An epic discussion with Rob Reiner about 'Flipped,' 'Princess Bride,' Misery' and more
Every now and then, you ask for an interview and things come together just right.
I saw Rob Reiner's new film "Flipped" a few months ago, and I was charmed by it immediately. At that point, I started asking Warner Bros. to put me together with Reiner for a long-form interview like the one I conducted last year with Terry Gilliam at Comic-Con.
That may sound like an easy request, but these days, it's really not. You're typically given ten or fifteen minutes, and since they're typically interested in talking about the new movie or TV show or book or whatever, and since you've got publicists hovering nearby to suggest that you keep the conversation somewhat on-topic, you rarely get a chance to just relax and discuss the full body of someone's work.
In this case, I couldn't imagine doing this interview with the typical restrictions in place. I've met Reiner once or twice in passing over the years, but I've never really been able to talk to him at length. I'm not sure how many more opportunities I'll ever have to do this sort of comprehensive interview with him, especially timed to a film I like as much as "Flipped."
So when I got the call, I dropped everything I had planned for last Friday and I got up early so I could drive out to Reiner's Malibu home by 10:30. I met his wife and sister-in-law on their way out the door, then sat down with Mr. Reiner, the sound of the surf breaking on the shore a few yards away like a constant drumbeat during our entire conversation:
Drew: Longer form interviews seem to almost be like a dying thing. It seems everything is those five-minute sound bytes.
Rob: Longer form anything is a dying thing.
Drew: Yes, but there are certain filmmakers that when a film comes around and I really respond to it, I love to try to take that opportunity, so I started pressing Warner when I saw this about three months ago. And really saying please, this would be a great time.
Rob: Oh, thanks.
Drew: I just saw the new "Social Network" trailer this morning. Are you at all surprised that Aaron Sorkin is Aaron Sorkin at this point? That he has really become the powerhouse he is?
Rob: Well, I didn’t see it. What was it?
Drew: It’s the new film that he’s written that…
Rob: Oh, "The Social Network." Yeah, I saw the trailer, too. Yeah.
Drew: It's amazing.
Rob: It’s a great story though.
Drew: His voice is so great these days and when you look at Sorkin’s career, I mean you were one of the guys that helped him break into film and….
Rob: Yeah. He’s a brilliant writer. He’s an absolutely brilliant writer. He’s more fascile with words than probably any writer working today.
Drew: Those early pieces of material like "A Few Good Men"... did you know he was a bigger voice than just that one project?
Rob: Yes. It was powerful. It was a great story. And aside from being a really great look at the military and a great courtroom drama, it also had this wonderful personal story in the middle of it of this young lawyer who had only had kind of only plea bargained cases and never really tested himself and was operating in the shadow of a famous father who was a lawyer and that’s what I kind of connected with. So I was struck by how Aaron could, you know, marry those ideas. Not just make it a great courtroom drama but also have this great personal story that was going on as well. And those things come together when he has to put Jessup on the stand. He has to test himself in the most, you know, visible kind of way. So that’s what got me on that. And we were actually looking for a writer to work on a project that we had called "Malice" which was a thriller.
Drew: Right. It has that great "I am God" speech.
Rob: Yeah, with Alec Baldwin. So the play was sent to us as a writing sample.
Drew: Oh, so it wasn’t like an immediate, like, "This is what we want you to do and"…
Rob: No, no. It was sent to us as a writing sample because somebody else had the rights to the play. I think Tri-Star at the time had the rights to the play and they weren't doing anything with it. And so I went to New York and saw the play and I said, "Wow, this is incredible." So we asked them if we could buy the rights from them and they agreed and then we started developing it.
Drew: I still remember the first trailer for that when it hit because the score you had on that trailer just said, "This is it, this is the big Christmas movie. You guys better be here. We got Nicholson. We got Cruise. What are you waiting for?"
Rob: But you know something? It’s so funny that when you look back at that because that I think came out in ’92 , I think. And when you look back at that, you can’t make movies like that now. Nobody wants to make an adult themed dramatic movie with movie stars. They’re either relegated to independent, small... you know, features under $20 million. Under $15 million really.
Drew: Yeah, at this point.
Rob: At this point. You know, it’s like "The Kids Are All Right" or any of those kinds of films... nobody’s willing to make it. I mean, I felt very lucky because I had an ally in Allan Horn to be able to make "The Bucket List," because that’s a movie that nobody would make, you know? Even though we had Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson, nobody was interested in that movie because it’s, again, it’s an adult movie. Older guys dying of cancer and, you know, who’s going to say "Give me $45 million for that"? And this is a middle-priced movie. I mean it’s not an expensive movie, you know, by studio standards.
Drew: Well, your movies have been big in terms on the impact on culture and in terms of the ripple effect that they’ve had, but 'Spinal Tap' isn’t a movie that cost a ton of money. It’s just a movie with an insane tail on it that lasts and lasts.
Rob: Yeah. "This Is Spinal Tap" was just a couple million bucks. I mean, you know, I don’t make movies that cost a lot of money, but like I say these middle kind of adult dramas, these middle price adult dramas, they don’t make them anymore. And so you think about something like "A Few Good Men" and it would be very hard to get it made now.
Drew: Have you shot digital at all? Because "Flipped" was shot on film, correct?
Rob: I haven’t shot digital but I certainly will. I mean, at a certain point, I think everything’s going to be digital. I will shoot digital when it can be projected in digital every single time. There’s not enough theatres that are, you know, equipped to handle those kinds of things, but I do think the look of digital can be really great.
