The Case of Parks and Rec

Well, as we celebrated women’s history this month, we decided it was time to talk about one of the strongest female characters to ever grace our TV sets: Leslie Knope. That’s right, cassettes, this week we’re taking a trip to Pawnee, the greatest city in Indiana, probably the greatest city in America, possibly the greatest city in the world! 

In 2009, Parks and Recreation aired on NBC. It was a mockumentary-style show, similar to the intensely popular sitcom, The Office. It followed the parks department in the city of Pawnee over the course of seven seasons. Audiences fell in love with the remarkable ensemble cast, led by SNL veteran Amy Poehler, and featuring breakout stars like Chris Pratt, Aubrey Plaza, and Aziz Ansari. 

This week, we’re diving into the history of this wonderfully heartwarming and hilarious show that birthed countless internet memes and made its mark as one of the greatest American television shows of all time. So it’s time to raise a glass of Snake Juice and “get on your feet,” because Parks and Rec is on. 

THE MOCKUMENTARY

  • Parks and Rec is a government satire mockumentary-style show. The idea of satire is not new, as it dates back to the Roman Empire. It’s a powerful tool that can paint some of the most mundane or troubling occurrences as something completely ridiculous. Satire can change minds, lift moods, and of course be entertaining as hell. 
  • The idea of presenting fiction as reality for entertainment purposes (ie. the mockumentary) is a far more recent occurrence. Some would consider Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds broadcast as one of the first mockumentaries, although it incited panic instead of laughs. Still, the concept of false news articles was on the rise. By the 1960’s, the rock documentary “A Hard Day’s Night” broke ground as it ventured into mockumentary territory with its coverage of Beatles hysteria. 
  • This film led to the king of all mock docs, Rob Reiner and Christopher Guests’ “This is Spinal Tap” in 1984. The genre has evolved since then, however this film is one of the most famous and will likely never be topped. 
  • In 2001, the UK sitcom “The Office” revolutionized the format and showed how it could work for TV. Of course, show creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant signed off on an American version, with Greg Daniels. The American Office took off, gaining an intense fan following and lasting 9 seasons. The characters addressed the camera directly, with interesting asides and funny glances. The format was based on the idea that there was an in-universe film crew creating a documentary about the employees of a Pennsylvania paper company. 
  • After a few incredibly successful seasons, NBC asked Greg Daniels to create another show, and gave him the creative freedom to do whatever he wanted. 

HOW THE SHOW GOT STARTED

  • When NBC asked Greg Daniels to produce another show, he turned to Michael Schur for help. Schur was a co-executive producer on The Office with Daniels, and had worked as a producer on SNL. 
    • Together, the two men created a pitch for a show that followed a dedicated person in local government, working with a group of apathetic people. One of their first ideas was to play on the format of The Office, creating a fictionalized version of a work setting. While The Office took place in the private sector, this show would follow characters in the public sector. 
    • They imagined the show as a comedy version of The West Wing. Instead of the high stakes of a federal government drama, this comedy would follow the low stakes and bureaucratic nonsense of local government. 
      • The show would specifically depict how people are affected by the actions of people in local government. 
    • They created a character named Leslie Knope, a strong, intelligent woman who is passionate about local government, but with no political know-how. At first, the audience didn’t receive the character the way the creators intended. Craig Daniels told The Guardian in 2019, “We didn’t do a great job at first. Instead of coming off as a smart, driven person with no political acumen, Leslie came off as a buffoon[…] We were blowing it because we were writing her as a stuffy politician and not a three-dimensional human being.” 
    • According to Greg Daniels, people had described her as a “bimbo.” He said, “That word was actually used, which was so horrifying because we pitched the show to NBC as like, this is a show about a strong willed, capable, feminist sort of forward thinking woman and her best friend who she makes in the pilot, […] and to hear the word “bimbo” applied to that character, it was–it was awful. It was truly awful.”
      • The creators made adjustments, altering the way other characters reacted to Leslie. Instead of rolling their eyes, everyone would agree that she was the best at what she did. Characters would keep their own agendas to create some conflicts, but they would all ultimately listen to Leslie in the end. 
      • The changes made an incredible difference. Leslie went from an awkward, yet well-meaning buffoon to a capable and strong female leader. 
    • Both creators knew that their main character needed to embody the essence of the show, and they needed a comedian with the chops to carry the role. Mike Schur had worked with Amy Poehler on SNL, and she seemed like a great choice for the lead.
      • NBC was on board, and they wanted to premiere the show after the Super Bowl. But, Poehler was 9 months pregnant and due to give birth when they would have had to film the pilot. They were so certain that Poehler was the only person that could nail the role, so they passed on one of the best time slots in TV to wait until after she gave birth.
    • The creators adopted the belief early on that relationships and characters are more important than premise. Michael Schur said “If you design a show around the idea, what happens often I think, is it makes for an amazing pilot. Because the pilot is a movie that has an incredible high premise and you get a great cliffhanger and whatever. And then the premises burns off and you’re left with not a lot of stuff because you haven’t made room for small, intimate character dynamics that are the things that are slow burning logs that keep the flame going for a long time.”
    • They wanted viewers to have an emotional connection to Parks and Rec. Schur and the other writers weren’t afraid to have moments where the show wasn’t “funny,” and show moments where characters acted to real-world emotion.

SYNOPSIS

Meet Leslie Knope. She’s the deputy director of the Parks and Recreation Department of Pawnee, IN. Ms. Knope may seem like just another civil servant, held back by red tape, but under her bubbly exterior there is a fierce woman, capable of anything. Leslie faces many challenges, some brought on by her Libertarian boss, Ron Swanson and the other apathetic or incompetant members of her department. Ultimately, her passion for government and the people of Pawnee inspires everyone around her. 

PRODUCTION

  • Parks and Rec had a long list of writers, including Greg Daniels, Michael Schur, Harris Wittels, Kate Dippold, and Amy Poehler. 
    • During the 100th episode Feature, Amy Poehler revealed that they had written 3300 pages of script by 31 writers. 
  • The show was shot by a crew of about 22 people each episode. The show had almost 40 different directors throughout its run, with producer Dean Holland directing the most episodes, according to IMDB. 
  • The crew would run through each scene at least twice. In the first run-through, actors would stick to the script. Then, they shot a “fun run” where the actors were encouraged to have fun with the scene and improvise lines. Because of this, hilarious improvisations are speckled all throughout the show, like when Rob Lowe stared intensely into the mirror and said, “Stop. Pooping” during the “Flu Season” episode. 
  • Amy Poehler said of production, “I love the way we shoot. We do seven, eight pages a day. There are a lot of quick setups. We do a lot of takes and get to improvise a lot. Her situations suggest things that we can try on the fly. Certainly, the form lends itself to that.” 
  • Each episode was about 23 minutes long. For some of their episodes, producers created an extended cut. When the show streamed on Netflix, the producer’s cuts were available to viewers. 
    • Michael Schur believed that the time constraints brought a better final result because the episodes were not bloated and had good pacing. One thing that really helped with that was having to work around commercials. This forced the writers to break the show into acts, allowing characters to have their own adventures and come together during a universal event. He believed network tv saved him from his worst instincts, and helped everyone tell a better story.
  • Location
    • Over the course of filming, Parks and Rec used hundreds of sets. The exterior shot of Pawnee’s city hall is actually Pasadena, California’s City Hall. Throughout the series only tight shots of the building were used since Pawnee is meant to be a small town. In the finale episode however the building was shown in all its magnificence. The interior of the building was located on a soundstage, including the “outside” courtyard shots. The crew would make it appear as if it were raining outside the offices along the courtyard, and would bring in pigeons to make it appear as if they were outside. 
      • Many of the other buildings used were also located within California. As of the 100th episode, the show had been filmed in 8 different cities across two continents. 
      • The infamous pit that is featured heavily in the first seasons, had to be created by the production crew. It was located on the Southeast corner of Hazeltine Avenue and Collins Street, in Van Nuys California. It did stay an empty lot for a long time but finally in 2015 construction began and it now is fully developed and no longer recognizable as Parks and Rec. Sadly it is not a park.
        • When they were getting ready to film, the showrunners visited the people that lived along the lot and asked them what they wanted it to be. They were all very accommodating people, especially the people that owned Ann’s house, which was used frequently in the first few seasons. 

STARRING

  • Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope
    • Amy Poehler is a comedy legend and founding member of the Upright Citizens Brigade, one of the most well-known improv comedy troupes in America. She has acted in films like Moxie, Baby Mama, and Inside Out.
    • Poehler wrote 5 episodes of Parks and Rec, and directed 3 episodes. 
    • Her favorite scene from the show was in the pilot episode, as Leslie stares out the window at the rain, thinking about the park project that starts the series. 
    • When asked in 2009 what she liked most about the character she said “There’s nothing cool about her. It’s fun to play someone who’s well-intentioned but doesn’t know the game. I enjoy competent but misguided characters. She’s an open-faced sandwich, and because of that, she doesn’t have anything savvy about her.”
  • Rashida Jones as Ann Perkins
    • She has been in Angie Tribecca, The Office, Celeste and Jesse Forever, The Social Network, and I Love You Man.
    • Amy Poehler loved the idea of a strong female friendship at the forefront of the show. That friendship was easy to act with Rashida Jones, as the two of them had already been friends for years. 
    • In an interview Amy and Rashida had this exchange:
      • Amy Poeler-Do you hate being asked what it is like being a woman in comedy?
      • Rashida Jones- Yes.
      • Amy-Is there an answer you wish you could say that you’ve never been able to?
      • Rashida- Ask me something else… That’s not stupid.
  • Nick Offerman as Ron Swanson
    • He has been in The Founder, Fargo, and Nick Offerman: American Ham (which is a live taping of one of his standups.)
    • Nick Offerman auditioned for The Office. Even though he was not cast, Mike Schur kept his name and called him for Parks and Rec. Originally he was thought of for a love interest role to Rashida Jones’ Ann Perkins. They felt the role of Leslie’s boss made more sense. 
    • While they were doing research for the show, Daniels and Schur actually came across a woman who was in government and a libertarian. This was an inspiration for Ron. 
    • Michael Schur said that some of his favorite scenes to write were the ones between Ron and Leslie because they work so well together. Leslie always reminds Ron that these people are his friends and Ron helps to keep Leslie grounded.
  • Aubrey Plaza as April Ludgate
    • She has been in Safety Not Guaranteed, Dirty Grandpa, and Ingrid Goes West.
    • The character of April Ludgate was written for Aubrey because the casting director thought she was the weirdest person. When she went into an interview with Michael Schur she made him feel incredibly uncomfortable and old, mostly because she didn’t talk. After the meeting he immediately wrote a scene where Leslie is hiring a young intern and the intern makes her feel the exact same way.
    • Plaza is friends with Amy Poehler, and once greeted her at the airport dressed as an alien, to cheer her up during her divorce. 
    • During the 100th episode feature, she insisted on being interviewed in a tree, and refused to answer the questions. As you can see, many of these actors fit their characters super well.
  • Chris Pratt as Andy Dwyer
    • He is of course Starlord in the Marvel Universe, Owen in Jurassic World, and Emmet in The Lego Movie. 
    • Andy was not intended to be a regular character of the show. Showrunners planned for his arc to end after season 1, but they liked Pratt so much in the role that they brought him back.
    • His favorite Parks moment was when April and Andy drove to the Grand Canyon. He had not seen the Grand Canyon before, so his reaction was genuine. He felt it was just a very nice moment for April and Andy. 
    • In the season 2 episode, “Kaboom” Chris Pratt showed up to Ann’s house naked. He was supposed to wear nude underwear for the scene, but took them off to get a better reaction from Amy Poehler. He got an official reprimand for the stunt, which he reportedly framed. 
  • Aziz Ansari as Tom Haverford
    • He has been in Master of None, Epic, 30 Minutes or Less, and Darryl in Bob’s Burgers.
    • A talented stand-up comedian, Aziz improvised a lot of lines as Tom Haverford. Tom was a breakout character on the show, and was heavily influenced by Aziz.
    • Aziz said that his favorite thing about the show was the news anchor Perd Hapley.
  • Jim O’heir as Jerry Gergich
    • He has been in Smothered by Mothers, Bad Times at the El Royale, and Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.
    • O’heir actually auditioned for Ron Swanson, but the creators loved him so much, they made sure to find the right character for him to play. 
    • It’s a long running gag in the show that Jerry/Gary/Larry is hated by the department. This is especially funny to the showrunners because Jim O’heir is universally loved. 
  • Retta as Donna Meagle
    • Retta has been in Fracture, Good Boys, To the Bone, and her voice in the new Ducktales as Magic Harp.
    • Retta is a talented comedian and trained opera singer! She sings in the episode, “Leslie and Ben” as they get married in the office. 
    • Her favorite Parks moment was from season 2, when Chris Pratt fights a possum. She said that she saved it on her DVR for two years!
  • Adam Scott as Ben Wyatt
    • He has been in Step Brothers, Friends With Kids, and Torque.
    • He loved the episode “Media Blitz” where the show explores Ben’s past as a boy mayor. 
  • Rob Lowe literally as Chris Traeger
    • He was literally in St. Elmo’s Fire, The Outsiders, Tommy Boy, and Wayne’s World.
    • Rob had just bought into the Miramax Library when meeting with Michael Schur for the first time. When Schur asked him how he came about doing that, Rob began his story with Chris Traeger’s now well known catchphrase of “literally.” 
  • Paul Schnieder as Mark Brandanawicz
    • He has been in Lars and the Real Girl, Chance, and American Murderer
    • Paul Schnieder left the show after the second season, opening the door for the Ben and Chris characters. He later said he left because of creative differences. It was mostly because the show shifted its emotional focus after the first season, which worked for the other characters but didn’t seem to work as well for Mark. 
  • Jay Jackson as Perd Hapley
    • He was in Fast Five, Battleship, and Scandal. 
    • Perd Hapley always over-explains in the best way possible.
  • Ben Schwartz as Jean-Ralphio
    • He has been in Space Force, Sonic The Hedgehog (2020), and the new Ducktales.
    • When Ben Schwartz auditioned, he originally tried for the character Dave, a cop that Leslie has a relationship with. Because he felt too young to play that character, Louis CK won the role instead. Michael Schur liked Shwartz so much, he wrote another character for him to play, Jean-Ralphio. 
    • The character was meant to only have a couple lines, but was received so well, he went on to appear in 21 episodes of the show! 
  • Jenny Slate as Mona-Lisa
    • She has been in Obvious Child, Zootopia, Gifted, and Bob’s Burgers.
  • Billy Eichner as Craig Middlebrooks
    • He was in Billy on the Street, The Angry Birds Movie, and Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising. 
  • Harris Wittels as Harris
    • Michael Schur’s time on The Office and SNL inspired him to bring writers into the show as actors (a popular practice for both of the aforementioned shows). Many of the Parks writers appeared in the show, sometimes as recurring characters. Writer Harris Wittles appeared frequently as a stoned animal control worker. As co-executive producer, Wittles wrote 12 episodes of the show, making a profound impact on its success. 
    • Wittels was an incredibly gifted comedian that started writing for shows in his early 20’s. In January of 2015, Wittles passed away suddenly at the age of 30. The final frame of the Parks and Rec finale showed the word, “We love you, Harris.” 

