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'The Watch' Director Akiva Schaffer Talks The Influence Of 'Alien' & 'Ghostbusters', Working With Doug Jones & More

Photo of Drew Taylor By Drew Taylor | The Playlist July 25, 2012 at 12:03PM

As one-third of The Lonely Island, the comedy collective behind the SNL Digital Shorts, Akiva Schaffer (along with confederates Andy Samberg and Jorma Taccone) efficiently optimized "Saturday Night Live," a flagging late night mainstay, into something vital and immediate. With the Digital Shorts format, placing an emphasis on music video rhythms and absurdity that bordered on the surreal, they re-contextualized the show into bite-size nuggets you could swap with friends or post on Facebook. But there's more to Schaffer than "Jizz in My Pants" (although, honestly, if that was the only thing he directed that'd still be pretty awesome).
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Doug Jones

We wondered, though, if this emphasis on naturalism ran counter with the movie's elaborate visual effects, which includes a number of slippery alien beings and a metallic orb that blows up stuff (including a cow). "That's why we got Doug Jones and wanted to go with the practical alien instead of all CG," Schaffer said. Jones, for those of you who have let your Fangoria subscriptions lapse, is a talented mime and actor best known for his collaborations with Guillermo del Toro (he portrayed The Pale Man in "Pan's Labyrinth" and Abe Sapien in the "Hellboy" movies). "I wanted them to have something real that they could interact with and see. I didn't want them playing scenes where they were looking at a tennis ball on a stick. By putting Doug in the suit and in the scene we were able to keep a good flow going." But the movie isn't without its computer-generated embellishments. "In post I got to decide when to use CG or when to use a hybrid," Schaffer said. "Where I would use a close-up of the alien safe which is the suit and then I would, in CG, make the eyes dilate."

Given Schaffer's background in short films, we wondered if he ever has trouble with the feature-length demands of the longer format. There's a particularly wonderful sequence in the film towards the beginning when a Costco security guard parties around the warehouse, smoking weed, drinking, and watching "Wild Things" on a massive bank of flat-screen televisions. It felt very contained and spritely and, for lack of a better phrase, Digital Short-y.

Ben Stiller Neighborhood Watch

When we told this to Schaffer, he shared that he hopes everything is part of a bigger picture. "I'm wary of that, too, because you never want to make it feel episodic," Schaffer said. Still, it was all part of the process. "Sometimes I would try different cuts where I would make it feel more and less like that. I found that people really enjoyed it when it felt like a moment was happening, for instance that sequence with Antonio in the Costco. When I did just let it breathe there for a second and let him have fun around the store." He boiled down the differences between the Digital Shorts and features as this: "You're trying to tell an actual story that will hold your interest where in three minutes, none of that matters."

Having seen "Mystery Men" and knowing all too well how disparate comedy styles can collide, we wondered how Schaffer juggled the different approaches of his comedians. "In terms of the individual voices it's always difficult just when you have that many people, like how long the day is, because you have to have a camera on each one of them," Schaffer said. "You have four people, all of a sudden you have to figure out how to manage the day and who to shoot first. But they were very generous with each other, making sure everybody got their jokes in." He said that the largest hurdle was actually getting them to stay focused. "My biggest problem was actually in between takes they were gabbing with each other and it was really difficult to get them to fucking pay attention to me. That was the biggest challenge."

We also had to wonder about Richard Ayoade, the British comedian (and writer/director of last year's coming-of-age comedy "Submarine"), and how he fit into the milieu of high-powered American comedic talent. While describing Ayoade as "delightful," Schaffer said, "He showed up like, 'What am I doing here?' He loved being there but he had no idea how he ended up there." He then went into a little more depth: "Ben had been a producer of his on 'Submarine' and I had seen him on 'Garth Marenghi's Darkplace' and I hadn't seen [popular British workplace comedy] 'IT Crowd' until we thought about him for the role and I watched it all in a weekend and called him and asked if he'd be interested...On his first day he said, 'People are going to see the poster for this and think that I was a radio contest winner.' " Well, maybe. But after the movie they're going to think: Who is that guy? He stole the show!

"The Watch" opens this Friday across the galaxy. Check out the outtakes trailer for the film below.

This article is related to: The Watch, Akiva Schaffer, Interviews, Film Trailers


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