Drew: I wonder if that’s when we’ll see adult dramas able to make a resurgence because costs will drop again, and it will be a completely different scale? At that point, a $4 million film becomes an almost risk free endeavor.
Rob: Yes. Well, hopefully. I mean, what you have is not even just the cost of making a film. The marketing costs are insane now. So even if you’ve got a picture like "Flipped" which cost under $14 million, or $13.5 million, you’re still going to spend on an national basis, if you release with a good national release, you’re still going to spend, you know, $30-$40 million. And so you’ve still got a big investment and people don’t want to spend. They want to kind of be assured that there’s going to be some kind of return, whether it’s going to be a tent pole movie or a franchise picture or you know something that came out of Comic-Con or a superhero kind of thing. That’s the kind of stuff they want to do now. You can still take a bath with those things, too.
Drew: Of course, and on a completely different scale.
Rob: I’ll be interested to see what happens with "The Green Hornet" because it looks... I mean, you’ve got Seth Rogen...
Drew: The longer reel at Comic-Con was really promising and interesting.
Rob: I liked the trailer. I thought the trailer was pretty good, but let’s see what happens with it. If that does well, then, you know...
Drew: That’s a hard movie because I don’t know that kids know what a Green Hornet is.
Drew: You know, there’s no real name-brand recognition. But you’ve got the Kato masks, you’ve got Quentin Tarantino a couple of years ago appropriating the theme for "Kill Bill," and the masks as well, so the music is out there and cool in its own right...
Rob: Because we know "Batman" does well. We know "Spider-Man". We know "Superman". I mean, those are all great characters and of course there's "Iron Man".
(Reiner's got killer timing, and this was one of those perfect beats as he sort of followed his own train of thought before punctuating it with...)
Rob: Anything ending with a "man". You know, maybe they should call it "Green Hornet Man." They’d be better off.
Drew: One of the things that seems to be true about the writers you’re attracted to and the voices that interest you as a storyteller is they are really particular strong personal voices. Whether it’s William Goldman or Stephen King or Aaron Sorkin…
Rob: Or Nora Ephron.
Drew: Or Nora Ephron, of course. And then you talked about briefly when we spoke at the press day about reading the novel Flipped for the first time and how it was about voice. And I love the perspective in the film. I loved the use of perspective. The trailers really can’t get into it because it’s a hard thing to explain in 30 seconds.
Rob: [laughs] Well, it’s impossible. It’s impossible. We tried to make a trailer that flipped back and forth but it takes too long to present a point of view and then represent that point of view from another point of view. Takes too long to do that, so we had a tough time in the trailer. And it was a little risky from a lot of peoples' standpoints to do it for a whole film. When I read the book, it not only didn’t it bother me that it flipped back and forth but it really made me want to read more because every time I read the boy's point of view, I was then dying to see what was her take on it. What did she think about this? And when we went to adapt the book into a screenplay, I said, "If it’s working for me as a book, why wouldn’t it work on the screen? Why wouldn’t an audience sit still to see the same thing?" And I think they do, you know?
Drew: Oh, yeah.
Rob: They do, yeah.
Drew: And there’s payoffs in it that can only work with the way you’re doing it. When I saw it, I was sitting next to one of the publicists, and we got to the moment in the library where Bryce is sort of talking to his friend and he levels with him, and I groaned. I was like, "Oh my God," because I know she’s somewhere. I know she’s right there somewhere listening.
Rob: Yeah, she’s going to overhear this.
Drew: And the publicist was like, "What?" and she didn’t know what I was reacting to. And then when the shoe dropped, she looked at me like "Ohhhhh, okay."
Rob: Well, not everybody gets that, but I often wondered if people by that point in the movie would get the idea that something is going to happen as a result of that.
Drew: That’s what the perspective shifts do. You become aware that, "Okay, there is going to be a payoff to this. Everything I’m seeing in this one is for a reason."
Rob: Yeah. The same thing with the eggs. I mean, in the egg sequence, which takes a long time on his side, the whole idea of her winning the science fair, she’s raising chickens, she’s got too many eggs, she gives eggs to them, they’re getting eggs, he’s dumping out the eggs. All of that stuff, you go, "Well, where does this go?" And then when you find out that she then also finds out that he’s been dumping the eggs, that’s when it all becomes part of the story where she’s learning more about this guy that she thought she was in love with, and maybe his values aren’t so good.
Drew: So that was a case then where it was that particular voice in telling that story that made you sit up?
Rob: Yeah. It was not just the fact that Wendeline would flip back and forth between the points of view, but also that she really went in depth in a very sophisticated intelligent way to examine first feelings of love, those first very powerful, confusing feelings of love. And it wasn’t done in a juvenile way. It was done in a very depthful way and that’s what struck me. That is what resonated with me. I started thinking about the feelings that I had when I first fell in love with the first girl that I was madly in love with, and it took me back to that because she was able to capture and describe those real feelings that you have when you’re that age. So that’s what got me. I said, "Here’s a book that my 11-year-old son at the time... now he’s almost 17... but that he was digging because it was something he could kind of relate to as he was going through, but it was something that resonated with me in probably an even more powerful way." And I thought somebody who can write that kind of piece that appeals to kids and also adults at the same time, and adults get more out of it, was really what got me. It’s the same thing that got me with "Stand By Me." When I read "Stand By Me," it was like, "This is a look back at the same time period when I was growing up, and it was about kids, but it really felt like what it was like to have those powerful feelings of friendship at age 12." That’s what got to me. And the same thing with "The Princess Bride," you know? It’s a kids story. There’s a romantic thing, but it’s swashbuckling and all that stuff, but it’s also got a very kind of adult sophistication to it. And I love the idea of making movies that kids and adults can go to together and both get something out of it, and not just, "Oh, I’ve got to take my kid to the movie because they want to see the next, you know, 'Hannah Montana' movie or whatever."