RECEPTION/ IMPACT

  • When the show was on the air for the first year in 2009 the Parks and Recreation publication had an article about how those who worked in the field felt about the mockumentary. While there were varying thoughts, many agreed that it was humurous.
    • Jim Dumont from Walla Walla, Washington said ”As a politician once said, ‘ I don’t care what you report as long as you spell my name correctly.’ It sort of holds true here,..it does give our profession exposure. I am not really sure if it helps us or hurts us, but I am not really concerned about it because it is a sitcom and I hope those who watch it understand that (even though some of the stuff we deal with is pretty funny).”
  • In June 2015 it was People Magazine’s number three pick for what to see, hear, read, or download for the week.
  • The show was nominated for several emmys, but never won. It was also nominated three times for the Golden Globes and never won. Amy Poehler did win a Golden Globe for her performance as Leslie Knope. 
  • The 2020 reunion special aired last March and was a welcome relief during the ongoing pandemic. 

RUNNING GAGS/JOKES/ ETC.

  • Treat Yo’ Self
    • This was one of Aziz Ansari’s favorite bits on the show
  • Awkward run-ins with Councilman Howser
  • Jerry’s name change
  • Tom’s crazy ideas for businesses
  • Leslie’s amazing compliments towards her best friend Ann
  • A lot seemed to deal with food…
    • Leslie’s waffle obsession
    • Ben’s love of Calzones
    • Ron’s need for breakfast foods

FAVORITE EPISODES 

  • The Pilot
  • Ron and Tammy
    • Nick Offerman said this was his most memorable episode, as he got to work with his wife, performing ridiculous animalistic sexual behavior
  • Galentine’s Day
  • Telethon
  • The Master Plan
  • Flu Season
    • “You could have network connectivity problems” – Adam Scott referred to this improvised line as one of the best lines in comedy 
  • The Harvest Festival
  • April and Andy’s Fancy Party
  • The Fight
    • A peak Jean-Ralphio episode!
  • The Comeback Kid
  • Halloween Surprise
    • Michael Schur wrote the proposal scene just after finding out that the show wasn’t nominated for an emmy. Amy Poehler said it was one of her favorite show moments and they didn’t make any changes to his initial scene. 

Parks and Recreation is a comedic masterpiece. It holds one of the greatest ensemble casts American television has ever seen. It’s incredible that all of this talent somehow met together at the exact right time to make this show. 

It’s a perfect blend of heartwarming and hilarious, as comedic storylines always pause at the exact right moment to let the characters be *almost* real people. It’s a show about friendship, love, service, and respect. Leslie Knope is powerful. She inspires the other characters, and the people watching. She’s a goddess, a glorious female warrior; and she makes us all feel like we can do anything if we just make enough binders. 

So with that, I’m Robin HAPP-ley, and the thing about this case is…it’s closed! 

Before we go, we’d like to thank our Patrons! Joel, John, Jacob, Jacklyn, JD, Anthony, Shelli, and Linda.


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The Case of Teen Wolf

So as we wrapped up our month of horror, we thought of the perfect movie to help us transition into the Spring season. Its got everything: a touch of horror, a little bit of romance, some basketball, and a whole lot of fun! We’re talking about the 1985 Michael J. Fox film, Teen Wolf! 

In the early 1980’s, Michael J. Fox was the good-natured Alex P. Keaton on Family Ties, a somewhat-popular sitcom. When the show got a new timeslot, it jumped to number 2 in the ratings. By the mid 1980’s, Michael J. Fox was a bonafide star, appearing in the wildly popular Back to the Future and of course, Teen Wolf. 

Since we’re coming off of Frightening February and into March, we thought it would make sense to do an episode that mixes horror with basketball! We’re not going to lie to you and say that Teen Wolf is Fox’s best film–or even his second best. But, it’s a wonderfully entertaining piece of 1980’s pop culture, and we’re excited to talk about it. 

HISTORY OF WEREWOLVES

  • Teen Wolf features the concepts of one of the most classic monsters: The Werewolf. So, we thought it was appropriate to talk a little bit about the history of the werewolf! We will have more werewolf episodes in the future, so we will have more chances to dive into this mythology! 
  • Werewolves are an ancient part of folklore. How ancient? Well, scholars aren’t entirely sure. Some say the first known mention of a werewolf was in the Epic of Gilgamesh, which was written in about 2100 BC. The text mentions a woman that turned her lover into a wolf. Since then, humans taking the form of wolves appeared in Greek Mythology and Nordic Folklore. Each time, though, werewolves were wild beasts hungry for human flesh. The idea of the friendly werewolf doesn’t come from classic literature. 
  • There was a string of serial killers that also claimed to be werewolves in the 15th and 16th centuries! 
  • The lore of the werewolf has cited many ways in which people can change into the animal. Some stories included enchanted pelts or elixirs, and many claimed the cause was a curse or exposure through a bite or wound from another werewolf. 
  • The most well-known mythology today is that mankind changes into a werewolf when a full moon appears, and it can be killed with a silver bullet. Werewolves are mortal beings and can be killed by many of the things that would kill humans. 
  • If you’ve ever seen Teen Wolf, then you know that it doesn’t really follow much of this mythology. It adds some head-scratching details. For example, being a werewolf apparently makes you really good at basketball! 

SYNOPSIS

Scott Howard is your average high school kid. He plays for the basketball team (though they have never won a game) and has a crush on the popular girl. He also has a quirky best friend, and girl-next-door who adores him. One day, Scott starts to notice that he’s going through weird changes, and eventually realizes the unbelievable: he’s a werewolf. Being a wolf changes everything for Scott. He’s now a pro on the basketball court, and has all the attention he could ever want. But this makes Scott question, do people like him? Or the Wolf? 

MAKING OF THE MOVIE

  • The concept of a teen wolf was hardly original, even in 1985. Other films like 1957’s “I was a Teenage Werewolf” and 1981’s “Full Moon High” both explored similar plotlines. This movie, however seemed to strike a balance between campiness and heart, especially due to Michael J. Fox’s performance. This film is self-aware at times, but it’s not a straight parody, allowing the audience to take it just seriously enough while laughing at the strangeness of it all. 
    • In some ways it’s incredibly dated, but it’s a clever portrayal of the average high school experience, with a focus on confidence and a realization that popularity isn’t as important as personal relationships. In a way, we were all teen wolves at some point, right? 
  • Teen films were gaining popularity in the 1980’s. They were easy to make, with relatively low budgets, and drew in big audiences. After the success of “Valley Girl” in 1983 (starring an unknown Nic Cage), Atlantic entertainment was looking for an original teen movie of its own. Enter writers Jeff Loeb and Matthew Weisman, two recent film school grads looking to sell their first movie. 
    • Loeb told Vulture that he was working at TGI Fridays when he and Weisman pitched Teen Wolf. The meeting was only 15 minutes, and the studio already had Michael J. Fox in mind for the part. The catch was, Fox was a busy guy already. The writers had to pen the script in three weeks, in order to get it to Fox for approval. Once he committed, the movie was greenlit for the tiny budget of a few million dollars. 
  • Director
    • Rod Daniel was hand-picked by Loeb and Wiesman to be the director of the film. They conducted several interviews, but Daniel was the person that seemed to really understand the message and content of the film. He immediately understood that the movie was more about being a teenager than a wolf, and that got him the job. Rod’s son Lucas attributes Teen Wolf and other movies for his wonderful childhood, saying that these helped his father work out issues with his own father. 
  • Special Effects Make-up
    • While the actors wore special effects make-up, they couldn’t eat solid foods. 
    • The scene where Michael J. Fox is turning into the full wolf for the first time in the bathroom took an entire day to film. 
      • Jeff Dawn worked on this transformation. His grandfather is Jack Dawn, the man that was the make-up designer for The Wizard of Oz!
      • Jeff Dawn said that Steve Laporte (who did make-up for things like BeetleJuice) met up with him to help. When Michael showed up they began the long and arduous task. They did several different levels of change; from the nails, teeth, hair, and face. 
        • In order to create the facial change that we see, bladders were put under the surface of what appears to be skin. Jeff and Steve could literally pump to have the skin move under the foam prosthetics and lace eyebrows.
        • When Jeff explained the process he said “It takes all day to do a transformation like that because you do it, you clean it off, you add some more, you do it, you clean it off, you add some more.”
  • Stunts
    • Urban Surfing
      • Loeb admits that urban surfing, the act of standing on a moving vehicle, was something he actually did in college! He said that they would do it in the wee hours of the morning, and had to bang on the roof when a traffic light came up, in order to tell the driver to slow down so they could duck under the lights. 
      • The stunt double for the actors weren’t in as much danger. They were attached to the van roof. Jerry Levine, who played Stiles, actually did the stunt himself! The engineers ran a cable through his pants and into the roof of the van, and also had a cable around his waist.
        • With paramedics on standby, they drove up and down the street for several takes as he danced to “Surfin’ USA.”
      • Jeff Loeb wants everyone to know that they should not try this stunt at home.  
    • Basketball dunking
      • Michael J. Fox’s basketball double was a college basketball player named Jeff Glosser. He was hired because even with two weeks of basketball training Michael could not grow taller than 5’4” or become great at the sport.

