David Zucker has been slingin' comedy for almost 40 years, earning a reputation as the number-one go-to spoof man in Hollywood. He made his debut as the writer of "The Kentucky Fried Movie" in 1977 and from there went on to create what many consider to be "The Godfather" of the parody genre: "Airplane!" (1980), the film that got almost everyone on the planet to mutter "And don't call me Shirley" at least once in their lives.
From there, Zucker introduced us to the pratfall stylings of Lt. Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) in the short-lived but much-beloved television series, "Police Squad!" (1982). Drebin went on to headline three feature film spin-offs: "The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!" (1988), "The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear" (1991) and "The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult" (1994).
Zucker's other comedy classics include "Top Secret!" (1984) and "Ruthless People" (1986). He also teamed up with "South Park" creators Trey Park and Matt Stone for the sports comedy "BASEketball" (1998) and served as a producer on "Brain Donors" (1992), "High School High" (1996) and "Superhero Movie" (2008).
Zucker took over the reins of the "Scary Movie" franchise from the Wayans Brothers with the third installment, calling the shots on "Scary Movie 3" (2003) and "Scary Movie 4" (2006). Now he's back in producer-only mode with "Scary Movie 5," the film that puts "Scary Movie" alum Charlie Sheen in bed with Lindsay Lohan as it spoofs everything from "Black Swan" to "Paranormal Activity." We spoke with Zucker about returning to the "Scary" series and how comedy is still somehow funny after all of these years.
BRYAN ENK: All three "Naked Gun" movies recently became available on Netflix Streaming. I made a weekend of them and watched all three -- they hold up great.
DAVID ZUCKER: Oh, great! That's the thing that makes me feel the best, you know, if the stuff is still working, this many years later. I'm happy to hear that.
BE: So, "Scary Movie." You didn't get involved in this series until Part 3. How did you come to be involved with this series?
DZ: Well, I had done a movie for [producer] Bob Weinstein and Dimension called "My Boss' Daughter" with Ashton Kutcher. That didn't do well but Bob and I got along great so when he was unable to make a deal with the Wayans Brothers for "Scary Movie 3," Bob called me and said, "Zucker, you're a better director than your material," in regards to the Ashton Kutcher movie. [laughs] They still made money on it, anyway, so they were happy with it. But he said we have a script, we want to do "Signs of the Ring," and I had never heard of "Signs of the Ring," but I said I'll take a look at it. The script was horrible so I wrote my own and that's how it got started.
BE: It's been about seven years since "Scary Movie 4." What made now the time to do "Scary Movie 5" after such a relatively long hiatus?
DZ: You know, the time passes so quickly, I can't believe it's been seven years since "4." But, you know, the studio has a huge international brand with the "Scary Movie"s and if we can turn it in for a price, then they have to do it. And because ... I don't think this series ever gets tired because there's always fresh movies to spoof.
BE: You directed "Scary Movie 3" and "4," and for "5" you handed directing reins over to someone else [Malcolm D. Lee] -- you did a similar thing with "Naked Gun 33 1/3."
DZ: Two was enough for me. [laughs] It's hard to find something ... I have to find some reason why I'm passionate about something to spend a year of my life directing. If I can't do that, I'll produce or I'll be involved in another way ... I just can't direct. Right now I've got a couple of scripts that the studio wants to do next -- this is my original stuff.
BE: What's your favorite joke or gag in "Scary Movie 5"?
DZ: It's a spoof on "Black Swan." The director of "Black Swan" [Darren Aronofsky] had Natalie Portman walking toward the ballet theater and it was, like, jump cuts. So Malcolm shot the same thing, jump-cutting her walking to the ballet theater. And one night I was in the editing room fiddling around with it and I did a new cut of it which had her entering from both sides -- it started jump-cutting around just ridiculously badly, until finally she's going backwards out of the frame ... it's one of the funniest jokes in the movie. The other joke I love -- and I haven't even seen this play in front of an audience yet! -- there's this stock footage of a car driving and when it comes closer to the camera and comes around the curve you realize it's a toy car, there's no one in it. And you hear the characters are talking in the scene as the car is going -- I love that.
BE: We posted an outtake from the film featuring Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen in bed with something rather long and pink ... did you know about this? Were you on set when that happened?
