Jon Hurwitz & Hayden Schlossberg Talk Directing American Reunion
For writers/directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, making Universal Pictures’ American Reunion was something of a dream come true.
“We were enormous fans of that first American Pie,” Hurwitz told a group of reporters. “We didn’t actually work with Adam [Herz, who wrote the first three films] on the project. We’ve known Adam for a very long time and he knew that we were huge fans. When we took over on this one, he gave us his blessing and his support.”
The pair also received encouragement from American Pie directors Paul and Chris Weitz. “Really their biggest suggestion was ‘make your own movie,'” Hurwitz explained. As with Herz, the Weitz brothers saw the enthusiasm coming from Hurwitz and Schlossberg. “I think they understood that we were huge fans and that we loved their first movie and what made it work.”
Secure with those blessings, Hurwitz and Schlossberg settled into the challenge of writing interesting adult lives for the characters. “We all fell in love with them when they were in high school,” Hurwitz continued. “So the reunion concept was perfect for us to take this large ensemble and give each person a storyline that’s hopefully pretty fun and [has a] moment to shine.”
Of course, that high school reunion premise has a bit of a hitch: It’s been 13 years, rather than 10, since the first American Pie.
“We wish that we were approached in 2008 about doing a movie that comes out in 2009,” Schlossberg said. As poor planning led to their real-life high school reunion happening a year late, the duo felt it wasn’t “the craziest idea in the world to get together at a time that isn’t a perfect round number.”
Coming from the Harold and Kumar series, the pair felt pressure to up to the ante in terms of raunchy hijinks. “Our scripts, we’ve written a bunch of scripts now, have contributed to movies pushing the envelope,” Schlossberg said. “So, it’s a fun challenge to figure out what the new shit joke is going to be or how you’re going to have nudity in a way that’s going to make people uncomfortable.”
He said it’s a challenge all comedy directors face, sometimes leading to less-than-stellar results. “I think the bad movies are trying to push and you feel that they’re just trying to find something outrageous,” Schlossberg explained. “For us, we start with the character. We think of Stifler, and that usually leads to something outrageous.”
The American Pie characters also offer plenty of heart to balance out the wackier elements. Hurwitz believes that’s an element that led to the first film’s success. “Yes, Jim had sex with a pie, but we loved how [the film] dealt with first love and father/son relationships and things like that,” he said. In writing the script, he felt it was important to keep that in mind and avoid letting the characters become caricatures of their former selves. “We wanted them to live and breathe and grow with the audience and with us.”
One character Schlossberg was eager to tackle was John Cho’s MILF Guy #2. The three talked about the character while working on the Harold and Kumar movies. “We always joked to John about the other MILF Guy that’s there with him and how John Cho was not #1, but #2,” he said. “So when we took on the franchise, we get all of these characters … and MILF Guy #2.”
Hurwitz was interested in tinkering with Stifler, specifically, making him an underdog as the movie begins. “He was sort of the King of High School and kind of like the jerk amongst the group of guys, but we really wanted to make it where you’re rooting for Stifler,” he explained. “We wanted Stifler to be Stifler, and this weekend is sort of like he’s getting to turn back the clock and be the guy that he loved being. At the same time, we loved the idea of making a movie where you’re actually rooting for Stifler to succeed.”
Asked whether it was difficult to bring all of the cast back, Schlossberg joked that contracts were a studio matter. However, he and Hurwitz made it a priority to have everyone return. “We want the MILF Guys back, we want Jessica, we want the Sherminator, we want all these characters,” he said. To him, that large cast is a major appeal of the series, and seeing everyone 13 years later made the film more of an event.
“What we brought to the table is that we made sure we gave everybody something to do,” Hurwitz added. “We didn’t want to bring everybody back and each character just randomly showing up or sitting around in scenes. We wanted everybody to have a moment to shine in the movie.”
“This is MILF Guy #1’s best part yet,” Schlossberg said.
Friends since high school themselves, Hurwitz elaborated on the way the pair works on scripts and on set.
“When we started writing together, it was really just us in a room figuring everything out,” he said. “You put together the whole outline and then we would split up different things and read each other’s stuff. By the time we had a finished script, it was a joint vision that we both had.”
That relationship extended onto the set. “We’re usually both sitting at the monitor. We both talk to the actors, we both talk to all the members of the crew,” the director continued. It also allowed them to split off and talk to different members of the production at the same time, an advantage in the tight schedules of filmmaking.
“Occasionally, we’ll disagree,” Schlossberg said. “But that’s always a good thing because sometimes that leads to new ideas.”
One idea they could agree on early in the development process was bringing Jim’s Dad and Stifler’s Mom together for the first time. “We love Eugene Levy, we love Jennifer Coolidge,” Schlossberg said. “They’re two major assets that you have in this franchise and the thing we discussed right away is that they’ve never shared a scene together.”
The discussion led to the more serious decision to kill off Jim’s mother, but even that offered some interesting story potential. “It doesn’t sound very funny, but it’ll add certain layers of heart,” he continued. “[It puts] Jim in a position where there’s some role reversal and how he’s dealing with his father.”
“It’s also just so perfect because Eugene Levy plays a character called ‘Jim’s Dad’ and Jennifer Coolidge plays a character named ‘Stifler’s Mom,'” Hurwitz said. “It just felt like they were fated to be together.”
American Reunion opens today nationwide.