They remain the most politically incorrect observers of American society in today’s often conservative world. Matt Stone and Trey Parker, creators of TV’s infamous South Park, continue to challenge censorship and societal norms, as they bring movie audiences Team America, a satiric look at post 9/11 America as seen through the eyes of a group of marionettes, no less. This politically-minded comedy action adventure tells the story of Team America, a group of superhero-style adventurers who travel the world fighting terrorism and other evils.
Specifically, the story focuses on a typical “action hero” who is recruited to join Team America for a special mission, as a satire of the typical Hollywood action movie, using a combination of wood marionette-driven action sequences and stirring tongue-in-cheek musical numbers, not to mention the most original ands side-splitting sex scene ever captured on celluloid. Paul Fischer spent some timer with the boys to hear their views on politics, Sean Penn and whether or not, we’re seeing the end of South Park.
Question: How long has this idea been in gestation and how long after 9/11 did you decide that this was the appropriate time?
Trey Parker: We have been working on this for 2 ½ years and we actually… we turned in the first draft of the script well before the Iraq war so it has been around longer then that.
Matt Stone: It came more out of watching Thunderbirds on TV and that is how the idea started and then also we were watching Thunderbirds on TV and we were talking about how cool just the look was and even though it was all little and you could tell it was all miniature the fact it was real made it so cool to look at. Then we read this article in the trades about how The Day After Tomorrow was… had just this idea been sold to Fox and the pictures it sold and the one line pitch and I forgot what it was in Variety was so fuckin’ funny it was just like, you know… Global warming kills people or something. It was so insane and we got a copy of the script and that was the idea we kind of started to take off and what if we did a big movie like this but with puppets and you know what I mean that is how it kind of developed. We realized that The Day After Tomorrow was the greatest puppet script ever written and then we realized we had to write our own.
Question: How much interference was there with the studios given the politically incorrectness.
Trey Parker: Actually the political incorrectness they were all for it. They were more just confused by the puppet thing. They were like…. Especially the R rated puppet thing. You know they were just like ‘Guys we can’t make any money out of an R rated puppet movie.’ And we were like ‘you said you couldn’t make any money out of an R rated musical too but you did’ and so they were really… and especially until… because until people saw it, you know, we had nothing… we just went and we said R rated puppet movie and they didn’t even know what to think. All we had to do was to show them some Thunderbirds stuff and we are kind of thinking this and they are like ‘what?’ and we are like ‘it will look even better then that’ and so until they started seeing footage they were really… I mean this movie got shut down and started up at least three times.
Trey Parker: Oh it was horrible.
Matt Stone: But it was never about the politics. They wanted more and more politics in it you know. Because we would really get going and get some momentum and finally have an office and finally be about ready to shoot. We knew as soon as we got a test sequence shot we would be able to show people this is what we mean and we would always just about get there and suddenly the studio would say ‘oh you know what we just found out that this counts as an animated film which means we don’t have our normal sell throughs which means we are not going to make as much money out of it’ so we and then they put it down again. It was just like… we had to fight for it time after time.
Question: Did you go into it knowing that there would be certain things that you could not do with puppets?
Matt Stone: We had to… we had to learn on the way unfortunately. There is no one in LA we could turn to and say how do you do this? And there is a lot of people who pretended to know who would come to us and say here is how you do it, you do this and this and we would get to the set and go ‘that didn’t fuckin’ work, it doesn’t work at all.’ And they are like ‘oh yeah it doesn’t work’. It ended up being luckily because we sort of had this guerrilla filmmaking background where we you know we just made so many movies and so many shorts that it was always about, ok we have no new resources and no time how do we make something, you know. So that is really our background. So thank God we knew how to do that and make crappy stupid stuff because that is all you could do.
Question: You could have fun with that…
Matt Stone: Yeah exactly.
Question: Is that something you decided to poke fun of during the course of the film?
Matt Stone: We knew going into it we were watching the Thunderbird stuff and we were just going… we were… we knew it was funny. And we were just like ‘this shit is funny’ and we noticed even with the Thunderbirds that it was its funniest when it took itself seriously you know because when it was like ‘come on guys, we gotta go, we gotta go now!’ And that totally made the Thunderbirds and I was like I could watch that for 90 minutes so… we knew going into it there was some jokes like the you know… her saying what matters is in your heart and things like that that we actually wrote into the script. We were like we will try to get them to do this scene and they would completely fail but you are laughing so okay moving on.