Drew: That’s actually something I write about a lot. My kids are starting to get to the age where...
Rob: How old are your kids?
Drew: I have a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old.
Rob: Yeah, well, when they get older... right now there aren’t many movies that you can see together, but I remember when the first "Toy Story" came out and I went, "This is good stuff. This is not just a little kiddy movie. This has got some good themes and it’s got some clever lines and stuff in it."
Drew: It’ll be really interesting to see what happens to kids who were raised on Pixar, who are raised on a standard of storytelling that is so high.
Rob: It’s good. It’s good. Pixar stuff is really good. I mean, it’s "Toy Story" stuff. It’s "Up." What they did last time, I thought, "Wow!"
Drew: That moment in "Ratatouille" when Anton Ego tastes the ratatouille and has the flash to his childhood and you realize that everything he is as a critic is chasing a sensation he had in his mom’s kitchen...
Rob: Yeah. That's a very Proustian idea.
Drew: It is. To drop that into a child’s film, and to think that would be a payoff to a villain and a change for him to suddenly be a human being... it's incredibly sophisticated.
Rob: Yeah. That’s to me what you strive for, is to get a picture that works for a lot of different age ranges.
Drew: Yeah. And in making adaptation choices, I mean you’ve made very, very strong ones, and it’s one of the things I’ve always been intrigued with with the films you’ve made. “Princess Bride” is a great example because that book is a whole different beast.
Rob: Yeah, yeah. And it’s a great book.
Drew: It’s a great book. It’s an amazing story he tells about finding it, chasing it and it’s beautiful and kind of brilliant in a totally different way. At what point did you realize what the structure was going to be when you were making “Princess Bride” and how big a leap of faith with Goldman was that?
Rob: That was one of the most nerve-wracking experiences—going to meet Bill Goldman, who was a hero of mine. I had read virtually every book that he had ever written from 'The Temple of Gold,' 'The Boys and Girls Together' through 'Marathon Man' and everything that he had written. And also knowing that this project at that point had been around for like 15 years and people were trying to adapt it. It was [known] as one of the greatest screenplays…you know things never produced. It was on a list of things like that. And I knew that at one point that Francois Truffaut was involved. At one point Norman Jewison was involved and Redford was involved. There were all kinds of people involved in trying to make this into a film and I had read one of the scripts and it was not the book. I mean they tried to do something else with it. And I loved this book when I read it. I read it when I was a young guy and again, I’d read every one of this books. This was the one that went, wow! This is a book that if I had the ability to write and I could write something, I would write this book because it was so connected to my sensibility in my head. The romance of it. The satire. All of those things mixed together and I thought , you know, what I love about this is what I want to make a film about. And it’s the same thing with “Stand By Me” or “Flipped” or any of the things you’re adapting from books, you want to preserve and protect what you like about the book. You don’t want to take the book and then make it into something else because then why bother optioning and adapting a book? So when I went to see Bill Goldman I went with Andy Schieman, my partner, and I was so nervous. I went to his apartment on East 71st Street in New York and we rang the bell. He opened the door and by the way, he had seen “Spinal Tap” and he had seen a rough cut of “The Sure Thing” and he needed to see those even to agree to meet with us because he again, he opens the door and he said, “Princess Bride is my favorite thing I’ve ever written in my life.” He said, “I want it on my tombstone” and that was the way it opened. And basically the elliptical thought was “and what are you going to do with it? How are you going to [expletive] this up? And I thought, 'Oh God.' And we sat down and basically what I said to him was I said, “Bill I’ve read these…” I didn’t call him Bill I said Mr. Goldman, 'I’ve read these other drafts and I what I want to do is go right back to what you have in your book. I said, the only thing that I would say is that the Zoo of Death takes so long to go through the different levels. Let’s make it happen. Let’s call it a Pit of Despair or something and make the one torture element happen there, you know?' And that was the only thing that we did. And then the prologue about how to find the book, I said, 'We can’t do that. but let’s have it telling a grandson or a father telling a son. Let’s interrupt the story just the way the book does. Let’s protect what we love about this book.' And he listened. And then I went through the whole thing and talked about all the different things I wanted to change and how I wanted to make it work. And he was taking notes and he was taking all these notes. And at one point he left the room to go to the kitchen to get something to drink and I turned to Andy and I said, 'I think this is going okay. I think he’s okay with this.' And he walks back in and he has this high kind of squeaky voice and he said, 'Well, I think this is just going great.' He says this and I went, 'Oh my God.' So, when we left his apartment we were like walking on air. It was like the greatest moment of my career that I felt 'God! William Goldman this guy that I’ve idolized, he’s actually liking what we’re going to do with it.' And then, of course, he loved the movie. He was there when we shot it and he loved it and he’s loved the movie ever since and so that made me feel good. When I first screened “Stand by Me” for Stephen King, again, he told me that this was a very personal story for him. He had written about his childhood and about his friends and I did change a couple of things. One is I only had Teddy die. In the book, all 3 of his friends died at the end of the book and I felt…oh excuse me I only had Chris die, excuse me.
Drew: River Phoenix, right.