STARRING

  • Michael J. Fox as Scott Howard
    • He is of course known for the Back to the Future movies as well as Family Ties, Spin City, and so many more.
    • At the beginning of production, Fox was still fairly unknown. While they were filming, Family Ties jumped in the ratings and extras started recognizing him as a TV star. Some takes actually needed to be re-done because girls would scream when he appeared. 
  • James Hampton as Harold Howard
    • James has been in several things but he is known for being in Sling Blade, Teen Wolf, and The Longest Yard (1974.)
  • Susan Ursitti as Boof, the love interest and best friend we all root for
    • Susan is now retired but she did appear in a few shows and the movies Defense Play, The Runnin’ Kind, and The Walking Dead (1995.) 
  • Jerry Levine as Stiles one of the coolest guys on the planet
    • Jerry has been in lots of things but most notably Born on the Fourth of July, Wag the Dog, and K-9.
    • He was so recognizable as Stiles that he was at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem and somebody shouted to him saying “Hey Stiles!”
    • Stiles is one of the most iconic parts of the film, gracing the screen with his charisma and knack for party games. But one of his most well-known features are his unique t-shirts. They were the director’s idea, and were created specifically for the movie. The most famous one is, “What are you looking at, Dicknose?” a phrase written by the screenwriters.
  • Matt Adler as Lewis
    • Matt has also been in Flight of the Navigator, The Day After Tomorrow, and North Shore.
  • Lorie Griffin as Pamela
    • Lorie was not in very many things but a few movies were Cheerleader Camp, Drug Runners, and The Burning Zone.
  • James MacKrell as Mr. Thorne
    • James is known for his broadcast career and his appearances in movies. For example he was the voice of the broadcaster Lew Landers in Gremlins! He had this same character name in The Howling. Both of these movies were directed by Joe Dante.
  • Mark Arnold as Mick the popular guy dating the popular girl
    • He has been in Blade Runner 2049, Angel Has Fallen, and Florence Foster Jenkins.
  • Jay Tarses as Coach Finstock
    • Jay is an actor but he also is a writer. He wrote episodes for The Bob Newhart Show, The Carol Burnett Show, and Buffalo Bill. He also helped write the movie The Muppets Take Manhattan.  
  • Mark Holton as Chubby
    • Mark is most known for his roles in A League of Their Own, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, and Leprechaun. 
  • Scott Paulin as Kirk Lolley
    • Scott has been in a lot, most notably The Right Stuff, Pump Up the Volume, and Turner and Hooch.

FUN FACTS

  • The girl who plays Rhonda (the girl that gets jello shoved down her shirt during the party) was Playboy’s “Playmate of the Month” in July 1982 and had been in Real Genius which was released shortly before Teen Wolf.
  • One of the writers, Jeff Loeb, has also written for some Spider-man comics. This could explain why Scott’s father tells him, “with great power comes an even greater responsibility.” 

RECEPTION

  • Although Teen Wolf was filmed first, it was released a little more than a month after Back to the Future. Back to Future had become a hit and everyone was ready for some more Michael J. Fox. Writers Jeph Loeb and Matthew Weisman and director Rod, however, were still worried when they went to a showing the first day at 5pm and there were only about 4 people in the theatre. After having a silent and stressful dinner, the three decided to head to a college town theatre and see a 7:30 showing. The show was sold out! The three had to beg the attendants to let them stand at the back of the theatre to watch. Jeph Loeb said that the crowd was quiet until the bathroom scene, where Scott opens the door to find that his father is a full werewolf. He said the rest of the night was full of fun and laughter, where everyone had a great time. 
  • Unfortunately the critics hated it, with The New York Times’ Vincent Canby calling it “aggressively boring” and pointing out that Scott’s rival team would somehow have to be intramural as Mick, his rival and antagonist, attends the same high school. 
  • On a 6 million dollar budget they grossed about 33 million, quite a lot for the time. 

THE LEGACY OF TEEN WOLF

  • As silly as it sounds, Teen Wolf has a pretty strong legacy for a campy 80’s film. For one, it inspired an urban myth about an extra exposing themselves in the background of the final basketball scene. There have been lots of articles and videos showing the scene, and upon further inspection, it appears there is no genitalia at all. One extra does seem to have their pants unzipped, but all the camera sees is white fabric. Whether this is underwear or a tucked in undershirt, the world will never know. You can, however, see the extra reach down and zip the pants as they get ready to jump on the floor and celebrate with the others. 
    • As we briefly mentioned earlier, the movie has some dated material. One of the most upsetting and unfortunate parts would be the homophobic slur that Stiles uses when Scott tries to tell him about his werewolf problem. Televised versions of the scene cut it out (rightly so) and writer Jeff Loeb himself has called the line “unfortunate.” Many films from this time period feature the word, generally as an insult or a joke, but we felt it should be acknowledged.  
  • In Teen Wolf Too, which came out only a couple years later, Jason Bateman plays Todd Howard, Scott’s cousin who faces similar problems while in college. Jason said that at that time the special effects make-up was not safe and they ended up having to shut production down for a few days due to him getting chemical burns on his skin.
    • Jason Bateman’s sister Justine was actually connected to Michael J. Fox, playing his sister on Family Ties! 
  • In 1986, there was an animated TV show based on the movie! Of course, some concepts were changed for the show. For example, Scott has siblings in the show and tries to keep his werewolf-ness a secret from the outside world. In both versions, however, Scott does not have a mother. 
  • In 2011, the film was adapted into a dramatic horror TV series for MTV with the same name! In the live-action show, Scott becomes a wolf via bite, while in the film it’s an inherited trait. There are various other differences, though many character names are similar. The show lasted for 6 seasons! 

Teen Wolf is ridiculous. It’s a silly, fun, and laughable film that represents the wild and wonderful parts of 80’s teen life. It built on the concepts of classic horror and turned it on its head. It’s a film that cleverly seems to bury the lead–Sure, Scott is a werewolf, but that’s not his biggest problem. We don’t get much of an explanation because, well, it’s not really what the story is about. This is a story about a teenager that just happens to be a werewolf, which happens to make him good at basketball. The film accomplished what it was meant to and more; it resonated with teens and went on to be a blockbuster and a cult classic. 

We knew that after a month of horror, it would be the perfect romp to get us in the mood for Spring. Simply put, Teen Wolf is a howlin’ good time.  


SOURCES:

The Screwball Case of ZAZ Parodies With Moxie

Today we have a very special guest! She hosts the awesome podcast, Your Brain on Facts. Please welcome Moxie LaBouche! 

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We want to thank Moxie for coming up with today’s topic, screwball comedy parodies (specifically of the Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker variety.)

What makes a screwball comedy? Well, to get technical, screwball comedies began as a sub-genre of romantic comedy in the 1930’s. They were known as satire of the traditional love story and included classics like, “It Happened One Night” and “Bringing Up Baby.” The term has become a little more broad over time, and movies that we consider to be screwball comedies today might not focus specifically on a love story, but have elements that still turn the classic romance on its head. 

[Bonus fact: “It Happened One Night” shaped the character of Bugs Bunny.  Bugs’ mannerisms were partially inspired by a scene where Clark Gable’s fast-talking character snacks on carrots while leaning on a fence.  Tangent bonus: Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny, hated carrots, but had to bite into and chew them during recordings.  He spat them out the instant he could.]

The movies we will talk about today are a great mix of screwball, parody, and satire. We picked a few films from the 80’s and 90’s, a time when parody film was at its peak. Two of them star Leslie Neilsen, a man that became synonymous with farce. But before we begin, let’s talk a little about the history of film parody and where these movies might’ve pulled their influence!The Case of the Film Parody 

HISTORY OF FILM PARODY

The Great Train Robbery (1903)

  • Parody (or spoof) film is a genre of comedy that comically imitates another genre of film or specific films. 
    • The first known film that we now refer to as a spoof was the 1905 12 minute short film called The Little Train Robbery. 
      • It parodied the 1903’s The Great Train Robbery, a Thomas Edison production and a groundbreaking early film.
      • The music for the Little Train Robbery is more jovial, to give it an obvious cue that it was a spoof and not serious.
        • It was directed by Edwin Porter at Edison Studios and contained an all child cast. The short was meant to be a funny little take on outlaws robbing a locomotive.

The Little Train Robbery (1905) One of the first known spoofs.

  • Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator
    • For the next few decades, parody films were a common part of the comedy genre with entries like: The Mystery of the Leaping Fish(1916.) This was a Sherlock Holmes parody that focused on the detective’s drug addiction.
    • Charlie Chaplin’s first talkie, The Great Dictator, was a funny yet powerful critique of the Nazi regime. This film showed that parody films could cross the threshold into talking pictures, and it made audiences and critics take notice of how the genre could be used for social commentary
  • The Three Stooges
    • Although the Three Stooges are known mostly for slapstick, they used their shorts for parody as well. They actually spoofed Hitler before Charlie Chaplin! 
    • Both Chaplin and the Three Stooges’ spoofs showed the social impact that these movies can have.
    • The Stooges have had influences in many comedic films since, including the Naked Gun which we will talk about today! Their shorts also featured classic bits, puns, and visual gags similar to ones in Airplane, The Naked Gun, and Hot Shots!
  • [Bonus fact: Curly Howard was an avid dog-lover and regularly rescued dogs in the middle of filming days, bringing them onto the set with him–dogs he just met five minutes ago.]
    • The Marx Brothers
      • The Marx Brothers were known for humor that was intelligent and character driven, but they were also no strangers to visual gags!
      • In 1946 they spoofed wartime dramas with “A Night in Casablanca,” and of course their masterpiece “Duck Soup” was also an influential entry to the satire and parody genres [I have soooo many facts about the Marx Brothers.]
    • Carry On series 
      • One of the longest running and most successful series of parody films is the Carry On series from the 1950’s to the 1970’s.
      • This set of 31 British films were low-budget and often used common comedy tropes and slapstick humor.
      • They hold an important place in the history of parody because at their peak in the 1960s, they proved that the general public had an appetite for parody filmmaking. 
      • These films made fun of everything from the James Bond series, to the Elizabeth Taylor epic film Cleopatra. 
      • They had a low budget and never starred big names in acting, though there was a general troupe of actors that resurfaced in the movies. 
        • This is a common practice with comedy films in general! Think about Monty Python and National Lampoon, and the fact that so many spoof movies had Leslie Neilsen! 
    • In the 1970’s, audiences took even more notice of parody with the arrival of filmmaker Mel Brooks. Movies like Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles showed that audiences would flock to see expertly acted films with clever screenplays, no matter how ridiculous the subject matter. These movies were silly–sure–but they were also respectable and sometimes lampooned taboo topics like racism and sexism. 
    • But in 1980, a disaster parody took flight and soared into the hearts of moviegoers everywhere. It launched the comedic career of Leslie Neilsen and is considered to be one of the most quotable movies of all time. “Airplane!” performed an incredible feat–it transcended a subgenre of comedy and is considered by all counts a classic film in general. 

Comparison between Zero Hour! and Airplane!

AIRPLANE! (1980) (TURNED 40 THIS YEAR!)

