This weekend in San Francisco, SF Sketchfest, the people behind the San Francisco Comedy Festival, are producing a day's worth of holiday-themed programming at the historical Castro Theatre. The centerpiece of this day-long event is a director's cut screening of "Bad Santa," the insta-classic by "Ghost World" filmmaker Terry Zwigoff that stars Billy Bob Thornton as a boozing, thieving St. Nick. Zwigoff will be at the screening, along with Tony Cox (who plays Thornton's midget sidekick) and Lauren Tom (who played Cox's wife), to do a post-screening Q&A. We got the chance to talk to Zwigoff about the movie's surprising cultural longevity, where he's been since 2006's "Art School Confidential" (a "fiasco," according to Zwigoff), what projects he's been offered, what it was like working with the Coens (who produced "Bad Santa") and the Weinsteins (who produced and distributed via Dimension Films), and how when he read "Juno" he thought it was 'a retarded version of 'Ghost World.' " So yes, Zwigoff is nothing, if not candid.
What have you been up to? We haven't had a movie from you in so long.
It's hard to make films that are $10-$20 million films these days. Everybody wants to make "The Hobbit" or these films that cost between $100-$200 million, but they have the chance to make a billion dollars. But I just finished a script and the producer likes it. So we're going to go out with some actors with it. I have some high hopes but anything can happen. A couple of things fell through. One thing fell through because of rights, this Elmore Leonard book that I was supposed to direct and adapt and it got hung up in the legal department.
What Elmore Leonard novel?
It's called "Maximum Bob." Great book, would have made a great film. But it is hopelessly stuck in the legal department.
You don't get enough credit for directing "Ghost World," one of the all-time great comic book movies. Have you ever been approached to do something bigger?
Oh yes, I've been approached to do all sorts of nonsense. How about a remake of "West Side Story"? They wanted me to remake [Budd Townsend's] "Alice in Wonderland," which was a big hit in the early '70s. It was one of the first soft-core porns that was distributed by a major studio. 20th Century Fox put it out and it ended up making $100 million. But it's ridiculously unwatchable today. They wanted to remake it as a 3D musical and they wanted me to direct it. I said, "I'd like to take your money but I really have no interest." But I wish I did. I wish I could take the paycheck and go home.
What was the most ridiculous thing that you were the closest to sign on to?
You know, I got the script for "Juno." And my producer who I had worked with on "Ghost World" called me and said, "I've got this really hot script I want to send it to you." And the same week I got a call that same week from somebody else that said they were sending me this really hot script in Hollywood that was written by a 12-year-old girl. And I said, "Well, what's it about?" And they said, "It's a coming-of-age story." So I said, "Yeah, okay, whatever." So a couple days later I got this script called "Juno" and since I saw the name Diablo Cody I thought, "Well, this must be the 12-year-old girl." Who else would have a name like that, right? And I read it and thought, "Well this is pretty good for a 12-year-old girl trying to imitate 'Ghost World.' " So I told my producer, who went on to do it, "This is a retarded version of 'Ghost World.' I can't do it. I can't stomach it. Sorry."