"Hoot" Director Wil Shriner on What It Takes to Be Funny
- Tuesday, May 02, 2006
Wil Shriner gets "funny." Although the veteran actor, director, writer and comedian insists he’s no comic genius, his record speaks for itself.
He’s been on more late-night shows than he can count, hosted his own television talk show (“The Wil Shriner Show,” in 1987), acted in dozens of films and directed episodes of the hit comedies “Becker,” “Frasier” and “Everybody Loves Raymond.”
A native New Yorker who attended journalism school at the University of Florida, Shriner is returning to writing with his latest gig, a film developed from the Carl Hiaasen children’s novel, “Hoot.”
A columnist with the Miami Herald and an ardent environmentalist, Hiaasen is known primarily for his adult fare, which includes novels like “Tourist Season,” “Double Whammy” and “Striptease.” Hiaasen also wrote this screenplay with Shriner, who is directing and co-producing the film as well. Singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett, who is co-producing, also has a small part. “Parrotheads” will appreciate the PG-film’s score, which serves up five brand new Buffet tunes.
“Hoot” tells the tale of Roy Eberhardt (Logan Lerman, “A Painted House,” “The Patriot”), an only son who is constantly on the move, thanks to nomadic parents. This time, their new home is South Florida, where Roy finds the courage to fight back against a bully (Eric Phillips), only to be forced by his parents to apologize. Logan finds a cause when he discovers that the construction of a local pancake house is endangering some owls. So he goes to work with his friends, and learns that kids can make a difference.
Crosswalk talked to Shriner about “Hoot,” his buddy Buffett, and what it takes to be funny these days. Here’s what he had to say. ...
Crosswalk.com: Where did you get your sense of humor?
Wil: I first discovered my sense of humor in Catholic school. I took great personal joy in getting my best friend in trouble then, watching him get a smack from one of the nuns. That’s where I get my kicks.
CW: So you went to Catholic school?
Wil: Yeah, but I went to a lot of schools. I was an altar boy. Way back in the Latin days.
CW: Well, you’re practically a comic genius.
Wil: I’m no genius. I’m just a kid with dream.
CW: Why did you decide to do this film? It’s different from your usual fare.
Wil: I grew up in Ft. Lauderdale. Jimmy [Buffett] had bought the rights to the book. We were friends and he asked me to read it and see what I thought. We both thought it would make a really good movie. So we all flew down to the Keys, and Carl and I came down and sat around over a fish sandwich. He had some reservations because “Striptease” had not turned out to be the movie he wanted. I said I wanted to stay really loyal to the book, and that I would want him to stay in it with me the whole time. I attended journalism school at the University of Florida, and I was a writer, so I said I would write the screenplay and direct the film. Walden Media, who has done a lot of great children’s films, had originally passed on the book, but I guess this combination worked. When they saw everyone who was attached to the project, they said it was a go and off we went. We got it made on schedule on budget, 42 days in Florida on principal photography.
CW: It’s great not to see any of the usual scatological humor that so many directors insist on including in children’s films.
Wil: Yeah, we don’t have any poop jokes in this. No farting, either. And you know, content is important. I’ve held my daughter's ears and eyes in a number of PG movies. There’s a certain amount of content I just do not want her to see. Back in the day when I did stand-up comedy, people used to say, ‘Hey, that would be funny if you’d add an expletive,’ and I’d say, ‘Yeah, but I don’t need it.’ So often, you don’t. It’s just there. I’ve been on Jay Leno maybe 15 times and done, oh, maybe 35 Letterman shows because I was able to do material with clean content.
CW: How much fun did you have making a movie with Jimmy Buffett?
Wil: Jimmy’s great. I’m a huge fan. He truly has figured life out. Here’s a guy who’s very successful in everything he does. He’s a restaurateur, he’s a bestselling author, he’s a great pilot, a great fisherman. He owns food companies. He has record labels. Jimmy works hard. Now I’ve toured as a comic, and it’s very hard. You’re away from your things, you’re in a hotel. But for most comics, the happiest hour of their life is in front of the camera. And Jimmy is happy singing. But when he’s not singing, he’s living the dream. He hops in his seaplane and goes down to Florida, where he jumps in his kayak and paddles around. He’s always growing.
