Interview: Josh Gordon & Will Speck on ''Office Christmas Party.''

By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 12/09/16 09:58:49

The co-directors of ''Blades of Glory'' and ''The Switch'' talk about their latest effort, the raunchy holiday comedy ''Office Christmas Party.''

Every Christmas, a new crop of films relating to the season emerge in the hopes of one day becoming a holiday perennial. Most of these are fairly traditional films but in recent years, there have been an upsurge in movies that eschew candy canes, hot cocoa and peace and Hallmark-like sentiments in order to offer up prodigious amounts of sex, drugs, and random acts of vulgarity. One of this year's entries in this alternative branch of the annual holiday movie derby is ''Office Christmas Party,'' a film featuring a cast of comedy stalwarts that includes the likes of Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston, Olivia Munn, TJ Miller, Kate McKinnon, Courtney B. Vance, Vanessa Bayer, Jillian Bell and Rob Coddry that takes that annual office tradition and gives it the kind of treatment that might have made Caligula himself blush. In it, the Chicago branch of a struggling tech firm learns from their fun-hating CEO (Aniston) that if they don't turn their numbers around in a few days, their entire branch will be shut down. The goofball head of the branch (Miller), who is also the CEO's estranged brother, hits upon the brilliant idea of resurrecting the recently scuttled office Christmas party in the hopes that the fun-loving atmosphere will be enough to convince a big-ticket client to sign with them and stave off the shutdown. In news that will no doubt shock you, things quickly spiral out of control with increasingly chaotic results that ranging from the usual antics like Xeroxed body parts to more unexpected developments such as a bag of cocaine being accidentally dumped into the machine blowing artificial snow throughout the premises.

''Office Christmas Party'' was co-directed by Josh Gordon and Will Speck, whose previous credits include ''Blades of Glory,'' ''The Switch'' (where they first collaborated with Aniston and Bateman) and episodes of the Netflix series ''Flaked.'' Recently the two came to Chicago, where the film was partially shot, to promote their latest effort and while technical difficulties prevented a face to face interview, they were gracious enough to answer a few questions about the film via email.

What was it that first got you guys interested in filmmaking? Were there any particular movies that grabbed and inspired you?

Josh: I think for me it was ''Star Wars'' probably.

Will: I think for me it was all the John Hughes movies that I grew up with, and then when we met in film school, we started to discover even more movies that we loved in common, like all the Stanley Kubrick movies and Sydney Pollack's movies, early James L. Brooks...

Josh: Mike Nichols

Will: Comedies that were shot like and felt like real movies with real characters.

How did the two of you come together as a directing team and how do you go about dividing the duties on set?

Will: We met at NYU film school together, and on set, we pretty much do it all together. What happens is that depending on the scene and the circumstance, one person will take one department and then other person will take another. Josh tends to be a little bit more technical and logistical and I tend to be a little bit more performance oriented, but we have a very seamless and shared sensibility.

How did the idea for ''Office Christmas Party'' come about?

Josh: We were sitting with our manager, Diamond Cassidy, and really looking to do a project that was set around a sort of universally known life event, because if you can set a movie in something real that people can relate to, you can go big and have a lot of comedy in it, but people can still go along that journey with you.

In terms of humor, ''Office Christmas Party'' is closer in tone to the broad comedy of ''Blades of Glory'' than it is to ''The Switch,'' which has a far more grounded narrative working for it. Of the two approaches, do either of you have a particular preference for one over the other?

Will: I think in a weird way this movie combines those two sensibilities, I think it's whatever the material calls for. In ''Blades of Glory'', it was about ice skaters so it felt like it needed to be over the top just because their world is over the top…

Josh: We would say that ''Blades'' is a documentary about the ice skating world.

Will: If you think about characters like Johnny Weir and Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan, these are big broad over the top personalities with high stakes and high drama. In ''The Switch'', we wanted to make a romantic comedy from a male perspective and that's what the tone sort of leaped off from and it feels like here, it's a little bit of a combination of those two tones. In ''Office,'' we wanted to believe in the first act that all of these people were ones you could identify with and they were grounded and rooted in the real world. Then they go to extreme and extraordinary circumstances with things like the ice splooge and the cocaine snow machine. I think there's definitely broad strokes within the grounded reality.

The centerpiece of the film is, of course, the massive Christmas party that quickly goes out of control. What are the particular challenges of staging those scenes to give the illusion of complete chaos despite the possibility of having to re-do some chaos over a number of takes?

Will: I think a big part of it was our extras. We had three hundred plus background on any given day with us at all times, and our way of charting the party was reflected always in our background talent and how we treated the environment so that we could really focus on our key actors as part of that, but definitely show the out of controlness in extreme ways building up to the mayhem of lighting Christmas trees on fire and throwing vending machines out windows with our additional party goers.

The film also has large cast of comedic actors with a wide variety of comedic approaches including a couple people who've worked with before with Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston, Can you talk about what governed the casting of the film?

Josh: I think for us, its very important to actually populate the scenes with people that come at their comedy from different perspectives. To us, scenes always feel more alive when you have different schools of comedy working with each other. You know obviously that Jen Aniston comes from television and Jimmy Burrows was a great director on ''Friends,'' so she has a great reverence for the script and really does her homework. She's also really great and light on her feet and Bateman to us is sort of a great centerpiece of chaos--you know that's what he did so well in ''Arrested Development'' , and you know he is an incredible reactor. Then we wanted to have sort of bigger, louder, more bombastic flavors with Kate McKinnon and T.J. Miller and Jillian Bell, so we really were very lucky in having all these different sort of styles coming together in this one movie because that until ultimately what an office is. An office is a lot of different personalities and they all have to kinda figure out how to work together.

The last few years have seen an uptick in films that combine the holidays with raunchy, out of control humor—things like the ''Bad Santa'' movies, ''A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas,'' ''The Night Before'' and, of course, ''Office Christmas Party.'' What is it about that particular combination that you think people will respond to the most?

Josh: Well I think, there were not a lot of sort of adult-themed movies around the holidays. I think there's a lot of saccharin sort of classic holiday movies and I think there was a hunger for that. I think it was important for us not just to make sort of a raunchy comedy, but to make an adult comedy that's R rated that ultimately delivers a kind of holiday message that has heart and is and is about characters that you care about and that you want to go on the journey with .For us, this was a little different than those movies. It's the same in that it's R rated, but this one really is sort of ultimately a feel good movie too.

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