Tom Shadyac Interview

Director of Evan Almighty

“PETA vs. Universal”

Tom Shadyac photo

Tom Shadyac, who looks like a cross between Howard Stern and Weird Al, is the director of “Evan Almighty,” the sequel to the 2003 summer movie smash, “Bruce Almighty,” which he also directed, that starred Jim Carrey.

For trivia fans, Shadyac and Carrey both became famous movie mavens over a decade ago when they met up on “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” (1994).

Shadyac went on to direct Eddie Murphy in “The Nutty Professor,” and Oscar winner Robin Williams in “Patch Adams.”

Wild About Movies publisher Tim Nasson sat with Shadyac for the first time in 1997, in Los Angeles, at The Four Seasons hotel at Beverly Hills, along with Jim Carrey for “Liar, Liar.” Ten years later, Wild About Movies Chad Michaels sat with the director to see what his take on Christianity, comedy films, big budgets and Steve Carell are.

Tom Shadyac is a year shy of fifty and is quadruple threat. Shadyac is a comedian, producer, director and writer.

In addition to the above mentioned film, Shadyac also executive produced the late John Ritter’s ABC TV series “8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter.”

In October 2006, at a Virginia Film Festival event, Shadyac conceded that “Evan Almighty” probably would become the most expensive comedy ever made, and it has reportedly cost over $200 million. Neither Universal Pictures, nor anyone involved in the making of the film confirms nor denies the ungodly sum of money.

In his spare time, Shadyac is a professor at Pepperdine University, where he teaches a screenwriting course.

In Los Angeles recently, Wild About Movies sat with the prolific director of big screen box office smash comedies!

Wild About Movies: This movie has been widely reported as costing $200 million, so?

Tom Shadyac: Really? Wow. That’s kind of expensive.

Wild About Movies: OK. So how do you spend $200 million on Evan Almighty? And was the look that Steve Carell has in this movie influenced by your own look?

Tom Shadyac: Just the hairdressing alone was like $98 million. The budget thing kind of makes me smile because Spider-Man just cost around $300, we’re $170 plus I think is the official figure, although I don’t even know what it was… we’re one of the cheaper summer movies, and yet we’re a comedy, so it’s unique. But we’re much more than a comedy, as you know we’re a Biblical epic. We had an ark, we had thousands of animals, we had a flood, that helped. And if you look at the screen I could point you specifically to where the money goes, CG generation of water, composite shots that are 100 layers thick and deep, and the good news is, ticket prices aren’t going up because of this movie, people will get more for their money, and in this very competitive summer climate, we’re glad that we can offer a lot for the dollar. And I’m also glad that a comedy is being given this kind of belief by a studio, that a comedy is being taken this seriously, and again we’re a Bible story too, we’re a Bible parable, we’re not just ‘a comedy.’ It’s not two guys on a road trip behind the wheel of a Pinto, although I think I may do that movie, it sounds good. What was the other one? The look, you answered your own question, okay. Was I the look? Who’s next? Come on. Bring it on.

Wild About Movies: At which point during the various incarnations of this script did this turn into a Bible story and a Noah story? Was that something you wanted to do right from the get go?

Tom Shadyac: I was involved in the original idea. Day one we started writing the script. We knew we were doing a contemporized Noah’s Ark story. It’s another chapter in the God series so we wanted to find a theme to hang it on. Every parable has a theme, every parable is going somewhere, and you have to arc out your characters and they have to learn their lessons. Ark out, yes, yes, yes, didn’t want to be obvious. So, yeah, from day one.

Wild About Movies: Talk a little bit about the challenges of building such a large and complicated set piece!

Tom Shadyac: When we thought of this originally, hey it would be cool to have a modern day ark. What if God came and told you to build an ark? Oh man that would be cool, especially if you were working in a really serious job – and then you get there a couple of months before we start shooting and you go, ‘Oh, we have to do this, actually have to build an ark.’ And you realize that that idea now has to come to life. And the answer in one word is help, we needed lots of help. It’s the most extreme home makeover show ever done. We needed builders and engineers and structural engineers, because Noah didn’t have to worry about putting a film crew on his boat. We did. The equipment’s very heavy. How does that work? Where are the weak points, the structural deficiencies? So we had a lot of help. We also had to figure out how Steve was going to participate in the building of this. He actually had to learn how to build a boat. We know about the keel now, the rib pieces, skinning the ark, how all that works. So I’m the guy to come teach that class in Sunday school, not that anybody wants to see it.

