Don't Kill the Messenger with Movie Research Expert Kevin Goetz

Nick Stoller (Director, Screenwriter) on Crafting Comedy Gold

March 06, 2024 Kevin Goetz / Nick Stoller Season 2024 Episode 38
Nick Stoller (Director, Screenwriter) on Crafting Comedy Gold
Don't Kill the Messenger with Movie Research Expert Kevin Goetz
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Don't Kill the Messenger with Movie Research Expert Kevin Goetz
Nick Stoller (Director, Screenwriter) on Crafting Comedy Gold
Mar 06, 2024 Season 2024 Episode 38
Kevin Goetz / Nick Stoller

Send Kevin a Text Message

Host and entertainment research expert Kevin Goetz sits down with talented screenwriter and director Nick Stoller. With a remarkable portfolio that includes hit comedy films like Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek, Neighbors, Bros, and the upcoming You’re Cordially Invited, Stoller provides a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at his creative process, his journey in the entertainment industry, and the invaluable role of audience research in shaping his critically acclaimed projects.

Nick Stoller's background and early influences (5:57)
Nick discusses his background and early influences, including growing up in Miami, attending boarding school in New Hampshire, and finding his passion for comedy writing at Harvard.

Pitching ideas to Judd Apatow and landing a job on "Undeclared" (11:33)
The pivotal moment when Judd Apatow hired Stoller for the show "Undeclared" based on his ability to pitch relatable college experiences that resonated with Apatow's comedic sensibilities.

The screening process for "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and lessons learned (15:19)
Stoller delves into the screening process for "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and the invaluable lessons he learned about audience preferences, particularly their aversion to overtly sad characters and their love for characters in denial.

Collaborating with actors like Jason Segel and Rose Byrne (24:03)
Stoller talks about working with talented actors like Jason Segel and Rose Byrne, and the unique comedic talents each brings to a project.

Advice on cutting scenes and prioritizing the story over individual jokes (29:30)
Kevin and Nick offer insightful advice on cutting scenes and prioritizing the overall story arc over individual jokes, even highly comedic ones, if they undermine character development or audience engagement.

The reshoots for "Get Him to the Greek" and the importance of point of view (33:38)
Nick talks about his love of reshoots, and how the audience feedback led him to change the beginning of Get Him to the Greek.

Preparing for the first day of shooting with Will Ferrell and Reese Witherspoon (41:24)
Stoller discusses his preparation process before the first day of shooting with stars like Will Ferrell and Reese Witherspoon, emphasizing the importance of rehearsals and collaborative exploration.

Throughout the engaging conversation, Nick Stoller's passion for storytelling, his respect for the audience, and his collaborative approach shine through. From his beginnings as a writer to his current success as a director, Stoller's journey is a testament to the power of perseverance, creativity, and a deep understanding of human emotions. If you enjoyed this episode, please leave us a review or connect on social media. We look forward to bringing you more revelations from behind the scenes next time on Don't Kill the Messenger!

Host: Kevin Goetz
Guest: Nick Stoller
Producer: Kari Campano
Writers: Kevin Goetz, Darlene Hayman, and Kari Campano

For more information about Nick Stoller:
Twitter: https://twitter.com/nicholasstoller
Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicholas_Stoller
IMDB: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0831557/

For more information about Kevin Goetz:
Website: www.KevinGoetz360.com
Audienceology Book: https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Audience-ology/Kevin-Goetz/9781982186678
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram: @KevinGoet

Show Notes Transcript

Send Kevin a Text Message

Host and entertainment research expert Kevin Goetz sits down with talented screenwriter and director Nick Stoller. With a remarkable portfolio that includes hit comedy films like Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek, Neighbors, Bros, and the upcoming You’re Cordially Invited, Stoller provides a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at his creative process, his journey in the entertainment industry, and the invaluable role of audience research in shaping his critically acclaimed projects.

Nick Stoller's background and early influences (5:57)
Nick discusses his background and early influences, including growing up in Miami, attending boarding school in New Hampshire, and finding his passion for comedy writing at Harvard.

Pitching ideas to Judd Apatow and landing a job on "Undeclared" (11:33)
The pivotal moment when Judd Apatow hired Stoller for the show "Undeclared" based on his ability to pitch relatable college experiences that resonated with Apatow's comedic sensibilities.

The screening process for "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and lessons learned (15:19)
Stoller delves into the screening process for "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and the invaluable lessons he learned about audience preferences, particularly their aversion to overtly sad characters and their love for characters in denial.

Collaborating with actors like Jason Segel and Rose Byrne (24:03)
Stoller talks about working with talented actors like Jason Segel and Rose Byrne, and the unique comedic talents each brings to a project.

Advice on cutting scenes and prioritizing the story over individual jokes (29:30)
Kevin and Nick offer insightful advice on cutting scenes and prioritizing the overall story arc over individual jokes, even highly comedic ones, if they undermine character development or audience engagement.

The reshoots for "Get Him to the Greek" and the importance of point of view (33:38)
Nick talks about his love of reshoots, and how the audience feedback led him to change the beginning of Get Him to the Greek.

Preparing for the first day of shooting with Will Ferrell and Reese Witherspoon (41:24)
Stoller discusses his preparation process before the first day of shooting with stars like Will Ferrell and Reese Witherspoon, emphasizing the importance of rehearsals and collaborative exploration.

Throughout the engaging conversation, Nick Stoller's passion for storytelling, his respect for the audience, and his collaborative approach shine through. From his beginnings as a writer to his current success as a director, Stoller's journey is a testament to the power of perseverance, creativity, and a deep understanding of human emotions. If you enjoyed this episode, please leave us a review or connect on social media. We look forward to bringing you more revelations from behind the scenes next time on Don't Kill the Messenger!

Host: Kevin Goetz
Guest: Nick Stoller
Producer: Kari Campano
Writers: Kevin Goetz, Darlene Hayman, and Kari Campano

For more information about Nick Stoller:
Twitter: https://twitter.com/nicholasstoller
Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicholas_Stoller
IMDB: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0831557/

For more information about Kevin Goetz:
Website: www.KevinGoetz360.com
Audienceology Book: https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Audience-ology/Kevin-Goetz/9781982186678
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram: @KevinGoet

Podcast: Don't Kill the Messenger with Movie Research Expert Kevin Goetz 
Guest:  Writer and Director, Nick Stoller
Interview Transcript:

Announcer (00:02):

There's a little-known part of Hollywood that most people are not aware of known as the audience test preview. The recently released book, Audienceology, reveals this for the first time. Our podcast series, Don't Kill the Messenger, brings this book to life, taking a peek behind the curtain. And now, join author and entertainment research expert, Kevin Goetz.

Kevin Goetz (00:24):

I call this podcast Don't Kill the Messenger, largely because I sometimes have to deliver information that clients don't like to hear. Today's guest has been on the receiving end of this in the past, but thankfully over the years, he's heard far more positive feedback from me. But through it all, he's understood that I am just the conduit and the interpreter of information, and filmmakers can take what they want from it. Nick Stoller is the nicest guy. He started as a screenwriter and today is also a producer and one of the most commercially successful directors of his generation. Over the years he's worked on films including Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek, Neighbors, The Muppets, Zoolander 2, and Dora, the Lost City of Gold. He also works in television and has created two shows just this past year, Goosebumps and Platonic. Nick, thanks so much for joining me. 

Nick Stoller (01:23):

Thank you for having me. I'm very flattered.

Kevin Goetz (01:25):

Will Gluck was here and I said to him, yeah, it's funny, we talk about how wonderful a comedy director you are, but you're really not that funny. <laugh> <laugh> that went over really. No, actually, he, he loved it. You are very funny, but you're very dry. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. You let things happen to you. <laugh>. Is that something you've always sort of?

Nick Stoller (01:45):

Like as a person, my instinct is always to like, make jokes. I don't know why. I don't know if that's just to cut the tension or whatever. I'm just, it's just something that I've always done. But I'm really bad at remembering jokes. I literally can't remember any jokes. 

Kevin Goetz (01:57):

That's interesting.

Nick Stoller (01:57):

If you were to say, tell a joke, I wouldn't be able to tell it.

Kevin Goetz (02:00):

But yet you seem to write them well so you can then, I guess you're drawing upon things that you do remember in some respect, right? 