Trey Parker: Watching it when we were watching it with friends a couple of weeks ago, I mean we don’t do any previews or any of that stuff but you know focus groups we don’t do any of that but we did show it to like 20 friends and they would laugh at stuff like Jerry getting in to the car which is really clumsy and they would laugh at that and I was like ‘what? We spent so long trying to get it to look okay’ and they go ‘we wish you had done more like that’ so we should have put more of the clumsiness in you know what I mean. We could have done more, we worked really hard to get certain things to look right and not be a laugh and everyone laughed at them anyway.
Question: Sean Penn isn’t a huge fan of you guys, how… why is that? Apparently there is some memo?
Trey Parker: Yeah he did an open memo to… because we were so baffled by it because on the one hand the memo appears to be really pissed off but on the other hand there isn’t anything he could have done to help us more. Like if he helped the movie be so much, like he released this letter and it gets picked up all over and now you look at the report there is a picture of Team America…
Matt Stone: Before we were on CNN crawl…
Trey Parker: Yeah there is like team America now is in that many more places and it is on the one hand he is totally mad and on the other hand he did us a gigantic favour…
Question: What is it about exactly?
Matt Stone: It is hard… he says in the letter if you read the letter it is on the brochure but I forgot to bring it. He says he is not mad at all about us using his likeness which is mainly satire and silliness. The way he says if you read the letter, read the letter online… and he is obviously fuckin’ mad about that. He says he is mad, he said that was ok, I don’t care, leave me out, I don’t worry about myself, what I worry about is some comments that you have made of voting. What we said according to Rolling Stone we have said a thing about voting where we bait each other where we thought to encourage uninformed voters to go vote isn’t going to help the country that much. If you don’t really know what you want to do and not really sure then just don’t vote. And this whole idea of you have to vote no matter what, just get out…
Trey Parker: We always said the campaign was about getting informed. I think that just vote or die I just think is ridiculous. That is just our personal opinion just talked about if you don’t know anything and if you are just going to vote for George Bush because he is already in office or if you are going to vote for John Kerry because he is on the cover of Rolling Stone, don’t vote. And there is no shame in that. The only shame is not really knowing anything, being uninformed and going voting. Because then you are just not helping us all out. It is not funny to rant on and that is what we did. And he took that and ran with it and this ridiculous, retarded logic of somehow by saying those things we meant that we wanted people to be disemboweled and mutilated overseas. If you read the logic of it, it makes no sense, it is insane.
Question: The other actors you lampoon in the film don’t care as much…
Trey Parker: I think they are smart enough, it is obviously satire.
Question: Clooney is one of your…
Trey Parker: Exactly. Right. And he’s… he will like it, most of them will think it is funny and Sean Penn just really is humourless.
Question: Is there much of South Park left in you guys?
Trey Parker: We don’t know I meant the thing is we keep surprising ourselves with South Park. Every season we kind of go in and go bang. I don’t know if we have anything left. And then I think last season was one of our best seasons ever and you know a lot of people tell us that the last few seasons that it has just gotten better and we feel like it has and because of that you know, as long as we keep going and we keep feeling like we are doing good work and it is a good show then we will keep doing it. As soon as we don’t feel like that…
Matt Stone: This is the best job in the world.
Trey Parker: Yeah we appreciate it even more now. We have our own deal. No one gives us any creative notes. We do exactly what we want. We have great crew. It is seriously great. And it is great because of the nature of the show for what it is where it is a show about a town it really is so open ended every week what we can do. If we start getting sick of Cartman we can leave him out for three shows. If we start getting you know it is basically if we do a whole show focusing on the teacher if we want. It is just basically… because the show is like that it really feels very open.
Question: How far is too far or do you not care about that at all?