  • Summary
    • When the passengers and crew board an airplane, they are incapacitated due to food poisoning. A former fighter pilot with a fear of flying and a drinking problem must land the plane with the help of a stewardess who also happens to be his ex. 
  • Although Airplane is a parody of the disaster movie genre as a whole, it’s specifically a parody of Zero Hour! (1957)
    • The team: Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker had worked together on “Kentucky Fried Movie” in 1977, which had several sketches parodying disaster and kung fu movies. It was based on a live show called, “Kentucky Fried Theater.” 
      • The story goes: while they were researching material for their show, they stumbled upon Zero Hour! and found it to be unintentionally hilarious
    • As audiences would soon realize, Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker had a special kind of style. Instead of actors constantly doing and saying funny things, their films had actors performing mundane tasks while the world fell apart around them. 
  • Although assured that it would be legally ok to parody the film, ZAZ (Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker) wanted to make sure. In order to completely avoid a lawsuit they bought the remake rights for just $2500.
    • A lot of the basic plot dialogue is the same between the two movies.
    • One major difference, however, is that in Zero Hour he was chasing his son and estranged wife. In Airplane he follows his girlfriend.  
  • Airplane is what really skyrocketed Leslie Nielsen into comedic roles and sent him into The Naked Gun Series and more.
    • By the time he acted in Airplane, Nielsen had about 25 years of acting under his belt. But, this was indeed the first time he was cast in a comedy! 
    • Nielsen had been acting since the 1950’s and even appeared in the type of movies that Airplane! poked fun at. He appeared as a Captain in The Poseidon Adventure, a notable disaster movie, and he was known to play dramatic parts. So in a sense, he parodied himself! 
    • He continued to play both dramatic and comedic roles until the end of the 1980’s when he made the full switch to comedy. He was known for his expert timing and dry delivery.
    • In a tribute to Nielsen, David Zucker said “Offscreen, he wasn’t so much of a joke or storyteller but a chronic prankster. The stories are legend about the fart machine, which he kept hidden and sprang on any hapless stranger who approached him. He used it on set, on talk shows, anywhere he could find a victim. One time, at a press junket in Charlotte, I remember watching Leslie let loose with the device on a crowded elevator, the other occupants squirming up against the walls in an effort to distance themselves. And just like the scenes we put him in, he never broke character, never let on that he knew he was being funny.”
  • This movie had such a cultural significance that in 2010 it was inducted into the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry. 
  • The movie starred: 
    • Leslie Nielsen/ Dr. Rumack
    • Julie Hagerty/ Elaine Dickinson
    • Robert Hays/ Ted Striker
    • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar/ Roger Murdock
    • Lloyd Bridges/ Steve McCroskey
    • Peter Graves/ Captain Clarence Oveur 
    • Robert Stack/ Captain Rex Kramer

THE NAKED GUN (1988)

  • Based on Police Squad, a short-lived TV series in 1982 which was done by the ZAZ Team.
    • The series only lasted 6 episodes and then was cancelled. Even though it was short lived it was nominated for 2 Emmy Awards. The year of the show is referenced in the movie when Drebin takes a jar of mayonnaise out of the fridge and it has an expiration date of June 1982.
    • The Naked Gun movie was a way to continue the series in a way. Leslie Nielsen comes back as the detective Frank Drebin.
      • Although originally they wanted to call the movie Police Squad, it was determined that the name too closely resembled another popular funny cop movie named Police Academy. Naked Gun was chosen out of about 20 names because they said it “promised so much more than it could possibly deliver.”
    • Summary
      • After the attempted murder of his fellow officer, Lietenant Frank Drebin must find out who was behind this attrocity. While trying to uncover who the attackers are he becomes suspicious of a well known businessman Vincent Ludwig. Ludwig, who is revealed to be a criminal mastermind, is planning to assassinate Queen Elizabeth II while she is set to visit Los Angeles, California. 
        • This makes it particularly amusing that in 2005 Leslie Nielsen performed in front of 13,000 people at the Saskatchewan Centennial Gala in Canada with Queen Elizabeth II in attendance. 
    • The movie, while written by the ZAZ team, was only directed by David Zuckerman. When asked about Nielsen’s acting he said that “There was no improvising on set. He (Nielsen) knew where the joke was and knew better than to mess with the style, try to wink or be funny. He absolutely trusted me and never tried to gild the lily. We purposely used straight actors in all roles and the humour came from behind the camera.”
    • This was the only film in the series where the current President of the time was not impersonated.
    • Spoilers, but this was one of three movies from 1988 that featured a steam roller running over the villain. The others were Who Framed Roger Rabbit and A Fish Called Wanda.
    • When Nielsen passed away in 2010 at 84 the Naked Gun theme song was played at his funeral where he was laid to rest in Fort Lauderdale.
    • [His headstone reads “Let ‘er rip!”  And yes, it’s a fart joke.  Other famous funny people who got the last word in include Jack Lemmon, whose marker merely says “Jack Lemmon in,” Rodney Dangerfield – “There goes the neighborhood,” and Irish comedian Spike Milligan – “I told you I was ill.”]
    • Starring
      • Leslie Nielsen/ Frank Drebin
      • Priscilla Presley/ Jane Spencer
      • OJ Simpson/ Nordberg
        • Susan Beaubian, who played his wife in this movie, would go on to star in the first installment of FX’s series American Crime Story from 2016 entitled The People v. O.J. Simpson. 
      • George Kennedy/ Captain Ed Hocken
      • Ricardo Montalbán/ Vincent Ludwig 
        • He was chosen for this role specifically because of how well he did as the villain in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan from 1982.
      • Nancy March/ The Mayor
      • Jeannette Charles/ Queen Elizabeth II
        • She had been an impersonator of the Queen since 1971.
      • Weird Al Yankovic as himself
        • When the ZAZ team found out that Weird Al was obsessed with Police Squad they wrote a special scene just for him. While the movie was in theaters Al would bring dates with him to see it without revealing that he was in it. They would promptly freak out.
        • [Yankovic appeared in all three of the Naked Gun Films as himself in the first and third and as “police station thug” in the second movie.  Weird Al also sang the title song for Spy Hard which starred Leslie Nielsen.]

A SPECIAL MENTION

  • Before we get into our last movie, we want to quickly mention one more production by the Zucker, Abrahams, Zucker team. Although their style of comedy is considered ground-breaking, the team did not continue making movies long after Airplane!
    • Top Secret! 
      • Top Secret! was written and directed by the same ZAZ team behind Airplane! But the trio went their separate ways after this movie.
      • It was a spoof of WWII spy movies and the Elvis films of the 1950’s and 60’s. 
        • Elvis movies were referenced in the animated film Coco and spoofed by the 1960’s musical, “Bye Bye Birdie.” 
      • The film stars Val Kilmer as Nick Rivers, a rockstar that falls in love with a woman while performing in Germany and unwittingly becomes part of the French Resistance.
      • [The songs that Val Kilmer sings in the film are actually performed by Kilmer himself and were featured on the film’s soundtrack released in 1984 under Kilmer’s character’s name Nick Rivers.]
      • Although it made over 20 million dollars (twice it’s budget) the film was considered a flop and is a much lesser-known film in comparison to Airplane! and The Naked Gun. Roger Ebert said that the movie was vastly underrated. 
      • [In the restaurant scene, when Hillary places an order with the waiter in apparent German, she’s actually speaking in Yiddish for, roughly, “Go bash your head in.”  The waiter’s line translates to  the Yiddish curse “go take a s**t in the ocean”.]

HOT SHOTS (1991)

  • Hot Shots was the first solo director role for Jim Abrahams. It was co-written by Pat Proft who also penned the screenplay for Police Academy (and apparently the Star Wars Christmas special.) 
  • Hot Shots was able to take advantage of the now well established genre of the movie parody, and according to Den of Geek, the Hot Shots movies were the last great spoofs.
  • Summary
    • The story follows Topper Harley, a former pilot who left the air force because he couldn’t handle the pressure of living in his father’s shadow. But, the US brings him back for one last mission: to destroy Iraqi nuclear facilities. Among these challenges he must also face a rival pilot played by Carey Elwes. 
    • The movie was filmed during the gulf war, which reportedly made the cast and crew a little uneasy. Charlie Sheen reportedly said it was strange to be wearing a wardrobe that resembled what he was seeing on the covers of newspapers.
  • When taking a look at the cover it is overt that this movie is a parody of Top Gun.
    • While movies like Top Gun are allowed to use actual ships for filming, Hot Shots had to be inventive in order to make it look like  they were on a ship. An example of this is that they used a parking lot on a piece of land over a body of low water located in an old marine park in Palos Verdes, California. 
      • The cinematographer shot the boat at an angle to make it appear as if it were sitting on the water.
      • Another example of this is that there were many aircraft scenes taken and used from the 1991 movie Flight of the Intruder.
  • The character of Admiral Benson was originally offered to the one and only Leslie Nielsen but he reportedly told Abrahams that “I think I’ve done enough spoof movies with you.” The role was then given to Lloyd Bridges who had starred alongside Nielsen in Airplane! 
    • You remember, he was the man who picked the wrong week to quit smoking!
  • The film also parodies Dances With Wolves, which Abrahams saw while they were shooting. He came back to set and scrapped another prologue scene for one with Sheen living with Native Americans under the name, “Fluffy Bunny Feet” 
  • In the credits the laughs continue as Abrahams includes an unfinished brownie recipe and also suggestions on what to do after the movie. The suggestions are a nod to when the ZAZ team wrote for The Kentucky Fried Movie which also had suggestions on what to do after the movie.
  • Starring
    • Valeria Golino as Scarlett O’Hara, Lois Lane, and Ramada Thompson
    • Charlie Sheen as Superman, Rhett Butler, Lt. Sean Topper Harley
    • Lloyd Bridges as Admiral Thomas ‘Tug’ Benson
    • Cary Elwes as Lt. Kent Gregory
    • John Cryer as Jim ‘Wash Out’ Pfaffenbach
    • Ryan Stiles as ‘Mailman’ Farnham
    • Pat Proft as Lawrence Lipps and he also helped write the screenplay as well
  • Charlie Sheen, John Cryer, and Ryan Stiles would all be a part of the CBS show Two and a Half Men in 2003.
  • A reviewer named Widgett Walls said “Well, it’s not Airplane! but precious little is.”
  • On the set of Hot Shots! Jim Abrahams told Entertainment Weekly about his former collaborators: “I’m genuinely proud that we managed to go 20 years together and there were never any blowouts or drug rehabilitations. I count them among my best friends.” 
  • The writers, director, and cast all returned for Hot Shots Part Deux. While researching the movies it became very clear that many people prefer the second film! Maybe we should include it if we ever do a sequel to our sequels episode 😉 

WHAT HAS BECOME OR WILL BECOME OF THIS GENRE?

  • Spy Hard (1996) which also starred Leslie Nielsen was written in part by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. Since then they have done more parody movies. Do you remember them or like them? Probably not, because while most at least made their money back they pretty much are forgotten with only about 1 star reviews on IMDB.
    • Date Movie, Epic Movie, Meet the Spartans, Disaster Movie, and Vampires Suck.
  • The Wayans Movies
    • The Wayans family is a comedy dynasty. Ever since Keenan Wayans created In Living Color, which starred other members of the family, the Wayans have made a lasting mark on the parody genre. 
    • Two of their most successful spoofs are: Don’t be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood, and I’m Gonna Get You Sucka.
      • These films lampooned a series of Black coming-of-age films that take place in “the hood,” such as: Boyz n the Hood, South Central, and Menace to Society.
    • The Scary Movie Franchise is possibly their most prominent collection of movies in the mainstream. However, the Wayans family has also produced films like Dance Flick, A Haunted House, Fifty Shades of Black, and Blankman
  • Who is today’s equivalent to Leslie Neilson? 
    • Will Ferrell
      • Blades of Glory
      • Eurovision
    • Mike Meyers
      • Austin Powers
      • The Love Guru 

Judd Apatow is largely credited with giving new life to the R-rated comedy genre in the 21st century thanks to critical and commercial hits “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up.” But even though Apatow has found mainstream success with his films, he’s still very aware of just how far the comedy genre has fallen in Hollywood.  He believes the major studios are no longer “smart enough and funny enough” to make the kind of comedies that were once guaranteed blockbusters, such as Paramount Pictures’ “Airplane!”  Apatow explains:

“After the last writers’ strike, it felt like the studios decided not to develop movies. They used to buy a lot of scripts, and they had big teams of people giving notes, and they worked for years with people in collaboration on those scripts. I feel like the studios don’t buy as many scripts now. It used to be you’d open up Variety, and you’d see a movie studio had just bought a big high-concept comedy. Now it seems like they’d rather things come in packaged: a script, a cast, a director. As a result, a lot of great comedy writers are going to television instead of sitting at home and trying to write a script for a film, write the way I was.”

