Interview: Jay Chandrasekhar Talks ‘The Babymakers’, His Directing & Acting Career and Making Independent Films
Actor, writer, director and founder of Broken Lizard Jay Chandrasekhar is out with a new film called The Babymakers.
The film stars Paul Schneider, Olivia Munn and Chandrasekhar (who also directed) and follows a couple who are struggling to conceive a child. When Schneider’s character finds out that he’s infertile, he and his buddies set out to rob a sperm bank.
The film is at times hilarious and while not a true Broken Lizard movie (it also stars member Kevin Heffernan), it delivers everything you’d expect from the comedy troupe.
Chandrasekhar began his career while at school at Colgate with the comedy group, Charred Goosebeak, and even though he started out as an actor, he moved into the director’s chair because he had to. The group wanted to make videos and commercial parodies, so, he figured “I started this, I guess I’m gonna fucking do it.” And that’s how he learned to “make movies,” he said.
His directing credits include Super Troopers, Beerfest and The Dukes of Hazzard and the TV shows Royal Pains, Community and Happy Endings. And, he’s still acting; he’s got a starring role The Babymakers and also guest starred on an of the episode of Royal Pains that he directed.
I talked to Jay about The Babymakers, his acting career and directing career and distributing films through, VOD (Video on Demand). And, don’t miss the advice he gives to actors -it’s the smartest thing I’ve heard in a while.
The Babymakers is in theaters and on VOD now.
For the full interview, click the audio link above or download it from iTunes
This is coming out in theaters and also on VOD. How do you feel about that Video on Demand?
Jay Chandrasekhar: Look, you know, historically our films have like… had a very weird wild over performance on video versus theatrical.
That’s how I discovered Beer Fest and Super Troopers.
Jay Chandrasekhar: Exactly. And it’s because we always joke that our fans are too stoned to get off the couch and go to the fucking movies. And that may well be true and I still believe it.
But the… at the moment, the way the distribution business is, is that the big studios are looking for movies that can gross $250 million dollars and that’s the explanation for why there’s so many high end digital effects superhero kinda stuff. Because they tend to be wider audiences. And so even a film that’ll make like… if a film made like 80, the studios go, “That’s not quite enough.” You know? And so there are new… they’re just some degree reducing the amount of comedies they’re releasing because also they don’t play foreign. Right? So there are these new models of distribution that are starting to come up. This is one of them. Right? Which is like same day VOD and as the theatrical. And it’s like… it’s hard to say. Right? I mean, like until it works in a big way, you don’t know. You know?
I think ultimately I don’t know that a lot of people remember super well, I mean, they remember if they saw it in the theater. But if they saw Super Troopers on video, they seem to love it just as much. So… because they were with their friends, they were smoking joints, and whatever it is. You know? And so I feel good about it because of the theatrical component of it. But I think honestly that the movement is probably gonna be towards more totally VOD. You know? I have a feeling that more films will be made for less and go straight to VOD and it’ll be considered somewhat ok. I don’t know. Like, would I like that? No. But I’m not luckily having to deal with that.
You know what I like about your movies? You can watch them a million times, but just still enjoy it. It’s one of those where you’re flipping the TV and just keep it on. The people you have in your movies and the characters, they’re people you kinda wanna hang out with in real life.
Jay Chandrasekhar: Yeah. Well, I mean, we met each other when we were 18 in college. And so we have hung out a great deal. And most of the jokes that we wrote for Super Troopers, we wrote, you know, drunk, stoned, or just hanging around. You know? In cars, driving around. And we’re friends. I think that feeling sort of infuses our movies.
We’re also sort of… I don’t know. I mean, look, we’ve got a fat guy in the group, we’ve got an Indian guy, we’ve got a short dude who has like a polio leg, we have another guy who has half a leg. So none of us are really like these alpha male kind of… never were like on top of the pyramid looking down at people. So I think our humor tends to be somewhat inclusive. Like it’s never… we don’t really make fat jokes. We don’t really make like, “You’re gay, you’re bad,” jokes. You know? We don’t really make jokes about people being ugly for example. And I suppose it’s because we don’t… we never felt like we were in that position. You know?