DZ: Oh yes, well in the movie that actually turns out to be a cat. She says "Charlie!" or something, she's very impressed. [laughs] I'm surprised the MPAA let us do that.
Watch 'Scary Movie 5' Outtake -- Sheen and Lohan:
BE: You got your start with writing "Kentucky Fried Movie" and then went on to "Airplane!" and "Police Squad." What do you feel are the significant changes, if any, that the spoof genre has gone through over the past 35 or so years?
DZ: I don't think it's gone through too much of a change. "Scary 5" is pretty much the same type of jokes and characters as in "Scary 3" and 4" because these are what I call "spoof-mobiles," it's all about how many different movies you can spoof and the audience likes to say "Oh, they're doing this movie" and "Oh now they're doing this movie." It's really hard to write that and keep a plot going through all that. [laughs] That really hasn't changed very much. We originated that kind of form in "Airplane!," which had a couple of main movies that we spoofed: an old '50s movie called "Zero Hour" and some of the "Airport" movies, and then we sprinkled in some other movies around it like "Saturday Night Fever," "From Here to Eternity," "Since You Went Away." That kind of originated it, so I don't think it's really changed that much -- if anything, "Scary Movie 5" has even more movies that we're spoofing than "3" and "4" did. I don't know if that's a good thing or if with the next one we'll pull back from that.
The other style of spoof is the "Naked Gun" spoof where it's more of a spoof on one particular genre and not from particular movies -- we mainly based "Naked Gun" on "Dirty Harry," but no particular ... you couldn't pick out in "Naked Gun" when "Oh, now we're in 'Dirty Harry'" or now we're in this movie or that movie, but we do do plots and characters from other movies.
BE: Do you have an all-time favorite gag from all of your movies?
DZ: The toy car gag in "Scary Movie 5" has become one of my all-time favorites. The other gag I love is in "Airplane!" when the stewardess breaks down crying talking to Dr. Rumack, Leslie Nielsen's character, "I'm scared, I've never been so scared and besides I'm 26 and never been married," and then the older woman passenger comes in and says essentially, "I'm scared, too, but at least I have a husband," and the stewardess breaks down crying even more. I love that joke because we never even cut to anybody, it's all in a master. And it's timeless, just completely timeless -- you don't need to have seen a movie [it references] or know anything. Those are the kind of jokes I love best.
BE: Richard Griffiths passed away recently. Do you have any fond memories of working with him on "Naked Gun 2 1/2," in which he played both Dr. Albert S. Meinheimer and Earl Hacker?
DZ: He loved it because, you know, a lot of these serious actors don't get a chance to play comedy, particularly not this kind of crazy, zany, goofy stuff. So, you know, we got him in a situation where his wheelchair got out of control and Leslie [Nielsen] kind of went over the top of his head and, as usually happens in our movies, Leslie's head ends up in his crotch and they're going all over the place and ... you know, he was just such a good sport and did all his own stunts ... he really enjoyed it. And the other thing that's kind of strange about it is when I see the movie, he plays a double character and I always think there's two of him. Like Armie Hammer in "The Social Network" -- I think of those characters as twins, not that there's just one guy playing both parts.
BE: I read that a longtime dream project of yours is a Davy Crockett film.
DZ: Yeah, I had written a Davy Crockett film in the early '90s. I would like to do it ... some day I'll go back to it and see if I can get the script right, I'd have to rewrite it. But I think it's probably a tough project to try to get made. But you never know -- maybe it just needs a rewrite!
BE: One of my favorite films of yours is "Ruthless People." If you were to make that film today, does any dream cast come to mind?
DZ: [laughs] That's a good question, though I haven't thought about it ... there are people who would be great, you know, ["Scary Movie 5" star] Ashley Tisdale would probably be great for it. There are so many wonderful actors now. Christine Baranski would probably be great as the Bette Midler part. And for the Danny DeVito part, you would probably look for whoever is the young Jack Nicholson now [laughs] -- we originally went to Albert Brooks for the Danny DeVito role, but it turned out Danny was great in it. It was the first more or less "romantic lead" that Danny had ever played -- he had just done two "Romancing the Stone"s before that as kind of a minor character. But that would be a fun movie to cast today.
Watch 'Scary Movie 5' Theatrical Trailer: