Stranger Wilderness In Theaters
Pot-smoking Ostrich "Strange Wilderness" poster - Below
"Strange Wilderness" - "Strange Wilderness" follows the hosts of a failing wildlife show as they go searching for Bigfoot. The quest is meant to boost their dwindling ratings. Steve Zahn, Allen Covert, Jonah Hill, Justin Long, Jeff Garlin and Kevin Heffernan star.
Paramount's cocky president of publicity, Rob Moore, recently stated, "It's a terrific addition to our 2008 slate, and we think audiences are demonstrating a strong appetite for edgy R-rated comedy material, as evidenced by recent hits such as and " Unfortunately, Moore, who obviously has not seen the movie, doesn't realize that "Strange Wilderness" is poised to be a great candidate for Worst Movie of 2008. Neither of which "Knocked Up," nor "Borat" suffered the indignity of the years that they were released. Furthermore, "Strange Wilderness" has been in the can, on the shelf, for over a year. It was supposed to be a 2007 release, but reportedly tested so poorly it was almost a direct-to-DVD title.
"Strange Wilderness" is so bad, (no matter what Rob Moore babbles on about), that Paramount is refusing to post a trailer of the film. Surprisingly, the official website of "Strange Wilderness," listed on the poster, at both , and , directs viewers to the 20th Century Fox movie website - a studio that has absolutely nothing to do with "Strange Wilderness." The incompetence at movie studios - the higher up you go, especially - never ceases to amaze!
Someday our good friend Michael Agulnek, VP of publicity at Paramount Pictures National Publicity, one of the only remaining brains at Paramount, (along with Stu Gottesman), will take control and fix things. Bet on that. And a much better slate of Paramount films and employees.
STARRING: Steve Zahn, Allen Covert, Jeff Garlin, Justin Long, Jonah Hill, Robert Patrick, Harry Hamlin
DIRECTOR: Fred Wolf
STUDIO: Paramount Pictures
RATING: R (For non-stop vulgar language, drug use, crude and sexual humor)
Wild About Movies Grade:
Behind The Scenes
WILDERNESS SO STRANGE
After the genial, beloved TV host of the popular wildlife show “Strange Wilderness” passes on to the great nature special in the sky, his son Peter Gaulke (Steve Zahn) takes over the series…and things are never the same. Ignorant, bumbling and blissfully unaware of his own lack of talent, Pete sprinkles his documentary narrations with such dubious factoids as “Bears derive their name from a football team in Chicago” and “Beavers are believed to be a distant cousin of the watermelon.” When the ratings sink to an all-time low and the show is about to be cancelled, Pete and his filmmaking partner Fred Wolf (Allen Covert) realize they have to come up with “something big” to save the series. It looks like they’ve hit the jackpot when Pete lucks into a map of the legendary Bigfoot’s secret cave. But when the clueless producer leads his ragtag crew to the wilds of Central America to film the elusive beast, they encounter a string of disasters, each more hilarious – and potentially lethal – than the last. The double-crossing jungle guides, voracious piranhas and hostile natives, however, are nothing compared to the mayhem these spectacularly incompetent filmmakers bring upon themselves.
Desperate for a stunt to drive “Strange Wilderness’” ratings back up and salvage the show, Pete brainstorms with his motley crew, which includes partner and soundman Fred (Allen Covert), cameraman Milas (Ernest Borgnine), Milas’ stoner nephew Junior (Justin Long) and the show’s lazy and obnoxious production assistant Cooker (Jonah Hill). Their luck seems to take a turn for the better when Pete gets a visit from his father’s backwoods survivalist friend Bill Calhoun (Joe Don Baker), who offers to sell him a map to Bigfoot’s jungle hideout. Convinced this is the big break they’ve been waiting for, Pete and Fred hire two new crewmembers, Bill Whitaker (Kevin Heffernan), an alcoholic auto mechanic, and Cheryl (Ashley Scott), a surprisingly qualified and beautiful travel coordinator, and set off for Ecuador in their dilapidated RV.
