Fathers' Day: About The Production

Buy this video from Reel.com
"Robin and I have wanted to work in a film together for more than 10 years, but it seemed that we could never find the proper vehicle," Billy Crystal says. "We even tried writing a screenplay from scratch that we could star in, but nothing was exactly what we had in mind. Then, out of the blue, I saw this wonderful French film, 'Les Comperes,' and knew instantly it was what we were looking for."

Agrees Williams, "As soon as Billy mentioned 'Les Comperes,' I knew it was a perfect canvas for us to work on -- a great story that lent itself to re-interpretation in an American version."

From every point of view the property seemed tailor-made. The story had substance and heart, with meaty parts for both men; the action contained the elements of classic comedy; and the plot dealt with universal conflicts between men and women, parents and children, and boys and girls.

Best of all, the story would allow Williams and Crystal to function as a classic comedy team, moving them forward from their appearances with Whoopi Goldberg on the "Comic Relief" television specials into the realm of sustained narrative comedy.

Producer Joel Silver, whose hits include the "Lethal Weapon" films, the first two "Die Hard" films and "Executive Decision," was developing the project. "I felt the original film was a classic of its kind and could easily be transferred to America," he said. "But it needed the perfect cast." Silver believed that Williams and Crystal were that cast.

In a matter of days, renowned comedy writers Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel ("City Slickers," "Parenthood," "A League of Their Own") were signed to write the screenplay.

Then, soon after, another fortuitous development occurred.

Billy Crystal casually mentioned at dinner one night to Ivan Reitman how excited he was because he and Robin Williams were planning to co-star in an American version of "Les Comperes." Reitman, the director of such hits as "Ghostbusters" and "Twins," was in the process of producing "Space Jam," a groundbreaking live action/animated feature starring sports icon Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny. He was also preparing to produce the Howard Stern film "Private Parts." But after hearing about Crystal's upcoming project, Reitman's response was immediate and certain.

"I want to direct the film with you and Robin," he told Crystal. "And I'm serious. Let's do it."

A fan of "Les Comperes," Reitman had long been interested in doing a remake, and the prospect of working with Billy Crystal and Robin Williams made the project even more enticing. "Billy, Robin, Joel and I were all in sync," the director says. "We all loved the original and we all knew what we wanted to do with it. On top of that, my mind was reeling with the myriad possibilities of directing two of the greatest comedy actors of our time, who have also proven themselves as dramatic actors. It was an embarrassment of riches."

"The story has a great message," Crystal reflects. "It talks about fathers and sons who aren't perfect and kids who get out of hand, and how people need to communicate with each other in order to lead lives of fulfillment."

"These are guys from two extremes," Williams says. "Billy's character, Jack Lawrence, is controlling and very sure of himself, at least on the surface. Dale Putley, who I play, is the total opposite, an underachiever. He seems like a guy who's basically at the shallow end of the gene pool. The goal for him is to try and deal with the world. So when he's confronted with a situation like finding this kid, he's way, way out of his depth.

"Dealing with a child, by definition, takes you outside of yourself. It makes you focus, brings you to another realm. You learn the world is bigger than just you. For Dale, this is a good thing. But he needs Jack to help him cope."

Crystal says, "When we started rehearsing I made a decision that my job was to play Robin's father. Jack is that kind of guy -- he takes over. But these guys need each other, whether they realize it or not at first. They're two grown men who've never even thought of fathering a child, and are completely unready to be confronted with a teenage hellraiser. Let's face it, kids are the toughest take-home exam you'll ever have."

Once the screenplay was completed, Reitman and Silver signed Julia Louis-Dreyfus, the Emmy-winning star of the series "Seinfeld," for the role of Jack's tolerant but bemused wife. Nastassja Kinski, star of such films as "Tess" and "One From the Heart," was signed to portray Colette.

Playing the mother of a teenage boy in a lighthearted comedy was a dramatic departure for Kinski. "Working with Billy and Robin, these two geniuses of comedy, under the direction of a great comic artist like Ivan Reitman is in many ways the biggest challenge of my career," she says. "I got a chance to lighten up, to work for laughs, which is a stretch for me."

"Comic timing and big physical movements were a key part of this story," Williams points out. "But big doesn't mean broad. Every moment is grounded in reality, so that even though it's farcical, it stays funny because it's real."

Among the reality checks in the movie is the relationship between Jack Lawrence and his third wife, Carrie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). As an innocent bystander to the antics being played out by her husband and a stranger from San Francisco, Carrie Lawrence finds the entire situation preposterous -- but a necessary part of her husband's maturing process. And Louis-Dreyfus relished the opportunity to join two of her favorite comics onscreen.

"I simply love playing off Robin and Billy," Louis-Dreyfus says. "I adore the broad comic scenes, the pratfalls, the double takes, the sarcastic cracks. Billy and Robin are like a married couple, they're so in tune with each other and work so closely. In comedy you have to be flexible, discard what doesn't work and go on to something that does on a moment's notice. They're so creative, you're just carried along."

For the role of Scott, the filmmakers cast 15-year-old Charlie Hofheimer, who had previously appeared in "Boys" and "Lassie."

"Charlie had the perfect mix of hot-headed brashness and arrogance, with the underlying vulnerability that Scott works so hard to hide. As soon as he started reading for the role, we knew we had found our Scott," Reitman says.