Wild About Movies: Were there any divine intervention moments, that means any kind of natural disasters that happened during the filming, like floods, lightning, thunder, and secondly I received an e mail from PETA a couple of weeks ago and they were a little bit upset by the use of exotic animals in the film? (See PETA letter, Wild About Movies received from PETA regarding “Evan Almighty.”)

Tom Shadyac: Had they seen the film? Did they know what exotics they were upset about, because they could be CG exotics too, in which the CG PETA group would be very unhappy, but the actual PETA ground probably wouldn’t have a complaint.

Wild About Movies: I think they were concerned about the chimps.

Tom Shadyac: The chimps, okay, okay, understand. Let me speak to the PETA first, I’ll do them out of order. They’re not wrong. There’s a certain amount of hypocrisy whenever you work with animals, even to show, which we hope we’re showing, that respect of all of God’s creation, appreciation for the gift of the earth and the animals and the life here, and then to use animals for our end, for their own end, someone once said to me — they looked at it as those animals are heroes for their species. So we did use a number of heroes, and I don’t discount people saying is that ultimately a good means to the end, the right means to the end. I don’t know. I don’t know. I respect their criticism. I don’t respect it on species we didn’t use, and also many of these animals were rescued. You know, Mark Forbes, our animal guy, is the most thoughtful person. He wouldn’t harm an animal, he’d sooner do himself in. And many of these animals have been rescued from other situations and can’t be returned to the wild, and this is the life that they’ve come to know or grow into, probably due to man’s hubris or whatever, our ruling of the world. Alright, that was a longwinded answer, but go PETA. The other question – we felt this movie wanted to be made.

First of all when I sat down to write it — Steve Oedekerk is our writer, but I’m very involved in the writing — I’m at a hotel in Santa Monica and literally the day I sit down to write, it starts raining and it doesn’t stop raining for about a month. And we’re thinking, ‘Okay, this is interesting.’ We go to Charlottesville and everybody is concerned about the weather. They say, ‘You should shoot in California. In California we have the right weather.’ I said, ‘No, it’s got to be Virginia. He’s a Congressman, the aesthetic doesn’t exist here.’ We go to Virginia, the weather is not only stunning in Virginia, like a drought like in the movie, but in California it starts raining cats and dogs. It starts raining for about a month and a half off and on, and it would have destroyed our production schedule. We then leave Charlottesville, after being blessed with incredible weather, and when we leave Charlottesville, the day we left, it rained and flooded in the very valley that we built the ark. So we’ll take this all as serendipitous good intentions from the great creative spirit, God, and we feel we were very blessed.

Wild About Movies: This film is being marketed to Christian groups and there’s a lot in it for them. It also has a strong environmental message. Sometimes those two groups are somewhat opposed to each other because they support two different ideas. Are you concerned at all about how right wing Christians might view the environmental message?

Tom Shadyac: Well, first of all I don’t think… I would like to bridge those two groups, if you will. I can talk a long time about this so please cut me off. First of all, when I think of the environment, I don’t think just of a tree or the stream or the air. I think of… You’re in my environment. I’m in your environment. We’re creating an environment right here – a respectful one hopefully. So it’s not just how you treat the air and the plants and the trees and the animals, it’s how we treat each other, hence the theme of kindness in the movie – to be kind. Now I think again we look for common threads in religions and Christ is in all. Okay, that would be the Christian side of things if this is Christian media. I think it is. If not, we can go Judaic. We can go other faiths. Christ is in all meaning that the divine spark is in all things. There was a line originally in the movie that got me to do the movie which was about God saying ‘You know I’m in all things – the plants, rivers, trees, oceans, wind, animals. Well you’re killing me here, kid. You’re killing me here.’ Not too far, too preachy, not going to be in the movie, but that’s the idea behind it. This is all a gift, you know, and the way we treat not only each other but this environment that we are leaving our children is important, and it’s a reflection I think of our faith and our relationship with the divine that gave us this life. Alright that’s enough. Amen.

Wild About Movies: What is your spiritual orientation or religion?

Tom Shadyac: Let me say first of all that there is no more Jesus freak in this room than me because when I was as young as I can remember, having cognition and thought, I was looking at that Jesus guy going, ‘Whoever this is, this is somebody that’s blowing my mind.’ At the same time, I’m also a subscriber of a poem that said ‘Truth is revealed so much to me that I can no longer call myself’ and then it would name various faiths. This is all I think about pretty much. This is the drive of my life – this relationship with this divine in me and you and in all things. So I don’t give it a definition although it defines me.

