Q & A with Writer-Director Bobcat Goldthwait

“World’s Greatest Dad” Writer-Director Bobcat Goldthwait

“World’s Greatest Dad” Writer-Director Bobcat Goldthwait

As part of ZAMM.com’s continuing conversations with independent filmmakers Martin Grove talks to writer-director Bobcat Goldthwait about his outrageous comedy “World’s Greatest Dad”, which played at the Sundance Film Festival last January and opens Aug. 21 in select cities via Magnolia Pictures.

Written and directed by Goldthwait (“Sleeping Dogs Lie”, “Shakes the Clown”), “Dad” is the story of a man who learns the things you want most may not be the things that make you happy and that being lonely is not necessarily the same as being alone.

The film, presented by Darko Entertainment, Process and Jerkschool Productions, was produced by Tim Perell, Howard Gertler, Sean McKittrick and Richard Kelly. Starring are: Robin Williams, Alexie Gilmore, Daryl Sabara, Geoff Pierson, Henry Simmons and Mitzi McCall.

The Story: Robin Williams plays Lance Clayton, a man who’s learned to settle. Although Lance dreamed of being a rich and famous writer, he’s only managed to become a high school poetry teacher. His only son, Kyle (Daryl Sabara, best known for starring in “Spy Kids” in 2001 and “Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams” in 2002), is an obnoxious jerk who totally disrespects his father. Lance is dating Claire (Alexie Gilmore), the school’s pretty art teacher, but she doesn’t want to get serious — or even acknowledge publicly that they’re dating.

Then, in the wake of a freak accident (that you don’t want to know about before seeing the film), Lance suffers the worst tragedy and, at the same time, the greatest opportunity of his life. He’s suddenly faced with the possibility of all the fame, fortune and popularity he ever dreamed of, if he can only live with the knowledge of how he got there. I enjoyed an early look at “Dad” and was happy to be able to catch up recently with Goldthwait to discuss the making of the film. When we spoke Goldthwait was in Montreal, where “Dad” was playing at the Montreal Comedy Festival.

Q: How did the movie come about?
A: I wrote the screenplay right after I had another movie that was at Sundance, “Sleeping Dogs Lie” which was called “Stay” at the time. Robin and I are old friends and he really liked “Sleeping Dogs Lie”. I really wasn’t trying to hit him up to be in the movie. I was at dinner with him and another friend and I was telling him the new story and he was like, “Well, can I read it?” I really wouldn’t have written the movie for Robin as a poetry teacher if I had him in mind because I think he covered that pretty well already in “Dead Poets Society”. So I was really shocked when he wanted to be in the movie. And that’s how it all happened.
Q: We sort of expect different things from Robin, but this story really seems to fit him like a glove.
A: About a week into it he said to me, “Oh, I get it. I’m playing you and me.” I think the character is a little bit based on life lessons that Robin and I had to learn as adult men. Also, he said it’s the most comfortable he’s ever felt on a set, which I believe is true because he and I are friends. It wasn’t like we would do a scene where you would go, “Okay, we’ll do one and now we’ll do one where you ad lib.” We would keep trying different things, but it was very collaborative.
Q: How long ago were you writing it?
A: It was a year or two ago.
Q: I talk to so many independent filmmakers who have put 10 years into developing their movies before they get made.
A: I’d written the movie “Sleeping Dogs Lie” really quickly. I was the director on the “Jimmy Kimmel Show” for like three years and we shot it in two weeks with a crew from Craig’s List when we went and made that movie. I shot it with a lot of the guys that worked on the Kimmel show and then a lot of kids that answered an ad. That’s how we made that movie. When I write these movies I really have the intention of just going out and making them no matter what.
Q: When you’re writing, do you write around the clock for a week and there it is?
A: It’s funny. That’s how these two were written. I just go into a hotel and I wrote this one in about five days. But my detractors would probably say I should spend another day or two on it! But these are all ideas that I’m kind of thinking about and then eventually I sit down and write it.
Q: Did you have any casting in mind when you wrote it?
A: No. No one at all when I was writing.
“World’s Greatest Dad” in select theaters August 21

“World’s Greatest Dad” in select theaters August 21

Q: When Robin expressed interest in reading it, I guess he must have liked what he read since he wound up signing on to do the film.
A: Yeah. I think a lot of it came about because he really was kind of moved by the last movie (“Sleeping Dogs Lie”). He got really choked up when he saw that one because we watched that together.
Q: After Robin was attached did that accelerate getting the project made?
A: Yeah, it did accelerate it. And then our concern was making it with the right people so the temptation to make it a zany comedy (didn’t prevail). We wanted to make sure it was made with the right folks so they got the tone of the movie and so it wasn’t going to be trying to exploit Robin’s name and put out a comedy with a very silly trailer and all that kind of stuff. We wanted to make sure people kind of got the humor of it.
Q: Now casting the role of Robin’s son Kyle had to pose some challenges because it’s really a very unsympathetic role. In fact, I didn’t find any redeeming qualities whatsoever in this character.
A: (laughing) No, there is nothing redeeming about him. I guess like a lot of directors when you write something, you know that if you don’t have the right person playing it that (it won’t work because) everything is kind of hanging on that. Daryl came in and I had never seen the “Spy Kids” movies. He was supposed to audition for the role of Andrew, the sweet boy (who is Kyle’s only friend in the film). He just came in and lied to me and told me he was there for Kyle and I was like “Okay.”

