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Todd Phillips- Director of Road Trip

Todd Phillips is one of those directors you just know is going places. Hated, the film he did as a Junior at NYU made its way to both theatrical and DVD release, an incredible accomplishment for Film School Film. Not to be outdone, Todd toped this with Frat House, the film he made as a senior at NYU which ultimately went on to win the Grand Jury Prize at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival only to be banned from HBO and literally locked up.

With two critically acclaimed and controversial documentaries under his belt Todd Phillips made big splash with a debut of not one but two big movies this year. Working almost simultaneously Todd directed both Road Trip and the Phish Documentary Bittersweet Motel.

We had a chance to sit down with Todd and talk about Road Tip, DVDs, Bittersweet Motel and being an up an coming director. For much of our talk with Todd Phillips we used questions submitted to us by DVD Talk members.

What was the process of bringing Road Trip to DVD. How involved were you with what went on the disc?

I was very involved in the transfer, which turned out really cool. I know that a top grade transfer sounds lofty for this kind of movie, but as a filmmaker I really wanted to have the archive of this film to look as good as it possibly could. I was also involved in picking the deleted scenes. We put them together, edited them with the editor. That was fun because we have 8 or so deleted scenes on the DVD. We also have a funny behind the scenes thing that Tom doing while we were shooting, I was involved with it peripherally as they were editing.

Did the DVD process for Road Trip change the way you'll shoot your next film?

DVD is just amazing, I have a ton of DVDs, I'm obsessed with DVD, it's really a filmmakers medium. DVD gives you chance to do some really fun stuff. When you do your first major studio film you are so wrapped up in making your the film. I am so excited about doing the next one where I can really think ahead of time about what's going to be on the DVD. When filmmakers really take advantage of the technology I think it's really phenomenal There are some great DVD's out there.

So what are your favorite DVDs?

Actually, what just came out which is fucking one of the best movies ever made is "Gimmie Shelter from The Criterion Collection". My favorite DVD right now is probably "Fight Club". Also Seven which is coming out in December looks like it is going to be awesome. What I've read about the DVD, I know the movie of course, it's just going to be incredible. David Fincher really takes advantage of everything a DVD can do for you. He really let's you inside the filmmaking process. I'm excited to do that on my next film from a comedy perspective. I mean obviously it's quite a different leap from "Fight Club", but as a comedy director there's stuff you can do, and show, and it's exciting.

Any reason why there aren't any commentaries from the cast on the Road Trip DVD? Several people from the DVD Talk Forum have asked "Why no Tom Green commentary on the film?"

We really wanted to do it, but it came down to a timing issue that prohibited us from bringing everyone together to do it. I didn't want to do the commentaries totally alone because I really wanted to do it with the cast. My hope was to have at least me and Tom and Breckin and Seann, but just couldn't work it out. So it was really a timing issue. This one's doing a movie, this one's in Canada, it's just never happened.

What's the difference between the Rated and Unrated Versions of Road Trip DVD?

The difference basically in the unrated there is more nudity. There's stuff that we were able to leave a little bit longer than we were in the original version. We had to trim this stuff out for ratings. The ability to do an unrated DVD is a great opportunity to loosen up and show stuff that your not able to show in the theatrical version.

Are there any plans to do a sequel to Road Trip?

No. I don't think there will be a sequel to Road Trip. When ever a movie does pretty well for what ever it cost, and world wide the movie did very well, there's talk about it. Right now we have no plans for one.

What was the most difficult aspect of shooting Road Tip?

The hard thing to do with a comedy is to make sure that everybody know's where the joke is as far as acting goes, and that you're in the right place at the right time when you're shooting out of order. The hardest thing is really keeping the tone consistent through all the shooting.

How big of a shadow did "American Pie" have on this film?

I don't think it was a shadow. I think it was probably a positive thing. I think movies like American Piet really help pave the way. It helps loosen up people, expand what they can accept, and helps redefine what the boundaries are. I think in that way "American Pie" sort helped us, and maybe we'll help the next thing. But I don't know that we were in the shadow of it.

Where do you see this Genre going?