For Hofheimer, making "Fathers' Day" was one great experience after another. "This is the first time I've ever been in California," he exclaims. "And working with Billy and Robin day in and day out -- what can I say? When I was auditioning I didn't let myself think about getting the part; just auditioning could blow your mind. When I got the part I was over the top.

"These guys are hilarious. You go in to work with the lines memorized, and the second you get out there it's like--Ooops, there goes the script! They're rewriting it, improvising on the spot and I have to improvise, too. Half the time I was worrying most about cracking up."

"The way we work is like bungee comedy," Williams agrees. "You know, we go as far as we can go kamikaze-style, ad-libbing, improvising, reaching the edge, and then being snapped back by the demands of the script, the demands of the director. One of Ivan's main tasks would be to provide reason and sanity on the set, to be sure we didn't go too far. We needed someone we could trust, who could be strong and flexible at the same time. Ivan was perfect."

Crystal says, "We totally rewrote the action three different ways as we went along, going deeper and deeper. It was, 'So what about this?' Or Ivan'd say, 'How about this?' We tried everything. Every day Robin and I would just go off, improvising, breaking up, trying different things for different takes. It was madness."

Williams agrees. "There were so many levels to play in any given scene, new directions to go off on. One day I could be Jerry Lewis---another day Lou Costello..."

"I think the biggest problem we had was keeping a straight face during takes," Crystal says. "The big challenge for us was to find for the film that same spontaneous energy that we have together when we appear on stage.

"Basically Robin was the wild one. In keeping with the film's theme, he was the child; I was more the adult, the straight man. I studied a lot of Jack Benny, Oliver Hardy, George Burns, Dean Martin. But I had to be fast on my feet. Robin is like a bumblebee and it's important to keep up with him."

Director Ivan Reitman relished his task as ringmaster of his cinematic circus.

"I've been fortunate in my career to be able to make films that are a lot of fun but I can honestly say that working with these two guys is the most fun I've ever had," Reitman says. "They're wild and crazy. Three or four times a day, every day, something they did cracked everyone up; the entire crew would be convulsed. But they'd always pull back. They're in complete control, like great jazz musicians. They take the script and go as far with it as they can, and by doing so, add something priceless to the film."

After filming on location in San Francisco, the unit moved to Reno, Nevada. Much of the action in Reno was filmed inside Harold's Club, a hotel and gambling casino that fronts on Virginia Street, the heart of the city and the site of the famous neon scene that proclaims Reno "The Biggest Little City In the World."

"Harold's had closed down and was abandoned," says production designer Tom Sanders, "so we moved inside and created a lobby casino of our own. We brought in hundreds of slot machines and a bar, and decorated the room in a garish cowboy motif. It looked so real that people passing by tried to gain entrance so they could play the slots.

"We wanted each setting to reflect character as well as function as background," Sanders continues. "Not just Reno, but every set or location. Jack's house, for example. We dressed it in grays and beiges so it that it showed the sterility of the life Jack and Carrie lead there. Dale's apartment was much more cluttered, but it was no warmer. It was also decorated in dull shades to reflect the emptiness of his life."

Following Reno, the unit returned to Los Angeles to film the rock-concert scenes. The first encounter between Dale and Jack and the world of underground rock was staged at the Mayan Theater in downtown Los Angeles. Sugar Ray, the band that Scott follows, appears in the film under its own name, and Mark McGrath, Sugar Ray's lead vocalist, sings one of the band's signature cuts, "Speed Home California." A second concert was staged at The Starlight Bowl in Burbank, which substituted for a venue in Reno.

The unit then returned to the Warner Bros. lot to film scenes that take place in Jack and Carrie's Brentwood living room. Julia Louis-Dreyfus says, "Playing the intimate moments between Jack and Carrie where they talk about having a family and what that means to both of them, the sacrifice and the excitement, was especially gratifying."

Williams and Crystal agree. The quiet, introspective scenes in which Dale and Jack reveal themselves to each other and to Scott brought immense satisfaction.

"From working together for so many years, Billy and I have achieved this trust level," Williams says. "In the more serious scenes where we had to be vulnerable, we used the trust we had established between us over so many years to dig deeper and deeper, to find the true emotion together and then work with it. Ivan encouraged us. He was with us every step of the way."

"Ivan, Nastassja and Robin each have three children, I have two daughters and Julia is the mother of a son," Crystal says. "But Robin and I are at different points along that great journey that is parenthood. He has a 14-year-old and two young children. My daughters are older, and the marvelous thing for me was that they became involved in 'Fathers' Day.'"

"My daughter Jenny, who's an actress, makes a brief appearance onscreen. My younger daughter, Lindsay, worked on the crew. She's known Robin since she was three, and when we filmed the shower scene, there she was giving us cues. It made me very proud."

Ivan Reitman also used his family in the film, and cast each of his three children in small roles. "My kids have appeared in several of my other films and in this one as well," Reitman says. "I treated them like professionals and I must say they did beautifully. Of course, I'm biased. When they do well I beam like any proud father."

Back to "Fathers' Day"

Look for Search Tips

Copyright 1994-2008 Film Scouts LLC
Created, produced, and published by Film Scouts LLC
Film Scouts® is a registered trademark of Film Scouts LLC
All rights reserved.

Suggestions? Comments? Fill out our Feedback Form.