He auditioned and did such a great job I wasn’t sure if Daryl was a bad kid (in real life) because he kind of stayed in character. I watched his audition tape a whole bunch. I studied it like the Zapruder Film until I saw the glimpses of him being a sweet kid. I called around and I heard people going, “Daryl? He’s a really nice guy. What are you talking about?” I was afraid that he might actually be that (nasty) kid because as much as I wanted someone to do a good job on the role, I didn’t want to hang out with someone who really was like Kyle.
Q: So I guess it shows he’s a good actor?
A: He’s a great actor. I’ve got to give him credit, too, because of not “disappearing” when he had scenes with Robin and hanging in there (without being overshadowed).
Q: It must be hard to hold your own playing opposite Robin.
A: Yeah. It’s funny because Robin gets really defensive when people ask him if he was ad libbing. He’s always like, “No, I wasn’t.” But in reality there is plenty of stuff that he came up with or Daryl came up with. So that’s where it’s really exciting — when they started ad libbing and then Daryl just hangs in there and does a great job.
Q: Did you rehearse with them or just let them go into a take right away?
A: We had a little rehearsal, but it was mostly trying new ideas while we were there. We would do a couple passes and then we might say, “Okay, let’s try the scene as if you guys really were angry and then let’s try it like it doesn’t matter at all.” We would try different takes of most of the stuff.
Q: To fine tune the emotions?
A: Yeah and also not to be married to it like later on in editing, going, “Oh, you know, this scene — we played it too serious. It should have been kind of thrown away.” The best example of that is the scene on the talk show (where Robin’s being interviewed about his book about Kyle). Robin and I both were kind of like scratching our heads and then I said, “You know, play the whole lie, the whole scene and the whole movie right now. Just think about everything.” And then he kind of had like a breakdown and that’s what’s in the movie. He said he had a breakdown and I said, “Yeah. Can you do it again?”
Q: When did you start shooting and for how long?
A: It was around last year about this time and it was five weeks. It was funny because Robin’s used to working on larger movies so he said, “Is this going to be eight or nine weeks?” And I was like, “I guess if I was doing ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ yeah, but it’s about four or five weeks.”
Q: Where did you shoot?
A: We shot up in Washington in the Seattle area.
Q: Was there a reason for going there? Was there a tax break for shooting there?
A: There was that, but it was also because — this sounds really pretentious — in the back of my mind when I think of “Harold and Maude” I always think of big pine trees. And then I found out later on they shot that in northern California. But I think that might have been subconsciously (what led to shooting in Washington) because I kind of was thinking of that movie when we made this movie.
Q: When you were shooting did you already have a distribution deal with Magnolia?
A: No, that came later.
Q: So how did you finance the movie?
A: It was the folks at Darko who financed it. It’s Richard Kelly’s company. It’s (called) Darko because they did “Donnie Darko” and Richard Kelly directed it (the 2001 fantasy drama starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Maggie Gyllenhaal).
Q: Can you say what the budget for “Dad” was?
A: I don’t know if Magnolia would be too happy with that, but my guess is that probably it would be about two days of shooting on “Night at the Museum” (Robin Williams played Teddy Roosevelt in the 2006 original and the 2009 sequel) with their budget.
Q: How did the film come to Magnolia?
A: They were one of the folks who when we were at Sundance expressed interest in it. Eamonn Bowles, who runs Magnolia, is actually an old friend of mine because he hangs out in a bar that my friend runs in New York. Eamonn’s always been very supportive of what we’re doing. I’ve been very happy working with him.
Q: Looking back at production, what were some of the challenges that you faced?
A: The majority of the cast are all comedians and they’re all friends and there would be times when it would kind of be funny (with them on set) where I’m going, “Hey, guys, come on. We have to be serious.” They’d be like, “Really, Bobcat?” It was kind of funny because we had grownups on the set some days.
Q: Did you have decent weather in Washington?
A: When you shoot there you’re kind of hoping for overcast skies and it was sunny the whole time. It’s much nicer to film when it’s overcast.
Q: Being the writer as well as the director gives you some freedom to change things if you want to during production. Did you do anything along those lines?
A: There’s a scene that I don’t think initially was in there. I was worried that after the tragedy all of a sudden it does seem like Robin’s character is moving out in life too easy. And that’s when I came up with the scene when he’s looking at the porn at the newsstand and he starts crying. (Spoiler alert: Seeing the porn reminds Williams’ character about how his son died accidentally earlier in the film.)