Rob: Which turned out to be…so weird. I mean it’s just weird and everything. But anyway at the time that was the only character because I didn’t feel like …I thought it’s not believable that all of your friends would die young like this, but he told me the truth that all his friends had died. And that’s why he had that in there. And so I had changed it because I didn’t know about that part of it. But he watched the movie and he watched it by himself and just us there and then after the movie was over, he said, 'Look I just have to take a few minutes. Let me just go away.' He went away for about 10 or 15 minutes because he was clearly was moved by the thing. And he came back and he said, this was the best movie adaptation of anything of any of my work by far. He says, 'Of course that’s not saying much.' He didn’t like a lot of the things that were done with his books, but he loved this and that made me feel good too because we tried to protect what he was doing. And then he said something that really got me and he said, 'The only thing that sometimes you wish you had done something other…' He said, 'When you had Gordy pick up the gun,' because in the book it’s Chris that picks up the gun to fend off the older boys. He said, 'When you had Gordy pick up the gun I thought 'God I wish I had thought of that.'' Because I had made the story into be about Gordy’s passage. Gordy’s emergence. And in the book, Gordy was one of four. He was the observer more of the whole situation. It really wasn’t about his arc as much as it was he was an observer in it. And when I turned it into Gordy being the main point of view, we had Gordy pick up the gun at the end as the capping off his emergence. So he liked that and that made me feel good. So to me, I don’t want to do something if the writer isn’t going to feel good about it. There was a book I loved called 'American Pastural'...
Drew: Oh sure.
Rob: By Phillip Roth and I’m a huge Phillip Roth fan. I’ve read a lot of his books—not all of them—but a lot of them and there was a screenplay on that. And I thought ooh, this is really intriguing. But it needs some work. And I met with Phillip Roth and I talked to him about the ideas that I had that I thought could make it more work as a film and he was…and I spent like three hours with him and he was actually good, you know, about it. He said look, I’ve sold this book. So I understand things get done to it, he says. But I don’t agree with that. He said you’re free to do whatever you want because I understand the rules. You’ve sold it, you can do whatever you want. But he says, I don’t believe that. I believe that the main character, it’s called 'The Swede.' The main character would not do these things. He would not change in this way. And I said, okay and then I didn’t do it. I didn’t do it because I didn’t feel good that he’d see the movie and not feel good about it. So, you know, I want the author to feel good and I wanted Wendelyn to feel good. I actually argued with her. Did I mention this to you?
Rob: This was interesting because she came to me, we met. I called her up after we got the rights to it and I told her we were going to do it, she was all excited. I said I’d love to come and meet you and we’ll talk about…she said to me, she had gone to a lot of schools over the years and talked to kids about the book. She had done a lot of lectures at schools about the book and she said most of the kids when she went to these middle schools would always say, how come you didn’t have them kiss. Oh I wish you would have had them kiss. So she came to my office and lobbied me to have them kiss at the end of the movie.
Rob: Which was not in her book. And I said, 'You know something? You got it right. It’s right what you have because it’s not about that, it’s about the fact that there’s a person that comes into this boy’s life and puts him on the right path and he starts to recognize what’s great about this girl. And comes around at the end and completes his journey.' And like she says, 'He was still walking around with my first kiss but it wouldn’t be for long.' And when he touches her hand like that when the trees going in and he holds her hand like that, you know they’re going to kiss eventually. You don’t need to do it. And so…
Drew: And you’ll never stage it as great as we’ll imagine it.
Rob: Yes, and you know that’s going to happen at some point. And she wrote it right. She wrote it right. So, I argued with her to preserve what she had.
Drew: It’s pretty great because you do, you lead the characters in just the right place. You don’t need to ladle the gravy on if you’ve already got it. I remember because when 'Stand by Me' came out I was 16. I was working in a theatre. It was like the first summer I had a summer job.
Rob: Yeah? Which theatre?
Drew: It was in Florida. I lived in Tampa at the time.
Rob: A movie theatre?
Drew: Yup. And I remember the first 'Stand by Me' poster which is that great evocative poster—if I could have only one food for the rest of my life—Pez. Cherry flavor Pez, no doubt about it. It’s a great, great poster. Even that doesn’t seem like something you can get away with now in terms of marketing.
Rob: No, I don’t think so.
Drew: It’s so simple, and it’s so bold. And like the moment you see it in the lobby you have to stop and you have to lean in and see what it is. The thing I love about 'Stand by Me' is I have obviously no experience, no memory of the 50’s, but because of King’s writing and because the way you make it live on film I do feel like I understand what the 50’s was. I understand what the pop was, you know, the music and the television and I get a sense of that. I’ve heard people talk about how like the Spielberg generation or they were they first ones to sort of bring their childhood to film, and now we see filmmakers doing that with things guys my age and what we’ve grown up on.
Rob: Which is great.
Drew: Is that part of the fun of being a custodian of those things? This kind of passing them down on screen.
Rob: Yes, it is but I think you really have to be careful about all that stuff because you have to make sure that even though you’re capturing your time, that is the time you can connect with and you remember so vividly, you have to have ideas in the film that are universal that strike people even though they weren’t from that time to make them. If the movie is just about the time, it becomes an inside joke to the people of that time. It has to transcend that to where the feelings and that the characters are going through are universal to where everybody can connect with it. And you said something every interesting which is a number of people have said to me. I remember one guy said to me, 'I loved “Stand by Me” so much because it reminded me of my childhood.' And I said, 'You grew up in a rural area? Because I didn’t grow up in a rural…I grew up in a suburban rural area but not quite as rural as “Stand by Me”. I mean, 'You grew up in a rural area?' He said, 'No I grew up in Manhattan.' And I knew I was successful then because it’s not about the place or the time, it’s about the feelings you evoke and the feelings that everyone has and the thoughts at the end of the book where we have at the end of the movie where he says 'you never have friends like you do when you’re 12. Jesus, does anyone?' And the point is that doesn’t matter when the time is. Those feelings that you have--those connections—those friendship connections you have when you’re 12-years-old are very strong and you remember them. It’s the same thing with “Flipped”. Even though I set it in the late 50’s and early 60’s, I’m hoping that people no matter when they are raised are going to remember those feelings of first falling in love and how powerful they were. I wanted to strip away the complications and the distractions of Facebook and Twitter and texting and all of that to say let’s boil it down to the basic feeling you had that you fell in love. So I’m hoping that somebody who’s 80 years old can relate to it as well as somebody who’s 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 years old can relate to it. Just like when you were 16, you could relate to that even though it wasn’t your time.
