This Friday, Will Ferrell returns with another cinematic entry of his patented brand of wacko-surrealist comedy. However, this time it’s a little different. Specifically, the movie is entirely in Spanish and subtitled. Casa De Mi Padre might be the first film of Ferrell’s career to possibly qualify for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar and is certainly unlike anything else the comedian has made. The project came out of Ferrell’s love of cheesy Telemundo-style entertainment that he wanted to make his own. So he went to two longtime friends and collaborators in director Matt Piedmont and writer Andrew Steele, whom he first met on Saturday Night Live before bringing them onboard to help turn Funny Or Die into the most popular comedy viral video factory on the internet.
Together the three-headed comedy team whipped up a subtitled love letter to bad filmmaking. It’s a Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace-style concoction of continuity errors, editing mistakes, confused plotting, bad acting, and possibly the worst tiger puppet in film history. It’s all deliberate of course and Ferrell is even surrounded by top tier Mexican acting talent like Gael Garcia Bernal (Amores Perros), Diego Luna (Y Tu Mama Tambien), Pedro Armendariz Jr. (Before Night Falls), and Genesis Rodriguez (Man On A Ledge) delivering some of the most lovably and hilariously cornball performances of their careers. The result is a unique and strange little comedy guaranteed to confuse and delight in equal measure. Dork Shelf got a chance to chat with Casa De Mi Padre’s writer Andrew Steele and director Matt Piedmont to discuss the origins and motivations of their completely insane (in the best possible sense) new movie.
DS: So, where the hell did this idea come from?
Andrew Steele: Obviously, it started in the brain of Will Ferrell who said he wanted to make a Spanish movie. I’m not sure he had any takers for a little while, but we had worked together on Saturday Night Live and when I came out to LA to work on Funny Or Die he brought it up to me again, and I got kind of giddy thinking about what the movie could be. He didn’t really give me a lot of direction, so I just wrote a script and sent it off to him. He’s a friend so this was easy, but it was still one of the most miraculous experiences I’ve ever had in the entertainment industry where he wrote me back, saying “ok this is the next movie I’m doing.” That was exciting.
DS: Were there any specific Mexican films or TV shows you had in mind to reference or parody?
AS: I love classic Mexican cinema stuff from the 40s and 50s, so I watched a lot of that just to get a feel of things. I did watch a lot of telenovela stuff and cheap movies from the 80s, which I think is probably the worst period in Mexican cinema. But to watch how creative these people could be with no budgets was the fun of that. I don’t enjoy watching the kind of film stock it was shot on though.
Matt Piedmont: If it WAS film.
AS: Yeah, if it even was film stock, I think they shot a lot of it on scotch tape. But I watched a lot of that before I even started writing, which helped a lot.
DS: Were there any specific examples of incompetent filmmaking from that treasure trove that found its way into the movie?
AS: There was one scene from a movie that I watched I will never remember the title of because I found it on VHS in a flea market in LA. But, there was this scene where a bunch of drug dealers were unloading a truck full of boxes and the production assistant that day must have only been able to come up with two boxes because they had to keep unloading the same two boxes, which you could clearly see from the marking on the boxes. I didn’t end up using that in the script. I tried to, believe me, but I just loved that moment as a viewer where you’re like, “How do they think they’re getting away with this? No one cares.”
MP: Yeah, and in addition to the cheapness of that kind of stuff, we have a fondness for classic Hollywood Westerns. Even the big budget stuff like The Magnificent Seven they would use cheap soundstages for a big outdoor scene that never quite worked. So there was a lot of homages going on there. There’s the lowbrow and the highbrow. Alejandro Jodorowsky’s trip out films inspired the trip out scenes and of course Peckinpah was important for the shootouts. There are little Easter Eggs in there for film geeks to pick up on that you don’t necessarily need to notice to enjoy the movie, but I think will be fun to pick out.
DS: Were there any actual production mistakes and glitches left in the movie or was all of that stuff fairly planned out?
MP: I don’t want to say. We’re looking forward to reading the “Goofs” section on the movie’s IMDB page. I’m hoping that it will be five pages long. We’re going to say that we intended all of them, but there are ones that I know we didn’t intend that did make it in there and I’d rather not spoil it.
DS: I know that Will Ferrell didn’t speak Spanish before making the movie, but how about you two?
MP: About two years of high school Spanish is all I have.
AS: I have less.
DS: How’d that work then?