From the start, however, the ambitious expedition is beset with disasters. To film a segment on sharks, the filmmakers dress their driver Danny (Peter Dante) in a sea lion costume and lower him into shark-filled water, with predictably grievous results. Then, after an almost equally unfortunate – and equally preventable – run-in with some angry gangbangers, the production team arrives at Bill’s cabin three days late and flat broke – only to find he has already sold the map to Sky Pierson. When the apologetic Bill agrees to give them a copy of the map and the name of an expert jungle tracker (Robert Patrick), the group heads south with hopes of beating their competitors to Bigfoot’s reputed hideout. But it won’t be easy. Along the way, the hapless crew will have to survive near- death encounters with overzealous border guards, an amorous turkey, flesh- eating fish, murderous natives and a host of other obstacles that more than live up to the name “Strange Wilderness.”
“It is estimated that the faster a shark swims, the more distance he covers in a given period of time.”
– Peter Gaulke, Host of TV’s “Strange Wilderness”
“Strange Wilderness” began its life nearly a decade ago as a series of independently produced short videos by former “Saturday Night Live” writers Fred Wolf and Peter Gaulke. “They started out as little parodies of wildlife shows,” explains writer and producer Gaulke. “Fred and I went out and shot them with the help of John Burrud, who actually has a real-life wildlife show. His father Bill used to host ‘Animal World’ and other travel and nature shows back in the ‘60s. So John helped us produce these little shorts which we eventually got onto Comedy Central.”
A few years later, Gaulke came up with the idea of making a feature film based on an absurdly inept wildlife show host, for which he and Wolf wrote a script.
“Peter and I have been writing set piece comedy for years,” says writer and director Wolf. “We’ve done stand-up together; we’ve written TV shows together and worked on ‘Saturday Night Live’ together. “
Getting their first movie made proved to be a big challenge – until they received the support of one of Hollywood’s biggest comedy stars. The duo went as far as to shoot a version of “Strange Wilderness” on video to show potential backers. “We had some good screenings of that, and we had a lot of people interested in making it into a TV show,” says Wolf. “But not too many people wanted to make it into a movie until Adam Sandler XE "Sandler:See Also:Adam Sandler" XE "Sandler" and his producing partner Jack Giarraputo read the script. As soon as those guys stepped in, it was just a totally different world. Suddenly we knew what it was like to get our phone calls answered.”
Happy Madison, Sandler’s production company, brought the project to Level 1 Entertainment, with whom they had previously produced the 2006 comedy “Grandma’s Boy.” Paul Schwake, Level 1’s chief operating officer, fell in love with the script immediately: “It’s funny from start to finish. It’s got great pacing and a lot of funny jokes. You’re following these guys on their adventure to find something really absurd and seeing what happens to them along the way.”
“This species is extremely rare and can only be found in two places on earth: The Northern and Southern Hemisphere.”
– Peter Gaulke
“This movie wouldn’t have been the same without the cast we had,” says Gaulke. “We were really lucky. I think they sort of came out of the woodwork when they heard the name Adam Sandler. It definitely helped us get the script read by actors.”
“Originally it was going to be the journey of two guys and a couple of their crew members,” adds Wolf. “When it became an ensemble comedy, I think it made it easier to get more comedy in. We got some great actors in the movie and they brought it to life. We write our little scribbles and then the next thing you know they’re reading it and getting laughs. ”
At the center of the film is Steve Zahn (“Daddy Day Care,” “National Security”), who plays the accidental host of his late father’s wildlife show, a character named after co-creator Peter Gaulke. “Getting Steve Zahn was a big deal,” says Schwake. “He’s funny; he’s got great comedic timing. He’s vulnerable, but he’s got enough spirit to lead the rest of the group through their adventure.”
Zahn was Gaulke and Wolf’s first choice, but the actor was in the midst of his own “strange wilderness” when the part was being cast. “He was in Vietnam shooting a Werner Herzog film and I guess Herzog is sort of famous for, like, living in tents, and no craft services and all that sort of stuff,” says Gualke. “His agent got him the script somehow, but he had it for a solid month and couldn’t read it.”
Picking up the story, Zahn recalls: “I read it while I was in Vietnam on a shoot where I had lost 40 pounds. It was a very serious role and I got this call and my agents were like, ‘you have to read it now, they’re going to move.’ I read it in my hotel room in Hanoi and halfway through I was laughing so hard, I was literally crying. It’s rare to read something like that.”
“So it came right down to the wire,” continues Gaulke, “and he called up and said he was reading it and laughing really loud. And we asked him, ‘So are you going to do the movie, or are you just laughing at the script?’ He said ‘I’m in.’ When he got back from Vietnam, he was home for one day and then came out here to do this movie.”
