Movie Feature

Bring on the laughs: 'Vacation directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein

By Zaki JufriMovies - 04 August 2015 10:00 AM | Updated 10:17 AM

Bring on the laughs: 'Vacation directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein

Though they cut their teeth in the TV world, Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley are ready to make a run at the movie biz.

After scoring hits as writers on the ‘Horrible Bosses’ franchise and screenplays for ‘The Incredible Burt Wonderstone’ and ‘Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2’, the pair team up again for the reboot of classic comedy franchise ‘Vacation’.

The family road-trip comedy stars Ed Helms as Rusty Griswold, the now grown-up son of Chevy Chase's Clark Griswold from the original films, as he travels with his family on a nostalgic road trip to Walley World-the theme park where the original ‘Vacation’ took place.  

We chat with the writer-directors to find out more about the movie. 

You both wrote and directed this film together.  How does that work for you – do you divide up the job or do everything together? 

Jonathan Goldstein (JG):  We pretty much did it together, directing in the same way that we write.  It’s always in the same room.  We don’t go off and do separate scenes.  We find that the advantage of that is being able to test the comedy and see if both of us like it, which is generally a good sign.  When it came to directing, it was just that much more preparation.  We make sure we’re on the same page and are telling the actors and crew everything that we want.

Directors Jonathan Goldstein (second from right) and John Francis Daley (extreme right)

The opening montage with all the awkward family photos – were any of those yours?  

John Francis Daley (JFD):  I mean, it was amazingly fortuitous because Chris Bender, our producer, his brother runs the ‘Awkward Family Photos’ website, and that’s where we got most of the photos for that sequence. 

JG:  We wanted to do something like the original ‘Vacation’, which had those vintage postcards in their opening titles, but to update it and use it to convey to the audience the tone and the spirit of the movie. 

The younger Griswold son, Kevin, does some pretty crazy things to his big brother and has quite a colorful vocabulary.  Did any of that shock even you while you were filming those scenes?  

JG:  Steele Stebbins, who plays that Kevin, was so perfect because he is such an adorable little angelic kid.  And to hear those things and see those nasty actions coming from him was all the more surprising.  Nobody, to our knowledge, had done the joke of the younger brother who picks on his bright older brother, so it just felt like a fun, new direction to take.

Can you tell us about the car – the Tartan Prancer.  How much of that car was practical?

JG:  It’s a Toyota Previa underneath all the silliness, so it did drive, and it has a small gas tank. 

JFD:  But none of those buttons actually work on the panel.  We were just trying to come up with the most random, ridiculous, non sequitur features that we could with the car.  And it kind of took digging into our subconscious to come up with some of those functions.

From left: Directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley with cast Skyler Gisondo and Ed Helms

There are so many great cameos in the film.  Was there anyone in particularly who surprised that they’d become involved? 

JFD: Chris Hemsworth is definitely the most shocking in that we’ve never seen him do this kind of comedy before.  So it was a pleasant surprise to see that he nailed it.

Was he willing?

JG:  Very willing.  Yeah, he came to play, and he took it seriously.  We had conversations before he even arrived about his hair and what it would look like because, to us, that shell of weatherman-hair is just so specific.  He couldn’t cut his hair because it was before the ‘Thor’ movie.  But it worked out – he had this mane.  

JFD:  There was even a conversation about the size and shape of his appendage, where we had a couple options and tested them out on the day that we were shooting that scene.  That was one of the weirder moments in our directing career – going up to this bedroom with Chris as he models his prosthetic to us. 

What we love about the movie is that you incorporate stories about Rusty’s wife, Debbie, played by Christina Applegate, and the kids.  Was that your plan from the beginning?  

JG: It was always our intention.  Because a road trip movie is inherently episodic, we wanted to make sure that the audience is keying into other things that are happening and that it wasn’t just going to be Rusty’s story.  We wanted to make sure that Debbie had her story and that revealed the genesis of who she was.  And that it would be as much news to the audience as it would be to Rusty. 

Ed Helms and Chris Hemsworth

You have the original Griswolds, Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo, in cameo roles in the movie.  Does that mean you didn’t have them with you the entire time you were filming? 

JFD:  Yeah.  It was a three-day shoot with them.  We knew we had to have them in the movie, in one way just to pay our respects to the foundation that they set with that original and how talented and funny they both were.  But also, we knew that in order to establish this movie as its own, we couldn’t spend too much time with them. 


The cast of 'Vacation' at a premiere in California | Photo: Getty

When you were casting Ed and Christina as Rusty and Debbie, did you know that your two leads would have that kind of chemistry and rapport?  

JG:  We didn’t.  And, actually, the first time they got together was the first time they had met.  We weren’t sure right away because they’re such different types.  I mean, Christina was probably more of the popular girl in school and I’m not sure Ed was necessarily the popular boy in school.  So there were different character types coming together.  But they’re both such comedy pros that the first time we had a table read of the script we were so excited because it completely popped when they got into their characters.  It felt like a marriage.  It felt like they had been together for a long time. It really just clicked. 

How do you know what’s funny?  Is there like a funny meter? 

JG: Well, it’s a gut feeling.  I spent ten or so years in sitcom writers’ rooms, and there, if people laugh then it might be funny.  And it’s the same with this process.  If something makes both of us laugh it’s got a good chance of making other people laugh.  If only one of us finds it funny, we try to go back to the well and improve it. 

JFD:  As an actor, and having come from ‘Freaks and Geeks’ where it was very improvised a lot of the time, the comedy so often came from the tragedy.  It helped me in this movie because it’s all tragedy.  I mean, they’re dealing with so many unfortunate situations that it really does shine a light on the fact that some of the funniest moments are from sad or bad moments.

Is there good comedy and bad comedy?

JFD:  The biggest challenge and the biggest goal overall, though, is to be able to satisfy all members of the audience in some way – where we have jokes tailored to different types of people, like those who find shocking, raunchy, funny comedy funny, and the ones who appreciate dialogue or heavy jokes. 

‘Vacation’ opens 6 Aug 2015

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Vacation
  • Vacation

    (2015)
  • Rated
    M18 /
    Genre
    Comedy
  • Language
    Eng
  • (1 Review)