AS: Well, it’s funny because I wrote it in a very specific sort of style and it is something that I was a little worried about because if you think of Darkplace and how writerly that show was, imagine translating it into Japanese. I had to sit there with the translator and have those conversations where he’d say, “Well, you wouldn’t say that in Spanish,” and I’d have to come back and say, “Well, you wouldn’t say that in English either.” So, the translator and I basically went through it line-by-line because I was worried that I couldn’t get all of that stylized, weird, bad writing in there and I can’t tell you if it worked because I don’t speak Spanish. But Gael and Diego did get a sense of what we were doing, so I hope it did kind of come off.
MP: I’d like to take a giant pat on the back and pretend it was a miracle, but really for me the only difference between directing in English was that after a take was completed I’d turn to the translator and ask if Will pronounced his words properly. Because the trick was to have him do it all onset without overdubs. But other than that, it was pretty much the same as directing regularly. But I could get lionized if I just take credit for no reason because I have giant ego, so let’s do that.
DS: Did you even consider taking this around to Hollywood studios?
AS: I think that maybe in the very beginning Will’s people somewhere up in the tall buildings sent it out to see if there were any takers. That would have been a blessing and a curse, because if it goes to a big studio there would have been more money and everything, but I think it would be a different movie. I don’t think we would have had the creative freedom to make this weird movie. So, it was sort of nice that we did end up going for a smaller movie. Matt and I like that because it allowed us to be free.
MP: For better or for worse, if people start rioting in the streets and hate it, we’re the guys to blame. It’s great to be able to go out into the world and from frame one till the end we stand by it all.
DS: Was it tough to convince actors and crew members of what you had in mind or did people get it pretty quickly?
MP: I think there was some confusion. I mean the funny thing is that whenever you’re making any movie everyone has their own idea of what the movie should be and you have to get them all on the same page. There were a lot of moments like the DP not wanting do certain things, but we knew what we wanted for better or worse. There was nothing major and no hassles, but I’m sure some people were thinking, “What the fuck are you doing?”
AS: I will say that when Pedro Armendariz came on, the first thing he said to me was, “The translation is shit.” Diego and Gael were really helpful with that. They were happy to explain what was going on and within a day he was like, “Oh I see what’s going on.” It was funny to watch that process because he started to trust everyone and was such a joy to work with.
MP: Diego described it by saying he’s not just playing Raul, he’s playing a bad actor playing Raul. When we met Nick Offerman, I think he’s a [professionally] trained actor and we said, “Well, Andrew wrote a script that’s deliberately clunky and now you’re playing a bad actor acting poorly in a film and speaking bad Spanish.” So there were about 20 layers that he had to unlearn as an actor to do that performance.
DS: Did you write this for Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal and was it difficult to get them involved?
AS: They were dream casting. We didn’t think we’d get anyone like that. Our original thought was to go to them and we were lucky. Diego was always in. Gael was a circling lunar thing that I didn’t think we’d be able to touch. But when he said yes, there’s a scene in the bar between them that I especially like that was written specifically because it suddenly dawned on me that these two great actors, who are also friends, were not in a scene together. So that was written intentionally for those two to have fun with.
MP: It was like Heat, that scene between DeNiro and Pacino.
AS: That’s the only scene in Heat that I can watch.
MP: We were worried people would lynch us if we had these two great actors in the movie and never gave them a scene together.
DS: So was the plan always to get good actors to act badly or were you also looking for soap opera actors to deliver their natural wooden performances?
AS: You know, it’s an interesting thing because you want like-minded collaborators. It’s hard to get people on board something like this if they don’t understand what you’re going for. So we needed to find some intelligent or just our kind of intelligent actors. Like Diego and Gael got what we were doing and we wanted to make sure everyone did just so there was no confusion. We did have some soap opera actors in small roles. Well, Genesis Rodriguez is a soap opera actress actually and she got it and understood what she was doing. The big fear was that some actors might ham it up knowing they were in a comedy with Will Ferrell and be too comic-like. We vetted that out during the audition process.
AP: Was it difficult to get The Jim Henson Company to make possibly their worst puppet ever?
AS: Well, thank you.
MP: We’ll take that as a compliment. That was one of those happy things that happens where we were going out of our way to get all analogue, physical effects because we love that stuff. And at some point we discovered a link to the Henson Company. We went in there and basically said, “Can we have a $3 million animatronic tiger for $5?” It was actually a real tiger they had that they were able to re-skin. I’m sure they lost money on the deal.
AS: It was the perfect “the best that we can do” kind of effect.