The Wayans family has been a part of American comedy for a generation. Damien Wayans is part of the second generation of comedy performers, as well as a serious actor in his own right. Wayans makes his directorial debut on "Dance Flick", a new comedy that parodies the dance genre.
The film features some members of the Wayans family as well as an ensemble of actors new to the Wayans brand of comedy. Wayans talked to PAUL FISCHER in this exclusive interview.
Question: When you guys are looking for something to parody, how challenging is it to find the right genre to poke fun of?
Wayans: Well, for us, with parody, it kind of happens organically. You know, it's not like we go looking for the next thing to make fun of, you know? We don't really work that way. But if something hits us and it sparks an idea or a germ of an idea, we'll bounce it around one another, and then if everybody's on board, it's like, "Okay. Let's go.”
Question: Why this particular genre? How did this – I mean, what did you see? Is there a particular movie that you saw, that you thought, "Aha! This would be the perfect film.”
Wayans: Yeah. Well, Save the Last Dance we saw, and we felt like, "Okay. There's something in this." But then the whole dance craze just took over. I mean, you have America's Best Dance Crew, So You Think You Can Dance, and then you got Step Up, Step Up 1, Step Up 2, and Stomp the Yard, You Got Served. So – and you can take it back to Fame and Footloose, and all those iconic movies. And Hairspray. So, the genre was just ripe. And it was almost like, "Hmmm. Why hasn't anyone gone there yet?" But you know what? Let the Wayans be the first.
Question: Do you create a basic outline of a script, and then improv through that? Do you guys sit around in a room and just throw ideas at each other? I mean, what comes first?
Wayans: Well, you know, if I told you that, I'd be giving away the secret formula. But – you know, to give it somewhat – it really starts from just what I mentioned before. A germ of an idea. And then you bounce it around the other guys. And then if everyone is on board, then you start the writing process. And there's certain things that we do within our process, you know? That I won't tell the secret, and the magic formula. Because our parodies are vastly different than the other parodies that have come out afterward. After Scary II, you've seen a bunch of parodies, and they just don't have that same je ne sais quoi. And I like to think they don't have that same je ne sais quoi, because – you know, no Wayans are involved.
Question: Of course!
Wayans: Yeah, of course!
Question: Now, apart from the fact that you guys are obviously involved in front of the cameras, you've managed to select a very diverse cast for this particular movie. I mean, you've got so many amazing people that signed on to be a part of this project. Amy Sedaris, and –
Wayans: David Alan Grier –
Question: All those guys, right. And, I mean, I knew automatically that Amy Sedaris would be used to do comedy in a certain way. And everybody has a different way of working. What do they bring to the table, that is particularly unique for you?
Wayans: Well, they all bring their comedic abilities. That's number one. But also—you know, everybody is different, for specific roles. I couldn't see anybody playing Sugar Bear other than David Alan Grier. You know, David Alan Grier has a Broadway background, and he dances and everything. So to put him in that fat suit and have him singing songs was a no-brainer. Amy Sedaris is just hilarious and relentless, and just has a brilliant improvisational mind. So I only had her for a day, two tops. So she had to come in and just hit the jokes really, really hard. And she was just funny off- and on-screen. As far as the cameos within the family, those are kind of self-explanatory. You know, those guys always bring it, non-stop. And it was a family affair on this one.
Question: Is it tough for you to be objective when you're a director and actor? How do you know when material that you shoot as an actor works comedically as a director?
Wayans: Well, you know, I'm an actor, as well. So for me, I think that that differs me from a lot of directors, the fact that I have an actor's sensibility. So I know when – you know, for an example, I have a fresh new cast. The bulk of my cast is all newcomers. So I can understand the audition process, and I can understand what it's like being on that side, as well as when you're being filmed, when you're not getting that laugh just yet. And how to really keep them focused in on the scene, and let them know that there's other departments involved in making this joke work, you know? If you're there just doing a joke, with a backdrop on a green screen, you may not think it's funny, because you don't know the elements that's gonna take place in the backdrop. As well as if there's a special effect. You know, you have to really reassure, and keep them focused on the humor.
Question: Did you want to do more in front of the camera? Did you aspire to do a lot more? Or did you really want to leave everything to the other members of your family?
Wayans: Well, you know, I definitely had an eye on one of the roles in the movie, which was the role that my cousin Craig Wayans played, Truck. But, you know, this being my first directorial debut, I kind of wanted to put all the focus in on behind the screens, and make sure that I met my days, and make sure you're staying within the budget. So, that was a big enough task in itself. And, you know, also, again, I was an executive producer as well as a writer on the project. So I wore a couple of hats.
Question: As a first-time director, what did you learn the most?
