Filmmaker Miguel Arteta’s comedy “Cedar Rapids” is on the big screen in limited release this week and will expand into approximately 90-some screens this weekend. It’s the story of a low level insurance agent sent to Cedar Rapids, Iowa for a major convention where he’s expected to compete for the top prize in the industry: the beloved Two Diamond Award. Ed Helms, who also produced the film, plays Tim Lippe the naive, boob of a salesman who gets in way over his head when he meets a group of colleagues that may or may not be in line to become his best friends.
We sat down with Helms, Arteta, Anne Heche, Isiah Whitlock Jr., and Alia Shawkat recently during the “Cedar Rapids” press conference to ask about the shoot, and ended up with quite a few tidbits of things you may need to know. Here's the rundown.
1. Producers Alexander Payne And Jim Taylor ("Sideways") Had A Huge Influence on the picture
“Jim was particularly involved with the writing of Sigourney Weaver’s character,” Arteta said. “Jim turned that character around into something that was unexpected. And Alexander came to visit, he plays an extra in the film. And in the cutting, they were very helpful. They were in meetings fighting the battles for casting, fighting for the script, more involved than I thought they would be. And they seemed very proud.”
Arteta continued, “For example, Alexander Payne read the script where they go to the Olive Garden, and he said, don’t make it the Oliver Garden because it’s the Midwest. Make it a sushi restaurant. Little things like that help you set the line. Alexander also knew where to draw the line with the colloquialisms, he brought us back.”
2. Ed Helms Envied His Character
Speaking as the actor behind Lippe, Helms claimed, “I think it comes down to how earnest Tim is. We certainly get some laughs out of his naiveté and how sheltered he is, but at the end of the day, he’s kind of better than the rest of us in the way he treats people, the way he moves through the world. He always hopes for the best, he always gives everyone the benefit of the doubt. There’s an intrinsic goodness there that’s unimpeachable, you can’t make fun of that. And I think that’s where you can sort of tease him for superficial things like his point of view, or the way he dresses or his social awkwardness. But at the end of the day, I kind of envy how good he is.”
3. John C. Reilly Might Be Crazy & Is A Master Improvisor That Makes Normal Comedians Blush
“If you don’t speak for half a second, something extremely inappropriate will come out of John C. Reilly's mouth,” says Arteta. “He’s an amazing improv actor, so is Ed, so is Anne. I was more loose than I was with any film, because they were so good. Things wouldn’t get messy. But John C. Reilly is amazing. Ed was pointing out how when he’s doing improv he’s doing it right in front of your eyes. Most people, when they’re doing improv, their eyes dart around, and they’re like, throwing it to the crowd. But he’s always looking into people’s eyes. Shawkat then mentioned exactly how many Reilly parties they were invited to, and how many ukulele performances he forced them to sit through.
4. Much Of The Darkness Of “Cedar Rapids” Is On The Cutting Room Floor
Miguel Arteta assured reporters that while “Cedar Rapids” does go to some dark places, it wasn’t nearly as bleak as originally intended. “It’s a very different mixture of sweetness versus darkness, and it was a delicate dance,” Arteta said. “We shot some things that were pretty dark and weird, and didn’t make it into the movie because it felt like we were getting too far into that area and losing the movie’s innocence in a way. I don’t think we ever presumed to know exactly what the right mix we wanted while we were making it, but it sort of made itself clear while we were editing it and making rough cuts.”
5. Miguel Arteta Prefers Characters That “Lead With Their Damage”
We really like this phrase and think it could be helpful for any struggling screenwriter. Arteta mentioned it when discussing the types of movies he likes to make. Quoth the director, “I want to take people that are damaged, and then put them in a situation where they are leading with that damage. The stories that interest me are about people who are damaged, and they find the courage to lead with their damage, and comically that ends up helping them. Which is just wishful thinking on my part. Movies are wish fulfillment. I’d like to think in real life we have the courage to put our damage upfront, so that we can find our friends, passions and recovery.”
6. Cable TV Is The Place To Be For Filmmakers
Miguel Arteta spoke briefly about the new HBO show “Enlightened” which features Laura Dern and Luke Wilson, and reunites him with “Chuck And Buck” and “The Good Girl” screenwriter Mike White. Arteta says “When you’re working on cable shows, like ‘Six Feet Under’ or ‘Enlightened,’ it’s like working on an independent movie. The notes come from the networks, and they’re like, can you make it more fucked up please? I can see why Alan Ball and Mike White are so attracted to working with HBO, they don’t get any notes other than, you know, make it darker. This summer I directed four and a half hours with Luke Wilson and Laura Dern, and it felt like an independent movie.”
7. Ed Helms Has A Nudity Clause In His Contract
One of the more memorable moments of “Cedar Rapids” is Ed Helms encountering a naked Kurtwood Smith in the shower and sharing an awkward hug. We asked him about being naked with the former Clarence Boddicker, and his answer was surprisingly more technical than we expected. “I believe that as a comedy actor, dignity and pride get in the way,” he joked selflessly. “So you really need to start in a place of ‘I’ll do anything.’ I wrestled with the studio about the nudity as per my contract, which stipulates how much of my scrotum shows, or how nude I will be. But Kurtwood Smith is supremely confident as an actor, he’s done everything and seen everything. And it made it easy to be naked with him in a locker room because of his benevolent energy.”
8. “Cedar Rapids” Transplants Amusing Characters Into Serious Situations
Ed Helms, like the rest of the cast, was over the moon about how the Phil Johnston script incorporated drama into the lives of very silly characters. “It’s less about what you agree to portray on the screen and more about what’s written on the page from the get-go. So Phil Johnston created [John C. Reilly's character] Dean Ziegler and then wove him into the story where you see him in various points and times of day, with his many facets. Depending on which moments you choose to depict in the story, you’re going to get Ogre from ‘Revenge of the Nerds,’ or Dean Ziegler, or even someone else. Deanzie could have been in a very broad movie. But because of the moments Phil chose to show us, he’s heartbreaking.”
9. Miguel Arteta Loves Michael Cera, Doesn't Love The Weinsteins Marketing
Well, not exactly, but he certainly wasn’t enamored as to how they marketed “Youth In Revolt.” “I really didn’t like the poster,” Arteta sighed. “I fought Bob Weinstein on the poster. It looked like one of those early 90’s posters. Like a “peeking” poster, where it looks like someone’s peeking over at you. Personally, I think that turned off a lot of people."
“I also personally think the timing was bad. If it was Cera’s next movie after 'Superbad,' it would have done twice as much business. And ‘Year One’ didn’t help matters. The whole point was to make a love letter to Michael Cera, who I adore. Unofficially, he wrote the script, with me helping him. He did a beautiful job. I feel like it’s a new wave love poem to him. I think a lot of people don’t understand him. I think we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg with him. I think he’s a little Peter Sellers.” Arteta also talked about “Chuck And Buck,” and how for two straight years his sleeping was interrupted by thoughts of the lecherous Buck, as written and played by Mike White.
10. Alia Shawkat Knows Nothing About An “Arrested Devleopment” Movie: We spoke to Alia Shawkat after the junket, and while we don’t have an exact quote, apparently she is often quick to ask Mitch Hurwitz over email as to the status of the film. Regretfully, he says he’s still writing it, but he mostly brushes her off.