Nick Stoller (02:10):

Yeah, I feel like most of my comedy just comes from human behavior. It's more than being joke driven or, that's the way I think about it. At least like it and it tends to be the biggest laughs. I mean, as you know from all, all the research you've done, when something relatable happens to a character more than when someone says a joke.

Kevin Goetz (02:25):

So, I want to unpack that a little because we're doing research on you before this interview, <laugh> and discovered that you were born in England. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. You were born in London?

Nick Stoller (02:35):

Yes, I was born in England. My parents are American. They lived there from 1970 to 1980. And so my brother and I were born there, and then we moved to Miami in 1980. So, I was four years old when we moved.

Kevin Goetz (02:45):

Why Miami?

Nick Stoller (02:47):

My dad is from Miami and their parents, my grandparents lived in Miami and so I think they wanted to move to Miami.

Kevin Goetz (02:53):

This is going to sound really strange, but Miami doesn't seem like a funny place. <laugh> New York's a funny place. Yeah. Canada is funny, you know, but Miami is not, how did you…

Nick Stoller (03:04):

Miami's pretty funny. I love, Miami's beautiful.

Kevin Goetz (03:08):

How did you get formed as the guy you are today growing up in Southern Florida,

Nick Stoller (03:13):

There's something about growing up, just not in New York or LA or a big city, and Miami is now a much bigger city than it was when I was growing up, that gives not an outsider perspective, but I just, when I got to New York, I was more like wide-eyed and amazed by all of that. When I got to LA I was more, you know, and so you have a bit more, even though obviously it's a major city, you have a bit more of an outsider. I feel like I had a slightly outsider perspective and it's also a very specific place. It's very, very diverse.

Kevin Goetz (03:41):

Was the first time you left really going to Harvard?

Nick Stoller (03:44):

No, I went to boarding school. Oh, New Hampshire. Right. In New Hampshire, yeah.

Kevin Goetz (03:47):

Why did you go to boarding school?

Nick Stoller (03:49):

You know, I don't know. <laugh>.

Kevin Goetz (03:52):

Did your brother go too?

Nick Stoller (03:52):

My brother went too, it just seemed interesting, and my parents were like, you should take a look at this. And so we looked at it and it looked like fun. And it's the four years of my life where, I'm Jewish, where I wasn't surrounded by Jews. <laugh>

Kevin Goetz (04:04):

What was the name of the school?

Nick Stoller (04:05):

St. Paul's School. Yeah. So it's Episcopal school.

Kevin Goetz (04:07):

High School. Is that high school?

Nick Stoller (04:08):

Yeah. And I started a satire magazine there. I was always into comedy and…

Kevin Goetz (04:11):

And then you worked Harvard Lampoon, didn't you?

Nick Stoller (04:14):

Yeah. Then went to Harvard and did the Lampoon.

Kevin Goetz (04:15):

Which you didn't start

Nick Stoller (04:16):

<laugh>? No, no, no. That's been around forever.

Kevin Goetz (04:18):

Yeah, I think that was like in the time of Thomas Jefferson or something. But going back to New Hampshire, what's it like for a kid, I guess you're like 14, to be sent to New Hampshire. Are you excited by that or are you terrified?

Nick Stoller (04:31):

You know, I had loved camp, so I'd gone to sleepaway camp and I thought it would be like sleepaway camp and it was not. And so I got there and I didn't really like it and it took me about two years to kind of like it.

Kevin Goetz (04:43):

And your parents kind of said, no, you committed to this, you're going to…

Nick Stoller (04:45):

My parents were like, give it a year. And I gave it a year and I was like, I'm not someone who gives up and I felt like I need to keep working at this until I beat it.

Kevin Goetz (04:56):

What did it teach you?

Nick Stoller (04:57):

It taught me how to fit in with people who aren't exactly like me. You know? I would like say a joke to a bunch of waspy people and they would not get it at all, 'cause like, we're literally from different cultures. So I think like there was an element of just like learning to fit in. It was tough. It was like a tough four years, you know? But I think I learned how to be, I don't know, comfortable in my own skin.

Kevin Goetz (05:17):

I think that's a really cool phrase. Yeah. Where you get to really discover yourself.

Nick Stoller (05:22):

In high school, I found a group of like-minded friends who were all into comedy. And by the time I graduated I kind of knew I wanted to do comedy writing, but we started the satire magazine, I found my friends, and then I got to college. That was really, you know, I really wanted to Lampoon.

Kevin Goetz (05:35):

Wait, okay, talk to me about that process. So you're kind of a funny guy. You thought funny. Yeah. And you were able to translate that to the page, which a lot of people can't do. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. Did you like writing? Is that your kind of, you consider yourself a writer more than anything? At the core? At your core?

Nick Stoller (05:50):

Yeah. At my core, yeah. I became, I always was obsessed with comedy and comedy writing.

Kevin Goetz (05:55):

Who are your icons?

Nick Stoller (05:57):

It started with weirdly, 'cause I'm from Florida, with this writer Dave Berry, who's a syndicated columnist. I don't know if you even know, like he's this Dave Berry. Yeah, yeah. He's just like a, and I basically found one of his books, read it. It was like the funniest thing in the world to me. And he was from Miami and from Florida, write about Florida and write for the Miami Herald. And I started to like.

Kevin Goetz (06:15):

Those funny Floridians. 

Nick Stoller (06:17):

Funny Floridians. Exactly. I started to rip off his writing style and just writing my own Dave Barry-esque art things.

Kevin Goetz (06:22):

Did you end up meeting him?

Nick Stoller (06:23):

I sent him a letter and said, do you need someone to intern for you? And he replied very nicely. No, I don't need like a 14-year-old to intern for me. But thank you for the offer. <laugh>.

Kevin Goetz (06:32):

Did you meet him as an adult?

Nick Stoller (06:34):

I went to a book signing when I was a kid. I haven't met him. Wow. Yeah. Wow.

Kevin Goetz (06:37):

Yeah. Oh, who else? Who, who are some of your other early influences?

Nick Stoller (06:39):

Monty Python. You know, basically every kind of thing that keeps you a virgin till late in life. It was <laugh>. My influences all Saturday Night Live. I was obsessed with Saturday Night Live, but I was always obsessed with writing it. I didn't want to act in anything. I was obsessed with the writers. Like there's this famous writer named Doug Kenny who was on The Lampoon and wrote for Saturday Night Live. I always knew who the writers were. Somehow I figured that out. I don't know how.

Kevin Goetz (06:59):

And you were wanting to say write for Saturday Night Live?

Nick Stoller (07:02):

I always wanted to write for Saturday Night Live, and my dream was to write and direct movies, but that seemed, I just would had no idea how that would work. So my goal was to hopefully write for TV.

Kevin Goetz (07:11):

And what does your brother do?

Nick Stoller (07:12):

He is, he writes, he's in politics. He writes, he runs a think tank that's all about antitrust. Ooh. And so he was actually, during the strikes and stuff…

Kevin Goetz (07:20):

He lives in Washington.

Nick Stoller (07:21):

He lives in DC but during the strikes there were a lot of people reaching out to him from the Guild to talk about antitrust stuff. Wow.

Kevin Goetz (07:26):

How cool is that? Yeah. Now, so you go to Harvard, what'd you study?

Nick Stoller (07:30):

English.

Kevin Goetz (07:31):

Greatest major. I'm sorry. Yeah, no, I mean really I, and in my company, that's one of the best majors you can have. Yeah. Yeah. I think because it serves you in life in anything really. Yeah. And it's almost a joke about English majors I learned because they figure it's not a specific enough major. And I find it a very specific major.

Nick Stoller (07:51):

When I was in college, I wish that Harvard had a more robust film program. And in retrospect, I'm glad I did English and that there wasn't that robust film program. They kind of have a film program, but it's not like USC or whatever because I got to, I read all these books. I still am a big reader. And you really are focused on essay writing and writing a screenplay isn't that dissimilar to writing an essay in terms of being very focused on a certain, it has to be very, very focused.

Kevin Goetz (08:16):

Now, when you got out of uh, Harvard, what was your first gig?

Nick Stoller (08:19):

I worked at an advertising firm called Young and Rubicam. That was my first.

Kevin Goetz (08:22):

Yes, we've heard of it. Yeah. In New York?

Nick Stoller (08:24):

In New York, yeah.

