Having aired at the Prince Charles Cinema across two nights in August, Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie is now being made available to British audiences on DVD – and prior to the film’s release – on September the 3rd – we caught up with the writers/directors and leading stars themselves, Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim.
The film, which has split opinions ever since is US release – provoking a host of people to walk out of it at a screening at Sundance Festival – centres on two failing businessmen, who when given a billion dollars to make a movie, present merely a three minute piece starring a Johnny Depp look-a-like. The pair then take over a shopping mall, but their plans on making back the money they owe don’t seem to go exactly as planned…
Tim and Eric discuss with us their joy at working alongside huge Hollywood stars such as Robert Loggia and Will Ferrell, admitting to having even made an approach for the real Johnny Depp. They also tell us of how they felt upon learning of people walking out of their film, as they defend a production extremely close to both of their hearts…
How did the idea for Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie first come about?
Eric: Well we made fifty episodes of a TV show called Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! and we wanted to end that and try something new, so we made a couple of short films in the meantime and the next step was making a full length feature.
Tim: I think the title sort of set the tone for the type of movie we wanted to make, we knew it was going to be a really low-budget movie so we thought it would be fun to come out of the gate with this ridiculous proclamation, something just meaningless and obnoxious.
So when you first started was it always your intention to one day make a film?
Eric: Yeah well we met at film school, and we both wanted to make movies and we met and started making short films and out of those short films we had a cartoon and sketch show so I think film making was something that was always a goal.
Is it much more of a challenge writing a full, feature-length movie as opposed to a 20 minute sketch show?
Tim: Well we gave ourselves a lot of time, we had a lot of time to figure it out and we had some rules that we established early on to make sure there was a story and certain things were gonna happen and then it was just trying to write as many jokes and fit all the different ideas we wanted to do in the movie and make them work together. So it was hard, but not impossible.
When you first met did you think straight away this would be the beginning of a blossoming relationship?
Eric: We were in school and would hang out and do funny videos and silly songs and goof around really and it wasn’t until we started showing our friends these little videos and they were like, this is pretty good. So at that point we were given the inspiration to take it more seriously.
The film was made on a relatively low-budget, what sort of challenges were posed to you as film makers as a result?
Tim: I think the biggest challenge is time, you have a very limited amount of time to make the movie on, so every day is packed with shooting and if something goes wrong it could create an avalanche of problems down the line so we wanted the movie to look as good as we could make it look and for it to be cinematic as possible, so it didn’t give us much time to goof around as much as we do on the show, which had a much looser schedule. There are a few stunts and things like that that if you had another $3 million could immediately become much bigger and better. But it’s fine, we’re used to working with a small amount of money, so it could be worse.
Of course you directed the film together, but were there any thoughts of bringing someone in to direct the movie?
Eric: It was always our intentions to direct it, but it was challenging when Tim and I were both on screen so we had one of our guys on crew who was our technical director to make sure we were in frame, so it was challenging.
There are some big-name cameo roles in the film, with the likes of John C. Reilly, Will Ferrell and Jeff Goldblum – how did you get all of those together, and were they keen from the start?
Tim: They’ve all been on our show, and Will Ferrell produced the movie and we’ve made TV shows with John C, and it was very important they were in the movie for us, and they were on board from the beginning. But we make it as easy as possible for people like that, you know, not keep them around too long. Not take up too much of their life.
Was there anyone else that you tried to get?
Tim: Besides the real Johnny Depp, no.
You approached the real Johnny Depp?
Tim: Yeah we went out for the biggest A-list star. We had this conversation about it and we realised there were only a couple of stars who would have worked in our opening scene, you know it wouldn’t have been funny it was Bruce Willis, not exciting because you’ve seen Bruce make fun of himself before. So we had Brad Pitt and Harrison Ford in mind, but they weren’t available. So then we improvised with this idea of getting an impersonator, which although a change of idea, we thought was funnier.
Robert Loggia is on board as well, that must have been brilliant to be working alongside such an inspirational actor?
Eric: Yeah he was the kind of guy we needed. We needed a Robert Loggia kind of guy, so luckily we got the Robert Loggia. He knew what to do, we told him to be really menacing and over-the-top and he was like, okay – got it. It was really fun.
When you first started out did you ever envisage one day you’d be making a film alongside the likes of Loggia and Goldblum?
Tim: Yes. No, no we’ve had big names on our show, such as Loggia and Goldbum, so we’ve become comfortable just working with people that we grew up idolising, it just became a normal thing. We’ve barely had any bad encounters with anyone, everyone has been always been really nice and down-to-earth and it’s very natural. It’s fun. We’re lucky.