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THANK YOU AGAIN TO OUR WONDERFUL GUEST MOXIE LABOUCHE!!

YOU CAN FIND HER BOOK HERE…YOUR BRAIN ON FACTS

AND HER PODCAST YOUR BRAIN ON FACTS CAN BE FOUND ANYWHERE YOU GET YOUR PODCASTS!

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Shaun of the Case

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Love them or hate them, zombie movies have their place in cinematic history. These films featuring the living dead have been around as early as the 1930’s. Not long after that, however, a new genre appeared: The Zombie Comedy. Zombies themselves are often thought of as political commentary, which makes them a perfect vehicle for satire. 

In 2004, Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg utilized the zombie concept and created Shaun of the Dead: a modern Zom-Rom-Com about an uninspired man leading an uneventful life until he’s faced with a zombie apocalypse. Shaun of the Dead became an instant classic, developing its own zombie-like following that has stayed strong for the last 16 years! It introduced American audiences to Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Edgar Wright and they have managed to stay fairly prominent ever since. 

So this week come join us at the Winchester where we will have a nice cold pint and discuss how Shaun of the Dead will never blow over. 

History

  • Directed by Edgar Wright
    • Now considered one of the most original filmmakers of the 21st century, this movie made Edgar Wright a household name. Later on he directed classics like “Scott Pilgrim VS The World,” “Baby Driver,” and the other two films in the Cornetto trilogy: “Hot Fuzz” and “The World’s End” 
    • Before Shaun of the Dead, he directed “Spaced,” a UK comedy that also featured Simon Pegg and Nick Frost 
  • Written by Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg
    • They met while working on the British TV series Asylum.  They soon bonded over their love for films such as Dawn of the Dead, An American Werewolf in London(1981), and Invasion of the Body Snatchers(1978.)  These would later be used as inspiration for Shaun of the Dead.
    • They said that the hardest scenes to write were the relationship scenes between Shaun and Liz. This was because they had to keep Liz as a strong character that was responsible but not seem like she was nagging or annoying.  They thought Kate Ashfield did an awesome job with keeping a balance.

Summary

  • Shaun is a salesman at an electronic supply store. He lives somewhat of a boring life, has commitment issues, and enjoys the occasional pint with his best mate at The Winchester (a local pub). 
  • Shaun isn’t very invested in everyone around him. So, he manages to not immediately notice when the world suddenly plunges into a zombie apocalypse. Terrified for his life and family, Shaun devises a full-proof plan to get him, his girlfriend, his friends, and his mum through the end of the world. 

Starring

  • Simon Pegg/ Shaun
    • Cornetto Trilogy
    • Star Trek as Scotty in the 2009 Reboot
    • Ready Player 1
  • Kate Ashfield/ Liz
    • In the 2019 Sanditon 
  • Nick Frost/ Ed
    • Cornetto Trilogy
    • Into the Badlands
    • Fighting With my Family 
    • Tintin (2011)
    • Pirate Radio
  • Lucy Davis/ Dianne
    • Wonder Woman
    • The Office (The British one)
  • Dylan Moran/ David
    • Black Books
  • Peter Serafinowicz/ Pete
    • The Tick
    • Rick and Morty
  • Bill Nighy/ Phillip
    • Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
    • Love Actually 
    • Pirates of the Caribbean 
  • Penelope Wilton/ Mum-Barbara
    • Dr. Who as Harriet Jones MP for Flydale North
    • Downton Abbey

Making of

  • After Pegg and Wright pitched the movie to Film4 Productions, the company cut back on its budget which left the movie without a production company. Wright believed in the film and wanted it to get made, so he didn’t take other directing jobs while he focused on getting financing. He had to borrow money from friends, including Simon Pegg. 
  • The movie borrows the film style from George Romero’s Dead movies (Dawn of the Dead, Night of the Living Dead.) 
    • Because of this, Pegg and Wright reached out to the legendary director for his blessing, which he gave! He even had Pegg and Wright in one of his movies in 2005! 
  • The ambiance of the film was not meant to be the nighttime scary horror movie.  They were going for more of a hungover Sunday morning vibe.
    • But they did have all the zombies in muted colors and no primary colors.
    • Simon Pegg however was to wear the same uniform the entire movie and said that he pretty much quote, “Ended up having one shirt that was held together by Febreze.” This was of course for continuity.
    • Fun fact is that the Cornetto ice cream was included because Edgar Wright in college had used Cornetto ice cream as a hangover cure and so he thought it would be funny for Ed to use it as such after their drunken escapade the night before getting over Liz.
  • Some of the scenes such as in The Winchester, were shot in Ealing Studios where things like the 1930’s Birds of Prey and a lot of Doctor Who was shot as well.
  • In the scene when Shaun walks in and you just see feet and his shadow it is a small nod to the end credits of Day of the Dead.
  • Simple callbacks such as Pete in the bathroom mirror before/after being a zombie is what makes this movie so great.
  • The first scene at Shaun’s there is an ash-tray on the coffee table that they ended up deciding was a bit racist and not PC so it is only in that scene.  It was a black baby with a sombrero on it’s back. Supposedly when it was released in America it may have been CGI’d out according to Pegg and Wright. 
  • After Shaun and Liz split up Ed consoles him at the bar by saying, “We’ll have a Bloody Mary first thing, have a bite at the King’s Head, couple at the Little Princess, stagger back here. Bang! Back at the bar for shots.”  This parallels what happens the rest of the movie. Bloody Mary ends up being the shop worker Mary who is a zombie the next morning, bite at the King’s head is going to kill Phillip, picking up Liz and the others, stagger as zombies back to the bar, and then “shots” refer to the gunshots at the bar at the end.
  • The shop scene where Phillip comes in to talk to Shaun was one of the few scenes done in one take and so they had to time the army trucks going by perfectly which was difficult but they achieved it!
  • In the scene with the zombie Mary, and who Pegg and Wright refer to as “The Hulk,”  some of the records that were “thrown” at the zombies were CG and some were rubber.
  • In the scene where Phillip transforms in the car and they are surrounded by zombies Simon Pegg actually punches Nick Frost in the shoulder and legit hurts him.
  • Actual tears were shed on set for the death of one character.  Barbara’s death caused Pegg and Frost to tear up as if it was their own mom’s death.  When this scene was shot over half the movie had been done and so everyone was already tired and emotional which brought an even bigger charge to the scene.
  • When Liz, Ed, and Shaun are trapped in the cellar it is meant to be dark and depressing in order to make it seem that this is the ending.

Received/ Impact/ Thoughts

  • The film has a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes, 7.9 on IMDB, and 76% on Metacritic. 
  • “Instead of focusing on the Undead and trying to get the laughs there, it treats the living characters as sitcom regulars whose conflicts and arguments keep getting interrupted by annoying flesh-eaters.” – Roger Ebert
  • The movie has an opening of 1.6 million pounds in the UK. It made 3.3 million USD opening weekend and over 30 million worldwide during its run. 

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Sources

The Case of the Princess Bride

 

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Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles.  Doesn’t sound too bad right?

Today we’re talking about the greatest love story ever told. It tells of a love so pure it can be simplified to three words: As You Wish. “The Princess Bride” galloped, soared, and lept into theatres in the fall of 1987 and has left a lasting mark on American culture ever since. So gather close and get ready for some adventure–and don’t worry–this isn’t a kissing movie. 

History

The Book

  • Yes believe it or not the movie is based on William Goldman’s book of the same name. He luckily also supplied us with the screenplay for the film as well.
  • Goldman was a master story-teller. His range varied from dramas, westerns, war, fantasy, horror, and much more. 
  • Movies such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid(1969) and  All the President’s Men(1976) won him best original screenplay and best adapted screenplay.
    • Surprisingly his first try at writing screenplays was Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid.  It was bought by Twentieth Century Fox for (at the time) a record breaking $400,000.
    • In an NPR article he reportedly told the New York Times back in 1979 that “I’m not a screenwriter, I’m a novelist who writes screenplays.”  This of course was after he had already written and adapted a whopping 10 screenplays including The Stepford Wives(1975) and Marathon Man(1976).  He would later go on to adapt Stephen King’s novel Misery in 1990 and co-wrote Chaplin starring Robert Downey Jr. in 1992.
    • When writing his book about the Hollywood industry titled Adventures in the Screen Trade it came with a quote in the beginning that simply said “Nobody knows anything.” Now isn’t that the truth? 

In his original forward to the book he discusses how his father read S. Morgenstern’s book when he was sick in bed from Pneumonia. He describes himself as a boy that loved sports and not books, so when his father wanted to read him the Princess Bride he naturally asked if it had any good sports in it.  His father replied; “Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Poison. True love. Hate. Revenge. Giants. Hunters. Bad Men. Good men. Beautifulest ladies. Snakes. Spiders. Beasts of all natures and descriptions. Pain. Death. Brave men. Coward men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passions. Miracles.”

Goldman was able to fool a lot of people into thinking that this was actually an abridgment of a book by S. Morgenstern (who does not exist.) He had so many people fooled that there is a scene that he does not include in the book that tens of thousands of people wrote to him asking him for it.  He had a reply that he would send saying that Morgenstern’s lawyers would not allow it. The scene was the reunion between Buttercup and Westley.

The letter to readers can be found here…..  https://www.hmhco.com/~/media/sites/princessbride/goldman-princess-bride-response-letter.pdf?la=en

Goldman had such a way that he was able to blend making fun of stories such as these while also reveling in the story.

He didn’t know how to rescue Westley when he was writing the book.  When Goldman realized he could not save Westley and wrote the words that he lay dead next to the machine Goldman cried and couldn’t believe what he had done.  This book is very special to him.

Making of

Rob Reiner after doing the Spinal Tap and The Sure Thing realized that people make movies from books and so he thought about ones that he enjoyed and called Goldman hoping to make his and found out that Goldman had been trying for years to make this movie a reality.  Goldman had thought it would never be made into a movie.

When at the first table read which was when Mandy and Andre met and were going over their lines for the scene when Inigo is being nursed back to health Andre was saying his lines really slow. Mandy would tell “Fezzik” faster! But each time he would say it at the same slow pace.  Finally Mandy shouted “faster Fezzik!”and slapped Andre. It worked because Andre got better at his lines and was able to concentrate more.

The entire movie was really shot in England with their base being Sheffield. The one shot that was filmed in LA was the close-up of the grandfather played by Peter Faulk saying “As you wish” at the end.

  • Scenes:

    • The Shrieking Eels
      •  This scene was done in a tank where they used forced perspective to create the illusion of the boat that was gaining on them.
    • Cliffs of Insanity
      • These were done using a combination of a matte painting, a sound stage for close-ups when they climb, and the actual Cliffs of Moore in Ireland.
    • The Duel Sequence
      •  Not only is this an awesome scene to watch because you have Inigo Montoya and the Man in Black fighting but also because in all the sword fighting shots it is the actual actors of Carey Elwes and Mandy Patinkin. The only instances it is stunt doubles is when they do their flips or jumps.  Anytime there was down-time on set these two would practice.
    • Battle of Wits
      • “You’ve fell victim to one of the classic blunders! The most famous is never get involved in a land war in Asia, but only slightly less well known is this; never go in against a Sicilian, when death is on the line!” Is a small jab at the Vietnam war.
    • Fire Swamp- 
      • The swamp was the most expensive.  When her dress caught fire, even though he knew it was going to happen, William Goldman screamed her dress was on Fire!
      • Always a discussion about how much blood there should be. You need it to be good for adults and kids. There was a lot of talk before shooting the swamp scenes about this.
      • The voices of the ROUS’s were done by Rob Reiner with added technical changes.
      • One of the guys in the rat suit had been pulled over and booked and so they had to go and get him out to shoot the scene. (Took inspiration from Douglas Fairbanks movies)
      • After the fire swamp Chris Guest actually does hit Elwes on the head so they had to stop shooting and take him to the hospital
    • Mawwiage Scene
      • Mawiaage is what bwings us togever twoday. It came from a very famous Chicago Rabbi that Goldman could not remember the name of. He was at a wedding when he was a boy and got the giggles because the Rabbi said “A Dweam within a Dweam.”
    • Inigo Montoya Famous line
      • Mandy Patinkin did not think that this line would be as big as it is today.  The line at the time did strike a chord with Mandy Patinkin because he lost his father to cancer. So in that scene it was like he killed the cancer that got his dad.
    • The Ending Credits 
      • Reiner thought that with the kind of movie that it was the best kind of credits to go along with the movie are what is called Curtain Call Credits where they clip from the movie with the actor and then a close-up with their name credit and character name.