Kevin Goetz (08:25):

Wow. And you were a copywriter.

Nick Stoller (08:27):

Yeah. I wanted to just prove that I could get a job <laugh> like and to get paid to do something.

Kevin Goetz (08:32):

But also like no better training for a writer. Yeah. Than to turn out copy. Especially if you're working on like some of those local campaigns. Oh yeah. Like my husband Neil worked for Campbell Mithun and Asher Gould and he would have to turn out the Kroger's. It made him a great writer.

Nick Stoller (08:47):

Yeah. So I started as an unpaid intern in the summer and then it turned into a job 'cause I sold some ads and the thing it taught me is I just don't believe in writer's block. They would just kind of give you a thing. Like at the time there was this Sony Erickson cell phone. It's the most boring thing in the world. It is a phone. That's all it is. And they would give it, they gave it to me and they were like, come up with 10 print ads and you just have to do it. And it is the most boring thing in the world. Have to come. And I just, but I was so excited to get to write for a living.

Kevin Goetz (09:13):

Did they like your work there?

Nick Stoller (09:15):

They did, yeah. They liked my work there.

Kevin Goetz (09:15):

And what happened?

Nick Stoller (09:17):

I basically, the first year, you don't get paid a lot, but if you prove yourself the second year, your salary jumps a lot. And I was like, I've gotta quit before the golden handcuffs come on. And I was also spending that year applying to all the TV shows in New York. 

Kevin Goetz (09:30):

You knew that. You knew that about golden. Yeah, I was like, you got, you Intuitively had a sense that I was like, I'll get, so I didn't want to go on this track.

Nick Stoller (09:36):

Yeah, I wanted to write for TV and hopefully write and direct movies.

Kevin Goetz (09:40):

So what'd you do about it?

Nick Stoller (09:41):

So I applied to all the TV shows in New York. At the time it was like Letterman, Saturday Night Live, Conan O'Brien, nothing happened. 

Kevin Goetz (09:47):

How do you apply for those shows? Seriously,

Nick Stoller (09:49):

I mean I was very lucky because of the Harvard Lampoon. There's a real network, comedy network and so I would apply through friends. There's a legitimate network, but it didn't work out. And I moved to LA in 99 after kind of applying to stuff there. And then I got very, very lucky.

Kevin Goetz (10:04):

So this is right after Young and Rubicum. That was the way I quit. Went right to LA?

Nick Stoller (10:07):

Yeah, I went right to LA. 

Kevin Goetz (10:09):

Oh, got it. Yeah. Because you weren't having success getting a job in your, in what you wanted to do in New York. Yeah. You're saying, let me try my hand at LA. Kind of my situation in a way, similar. Oh really? As New York. Yeah, same thing. 

Nick Stoller (10:21):

It's just a small pool in New York Entertainment. 

Kevin Goetz (10:23):

So what did you do as soon as you got here?

Nick Stoller (10:25):

Well, when I got here, I got very lucky. I got a job writing for a show that was an Austin Powers animated series for HBO. It never happened. Basically a friend of mine.

Kevin Goetz (10:37):

This is post-release of the Mike Myers movie?

Nick Stoller (10:39):

Yeah, this is right before the second one, but after the first one. Okay, got it. So at the time, it's hard to believe this, but Austin Powers was the most popular thing in the world. <laugh>. So my friend, who's a big TV writer who was writing for Saturday Night Live at the time, Mike Schur, recommended me to his former Saturday Night Live officemate to be a writer on this Austin Powers show. And they hired me as a staff writer, which was a crazy stroke of good luck. They ended up deciding not to do the show. But I got an agent during those 10 weeks of the show. His office mate, Mike McCall, is the one who hired me. And where was the agent? It was at UTA. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative> was at UTA.

Kevin Goetz (11:12):

Is that where you still are today?

Nick Stoller (11:13):

Yeah, I'm still there with the same agents. Yeah.

Kevin Goetz (11:15):

That's insane. Yeah. How many years are you with the same agents?

Nick Stoller (11:18):

24 years. Wow. Yeah. And yeah, they're really good agents. I really, they're awesome.

Kevin Goetz (11:22):

Goes back to my opening about your being a good guy. I mean, there's good guy loyalty. It's all sort of synonymous to me that now it's cool. So you get your first big break where?

Nick Stoller (11:33):

I considered getting on that show and getting an agent kind of my first big break even though it didn't happen, it was like, that's, that's fair. And then my second big break was Judd Apatow hired me for his show, Undeclared.

Kevin Goetz (11:43):

Well, I was trying to throw you that bait, but…

Nick Stoller (11:45):

That was my other, that was my second huge break. And he was hiring basically just from UTA.

Kevin Goetz (11:50):

How did he find you?

Nick Stoller (11:51):

He just said to UTA, send me your youngest writers. 

Kevin Goetz (11:54):

Youngest or funniest?

Nick Stoller (11:55):

I think young and funny, you know. Yeah, of course. Of course, because the show was about college, he wanted, I mean, I was really close.

Kevin Goetz (12:01):

Oh, got it. That's why.

Nick Stoller (12:02):

That's why. Yeah. And I was obsessed with his tone and I was obsessed with Freaks and Geeks. Freaks and Geeks. Yeah. I loved Freaks and Geeks and I remember interviewing with him and he wanted us to pitch a bunch of ideas. So I just wrote down a bunch of stuff that had happened to me in college and pitched him this stuff and he, I remember him being like, laughing really hard. 

Kevin Goetz (12:19):

Do one for me. Like, what would you say in a pitch like that?

Nick Stoller (12:21):

I mean, the funniest one was, there was my college roommate and I both had…

Kevin Goetz (12:25):

Hold on, I just want to say it's like my grandmother Darling sing say, I know Exactly. Then I don't want to say, I say I'm going to be upset, sing.

Nick Stoller (12:32):

Well, it's just like, yeah, well this was just like, you don't want me to sing? Yeah. My college roommate and I both had long distance girlfriends at the time and in freshman year and I remember us talking about them and then I ended up having a sleepover in his bedroom. Like I slept on the floor and he slept in his bed and he put on his prom song, which was this Erasure song, Always, I Want to Be With You, that song. And then we both just lay there and cried. <laugh>, it's like so lame. But I remember and I was like, it was so funny. 

Kevin Goetz (13:03):

That is funny. 

Nick Stoller (13:04):

Yeah, it was really funny. And I was like, this is.

Kevin Goetz (13:05):

And I totally see Judd.

Nick Stoller (13:06):

Yeah. It's in Judd's Wheelhouse.

Kevin Goetz (13:08):

What else? Did you picture him any other?

Nick Stoller (13:10):

That was the one that I remember that good that I was like, I, this is exact, this would be in Freaks and Geeks.

Kevin Goetz (13:14):

And so he said you're hired then.

Nick Stoller (13:17):

Yeah, hired.

Kevin Goetz (13:18):

Like did he, did he tell you right there?

Nick Stoller (13:20):

He didn't, but I had a good feeling after the meeting, you know, and then he hired me. That was an amazing experience. He's the greatest. 

Kevin Goetz (13:26):

How long did that show stay on?

Nick Stoller (13:27):

That show was on for just a season, 17 episodes.

Kevin Goetz (13:29):

But then you ended up working with Judd on several movies?

Nick Stoller (13:32):

Yeah, so then it ended and I was trying to get another job and he told me, write this screenplay with me and we wrote a script for Adam Sandler that didn't, it was fun to write, but didn't happen. But it went well. And then we wrote Fun with Dick and Jane together and that happened. That was with…

Kevin Goetz (13:47):

And that's where I think I met you. Yeah. That would've, yeah. I think I met you on Fun with Dick and Jane. Okay. What did you direct first?

Nick Stoller (13:53):

Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

Kevin Goetz (13:54):

And how did that come to be?

Nick Stoller (13:56):

So Jason Segel and I became friends on Undeclared. I would say that our artistic interests are similar in that we are really into romance. We're really into like men and women and you just romance in general, you know, like.

Kevin Goetz (14:09):

What those conflicts are.