Wild About Movies: Will there be a third “Almighty” movie?

Tom Shadyac: Well who knows? I mean I can’t even think about it. I have to survive the premiere. I’ve seen this movie a million times. I’m ready to do something else. We’ll see. We’ll see.

Wild About Movies: Talk about casting Steve Carell. Was he in the movie always before there was even a script? And also his injury when you had to stop production, what did that do to the movie?

Tom Shadyac: We actually stopped for maybe 6 hours. He sprained his ankle when he was jumping out of the car, you know, getting away from the animals that were on him – the spiders and the snakes. So very little. He did have to go to the hospital because he turned his ankle pretty bad. He wanted to keep shooting but we said ‘Get out of here.’ But we started shooting pretty soon thereafter. He couldn’t run for awhile so maybe we had to put some running scenes later – some more physical stuff.

Wild About Movies: Casting. When did he come into the casting process?

Tom Shadyac: You know we originally thought about this with Jim Carrey. You know, “Bruce 2: The Ark” was going to be the name of that. We even wrote a draft. Oedekerk with myself involved, we wrote a draft for Jim but Jim couldn’t decide either way. But I think ultimately he felt that his character had kind of arced out. [Pun intended] There it is again. He’d kind of arked out. So he felt his character was kind of done. He had learned his lesson and we as filmmakers felt and as a studio felt there’s more stories to be told than just Bruce – you know in the bible how many stories where God visits someone and has a story to tell. So we think now there’s more potential down the road. Whether we tap that potential, we’ll see.

Wild About Movies: So when did Steve come into it?

Tom Shadyac: Steve came into it right after Jim said, ‘Mmmm, can’t decide.’ And we thought about Steve. My agent, Dan Maloney, had brought him up as a possible choice if Jim didn’t want to do the movie 6 months before we chose him. And I thought okay that’s interesting. He was brilliant in ‘Bruce.’ He stole the movie. He stole the scenes he was in, certainly not the movie. That’s Jim’s movie, but he stole scenes and then I said, ‘Well what was his Virgin movie like? I heard he was good.’ And so I got an early screening of ‘The 40-Year-Old Virgin’ and thought this guy can carry a movie. I had a conversation with him about it and I don’t think I’ve ever had this happen before. I pitched him the idea and told him the story and he said, ‘I’m in.’ I said, ‘Well you know your people are going to want to get involved and you may want to have script approval.’ And he said, ‘No, I’m in. I’m in. I want to do the movie.’ I’ve never had that happen before meaning he said, ‘I trust you. I trust you, I trust Steve Oedekerk, I trust your creative team, I’ve worked with you, I want to do the movie.’

Wild About Movies: Setting aside the ark aspect, how conscious were you of parallels to “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”?

Tom Shadyac: I’m a Capra freak. I love Frank Capra. He believed in the goodness of people and one man’s ability to fight and often triumph. I did watch ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’ although I’d seen it. I like being mentioned in the same sentence so feel free. It’s a very different movie but I do think that there are some core similarities.

Wild About Movies: The dancing at the end… was it in the middle of the movie that you decided to do that or when did you decide that would happen?

Tom Shadyac: Steve improvised. Very early on. He improvised a joyful moment. You know he was very high in the beginning of the movie. He’s got a big house, he’s got his new gig, he’s a Congressman, he’s full of power. He took a moment and did the new house dance and then I thought — this is what I do — see that’s really good, maybe that could be a runner in the movie. Let’s see if we can’t find places for that. And then we liked it so much that we thought with about two months left to go in shooting maybe we could do a sequence with this. If not just for the DVD, we’ll get the crew dancing and it became…

Wild About Movies: It kept people through the credits. Everyone wanted to see that.

Tom Shadyac: Oh it’s really fun. It’s really fun and I think it’s very spiritual – you know, celebration, joy, dance. I think it’s a very spiritual theme, a good theme. If it was up to me, I’d make the 11th commandment ‘Do the Dance.’

Wild About Movies: Will there be a lot of extra things in the DVD?

Tom Shadyac: Oh yes, lots of extra things. You’ll see how far we went in terms of some scenes that we decided were overstated or slowing things down or got too expensive.

Evan Almighty Movie Poster