And so maybe… I don’t know. I don’t know if that’s even answering the question, but it’s ultimately like… I’ll tell you what it is really. It’s that we try to… we always tried to make films that had a front layer of like verbal comedy. And then wherever necessary or where another of like physical comedy and then maybe in the third layer something else. Something maybe it’s like there’s some antlers that are on the wall in Super Troopers that are over our chief’s desk. And he kind of is on the phone and he will occasionally line his head up with these antlers. And it’s somewhat subtle but it’s like… I think if you watch it over and over again, you’ll catch it. Right? And we, you know, because these movies that we grew up on, like Animal House and Fletch and 48 Hours and Trading Places and Spinal Tap and Holy Grail and Life of Brian, like those movies you… if you rewind them you’re like, “Look at that guy. And look at this little… this guy’s talking, but look at his reaction.” You have to see it 10 times to even see that guy. And I think we end up making movies that sort of, you know, we have 5 guys with a bunch of jokes. We’re trying to pack jokes in and so lot of jokes end up in the movie. And so you kind of have to look different places.
Now The Babymakers, how did you find this?
Jay Chandrasekhar: These guys, Peter Gaulke and Gerry Swallow, they wrote a film. Gaulke, Peter Gaulke, directed a film called Strange Wilderness that Kevin was in. And so they brought this film, because Peter kind of went through this fertility business. And so they wrote this movie and they gave it to us at Warner Brothers and we… Warner Brothers bought it. And, you know, they wanted one of the top 4, you know, comedy movie stars in the business. And those guys were booked for 2 years in a row and then it just never happened. And so my friend Jason Blum produced Paranormal Activity, Insidious, he’s done really well with these cheap horror movies. He called me up and he said, “Do you think… do you have any movies that we can just go quickly run and make?” And I said, “Let’s call Warner.” So Warner said, “Yeah,” and I have a good relationship with them. They said, “Yeah, go make it. Go.” And we developed it. We did 10 drafts there. I mean, they… we really kind of like ran it through the studio gauntlet. And then we got it out.
You know, making an independent film is so great because you’re your boss. And you have to be disciplined. You know? Because there’s nobody telling you anything. But you have to kinda, you know, if you have an instinct to do something, you do it. There’s nobody to run it by. Casting is up to you. You know? And it’s… it was… once we pulled it out of Warner’s, we kind of, we changed the character of Ron Jon he was originally an eastern European. But Borat was too great, he could never top Borat. So we switched it to an Indian and I played him. And we just added jokes, added jokes. And also, we made their relationship more real. Because I’m just kind of more interested in real now.
With Olivia Munn, with this and now that she’s on The Newsroom. She’s pretty great.
Jay Chandrasekhar: She’s great, isn’t she?
Yeah, and no offense to her, I wouldn’t have thought to cast her in this. How did you find her?
Jay Chandrasekhar: She was in… she had a show called Attack of the Show. She was the host and she’s just dynamite prompter reader. But she’s able to just feather in jokes and do this amazing… and I know this because she’s a huge Super Troopers fan. And she and her brother bonded over that film. They were enemies and they bonded. So when I came on she was like, “Oh my God.” Right? So we became friends and then she’s like, “Why don’t you come host?” And I was like, “Ok, I’ll… you know, whatever.”
She’s like, “Just read the monitor.” I’m like, “Ok.” And I’m like…
Had you ever done that before, anything like that before?
Jay Chandrasekhar: No, and she’s zipping through and she’s like, ”What do you think Jay?” And I’m like, “Fuck. Are you kidding me?” And it was fine, it was great, and it… but we really kind of hit it off. And then I tried to get her a… Fox called us up and said would Broken Lizard do a late night show on Saturday opposite Saturday Night Live, and I was like, “No. But I have a friend, Olivia Munn, who I want you guys to look into doing a talk show. It’ll be hip it’ll be young, woman, she’s got a brilliantly funny mind.” And they’re like, “Eh, that’s too risky for us.” But we became kind of… we went through like a bunch of ideas and I’m like, “This chick really has it.” And then we kind of made a film called Freeloaders, which is like… we produced it. Some other people are in it. And she did one scene in it and she blew it away. And I was like, “She can act.” Not like she can kinda act, she can fucking act.
She can, yeah.
Jay Chandrasekhar: And so when we… I was making this film I was like, you know, we had an offer out to some sort of famous faces and she met me at the Chateau Marmot and she’s like… a hotel up there, and she’s like, “I need to play this role and you know it.” And I was like, “You’re right. You’re right.” I said, “How can we manipulate these people into casting you?” She’s like, “We can do it. Let’s do it. Let’s do it.”