Nick Stoller (14:10):

And what those conflicts are. I was saying that, but men and men too. Like, Bros, anything, any romance is what, you know, like I would say like that is the artistic project of my life and what I'm interested in. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative> and what I like to watch. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. And I think it's true of him as well. And so he had written Forgetting Sarah Marshall and he told me about it. And by that point, I'd written some screenplays and was kind of making my way, making a name as a screenwriter. And Judd had just done 40-Year-Old Virgin and I think Knocked Up was starting, I don't know, he had leverage. And I said to Judd, if I help Jason kind of guide him through the writing process, will you support me as a director? And Judd said sure. And just kind of went from there. 

Kevin Goetz (14:44):

And he produced it?

Nick Stoller (14:44):

He produced it.

Kevin Goetz (14:45):

I remember that. And then did you then move on to Get Him to the Greek then?

Nick Stoller (14:49):

Yeah, then I did Get Him to the Greek.

Kevin Goetz (14:52):

I worked on that with you as well.

Nick Stoller (14:53):

Yeah. Yeah. They both had really good chemistry.

Kevin Goetz (14:54):

And then we started our relationship.

Nick Stoller (14:55):

I know, exactly. Did you work on Sarah Marshall?

Kevin Goetz (14:58):

I did not.

Nick Stoller (14:59):

I didn't think so. Yeah.

Kevin Goetz (15:00):

Yeah. It's funny because I think I've done every single movie that Judd has ever been involved with except that one. Yeah. I think.

Nick Stoller (15:07):

That Was a really fascinating testing process. 

Kevin Goetz (15:12):

Wait, maybe I did do that. Maybe it's Knocked Up I'm talking about, but anyway. Yeah. Tell me about the screening process on Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

Nick Stoller (15:19):

That was a huge learning experience for me because my early cut of it was Jason's character, he's depressed. And so I thought it would be very funny for him to always be crying all the time. And like, like that just made me laugh. And what I learned as the audience hates that, they hate someone who's sad, but they love someone who's pretending to be happy. And it was like a huge difference.

Kevin Goetz (15:43):

Wow. That that, that's interesting for our listeners here. That's a good, that's a good, yeah. Good note. And so…

Nick Stoller (15:48):

And so someone who's in denial is the funniest thing in the world. And also you root for that person 'cause you're like, they're trying their hardest. Whereas someone who's just sad, you're like, you're not trying. But when someone's trying and they're like looking at you, I mean Jason has the best, most expressive eyes. His eyes are sad, but he's smiling. It's the funniest thing in the world. And so that was a huge learning experience and it's honestly something I've taken to everything I've done since then 'cause most characters are in denial. 

Kevin Goetz (16:12):

Well, you have a great ability to find the funny in a way that's almost easier than what I'm about to say, which is finding the heart. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>, every one of your movies has some center. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative> of heartfelt something. Right? It's about something, wouldn't you say? Yeah. Yeah. And so does Judd by the way. Yeah. Judd has the same kind of thing.

Nick Stoller (16:33):

It's funny, we had some interview during Bros and we were, they were like, why do you work together? And Judd was like, I mean we have the same tone. It's like literally I don't, you know, like, like he and I share the same tone. And I think that the core of any good comedy, and I think Will Gluck might have said this to you too, is that it's a drama.

Kevin Goetz (16:48):

No, he didn't say that.

Nick Stoller (16:48):

Oh, he didn't say that. Okay. Okay. No, I'm just joking. I think he might have said it, but it's, they're dramas, they're, everything is, and it's tone. It's the tone that you bring. And I see the world comedically, but the core of every one of my movies is dramatic. It has to be.

Kevin Goetz (17:01):

Judd was kind enough to add a segment to my reel when I'm being honored for this American Cinema Tech award. Yeah. Uh, he's in bed on the video and he's had a pillow and he looks like he just woke up <laugh>. And it is the funniest thing. It is so funny. So real. And so like you, you really feel he's just making it up as he's going along, which of course he is to some degree <laugh>. But he knows exactly where the ending is. Oh yeah. And I find that so genius and I love Judd's process when we test movies and it's very, very similar to yours, which is, I'm going to try a lot of stuff. I'm going to get most of the value of the screening in listening to the audience. Yeah, yeah. Tell me about that and how you depend on the audience in, in a lot of ways.

Nick Stoller (17:46):

Yeah. I mean it's hearing the laugh certainly. So feeling and feeling the laughs. But it's also, it's like a feeling of where they're engaged and where they're not. And also honestly, the focus group ends up being really helpful too at the end. Which is why I'm always like, please Kevin, please <laugh>, please rerun the focus group. Because I think if 16 people all say something about your movie like negative, then that means your movie has a problem in that area, you know? And so it's…

Kevin Goetz (18:08):

And if one person says that, you probably don't have it.

Nick Stoller (18:10):

Yeah, exactly.

Kevin Goetz (18:10):

So I think, and but you have to have a thick skin to be able to say, all right, 'cause everyone's got an opinion. Yeah. Let's face it. But that's exactly what I always tell filmmakers and it's what I look for. The commonalities. Yeah. Right. And by the way, sometimes they could be saying different things, but the same note in some way because it may be a tonal note. Yeah. But they're saying it like differently.

Nick Stoller (18:29):

Sometimes they'll try to propose a solution. It's usually not the solution that they're proposing. But the problem they're pointing out is if a majority of people say it, it is there and you shouldn't ignore it.

Kevin Goetz (18:37):

So you listen to the audience. Yeah. And tell me what you're listening for and how you decide on what joke to maybe end up going with. And I don't think the answer is simply whoever's laughing louder at that moment.

Nick Stoller (18:49):

<laugh>. I mean if there's jokes that get massive laughs I'll keep them. But I cut jokes and this has just happened. There's a joke in the most recent movie that we that just tested this Will Ferrell Reese Witherspoon movie called Cordially Invited. I'm very excited about it. That kind of hurt the character. And it's one of my favorite jokes I've ever written but it kind of hurt the character. And so I cut it, I just cut it. And I mean, jokes are free. It's the story that you want to make sure is working.

Kevin Goetz (19:16):

Wow. That's a big note for everyone to hear, who is a filmmaker listening here. Don't get too precious and don't get too married to something that may not be good for the overall arc of the character or the overall movie itself.

Nick Stoller (19:30):

Yeah. And I don't run into it that much, but whenever a writer is like, no, but that joke's funny. I'm like, no, no, no. You never hold onto jokes. And I used to, I mean, when you start, you're kind of, I'll have a funny joke and I'll end up shaping scenes around this joke. And it doesn't work It's all about the story. Everything is about the story, story,

Kevin Goetz (19:44):

Well, that's what elevates you among so many others. When we come back, we're going to talk about some of the more recent projects and also more about Cordially Invited. We'll be back in a moment,

Announcer (19:59):

Get a glimpse into a secret part of Hollywood that few are aware of and that filmmakers rarely talk about in the new book Audienceology by Kevin Goetz. Each chapter is filled with never-before-revealed inside stories and interviews from famous studio chiefs, directors, producers, and movie stars, bringing the art and science of audienceology into focus. Audienceology, How Moviegoers Shape the Films We Love, from Tiller Press at Simon and Schuster. Available now.

Kevin Goetz (20:31):

We're back with Nick Stoller. Nick, I have to ask you about Bros because you know, we worked on Bros together. I loved that movie. I loved it from the beginning. It was such a movie I felt that unfortunately didn't do great at the box office, but was really a terrific movie. And I believe got pretty high Rotten Tomato scores from critics. Yeah. You know, so how does a straight guy in a clearly write down unapologetic gay romantic comedy get that gig <laugh>?

Nick Stoller (21:02):

I actually proposed it. So I worked with Billy Eichner, who I think is just so funny. He's such a comic genius guy.

Kevin Goetz (21:08):

Really funny guy.

Nick Stoller (21:09):

Yeah, really funny guy. I first worked with him on Neighbors 2 and then I cast him in a big part in Friends from College. And I learned on that that he really had great acting chops in addition to being really funny. And I had been interested in the idea of like a romantic comedy about two men for a while, but obviously I'm straight. I couldn't do that myself and something that was really point.

Kevin Goetz (21:26):

So, who would you bring on? Judd Apatow.

Nick Stoller (21:28):

I know exactly. <laugh>. I know. Well and…

Kevin Goetz (21:31):

Also straight? He's also straight. That's a hysterical line though.