Drew: Exactly. I saw it and it was enormously clear. The poster -- it wasn’t just there was a clever line, it immediately evoked in me the idea that as a kid those are the things you believe. You believe that yes, I could eat candy every day all day and I would be fine. And a movie that deals with those…and then there was the other one about Goofy…was the other….
Rob: And by the way, we wouldn’t have put Pez in there unless Pez still existed and people knew what the word Pez, you know, because Pez is a weird word, you know? And if you don’t know what Pez is, you would say Mary Jane’s because Mary Jane’s have vaguely made it into some…they’re not really around. But Pez dispensers are still somehow around, you know? So you can kind of connect it. Same thing, yeah, Goofy was still a character. Still somebody you see Goofy and Pluto and all these Mickey Mouse characters are still around, so even though we went into that stuff.
Drew: But I love the way…and in 'Princess Bride' this is a great…
Rob: Oh, just one second before you get into that, you’re allowed to one what I call jokes for the band. Those are jokes that are inside that just the band gets. You can do some of those but you can’t do a whole movie like that. I mean, for instance we did a joke in there where he says, 'I love that show 'Wagon Train' but you never notice they never got anywhere. They just kept wagon training.' That’s not even a show that’s made it onto TV Land or Nick at Nite or anything, but it’s one for us but you can vaguely know what they mean. They were on some wagon train in a western show and they just never got to the place. Anyway, you can do those...anyway I’m sorry I didn’t mean to…
Drew: Oh not at all. But I love when influences are not spelled out but are felt in work. I love the sword fights in 'Princess Bride' and it’s one of the things I think there is now a resurgence of seeing great sword fights choreographed in film and obviously Lucas bringing 'Star Wars' back was part of that, but 'Zorro' did it again and there’s a beauty and an elegance to a great sword fight that’s not like any other kind of [action] on film.
Rob: Well, it’s interesting you bring that up because in the original screenplay that Bill Gorman wrote, in the first sword fight with the man in black and Indigo when he says what you’re about to see is the greatest…is the 2nd greatest sword fight in film history. The 1st greatest will come later. And that was with Indigo and Count Rougin. So when I read that, I went oh my God. I’ve got to make good on that, you know? That was a real challenge, you know? And what we did and what we’re very proud of in that sword fight, well first of all I studied every sword fight in every film. I looked at every Errol Flynn, every Douglas Fairbanks, you know all the swashbuckling movies—I watched them. And then not only did they have to be a great sword fight, but in this sword fight both of the dualist had to be equally good right and left handed. That’s described. So I said, oh my God. So Mandy Patinkin and Cary Elwes studied with fencing masters for months. Mandy did it for like 8 months to learn how to sword fight left and right and Cary did it for about 5 or 6 months. They both studied like crazy. Now, we had a great fencing master—an Englishman who was in the Olympics—and we also had a great stunt coordinator. Both of them who had worked with Errol Flynn and had done things like that. And when we choreographed this fight scene and it was left for the end of the movie—the first one on the tops of the cliffs of insanity—we purposely left it for the end of the movie because it allowed them not only the time they had prepared before making the movie but also whenever they had some downtime, they’d go back and work on the fencing and we staged all the things so by the time we were ready to shoot and it took like 10 days to shoot that thing, we had exactly what we were going to do. And we’re very proud of the fact that every single frame of sword play is done by both of them. There are no doubles. We have flips where they flip off a bar or something—that’s not sword play—where we had doubles for those. But even this guy Peter Diamond and the guy named Bob Anderson, who was the Olympic champion, both of them said they never in any of the sword fights they ever staged did Errol Flynn do all of it. In the wide shots they had doubles. So we were very proud of the fact that both Mandy and Cary did all the sword play, left and right handed. And I’ll put that sword fight up against any sword fight that’s ever been done.
Drew: As would I. And I think what makes it phenomenal combat -- there’s so much character.
Rob: And funny. And comedy.
Drew: And there’s so much story going on and flat out hilarious comedy in that scene.
Rob: 'Who are you?' he says. 'Who are you?' 'I must know.' 'Learn to live with disappointment. '
Drew: They’re so good together. And that’s a case, your casting over the years has never been about necessarily finding the giant box office names. Certainly you made 'A Few Good Men' with big movie stars, but 'Princess Bride' is a film that is filled with crazy eccentric casting. My writing partner for years if he wants to devastate me, he has an Andre the Giant impression. And it’s the craziest sound that comes from mid-chest. I don’t even know how he does it, and it’s perfect. And he loves all the lines from that movie. 'Anybody want a peanut?'
Rob: Yeah, well that was a line that Andy Scheinman came up with. 'No more rhymes now I mean it.' 'Anybody want a peanut?' But the casting of Andre the Giant is not like you throw a stick out and you hit 50 giants. I mean there’s not that many giants in the world. So, basically when we started this, Bill Goldman said that Andre’s the only one who can play this part. He said you’ve got to get Andre the Giant. So we knew him from wrestling so we thought okay we’ll get….
Drew: He's so great...
