Director's Chair: Jake Kasdan - 'Bad Teacher'
Issue: July 1, 2011

Director's Chair: Jake Kasdan - 'Bad Teacher'

HOLLYWOOD — Following in the footsteps of his father, writer-director Lawrence Kasdan, director Jake Kasdan has carved out a successful career bouncing between movies and television, with the focus on comedy. He made his feature debut as both writer and director of Zero Effect, starring Bill Pullman and Ben Stiller in 1998. 

The following year, he directed the pilot for the short-lived, highly-acclaimed television series Freaks and Geeks, which also marked Kasdan’s first collaboration with executive producer Judd Apatow. Kasdan then served as a consulting producer through the run of the series, directing several episodes, and also directed his second television pilot, the Apatow-produced Undeclared. 

Returning to feature films, he directed 2002’s Orange County, starring Colin Hanks and Jack Black, in 2005 wrote, directed and produced The TV Set, starring David Duchovny and Sigourney Weaver, and in 2007, co-wrote and directed Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, which won him a Golden Globe nomination.

For his new film, the R-rated comedy Bad Teacher, Kasdan assembled a high-profile cast that includes Cameron Diaz and Justin Timberlake in the story of a foul-mouthed, pot-smoking, hard-drinking teacher (Diaz) who doesn’t give a damn about her students but who’s very eager to impress a nerdy but rich new teacher played by Timberlake. 

Here, in an exclusive interview with Post, Kasdan, who also directed the pilot for the new Fox series New Girl starring Zooey Deschanel, talks about making the film and his love of post.

POST: You seem to move happily between movies and TV, so how do you go about deciding what your next project will be, and what made you choose this? 

JAKE KASDAN: “I just thought it was one of the funniest scripts I’d ever read — it was that simple. There weren’t any particular criteria I was looking for. It just made me laugh, so I went for it, and it came together fairly easily.”

POST: What are the biggest challenges of making an R-rated comedy?

KASDAN: “The same as the challenges of making any comedy — you want it to be funny all the time and you don’t want to be seduced by the R-rating in a way that makes you forget what’s actually important: the story, the performances and the comedy. But generally it gives you more freedom than anything else, although I’m not a big fan of the ratings system.”

POST: You assembled a great cast, including Cameron Diaz and Justin Timberlake. Was that tough?

KASDAN: “No. We all loved the script and everyone wanted to do it, then it was just a matter of everyone’s schedules and so on.”

POST: Where did you shoot and how long was it?

KASDAN: “It’s set in Chicago but we shot at various schools in LA around their spring breaks, so we had to do stuff like spray fake snow for all the winter scenes and so on. It was a really fast shoot by studio comedy standards — just 35 days. So it was very intense and a lot of fun.”

POST: Where did you do the post? How long was the process?

KASDAN: “It was scheduled for 22 weeks and we ended up shooting a couple more scenes, and that extended it a few weeks more. We did the initial cutting at The Lot in Hollywood, and then when we got more into post and sound and so on we moved to the Sony lot and did all the rest of the post and DI there. I’ve worked there a lot and they’re excellent. 

“John Naveira, VP of post production at Sony, was in charge of post on this movie and he’s just great and it all went very smoothly, which isn’t always the case.” 

POST: Do you like the post process? 

KASDAN: “I love it. I love shooting too, but I really love post. The fact is, you can make the movie better and more quickly in post than at any other time in the whole process. A really good day editing is incredibly gratifying, and I love working with all the various artists and crafts involved in post.”

POST: You’ve worked with editor Tara Timpone on all of your films. How does that relationship work?

KASDAN: “She doesn’t spend much time on the set — just the occasional visit. But by the time I’m into shooting she’s already starting to cut. We did this on Avid. We work very closely together and we’re good friends, and basically she’s one of my key collaborators. She’s cut all five of my movies and really knows the intention of my footage better than anyone, which is key. There’s a certain rhythm to cutting comedy and the editing is a huge part of comedy, so I really enjoy the whole process of seeing it come together. 

POST: Who did the visual effects and how many visual effects shots are there?

KASDAN: “Hammerhead did them all, but there weren’t that many. In the scenes where they play dodge ball we did quite a lot of enhancements, and then there were various corrections, rig removals, painting stuff out, that kind of thing. I’m actually a big fan of visual effects though I’ve never used a ton of them in any of my films. But I’m always awed by what these guys are able to do for your movie.” 