Starring

  • Cary Elwes/ Westley and the Man in Black
    • His idea to have the little mustache
  • Robin Wright/ Buttercup
  • Mandy Patinkin/ Inigo Montoya you killed my father….sorry habit lol
  • Wallace Shawn/ Vizzini
    • The Iocane Powder Scene was the first one shot with Wally Shawn.  He was convinced after that first day that they were going to fire him but Reiner loved his performance.
  • Andre the Giant/ Fezzik
    • He didn’t really read so Rob Reiner recorded his lines on a tape so that Andre could memorize them that way.
    • Andre’s back was not in good condition which made scenes like where he fights the man in black and catching the pretty lady difficult.  They had to have doubles, boards, and rigs to help with the weight.
  • Billy Crystal/ Miracle Max
  • Carol Kane/Valerie
  • Chris Sarandon/ Prince Humperdinck
  • Christopher Guest/ Count Rugen
  • Fred Savage/ The Grandson
  • Peter Falk/ The Grandfather

How it was received/ Impact it had on us and others

  • Money
    • The estimated budget for the film was 16 million.
    • They weren’t sure how to sell it because it includes so many genres so…
      • The opening weekend was only about $206,000 and the gross in the USA was almost 31 million dollars.  So overall the film did OK in sales.
    • It really hit it’s stride when it came onto home video and took off like a rocket.

Sources

Todd and Pitts

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I’ve heard it my whole life, from people I know and those I don’t. It’s a short phrase, one that ignites a fire in me every time I hear it: Women aren’t funny. 

Every once in a while, a movie will come out that “proves” the hilarity of women. Bridesmaids, Mean Girls, Girls Trip, and Booksmart all made it to the top of the list in terms of groundbreaking female-led comedies. These movies did not only showcase women in comedic roles, they were written by women as well (although Girls Trip was co-written by a man). 

But, women have been making audiences laugh for a long time, even if it doesn’t seem that way. In the silent film era, female comedians like Mabel Normand wrote and directed comedic films and starred alongside Charlie Chaplin and the Keystone Cops. Some of the comedic women from this era made a successful transition to talkies, such as the innovative and hilarious duo Zasu Pitts and Thelma Todd. 

Today we are going to discuss how this duo came to be, the lives of the individual women, and their lasting impact.  

https://www.amazon.com/Roach-Comedy-Shorts-Thelma-Pitts/dp/1476672555

History

  • Zasu Pitts and Thelma Todd were the first major female comedy team, with shorts produced by Hal Roach Studios.
    • Hal Roach Studios was a Television and Motion Picture studio
      • It was the greatest comedy studio of the 1930s, though people tended to look down on comedy shorts as not real cinema.
      • Patsy Kelly, who worked for Hal Roach, said that he was the best boss she had ever had.
    • It was known for teaming up Laurel and Hardy, as well as the group of children that would become known as The Little Rascals. 
    • Ever since Hal Roach struck gold with Laurel and Hardy, he wanted to create a female counterpart. He had had success with female comedians in the past, and it seemed like a no-brainer that audiences would embrace two funny leading ladies.
      • The issue with the male-led comedies was that women weren’t finding their slapstick antics very funny. In the 1930s, the majority of women felt that  their job was to keep order in households and in daily lives.
      • Film critic Leonard Maltin pointed out, “Comediennes cannot use the same material as comedians and get the same results.” Whether or not you agree with this sentiment, it seems to be a prevailing belief in the film industry, especially since the time of Pitts and Todd.
    • Pitts and Todd weren’t the first women that Roach teamed up, but they were the first ones that got the attention of the masses. 
    • Together they made 17 two-reel comedies before Pitts left the studio and was replaced by Patsy Kelly.

Before we talk about the shorts themselves, let’s take a look at their lives

  • Zasu Pitts
    • Zazu Pitts’ name was Eliza Susan Pitts. Her nickname came from the last syllable of her first name and the first syllable of her middle name. I’ve heard it many different ways, but she insisted that it was pronounced (Say-Soo) and that is how Thelma pronounces it in the shorts.
    • Zasu was a shy child, but she was encouraged to join the theatre to overcome her shyness. She learned quickly that her nervous facial expressions and mannerisms would be great for comedy!
    • At age 21, she went to Hollywood and made a name for herself in comedy and drama. Her forlorn expression was especially helpful in dramatic productions, though her drama career did not last. 
      • Some, even Zasu herself, thought that her shy demeanor and “unglamorous” looks were negative qualities. Zasu took those parts of herself and used them to advance her career in comedy.
    • By the mid 1920’s, Zasu was a well-established  actress. In 1924, she appeared in 10 films alone. One of them was “Greed” an epic drama. The director of that film believed she was the greatest dramatic actress at the time and claimed it was a tragedy every time she was cast in a comedy. 
    • But, when movies made the transition to sound, Pitts couldn’t seem to continue as a dramatic actress. She was even replaced in “All Quiet on the Western Front” when she unintentionally made the audience laugh.
    • Pitts leaned in to comedy, and made the best of a bad situation. She appeared in shorts and comedic features until 1931 when she got paired with the bombshell comedian Thelma Todd.
  • Thelma Todd
    • After the death of her brother when she was just four-years-old, Thelma Alice Todd wanted to be one of the boys to replace the son her parents lost. She was naturally funny and wanted to become a teacher, but after she won Miss Massachusetts in 1925, she was discovered by a talent scout and invited to study acting at The Paramount School in New York.
    • After appearing in an Ed Wynn comedy in 1927, she made her first Hollywood film. 
    • Her career was jeopardized when she was propositioned at a Hollywood party, and fired from a movie because she said no. (#metoo?) 
    • Just as silent films became talkies, the freelancing Todd found her way to Hal Roach Studio where she was cast in the first Laurel and Hardy talkie “Unaccustomed As We Are.” 
    • Over the next few years, Todd found success alongside other comedians like Charley Chase and Harry Langdon until Zasu Pitts found her way to Hal Roach in 1931.
  • Pitts & Todd
    • Hal Roach believed that Thelma’s brash, confident demeanor would play well off the shy Zasu. When the actresses met, they immediately became friends and filming was easy-going on the sets. By the time these women worked together, Pitts was a screen veteran and Todd an established comedian. Both knew what their skills were, both knew their characters as well as themselves. 
    • Thelma played the wise girl, often finding a way to get them out of trouble. Zasu was the less intelligent, innocent woman who often got them into trouble. 
    • Both women wanted the freedom to be in other projects, and Hal Roach granted that for them.
    • In an era of The Three Stooges and Marx Brothers, these two women broke new ground in comedy. Audiences saw these women in a new way. Remember when we said that women of the 1930s didn’t appreciate slapstick? Well, these two presented physical comedy in service of the female narrative. Although the shorts were still written by men, it was really the female leads that made them successful. 
    • The storylines may seem dated today, but by and large they are still relatable. Thelma and Zasu are two “modern” women just trying to survive in the big city. They have jobs, troubles with men, and almost never troubles with each other. They support each other, and they aren’t overly sexual or ditzy. These are women that could be living today. 
    • So, let’s talk about three of our favorite shorts from these two: Let’s Do Things (1931) On The Loose (1931) and Bargain of the Century (1933)
      • Let’s Do Things
        • Directed by Hal Roach himself, this was their first short.
        • This is a great example of how the women were there for each other. Thelma urges Zasu to find out what her boyfriend intends for her. She ultimately stands up for Zasu after being treated horribly by men.
      • On the Loose
        • Also directed by Hal Roach, this short had a cameo appearance from Laurel and Hardy!
        • This is an example of the women as a team, collectively agreeing that they are both tired of Coney Island. This short has great lines that poke fun at the attention that Todd gets over Pitts for her looks. The women both fulfill the wise woman role, getting the best of the men that take them to Coney Island. They are in this together, Pitts didn’t get them into trouble this time. 
      • Bargain of the Century 
        • Directed by Charley Chase, in this short the girls get a cop fired and spend the rest of the short trying to get him re-hired so he will stop living with them. 

After 17 shorts together, Zasu left Hal Roach studio. She was soon replaced with Patsy Kelly who in her own right was very funny alongside Thelma Todd. They continued to make shorts until 1935. 

Thelma Todd’s Death

  • In 1935, Thelma Todd was incredibly successful as an actress. She had a cafe, and was still starring in shorts alongside Patsy Kelly. 
  • She had recently been divorced from Pat DiCicco, a movie producer and alleged mobster connected to Lucky Luciano. 
    • Luciano was a notorious 1930’s mobster. 
  • On December 16th, 1935, she was found dead by her employee Mae Whitehead. She was only 29 years old. 
  • “Because Miss Todd within the past few months had been the recipient of several extortion notes threatening her with death unless she paid $10,000, and because no apparent reason existed for her taking her own life, investigating officers desperately sought an answer to the mystery of her death. Coagulated blood marred the screen comedienne’s features and stained her mauve and silver evening gown and her expensive mink coat when she was found. Her blonde locks pathetically awry, in the front seat of her automobile in the garage of Roland West, film producer and director, in front of West’s residence at 17531 Pasetano Road, less than 500 yards from Miss Todd’s cafe on the Roosevelt Highway.”
  • Suspects
    • Pat DiCicco
    • Roland West
    • Stalker
    • West’s estranged wife 
  • Over her career she appeared in 120 features until her death.

 

Today we have Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, and Broad City’s Abby and Ilanna. Before that, there was Laverne and Shirley, and of course Lucy and Ethel. But, none of that might have been possible without Pitts and Todd. 

Zasu Pitts

 

Watch their shorts here: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2GLUliI0e8k&list=PLIrWJQzxB8BseeC3FeutO5nG4HdME7HWX

 

https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2018/11/thelma-todd-zasu-pitts-female-comedy-team-old-hollywood

 

Monty Python and the Holy Case

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Today we are going to talk about a very famous and influential group of comedians. The impact that they had is still felt today by those like Lorne Michaels of SNL which started in 1975 and even movies such as the recent Jojo Rabbit where the director Taika said he feels that when he had the Gestapo salute with “Heil Hitler” to each and every person in the room it is something that this troupe would do. We are talking of course about the Pythons and Monty Python and the Holy Grail!     

We will discuss a little history on how John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Eric Idle, Graham Chapman, and Michael Palin became the Pythons,  followed by the making of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and finally we will share how it was received and what it meant to us.

History

  • Radio
    • Although the Pythons all had many influences, one of the greatest was that of an old radio show called the Goon Show.  It starred Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, and Harry Secombe. It changed British comedy. It was unlike any other show because it was very ridiculous and silly. As thegoonshow.net says   “They burst onto the radio with surreal storylines, absurd logic, puns, catchphrases and groundbreaking sound effects. They ridiculed the pomposity of those in authority and laughed at the stupidity of mankind.”
  • Flying Circus
    • Cleese and Graham had been working together for a while and they enjoyed watching this kids show called “Do Not Adjust Your Set” which had Idle, Jones, Palin, and Gilliam in it.  Cleese and Graham decided to approach them to do a show together. They all thought it was a great idea and approached the British tv producer Michael Mills. None of them knew what they were going to do, just that they were going to have a humorous show. Michael Mills at the time trusted his gut and gave them 13 episodes without having any idea what they would come up with. 
    • This 1969 show would become known as Monty Python’s Flying Circus. It was the beginning of the Pythons and would have 45 episodes over 4 seasons. 
    • The name took a while to come up with. It was the result of a prolonged brainstorming.  The BBC seemed to like Flying Circus and in all their memos called it “The Circus.” Finally however they needed a concrete name for the show and Michael Mills told them to call it ‘something Flying Circus.’  So Cleese and Palin came up with the nonsense name Monty Python.  
    • The brilliant aspect of what they came up with was that the cast was able to play many different characters without one particular person standing out above the rest.  This was very unlike other comedies of the time where there was one star with a supporting cast. 
    • Another aspect that set it apart was that the sketches were not done to music.
    • The sketches lampooned issues of classicism and social mores, but are more dated when it comes to topics of race and gender. There was one recurring female actress, Carol Cleveland, who played the “straight woman” in many of their silly sketches. Cleveland has been referred to as the 7th Python due to her frequent appearances. Outside of her performances, most female characters were sexualized or “ditzy.” 
    • Many famous aspects of the show are considered timeless and have made a mark on modern pop culture.
      • The show was popular because it was different! It shows a disruption with authority by breaking the rules of TV at the time. It makes fun of bureaucracy, something we all still can relate to today
        • Characters constantly broke the fourth wall, sometimes a character from a previous sketch may walk into a current one and ask everyone how the show is going. 
        • Sketches rarely ended, either. Usually they flowed directly into another sketch or would end with an interruption from another character like The Colonel–he frequently dropped in to shut down a sketch for being “too silly.” 
      • One favorite sketch that all the Pythons mentioned was the Fish Slapping Dance which will be included in our blog because everyone should see it.