Describing his character, Zahn explains, “I inherited the show from my father. The problem is that my show sucks and my crew sucks. KPIP-TV is going to cancel us because our shows are offensive. My character, who is the so-called brains of the group, has no idea why the station came to that conclusion. And therein lies the comedy. So we have to come up with a really big show to prove that we should be on the air.”
The filmmakers are equally enthusiastic about the casting of Happy Madison mainstay Allen Covert (”Grandma’s Boy”) to play the fictional Fred Wolf, Gaulke’s friend and trusty soundman. “Having Allen Covert come in as Fred Wolf and be Gaulke’s main sidekick was terrific, because Allen’s got great comedic timing,” says Schwake.
“Fred is kind of the junior partner of the show,” Covert says of his character. “Pete and I don’t know much about filmmaking, but we’ve got a lot of enthusiasm and we want to be good. We truly believe in what we’re doing, but we also don’t know much about animals.”
“I’ve worked with Happy Madison for a long time,” says the film’s director, the real-life Fred Wolf. “Adam Sandler has this sort of collection of guys around him that are just really funny guys. We’ve all known each other for 15 or so years. Covert XE "Covert" used to be the doorman at the Improv XE "Improv" , and was funny back then and funnier now. We were lucky to get him, not only because he was great in the part, but also because he really believed in the movie and was one of the other guys that pitched in and helped us make it happen.”
Jonah Hill, who starred in the breakout comedy hit “Superbad,” plays Cooker, the show’s production assistant. “He never really does the job he is supposed to be doing,” Hill says of his character. “He’s this crazy southern guy who doesn’t make a lot of sense a lot of the time. I think the comedy comes from the fact that he’s always not doing his job but is very defensive when someone points that out to him.”
In addition to the coterie of young comic actors, the cast also features a handful of well-established Hollywood players including, Ernest Borgnine, Harry Hamlin, Jeff Garlin and Robert Patrick. “It’s a terrific cast and it’s amazing that we got them all together,” says Schwake.
Discussing the casting of Oscar®-winning actor Borgnine (“The Wild Bunch,” “Marty”), Schwake says, “It was very important to Fred Wolf that we got somebody in the role of Milas who really brought some heart to the film. I was home watching ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ with my kids and on comes Mermaid Man, played by Ernest Borgnine. I thought, wouldn’t it be great to have him. We sent the script out to his reps, they liked it and they sent it to Ernest and he liked it. It was amazing to have Hollywood royalty on our set. He told us this was his 187th film. The whole crew realized we had something special when we had him here.”
For his part, the 89-year-old Borgnine says he enjoyed spending time on the set with a cast full of up-and-coming funnymen. “I’m the straight one because I’ve never made these kinds of films before, so they didn’t even give me one bad word to say. So I put in my own bad words. I sat back a little bit, because I was the old man of the film. It was wonderful watching them, and I think the director had a great time just taking the reaction from my face.”
In “Strange Wilderness,” Borgnine’s character Milas can’t make the trip to Ecuador, so he offers the filmmakers his bong-toking nephew Junior, played by Justin Long (who recently starred in the worldwide action hit “Live Free or Die Hard”), to take his place. Covert describes Long’s character as “our cameraman, who we think has been stoned since birth. We’re not 100% sure and we can’t figure out how he keeps getting high.”
Before setting out to find the legendary Bigfoot, the wildlife show’s producers decide they need a few more crewmembers for the expedition. After an extensive interview process, Peter and Fred end up hiring Bill Whitaker (Kevin Heffernan), an alcoholic hoping to kick his drinking habit by spending time in the wilderness.
“I’m a guy they hire to be an animal trainer although I have no animal handling experience,” explains Heffernan, whose previous credits include co-writing and starring in the feature comedies “Super Troopers,” “Club Dread” and “Beerfest.” “I’m actually a car mechanic and I don’t even like animals that much.”
Heffernan remembers being bewildered by the names of the two lead characters when he first read the script. “I was totally confused because I had never met Peter and Fred and the main characters had the same names as the guys who wrote and directed the film. Then I thought, ‘Wait a minute, is there really a show like this? Were these guys ever involved in it?’ But, no, they just did it for fun and wanted to name the characters after themselves.”
