Paul Scheer picks his favorite How Did This Get Made? episodes
Bestcasts asks podcasters to discuss the three most memorable episodes of their podcast.
The podcaster: Paul Scheer has been ubiquitous in pop culture since breaking through alongside Aziz Ansari, Rob Huebel, and director Jason Woliner in the two-season cult-hit MTV sketch-comedy show Human Giant. Scheer is currently a cast member of the largely improvised FX sports comedy The League and Adult Swim’s NTSF:SD:SUV::, which he also created, writes, and produces. Scheer has also appeared on the big screen in Piranha 3D, Piranha 3DD, and the upcoming Ass Backwards, which was co-written by and co-stars Scheer’s wife, June Diane Raphael. Scheer and Raphael co-host the popular Earwolf podcast How Did This Get Made?, along with friend, fellow writer, and comic Jason Mantzoukas. The podcast is an ebullient celebration of bad movies at their most perplexing and entertaining. It features the hosts performing comic post-mortems on some of the worst films of all time, alongside comedian guests, and sometimes, actors and/or filmmakers from the films they’re discussing.
Episode 48: Sleepaway Camp (with Zack Pearlman)
Paul Scheer: Well, I’d never heard of this movie, Sleepaway Camp, and apparently it is a classic bad film. We’ve been going out to our fans and asking, “What’s your perfect How Did This Get Made-like “Halloween” movie?” And it just kept coming up, coming up, coming up. It won by a landslide. There was nothing else. The only one that came close was the third Halloween movie, without Michael Myers. But besides that, it was Sleepaway Camp by a landslide. And it was on YouTube, so it was even better for our show. We were trying to make it accessible to everybody. And June and I are watching this, and we’re saying to ourselves, “What are we even watching?” Then I started to see all this inspiration in it.
I talked to David Wain and Ken Marino about this, and there’s a lot of similarities between Sleepaway Camp and Wet Hot American Summer as well, in terms of the way the characters are dressed and the look of the camp. I was starting to see influences from this movie that I’d never heard of. And I think that when we came in to record that podcast—the three of us and Zack Pearlman—we were so confused at what we saw because it’s so bizarre. The ending makes you second-guess everything you’ve seen. To this day, I get emails and people post on the Earwolf boards saying, “Well, here’s what I think actually happened.” They wouldn’t have a definite answer for what happened, but it’s still a constant debate. I feel like that episode is one of my favorite ones, in the sense that it was just us genuinely going, “Wait a sec.” We try to find the logic in it, which I think is harder. I’m still not 100 percent sure. Somebody just wrote in the other day, and I thought, “Oh, that’s a good theory.” They said that there’s a murder in the movie; a boy and a girl are killed, or a brother and sister are killed, and they hypothesize that the boy took over his sister’s role, so that’s why his cousin never second-guessed that this person was at his house. I don’t know. I don’t even want to talk about it. It hurts my head. Sleepaway Camp is one of the ones where we really all had different theories, and no one knew what the relationships were. We were looking on Wikipedia and everything, and we try very hard just to come in with our initial reactions to it.
The A.V. Club: That seems like one of the inherent difficulties of the show: You’re trying to explain films that are insanely convoluted and tend not to make much sense.
PS: Yeah, and that was a tricky one, because no one was even sure what we thought happened. A lot of times, we can speculate. Here, I don’t even know if that’s the right character. Are they in a gay relationship? Is that the mother? Is that the aunt? We weren’t even sure of what we saw, which has never happened before.
AVC: When you’re watching a film for How Did This Get Made? are you looking for that moment when you realize, “Okay, this is the perfect movie for the show?”
PS: I was thinking about this the other day. It’s a tricky situation with this show, because there are plenty of bad movies. There’s the Gary Busey-as-a-killer-snowman movie. And we’re never going to really do those.
AVC: The Gingerdead Man.
PS: There are always these D-level movies, and we try to stay away from them, with the exception of Birdemic and The Room. We try to stay with the more four-quadrant movies that are trying so hard to appeal and be a big blockbuster and fail miserably, but a lot of those are not fun to watch. They’re bad, and they’re not even really fun to talk about, because it’s depressing. The biggest example of that I can think of is The Last Airbender. Everyone was saying, “Oh, you’ve got to see this movie. It’s so bad.” We watch it. We’re like, “Yeah, it’s bad. It’s not fun. It’s upsetting.” So whenever we start watching a movie, I always have a little bit of nervousness, but with this, I was onboard immediately. Once two children are run over by a motorboat, I was like, “Yes, I don’t know where it’s going.” The end is just the icing on the cake. We don’t do a lot of pre-watching at this point. But we did run into a problem the other day. We just recorded a podcast for The Odd Life Of Timothy Green, which I saw in the theater with June, and a whole bunch of people like Casey Wilson and Scott Aukerman. And we asked, “What is going on? This is insane. This movie is crazy.” And then our guest, Tim Heidecker, came in, and I told Jason, “You’ve got to see it.” Then they loved it, and we’ve never had a podcast like that, where they’re like, “No, no, no. This movie is really good.”
