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 Greg Mottola Interview 
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Greg Mottola, writer/director of "Adventureland," joined several web-based and college film writers on a conference call to talk about the opening of his new film. Thanks to Miramax for the transcription of this interview! (NOTE: This interview has been edited for space considerations)

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC
What do you say to people’s reactions that Jesse Eisenberg in your new movie Adventureland just seems like a sort of Michael Cera replacement?

GREG MOTTOLA
I guess what I would say is that I actually knew of Jesse as an actor before I ever met Michael Cera. Jesse’s first film was called Roger Dodger. It’s a small Indie film with Campbell Scott. And Campbell Scott was in a small Indie Film that I directed and wrote called State Troopers. So, I saw the movie and I really, really, liked Jesse he was a non actor in fact before he done that movie. It was the first thing he ever did. And then I really liked his second film - or not his second one, he’s done other ones. But the next one I saw and it was the Squid and the Whale.

And as much as I love Michael, I actually felt Jesse was more appropriate for this movie. Jesse is a little more neurotic, a little bit older. Not quite as innocent as Michael. I guess the best I can say is that I’m attracted to really awkward people. Which says more about me than I think it does about either Jesse or Michael.

INDEPENDENT CRITIC

What do you hope to get from Long Islanders in terms of a reaction? Those who attend the park or work at the park?

GREG MOTTOLA

It was a little bit hard to give up the ideal, I wrote this movie to take place on Long Island and at the end of the day it became apparent that my budget which was very high could - the money we had could go further if we shot in a state that had a better tax rebate. Different states give you different rebates, and Pennsylvania’s tax rebate is much bigger than New York State's. And Long Island as I’m sure you probably know is kind of an expensive place. So I had to rewrite the movie from Long Island to Pittsburgh. The one advantage story wise is that it makes the main characters journey from Pittsburgh to Manhattan, slightly more dramatic. But you know having - you know, it was easier to transpose in some way, they are very similar communities in Pittsburgh as there are Long Islander’s.

Lots of Italians, Irish, Slavic, Catholics and Jews. It’s really - it’s a similar makeup. But as far as memory of working there and how I’d like Long Islander’s to see it. You know I - working in amusement park was such a silly job. And it’s one of those jobs you feel stupid working for minimum wage. And you wish you could do something better. 

But it’s also - you know, it was such a tremendously fun summer. It really captured everything I probably you know, love and hate about life out there. It’s you know, it can be stifling at times. You kind of want to be around the action of - for me I wanted to be in the city. But, it was such you know, kind of a magical time to also have a first girlfriend. And such a great place - you know, amusement parks are the kind of place where you can - it can be really - there can be really annoying songs playing, and it could be really boring. And the job is just really dull and humiliating. And then the sun can go down and all the lights of the park were twinkling and a really great song comes on. And you’re flirting with somebody and it’s - and it has that power that it could always have over anybody. So, I’m hoping that people have their you know, remember those experiences whether it’s like the you know, the Catholic Carnival that comes through every year or something. And at the same time you know, I also think that the health issues and aspect of suburban life. And the humbleness and sweetness of life as it can be out. And the suburbs - the positive side of it where you know, the - how would I put it. You know, where people are working hard, and life is hard and they find a way to do the best they can.

INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Is Adventureland more about you growing up?

GREG MOTTOLA

I mean it’s - I guess it more biographical. It’s more about the love story at the center of it. But, it’s certainly about you know, I mean 60% of the movie is at the park so - and the park that we shot out in Pittsburgh in fact I made it - tried to make it look a lot smaller and a lot more condensed. And a lot more like the way I remembered Adventureland. You know, more humble and down to earth and you know, it had a really great family quality. And you know, having said that yes it’s you know, I’m picking and choosing people I knew from growing up on Long Island and putting them at different parts of the movie even if they weren’t necessarily part of that summer.

There is a lot of the world of the people I grew up with. You know, silly people and also people I really still love and care about.

INDEPENDENT CRITIC

What actually inspires you to get involved with a project as a writer, and as a director?

GREG MOTTOLA

My sort of bottom line, is I have to feel like that I love something about it. And that I also feel like I’m uniquely qualified to do the job. I’ve ready scripts that I thought were really good scripts, and there were movies I’d like to see. But I didn’t think I in particular had something to bring to it that was special. And I don’t want that to sound like false humility, it’s just really just more a sense of that it’s a hard job...It’s a hard job and to do it well and to really make it exciting. I need to - I need to find something in it that I can bring myself to. And for instance, after I did my little Indie Film I did get offered other movies, and passed on some. And truth be told, Superbad was one of the first scripts I ever read that I thought I know how to do this. I can see this movie in my mind, and I have to do that I think wouldn’t be exactly like everyone else.

INDEPENDENT CRITIC

What would you say are the differences working on a project like this which seems a bit more personal, than working on a film like Superbad which again you were hired for?

GREG MOTTOLA

There are some key differences. I actually wrote the script to "Adventureland" before I did "Superbad." And I designed it to be - to be more of an intimate personal story. To be as much as much a drama as it is a comedy.