Rob: Yeah, he’s perfect and we had to track him down because he was on a wrestling tour. He was going all over the world from Tokyo to this place, that place. At one point he’d never been in one city for more than 2 weeks in his life because of all the wrestling stuff. And we tracked him down. We worked through the World Wrestling Federation when Vince McMahon and finally they said 'Well,' we had just gone to Ireland to scout the Cliffs of Insanity—a place called the Cliffs of Moore—and we came back…we were in Heathrow, we came back to the hotel. The minute we landed at the hotel they say there’s a message you can meet on…and we had been trying to find him for weeks and weeks, we couldn’t get him. 'If you want to meet Andre the Giant you can meet him tomorrow in Paris.' So, we literally turned around, went back to the airport and flew to Paris. Checked into the hotel and we were supposed to meet him at 2:00 in the afternoon. So we spent the morning just kind of tooling around Paris, you know? And then we come back to the hotel at 2:00 and we get to the desk and the guy at the desk says there’s a man waiting for you at the bar. So we walk into the bar and literally there’s a land mass sitting on a bar stool, and it was Andre. And I couldn’t believe it. To give you an example, let me see if I can….this was like a 12 beer can in his hand. It was weird. I mean his hands were so big. And we started talking to him and he came up and he auditioned for us and he had such a thick accent and he didn’t speak English all that well. And we had like a 3-page scene and he did it and I was thinking, Oh god. He doesn’t speak clearly. Maybe we’ll have to loop him. I don’t know what I’m going to do.' And I said 'You know Andre, this part is going to take like 15 weeks. And he said, 'I do this for 15 weeks?' He thought the three pages was 15 weeks. I said, 'No, no. You’re all throughout the movie. This was just one scene.' He says, 'I do it. I can do it boss. Like this.' Now he leaves. I look at Andy and I go, 'I don’t know man. I mean it’s not like we can find another guy. This is the guy, you know? And he’s got the soul of the guy but he just doesn’t...' So, what I did is I put his part on a tape. I recorded his part—just his part. And I sent it to him and I told him just listen to his over and over and over again. And he did, and by the time he came to shoot he was okay.
Drew: I’m the dread pirate robbers.
Rob: I am the dread pirate robbers. There will be no survivors. The dread pirate robbers is here for your soul. For your soul.
Drew: Well and 'Princess Bride' is a great example of this, there is a certain kind of cultural cache that some films have, which is quotability. I would argue your movies have a higher percentage of that than many…
Rob: Well, my favorite one in “Spinal Tap” is 'there’s a fine line between stupid and clever.' That’s my favorite line. But you’re right. AFI had this thing “100 Most Memorable Lines in Movies” and they had all the 'Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.' And 'I could have been a contender.' 'Louis, this could be the beginning of beautiful friendship.' All these great lines. And they had 2 from 'You can’t handle the truth,' which was Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men” and my mother saying 'I’ll have what she she’s having,' in “When Harry Met Sally”. And I got such a kick out of the fact that my mother…you know you’ve got Humphrey Bogart and Marlon Brando and Clark Gable and Estelle Reiner.
Drew: There you go.
Rob: That was a big kick for me.
Drew: I think part of that is that’s how you know a movie has really sunk into an audience when it becomes just part of the vernacular.
Rob: It’s like “Bucket List”. People say, what’s on your bucket list. You hear it all the time. They say well that’s got to be on my bucket list or on ESPN he says, yeah that’ll go on the bucket list. So it does give you a lot of…
Drew: And at Comic-Con last week, one of the questions for Will Ferrell on one of the panels, some girl came up and said…and he was with Adam McKay his director from 'The Other Guys' and I love watching them together when a premise gets thrown out, but the girl said you’ve done so much in your life Mr. Ferrell, what’s on your bucket list? And I just saw Adam McKay light up. He’s like, 'Oh this is great.' And so he says, 'Yeah, Will how about that novel you’re working on?' And you can just see Will run with it. What a great set up.
Rob: It’s just part of the vernacular like you say. And that gives me a lot of pleasure. I love it when people come up to me and they say a line. Like you know, 'My name is Indigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.' Oh I’ve got to tell you a great story about that! It’s a great story about that one. Nora Ephron—this was years ago—Nora Ephron says to me there’s this restaurant that John Gotti goes to all the time (this was obviously before he went to jail and everything) and she says every Thursday night he goes there and it’s this great Italian restaurant. You want to go? And I said yeah okay. Let’s go. So we go there and 8:00 sure enough in walks John Gotti with six wiseguys in suits and they all sit at this one table over there and they’re all in a corner and I’m looking over and he looks over and kind of recognized me and it’s that weird thing where 'I know who you are, you know who I am but maybe I don’t want to talk'…like that. So yeah, there he is. So now we finish our dinner and we walk outside and there’s a guy standing in front of a limousine who looks like Luca Brasi from 'The Godfather.' I mean he’s a total thug of a guy standing and he looks at me and he goes, 'You killed my father. Prepare to die.' I almost shit my pants. And then he says, 'I love that movie—'The Princess Bride.'
Drew: (Laughs.) It’s never the way you think it’s going to be is it?
Rob: Yeah. That guy— Luca Brasi told me he liked “The Princess Bride”. And another one that was great was we were just in Africa about three weeks ago. And we were in the Masi Mauro which is in…oh no this was in the Serengeti in Kenya….I mean in Tanzania and we have a guide who had been with the Masi tribes and he spoke a little English and we passed by a…we saw one animal that was kind of big and furry and it had a tail. And he mentioned what the name of the animal. I had never seen an animal like this and he said it’s an ROUS. The guy said it’s an ROUS.
