Jake Kasdan, once known exclusively as a comedy director, is now playing in the big leagues. With just the right amount of nostalgia and newness, Kasdan turned Jumanji into one of the biggest modern franchises around. While the large scale and effects were initially new to him, he’s now growing comfortable working at that level.
Kasdan made his directorial debut with a sharp ’90s noir with a killer Bill Pullman performance, Zero Effect. It features a Pullman performance deserving of more love in this world. Kasdan followed his directorial debut with Orange County, The TV Set, and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. During our phone interview with Kasdan, we recently talked about how Walk Hard has changed the biopics forever, how he’s grown as a filmmaker making the Jumanji movies, and the unfortunate state of the world at the moment.
Thanks for making the time.
Sure. Under the strangest of circumstances.
It is a weird time to be doing interviews.
[Laughs] Yes. I mean, yeah, it’s a weird time to just be going about your stuff, you know? It’s insane.
What’s like a Thursday or Friday for you like now? Any work still getting done?
I think everything is just sort of shutting down. It’s so crazy in so many different ways. On the one hand, I think especially for in the cities where people are conscious this is a great threat, they’re taking it seriously. It freaks everybody out. At the same time, very few people are directly close to it, so it’s somewhat abstract but freaky. Everyone is trying to follow the best advice, but it’s completely bizarre. It’s insane.
Such a strange time. Hey, be safe.
It’s nice to be talking to you, though. Funnily enough, I just revisited Orange County a week or two ago. Obviously, it was the first time you worked with Jack Black. What makes that relationship work?
In a lot of ways, that movie was important to me. It was the beginning of one of my all-time favorite collaborations, and it’s continued. We’ve gotten to work together closely and have had the best time doing these. In many ways, Orange County was really significant for me. Starting to work with Jack was one of the huge ways. Another huge way was working with Colin Hanks, and we’ve remained close. All those guys and I have remained very close to the last 20 years.
Have you noticed people who grew up with that movie are still very fond of it?
Oh, that’s good. I’m glad to hear that. It’s a movie that I love. Jack, Colin, and Schuyler, it was amazing. We had an amazing group of people surrounding them. It was an incredible experience. I mean, a bunch of brilliant comedy minds and directors. We got Ben Stiller to do a little thing in that movie, and we had worked together once before that point. Gary Marshall and Harold Ramis, who are both gone now, were heroes to me. Written by Mike White, we’re still very close and he’s a brilliant guy. That movie means a lot to me.
Working on the scale involved in the Jumanji movies, it has to have been a major education, right?
Absolutely. An education is exactly the way to describe it, particularly on the first one. Working on that scale, and even having made two of them, I still have a lot to learn. It’s rapid and you’re learning on the move. It’s also about the great people you surround yourself with. There have been many wonderful parts of the Jumanji movies. One of them is when you’re making these big movies that have a lot of effects and action, you have the opportunity to work with these brilliant people. They’re helping me do it and showing me how to do it. A lot of the same people worked on both movies. Then you get to the end of the two of them and have a sense of how that works. Suddenly, your whole way of thinking has been expanded. That’s great.
Having made the Jumanji movies, would you approach directing a comedy differently now than you did ten years ago?
Maybe. I had a certain visual approach that would change with whatever I was working with and, hopefully, evolve. I definitely had a default way of thinking about how to shoot things on everything before Jumanji. Working on the Jumanji movies, working in the genre and the technical side, it taught me how to shoot a little differently. I would like to think some of that stuck and you can take it with you [Laughs].
What was your default visual approach prior to Jumanji?
I always approached them as the overall feeling I wanted. I wanted the movies to be elegantly made and composed, but the director disappears. I was focused on not having what we were doing with the camera ever distracting from the sensation right there. The sensation was you’re always right there and watching it from the perfect corner of the room. The team I was working with on Jumanji and the nature of the material, it gives you the opportunity to be more descriptive. The fact that you’re anticipating the visual effects and all of it, you just have to plan it and think about it differently. It’s different than letting the actors guide everything, although I try to leave a lot of room for them to make it theirs. You just have to plan a lot more, so it makes you think about it differently.
How often do special effects and comedy clash? Do good comedic moments ever get ruined by the more technical details?
Not that much. This is something I definitely learned on the first one, but if you know really well where you want it to end up and plan thoroughly, it makes it easier to communicate it to the actors. That gives you a better chance to participate in what’s happening. You adjust to what’s happening. It just puts it on me to have it worked out a little more detail than maybe on Orange Country [Laughs]. There’s still a lot of room. At the end of the day, because of how I’m built, if there’s a performance I’m in love with, it’s going to be in the movie. We adjust what we’re doing technically around that almost always.
Over the last few years, whenever a generic biopic comes out, Walk Hard always gets mentioned in reviews. How satisfying is it seeing your movie as a part of the conversation about biopics?
Oh, it’s great! That movie we all had so much fun doing. We were obsessed. It was a big deal. With all the music and everything, we worked on it for years. Then it just kind of came and went, which knocks you on your ass. A part of you fantasizes when that happens, “Someday! Someday people will come back to this and love it as much as we do!” [Laughs] That’s literally happened. There’s no guarantee people are eventually going to come around to something, but the fact that they have with that movie, yeah, it makes us all really happy. We’re thrilled about it. I always feel bad for the movie that’s being compared to ours, where they’re using it in that way. I think there’s been this run of music biopics lately, so it’s brought Walk Hard back into consciousness [Laughs].
Jumaji: The Next Level is now available on digital and Blu-Ray.
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