‘Billion Dollar’ Idea Prompts Comedians Tim and Eric

Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim in "Tim and EricÕs Billion Dollar Movie." ©MAGNET RELEASING.


Front Row Features

HOLLYWOOD—Fans of the sketch comedy show “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!” will be glad to know they can catch the irreverent comedy team on the big screen in “Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie.”  Comedians Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim are graduates of Temple University’s film school, who have been making audiences laugh since 2004, with an animated series on Adult Swim (which shares channel space with Cartoon Network). They launched the “Awesome” series on the same network three years later, which featured big name guest appearances including Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly and Zach Galifianakis, among others.

The goal was always to make a feature film, reports Wareheim, so after 50 episodes they wrapped the TV show to focus on making their first feature film, which they co-wrote, co-directed and star in.

They play two screw-ups who are given a billion dollars to make a movie but squander most of it and wind up in hot water with its financier—a mobster played with gusto by veteran actor Robert Loggia. Desperate to return the money or face certain retribution, they head out to a decrepit mall, whose owner (Ferrell) promises to give them the full amount if they need if they can turn place around. The mall is full of vagrants, bizarre stores and a man-eating wolf that stalks the food court, but Tim and Eric are determined that with the right public relations campaign they can revive it. Heidecker and Wareheim are joined by several of their colleagues from the TV show, including Ferrell, Reilly and Galifianakis. The R-rated comedy is full of potty humor as Tim and Eric’s fans have come to expect. They did, however, keep their responses fairly clean during an interview about making their film.

Front Row Features: How did you get Robert Loggia and some of the other actors better known for their dramatic chops to do this movie?

Tim Heidecker: We had worked with a lot of them before so our name may have rung a bell when we called. We had a dream list of people whom we wanted to play certain roles, and he was one of the ones at the top of the list.

Eric Wareheim: We told our producers we wanted a Robert Loggia-type villain; someone who could deliver that kind of performance we’ve seen in David Lynch’s work.  When they told us we could get Robert Loggia, we were thrilled.

Heidecker: Comedy, to us, isn’t just about being funny. It’s about being committed to the situation, to the scene or the idea, and that often requires you not to play it hammy, not clowning around. You have to create a real environment.

Wareheim: Even the comedic actors, like Will Forte, John C. Reilly and Will Ferrell, have to get to that intense level, whether they’re delivering a comedic performance.

Front Row Features: Was it challenging to direct yourselves?

Wareheim: It was definitely challenging. It was our first feature and we’re on camera 90 percent of the time. With our TV show, it was more spread out. We had a lot of other sketches where we could sit back and watch. But with the movie, we had to trust our team of people we have worked with for seven years to know when we got the right takes and know the funny parts.

Heidecker: We got everybody we wanted to for the cast. When you get Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, you don’t need to do a lot of work directing.

Front Row Features: What did you learn from making your first feature?

Wareheim: I learned I don’t like 18-hour days.

Heidecker: I learned we could do it. We managed to set a goal and achieve it and it gives you confidence to do more things like this.

Front Row Features: What plans for the DVD release? Are there a lot of outtakes?

Wareheim: No. We had a very short schedule. So we used a lot of the meat from the bone, so to speak. There wasn’t a lot thrown away. It’s all there on the screen.

Front Row Features: How did you find your mall location?

Wareheim: It was tough. We scouted a lot of closed malls. Some were health hazards. The black mold level was so high we couldn’t work in them.  We found one out in Palm Springs.

Heidecker: We were looking for a place where we could shoot for two weeks, so we had to bring it up to (government required health) standards.

Front Row Features: Where does your love of comedy come from?

Heidecker: The world we live in has become so absurd and there’s so much silliness about being adults, it’s easy to find. The rules we’ve created as a society we find fascinating and stupid. It needs to be satirized as much as possible.

Front Row Features: Will the TV show come back in some form?

Wareheim: We made 50 episodes and loved every one of them. We had to stop to make the movie. We’ll still keep a relationship with Adult Swim and possibly do some kind of spinoff or special. But we like what we made and we don’t want to tarnish that.

Front Row Features: Whom do you consider your comic influences?

Heidecker: Christopher Guest.

Wareheim: “Mr. Show with Bob and Dave,” “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” Woody Allen—mainly his writings, they were so silly,  “Saturday Night Live,” Phil Hartman, “The Simpsons” (and) Conan O’Brien.

Front Row Features: Did you show this film to a focus group before the final cut?

Heidecker:  We didn’t focus group it. We had a few screenings for the crew and our friends and some comics we respect. After the movie we talked about what worked and what didn’t. There was a 2-1/2 hour cut at the beginning, and you can sort of tell in the room if a bit is going on for too long. There’s not a lot we can do with a small movie like this. It’s not like we’re going to reshoot anything. It was validating and helpful in terms of cutting.

Wareheim: We had an experience unlike most people in Hollywood. Our producers pretty much gave us money to write the script and told us to go for it. It’s low budget enough that it was pretty low risk for them. We just had to put Will Ferrell’s name on it and it’ll make money. We just went with our gut instincts.

Front Row Features:  How do you divvy up the work?

Wareheim: Usually our creative instincts are on the same page.

Heidecker: Someone told us that if one of us disagrees with something it’s probably not a good idea, or it probably needs work. We know it’s more important to have a good relationship in the long term than to live for some stupid poop joke that isn’t that important.

Front Row Features: Is John C. Reilly’s Taquito character based on somebody you know?

Heidecker: No. It’s based on that archetype that whenever you see somebody cough in a movie, it means they’re going to die. So he’s the character, who from the beginning, you know is doomed. It’s sort of a joke about bad writing.

Front Row Features: How do you top the “shrim” bit?

Heidecker: That’s the ultimate. We’re retiring from poop jokes.

Wareheim: There are other bodily fluids, fortunately. We have to go away and explore that.

Front Row Features: Did you experience anything as filmmakers that mirrored what happened to your characters in the movie?

Heidecker: Yes. Our producers came to us many times saying, ‘can you lose 25 pages (of the script)?” or ‘can you rethink the idea of the mall?’ There were a lot of challenges making the movie with the budget we had. Believe it or not, there’s a responsible side to our team.

Front Row Features: Would you two ever like to make a more mainstream comedy?

Heidecker: It depends on what you’re compromising. It doesn’t make sense to make a $100 million movie anymore. There are too many headaches involved and you have to compromise and listen to too many bad ideas. We’re happy at the level we’re at. We’re growing at a reasonable level. We’re like a conservative mutual fund—steady growth over time yield gains.

Front Row Features: What’s next for you?

Heidecker:  We did a dramatic movie over the summer, which will be at SXSW called “The Comedy.” It was in competition in Sundance and directed by Rick Alverson. It’s a story of aging Williamsburg trust fund hipster delinquents who are at an emotional crossroads in their life. They’re just bad people.

Wareheim: It’s a messed up movie. I was in it, but I’ was blown away by it. It really moves you.