      • The Dead Parrot Sketch
      • The Cheese Shop
      • The Ministry of Silly Walks
    • In order to save money the BBC would often erase tapes but thanks to Terry Gilliam for buying them from the BBC before they could be erased!
    • After Season 3 Cleese called it. He was essentially getting bored and did not want to continue doing the same thing forever. The BBC therefore continued with a Season 4 without John Cleese but it only had 7 episodes and was just called “Monty Python.” It was clear that it just wasn’t the same without Cleese and so after season 4 the Circus ended.
  • Now For Something Completely Different
    • This movie was an attempt to bring in an American audience and consisted of reshot skits from the show done without a studio audience. Since it was not really the Pythons who decided to put this movie together they did not have much say in how it was made.  It ended up not being a very big box office hit. The estimated budget was $100,000 and the cumulative Worldwide Gross was only $6,979. 

Making of the Movie 

  • The budget was fairly low to begin with (only £150,000)  for the movie. They had to raise the money themselves but they were luckily able to secure some supportive donations from some famous bands such as Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and Charisma.
    • On top of a low budget about two weeks before filming they were told by the Dept. of the Environment of Scotland that they could not use their castles for shooting because it may be “inconsistent with the dignity of the fabric of the building.”  This meant that they had to find privately owned castles. They found one which was Doune Castle which stands for most of the castles in the movie. For the ending thankfully they were able to find Castle Stalker. This all ended up working in their favor with time as then they did not have to run around from castle to castle filming.
  • In order for the team to get what they wanted out of it, Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones directed the film.  Neither of them had any experience in directing and so it was a struggle and learning experience for all. Gilliam being the one who had done all the illustrations for the tv show was accustomed to looking closely at visuals, while Jones was good at getting the jokes to flow well and keep things going in a timely manner.
    • At times the actors would become a bit annoyed by the two directors.  Cleese gave a great example of this when he said they had hit gold with the Lancelot “Message for you, Sir!” scene.  However, when “Cut” was called Gilliam said there needed to be more smoke for the visual. 
    • Having two directors with different views caused some confusion but overall it seemed to work because the balance of visual and the whole experience was achieved.
  • The difficulty even started the first day when the camera broke on slate one take one.  It’s gears literally stripped, the only other camera had to be used because it was not an easy fix.  The problem however is that the audio did not automatically sync with the camera.
  • Lighting 
    • The lighting was minimal for the film.  Terry Bedford, the Director of Photography, said that quote “We had a couple of what we call red-heads and a small generator that you could stick 300 yards away and cover with blankets to cut the noise.”  
    • And for the cave scene they used real burning torches.
  • Black Knight Scene
    • The stand-in for Cleese was a man with one leg so he was already able to balance with one leg and an arm to his back.  The second leg was a dummy rigged by wires. The final piece was when they dug a hole for him when he was just a stump.
  • The first script 90% of it was thrown out
    • They did lots of research about the legends of KIng Arthur.
    • There were probably about 13 edits and screenings before the final finished product.  One of those changes was that they changed the music to a lot of library music and only kept new written pieces for the singing portions such as the Camelot Scene.

Starring

All the guys except Terry Gilliam graduated from Cambridge or Oxford. So basically they were all incredibly smart but just loved being silly!

  • John Cleese
    • Always the most well known because he was a tv star first in things like “The Frost Report” and “Fawlty Towers.”
    • Fun fact: HIs last name would have been Cheese but his grandfather changed the last name when he became a member of the British Army in 1915.
  • Terry Gilliam
    • The only American of the group, he was the one to do all the illustrations.
    • After directing for Monty Python Gilliam went on to direct films such as Time Bandits, Brazil, Twelve Monkeys, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
  • Eric Idle
    • He is said to be manager-like. He was not usually a writer of the jokes so he was able to judge it and change it as needed. He was also very good with songs and was why there were musical numbers in the show and movies.
    • He was also in Nuns on the Run and Casper.
  • Graham Chapman
    • Known for being late all the time
    • The first of the group to pass away in 1989.
    • He played the Colonel!! 
    • Lead in the Grail.
  • Terry Jones 
    • He is said to care about everything and was supposedly the most likely to be wearing drag for the sketches.
    • He is a major history buff who has done documentaries such as Ancient Inventions and The Crusades.
    • The second to pass away, very recently in January of 2020.
  • Michael Palin
    • Is known for his niceness and came up with the best ideas for sketches.
    • After being a Python he did world travel shows such as Around the World in 80 days, Pole to Pole, and Full Circle.
  • Carol Cleveland
    • Carol was their go to when they themselves could not play the character. She was only supposed to be in a few sketches but was quickly recruited to work with them whenever possible because she was so great at what she did.
    • She also appeared in The Avengers, The Persuaders, and Are You Being Served? 

Final Thoughts/ How it was received

  • Received very well!
  • Elvis Presley loved it and reportedly saw it about 45 times in the cinema and quoted it often!
  • To help promote Monty Python and the Holy Grail  there was a full page ad taken out offering the first 100 people at the cinema coconuts.

Sources

How the Grinch(es) Stole the Case

Hey Cassettes and welcome back to the Christmas Case Diaries! This month we’re focusing on Christmas TV specials, but this episode is EXTRA special because we will be talking about movies as well. The 1960’s was a decade that brought us a lot of classic Christmas specials. Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Frosty the Snowman (1969), and tonight’s topic: How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)!

 

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The Origin of Grinch

  • Theodor Suess Geisel, AKA the beloved Dr Suess, first used the word Grinch to describe a bird in his 1953 book Scrambled Eggs Super! The bird was called a Beagle-Beaked-Bald-Headed Grinch.  
  • In 1955 he published a short 32 line illustrated poem in Redbook, which was a woman’s magazine at the time.  The poem was entitled “The Hoobub and the Grinch.” Although this poem does not contain the same Grinch we know and love it, brings about the same issue of commercialism. In the poem the Grinch is able to sell the Hoobub a simple green string by making it sound like it is needed and thus goes on to say that the Grinch is able to sell the Hoobub similar items every day.
  • Finally Suess used Grinch in his hit Christmas book “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” which was released in 1957.

Many believe that the Grinch was Dr Suess’s alter ego, even Suess himself.  There were many reasons for this. In a 1957 interview with Redbook he stated “I was brushing my teeth on the morning of the 26th of last December when I noticed a very Grinch-ish countenance in the mirror. It was Seuss! So I wrote about my sour friend, the Grinch, to see if I could rediscover something about Christmas that obviously I’d lost.”

  • To add to this Suess was 53 when the book was released, the same age as the Grinch and he was also quirky and disliked large crowds.
  • And finally to show favor to the character he even had a Grinch vanity license plate!

Making of

The director of this special was Chuck Jones. You may know Jones because he is a famous  animator, filmmaker, cartoonist, author, artist, and screenwriter.  Most well known for his work in Looney Tunes, Merrie Melodies, and Tom and Jerry.  He and Suess knew each other due to working together during WWII on the animated propaganda called  Private Snafu. Suess was a writer and Jones an animator. Jones was the one to convince Suess into making an animated short for his How the Grinch Stole Christmas! 

Story drawing by Irv Spector.

*During production however, Phil Roman (one of the animators) said that Suess was only there 3 or 4 times but that he had been there for the storyboard beforehand.

  • In the original book, there are only three colors: black, white, and pink/red. So, where did the iconic green Grinch color come from? Apparently Chuck Jones was inspired to use it after renting cars that were that color. 
  • Dr. Suess felt like the main character more closely resembled a Chuck Jones character than the original Grinch drawings.

Time magazine in 2013 named it one of the top 10 greatest Christmas specials from your childhood, along with a movie we just discussed last episode called A Charlie Brown Christmas from 1965. While both of these masterpieces took a lot of money to make, Charlie Brown pales in comparison. It took a little less than $100,000 to create Charlie Brown but Grinch was finally able to garner  $300,000 from an organization called The Foundation for Commercial Banks after pitching to companies such as Kellogg’s and Nestle.  

Not only did Grinch receive funding to make the 30 minute special happen, but CBS paid $315,000 for the right to air it twice on their network; once in 1966 and once in 1967.

The music for the special was done by Albert Hague.

  • Dr. Suess wrote the lyrics to all the songs, including “Fahoo Foraze” which was meant to sound like classical Latin. Apparently it tricked some viewers, and people called to find out the translation. It turns out it was just classic Suessical Gibberish 
  • When Hague later recalled his audition for being able to compose for the special he said, “Afterward, Seuss looked up and said, ‘Anyone who slides an octave on the word Grinch gets the job.’ The whole thing took three minutes,”

Voice Actors

  • Boris Karloff as the Narrator and the Grinch
    • Dr. Suess was concerned that casting Boris Karloff would make the character too scary. But, Chuck Jones chose him after hearing him narrate other works. 
    • Originally, there was no difference between the narration and the speaking voices in the special, so sound editors removed the higher pitches from his voice in post. That is why when The Grinch speaks, he sounds different from the narrator. 
  • June Foray (uncredited) as Cindy Lou Who
  • Dal McKennon (uncredited) as Max
  • Thurl Ravenscroft (uncredited) as the singer of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch
    • AKA Tony the Tiger!
    • He was also the voice of Kirby in the Brave Little Toaster!
    • Dr. Suess attempted to fix the fact that he was uncredited by sending letters to every major columnist in America! Well, we know now. 

Grinch (2000)

  • The original special aired on December 15th, 1966! So, why did it take so long for it to get remade? Dr. Suess himself was reluctant to bring his works to the big screen. But after his death, the rights to his stories went to his widow. 
  • This was the first time a Dr. Suess story was turned into a full length feature film
  • Before she signed off on Jim Carrey playing the role of The Grinch, she had to visit him on the set of another movie to see if he was right for the part. 
    • The movie was “Man on the Moon” and Jim Carey was so deep into character that he had to do an impression of himself playing the Grinch
  • Directed by Ron Howard, he not only wanted it to be an adaptation of the book, but an adaptation of the original special as well. This is why he kept The Grinch’s green color, even though the character is white in the book. 
  • The movie did not receive a lot of critical acclaim, some believed the story and themes were too adult for a movie marketed to kids.
    • Jim Carey himself seemed to regret the amount of adult jokes in the script and wished that he had done more to stop them.
    • He maintains that all of his jokes were age-appropriate, and Ron Howard even removed some even raunchier jokes from the script.
  • What the critics did like was Jim Carey’s performance as The Grinch as well as the beautiful film score by the late James Horner.