Nick Stoller (21:33):

First I went to Billy, I didn't start with Judd, so I, I went to Billy and I said, would you be interested in doing this with me? And he and I share a tone. You know, we both want it to be really funny and very authentic and heartfelt and honest, which is what I've tried to achieve with all the movies I've done. And the way I thought about it, honestly is a comedy vehicle for Billy Eichner. Not as like a gay romantic comedy, if that makes sense. I thought of it the way I think of Sarah Marshall as a comedy vehicle for Jason Segel or Neighbors as a comedy vehicle for Seth and Zac Efron. And so that was really, and so it was really about getting Billy's point of view on the page.

Kevin Goetz (22:06):

So, like you go to the sex scenes though, and I'm just going to say there was a very, very funny truth in those scenes. Yeah. And did you think of it as a sex scene that you might have as a straight guy? Or did Billy sort of really dictate what was happening there?

Nick Stoller (22:22):

I mean, Billy dictated it 'cause they were his experiences, you know, or pushed. <laugh> The truth comes out on Don't Kill the Messenger, the truth. I wouldn't say his experiences, a pushed version of them. Of course, of course. And obviously it was that whole movie. I mean, I don't need to tell you, it was all about masculinity and all this other stuff, you know, and so there was also a bit of a parody of masculinity.

Kevin Goetz (22:41):

Could you say, I have a major man crush on Luke?

Nick Stoller (22:45):

Oh my God. I ended up casting him in Platonic right after. Did you really? Yeah. Yeah. The show that my wife and I created together. 

Kevin Goetz (22:50):

Yeah. He Is such a…

Nick Stoller (22:51):

He's a terrific guy.

Kevin Goetz (22:51):

He's, he plays all these straight guys on these Hallmark movies. Yeah. And I would look at him when we would see some of those movies on television and I'd say, he's really handsome. He's really good. And then to find out he was gay, I was like, you just feel like a sense of Yes, join the team. You know?

Nick Stoller (23:09):

Yeah. He's very handsome. He's the nicest guy too. Like the sweetest guy. And so funny. And yeah, in Platonic, he's playing a straight guy. He plays Rose's husband

Kevin Goetz (23:17):

Who is, let's talk about another comedic genius.

Nick Stoller (23:20):

Oh my God. She's a genius. Yeah.

Kevin Goetz (23:21):

I mean like seriously.

Nick Stoller (23:23):

She's like Peter Sellers and like, whoa. I think 'cause she can, she can do these weird characters, like the character she did in Get Him to the Greek.

Kevin Goetz (23:30):

Get Him to the Greek.

Nick Stoller (23:30):

You know, or, and she can also play like, like Seth's wife and Neighbors and Platonic. She's just insane. And Spy. Yeah. And spy. She's so funny. 

Kevin Goetz (23:37):

Like, but like she, what is it about her? You know, what it is, she's so pretty. She's just, but you know what I'm saying? Yeah. But so you, you might dismiss the fact that she could be so funny. She's so funny. And self-deprecating. Yeah. She doesn't mind being self-deprecating.

Nick Stoller (23:51):

She's very, yeah. She doesn't care. She'll just go hard for the joke. She doesn't…

Kevin Goetz (23:54):

How about Damages?

Nick Stoller (23:55):

Oh yeah. <laugh>. She's great. Damages.

Kevin Goetz (23:58):

Yeah. She plays a fully dramatic, the not a funny bone in that character's body, I don't think. Yeah.

Nick Stoller (24:03):

Well she, but she is so good. When she came in to read for Get Him to the Greek, all I knew was Damages. And I was like, what is Rose Byrne doing here? Like, I literally, 'cause she'd only done serious stuff. And then we had read a lot of people for that part and I remember she read and it was like, this is the funniest person I've ever read. Wow. Like, she was so funny. I mean, my theory, I have a weird theory about her, which is that she's kind of a like low energy person playing high energy characters, <laugh>. And I think there's something about that. She's not low, low energy is the wrong. You know what I mean? She's not, she's just not, she's very dry.

Kevin Goetz (24:34):

Yes.

Nick Stoller (24:35):

She's on a set. She's very quiet. I mean, she's hilarious and awesome. She does not need to be the center of attention, you know? 

Kevin Goetz (24:41):

And because there's also an intellect to her. You don't believe her as a stupid gal.

Nick Stoller (24:44):

It's, it's like when Robin Williams would play, who's very high energy would play a quieter character. 

Kevin Goetz (24:48):

Well, to me that was the only time I liked him really, to be honest with you.

Nick Stoller (24:51):

He played the opposite a lot.

Kevin Goetz (24:52):

I liked Robin when he, I mean Goodwill Hunting for example, when he didn't wink at the audience. Yeah. And he was just sort of being, he's a Julliard-trained actor.

Nick Stoller (25:01):

Well you feel a vibrating intensity there. That is exciting. You know?

Kevin Goetz (25:05):

Is there a particular talent you've worked with who's just an exceptional comedic, gifted artist other than Rose?

Nick Stoller (25:11):

I mean Rose is, 'cause Rose is also physically, I mean, I've just been very lucky.

Kevin Goetz (25:15):

Physically what?

Nick Stoller (25:16):

A physical comedian. Yeah, no, she's an incredible physical comedian. You might want to finish that statement. Oh yeah, yeah. Sorry, she's, yeah. No, she was in the show Physical. No, she's a physically gifted comedian. She's so funny as a physical comedian. I mean, I've just been really, really lucky. I've everyone I've…

Kevin Goetz (25:31):

We want names.

Nick Stoller (25:31):

Names of people. I mean, I'll just end up going down my IMDB page. I mean, Jason Segel is…

Kevin Goetz (25:35):

What is it about Jason? Because I agree. I actually think Jason is a very underrated actor.

Nick Stoller (25:39):

He's such, yeah. Have you, I mean, he's

Kevin Goetz (25:42):

A really terrific actor.

Nick Stoller (25:43):

Did you see The End of the Tour? Yes. It's an incredible performance. Yes. Incredible performance. He just is his he'll do some weird little piece of behavior and the audience will explode. They think it's so funny. And then Seth, who's a comic genius and like incredible writer.

Kevin Goetz (25:58):

What makes Seth, Seth?

Nick Stoller (25:58):

So Seth's thing is he's just a joke delivery system. He can just land joke after joke. And he's a really good actor too. He's like super warm. He, yeah. But he, he has the ability to deliver jokes that are, that are completely natural. Seth, another good actor.

Nick Stoller (26:13):

An amazing actor. Right. And very warm. And also doesn't go for, well is an amazing physical comedian, but he's very natural. He's super natural at saying jokes, which is very hard to do. How about Zac? Zac is like insanely charismatic and really committed. I mean, everyone has their own process, but I, until that point was more used to the way comedians approach stuff. And he's more, he's not a comedian, he's an actor. But his intensity made that part so funny. And I remember screening the movie and the audience just like died laughing at his intensity. Like when he tells Seth and Rose when, when they call the cops on him, that he's disappointed in them. It's one of the funniest, he's so funny. And he's not even trying to, I mean, he knows it's, I think he knows it's funny, but he's not trying to be funny. He's just, he's invested in the character. 

Kevin Goetz (26:57):

Who would you like to work with who you haven't worked with? Comedically.

Nick Stoller (26:59):

I'm obsessed with like Ryan Gosling. I think he's so funny. He's, and, and his dramatic stuff, Drive is one of my favorite movies of all time. 

Kevin Goetz (27:07):

Oh God. I worked on that movie. But also what Lars and The Real Girl. 

Nick Stoller (27:11):

Oh, so funny.

Kevin Goetz (27:12):

Yeah. I mean like, there's something about his and his choices of material always been impeccable. Oh yeah.

Nick Stoller (27:18):

Yeah. 

Kevin Goetz (27:18):

Like part of being a star I think is selecting obviously the, it's, it's a huge part of it. It's a huge part of it. Right. You also…

Nick Stoller (27:26):

I mean, I'll say my, on my bucket list of actors was Will Ferrell and Reese Witherspoon. And to get to work with them was insane. 

Kevin Goetz (27:32):

Oh, segue there. Yeah, because I'm going to take…

Nick Stoller (27:34):

I should just say I was like pretty star-struck and excited to work with. 

Kevin Goetz (27:37):

Okay. So I can't really talk about movies before they come out, but I think you can <laugh>. I will just say that it is hysterical <laugh> and it also has great heart. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. There's a scene actually in this amazing romp where I cried. You want to talk about how you got involved in that project and how you found that balance?