When you make a quite controversial movie, that is close to the edge in many respects, there are going to be people that simply don’t get it – and there have been people walking out at festivals. What is your reaction to that?
Tim: On a very basic level it doesn’t feel very good because you want people to like your work and you’d prefer for everyone to enjoy it. But we also have a realistic understanding that since we’ve been doing stuff there has been a significant group of people who really get emotionally affected by our work, it drives them nuts, they hate it. That’s just part of what we do. I think some people have the impression we intentionally are driving people away, or we’re trying make people hate our movie, but we don’t make it with those intentions. We make it to make ourselves laugh and our friends laugh.
For any negative comments you may get, there will be a positive one as you have a very loyal fan base, which you must be really thankful for?
Eric: Yeah super thankful. I think the fact that our work is polarising and some people are on either side, makes our fans even more loyal as they think, this is our thing. Like they’re in a club that other people don’t get.
So what’s been the general reaction to this movie in the states?
Tim: It’s been mixed, our fans seem to love it and a lot of people who weren’t aware of us now love it, always two or three times a day we get a message from someone saying how much they loved the movie and how hilarious it was. But then there’s the whole other side – critics and people who can’t stand it for whatever reason. They’re just missing it. I would love to watch it from their perspective and see what the experience is like, it must be just so frustrating. I think it’s going to be one of those movies that will be around for a long time and people will keeping finding. I mean when Spinal Tap came out it nobody saw it, it just came and went but now it’s become a big movie.
It’s a bit of a cliché, but do you think in a sense any publicity is good publicity?
Eric: Yeah definitely. At Sundance there were a lot of reports of people walking out, that’s what everyone was talking about and that would make me wanna see something. If I heard people were so offended I’d wanna check that out.
Tim: How could you be offended by anything any more? How could you be offended by a movie? It seems insane to me in this day and age.
When writing this was there anything you were cautious about putting in?
Eric: We just did what we wanted to do and thought we’d deal with later. I mean there are certain things that we legally couldn’t do, but we tried to push the boundaries on this one, what with the penis piercing, we didn’t think that would get through but it did.
In a film as light-hearted as this, was it difficult to get in a directing frame of mine and switch between being silly and serious?
Tim: I think that’s actually the easiest part, the hardest is the comedy. It’s difficult when you need to be funny and spontaneously be amusing.
So what’s the one thing you’d like for audiences to take out of this movie?
Tim: Just that they enjoyed it, and laughed at some of it. And told a friend, recommended it. I mean there’s no learning in this movie, nothing to get out of it intellectually.
Eric: The basic nature of what we do is to make people laugh, we’re not out there to show you this new thing that’s going to make people laugh. It is different but really just want people to have a good time, enjoy it with their friends and family.
Was there a particular moment in the film you both most enjoyed filming, or writing?
Eric: My favourite scene was when we’re in the hotel room and taking of our teeth and our earring, and we just start bathing each other. I couldn’t believe we were doing it, but I loved the fact it would be in the movie.
What are the dynamics in the writing process? Do you always write a pair, or individually and bring it together?
Eric: We start together, just getting the big ideas out and we’ll each take a little chapter and go off and write and send it to together and makes notes and just see what works.
Tim: The movie was a big thing to take on, so we broke it up into acts and just tried to take little bits of time. For the show you write a sketch and it goes in with other sketches, but for this we had to come up with a plan. Very interesting actually.
Were there ever any thoughts on playing fictional characters – or were you always going to play yourselves?
Tim: That was a discussion about our first movie, whether it would be Tim and Eric or if we’d write characters, because we play characters in our show all the time so it wouldn’t be that strange. But we felt that it was stronger to have these characters as Tim and Eric and be the anchor for the rest of the movie. I think that could be an idea for a future film.
How similar are you both to the Tim and Eric we see on screen?
Eric: Hopefully not a lot. These characters that we’ve developed over the years in our TV show, these guys who are just dummies, always trying tor reinvent themselves in some way, the dumbest way possible.
Tim: Like the Three Stooges or any other idiots who are often nasty and do terrible things but you somehow root for them.
So what’s coming up for you guys next? Another movie perhaps?
Tim: We’ve got a couple shows in development back in Adult Swim where we did our other TV show, so we’re gonna make more TV shows because they’re fun. We’ve got an idea for the next movie and we’re trying to figure out how that’s gonna be made. So yeah, keep making stuff.