April 20, 2006
“Scary Movie 4″ director gets serious about comedy
By Craig Modderno
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - He's the director of the
biggest-grossing movie comedy in America at the moment, though
his demeanor at a recent lunch was that of a somber accountant,
and he insists that comedy is just too serious to joke about.
But David Zucker, director of "Scary Movie 4," which
grossed $41 million in its first weekend at the North American
box office, knows how to film a sight gag that would leave a
14-year-old convulsed with laughter.
Zucker, who with his brother Jerry and Jim Abrahams wrote
and directed "Airplane!," a movie ranked by the American Film
Institute as one of the funniest ever made, says one thing you
have to know about him is that he's rarely funny in person.
And another thing you have to know is that he doesn't like
horror movies, a genre he spoofs to the sound of cash registers
ringing in "Scary Movie 4."
The movie actually parodies several recent films, including
"The Grudge," "War of the Worlds," "Saw" and even "Brokeback
Mountain," and even includes a send-up of Tom Cruise's manic
couch-hopping appearance on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" to declare
his love for actress Katie Holmes.
"One of our rules in making 'Scary Movie 4' was that merely
being clever wasn't enough. You must remember that there are
two rules in filmmaking which film studios today generally
adhere to: Always appeal to a young audience and don't offend
anyone," he said.
"The spook genre allows an old guy like me to make a great
living because I have the ability to put a joke on screen. I
don't have to love horror films to make fun of them. ... My
sense of humor hasn't changed since my childhood days of
reading aloud Mad magazine, which is the primer of this kind of
thing. Mad used to have two pages each issue of scenes they'd
like to see in a Hollywood movie.
"We've just taken that attitude and added a 'Saturday Night
Live' approach to sketch comedy and created a story which we
could then translate to the big screen."
Zucker acknowledges that some scenes are meant to be
crowd-pleasers, such as when his hero (Craig Bierko) publicly
proclaims his love for his sweetheart (Anna Faris) by jumping
on the guest sofa of an Oprah-like show.
"A lot of our comedy in the film comes from cultural
references like that," he said. "That's one gag in the film
where the audience laughs in anticipation of what's coming
next. If you don't know what we're making fun of ... well the
visual of an adult acting like a kid jumping on furniture has
always been a big hit at my family reunions!"
Zucker said he expects the "Scary" movie franchise will
continue thanks to its big opening weekend, and the Weinstein
Company studio seconds that, even if the critics were less than
Besides "Airplane!" in 1980, Zucker's film credits include
"Police Squad!," "Top Secret!" and "The Naked Gun" spoofs --
movies built on sight gags and unexpected role reversals, such
as what Entertainment Weekly magazine recently called his
"jive-talking-little-old-white-lady bit" -- a scene that might
have jumped off the pages of Mad magazine.
"In my defining years, Alfred E. Neuman and Mad magazine's
writers ... shaped my sense of humor," said Zucker, who also
counts the Marx Brothers and Woody Allen as major influences.
"Woody made us think of comedy as coming out of characters
and people's natural behavior rather than just zany sight gags.
I know I can make people laugh at a party and direct actors to
be funny on screen, but I'm not a stand-up comic kind of guy.
Ask me to be funny and I'm likely to panic."
As the lunch winds to end, Zucker is asked where he thinks
film comedy is headed in the future.
"How should I know," Zucker replies, looking around in
comic panic. "I can't tell you where our waitress went 20
minutes ago with my credit card!"