Today: June 20, 2024

Jonathan Goldstein & John Daley Talk Vacation

You wrote and directed this film together.  How does that work for you?
JG:  We pretty much do all of it all together, directing in the same way that we write. It’s always in the same room. We don’t go off and do separate scenes. We find that the advantage of that is being able to test the comedy and see if both of us like it, which is generally a good sign. When it came to directing, it was just that much more preparation. We make sure we’re on the same page and are telling the actors and crew everything that we want. And every weekend we get together with our director of photography in advance and basically plot out every shot we are going to do for the week ahead. So we came in knowing everything was covered.  As few surprises as possible.

JD: We would think that it would be less work because there are two of us, but it was just as much work, if not more, getting on the same page sometimes.

The opening montage with all the awkward family photos – were any of those yours?
JG: No. I tried to get one of my kid in front of a dinosaur but … It wasn’t disastrous. It was embarrassing.

JD: I mean, it was amazingly fortuitous because Chris Bender, our producer, his brother runs the Awkward Family Photos website, and that’s where we got most of the photos for that sequence.

The younger Griswold son, Kevin, does some pretty crazy things to his big brother and has quite a colourful vocabulary…
JD:  We were basically telling him to say all those things. But there were a couple moments that came as a surprise, like that punch-slap he gives James in the kitchen. It was originally just a punch and we threw him that alternative on the day. So that’s what ended up being in the movie because it was so shocking.

JG:  Steele Stebbins, who plays that Kevin, was so perfect because he is such an adorable little angelic kid. And to hear those things and see those nasty actions coming from him was all the more surprising. Nobody, to our knowledge, had done the joke of the younger brother who picks on his bright older brother, so it just felt like a fun, new direction to take.

How did his parents react to seeing their sweet little son saying these insane lines?
JG: Well, his parents obviously know it’s a movie and that he’s going to say things he won’t say outside of there. And the funny thing is, Steele is not a kid who ever swears. He’s the nicest kid in the world. And he knows this is just a character.

JD:  And the comfort level that came with him swearing was also kind of alarming to us as well – he said those things more comfortably than I would. And it is a testament to his abilities as an actor. He’s such a fine young actor that when we first saw his audition tape we knew we’d hit the jackpot.

Can you tell us about the car – the Tartan Prancer.  How much of that car was practical?
JG: It’s a Toyota Previa underneath all the silliness, so it did drive, and it has a small gas tank.

JD: But none of those buttons actually work on the panel. We were just trying to come up with the most random, ridiculous, non-sequitur features that we could with the car. And it kind of took digging into our subconscious to come up with some of those functions.

JG:  You can’t even see in the movie all the weird detail that they designed into that. For example, the temperature control knobs – they go from blue to purple, which is colder. And yellow to red.So many decisions had to come with designing it as well, down to the colour. In hindsight it’s kind of ridiculous.

There are so many great cameos in the film.  Was there anyone in particular who surprised you?
JD: Well, Chris Hemsworth is definitely the most shocking in that we’ve never seen him do this kind of comedy before. So it was a pleasant surprise to see that he nailed it.

JG: Yeah, he came to play. And he took it seriously. We had conversations before he even arrived about his hair and what it would look like because, to us, that shell of weatherman-hair is just so specific. He couldn’t cut his hair because it was before the Thor movie. But it worked out – he had this mane.

JD: There was even a conversation about the size and shape of his appendage, where we had a couple options and tested them out on the day that we were shooting that scene. That was one of the weirder moments in our directing career – going up to this bedroom with Chris Hemsworth as he models his prosthetic to us.

What made you think about him to play Stone Crandall?
JG: It was an incoming call. He wanted to do a comedy, and, obviously, he’s a big draw and a handsome, talented guy. He had a great attitude, and he just nailed it. I mean, not everybody would sign up to be parading around in their underwear like that.

JD:  He was such a pro, too. He knew exactly what we were going for with this role. I remember one of the times we gave him ten notes and we thought, ‘Oh, he’ll execute maybe two of them because no human being can actually do that.’  But he’s not a normal human being. He’s a superman.  Laughs]  He’s perfect in every way.

What I love about the movie is that you incorporate stories about Rusty’s wife, Debbie, played by Christina Applegate, and the kids.  Was that your plan from the beginning?
JG: Oh, yeah. It was always our intention. Because a road trip movie is inherently episodic, we wanted to make sure that the audience is keying into other things that are happening and that it wasn’t just going to be Rusty’s story. We wanted to make sure that Debbie had her story and that revealed the genesis of who she was. And that it would be as much news to the audience as it would be to Rusty.

You have the original Griswolds, Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo, in cameo roles in the movie…
JD:  Yeah. It was a three-day shoot with them. We knew we had to have them in the movie, in one way just to pay our respects to the foundation that they set with that original and how talented and funny they both were. But also, we knew that in order to establish this movie as its

I loved the gag of Kevin putting the plastic bag over James’s head, but felt like I probably shouldn’t be laughing at that…
JG: We wanted to sort of push the envelope on the bullying thing, and how oblivious the parents are that they don’t know what’s happening.

JD:  Also, just the insanity of how dangerous it is, and that Kevin doesn’t see anything wrong with what he’s doing. It’s just playing games for him.

JG:  We wanted to make sure that when James does finally stand up to Kevin, the audience is rooting for James without a doubt to just beat the crap out of him.

JD: A cathartic moment that is also cut short like all the other cathartic moments in the movie – he has his chance to finally get back at Kevin and it’s in the strangest way possible.

How do you know what’s funny? Is there like a funny meter?
JG: How do we know?  Well, it’s a gut feeling.  I spent ten or so years in sitcom writers’ rooms, and there, if people laugh then it might be funny.  And it’s the same with this process. If something makes both of us laugh it’s got a good chance of making other people laugh. If only one of us finds it funny, we try to go back to the well and improve it. Our style is to try and take the audience down a road and then veer off in a way that they hopefully didn’t see coming to undermine expectations. Because there’s so much comedy that’s been done a certain way, so we try to lead the audience to where they think they’ve been before and then go off in a strange direction.

Vacation starring Ed Helms and Chris Hemsworth out on DVD and Blu-ray on December 14th.

Paula Hammond - Features Editor

Paula Hammond is a full-time, freelance journalist. She regularly writes for more magazines than is healthy and has over 25 books to her credit. When not frantically scribbling, she can be found indulging her passions for film, theatre, cult TV, sci-fi and real ale. If you should spot her in the pub, after five rounds rapid, she’ll be the one in the corner mumbling Ghostbusters quotes and waiting for the transporter to lock on to her signal… Email: writerpaula@icloud.com

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