Nick Stoller (28:00):

I mean, my goal for almost all my movies is to make people cry more than laugh <laugh>. Like, I know that sounds weird.

Kevin Goetz (28:06):

Do you want to tell the scene I'm referring to?

Nick Stoller (28:07):

Is it the mother? Yeah. There's a scene between Reese and her mother played by, played by Celia Weston. The greatest.

Kevin Goetz (28:13):

Celia Weston is just, she's one of those actors who you've seen in so many things don't necessarily know her name. Yeah. Unless you're in the industry. Right. But she delivers this pathos that is just so insane. Yeah.

Nick Stoller (28:28):

Yeah. She's so good in it. Like Reese and her mom have a pretty not a great relationship and she plays kind of a scary mom and not the nicest, she doesn't seem that nice. And it's all about peeling back those layers.

Kevin Goetz (28:39):

What is the movie about?

Nick Stoller (28:41):

It's about a double-book destination wedding. So there's two weddings that both book the same place on the same weekend. And so Will's daughter is getting married and Reese's sister is getting married. 

Kevin Goetz (28:52):

But what is the movie about? Oh, about? No, I mean you answered the question. That's what I'm trying to get at is what's going on with you as a filmmaker, because that's just the plot. 

Nick Stoller (29:03):

That's the plot. Yeah. The emotional…

Kevin Goetz (29:04):

The emotional stuff. That's what I'm getting at.

Nick Stoller (29:04):

Yeah. Yeah. It's about being honest with your family. That's really what it's about. It's also about getting older, you know, a bit. I'm 47. I think it's about both those things. 

Kevin Goetz (29:13):

You said there was a, a line you said that Will said that you ended up taking out because it hurt the character. Yeah. How so?

Nick Stoller (29:21):

To me, the exciting part of this movie is bringing Will Ferrell and Reese Witherspoon and putting them in in, and…

Kevin Goetz (29:26):

We all know they're going to get together as an audience. Right? Yeah. I mean clearly. 

Nick Stoller (29:30):

But also they have, the movies they've done are slightly different. I would just to paint a broad brush, like hers can be a bit more grounded and his are a bit more comedic or whatever. And so to bring them into the same movie, but I was just like, it's my tone. So I'm trying to do my tone to, I think bringing them to the same reality level is all, and they're both excellent actors and can pull it off. So it's the choices I'm making as a director. And he had a joke kind of late in the movie, kind of right where he has this moment, he has a scene with his daughter where they're making up and he had a joke that is one of my favorite jokes that he said, but I think it hurt. But then like literally three minutes later, he is in a car with Reese Witherspoon and saying, I love, like, I like you and they kiss and stuff not to, you know, ruin it. Um, and uh, and that joke kind of just made the audience be like, but, but I don't know if she should be with him <laugh>. 

Kevin Goetz (30:14):

Right, right. I don't say this obviously to give anything away and that won't, but it illustrates the sophistication that one has to have when looking at the whole, the total. Yeah. And often because you have a star, there's an inclination to not want to cut. There's often for a young filmmaker, not like yourself to favor a particular actor in a role because they're enamored with them and they think everything they do is spectacular. And I often say, I find myself saying to filmmakers, you're not helping this actor. You're not helping that character by keeping that. We've got it. The audience is ahead of you. Yeah. Yeah. Do you know, can you speak to that? Has that been prevalent in other movies as well, that notion? 

Nick Stoller (30:59):

Yeah. I mean, I'm pretty harsh in terms of cutting stuff down. I've, my joke is that I've put my kids in little roles in my movies and cut them out of all of them <laugh>, you know? So I like literally…

Kevin Goetz (31:09):

You did not. Well, that's just plain bullshit. Yeah. That's just, that's just plain bad.

Nick Stoller (31:13):

I know <laugh>.

Kevin Goetz (31:14):

And what does your wife say about that? I wouldn't come home.

Nick Stoller (31:16):

I'm just like, I'm sorry. It makes the movie worse. I don't know what to tell you. You know? But it's always story. It's also, are they in, not this, they're not in this one because they think they're in school. They were in Platonic, so they're in, they're in the TV show. But yeah, I think it's all story-driven. So it's all what the story demands. What was harder about this is that joke got a big laugh. So you have to, it's not that it didn't, like if a joke doesn't get a laugh, I know it's cut, go away doesn't…

Kevin Goetz (31:38):

Well I…

Nick Stoller (31:38):

But this got a big laugh.

Kevin Goetz (31:39):

Well, so I'll say often everyone loves that scene. It's one of the best-liked scenes on the questionnaire. Yeah. And I say yes, but it doesn't belong in this movie.

Nick Stoller (31:48):

Oh, that's interesting.

Kevin Goetz (31:49):

It is a great scene. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. And it works. Yeah. But you're hurting by having that scene or at least placed in that part of the movie is sending audiences here when you don't want them to go here.

Nick Stoller (32:00):

Oh wow. Has that happened? That actually has never happened to me. Yeah, it's one of the top five scenes and then you cut it. Oh yeah. Yeah. That's interesting.

Kevin Goetz (32:06):

I said use it for the DVD extras, you know, because it's just not serving the overall. And that's what we're trying to do. I just did an interview this morning for The Ankler and one of the things that we talked about was how the cadence has shifted in a movie intended to debut on a streaming service as opposed to a movie that is theatrically made to premiere as a theatrical movie. That you have to grab the audience much quicker in a streaming situation. You can actually lose 10, 20, more percent of your audience if you don't grab them within the first 10 minutes. Yeah. Have you, since this movie was made for Amazon, were you mindful of that? Did you think of that? You know already who's bought your material. What do you do with that information?

Nick Stoller (32:56):

I think I naturally want to grab people from the beginning of, and I think all my movies kind of do it, I think kind of grab you from the beginning. I also have had the experience of having to reshoot the beginning of a movie or reshoot. And so, it's made me a more disciplined writer. 

Kevin Goetz (33:11):

Where'd you have to do that?

Nick Stoller (33:12):

I had to reshoot stuff at the beginning of Get Him to the Greek to launch that movie correctly.

Kevin Goetz (33:16):

How did it open and how did, what did you have to add?

Nick Stoller (33:18):

And by the way, reshoots are amazing. I love them. It's not a, they're the greatest thing in the world. So this isn't like a, oh I'm mad I had to do reshoots. I love doing reshoots. 

Kevin Goetz (33:25):

But anything that could help the picture.

Nick Stoller (33:26):

Yeah. I always think that reshoots should be part of the budget 'cause you know, 90% of your reshoots go into the movie. 

Kevin Goetz (33:31):

And we definitely agree. But I did want to ask you, what was the initial opening and then what did you add to help? Was it a clarification issue?

Nick Stoller (33:38):

Something I’ve become more and more intrigued by his point of view in movies. Which character point of view. And so in that movie, I started the movie showing Russell at this big party with Rose Byrne, who was his wife and Rose dumping him and then him falling off the wagon, starting to drink. And then it cuts and then it went to the credits. And then we went to Jonah Hill's character. And it just was bad. It just wasn't a good way to start the movie. It felt better to start in the point of view of Jonah and have this celebrity and meet the celebrity through Jonah. And so what we ended up doing is shooting some stuff all actually on video cameras to create a kind of news montage to show Russell's character falling apart. So we start with this African child music video, this terrible music song that he wrote.

Kevin Goetz (34:24):

I remember that exactly. I remember.

Nick Stoller (34:25):

Exactly. And then it becomes a medium montage. So the audience is in the perspective of Jonah Hill's character, they don't know that. Or of seeing a celebrity through media. And so then when you finally meet Russell, he's like that character, you're leaning forward 'cause it's like meeting a celebrity. You know, it's, you see, you know your whole life. You see Marlon Brando and TV on movies or whatever, and then you get to meet him. It's a very different experience.

Kevin Goetz (34:47):

Did audiences tell you that?

Nick Stoller (34:49):

I don't remember exactly, but you know, you asked the question, what parts were slow? The beginning, you know. 

Kevin Goetz (34:54):

Well, the beginning is often slow because you're setting characters and, and setting the scene, so to speak, setting stuff up. But in this particular case, it was almost a tonal shift you wanted, huh?