To round out the expedition team, Fred and Peter also hire Cheryl (Ashley Scott), a sexy twenty-something who is charged with handling all the crew’s travel arrangements. The only female crew member, she’s also much smarter than her male employers, but she ultimately becomes one of the guys. Scott (“Jericho,” “Into the Blue”) describes her character as “the sane one in the group. They’re kind of crazy so she keeps everything mellow. I’m the token broad. But I steal all their jokes, so I’m also kind of funny.”
“It is estimated that bears kill over two million salmon a year. Attacks by salmon on bears are much more rare.”
– Peter Gaulke
“Strange Wilderness” marked screenwriter Fred Wolf’s (“Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star,” “Joe Dirt”) first outing as a feature director. “Fred has a great way with the actors,” says executive producer Schwake. ?“He basically says, ‘Here’s the scene, here’s the frame, give me the funny.’ We knew we liked his creative vision with the script and he had Peter Gaulke right next to him, who helped him write the script and knew the material really well. The problem with first-time directors is that they can get off-track. If they have downtime or if we have to redo something, it can cost thousands of dollars in a minute. But this crew was terrific. They were professional and knew what they were doing, so it was a great support for Fred.”
Executive producer Glenn S. Gainor is equally effusive about Wolf’s talents behind the camera: “He was fantastic. He just knew how to get the best out of everybody. He knew how to give the actors freedom and let them explore. He got that it was about collaboration.”
When it came to finding a director of photography, the filmmakers turned to David Hennings, whose credits include the surfing movie “Blue Crush.” “That was a phenomenally beautiful-looking film that was also outdoorsy and we thought he could really lend a lot to our film,” says Gainor.
Hennings’ cinematography shares the screen with actual 1970s wildlife footage, including shows hosted by Gaulke’s friend and documentary producer John Burrud. The job of researching the shots that would be incorporated into “Strange Wilderness” fell to Gainor. “I reviewed a lot of this original b-roll of lions fornicating and animals doing various things to each other and put it into the film,” he says. “We blended the footage with the shots of our journey and then it was just a matter of matching the geography and topography.”
Given the production’s short 27-day schedule, the filmmakers faced a challenge in convincingly portraying a trip from a small American city to the Central American jungle. Fortunately, Southern California offers a remarkable range of environments in which to shoot. “We managed to go from central California XE "California" up into the mountains, down to Mexico, XE "Mexico" into Ecuador XE "Ecuador" , and then into the jungle, all within a 15-mile radius from the center of Hollywood,” says production designer Perry Andelin Blake.
“In Los Angeles, it's easy to get to the desert or the beach,” says Blake. “But a jungle XE "Los Angeles" is not the easiest thing, especially something with a little bit of scope so it doesn’t look like you're shooting in somebody's backyard. Luckily there's the Los Angeles XE "Los Angeles" Arboretum, XE "Los Angeles Arboretum" which is like a goldmine because there's a huge area there that has a South XE "South" America XE "South America" n XE "South American" jungle. It also has an African XE "African" jungle and a river that runs through part of it. It's been a classic Hollywood XE "Hollywood" location for years. They shot ‘Tarzan’ XE "Tarzan" there, way back in the day, and even ‘Fantasy Island.’ XE "Fantasy Island"
The house that Tattoo XE "Tattoo" and his boss were in front of, when you thought they were on some island somewhere? It’s there,” explains Blake.
Some of the more overgrown jungle areas of the Arboretum were used for the crew’s campsite with tracker Gus Hayden and the setting where Sky Pierson and his crew meet their unhappy demise.
The location used for Bill Calhoun’s survivalist hideaway was Disney’s Golden Oak Ranch in Newhall, California, less than an hour north of L.A. “l’sWe found this one cabin that we added things to. We militarized it by putting up satellite dishes and barbed wire, and really stocking it with ammo. We wanted to create this kind of quasi-paramilitary kind of bunker hideout up in the hills. If you go into the house, Calhoun has stockpiles of food, a whole area of K-rations XE "Rations" , and his surveillance set up with TVs with these little monitors all over. It was kind of fun mixing the classic, cabiny kind of things like nice comfy chairs and animals on the wall with big stacks of machine guns, ammo and the kind of gear you might have if you're an anti-government freak.”
For Bigfoot’s cave in the Andes Mountains, the production used Bronson Canyon at the Southern edge of Griffith Park, which has been used extensively since the early 1920s for films and, more recently, for such classic TV shows as “Batman,” “Bonanza” and “Gunsmoke.” And it’s all within sight of the famous Hollywood sign.