Drew: Oh my God.
Rob: I couldn’t believe it that this guy was making a 'Princess Bride' reference in the middle of the Serengeti.
Drew: Okay, the film has hit everywhere.
Rob: It’s penetrated.
Drew: And especially considering…you know because at the time again working in the theatre I never understood what hit, what didn’t, what was an immediate success, what wasn’t.
Rob: Yeah. Well nobody ever knows.
Drew: And you know 'Princess Bride' was one where it just didn’t get the traction in the theatres but everybody who saw it while it was there flipped.
Rob: Yeah, exactly.
Drew: And that tail on it is just so unbelievable.
Rob: Well you know I think we had a real marketing problem with 'Princess Bride.' First of all, it was hard to categorize that film. We could never get a trailer. But I think the title also scared a lot of people. 'Princess Bride.' It sounds like a baby, a children’s fairy tale or something like that and so I think people got scared away by that because when we had our screenings on college campuses that was the best screenings we ever had. We never got one college kid to ever come see that film. We got little kids and maybe their parents but over the years it’s gotten some traction. I remember having a fight with Barry Diller, was the head of 20th Century Fox at the time, and that’s the company that released 'Princess Bride' and I was so upset because we didn’t have a trailer. We never had TV spots. It was terrible. And I said…and I knew we had a good film because we had the high cinemas…we had the best cards I’ve ever had for any movies before or since, and I said 'Geez the people love this movie and we can’t seem to get people….we can’t sell it and everything. I don’t want this to be like another 'Wizard of Oz' because 'Wizard of Oz' when it came out was a terrible bomb and eventually over the years has become very successful obviously. And he said to me, I’ll never forget, he says, 'Rob don’t let anybody ever hear you say that. In other words, you never want to say 'I don’t want another 'Wizard of Oz.'' Of course you want a 'Wizard of Oz'!' Even if you’re an absolute failure, you would love to have a movie as good as Wizard of Oz, you know?
Drew: It's strange that people are afraid to let filmmakers experiment with genre—play with genre. One of the things you did so well and have always done so well is you followed story and it seems like genre has been something that has been….you’ve been able to slip in and out easily and do it very, very well. 'Misery' was a case. I saw “Misery” with you actually at the AFI. You came to a class where they were showing 'Misery' early.
Rob: Oh my God. Oh I remember that.
Drew: And when you guys were on production on it, my feeling was because I had a terrible, terrible knee break when I was kid...
Rob: Oh God, oh God.
Drew: So I can’t handle…like I can’t see it on film. But I thought well, 'It’s Rob Reiner. I know Rob Reiner as a filmmaker. I’m not going to see it. I’ll hear it. It’ll be tasteful. He won’t go for it. I don’t think he’s a gore-hound. I don’t think it’s going to happen.' I’m sitting like three people down from you when it happened and I stood up and howled. I almost thought I was going to black out. I couldn’t believe the hobbling. I think you laughed at me for the rest of the movie. I think you couldn’t…yeah because the most visceral, physical reaction you pulled out of me.
Rob: Oh my God. Oh God, yeah I know.
Drew: But I love that when you made a horror film, you made a horror film. No punches pulled. No apologies. And your sensibilities seem to fit with that. Is that just a case when you tell a story you tell a story as true as you can?
Rob: There’s a certain grammar to certain genres and for that film, it’s not that I wanted to make a thriller per se. It’s not like, 'Ooh, let me try out a thriller and try to make one of those films. It’s what that particular thriller was about which was about a guy who is trapped by his own success and couldn’t break out of this creative jail that he had developed for himself and this woman, Annie Wilkes, who represented all the fans of the world who basically said, if you leave this comfort zone we’re going to kill you.' And I felt those things coming off “All in the Family” and being a sitcom actor because in those days actors who were on television I mean they were looked down upon by the movie people. There was a big separate between movies and television in those days. Now there’s crossover all over the place and they’re making movies out of television shows and all that stuff. But in those days there was television, which was the second class citizen and there was movies which were the kings and queens were making movies. So I couldn’t get over there and I knew what it felt like to be trapped. And so I related to that character. I understood what he was feeling in wanting to write something else and wanting to kill Misery off and all that stuff. So that’s why I did it. Now, that theme which I could relate to was in the middle of a thriller and so I said if I’m going to make this and it is in the middle of a thriller, I’ve got to be true to this genre. And there is a grammar to the genre. I watched every Hitchcock film. I watched every, you know, one of those types of movies to see how they did these things so I could tell this story without bastardizing the genre and so that’s what I did there.
Drew: Quite successfully I might add. My last big question for you and it’s…there are a lot of guys who do what I do, who write about film, who write criticism, who do interviews who are very young. It’s really…like I’m meeting them at festivals things like that. Guys who are 20…
Rob: To me, you’re young.
Drew: Well, I’m 40 this year.
Rob: I know but you’re young. To me, you’re young.
Drew: And I guess that’s the thing is like I look at them and I realize that for some of them they were born as you were starting to make films. Maybe even after you started making your first few films.
Rob: Oh yeah, yeah. I started to make films almost 30 years ago, so some of them weren’t even born when I made “Spinal Tap”.
Drew: So my cultural reference to you or the head space you hold culturally for me it totally different than what you hold for them, and yet we’re both reviewing movies as they come out. We’re both talking about careers. And it’s one of the things that I feel very passionate about is not just talking about new films but talking about the body of cinema because I really think if you don’t -- it’s not a healthy diet to just what comes out on Friday—to just see the brand-new. I don’t think it’s good for you as a film viewer.
