Frank Coraci made his directorial bow with little known 1995 thriller Murdered Innocence, but his true calling proved to be comedy. In 1998 he collaborated with Adam Sandler on mid-80s flashback The Wedding Singer and, soon after, The Waterboy. Both films scored big at the box office, and yet it took over five years for Coraci to get around to making his next film, Around The World In 80 Days, which stars Jackie Chan and Steve Coogan. Here, he talks about the pitfalls of the Hollywood studio system, stalking Jim Jarmusch, and his double life as a DJ...
Why did you become a director?
I always knew I had some sort of creative bone in me and so I went New York City. I was from a small town and I just went to NYU because I thought: There's got to be something cool to do there. The idea of making films... I never thought you could actually do that, and when I got there I was like, "Wow, you can make films!?" While I was at NYU I took a film class and saw It's A Wonderful Life. I was 18 and it blew me away emotionally; I just thought, What an amazing, powerful film. I remember the teacher saying, "If anyone wants to stick around and go through the movie and look at some of the decisions the director made..." And I thought, "Somebody made decisions!?" [Laughs.] This teacher went through the movie with a little flashlight and I couldn't fathom how all those little decisions added up to feeling this emotion. I was like, "I need to fully grasp and understand this," and from that point on I was obsessed. I had to make films.
If you weren't a filmmaker, what what you be?
I would be a DJ, professionally. I do it for fun but there's something about film where it's so premeditated. I can't play any instruments that well but I love entertaining a room, so there's something about the live aspect of deejaying that would be fun.
What other director would you like to see at work?
Martin Scorsese. He's definitely one of my favourites. He basically tells a story with film differently, and everyone tries to copy him. I think it has a lot to do with... For me, everything backs up from the editing room. He just puts images together in a way that when I'm sitting there studying his films, I'll go, "That's a weird jump cut!" I've seen jump cuts before but for some reason, his just work in telling the story. He gets this kinetic energy that no one else really gets.
What was the last movie that you paid to see?
I'll have to think for a second. Wait... I can't believe I can't remember. ****! Oh, it was Coffee And Cigarettes. Steve Coogan is great in that, and I'm a big fan of Jim Jarmusch. I used to live in the East Village and he was always around, and I'd be like, "It's Jim Jarmusch the cool filmmaker!"
What was the last movie you walked out of?
This is a dangerous question! It was a while ago because I always try to see a movie all the way to the end. I do remember now, but do I really have to answer? OK, I'll tell you but I rarely walk out of movies because I'm one of those people who tries to give it a chance - it was Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead. It just felt like a movie that was trying to be an edgy independent film, and it used all these devices I'd seen before, and I just got bored and sleepy. I tried to go to the end, but I started falling asleep so I had to walk out.
Do you believe in God?
I believe in some entity that got us all here. If you want to call that God, then fine, but I think we should not think of Him necessarily in our own image but as an energy or entity that started it all.
Who's the most famous person in your contacts book?
The most famous person in my contacts book is... I guess it would be Arnold Schwarzenegger.
What's your favourite movie quote?
"There it is!" From Amadeus.
Who's the biggest pain in the arse you've ever worked with?
I would say the studio system [laughs]. Just in general the studio system lends itself to a lot of people who don't have that much invested in the movie but have strong opinions, and they go home at night and they don't care about the movie. And as a director, it's your life. Sometimes the system gives power to people who don't have as much invested. They're into the movie business insofar as it's their job, but at night they go home and the majority of them don't love films. They probably haven't seen films before the 70s or 80s, you know?
Do you believe in test screenings?
I think they can really work to your benefit but they can also really work against you. Yeah, I would say I believe in them, but you have to be able to use them in the right way - because they'll ask people questions like "Who was your least favourite character?" And people will always say "The villain". And if you're stupid enough to go, "Oh, we have to make the villain nicer"...
What I find really helpful is, I have screenings for people that I know, where I actually talk to people and say: "At this part of the movie were you thinking this, or this?" - and have everybody raising their hands. The more personal they get, the more beneficial they are - it's what we call a Friends And Family. You can really get into the heads of people, which is what you're really trying to do in a movie. You're trying to get people to be, emotionally and intellectually, where you want them to be. If you can get that information before your final cut, it's a very helpful tool.
Which filmmaker do you consider the most underrated?
He's my favourite and I never see him on any favourites list, so I'm going to say George Roy Hill - who did The World According To Garp and Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid. Garp is my favourite movie, by the way.
And which filmmaker do you consider the most overrated?
The most overrated filmmaker? [Says very quickly] Michael Bay.
What's the dumbest question you've ever been asked?
What filmmaker do you like the least? [laughs] Oh no, wait a minute, it was "Who's the most overrated filmmaker?" Sorry [laughs].
What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?
My dad said to me at one point: "You don't fail until you stop trying."
And the worst?
"Quit while you're ahead!" [Laughs] I try not to remember the person who told me that.
How seriously do you take reviews?
Honestly, I never try to make movies for reviewers. I just try to make a movie where I'm honestly telling a story that I want to tell. But you can't help looking at reviews. I usually read the really good ones. And if they're not good? Well, there are two kinds of bad reviews - one where you go "Ooh, they're right." And the other where you go, "Jeez, they're just attacking me, or the movie, or some actor in the movie." It's easy to dismiss those. I think there's something to be learned from reviews, but you can't live and die by them.
Which performer would you love to work with?
I've been really lucky and gotten to work with a lot of great people. Brad Pitt would be a really great actor to work with, because I think everything he chooses, he chooses for the right reasons - which is not always the case. Also, he's able to transform - he's able to shed his ego when he plays a role. He's somebody I would just love to do a movie with.
What's your biggest regret?
That I chose not to be a rock star. [Laughs]
There are five minutes left till the end of the world - what do you do?
Get as many of my friends together and have a big party - well, a five-minute one.
What film makes you want to spit?
I don't know if this counts, but I would say any of those political campaigning videos. I say that because I feel movies are supposed to tell a story that's based in some sort of reality, but the way these politicians in the States use these films to promote themselves just seems wrong - they're basically creating a fake world. I think they should just speak, and not be trying to portray this fake image of themselves.
What are your three favourite films and why?
Oh, that's easy. The World According To Garp, because it's a movie that embraces life and it's not afraid to get really, really dark. And, at the same time, it's not afraid to be uplifting. It's really tragic and beautiful, kind of like the way life is. It's not afraid to go to all those places, and it has a sense of humour while doing it. That's one.
Two, I think [Terry Gilliam's] Brazil, because no other movie better created its own reality, its own world, and I think that's the magic of what you can do on film. It's a world that you just wanted to be in and was fascinating, and it was still able to say something.
A third, I would say The Graduate, because it felt like such a personal story that captured how you really feel at the time when you're graduating. Even the imagery that supported it - you know, when he's just floating across the water? No movie has captured a moment in a person's life so well, and again it was such a visual movie. And it just resonates. I mean, the last image of that movie stays with you because he finally gets the girl he thinks he wants but it leaves you with an uneasy feeling. There's something very truthful about that movie.
What do you think of Norman Wisdom?
Norman Wisdom? I, uh... I've never heard of him. Is that bad?