AVC: What did they like about The Odd Life Of Timothy Green?
PS: Well, you’ll hear it in the podcast. We’ve never had that happen. This is a first on our show. They thought it was a beautiful fantasy about this family, and it was about learning lessons. I was amazed. June and I, I think, were sheepish, because we’ve talked about this movie for the last year. We couldn’t wait until it came out. [We thought] it was great for the show because—I get that it’s a fantasy, but that movie is insane.
AVC: The story is by Ahmet Zappa.
PS: Yeah, it was Ahmet’s mind. We were joking, “It’s like Frank Zappa’s bedtime story. Like, ‘Hey, there was a boy…’” It’s just this warped, drunk story that Frank Zappa came up with and told his kids.
I feel like I can tell within the first 20 minutes, not even 20, the first 10 minutes, and then I breathe a sigh of relief because when you get stuck on one that sucks, it’s no fun. It’s a weird line. There are plenty of bad movies, and not all of them are entertaining on the same level. Some are insane, and some are just mildly entertaining. It’s a tricky situation.
AVC: You also have the Snakes On A Plane phenomenon, where if a movie is winking too hard at the audience, it kills a lot of the enjoyment.
PS: That’s the thing: People are always saying, “Do Piranha. Do Piranha.” And I get it. I’m not saying Piranha is a good movie. Actually, I do like the first one a lot, but I think the first one knows exactly what it is, and is catering to that. The second one, I have different issues with, but again, they’re in the same boat; they were trying to wink at the camera. Well, those aren’t as much fun for me. You shouldn’t be in on this. A perfect example of that is when we did Green Lantern. Green Lantern was the perfect just-get-made movie, because it’s a big blockbuster that is trying to be, like, “It’s good for girls. It’s good for guys. Old people, young people, kids.” It’s like that four-quadrant world, and it failed so miserably. Old Dogs is another one of those movies where there’s John Travolta and Robin Williams. “We’re going to try to make it for everyone. It’s a kid’s movie. It’s an adult movie.” And that’s when the movie starts to show its schizophrenia, and that is when you get the best crazy stuff, because it feels like people are trying to close a closet door and it’s not fitting. It’s like, “Shove it in there. Put that soccer ball there. All right, it’s fine. We’ll put a skateboarding scene in there. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, just close the door. Make sure it closes.” And then you’re just stuck with this.
AVC: It’s like on The Simpsons, with the Poochie Effect. “Hey, the kids are into the iPods and Facebook! Our protagonist loves iPods. He’s always Facebooking up a storm!”
PS: You see that all the time with surfing and skateboarding. It’s such a cliché that if you watch enough of these movies, you can see them coming.
AVC: Like in the 1980s and early ’90s, when it seemed like every other movie had a diamond-smuggling subplot, like in Exit To Eden.
PS: Well, that’s the thing that’s so funny. Exit To Eden—I haven’t seen it, but I remember when it came out, and I know what it was about. This is a movie studio. They’re green-lighting this movie. So someone has to read the script. Actors had to sign onto the script. They were shooting it. They were shooting these scenes. And there are so many points where someone could have just said, “No, we shouldn’t do that. That is a bad idea.” But no one does, and that’s the thing I love. How did that happen? Did no one say, “Um, hold on one second. This is insane. We shouldn’t be making this”?
AVC: It’s tricky, because the crazy, delusional self-confidence necessary to actually get a film made is also the kind of crazy, delusional self-confidence that leads to terrible movies.
PS: Again, I’ll go back to Old Dogs. The whole reason the podcast started was, we saw Old Dogs in the theater. It was the guy who directed Wild Hogs, the middle-aged-biker movie. So they thought, “Okay, let’s make another movie with him. This one will have John Travolta and Robin Williams, and it’s going to be like these two guys, single guys, where our lives are.” So far, that’s an okay equation. Make a lot of money with a bunch of stars, doing a motorcycle thing. Now you put Robin Williams and John Travolta in a movie. But then they apparently thought, “But we’re Disney. Let’s put some kids in there. Oh, you know what? We should make it a kid movie. Yeah, but we should keep a lot of the adult stuff, too.” I found out that that movie was supposed to be rated R at one point.
So they took an R-rated movie, but they made a PG movie. Then all of a sudden, in the final sequence, you’ve got a scene where Seth Green is being molested by a gorilla. You have Bernie Mac in, I believe, his last performance. He’s a puppeteer who’s made a robot puppet suit and gives it to Robin Williams because Robin Williams has a hard time interacting with the kid. So John Travolta wears the robot part of it and controls Robin Williams so he can interact with his kid. I mean, what is going on? I don’t even understand someone saying, “We’ll give him a robot puppet suit. Okay, sounds good. Sounds really good.” Then the movie fluctuates back and forth between being a kid’s movie and an adult movie. Who are you thinking is going to go to this? Who is this for?
Episode 31: Birdemic Live (with “Weird Al” Yankovic)
PS: Basically, I tried to pick three interesting episodes that are indicative of the different types of shows we do. Birdemic is an interesting one because it’s a live show. Then it’s a show where we also have a star from the movie. We’ve done it with Birdemic, Cool As Ice, The Room, and then one of my favorite ones is Punisher: War Zone, where we had the director of it come on and talk. A lot of people have written about Birdemic being the same as The Room, so we thought, “What could we add to that conversation that would be different?” And the thing I think we can add is having one of the stars of Birdemic chat with us about it, and we could ask our questions after we did our analysis. I really enjoy that. I really loved doing that with the Punisher: War Zone episode. That was a more straightforward episode. Hearing all the hurdles that [director Lexi Alexander] had to jump through to make that movie, I got a whole new respect for her. So the reason I did Birdemic was so we could actually talk to one of the stars.
AVC: Is it a tough sell, asking people, “Hey, I have a bad-movie podcast. Would you like to come on and talk about your bad movie?”
PS: It’s a hard sell, but I’ll tell you that everybody that we’ve gotten has been through an awful lot with their movies. I love Crank 2. I think Crank 2 is great. It’s fun. It’s just one of those movies that I can watch whenever. Everything about it is great. It’s winking. It’s going balls-out. It’s being crazy. And I appreciate that. I think that [the Neveldine/Taylor partnership] do it in a really good way. And when we talked about that because they’d had somebody who tweeted out there and said, “Hey, you should come on their podcast,” they wrote me back to say, “We’ll come on your podcast.” Great. And then Patton Oswalt was a fan of our podcast. He said, “You know who you should get on the show? Lexi Alexander. She directed War Zone. You’ve got to bring her on.” And then we got Vanilla Ice. That was one of the ones that was the most tenuous. I don’t think he knew what he was in for at all, or if he even remembered shooting Cool As Ice, but we got him to talk about it, which was great. The girl from Birdemic totally understood what that movie is, and the guy from The Room was awesome. He’s actually writing a book about his experiences. And Kevin Smith didn’t talk about one of his movies, but he talks about his experience with Wild Wild West, so it’s a tenuous connection. I would never just approach anybody unless I heard them specifically say, “I did not like working on this movie,” or “This movie was a crazy thing.” I would never offer it up if I wasn’t sure that someone would say yes to it.
AVC: It seems like part of the appeal with a film like Birdemic or The Room is that it’s an unfiltered glimpse into the madness of its creator, which is much different than what you get from watching the film.
PS: I remember being at Cinefamily. They’re out in L.A., and they do a bunch of cool stuff here. They play classic movies. They told me, “We’re about to play Birdemic.” I think Tim [Heidecker] and Eric [Wareheim] were actually hosting it. So I went and I had no idea what it was. They released these birds from the ceiling, and they gave out coat hangers during the screening. No one else had really seen it, and at the end, they brought up [writer-director] James [Nguyen]. He came up, and it was the first time he saw it with an audience. So he’s not like Tommy Wiseau [director of The Room], who has now adopted the posture of, “Oh yeah, it’s a black comedy.” Tommy Wiseau is claiming it as a comedy, but Greg Sestero, who was on our show, said, “No. He wanted to be the next Tennessee Williams. It was never intended to be a comedy.” But we saw James get up there, and that was the moment where I felt bad because he did not know what to make of the response. To him, it was the première of his movie, and he just went to a theater where people are going bananas for it, but not the way he wanted them to go bananas for it. And in his mind, he created the next The Birds or some other great horror film. There’s no, “Oh, that didn’t come out right.” “No, no it came out exactly the way I wanted it.” I think that’s always pretty interesting to see.
AVC: I had to stop watching Birdemic after about 20 minutes because it made me feel like I was exploiting the man’s delusions, or I was complicit in that exploitation.