POST: How important are sound and music to you?

KASDAN: “It’s all incredibly important. They’re all storytelling tools — and comedy tools. The right musical cue or sound effect can make or break a scene, The people I work with in those departments are people I’ve worked with many times. and they’re all very close collaborators. I really like having the same people around me on every film if possible, and my whole post team has varied less than any other aspect of my operation. So apart from Tara there’s Joel Shryack. He’s the supervising sound editor who works with sound designer Bob Grieve, who has also worked on all my movies. Initially Bob was the supervising sound editor, and he’s been teaching for the last few years, but he comes back to do the mix with us. 

“The music team includes Michael Andrews, who has also scored all of my films, and again he’s a very close collaborator and close friend, and my music supervisors Manish Raval and Tom Wolfe have also been with me a long time. So by the time I get to post, it really is like working with family.”

POST: Did you do a DI?

KASDAN: “Yes, at Sony. My first films were before people did DIs, and I’ve seen it evolve over the years and it’s just incredible. Now it’s completely replaced the film color correction process, and it’s amazing what you can do. I embrace all of the digital tools and like them a lot, and on this it was so useful in terms of the lighting. The quality of light in LA is very distinct and different from that in Chicago, and we wanted to move away from that California brightness. So with our interiors we very deliberately made them grayer and greener than you’d get naturally in LA. 

“With exteriors, you just get the light you get, so we played with color and contrast a lot, and made all kinds of adjustments to get more of a Chicago look and feel. So for me, the DI is an invaluable part of the post process.”

POST: Did you always want to direct films?

KASDAN: “Yes, pretty much always. I guess it’s in my blood. When I was a kid I was in several of my dad’s films, like The Big Chill and Silverado — little roles. I was always around movie sets, and you pick stuff up just hanging out.”

POST: So what did you learn from your father about directing? What’s the most important advice he gave you?

KASDAN: “He’s given me all kinds of advice over the years, a lot of it really good. Maybe the most useful advice he ever gave me was before I started my first movie. He told me, ‘No one hires you for your technical expertise. You’re surrounded by department heads and crew who really know what they’re doing and who are better in their area than you will ever be — or want to be, almost. So you’re there to tell the story and get all of those people to help you tell the story.’ It’s a sort of philosophical but very practical approach that’s been so helpful to me.”

POST: You’ve always done a lot of TV projects as well. How does that influence your film work, and vice versa?

KASDAN: “I think working in different areas means working with different schedules, and TV can teach you to work a lot faster and more efficiently. But it’s basically using a lot of the same skills, although the process can be a little different. All the TV projects I’ve done have been very collaborative; there’s a big group of people and it’s a bit like being in a band, and the lead person is really the show-runner. When you make a movie, it’s also very collaborative, but as the director you need to be the general and guiding force.”

POST: Is film dead?

KASDAN: “No, it’s definitely not dead. These things are probably cyclical, and I think film will come back to some extent. But I do think all the digital cameras are advancing at such an amazing rate now, and there’s so many reasons to shoot digitally, and I really like shooting digitally, even though we shot this 35mm. I’ve actually shot way more projects digitally than on film. But it always depends on the specific project. There’s a look to film that has so much character, but there’s a flexibility and versatility to digital that I really love.”

POST: Hollywood’s gone 3D crazy it seems. Any interest in doing a 3D film?

KASDAN: “No, I’m just not that interested. Never say never but it doesn’t sit high on my list.”

POST: What’s your take on Hollywood these days — healthy or ailing?

KASDAN: “It depends on how you look at it. The business side is healthy, but there are fewer movies getting made and as a filmmaker I wish there were more.”

POST: What are the best and worst parts of being a director?

KASDAN: “The truth is, it’s a great job and the great parts far outweigh the down sides. I love directing and making an audience laugh. It’s pretty joyful from my perspective.”

POST: What’s next?

KASDAN: “I produced this new film Friends with Kids. It’s directed by Jennifer Westfeldt and stars Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph, who are hot off Bridesmaids, along with John Hamm and Megan Fox, so a great cast. I actually like producing and I’ve produced almost all the movies I’ve directed. This was the first time working as an active producer on someone else’s film, and I really enjoyed the experience. As for my own movies, I’m developing several projects at the moment, so it’s a matter of seeing what comes together first.”