Greg Mottola didn't make a film for 11 years after his 1997 debut feature, TheDaytrippers, caused a small ripple in the indie world. What had gone wrong, he wondered? True, he'd directed some episodes for the TV series Undeclared and Arrested Development, but this was not the brilliant career he'd imagined for himself when he was a film student at Columbia. So when Undeclared's executive producer asked him whether he was interested in directing a small movie about a couple of teenagers trying to buy beer, he jumped at the opportunity.
IT WAS ALL GOING WRONG: And then Judd Apatow turned up.
The producer was Judd Apatow, the movie was Superbad, and things would never be the same for Mottola.
"It was a classic case of a filmmaker making every mistake he can in his career. Daytrippers opened doors for me, and I wrote a script for a film called Life of the Party that Columbia Pictures gave a green light to. It was cast, and I was location-scouting and hiring all my department heads, and then the studio got cold feet and decided for a number of reasons that the film was just too big a risk and too dark and put it in turn-around. Then I probably spent too much time after that trying to set it up elsewhere, and then I spent too much time feeling sorry for myself that it didn't work out. Because I saw myself as really wanting to be a kind of auteur-indie filmmaker who only writes and directs his own movies."
And now that's what he is, more or less. "Adventureland would not have been financed without Superbad. Every place we showed the Adventureland script to said, "We will make this, but only if you make it contemporary and make it more like Superbad" — in other words, a lot raunchier and a lot more jokes. Get rid of all the bittersweet stuff. To do it the way I saw it in my head, I had to do it on a much lower budget than I had for Superbad."
A number of filmmakers have made recent similar movies about their own coming of age. Noah Baumbach's The Squid and the Whale even starred Adventureland's lead actor, Jesse Eisenberg. Was this kind of film a director's rite of passage in itself?
"I remember a quote from one of the screenwriters of Casablanca. He liked American Graffiti, and someone asked him if he thought George Lucas was talented. He said that everyone has one autobiographical story in them. I guess everybody who writes wants to tell that story. For better or worse, I love personal storytelling. I loved The Squid and the Whale. I loved The 400 Blows. I love people who write about the specifics of their own experience, but I think you run the risk of losing audience members who haven't had similar experiences. That's why it's appropriate to make these films on a smaller scale."
Superbad fans need not despair, however. Mottola's next film, Paul, is a science-fiction comedy starring Simon Pegg. "In it two sci-fi nerds go on a road trip from the San Diego Comic Con to Area 51. They're from the UK, and this is their idea of the ideal American vacation. They meet an alien along the way. It's like Easy Rider or Five Easy Pieces with an alien."
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