Feature: Adam McKay Talks "The Goods"
Thu, 13 Aug 2009 10:13:30
In The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard, laughs come fast and furious.
In fact, it's one of those rare comedies that's hilarious nonstop. That humor comes as a combination of the film's to-die-for ensemble and filmmaker Neal Brennan's direction. This soon-to-be legendary comedy crew includes Jeremy Piven, Ving Rhames, Ed Helms, Alan Thicke, David Koechner and Will Ferrell. Does it get any more awesome than that?
Goods producer Adam McKay knows the power of bringing together the right comic talents. Directing Step Brothers, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Mckay's pretty much got a doctorate in comedy.
ARTISTdirect.com sat down with him to discuss The Goods, his musical contributions to the film, the hilarity inherent in the term "man-band" and why everyone should move to Temecula.
The Goods has a real '70s aesthetic. It's like The Bad News Bears with a bunch of idiosyncratic characters teaming up and trying to save the day together. Was that something you had on the brain while you were producing it?
Yeah! We always loved that late-70s, early-80s style. Whenever we do our comedies, movies like Caddyshack and Blues Brothers come to mind. Used Cars is obviously a legendary car salesman movie. We wanted an ensemble feeling. Because we were shooting on a car lot, it was necessarily lo-fi. There weren't going to be big glossy bells and whistles. All of our tastes point in that direction anyway, so we were excited about that.
The Goods is the perfect down-n-dirty comedy because you pull the audience so close to these characters.
In an odd way, I don't know if there's a better microcosm for America than a car lot [Laughs]. Because of that, it's such a great place to let your imagination go insane. So we have this odd mixture of characters—a Korean American guy, a white racist guy, the slick guy who has problems with relationships and Kathryn Hahn's badass hot chick. There's a whole mishmash. That's what's great about this. When you say "'70s," it's there. Never would I compare this movie to a Robert Altman film, but in a sense it is character-based [like Altman's work]. The Goods is an ensemble movie, and it is about the people so it has that vibe to it.
You could follow these characters on their own respective journeys. They all have deep back stories. Was that something you had in mind from the beginning?
That's what we loved about the nature of the film. In a car lot, you could really juggle twelve characters and give them all these mini-arcs. Our favorite comedies are like that. Caddyshack has got 15 different characters going. One of my favorite films of all time is Glengarry Glenross. I think it's really close to being a comedy. Everything is so high stakes, but ultimately it's about nothing. In that movie, you've got six or seven characters yet every one of them has a full arc and a fully developed pain that he's dealing with. Sales begs that sort of treatment.
When people are selling something—whether it's real estate in Glengarry or used cars in The Goods—they amplify certain qualities of themselves. Jeremy is incredible at that with Don. He can amplify these qualities of himself to sell cars. These characters use their own idiosyncracies to sell the cars.
That's exactly it. Selling is an artificial personal connection. You do have to amplify your faults and your positive attributes. Any salesman will tell you that. You don't want to be too perfect because then you intimidate. You want to have the right kinds of faults. The whole notion of selling is like that. I think we're seeing it now—our country is drenched in selling. It kind of is our culture. That's the fun of the film. You recognize everyone right away, and you instantly know what the game is. I don't think anyone's saying, "Oh my God, we live in a capitalist society and these characters are grounded in such-and-such a way." It's just immediate and visceral, and that's why it's such a fun world to do a comedy in.
Did you have a favorite sequence in the film?
I personally love Will Ferrell with the angels. When we wrote it, we were like, "Oh my God, we've never seen this before!" I love the way Neal shot it. They're just in white, and there's no big cheesy special effect. There's a sun flare, and that's it. It's this mystical scene, but it's incredibly low tech. I also love the dinner scene at the top of the film. Of course, I'm a big fan of dinner scenes, and I thought that was a pretty damn good one. I really dig it!
Where did the idea for Ed Helms' man-band, Big Ups, come from?
We just love the joke of a "man-band." We love the idea of some guys who are starting to bald a little bit and are still going for it. They had that moment with O-Town about 15 years ago, and it was so good that they can't stop chasing it. The term "man-band" made us laugh. We had a whole bit, but it got caught. It had one of the guy's daughters coming in to interrupt them during rehearsal. There was much more "adult" stuff behind them. I always loved that, but it didn't play for big laughs so it got cut out.
What did you like the most about Don [Piven]?
Even though you make these raucous silly comedies, you do have to have a base to these characters. Don Ready is an incredibly sad character. From the time he was a child, he was selling rather than forging relationships. I like that. If you wrote this main character down on a piece of paper and said it wasn't a comedy, he still tracks as fairly pained and elaborate. As insane and raunchy as this movie is, Don's flashback moments are really heartbreaking. He chooses to go alone and sell at that safe distance and he can't make himself vulnerable in any way. That's really the key. If you have that, you know you can be funny on top of it.
How did you choose the music for The Goods?
This movie was fun because we got to write a lot of songs. We were putting together the soundtrack, and we didn't have a big budget on this film. Several times when we were looking for a certain song, it'd be too much money. It was really cool though because I got to collaborate with the composer Lyle Workman. I actually wrote lyrics for the love-making scene between Ving and the stripper. I wrote that song, "Let's Make a Baby." Then I got to write the theme song, "The Goods." I wrote another song as well. There are a couple of songs from my buddy's band in Austin called English Teeth that we play in there that I wrote lyrics for. I sent the lyrics down and they recorded them. One of the coolest things in this movie is that we got to make a lot of original music for it but it doesn't play like a score, it plays like real songs. That aside, there are some good tunes in there. I love "Fox on the Run," I think it's one of the all-time great pop songs. When that one comes in nice and hard and loud, I always love that.
When Jeremy sings "Turn the Page," it's hilarious.
I love that! Anytime we can get into Seger world, we're always happy [Laughs].
It automatically equals funny for some reason.
It really does!
So why Temecula? It's strangely perfect.
[Laughs] You know what? The truth is, my mom and stepdad live in Temecula. We used to always laugh about it when we'd drive there. We'd be like, "What is Temecula?" It's a big, huge thriving city. I'd never heard of it before. It just felt like a place where you'd have a used car lot. It's really hot down there. It's very right-wing, and it just felt like America. They're getting hammered by the foreclosure thing. All of the pain and trouble of America right now, Temecula's getting knocked around. Bottom line is, it sounded funny [Laughs].
It sounds like the name of a Dinosaur.
It sounds like something that would fight Godzilla [Laughs]. Temecula vs. Godzilla!