Hot Tub Time Machine Director Steve Pink

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Essentially a lather-rinse-repeat riff on the first Hot Tub Time Machine that swaps in Adam Scott for John Cusack and mocks the near future instead of the recent past, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 was, it turns out, far harder to make than you’d think; talking with returning director Steve Pink, we discussed everything from the difficulty of special-effects comedy to the creation of a future dumb enough

to be believable. Part 2 of this interview will run tomorrow. 

About: I’d like to start with the  biggest question I was thinking about during the film …

Steve Pink: (Laughs) … Which is ‘Why am I sitting here?’

No, no, no; that’s not the biggest one.

(Laughs) Awesome.

No, it’s that … we’re all culturally conditioned to think of comedy as being from the stand-up tradition, or the improv tradition, the court jester idea that it’s just this thing that happens. But there’s so much effects stuff in this film — and more importantly, intrinsic to the comedy whether as set-up or pay-off or the actual joke itself. Is it harder shooting a special-effects comedy because it puts delay-fuses on a lot of the punchlines while you’re making it?

Yes, you nailed it. I think there’s over 250 visual effects shot in the movie, and for both in the  first Hot  Tub Time Machine and the second one, It occurred to me when I was deeply involved, when I was deeply in directing it, how much of a potential burden

it was. It was “Wait, we have all this time-travel logic and this ridiculous science …” — which really means nothing to people, or rather it doesn’t mean nothing to people, but all of it has to support the comedy — “… but sometimes, it’s getting in the way, so how do we make it enjoyable?” It’s a formidable challenge, so how do we make an enjoyable part of the tone of the movie and the comedy and support the comedy? So yes, it was a challenge, sometimes. And sometimes, I think, it pays off with incredible success, and sometimes it doesn’t pay off in laughs as much as I would like, but I would then say it pays off in entertainment, which gives it another quality that sometimes comedies don’t have, you know? Because of the crazy science fiction element, I think it gives you a small avenue of entertainment, a small flourish of entertainment that isn’t strictly comedy but is fun.

But is it tough, as a director, to yell “Cut! Okay, special effects department, finish it up and we’ll all be laughing 6 to 8 months from now? “

(Laughs) Yeah, well, some of them were. I think you have a sense of which ones did deliver laughs and which ones didn’t and that was a challenge. I was more kind of philosophical about it; I  never thought “Oh, this will definitely be funny in 8 months.” I thought “Well, maybe this will be funny …?”  One of the interesting things about the special effects houses on the first and second Hot Tub Time Machine was they’re not used to doing effects for laughs. So we would get great effects. And we would say “These effects are great, and they seem real and they seem grounded and the effects are strong enough to feel like they’re part of that world, but they’re not funny.

 You get this beautiful column of CGI water coming up from the time machine and you think “Oh, that has to be a little sploosh-ier and a little funnier …”

Yeah, exactly, and they’re like “How do you make a funny effect? How do you make that funnier? When Jake, Clark Duke’s character, is doing the gag of drawing the timeline (in the air, via special effects), that turned out to be more entertaining than funny, per se, but it helped give a graphic understanding of what was going on, and I filled that scene with the jokes of Rob Corddry and Craig Robinson’s character not caring at all. Actually, the funny is that they don’t care about this incredibly — they don’t even make jokes about the technology itself.

The highest-brow lowest-brow joke in the film is its invention of what it calls ‘The dPad.’

(Laughs) Yeah, that is the highest low-brow joke ever. Or the lowest, reverse-order. That’s a perfect example, because all we had was a plastic square with a hole in it.  A clear whatever that was the size of an iPad, with a hole in it. We were like “What is it? is it … what does it look like, what’s the lights like …” I kept thinking “I would never put my special, special manliness in there!”We actually called in futuristic sex toy designers because we were wondering: What would be actually appealing about the dPad? Aside from nothing?

I also noticed a slightly melancholy tone to the film; they can repair almost anything with the hot tub time machine, but their lives don’t really start to improve until they actually repent. Is that the theme? You can fix things with a time machine, but you have to start by repairing yourself?

Yeah. Whether you love or hate the movie, sir, you certainly understand it. I’m gonna start using your quote, because that was exactly what we were going for, 100 percent. We asked “What is the theme?”  The first Hot Tub Time Machine was a mid-life crisis movie, a do-over movie; this one, the theme is “Be careful what you wish for.” They exploited the time machine for personal gain … and it hasn’t made them any happier. And of course, that’s the rub: Figuring out how to make themselves happy will absolutely be independent from the hot tub time machine. It’s certainly proven by all the ridiculous and terrible circumstances they put themselves in; it’s clearly not helping. It’s clearly making things worse. Which forces them to acknowledge it’s not this special power that’s going to do it for them.