessant chatter of the (drunk) moviegovers. Amazing what a difference that makes.