Marlon Wayans is back in the spoof genre with “A Haunted House 2,” the sequel to his comedy hit where he injected his sense of humor while mocking “found footage” horror films like “Paranormal Activity” and “The Devil Inside.” In this film, Wayans reprise the role of Malcolm, who is now living with his new girlfriend (Jaime Pressly) and her two children. Despite starting fresh, the bizarre paranormal events that haunted Malcolm before is happening all over again. I had the chance to participate in a roundtable interview with Marlon to talk about the movie, the writing process to making a movie like “A Haunted House 2” and using feedback from the first film to figure out how to construct the timing for this movie.
In terms of writing the screenplay for “A Haunted House 2” what's the process like?
Marlon Wayans: I think it's not just this movie. It seems every movie I've dealt with has a process and every writer has his own process. My process is brainstorming first. Then just watching movies, studying staples and finding common denominators. After that, I find the through-lines of characters in stories. From there, I card the movie out and write an outline. Once I card it out, I add in, “What's the character journey? What is the progression of the plot?” It is a multicolored card system that we use and from there it's how do we hang all these jokes we collected earlier into the structure.
You've said you enjoy doing comedies more because it's more challenging. Why is it more challenging than doing dramas?
Wayans: Drama. It is what it is. You do deal in some subtext. It's easier to feel than it is to take your feelings and make people laugh with those or take a scary situation and make it funny. Now you're actually taking and you're flipping it. Instead of just going with the scare, now you're putting in double the effort. Because you have to go with the scare, you have to bring them in and then hit them with the joke. I just like the math that comes along with comedy and the challenge of trying to make people feel the same way at one time even though we are all from different walks of life with different experiences. I like taking that challenge.
Speaking of writing and challenges and going back to the first “A Haunted House,” what was the challenge of writing a found footage film since it is not a typical screenplay with a linear design?
Wayans: To write one that had a story was hard. Because found footage movies for the most part is you just watch these movies that do nothing and then in the last five minutes, everything goes haywire. So…when you write a scripted version of this, it has to be interesting all the way through. The character has to start in one place and end in another place and that goes throughout the whole movie. You have to build your scenes and then build your sequences that build your acts that build your entire movie. Then they all have to have twists and turns and the character has to feel this way and then he has to go to a double negative, a positive. You keep changing the polarity of the character so it's a lot harder to write a script like that. We had to bring stuff to it. It's not like we moved into a house that already had furniture. It didn't even have walls. We really had to start from scratch and put walls in and furniture in and design it and paint. We had to create what was not there. Otherwise, you do not have an interesting movie. You can sustain that kind of suspense for a paranormal kind of found footage movie, but in a comedy, people are not going to sit in a comedy for an hour and a half and then the last five minutes you are going to make them laugh. We had to find a way to get them all the way through.
Did you use audience feedback on the first movie to input some interesting takes on this movie?
Wayans: Yeah. There were actually a couple of things I tweeted out beforehand while I was writing it just to get people's point-of-view on it. I would read some comments whether it will be on Netflix or on YouTube and you gather, “Okay, they like this. This scene was more divisive” or “These things really made them laugh.” For me, when I make a movie for an audience, I want to make the audience laugh. It's important for me so I do take notes. That's why I hold test screenings. I don't play back the video. I play back the audio. I would then play it back and go, “Okay, that's a dead spot, take it out. That joke fell flat, take it out.” Sometimes it means you just have to let it go. I listen to the audience cause that's who I'm tailor making the suit for.
When you do that sort of process, does that mean you sometimes go back out and shoot something new or do you try to fix it in editing?
Wayans: If it's not good, we'll re-shoot. Sometimes, it’s just simple adjustments. At halftime in a basketball game, you can't go changing teams. You go in the locker room and discuss what worked, what didn't work and you go back out re-invigorated and make your changes and have a great second half. A lot of times, it's just tweaking the material. We knew we had funny stuff, but sometimes, we went too far with the joke or we went too long with the joke. So you hit it and then quit it.
Marlon, it's been 20 years since one of your breakthrough role in “Above the Rim” and 10 years since “White Chicks.” Do you take time to reflect upon those movies or do you just move on?
Wayans: I look upon all my experiences as good experiences. They're great memories, but I don't hold onto the past. I let it go and what I bring to the new experiences is always the fun that we have and I try to bring more fun the next time around. When I'm filming my movies, now I do stuff for my crew. I'll have the ice cream truck come or I'll have In-N-Out Burger come because I just want us to go be lighthearted and have fun and thank them every day for their hard work and their efforts. We all bond as a unit and as a family and for 25 days, we bonded.
“Above the Rim” and “Requiem for a Dream” were great movies. You have been on a great comedy tear lately, but what are your thoughts of doing a dramatic role again sometime in the future?
Wayans: I would love to. There are a couple of things I'm circling. There's a project that I have with one of my best friends, Omar Epps, where we play best friends, but it's a thriller that we're looking to set up. Then there's “The Richard Pryor Story.” Of that happens...great. If not, I don't know because there's a new director on it, Lee Daniels. I don't know if that's going to come my way, but if it does, it is something I would love to do. I've been doing standup for three and a half years preparing for that movie. I am very grateful to Richard Pryor and the journey of this project's experience because it got me to get on stage.
Do you have any future projects for WhatTheFunny.com?
Wayans: We have a lot of content on WhatTheFunny.com that is just going up daily. We got over 200-300 videos on there right now with just funny shorts. It's a great little community for people to go see brand new, fresh up-and-coming content and talent. My nephew, little Damon, has a funny little sketch there called “Wayans's World.” Rob Stapleton has a real funny show. I've done some sketches on there. Todrick Hall is amazing and he does musical, sort of ratchet Broadway parodies. Instead of "Singing in the Rain," he did "Twerkin' in the Rain." He's really talented. It's just a fun site to just go visit and scroll through. It's free and there's a free app for it.
What was the genesis of getting WhatTheFunny.com launched?
Wayans: The genesis came from...I think there was a need for the urban audience to have a space that they could come to. Funny or Die is a great destination, but for our website, I think it speaks directly to that young, urban hip audience.
“A Haunted House 2” is now playing in South Florida theaters. Click here for showtimes.