CW: How did you meet?
Wil: We met up in the Redwoods. We started talking about gadgets and now, we’re always trying to 'out-gadget' one another. I’ll say, ‘Hey, look at this new cell phone!’ and Jimmy will say, ‘No, I’ve got one better! Look. It’s a Broadband.’ Finally I said, ‘Jimmy, this is not a competition. You’ve got your own jet, okay?’ But this is a guy who never stops bettering himself. He’s a naturally curious person. It’s one of the things we have in common. You could drop both of us anywhere, and we’d talk to people. It comes with the territory, though. If you’re not curious, you’re not going to be a good writer.
CW: Is there a message in this film?
Wil: The message in our movie is that kids are smart, and they can make a difference. They can empower change, whether it’s saving the owls or some other part of the environment. If kids don’t care about throwing stuff into the canal and recycling, I’ll be dead and gone and my kids’ kids will be facing it. It’s up to young people to stand up and clean up – or at least make some kind of transition. The planet is getting smaller and smaller and our resources are getting fewer and fewer.
CW: Do you drive an SUV?
Wil: No, I don’t! I drive a Vespa, believe it or not. I fill that thing up and scoot around town and it costs me $4. It’s great. And I do have a car, an old Mercedes, but it gets 35 miles to the gallon. It still costs me $70 to fill up, though. I remember when we used to fly up to Santa Barbara [from Los Angeles] for lunch. We used to call that the $50 hamburger. Now it would be a $300 hamburger. So we have to find some new ways of energy, whether it’s wind power or solar power. We can no longer rely on oil. If you’re flying airplanes and running boats, though, you’re relying on oil.
CW: What’s your favorite moment in the film?
Wil: I have two. One is the moment when the boy and his father are walking on the beach and his dad says, “Where is your good judgment?” The father plays it very stoic. He understands that he is becoming a man, and that he’s finally becoming independent in his thinking. It’s the bond that every boy and his father would love to have. I also love the scene where Brie’s on the floor and looks up and says, “I’m not going to call you Roy.”
CW: Do you have a sense of how people are reacting to the film yet?
Wil: Well, my daughter – she’s 16 – has seen it 5 or 6 times, which is the true test. But I enjoy seeing the audience react to a film. I’ve always worked live in front of audiences as a comic, and there’s something really immediate seeing people laugh. Yesterday it played in Orange County, and it really played to a lot of laughs. It’s fun when the alligator comes out of the toilet. I thought that moment had been spoiled by the trailer but there was this little old lady sitting next to me and she jumped about a foot out of her seat. That’s a great wake-up moment in any movie, good or bad. You know, when you’ve maybe just nodded off.
As a judge of where the funny is, as a sitcom writer, I know where the funny is. But it’s harder to predict the big jokes and the small jokes. Sometimes it’s the opposite of what you would think. I always wanted the big applause laughs. But I’ve learned that it’s not the volume of the laughter that matters. One audience can be very loud, another very boisterous. Unless they get up and walk out, you can’t assume they didn’t enjoy themselves. It’s just the way different audiences react to comedy.
CW: Who’s your favorite comic?
Wil: Comedy comes from point of view, and there are many different styles. I always found that pure monology [from “monologues”] is the purest. And for my money, there will never be another comic as good as Carson. I did 10 shows with him.
CW: What’s your next project?
Wil: I have a couple of movie ideas. I want to do a romantic comedy. And Carl [Hiassen] and I have some interest in making “Flush” a movie. I’m ready for a break, though. I’m moving to Florida.
Directed by Wil Shriner and starring Luke Wilson, Logan Lerman, Brie Larson, Tim Blake Nelson and Cody Linley, "Hoot" (New Line Cinema) is rated PG (mild bullying and brief language) and opens in theaters nationwide on Friday, May 5, 2006.
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