Starring

This movie included many stars but here are just a few…

  • Jim Carrey as the Grinch
    • His costume was incredibly uncomfortable, including the yellow contacts that he was forced to wear. Apparently he even spoke with a former CIA agent about coping mechanisms for torture, as the suit was THAT uncomfortable and took an hour to take off.
    • He improvised a lot of lines in the movie, “Dinner with me, I can’t cancel that again!” 
  • Josh Ryan Evans as the young Grinch
  • Christine Baranski as Martha May
  • Jeffrey Tambor as Mayor Augustus Maywho
  • Molly Shannon as the mother Betty Lou Who
  • Bill Irwin as father Lou Lou Who
  • Taylor Momsen as the little girl Cindy Lou Who
  • With Anthony Hopkins as the Narrator

Grinch (2018)

Where the 2000 Grinch was too adult for children, the 2018 film fixed that issue. This movie is meant to appeal to children, with some older jokes and references. 

Voices of

  • Benedict Cumberbatch as Grinch
  • Cameron Seely as Cindy Lou Who
  • Rashida Jones as Donna Who
  • Tristan O’Hare as Groopert
  • Keenan Thompson as Mr. Bricklebaum
  • Sam Lavagnino as Ozzy
  • Ramone Hamilton as Axl
  • Angela Lansbury as Mayor McGerkle
  • Scarlett Estevez as Izzy
  • With Pharrell Williams as the Narrator

Sources:

IMDB

https://magazine.uc.edu/famousalumni/tv/grinch.html

https://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/2018/12/24/ccm-grad-wrote-iconic-music-grinch/2287627002/

http://entertainment.time.com/2013/12/12/10-greatest-christmas-tv-specials-from-your-childhood/

This one has great pre-production and production artwork

https://www.cartoonbrew.com/classic/grinch-stole-christmas-50-years-old-today-still-great-146646.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BvujUS8xfDk

https://seussblog.wordpress.com/tag/grinch-and-the-hoobub/

https://groovyhistory.com/story-behind-grinch-stole-christmas

The Case of a Charlie Brown Christmas

 Hey Cassettes, welcome to season 3! We’re starting the season off strong with episodes about some of our favorite Christmas specials. So for our first episode, we are going to focus on one of the oldest TV specials airing today: A Charlie Brown Christmas! Now, we say ONE of the first, because Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol was THE first animated Christmas special in 1962. 

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Charles Shultz and The Peanuts

  • Before we discuss this special, we have to talk about the history of Charlie Brown, and where The Peanuts came from. 
  • The Peanuts comic strip was first published in the late 1940’s, and was originally called “Li’l Folks” 
  • It was created by Charles Shultz, and starred Charlie Brown. The original strip included a random cast of unnamed characters. It wasn’t until the strip was renamed in 1950, that Shultz created a gang of regular characters. 
  • After Shultz’s comic strip was picked up by the United Feature Syndicate, an editor changed the name to, “Peanuts” because “Li’l Folks” was too similar to two other comic strips at the time.
    • Shultz hated the name, and wanted to keep the original. He felt that calling it “Peanuts” made it seem insignificant. He told TIME magazine this 15 years later.
    • Although Shultz hated the name, he worked on it until his death in 2000. 
  • At first, the strip ran in only 7 newspapers and wasn’t an instant hit. By the end of the 1950’s, it appeared in hundreds of papers across America, and The Peanuts were internationally known. It was in the 1960’s, however, when Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang peaked in popularity. 
    • Charlie Brown is an every-man character, facing easily relatable problems. Shultz modeled him after himself, and because of that, the rest of the world could see themselves in Charlie Brown too. 
    • The 1960’s was a tumultuous decade, filled with change. Not only did The Peanuts leave their mark on the world, but the comic strip changed with the times. The character Franklin was added after the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King Jr, and the bird Woodstock was named after the famous music festival.
  • At the height of its popularity in 1965, CBS gave The Peanuts their very own TV special.

Plot

  • A Charlie Brown Christmas follows the Peanuts gang as they prepare for Christmas. Charlie Brown finds himself depressed. At the suggestions of Lucy, he decides to get involved in the festivities by directing the school play. Bothered by the commercialism of the holiday, Charlie Brown is determined to find the true meaning of Christmas. 

Making A Charlie Brown Christmas

  • We already know that The Peanuts were very popular in the 1960’s, so much so, that a TV producer named Lee Mendelson wanted to make a documentary about the success of the comic strip.
  • Charles Shultz agreed to work on the project, and he asked an animator named Bill Melendez to help out with the brief animated segments of the special. The rest of the documentary would be live-action. 
  • A talented and well-respected jazz musician named Vince Guaraldi wrote original music for the documentary as well. 
  • At the time, the special was rejected, but it brought together the team that would later make A Charlie Brown Christmas. It was called, “A Boy Named Charlie Brown” 
  • In April of 1965, the McCann Erickson Agency called Mendelson, wondering if they had any ideas for a Peanuts Christmas special. Mendelson said yes, even though he had no special in mind. The thing was, Coca-Cola was interested in buying such a special if it existed, and they needed to see a draft of it in just a few days. Lee Mendelson called Charles Shultz and told him that he just sold “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Shultz responded with, “What is that?” And then the men had an outline done in one day.
      • When Coca-Cola agreed to buy the special, they asked for an early December release. The men had only 6 months to put a special together. 
  • Shultz wanted the special to focus on “The True Meaning of Christmas,” and added elements from Christmases he spent as a child in Minnesota. For example, there are lots of scenes that feature snow and even ice skating.
    • He also came up with the idea for the iconic tree in the special after reading “The Fir Tree” by Hans Christian Anderson. Schultz thought it would be interesting if there was a tree in the special that embodied the spirit of Charlie Brown. 
  • As animation began, it was clear that Charlie Brown and the gang were very limited in their movement. Animating flat characters can be very challenging, but Snoopy was the exception. If you notice during the special, Snoopy has the most action, and it’s because he was much more fun to animate. 
    • When you consider how the animation was done, it’s impressive that Melendez and his team got it done in so little time. It required a pencil drawing, followed by an inking and painting process onto a cell. The cell was then placed onto a painted backdrop. The drawings totaled to 13,000.
  • Lee Mendelson, the producer, invited Vince Guaraldi back to score the special. They were able to include the jazzy, “Linus and Lucy” written for the documentary previously mentioned, and Guaraldi wrote new songs that were performed by his jazz trio.
    • The most famous of these is, “Christmas Time is Here.” Mendelson ended up writing the lyrics to the song himself, after he had trouble finding a lyricist. The song is now considered a Christmas staple, and is often played on the radio during the holiday season.
    • Mendelson’s son and his 6th grade class performed the song.
    • The song is a perfect blend of melancholy music and joyful lyrics. It captures the sad spirit that Charlie Brown holds throughout most of the special, mixed with the excitement of being a child at Christmas 
    • The team also brought in a children’s choir to perform, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” for a pivotal scene in the special. The mixture of traditional Christmas carols and jazz is one of the aspects of the special that made it so interesting. 

Starring

  • Peter Robbins was the eight-year-old boy chosen to play Charlie Brown. His casting was one of the most difficult, because they needed to find a child’s voice that sounded “blah” 
    • At the time, he was a child actor who had done parts in The Munsters, Rawhide, and The Joey Bishop Show
    • He went on to play Charlie Brown for several years afterward in 6 other specials and has since retired from acting
  • Christopher Shea played Linus, whose voice was meant to sound sophisticated, yet innocent. 
    • This was his first acting role at age 7, and he continued to play Linus in four more specials. Shea also had a recurring role on the TV series Shane (1966) 
    • He passed away at the age of 52 in 2010.
  • Kathy Steinburg played Sally, Charlie’s younger sister. She was the youngest member of the cast, and did not know how to read. So, producers fed her one line at a time for her to deliver. 
  • Tracy Stratford played Lucy and was 10 years old at the time. Producers were impressed by her professionalism.
    • She had a role in two episodes of The Twilight Zone, one of them being “Living Doll,” which is one of the most famous episodes of the series. It features a murderous doll named “Talky Tina” 
    • This was her only appearance as Lucy Van Pelt, because her voice changed shortly after the animation was finished on the project.
  • Karen Mendelson played Patty. Patty was an original member of the Peanuts gang, but was later phased out after the introduction of “Peppermint Patty.” 
  • The rest of the cast was played by children in Mendelson’s own neighborhood, and he recalled the recording session to be chaotic. 

Reception 

  • Early on in the writing process, Lee Mendelson tried to convince Charles Schultz to leave out the religious references in the special. Schultz reportedly replied, “If we don’t do it, who will?” 
    • They went as far as to make Linus’ speech the climax of the special, making it impossible to cut out, so the special had to air with the religious message in tact.
  • No laugh track, authentic child voices, and a religious message meant that this special broke a lot of 1960’s TV rules. 
  • Mendelson, Melendez, and the CBS executives viewed the special days before its release and thought it was boring. They thought the jazz music seemed out of place, and the animation was underwhelming. But, there was one thing working for it: it was scheduled to premier in just a few days and they had to deliver on what they promised. If they had finished the special any sooner, CBS may have made the decision to cut it completely. 
    • I read that one of the animators, Ed Levitt (who had worked on Bambi and Fantasia) tried to cheer Melendez up by saying that it was the best special he would ever make, and that people would be watching it in 100 years
  • CBS aired the special on December 9th, 1965 to an estimated 15 million viewers. As reviews came in, it received unanimous critical acclaim! The network contacted the producers and ordered more specials immediately. 
    • Just think, if they hadn’t aired this or if it did fail, we wouldn’t have any of the other Charlie Brown specials that we have today. Imagine a world without It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!
    • The special won a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Children’s Program and the prestigious Peabody award.
  • A Charlie Brown Christmas is considered to be an American Christmas tradition, being one of the most popular specials to air every year. Today, it is the second longest-running Christmas special on US network TV. Was Ed Levitt correct? Will people still be watching it in 2065? All we know is that it’s been 54 years, and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. 

Resources

https://web.archive.org/web/20120828024707/http://www.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/10584

http://content.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,2022745,00.html

https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x3g6vrk

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Peanuts

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0059026/

The (Brief) Case of Clowning Around

Happy April Fools’! Special thanks to Jacob and Ariel for making the perfect joke intro as “The Podcast Wives.”

In this mini-sode, we discuss some famous clowns! Also, Robin talks about growing up with a clown dad.

Clowns/Shows mentioned

  • Jojo’s Circus
    • An early 2000s animated children’s show about a young clown named JoJo and her lion Goliath
  • The Big Comfy Couch
        • A PBS show that aired from 1992-2006
        • The show follows Loonette the clown who solves problems with her doll Molly on a Big Comfy Couch
        • Marci mentioned the clock stretch being her favorite part. Here is a clip:

      https://youtu.be/hqZoK1bq2hs

  • Emmett Kelly (1898-1979)
      • With his character Weary Willie, Emmett Kelly was the most famous tramp clown in the circus
      • He was a mascot for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1957
      • He appeared in the film The Clown and the Kids (1967) Where he performed his famous sweeping up the spotlight routine
    • A famous photo of him was taken during the Hartford Circus Fire in 1944
    • This day was also known as “The Day the Clowns Criedhartfordcircusfire
  • Glen “Frosty” Little (1925-2010)
    • Was in the first graduating class (1968) of Clown College by the  Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey circus. After graduating he went on to move up and be Boss Clown, Executive Clown Director, and finally Master Clown.  He became only the fourth and last clown to gain the title of Master Clown.
    • In 1991 he was inducted into the Clown Hall of Fame.FrostyLittle
  • Lou Jacobs (1903-1992)
    • Worked in the circus for 60 years
    • In 1989 inducted into Clown Hall of Fame
    • He was the only living person to have his face on a postage stamp
    • One of the first to ever use a rubber ball nose
    • Lou Jacobs
  • Red Skelton (1913-1997)
    • Also known as America’s Clown Prince, Red Skelton was a comedy entertainer
    • He appeared in over 30 MGM films in the 40s and 50s
    • He earned 3 Emmy awards and his show The Red Skelton Show ran for two decadesRed Skelton
  • Patch Adams 
    • Patch Adams is a 1998 film about an American physician of the same name
      • Hunter Doherty Adams was born in 1945
      • He founded the Gesundheit! Institute
    • Robin Williams played the title character

Robin mentions a Dick Van Dyke clown special that she watched growing up. Here is the link if you want to check it out!

Sources:

https://famousclowns.org/famous-clowns/frosty-little/