Nick Stoller (35:04):

That's the point of view. And the same thing happened on Neighbors as well. So it started with the whole sequence of them doing a bunch of stuff to get kicked outta their fraternity. And then we cut to Seth and Rose and we ended up realizing the point of view is all Seth and Rose. So we just started with Seth and Rose, and then they see the frat moving in next door. And that was the first time we see Zac is through their eyes. Did you write it? I didn't write it. No. Andrew Cohen and Brendan O'Brien wrote that.

Kevin Goetz (35:27):

So, you were invited to the party.

Nick Stoller (35:29):

Yeah. So I've been friends with all those guys, Seth and Evan. And I remember Evan Goldberg called me up and said, we have this movie for Zac Efron and Seth, it's called Neighbors, da da. And I immediately understood what the movie was emotionally before I even read the script. Wow. Which was just like, basically the two times I'd had existential crisis in my life was when I graduated from college and when I had my first child. And it was the very similar feeling of my life not being my own and being outta control. And today, right now talking, no. And so I was like, oh, I know exactly what will connect these characters. Wow. Before I read it and then I read it and the script was really funny. It, it didn't, it had some of that, didn't have other parts of it. And Brendan and Andrew are super funny and we kind of developed it. And then, yeah.

Kevin Goetz (36:06):

How has being a dad informed you as a filmmaker?

Nick Stoller (36:10):

Oh, hugely. And this is actually something else. This is funny. When I to Will's interview, I always make movies that are like about what I just went through <laugh>, you know, not Cordially Invited, that's like about something that I'll probably go through in the future. So like Neighbors was about new parenthood really at that point. I had two kids, but it was fresh in my mind. Or Sarah Marshall was about dating. Again at that point, I was married and you know, expecting a kid. So I'm always like looking back and trying to find, it's not autobiographical, but the emotional experience of each movie is something.

Kevin Goetz (36:39):

Is that in a way why you chose to do Dora, for your daughter? Oh, Dora. Yeah. I just, I know you have three girls, right? Yeah. As I said in the beginning, and I don't mean to be flippant about it, but it's like, you know, you see this adult comedy, adult comedy, adult comedy, Dora the Explorer. Yeah.

Nick Stoller (36:53):

And Muppets.

Kevin Goetz (36:54):

Yeah. And Muppets. Yeah. But did you make that decision because you wanted to leave a legacy for your daughter is what I was kind of getting at, but maybe, maybe I'm over, I'm overthinking it.

Nick Stoller (37:03):

I was, when I direct something, I have to emotionally really understand it. The core with writing stuff, I have to get it. But it's more like, do I think this is a funny idea? Or do I think the character's compelling? And with Dora, I had a take on it that made me laugh. And then my good friend James Bobin came on board and he had, he had directed Muppets and uh, Muppets Most Wanted. And then he was interested in doing Dora. And so I was really excited to get to work, I just love working with him. 

Kevin Goetz (37:26):

Well, it was actually a really fun movie. Yeah. It turned out great. I really enjoyed it. There was a brightness to it, but of course it's a property that's relegated to a primary target. Yeah. So what is next in terms of Nick, when I say that, I mean television, first of all, you have two projects right now. Are you show-running them?

Nick Stoller (37:45):

So, I have two shows. So I co-created this show that's based on Goosebumps with Rob Letterman.

Kevin Goetz (37:49):

Love, love Goosebumps. I worked on all the movies. 

Nick Stoller (37:53):

Oh, cool. Oh, so you know Rob Letterman, he directed the first movie. Yes. Yeah. So yeah. Yes. So Rob and I are old friends and we co-created this TV show based on Goosebumps for Disney Plus. And the first season came out this past Halloween. How did it do? It did well. I think it did well. And we're basically on the fingers crossed, seemed to be renewed. Hopefully we don't know, but hopefully I can't say it officially. I don't know. Great. But hopefully we will be. And then Platonic was a show I created with my wife. We did, we did a show. Who was your wife? Francesca Delbanco. She's a novelist. And then we created a show called Friends from College for Netflix that we did two seasons of. And then we did the show Platonic for Seth and Rose Byrne. 

Kevin Goetz (38:28):

How'd you meet her?

Nick Stoller (38:29):

We met through friends. She went to Harvard. She, I was, yeah, we weren't the same year, but we met through friends a few years after college.

Kevin Goetz (38:34):

And she writes mostly you said novels?

Nick Stoller (38:38):

She wrote a novel. We write together.

Kevin Goetz (38:39):

Oh, I see. So you created two shows with your wife. One was Friends from College. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative> and the other's Platonic. Yeah. How is it working with her?

Nick Stoller (38:49):

It's great. I love working with her. Really? We love…

Kevin Goetz (38:52):

How do you do it without killing each other?

Nick Stoller (38:53):

It's funny. People ask that. We just kind of like share a brain about this stuff. If she doesn't like something, then I'm like, it's probably not good. And if I don't like something, then she's like, it's probably not good. And I also always say that I like care a lot and also don't care <laugh>. Like, you know what I mean? 

Kevin Goetz (39:07):

I totally know what you mean.

Nick Stoller (39:08):

Like, do you, like I care a ton about stuff and there's certain things that are non-negotiable.

Kevin Goetz (39:11):

But are you like laying in bed at night before you go to bed and, and she'll come up with an idea or you'll come up with an idea. Because when Neil brings that stuff up, I'm like, you know what, I, I can't do this right now. <laugh>. It's, yeah, I gotta, I can't talk business at all. 

Nick Stoller (39:24):

Yeah. Like talking about that stuff at night is rough just because it turns your brain on and then it's hard to sleep. 

Kevin Goetz (39:29):

That's literally the, well that's the whole point. I don't want to get keyed up. 

Nick Stoller (39:31):

But usually we leave it, we tend to leave work at work, I think. 

Kevin Goetz (39:34):

Where is work?

Nick Stoller (39:35):

Well, it will be wherever our office is.

Kevin Goetz (39:36):

Downstairs? Yeah.

Nick Stoller (39:38):

<laugh>. No, when we have a TV show, we'll go to an office building.

Kevin Goetz (39:41):

Any of your girls have the superpower that you and your wife have? 

Nick Stoller (39:45):

You won't be surprised to hear that being funny is very prized in our house. So they're all, I'm happy to say funny.

Kevin Goetz (39:51):

Constantly trying to one up each other? 

Nick Stoller (39:52):

Yeah. We make jokes. Yeah. We're always making jokes and, and ribbing each other and stuff. And I think that's probably the most important, that and being polite are probably the two things that are most, which can be at odds with each other.

Kevin Goetz (40:02):

<laugh>, what are you most proud of?

Nick Stoller (40:04):

I mean it's, it's cliche, but my family.

Kevin Goetz (40:07):

It's not cliche.

Nick Stoller (40:08):

Yeah. My family.

Kevin Goetz (40:09):

I've had guests that say, oh, it's my career. I'm joking. <laugh>. I don't think we've ever had anyone say that. They'd be kicked out on their ass. I think <laugh>. Sure. I mean I, that was a total leading question, but let's talk a career. What are you most proud of in your career?

Nick Stoller (40:24):

I think I feel very proud and lucky that I've gotten to make original comedies and have, and still am able to make them as the industry keeps changing and whatnot, you know? So I think like that to me is just like a huge blessing.

Kevin Goetz (40:36):

Are you writing anything right now?

Nick Stoller (40:39):

I am finishing Cordially Invited, so I'm really finishing that. I have an idea of what my next thing will be, but I haven't started really working on it yet.

Kevin Goetz (40:45):

Are you a single focused kind of guy?

Nick Stoller (40:48):

Yeah, I don't have development. I just do my one thing at a time. Yeah.

Kevin Goetz (40:51):

Wow. And do you need breaks after a movie generally? Or are you onto the next thing?

Nick Stoller (40:56):

I'm usually onto the next, yeah.

Kevin Goetz (40:57):

The cadence is like, it's slow. 

Nick Stoller (40:59):

Yeah. Like post always ends up being a lot slower. Like production is intense. You always need a vacation after that. But the post ends up, you know, if you're lucky not being super, I think for visual effects movies, that's not true.

Kevin Goetz (41:10):

How do you prepare before you go on set with Reese and Will? First time, first day, first day of school. <laugh> you nervous?