Rob: I worry about filmmakers, too because now the film business is moving toward like I said these tent pole super hero characters and characters that come out of Comic-Con and all of that. And a young filmmaker, even somebody like Chris Nolan who I think is a great filmmaker—he’s not so young anymore—but I mean when I saw “Memento” I went God that is really interesting. I mean that’s a very original voice there. He’s now, and he’s certainly putting his stamp on populous faire. I mean with “The Dark Knight”. I think was the best of the Batman movies.
Drew: And definitely a variation on his theme. Helping guys that keep screwing up things they’ve screwed up already.
Rob: Right. Right. So that was good but he’s having to express himself inside Batman. And then even “Inception” which is certainly an original film, it’s those bigger than life kind of fantastical type things. And he may be…that’s what he does because Tim Burton certainly knows how to do all that stuff and that’s where Tim Burton’s mind goes. And if you look at Tim Burton’s art exhibit at MOMA which I did and which I was blown away by. I mean, to me, if you really want to dig on Tim Burton, go see that.
Drew: Oh I agree.
Rob: Because that is pure Tim Burton whereas Tim Burton’s trying to wedge himself into the film world and sometimes he’s successful and sometimes not. This is pure in his artistry and it’s brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. He’s absolutely brilliant. But my concern is that young filmmakers who have such original takes on things like a Tim Burton or Chris Nolan or if there are guys like me who want to do character pieces and want to focus on the human drama and you know, they’re not going to get the chance. They won’t get the chance because they don’t make those kind of pictures anymore, you know? So they’re going to have to find ways…I mean here’s what’s interesting to me, you know and I’m like an old guy now and I’m not even that…I’m only 63, but I’m an old guy when you think about I’m like the last class of guys who started making like those kind of [pictures]. I mean there was me and Barry Levinson and Ronny Howard. We were the three guys that came out of sort of the 80’s. there was others too, but I mean those three guys who made the films that were throwbacks to you know the last years I think that real filmmakers were Scorsese and Coppola—that class—that was in from the 70’s, you know? And we all came as a result of the guys from the 50’s and 60’s, you know the Buñuel and Truffaut and Antonioni and Fellini , those guys who were making personal films. And you would wait and say, 'When’s the next Bergman film?' Or, 'When’s the next Fellini film?' Or, 'When’s the next Milos Foreman film?' or the next, you know whoever the guy was. Now, it’s you look at the movie one sheets and there’s a new director on every film. I mean, yes there’s still guys that break through like Chris Nolan and I’ll go see anything Chris Nolan does because he’s interesting. He’s an unusual unique voice, but who are these guys? Who are these guys? I mean the Coen brothers are already old. You know? The Coen brothers are already old.
Drew: When I started doing this, for me my favorite year I’ve written about as an active critic was ’99 because that’s the year that Fincher broke, that Spike Jones broke, that Brad Bird made 'Iron Giant.'
Rob: Yeah, but where’s Spike Jones?
Drew: But Spike did…
Rob: Where’s Spike Jones?
Drew: He’s made 2 films since then. It takes forever and that last one almost killed him. Getting 'Where the Wild Things Are' through the studio system almost killed him and I don’t know that he’ll ever want to do it again.
Rob: That’s what I’m saying. And the young guys now that are coming up they immediately want to plug themselves into the Hollywood mainstream. They’re immediately plugging themselves right into Comic-Con. So I don’t know how they’re going to make their mark in a way because I can’t tell the difference between one film to the next in most of these. And they may be good or bad, you know?
Drew: I think the way you became a filmmaker because you first as an actor you were actively engaged in watching everything that you participated in and you had a voice in that process as a performer and then the first film you did with Penny Marshall, the one you did for television.
Drew: That was very personal but it was on a very modest budget. It was for television. It was a training ground. You know there was the Roger Corman training ground for guys like Ron Howard to get his break.
Rob: That’s right. That’s right. That’s right.
Drew: It’s seems like these days you jump out of film school into a $75 million 'Garfield' sequel.
Rob: Exactly…or something even bigger with a bigger budget that they’re going to take a person who’s just done some commercials or done some videos or done film school stuff. And it’s because they don’t…it’s all factory produced . I mean it’s all CGI and everything and I worry. When I was a kid growing up, I looked at Elia Kazan and I looked at all the movies Elia Kazan made. And every one was interesting to me and they were all human stories. That was what I looked at and thought okay, you know movies are an extension of theatre. They’re an extension of theatre. The human drama put on screen. Now it’s stuff. It’s just stuff, you know? And it gets me nervous about young kids.
Drew: Well I remember when, because I’m from the first video generation, I had that experience where my parents opened their first video store in Tennessee where we lived and…
Rob: So you were from…did you like 'Be Kind Rewind'?
Drew: I liked the premise. I wish that…because I think that Michelle is a fascinating brain and I like the idea of romanticizing to some extent and what that was and the warmth of it.
Rob: Yeah, yeah. I kind of liked it.
Drew: But the discovery of everything coming into the store and being able to watch bodies of work suddenly. That was the kick. That suddenly we had film history right in front of us.
Drew: Now it seems like video is all about burning through new releases, filling the Redbox with what’s brand new and there’s very little attention paid to the catalog.
Rob: Well pretty soon there’s not going to be any of those video stores. You know there won’t be any video stores. It’s going to be all direct to TV and downloads and pay-per-view and downloads and that’s what it’s going to be.
Drew: Well, thank you Mr. Reiner.
Rob: Yeah, listen it was great talking with you. You had great questions and everything.
Drew: Well, I’m glad we finally had a chance to sit down. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.
"Flipped" opens nationwide this Friday.