Wayans: You know, I really learned that there's so many different variables in making a movie, you know? There's one movie you make in terms of filming the movie, and then there's a whole other movie you make in terms of the post process of the movie, as well as dealing with studios, and dealing with – you know, a lot of different minds on set. You know, my family, they have their own brand, Wayans Brothers Entertainment, which has been a successful brand. And they have certain things that they want to get across. So basically, just taking all those and meshing it, and still – you know, being able to executive my vision. That's probably the most difficult. But, you know, it all worked out in the end.
Question: Did you always aspire to do comedy? I mean, was it always a family thing? Or did you ever want to do something different than the rest of your family, or go on any different path?
Wayans: Yeah. Well, for me, I love drama.
Question: In fact, you did a House, right?
Wayans: Yeah. I did an episode of House. I did a movie called Edison, a movie called Man About Town.
Question: So is it tough for you to persuade casting people that you are more than just a member of the Wayans comedy family?
Wayans: Well, yeah. You know, I think that's a testament to the groundwork that the family has put into the game, you know? They're so successful at what they do, that when you see the last name Wayans, it just automatically – you think comedy. For me, I like to also do other things outside the box in terms of an actor. But, you know, I don't run away from comedy. I like to think that I'm a threat in different ways. Hopefully sometimes you'll see me in some great dramatic roles, and you'll see me in some great comedic roles, and directing them as well.
Question: Are you looking for anything particularly at this point, as an actor?
Wayans: Well, right now my main focus in establishing Second Generation Entertainment, which is a company that me and my cousin Craig formulated. And we're trying to bring more films, and more TV with our sensibility and our sense of humor. And – you know, some of those projects I may film myself in as well. And if a good project comes outside of Second Generation Entertainment and it moves me, I'm more than willing to get in front of that camera and make it happen.
Question: Will you go back to working on television? I know you did a lot of work on My Wife and Kids, and that kind of thing. I mean, do you think television is a medium that works well within your particular brand of comedy?
Wayans: Definitely. I love TV. When I was directing and writing for My Wife and Kids, I had a blast. I had a good time, you know? That's where I learned a lot of my tools that I've taken on to directing this movie. You know, everything that I do is a learning process. And I'm a sponge for new and exciting things. If the right TV project came along, or we developed a TV project, most definitely.
Question: What do you think your company will do next? Do you know yet?
Wayans: Yeah. We'll definitely probably stick within that comedic realm. We want to make a youthful comedy. Second Generation is kind of the younger extension of the first generation. Not too far from their comedy sensibilities, because – you know, they've been extremely successful, and we learned under their regime. But ours is a little more raw and uncut. You know, we write with no handcuffs, until the studio gets it, and they make us take this out, or take that out. And then – you know, that's the political game of it.
Question: Yeah. How is it, balancing studio politics with intense comic sensibilities?
Wayans: You know, it can be, definitely, a task. It's one of those things where the studio wants a certain thing to come across, and you want a certain thing to come across. It's kind of like the mesh of the minds. And hopefully, you know, you meet up close enough to the same place to where it can get executed. And then a lot of the times, there's a lot of variables that go into play that you don't even know about. Like, for me, I didn't know that Paramount didn't have any smoking in any of their high school-type movies. You know? That's just something that you just learn on the fly, and you have to adapt to.
Question: Really? That's funny. Will there be an uncut version, or an un-rated version of Dance Flick for DVD? Or is what we see is what we get?
Wayans: No. You know, there'll be an extended version of the DVD, as well as – we'll have deleted scenes of the movie on there. And, you know, we'll give you a little more extra goodies.
Question: Is there anything that you regret not being able to use in this movie, due to the whole ratings thing?
Wayans: Oh, man. There's so many things that met the editing floor that I wish people could see. You know, there's this scene, "Dirty Dancing," that we did, that didn't make the movie just because – you know, the dirty-ness got a little too far. But it was a really, really funny scene. And there was more stuff with our teacher, Miss Cameltoe, that I would have loved to keep. But – you know, MPAA issues. You know, you've got to kind of sift those out.
Question: Will any of those things make their way onto the DVD?
Wayans: That's the hope. You know, with Dirty Dancing, again, there's other variables that are in play. Music – you know, can that meet the budget in order to put it on the DVD? So, there's a lot of things that you've got to work with the home video department with.
Question: I assume your next directorial outing for comedy would be away from parody. You'll do a much more narrative-centered comedy next?
Wayans: Exactly. Yeah, that's definitely the goal, is to go outside the box of parody. You know, the reason why this movie was a good one to take on was a few factors. One, it was a studio project. Two, you know, they gave a nice budget for a first-time director. And three, we as a family just wanted to bring parody back to where it once was, where we left it off. So we're just trying to give the fans that Wayans humor again.
Question: Who are your major comedy influences?
Wayans: You know, I love Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor, my uncles. I like what Jud Apatow's doing right now. I think he has a lot of funny stuff. I like Dave Chapelle, to name a few.