Trey Parker: Well too far would be too far for us I guess, it is… the sky is the limit and how we view every situation or how we talk about any serious issue you want to throw at us we will probably start joking about it and within a minute… for us it is the only way we can get to the corner of the truth of any issue. It is how we think. And a lot of people don’t have a sense of humour they mistake that for they think that if you are joking about something you just don’t care at all, you have absolutely no feelings and you don’t care about anything. It is actually more the people I know who do deal with things with humour they actually care even more deeply because you have to think about something pretty seriously in order to make a joke about it. You know in order to make fun of something you have to have thought about it a lot and so it is funny because we get that a lot where people are just like well nothing matters to you and this is serious stuff and you should realize that. And we talk so much politics making this movie… even for supper and we go to supper and it is like you guys don’t care about it, and we are like if we didn’t care about it we would go work on Friends. They don’t care about it. We at least like… we did three years of our life into this film it is not like we don’t care about the issues involved. It is the only way we know to examine them.
Question: Beyond the obvious the Thunderbirds influence and looking at world events, did you guys go back and look at the cheesy eighties stuff like you know, like the Delta Force and all that?
Matt Stone: We know that too well.
Trey Parker: It was staple action movie stuff that we were obviously into doing and it was funny because we realized that making a public movie is super hard, making a puppet action movie, really bad idea. It is just like, it is so hard to do anything.
Matt Stone: We watched Top Gun three or four times. We watched a lot of the Bruckheimer stuff.
Trey Parker: Any of those movies that you could make with puppets and they would be screaming fine.
Question: Using Bruckheimer and Pearl Harbor to your advantage in one of the cleverest sequences…
Trey Parker: Yeah we watched Pearl Harbor just to get the nuances of the puppets just right when they were looking at each other and you know we really used Ben Affleck as a model.
Question: Any other future film planning at this point?
Matt Stone: Never. Very concrete plans to never do another feature film again.
Matt Stone: It is the hardest thing. It is our last movie. Trey? This is the last five or six months have been the hardest.
Question: If you guys were to announce here and now that you are gay and lovers for ten years a) do you think anyone would believe it and b) do you think it would possibly affect your career?
Trey Parker: I don’t think it would affect our career.
Matt Stone: Yeah I don’t think anyone would believe it.
Question: What is the success, how do you define success of your relationship?
Trey Parker: You know the thing is we are just both the kind of people who don’t give a shit enough about things like we would just never let it, we would never let a movie get in the way of a friendship. Of anyone’s friendship. We… people saw it on the set and they were just like you guys are so mellow, and it is like yeah but I would never raise my voice to anyone that is my friend over a stupid fuckin movie. You know what I mean. There is way more important shit out there.
Question: Are you concerned about the upcoming election? Do you care about it?
Matt Stone: Sure we care about it. I guess we care.
Trey Parker: I would care more if it was like one guy that was just like ok. This guy is awesome. This guy can really help out the country. Then I would care. Right now you kind of have two shit heads, so it is kind of like you can vote for shit head one or shit head two. You know it is like, well you are going to the movie theatre and you can either see without a paddle or some other shitty movie on. Without a paddle 2. I don’t know what I am going to do.
Matt Stone: I am opposite I think they are both so great I can’t decide. It is like cherry pie or chocolate cake on the desert tray. I don’t know.
Trey Parker: They are both such great guys.
Matt Stone: There are people out there going ‘what?’ I don’t know what to do, do you?
Question: Are your parents proud of you?
Matt Stone: Yeah actually.
Trey Parker: We do all right.
Matt Stone: I am definitely going to try to have a dinner with my whole family came in from Colorado and I am definitely going to try to steal my grandma’s hearing aid and turn it down before the premiere. I am practicing everyone is getting on. This movie is expensive you know. Before we go…
Trey Parker: I did that last night with everybody. Sat down and say it is really offensive and they are like ‘oh we know Trey’ and I am like ‘no you don’t know’. This one is really offensive.
Question: Talk about the MPAA R rating which was almost an NC-17.
Trey Parker: Yeah and it was ridiculous and all it was, was the sex scenes. That is all they had the problem with. We had to cut it… we had to cut it almost more then half and it used to be a minute forty and now it is forty nine seconds.
Question: So on the DVD would you have an extended version?
Trey Parker: Absolutely. An even we are going to get into some foreign countries with it because foreign countries don’t care. No almost every foreign country will have real sex, just not America.