Meet the di­rec­tor


Pasatiempo - - NEWS - Michael Abatemarco The New Mex­i­can

Jay Roach

AT a con­fer­ence table with co­me­dian Mike My­ers, pro­ducer Robert Shaye, and nu­mer­ous stu­dio ex­ec­u­tives, My­ers’ friend Jay Roach was mak­ing the case for why he should di­rect the com­edy Austin Pow­ers: In­ter­na­tional Man of Mys­tery. Roach had never di­rected a fea­ture film be­fore. “Bob Shaye said, in front of all th­ese peo­ple, ‘Who are you? There’s no ev­i­dence you’ve di­rected any­thing. We’re not just go­ing to hire Mike’s buddy,’ ” Roach told Pasatiempo. “I said, ‘Mr. Shaye, I com­pletely un­der­stand, and I would feel ex­actly the same way if I was in your po­si­tion. But let me present you with a few things.’ ” Roach showed him a reel of scenes from the kinds of films that in­spired Austin Pow­ers — old spy and heist films from the 1960s, like the Matt Helm and Our Man Flint se­ries — clev­erly edited into a gag reel. He then showed him his sto­ry­boards for Austin

Pow­ers’ fem­bot se­quence. “I sug­gested that Austin has this group of women ro­bots he tries to se­duce. They try to kill him with the guns pop­ping out of their brassieres and he dances to se­duce them and their heads ex­plode. I got them laugh­ing, and fi­nally they said OK.”

Roach, now a vet­eran com­edy di­rec­tor, helmed both Austin Pow­ers se­quels as well as Meet the Par­ents (2000), Meet the Fock­ers (2004), and Mys­tery, Alaska (1999). He re­ceives the Amer­i­can Di­rec­tor Award at the Santa Fe In­de­pen­dent Film Fes­ti­val on Satur­day, Oct. 22. His films Trumbo (2015) and Austin Pow­ers (1997) screen at the Vi­o­let Crown Cin­ema on Oct. 22, and Re­count (2008) screens on Sun­day, Oct. 23, at the Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts. A Mas­ters Dis­cus­sion with Roach on cre­ativ­ity, moder­ated by writer and pro­ducer Kirk El­lis, also takes place on Oct. 22 at the Jean Cocteau Cin­ema. (See www.santafein­de­pen­dent­film­fes­ti­ for event and screen­ing times.)

An Al­bu­querque na­tive, Roach had no in­ten­tion of be­ing a film­maker when he left New Mex­ico for Stan­ford Univer­sity to pur­sue a de­gree in law. “That didn’t last long. I started tak­ing classes in still pho­tog­ra­phy and work­ing on ra­dio doc­u­men­taries. Be­fore long, it be­came clear I wasn’t go­ing to go to law school. I ap­plied to grad­u­ate film school at USC in Los An­ge­les, and I’ve been here ever since.” Roach has also had some luck bring­ing projects to his home state of New Mex­ico. His Emmy-win­ning po­lit­i­cal drama

Game Change (2012) is an ex­am­ple. “The Santa Fe lo­ca­tions dou­ble for John McCain’s Se­dona ranch,” he said.

Com­edy may be Roach’s forte, but he has proved him­self equally adept at drama. Re­count, about the 2000 U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, was a Roach-di­rected film, as was the bi­o­graph­i­cal po­lit­i­cal drama Trumbo and this year’s All the Way, an HBO Films biopic on Lyn­don B. John­son. “One of the big­gest jobs of a di­rec­tor is to get ev­ery­body to join this be­nign cult of what­ever story you’re work­ing on,” Roach said. “That’s pretty much the same if you’re do­ing com­edy or drama. You want to be sur­rounded with the best pos­si­ble col­lab­o­ra­tors in an en­vi­ron­ment where they can do their best work. Com­edy is par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult be­cause, on top of all that, you’re also try­ing to de­liver hi­lar­i­ous mo­ments and di­a­logue. I find com­edy more stress­ful.”

Roach added that com­edy is more “neu­ro­sis­mak­ing” than drama. “A cou­ple of weeks be­fore shoot­ing, you’re pretty sure it’s ter­ri­ble and not nearly funny enough,” he said. “It’s a com­mon sen­sa­tion among com­edy di­rec­tors.” For Roach, when a film just doesn’t seem all that funny, a lot can change in edit­ing. On set, how­ever, the best mo­ments are often im­pro­vised — or ap­pear to be im­pro­vised. “One of the pure joys of di­rect­ing com­edy is that good ac­tors make it look like it’s on the spot,” he said. “When you work with Mike My­ers, Ben Stiller, Owen Wil­son, their brains seem to me like they’re one or two clicks more en­gaged, par­tic­u­larly when they’re all work­ing to­gether. When we were on the set of Meet the Fock­ers with Robert De Niro, Bar­bara Streisand, and Dustin Hoff­man, they were all good im­pro­vis­ers — and not all of them are known for that. It’s kind of mag­i­cal be­ing in a room where two or three or more bril­liant im­prov co­me­di­ans are light­ing each other up. They get to a height­ened state of con­scious­ness, be­cause they start be­ing so quick and so funny. But we work with great writers, too, and a lot of what looks like it’s im­pro­vised was just well-writ­ten in ad­vance.”

The real test for com­edy comes at the first big pub­lic screen­ing. For Roach, the au­di­ence’s laugh­ter makes all the chal­lenges of di­rect­ing com­edy worth­while. “It’s a com­edy di­rec­tor’s heroin. That drug of an au­di­ence re­ally hav­ing a blast — you’ll al­ways come back for an­other fix of tha .” As Austin Pow­ers would say, “Yeah, baby!”

Meet the Par­ents

Austin Pow­ers: In­ter­na­tional Man of Mys­tery


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