I come from a different school of thought than most people. I think comedy is at a very healthy state right now. Things go in cycles and right now people use the term gross out of comedy a lot and I find it very dismissive. I think it's very easy to be gross and very hard to be funny. The ones that work are are actually very funny at their root. I, as a director, want to stick with comedies for a little while. It's the movies I grew up on and the stuff I like to see.

While you were working on Road Trip did did any of the actors ever express concern about getting a type cast into these type of films? Or about getting labeled, like the guy that played "Stiffler" in "American Pie" who was in your movie, is he branded a Teen Gross Out Comedy Actor?

No. He never (can't understand), I'm good friends with Seann. Seann's an amazing actor who's going to do a lot of different stuff. Right now, Ivan Riteman who liked him so much in Road Trip cast him in a great part in Ivan's new movie shooting right now called "Evolution". Which is not Stiffler, or EL or any of these types of characters. I don't think when you are a young actor you need to seize the opportunities you get, you shouldn't be so concerned with typecasting. If you have the right stuff people are going to see it.

What was it like working with Tom Green?

Tom is the dream actor for a comedy director because Tom will just go where ever you ask him to go. There's no discussion, there's no convincing. It's just, "Hey Tom, will you do this?" and it's YES.... then he goes five steps further. I directed Tom in a few Pepsi One commercials that's actually where we met. I just fell in love with him! He's amazing, he's the funniest fucking guy. I'd been writing Road Trip with Scott at that time and I said "Tom, you know I'm doing this movie. Will you do it?". And he just goes "Yeah, absolutely". There was no "call my agent" or "call this person so you can call that person so we can maybe have a discussion about doing it". He said "I'll do it", we wrote the part for him and he did it.

Is Tom the same wild and crazy guy off screen as he is on?

He's always really funny. Is he always "on" being that guy? No, he's not. He's always a funny guy. He really is. You can sit down and have lunch with him on the set and you're going to laugh. But he's not necessarily that crazy Tom Green guy. He's just a funny guy. I think he's one of the young, real original comic voices right now. I think he's going to be huge. And I think he's amazing.

Yeah, I agree. Because I'm of the same generation you are, I think he's our generations Robin Williams.

Really? I see him more as Bill Murray. Bill Murray just has that face where you just look at him and you laugh. Every expression that Bill Murray does is funny. Even when he's mean, he's funny. I think Tom is the same way expression wise. I just look at Tom's face. For some reason, I just know that he's funny. I don't know why.

Did he pull any hijinx on the set? Or do any practical jokes?

We had a really fun set. One thing that people always say to me while we were making the movie is that it looked like we had a lot of fun making the movie. And we really did. Everybody was constantly playing jokes on everybody. But I always think it's really important to set the tone on the set that you want to set in the movie. I like to keep it lose and fun. All around everybody just had a good time.

So tell me about "Bittersweet Motel". Will your experience with Road Trip impact that DVD?

Believe it or not we started doing Road Trip and Bittersweet Motel simultaneously. So on Bittersweet it's very much the same story. There are eleven deleted scenes on Bittersweet and that comes out in February from Image. We have the trailer and all that promotional stuff as well as some of the print materials. There's nothing really behind the scenes on that DVD, but it looks amazing, and the sound is amazing. I love digital surround.

How involved were Phish in Bittersweet Motel?

They were actually pretty involved. They came down to the final mix and were amazing.... they'd say "Woh, that guitar is too heavy" or, "you gotta tweak this or move that". It was so much fun because we were working with 48 track live concert recordings. It was just amazing.

How did you first get your start in filmmaking?

I went to NYU and I made a movie called "Hated" which is also on DVD, and is also an awesome DVD with over an hour of extra footage on it.

Who released the Hated DVD?

Music Video Distributors. We have no middle man. My company and Music Video Distributors made a deal and then we made this great DVD for it. You can get it on Amazon. It's basically a Punk Rock Documentary about this very excessive Punk Rocker GG Allen. It's his Don't Look Back. It's funny and I'm really proud of that movie. I made that first movie while I was a junior at NYU, and that led to "Frat House" which is not on DVD. Which led to "Road Trip" and "Bittersweet Motel". The last two movies sort of happened simultaneously.