PS: Me too. Truthfully, I did too, and that’s why we, for the most part, stay away from movies like that, because there are plenty of movies out there like that. But Birdemic and The Room, in my opinion, are so next-level that they are joys. I don’t think James is insane. I just don’t think he quite understood the language. I don’t think he had the technology and in talking to the girl in the movie, he seems sometimes downright abusive to her. Her holding the microphone between her legs during a scene where she is on-camera is just sadistic. So I feel like those are the next level. There’s a fine line, but there’s no fun in just making fun of stuff. I think we try very hard not to say, “Fuck that director. Fuck this director.” We look at the characters of these movies as three-dimensional people. We ask, “Why would they go there?” And we try to find the philosophy behind it. And June does such a good job of giving everybody the benefit of the doubt. I don’t like to exploit that.
AVC: One of the things that really sets the podcast apart is the sense of excitement you convey. It’s not a matter of dumping on bad movies, it’s finding the joy and wonder in bad movies.
PS: I love that experience of seeing a bad movie or a movie that you don’t even know, and then experiencing it with your friend. And that’s what everyone does. When you see something really wild or really memorable, you ask, “Did you see this thing?” You want to say, “Turn this on right now. You have to watch it.” It’s like the whole idea of why you pass around viral videos. I love celebrating movies. I’m a fan. Even if I don’t like something, I want to enjoy it on some level. That’s why we try to avoid the ones that are just bad without any redeeming features.
AVC: Are there movies you thought about featuring on the show that turned out to not fit?
PS: We tend to stay away from comedies. People on our show are pretty adept at pointing out the ones we jumped over that seemed like glaring omissions, but we do stay away from comedies. That’s a business we’re all in, first and foremost. We’re all actors, producers, writers, directors, so we stay away from that, out of respect for our peer group. I think also we all try very hard to pick flat-out bombs, where you can’t really argue, “This movie is not a bomb.” We don’t want to offend. So we try to be selective about what we pick.
Episode 32: 88 Minutes (with Pete Holmes)
PS: I feel like every time I taped Breaking Bad, I would see the last two minutes of [88 Minutes] and think, “What is this? What is this movie?” It was a crapshoot. I thought, “I hope this will be a crazy Al Pacino movie.” That was such a fun one partially because Pete Holmes was so great. I love his podcast. I’m a fan of his, and it was fun to add him on. And we just were really playing around with this movie. Again, the movie is not overtly bad, but what I think is fun for us is to get really into these characters and the world they’re living in and asking the questions like, “Wait a minute, why would you ever kick out the cab driver for so and so reasons?” I feel like the show is like unknotting a shoelace. We’re just trying to pull the plug to make it at least make sense to us, and there’s a lot of doing Al Pacino impressions on that one, and I feel like that 88 Minutes is most representative of a just-get-made episode. That’s kind of what the show is week in and week out, and I just really like that one, just because I remember it being really fun. Birdemic was more of like, “Oh, that’s what our live shows are like, and we have like a big guy, like a big celebrity on there, like Weird Al, who was so great, and somebody from the actual movie chiming in. Sleepaway Camp is just one of the ones that, in my mind, was the most mindboggling of any one that we’ve ever done. And I think that everything there is leaving us just confused and not knowing what we saw. Those are very three different specific films.
AVC: I knew someone who would call for a “process moment” to figure out big events after they happened. It seems like that’s what How Did This Get Made? is ultimately about: providing a culture-wide process moment for bad-movie lovers to try to make sense of what they’ve just experienced.
PS: I really like that. The “process moment.” June and I, we’re married, we live together, and sometimes we watch these movies together. Sometimes we don’t. But we try hard not to speak about the movies until afterward. We’ll sit with notebooks in each of our laps and write stuff down, but I don’t want to know anything she thinks about it. I don’t want to talk to Jason about it. I want the first time that we ever talk about it to be on mic, because that is the most pure moment of the show. It’s all of us really hearing everybody’s thoughts for the first time.
That’s how I grew up. I saw every single movie when I was a kid. I still see everything, and we’d go out afterward and just talk about if it was awesome, if it was bad. We see movies that are so bad, they’re great, and movies that are so crazy, they’re amazing. Crank 2 falls into that category, and I would even say that The Room falls into that category. But they’re movies we’re genuinely fans of. Like Punisher: War Zone, Patton said, “This movie’s great, but it’s underrated,” and he’s right. If you’re a fan of the comic-book version of The Punisher,” she did exactly that. That doesn’t mean everyone’s going to really love it. It was really cool and really beautifully shot, and listening to her tell the story about how she wanted to cast Freddie Prinze Jr. was great. She said Prinze was the better actor over Dominic West, from The Wire, but the studio said, “No, you can’t hire Freddie Prinze Jr. You have to hire Dominic West, because he’s got some cachet.” Dominic West is the worst part of the movie by far. But she couldn’t cast the person she wanted. I think we’ve only talked about movies we really celebrate. It’s coming more from a process of really enjoying it and talking around it, instead of just saying that it sucked.