So we went about kind of back dooring and just like, “Oh, you know she’s gonna be in this and…” We just kind of hyped her up and the people who were involved who were partners with me, they were like, “Ok. Ok.” And luckily for us, you know, she’s in The Newsroom and she’s in Magic Mike and she’s… she’s not only a great actor she’s great at giving notes, phenomenal editing notes. Like, you would never even imagine, they’re just like… she gave me a whole set of editing notes on the first cut and I was like, “Really?” I mean, I’ve edited 7 fucking movies. So really? Ok. And I just like, we’ll try this. Yeah, that’s better. And I just went and rolled down and it was like an 80% hit list. It was just like one great note after another. So I showed her the next cut, I’m like, “Give me your notes.” And she’s very talented at story and jokes and, you know, I would say I can only write women up to a point.
Like, I do my very best to try to make them well rounded, but I don’t know the jokes about what kind of, you know, whatever. Like, what about these pants is so funny to other women? Hey they’re not involved in that club. Right? Or what is it about men that, you know, I’m obsessed with sex in this way. I know the second I meet a woman, I know whether I wanna have sex with her. What do you think? And she has a million funny versions of things like that. Which we’re gonna make a film called Shotgun Wedding together.
And she’s involved deeply in the writing of it and… it’s a joy to work with somebody like her who’s so funny, got tons of charisma, so smart. You know? It’s a joy.
Obviously you’re in this and you’ve done some other acting. Do you actively seek parts out? Or do your friends just say, “Hey we’ve got a part for you. Show up on Tuesday.”
Jay Chandrasekhar: You know, on television shows a lot of times when I direct them they say, “Hey, will you do this part?” I’m like, “Yeah, yeah. I’m here. What the hell.”
I’m not like out there humping it. But I mean, I’m open to it. I think that there’s an issue with… I remember when we were starting up when we’d done Super Troopers, our agent called us up and said, “Do you have anything for Woody Allen?” And I’m like, “That’s a little intimidating.” I mean, what the fuck. I’m gonna direct Woody Allen? Is that really…? He’s like, “Well he really wants to act.”
And I think that directors in general are reluctant to have other directors. I mean, that’s why when I’m an actor in someone else’s movie, I’m like, “What do you want boss? You want it bigger? Let’s go.” Doesn’t matter. I mean, it’s just sort of… I am an actor, so you have to sort of really dive into it. But ultimately, I don’t think I’m gonna… I’m trying to do a television show. And I’ll be in that television show and if it goes, then I’ll act all the time.
But I don’t know. I mean, I was offered a sitcom once where I was the lead guy. And I was like… it was a laugh track and multi-camera and I’m like, I don’t think what I do will make me happy in this format. I said, “I hope you guys succeed in it.”
Did it ever get made?
Jay Chandrasekhar: They shot it. And, you know, for whatever reason it didn’t go on. But it was just, you know, I need it to be artistically right for me.
Did you start out as a writer, director…?
Jay Chandrasekhar: I started out as an actor. And then I started a comedy group at Colgate. We were called Charred Goosebeak. And I wanted it to feel like a mix of Python and SNL. And so we were gonna have characters that you saw in the early sketches come back like Python did 2 or 3 times. And then shoot short videos like SNL was doing. They’d shoot these commercial parodies. So, you know, I bought a camera. Like a high-end video camera.
And everybody else, the other guys in the group, they were like… none of them were acting really. Like one or two of them, but some of them were just like, “Oh, I did a play in high school.” Or, “I tried out for a commercial breakdancing.” I mean it was like, they were just funny guys. And so when it came down to directing I was like, “I started this, I guess I’m gonna fucking do it.” So I put the camera on a tripod and pressed record and we… I slowly… and they gave me edit room. And I’m like, “God, I really need a shot closeup of this thing.” And the pain of that not having that shot, next time I would get the closeup.
And that’s how I learned how to make movies. I’m like, through pain, you know, I’m like, “Who directed this? I directed this. Fucking shit had the shot. It’s all too close, where are the wides?” And so next time and you slowly through, you know, trial and error you become a filmmaker.
When you’re casting something either TV or film, what do you see actors doing that where they shoot themselves in the foot?
Jay Chandrasekhar: I think when they put multiple pauses in sentences. When they… because what happens is, when you pause in a sentence in television, we’re cutting away. In film, you can hang out with one pause in a sentence but if you try to lock 2 in there, we’re cutting away. Like, to keep the camera on yourself, speak at a reasonably decent pace. And choose your pauses wisely.
That’s what happens. We will cut.
I’ve never heard that before.
Jay Chandrasekhar: You can act all the fuck you want to. But we’re cutting away. The camera’s gonna be on Joel McHale instead of you.