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After I reviewed National Lampoon's Dorm Daze, I had the opportunity to ask some questions of the film's directors, Scott and David Hillanbrand. The result follows...

MIKE SMITH.   In the film's production notes you mention that you were working on two other projects, which you shelved to do Dorm Daze.  What was it about the script that made you drop everything?

SCOTT & DAVID HILLANBRAND.  What intrigued us the most was the fact that while it was solidly in the college, National Lampoon-type genre, we felt it was also very fresh and unique.   We don't believe there's been a college-age movie with a "comedy of errors" structure - classical in nature with mistaken identities, etc., like Dorm Daze.  The movie is very plot-driven and the humor comes out of the situations and characters rather than merely one-liners.    

MS.   There is quite a lot of physical comedy in the film.  Any accidents?

S&DH.  We had one accident on the set.  When the Hooker, played by Boti Bliss, grabs the purse of money off Tony's desk, she tries to run out the door.  She trips on a skateboard and falls flat on her face on the floor.  She wanted to do her own stunt, and the first time she did it, it was perfect.  You always want to have at least a few good "takes" in case there is a problem with the film (a scratch, or development problem at the lab, etc.).  The second time she did the stunt, she launched herself much further and flew over the crash pad straight into the camera.  She had to have several stitches on her forehead, but she was ready to come back to work a few days later to finish filming.    

MS.  A major drawback in "college" films is the casting.  Your cast seemed so natural.  How did you pull that off and did you expect things to jell so nicely?

S&DH.  We were absolutely thrilled with our cast!  Our casting director, Aaron Griffith, did a fantastic job.  We did a few things to try and pull everyone together to be at the same comedic tone.  First we met with all the actors at an informal lunch meeting.  We wanted them to get comfortable with us, and to explore their characters together in this informal setting.  Together, we established a lot of different character traits and ideas for each of their back stories - things that were not necessarily written into the script such as their majors, where they came from, pets, etc.  We also had a full day of rehearsal on the set, a couple of days before filming, which really helped pull everyone together.  We also played alot of music on the set, which really helps put everyone into a certain comedic space.  Hearing goofy, bumbling-type music before you do a shot where your character is sneaking around the dorm, helps get your body into that funny, "Inspector Clouseau" type of vibe.  

MS.   The Hughes and the Wachowski brothers have been very successful in bringing their shared visions to the screen.   The recent Project Greenlight showed some of the problems that can occur on the set with two directors.  Do you two always agree?  Do you each have separate responsibilities on the set?

S&DH.  We don't delineate any of our responsibilities.  It's a kind of organic process that just evolves in the moment.  We do not always agree, so we hash out our creative visions through the storyboarding process during pre-production.  This enables us to get on the same page creatively.  If we do not agree on something, we work on it until we find a solution that works for both of us.  We usually feel that the final direction, is better than what we were both originally thinking.  The sum is greater than the parts.  By the time we get to the set, we are very much in sync and it then flows organically where in any given moment, one of us may communicate more specifically with the actor(s) and the other with the crew.  If we suddenly have different ideas for performance, we will often shoot it both ways and decide in the editing room.    

MS.   David, you also scored the film.  Is it easier to do because you have been with the project from its inception as opposed to just reading a script and seeing the finished product?

DH.  This can be an advantage or disadvantage for a director/composer.  Sometimes it's good for a composer to approach a film completely fresh - to add a new perspective to the collaboration.  However, it can also be very helpful to know the dramatic direction that you are trying to achieve throughout the filmmaking process.   In my case, I often will have a general guess or feeling as to what I think the music needs or wants to be.  However, I actually do not think about it that much until we are starting to near the final edit.  I try and tune it out.  Scott and my approach is to get the cut working to its maximum without any music (unless something specifically needs to be cut to music).  In our opinion, the visual timing should work as good as it can without the music, and then the music adds whatever is needed to bring the total dramatic impact to 100%.  In other words, if the acting, along with the cinematography, editing, etc. is conveying 92% of what we want are trying to achieve, the music just needs to add the extra 8% - which might be one note held by a solo violin, or it might need a full orchestra playing at the top of their lungs!!  I try and watch the cut and really figure out what kind of score will best support each scene and bring the film together as a whole.    

MS.   Can you explain how the National Lampoon people got involved with the film?

S&DH.  We finished the film independently and began showing it around town.  At one of the first screenings, a music supervisor  we were introduced to, came to see the film.  He absolutely loved the movie and when he was telling a friend of his about the film, his friend mentioned that he heard lots of things were happening over at National Lampoon and we ought to show them the film (thinking it would be a perfect fit).  We e-mailed to National Lampoon the basic info on the film, and they responded immediately saying they wanted to screen the movie for the entire company ASAP.  Several days later they saw it, and really liked it.  We began talking about a partnership and decided to release the film together - independently - instead of working through one of the major studios.  More and more, independent films are being released in the theatres independently and are doing quite well.  This challenge appealed to our team as well as National Lampoon.    

MS.   You are taking the film around the country.  Are you hoping good word of mouth will gain a wider release?

S&DH.  Being independent, we don't have a 30 million dollar advertising campaign, so yes, we are hoping good word of mouth will help spread the word as the film rolls out.  We had several advance screenings in Kansas City, Minneapolis, and Tallahassee a few days before the movie opened, and the response was incredible!  People absolutely loved the film and were laughing nonstop from beginning to end.  It was really great to see such an enthusiastic reaction to the movie, and we are asking all those who really like it, to tell their friends about it and have them check out the website to learn more about it.  The website is http://www.nationallampoon.com  - click on Dorm Daze.  It's also great having the support of the entire cast.  They all really love the film, as well, and have come with us on the road to promote it.

MS.   So what's next?  And what about the two projects you put on hold?

S&DH.  For the moment, the release is keeping us busy as we travel around the country with the rollout of the film.  We have begun initial discussions for a Dorm Daze sequel and would really love to dive into this immediately.  The other two projects will be completed at some point, as well - one is a sort of Sci-Fi action thriller, and the other is a creature horror/thriller in the vein of the Alien series.  We had such a good time making Dorm Daze that we would choose to work on this first, to work again with this fabulous cast and continue the hijinx and mayhem.

MS.  Thank you for taking the time for this interview!

S&DH.  Michael, thank you again for taking the time to write another piece. We really appreciate the support. From reading your review, you apparently got everything that we were going for - and we appreciate you voicing your opinion and doing this feature which will help spread the word!!


"Michael A. Smith interviews the Hillanbrand Brothers" is ©2003 by Michael A. Smith.  We sincerely thank Scott and Dave Hillanbrand for participating in this interview series and wish them the best of luck with National Lampoon's Dorm Daze. Promotional graphics are used here with permission from the brothers Hillanbrand. All other graphics created by Nolan Canova. All contents of Crazed Fanboy™ dotcom and Nolan's Pop Culture Review™ are ©2003 by Nolan B. Canova, all rights reserved.

Other interviews by Mike Smith:
The Great Luke Ski
Linda Harrison
Paul Williams
Martha Coolidge

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