And that’s a slightly different animal even though it covers a lot of the same ground as "Superbad" as far as you know, being about the foibles of young people. And awkward attempts at first love and getting drunk and getting high and all the things you do when you’re young and you’re confused. I thought that I wanted to approach the tone of it in a very, very different way. It’s much more bittersweet and melancholy. It’s much more about making things feel realistic and psychologically true.

It’s a tradeoff, you know, in comedies there is usually a very heighten reality. Even though in "Superbad" we tried to - we tried to find the kind of baseline reality that we would stick to. We wouldn’t go completely over the top although arguably the things with the cops are pretty over the top. But you know, we still didn’t want it to be like things where you know, people are - I don’t know. Didn’t quite have like the Harold and Kumar reality. And I’m not trying to knock that movie, I’m just saying that movie is much more surreal.

And so we try to stay within - draw a certain line in the sand. But eventually the line is closer to reality, the line is you know, there is not as many jokes partially because in real life funny things don’t happen quite as quickly and frequently as they do in comedies. And the trade off of designing something that feels more like real life is that, the rhythms are different and has - it can play out in different way for the viewer if they are willing to be patient with it.

INDEPENDENT CRITIC

How much does James in the movie resemble the teenage you were when you were working at Adventureland, and if he doesn’t then, what characters are modeled after you?

GREG MOTTOLA

There is no way to answer this question and look good for me. That’s a real trap. Yes, James is modeled on myself. And philosophy is that, if I was going to make fun of anybody in the movie I had to make fun of my younger self.

There are a lot of things that got fictionalized, and when Jesse Eisenberg took the part he - there are things that I changed to fit him. The ways in which are different. But then there are days we are shooting and he would do something that would so remind me of my younger self. I would want to cringe and quit the movie. It’s - you know, I definitely had a lot of the same awkwardness and earnestness and misguided ideas about what relationships are. And when I decided to write something personal I thought well, let’s try and get it close to what I remember. And then maybe this will feel familiar to people who are going through the same fumbling attempts at growing up.

INDEPENDENT CRITIC

What was your favorite moment in Adventureland? Like a particular scene or line, or just something that no matter how many times you had to do this film always jump out at you. And you say, I’m really, really proud of that?

GREG MOTTOLA

Probably my favorite thing in the movie, is there is a little sequence of events from starting around the time the main characters, played by Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart eat some cookies, which happen to have some cannabis in them. And they go ride on some bumper cars, and they get into a little bit of trouble with their boss. And Bill Hater has this like crazy moment where he chases someone around with the baseball bat. That kind of sequence in the movie is one of the ones where I feel like - the way I saw it in my head, and the way it came out was exactly the same. So as a film maker it’s nice when something actually translates from the page to the screen. There is a lot of other scenes in the film that are close. But don’t you know, I had to give up something or, I didn’t quite get something right, or didn’t - the location wasn’t the location that I really wanted. There is you know, it’s sort of clouded by the compromises. That was one where I just really - it really worked the way I saw it. And it’s - I can let go of all of my insecurities and myself criticism when I watch that one section of the movie.

INDEPENDENT CRITIC

You kind of spoke to the challenge of directing your own writing. I was wondering if you could do a little bit of comparison and contrast. You wrote and directed Daytrippers which was a very low budget film that played the festival circuit. And now you know, you’re directing this - you’re writing and directing Adventureland, a Miramax release. I was wondering how that compares for you personally and artistically.

 

GREG MOTTOLA

It was a little surprising how much doing Adventureland felt like doing my first movie which we made for $70,000. Meaning it was really pretty hard. But it wasn’t as hard, and I certainly have a lot more time and it’s really good people surrounding me. But it was - it was quite a bit harder than Superbad. A lot of making movies is time, and that’s the first thing that goes when your budget gets cut. I was never going to get a lot of money to make Adventureland. But I wish - you know, I wish I could have another couple of weeks of shooting. But at first the experience, you know, it’s interesting I look back on it, and I made some of the same mistakes I made of the first one. And I definitely did some things better.

I had talked to someone earlier today on this conference call about how you have to separate yourself as a director and a writer. And I probably the reason I said that was because I wasn’t always successful at doing that. I didn’t always fight the right fight. And that’s the difference between directing someone else’s material, it’s a lot easier to be objective when you didn’t write it. And there is a real challenge when you’ve written it yourself. And I had forgotten because it had been so long since I had done Daytrippers that I had forgotten that challenge a little bit.

I think I’m better at it, but it’s a learning curve. The next time I try and direct something I’ve written, I will go into it with a little more knowledge of that struggle.

    The Official Rating Guideline
    • A+ to A: 4 Stars                
    • A- to B+: 3.5 Stars            
    • B: 3 Stars                         
    • B- to C+: 2.5 Stars           
    • C: 2 Stars
    • C- to D+: 1.5 Stars
    • D: 1 Star
    • D-: .5 Star
    • F: Zero Stars

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