Earlier this week I wrote a scathing review of a new horror movie. It was so bad that it actually pissed me off. Thankfully, this weekend we will be saved by Marlon Wayans with his new movie, "A Haunted House 2" opening today, April 18. The horror genre is ripe to be parodied as the Wayans family did with "Scary Movie" and then Marlon continued his success with the "A Haunted House" franchise.
I had the chance to do a round table with Marlon Wayans recently in Miami. Despite the roles we see him play, I found him to be a beyond reproach professional. Among the topics we covered included "A Haunted House 2", what he loves about doing comedy and that nasty smell in the men's bathroom at the W Hotel.
*I feel I have a shared experience with you now because we both experienced that nasty bathroom. Oh, I was going to say, "What's her name?" (Everyone laughs) That experience was... that was just tortuous. It's like... I don't understand. That's not a regular poo. That was some dinosaur S#%! That was crazy.
*Are you a cat person? I ask because the digs in your movies have not fared too well (except the dog dolls, of course). Actually, I'm more of a dog person than I am a cat person. I love dogs. Cats, I'm allergic to. It's just that... I like doing decadent things to fluffy, little things. Something about a cute little cuddly dog, and a safe dropping on it, it kind of makes you laugh a little bit.
*It did. So it's like, "How am I going to kill a dog in this movie?" That's exactly how it goes too. "How do I kill Shiloh this time?" If there's a third one, how do I do it? I got some ideas.
*I'm looking forward to that. Yes.
In terms of writing the screenplay for "A Haunted House 2" what's the process like? 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 throughlines 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?" So 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? 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 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; that you can make all of the theater laugh at the same time consistently. I like taking that challenge.
*Speaking of writing and challenges, 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? 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. So 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, so 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? Yeah. There was 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 they 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, but I don't play back the video, I play back the audio. I can then play it back and go, "Okay, that's a dead spot, take it out. That joke fell flat, take it out. This joke got more 'Oooos' than it did 'Ha's', what can we do to fix that?" 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? If it's not good, yeah, we'll re-shoot. Sometimes its just simple adjustments. At half time 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. You hear the laughs and know where it's at.
Marlon, it's been 20 years since one of your breakthrough role in "Above the Rim" and 10 years since "White Chicks"... Shoot. My agent, man. Makes me want to keel over and die.
Do you take time to reflect upon those movies or do you just move on? Um, 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 like, 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're bonded. So let's love hard, let's live hard and let's laugh hard.
*"Above the Rim" and the movie "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? 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. If 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 year 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. I started out wanting to play it great now I got the bug and I want to be a great.
Do you have any future projects for WhatTheFunny.com? We have a lot of content on WhatTheFunny.com that is just going up daily. Check it out, man. We got over 200-300 videos on there right now, 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. He does all these musical, kind of these rancid 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. So just go get it and go to WhatTheFunny.com.
*What was the genesis of getting WhatTheFunny.com launched? 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 ours I think it speaks directly to that young, urban hip audience.
*What's the best thing about making someone laugh? Knowing that that laugh might have changed or shifted their entire day in that one moment. Just that you made them take a vacation from life to just go feel elation. When I do a movie I wait a year to hear the laugh. I do standup now religiously just to hear laughs! I'm addicted to laughs. For me, every time I get a laugh, I got a fix.
"A Haunted House 2" starring Marlon Wayans is now playing at theaters everywhere.
* Denotes questions asked by West Palm Beach & Miami Movie Examiner