21 and Over might feel like a certain movie, and that is a very good thing. The Hangover and the new film that lands March 1 are from the same comic minds. Scott Moore and Jon Lucas penned the Bradley Cooper star-making comedy that has spawned two sequels and they are making their directorial debut from their 21 and Over script.
The duo sat down with Movie Fanatic for an exclusive interview to talk about the secret to their comedic success as well as how their latest film and The Hangover all share one thing in common: Stretching the boundaries of comedy. "We like to take genres that we love and bring them to comedy. Like with The Hangover, we love the Bourne movie and how Jason Bourne can’t remember his past. Well, what if Jason Bourne was a comedy? What if he had self-inflected amnesia and that would be a great comedy," Lucas said.
The idea for their latest, teased in the 21 and Over trailer, recalled a certain J.R.R. Tolkien series. "You could do an epic quest movie, like The Lord of the Rings, but instead of getting the ring to Mordor, you’re getting this little Asian dude home. We’re always trying to find new ways to bring comedy new structures."
At the heart of their latest film is Jeff Chang (Justin Chon), a straight-A student who has the unfortunate distinction of having his twenty-first birthday fall on the evening before his big medical school interview. His two best friends, Miller (Miles Teller) and Casey (Skylar Astin), have arrived to surprise their buddy and take him out for a night of debauchery. The three aren't just archetypes. They are fully drawn characters, and therein lay the secret to Moore and Lucas' success.
"Something that attracted us is that we love to write comedies that have great characters and funny jokes, but there are different sub-genres in comedy. You have the character-driven comedy, and then there’s a high concept comedy. What we have been recently gravitating to is the thought-driven comedy. There’s a story carrying you through," Moore said.
"Look, The Hangover did great and everyone on that team killed it. But, I think that mystery plot engages the audience in a way that doesn’t happen a lot in other comedies. In 21 and Over, there’s a plot at the center -- a quest to get this guy home -- and we think that is what keeps the audience on their toes. We like it when we keep the audience engaged and they’re not just laughing at the jokes, but also tracking the story."
The story finds that Jeff Chang does go out with his friends and nothing good comes of it... all to the hilarious delight of the audience.
Moore and Lucas admitted that making the jump to the directors' chair was not something they sought to achieve with their careers. "Well, first we were really excited. Then we thought, 'Oh (expletive),'" Moore said and laughed.
They sought help from friends who had achieved directing success as well as sought to hire the best from cast to crew to make their vision a reality.
"We sat down with our way more experienced and talented director friends. And we just downloaded all the information we needed. We learned that directing comes down to just hiring good people, especially for people like us who have no idea what we’re doing. You don’t have to know about cameras, just hire a guy who knows about cameras," Moore said.
"Even with the cast, make sure you get awesome actors who are also really funny guys who are willing to work for the team and not just for themselves. I think we got incredibly lucky. Like the scene with the bonfire and the buffalo that runs through the crowd. Nobody got hurt. It didn’t rain or we didn’t start a larger fire… we just were fortunate."
Lucas is worried that they may have used up all their good fortune on 21 and Over. "I’m sure if we get to do another movie it will be a complete disaster because we used up all our luck on this one,” Lucas added and laughed. "But, the key to success on this was we surrounded ourselves with experts from top to bottom. We were the idiots who had never done the job before."
"We would go to the Director of Photography or the editor and say, “We have no idea what we’re doing. Help us,” Moore interjected.
Lucas found that in Hollywood, admitting you don't know is actually respected. "People are responsive to that. People get in trouble when they act like they know what they’re talking about. If you’re honest with people, you’d be surprised how much people are willing to help you," Lucas said.
"I wish I could say this was part of our master plan. Truthfully, Scott and my career has just been fumbling forward hoping things work out. It was never our intention to direct. We wrote the script on spec and brought it to Relativity and it was their suggestion that we direct it. We looked at each other and were like, “OK.’” We’re suspicious why we got the director's job… we think it’s 'cause we’re really cheap," he said, laughing.
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