Getting Direct With Directors...
David Zucker, right, with Leslie Nielsen and Charlie Sheen
No.11: David Zucker

David Zucker is best known as a third of the writing/directing trio behind Airplane! (1980). Further spoofs followed in the shape of Top Secret! (1984) and two Naked Gun movies. Now he's spoofing the horror genre with Scary Movie 3. He tells you what Tom Hanks would say if he met him, and what Val Kilmer's really like...

Why did you become a director?

I think it was out of self-defence, because we wanted to get what we [Zucker, brother Jerry, and Jim Abrahams] wrote up on the screen. The first movie we wrote was Kentucky Fried Movie [1977]. John Landis directed it and did a great job. But we wanted to be more specific about what we wanted and how we wanted to realise that on screen.

If you weren't a filmmaker, what what you be?

I think I would be in real estate development. I think I would be remodelling office buildings or apartment buildings with my brother. Actually my brother may have been a school teacher but, yeah, we've always been interested in construction.

What other director would you like to see at work?

You know, I wouldn't really like to see any other director at work, because filmmaking is so boring to me! We're producing a movie now, 'The Onion' Movie, and it's very difficult for me to be on the set. If I'm not right in the trenches, it's very difficult for me to watch another director, because I'm not involved and it's not exciting.

Finding Nemo, seen in The Salton Sea - not a pain in the ass, honest!

What was the last movie that you paid to see?

Jeez... I can't remember. I don't go to see movies that much. Can you name some movies that were out recently? It was a long time ago... You know what, it was Finding Nemo, which I enjoyed very much.

What was the last movie you walked out of?

Leaving Las Vegas, I couldn't last through that. Oh, oh, no, it was the second Charlie's Angels movie, Full Throttle. Just horrible!

Do you believe in God?

Oh yeah, I believe in God. I think there's much more evidence that there is a God than that there isn't. I don't believe that Mother Theresa and Hitler go to the same place. I believe in justice, maybe not in this life, but there has to be justice. And if there isn't a God, I think it would be very depressing. I'd prefer to believe there is.

Who's the most famous person in your contacts book?

[Takes well-worn contacts book out of back pocket and starts leafing through it] Let's see... Maybe Leslie Nielsen? Charlie Sheen? They are the people that I know. Mel Gibson... isn't in it. I think Leslie, he's been in my book for a long time. I don't really know a lot of famous people. I've met a lot of famous people. If I ran into Tom Hanks today, I would have to remind him who I was and he would then remember me [laughs]. But he wouldn't come up to me and say, "Hi Dave!"

What's your favourite movie quote?

Probably from Groucho [Marx in Animal Crackers - we think! Feel free to correct us]: "One nickel carefully used would last a family a lifetime."

Which filmmaker do you consider the most underrated?

I don't know, is Tim Burton underrated? I loved Big Fish, loved that movie, think it's the best movie of the year, hands down. Really impressed with that.

Which filmmaker do you consider the most overrated?

Most overrated? Oh, who's the guy who did... one of the Barrys. [Prompted with various surnames] Yeah, him. But I don't want to say that, it seems mean.

Val Kilmer

Who's the biggest pain in the arse you've ever worked with?

Val Kilmer was difficult, but I don't think of him as being a big pain. He was difficult, but it was his first movie [Top Secret!].

What's the dumbest question you've ever been asked?

Oh, "Why did you leave Milwaukee?" I said, "By 1972, film production had pretty much dried up in Wisconsin!"

Do you believe in test screenings?

Oh yes, definitely, they're very helpful. Every single movie I've ever done, we had at least three test screenings. It just helps you cut for the pace in a comedy. I lose tons of stuff on the cutting room floor. For Scary Movie 3, for example, we had a lot of Matrix spoofs, a Hulk scene, and some of that stuff just doesn't hold up - it's too much plot, audiences just didn't want to hear about it. We did reshoots to correct some of the mistakes, but we've always done that.

How seriously do you take reviews?

Not very seriously, but in their totality I think they are representative of how the audience feels, and of what their reaction is. There's always one guy who doesn't get it. Most of the reviews for Scary Movie 3 were very positive, but there's occasionally one or two people who think it's just not funny. It's useless to try and make rhyme or reason of it, because one guy thinks one thing and the other guy sees a whole other thing. So I try not to take them too seriously. Lately I have them screened so I only read the positive ones.

What's your biggest regret?

Possibly dating a few of my ex-girlfriends, that's all. My life has turned out pretty well, fortunately, and so I don't have too many big regrets. Maybe some wasted time and investments I made that didn't pan out, but nothing very serious.

There are five minutes left till the end of the world - what do you do?

Oh Jeez... I would watch Midway [1976] one more time to try to figure out which planes attack which carriers, and which Japanese admiral made the mistake of loading the torpedoes onto the fighters when he should have loaded bombs!

What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?

From my dad, who said "Rome wasn't built in a day" when we first moved to Los Angeles from Wisconsin.

And the worst?

Invest in a shopping centre in Georgia. That was bad advice.

Which performer would you love to work with?

Adam Sandler. Because then all I'd have to do is just turn the camera on and off. Adam Sandler is a genius performer who writes his own movies and is almost failure-proof. There's something about Adam Sandler that's magical. The rest of us have to work hard.

What film makes you want to spit?

In disgust? Charlie's Angels!

Annie Hall

What are your three favourite films and why?

Besides Midway [starring Charlton Heston and Henry Fonda], I think the two Godfathers [parts One and Two] because there's so much life advice there - there's many situations where I think back to the Godfather movies. As far as comedies go, Duck Soup and A Night At The Opera. Or Woody Allen's Annie Hall or Bananas. Woody Allen has done some excellent serious movies, too, like Crimes And Misdemeanors. Very overlooked movie, I think, and really his best. And currently I like Big Fish!

And finally, what do you think of Norman Wisdom?

Norman Wisdom? Is that like the Norman Conquests? Or a guy? [Informed that it's a British comedian] Oh... I thought you meant the Normans, as a group of people, if they had handed down any wisdom. Norman Wisdom? I think we should all follow it, although it was probably more relevant in the 11th century!

Scary Movie 3 is released in UK cinemas on Friday 23rd January 2004.

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