Nick Stoller (41:16):

Oh yeah. 'cause they're like, I'm, I'm obsessed with both of 'em.

Kevin Goetz (41:19):

That's what I'm saying. 

Nick Stoller (41:21):

Obsessed.

Kevin Goetz (41:21):

And uh, so what do you think about, how are you preparing for that first day?

Nick Stoller (41:24):

So rehearsals are super important to me and I always demand. Oh, tell me about that. Yeah, I always am like, we need a week of rehearsals. It ends up being, honestly probably two or three days of a few hours. You know, it's really just reading the script. Partially it's to meet actors I haven't met before and to get their vibe, which is most of the actors in this movie. I didn't know. 

Kevin Goetz (41:41):

Where do you usually do your readings?

Nick Stoller (41:42):

In my hotel room. Is that weird? No, I'm joking. And it's reading the script. I've done some blocking, but it really isn't blocking, it's mainly reading the script, reading the scenes and making sure it all makes sense. There's no pressure because what you don't want to do is be on set and have the actor, I'm very collaborative, I want everyone's ideas, but you don't want the actor to come on set and throw out the scene because then you're under the gun and then it's, you know, and I, I've been very lucky. I haven't had that happen really.

Kevin Goetz (42:08):

Have you had a bad behavior though?

Nick Stoller (42:10):

Not really.

Kevin Goetz (42:12):

I mean you're doing comedies mostly. Yeah. And I don't mean to sound flippant. Yeah. With that comment, it's just that people are there to have a good time and the actors really have to be of a certain energy consistently. It's kind of tough, right? Maintaining that. Yeah.

Nick Stoller (42:24):

I describe directing a little bit, like hosting a party. It looks like I'm relaxed, I'm not relaxed, but I try to make it relaxed for everyone. But the rehearsal period is very important. Also. For example, in that movie we have some amazing comedians, Rory Scovel, Leanne Morgan, these great southern comedians. And so I wrote what I thought they would say, they are much funnier than me. 

Kevin Goetz (42:44):

Is that the brother and sister? 

Nick Stoller (42:45):

The brother and sister. Oh my God, they're so funny. Jimmy Tetro, who plays…

Kevin Goetz (42:47):

And Madeline, is that her name?

Nick Stoller (42:49):

Leanne Morgan? 

Kevin Goetz (42:50):

No, the bride.

Nick Stoller (42:50):

Oh, well there's Geraldine Viswanathan, who's Will's daughter, who's a genius. My god. She's just a genius. Amazing. And then Meredith Hagner.

Kevin Goetz (42:56):

Meredith

Nick Stoller (42:56):

She's so funny. I'll say to like, Leanne or whoever, Rory, whoever, I'll be like, what do you think this character would say? What would you actually say? In a rehearsal, there's no pressure. There's no like time pressure. And so people will just kind of riff and we'll joke around about stuff and we discover stuff. A lot of stuff because the characters that I write, I want to adjust them for who I cast.

Kevin Goetz (43:15):

You let the actress play? Yeah.

Nick Stoller (43:16):

Oh yeah. Yeah.

Kevin Goetz (43:17):

So you'll leave the camera rolling.

Nick Stoller (43:19):

We do improv, but it's a lot of me being like, now say this. Now say that. And it's pretty focused on this and it has to be on story. What I don't like is a feeling of riffs. I don't, I, when I'm watching.

Kevin Goetz (43:29):

Your movies don't come off that way. They always, I don't like it. They always seem situational. Yeah. They always come out of the character. It feels like that. That's very interesting.

Nick Stoller (43:36):

Yeah. Obviously my, my favorite movies would be like Broadcast News or Terms of Endearment. These movies that feel naturalistic but aren't riffy, they, they are written, you know what I'm saying?

Kevin Goetz (43:43):

Do you feel like, because Reese and Will are both really good producers as well, it may put more pressure on you?

Nick Stoller (43:50):

It was just helpful 'cause their notes were really smart. Ah. So it wasn't, and they also were very respectful. So it was like the, the whole thing, it was like we were all adults in the room, you know, we're all around the same age and they were like very respectful. They were like, you are the director. But they were also like, gave me really smart notes, both of them. I mean that really helped the movie a lot and changed the movie a lot. And they also gave them to me at the right time. Like as I was writing the movie.

Kevin Goetz (44:13):

When's it come out?

Nick Stoller (44:14):

I don't know.

Kevin Goetz (44:15):

Oh. Because people need to see it. It's just so beautiful. And I love the music that you use.

Nick Stoller (44:21):

Oh yeah, that's what I was going to say. 

Kevin Goetz (44:24):

The interludes. Before coming on air, we talked about going to New York. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. And you said, I just saw Merrily We Roll Along, which was incredible and Sweeney Todd. Yeah. Which is, you said, amazing. And those are the exact two shows that I'm going to see when I go to New York in a couple of weeks. Tell me though, why you like the theater so much and how you use theater music?

Nick Stoller (44:42):

Yeah, I love musicals. I love Sondheim specifically. A Little Night Music is maybe my favorite thing ever made, like of anything. Like it's just, it's so, isn't it rich, isn't it <laugh>? Are we a pair? Are we a Pair?

Kevin Goetz (44:56):

Last on the ground?

Nick Stoller (44:56):

Yeah. It's just the most beautiful musical. Anyways, I was working on this movie Cordially Invited about this, it's a big wedding movie, almost Shakespearean in its like mix-ups and stuff. And I was in pre-production and I was going on a jog where I do most of my thinking. And I suddenly realized that I had been inspired by A Little Night Music to write this movie on some level. And I was like, wait, I think the opening credits should be set to the Overture of A Little Night Music. It was like, it all kind of came to me. I was like, this is…

Kevin Goetz (45:23):

I didn't know that was it.

Nick Stoller (45:24):

Yeah, that musical was very famous, but I don't think the Overture necessarily is, and I wanted it to be like a tense kind of weird but also magical opening to kind of set the tone for the movie. And I've never really done a credit sequence like that before 'cause it's not something that's done. Usually people are blasting you into their movie as fast as possible. I had this idea of how to shoot it and I worked with this great DP, John Guleserian, and his wife, who's my production designer, Theresa Guleserian. And we started talking about it and kind of shot the sequence set to this over the Overture of A Little Night Music.

Kevin Goetz (45:52):

So, you had the music in advance? Yeah. How interesting is that? 

Nick Stoller (45:55):

Yeah, it was so it's, I mean, it's something that a lot of directors do that I don't tend to do and I'm going to do it from now on. Like really try to figure that out because it's just…

Kevin Goetz (46:02):

Well, again, talking about hooking an audience. If you're going to do Main on Main in the beginning of the movie, you want to be able to really grab them. Yeah. And advance the narrative, not just be over picture.

Nick Stoller (46:13):

Yeah, it's, it sets a tone too. And I wasn't sure if the audience would be bored, but when you watch now that we've, now you've filmed the audience, the audience is like sitting, they're like into it. And I also make a big choice to have operatic music throughout and the audience is into it, which I was like, they might hate this <laugh>.

Kevin Goetz (46:29):

Oh my gosh.

Nick Stoller (46:29):

Like, I don't know.

Kevin Goetz (46:30):

Nick Stoller, we can talk forever. You are such a talented filmmaker and hearing your perspective I think is really going to interest so many people who listen to this podcast. Thank you so much for joining me and I'm going to see you on the next one, which is going to be soon. 

Nick Stoller (46:45):

Yes. Yeah, thanks. It’s good to see you Kevin.

Kevin Goetz (46:48):

To our listeners, I hope you enjoyed our interview. I encourage you to check out Nick's show's Goosebumps on Disney Plus and Platonic on Apple Plus, as well as his upcoming film. You Are Cordially Invited with Will Ferrell and Reese Witherspoon. Please also check out my book Audienceology at Amazon or through my website at KevinGoetz360.com. You can also follow me on my social media @KevinGoetz360. Next time on Don't Kill the Messenger, I'll welcome actress, producer, and marketing strategist Colleen Camp. Until then, I'm Kevin Goetz, and to you, our listeners, I appreciate you being part of the movie-making process. Your opinions matter.

 

Host: Kevin Goetz
Guest: Nick Stoller
Producer: Kari Campano
Writers: Kevin Goetz, Darlene Hayman, and Kari Campano