Your background is documentary. How did you make the transition from documentary to feature and then back to documentary again?

If you've seen any of the documentaries that I've done they are all fairly comedic and entertaining.

I'd love to but no one will let anybody see "Frat House"!

Hehe, Frat House is under wraps, fairly mired in secrecy and scandal, but that's a whole other story for another time. But, any ways, that's exactly what I've done... My films are all entertainment based. They are not your traditional sort of news documentary. So the leap wasn't really that great. I consider it all story telling. You have to develop characters in a documentary just like you do in a regular feature.

Do you think we'll ever see "Frat House" get released?

Actually we're right in the middle of working something out with HBO. So hopefully we'll be able to do something with it.

Talk about a lot of buzz for a movie that has only been seen by a select few!

Yeah, it's become sort of this underground sensation. It's pretty cool. Somehow tapes are circulating and it's all over eBay. Some people don't give a fuck and they show it on Public Access which is really funny. Frat House is one of those underground movies that maybe is benefitting by the fact that people can't see it.

What advice would you give to aspiring filmakers?

Yeah, I mean it's so friggin' cliche, but the only way to do it is to do it. You can't wait for someone to come and hire you to do it, it's not going to happen. You have to make your own. I made "Hated" for $13,000 on credit cards like everybody else made their first movie. Hated went on to be theatrically released all over this country and in Europe. It's on Video and DVD, you can buy it at Tower Records. You just have to go out and do it and believe in an idea whether it's a documentary, or a script that you wrote. You've got to be totally passionate about it. Your intention has to be genuine. The intention shouldn't be to make a calling card. You need to truly believe in the project that you are doing. That's what has worked for me. But nowadays, I mean I sound like an old person, I'm 29, but we didn't have short films on the Internet back when I shot Hated. Nowadays there are even more avenues to get your film shown. Now there's Ifilm and AtomFilms, sites the we didn't have back then. In one way it's good, and in another way it's bad. You have 8 million people doing it so it's harder to stand out. But you just have to find a way to do it!

You really came into real focus when "Frat House" took one of the top prizes at Sundance. How important do you think Sundance is to emerging filmmakers? ?

I think Sundance was incredibly important for me. I think it's very important but I don't think it's the end all. There ARE other opportunities out there. If you make a film and it doesn't get into Sundance like the 950 films that don't, it's not the end of the world, there are a lot of venues and opportunities out there, a lot of festivals, and as we discussed the Internet. I made three documentaries, one of which got into Sundance. But all of them were successful in their own right.

You've done now both comedy and documentary. Do you have preferences between the two?

No, I actually like both equally. I really, really love the freedom that you have in a documentary. You're really just creating a world, and you are able to dive into worlds that you were never part of. In a documentary you go from being an outsider of something and the suddenly you're on the inside doing this movie. It's a great way to sort of stoke up life experience. So in that way, I love doing documentaries. The thing I love about doing comedy is that you spend all day on the set just laughing and making jokes and having a good time. So I'm equally passionate about both and I hope to sort of go back and forth when ever I can.

Tell me a little bit about your experience with Dreamworks. A lot of directors have made comments about what Dreamworks has afforded them to be able to do.

Dreamworks is amazing. You go to work for a company like Dreamworks and you truly realize in every step of the way that it's run by a filmmaker. It is at it's core run by a Director. You feel that in the way that everybody treats and respects the creative process. On top of that I had Ivan Riteman executive producing this movie. So in essence I was making a movie for two directors who really respect the process. I would be happy making movies for Dreamworks forever, they're just amazing.

What's next for you?

Next is a comedy that I'm doing for Dreamworks that I'm writing right now with Scott Armstrong who I wrote "Road Trip" with.

Is it titled yet?

It's titled "Old School". But you don't want to hear a pitch on it.

Movies By Todd Phillips:
Road Trip
Bittersweet Motel
Hated - GG Allin & the Murder Junkies

- Geoffrey Kleinman
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