Given the anarchist ethos of the Jackass films, it’s tempting to assume them to be the spontaneous creations of Johnny Knoxville and his masochistic mates. But director Jeff Tremaine has been at the helm from the beginning, working quietly behind the scenes to ensure that every prank and stunt is imbued with a modicum of professionalism and craftsmanship. And to make sure that nobody dies.
Ask yourself: Would a sequence like Jackass 3D’s "Poo-cano," in which Dave England’s bowels do their best impression of Mount Pinatubo, be nearly as effective if Tremaine hadn’t taken care to have England’s buttocks painted green and surrounded with an elaborately crafted mountain village, complete with a working train set and miniature doomed villagers? I don’t know. Frankly, I don’t ever want to know.
With Jackass 3D arriving this week to test the gag reflexes of moviegoers nationwide, Tremaine spoke with us about his latest assemblage of audacious, idiotic, and uproarious short subjects:
What I'd give to witness one of you guys getting pranked.
Oh, that's fun. We did a fun one here at the Roosevelt Hotel. We did the gorilla bit (in which Chris Pontius attacks the Margera parents while dressed in a gorilla suit) here. It's so fun not knowing if it's going to happen, if it’s gonna work. You have all this plotting, you know, and that was a particularly hard one because a fake gorilla is hard to pull off! But we darkened the room and just made sure there were enough distractions going on so they never got a great look. And the gorilla suit was really great and Chris was funny in it. I love when the impossible gets pulled off, like the giant hand. I didn't even want to shoot that bit. I didn't think it was going to work.
What I enjoy most is the reactions. I think that's where the real comedic skills come into play.
That's just pure, honest reactions. Like I said, your adrenaline is almost running hotter on a prank like that than it is on a big stunt. So much can go wrong. With that stunt, there's a foosball table that don't even see, and we slid the foosball table over just enough because we knew the guys' behaviors. Whenever they'd come to the production house, they'd congregate in the kitchen. So the hand had to go in the kitchen. And then I cheated it to where Wee Man would cheat their eye line a little bit so it gave us a little more time to come out and hit them. It's fun plotting the psychology of it, you know?
And these guys are veterans. They're used to getting pranked, so you have to be a lot more clever.
And when we're shooting the movie, they go on high alert. That bit, that probably happened somewhere in the early stages of the movie, but not too early. They'd already started to get got. They get paranoid, you know? (Laughs)
Are you one of the guys who got peed on during the penis-cam sequence?
Did you ever think to yourself, I wonder if Kubrick ever got peed on?
(Laughs) I always related a lot more to say, Jane Goodall, than I did to Francis Ford Coppola, as far as my job goes. It's definitely more about studying the chimpanzees.
And what have you learned in your years of studying the chimpanzees?
Just believe in the impossible. Don't doubt certain things, man. It's hard because a lot of times you're right to doubt certain things, but when you get an idea that seems so far-fetched and you pull it off, that's the best bit there is. It's like in the second movie when we got Ehren (McGhehey) with the pubes on his face and we dressed him up as a terrorist. That one went as far as we planned it. We knew we had a win once we got the dick hair on his face, so anything after that was gravy. And we got the whole thing! It was just shocking how it worked like that. The best ones are the farthest fetched to go after. A lot of times, I shut them down because I think it's too far fetched and it’s not gonna happen, but we should probably try more of them.
Is that part of your role as a director, to be the voice of reason?
I think so. Yeah, to a degree that's my role. Knoxville and I are the ones who ultimately decide what's going to get shot and what's not. He's the one who came up with the idea for the high-five, and he stayed on and was like "We're doing this. We gotta do it." I was like, “All right, let’s try.” And sure enough, boom, boom, boom, everyone got hit.
And then he doubted me on the Poo-cocktail Supreme. I wrote that idea. It was sort of an homage to the first thing we ever did with MTV's money, which was tip Knoxville over in a port-o-john into a trash truck. So that was sort of the idea, and he didn't like it because of that. He was like, "We've kind of already done it." And I go, "Yeah, but it's sort of on a big scale. It's now our ten-year anniversary, let's do a sort of tribute."
Then when we got to the set, we saw it. On paper, a 100-foot crane sounds big, but when you see it, you're like, f**k, man, this is a lot harrier. Now that you're actually seeing the cranes there with the whole setup and it was a windy day with stuff blowing around. You could just tell it was going to be epic. And it felt huge. And you could see the sh*t spraying. It was crazy from our perspective. But when we got him down and they cleaned it out and we got the cameras out from inside there, Steve-O told a funny story afterward. He heard us watching the point-of-view cameras and he said it sounded like the winning goal in the World Cup. We're so used to our half-ass production value of the POV cameras we use. We shoot with them all the time, and we almost never put them in the right spot. They get loose or the shoot the ground or they break off. That shot had three angles, perfectly placed, that got it. It's unbelievable what happened in there. And the fact that Steve-O had goggles on, a nose plug on, ear plugs in, but he didn't think to cover his mouth, and he screamed right at the wrong time.
And nobody bothered to suggest that he cover his mouth.
No, no. I certainly wasn’t about to say anything.
One of the things I like about Jackass is that there's a kind of sophistication to it. You have to have the proper setup and payoff to pull it off as effectively as you do.
Well, we've been doing it a long time. (Laughs) With Jackass, The best way to go about it is to not be too clever about it. You name the bit what it is, don't be cute about it, and then it's very straightforward. It does require a little bit of planning, but we have a lot of really creative people that have been with us forever. The camera men are creative. The props guy and the art team are phenomenal. Look at the Invisible Man bit or the Poo-cano set. It doesn't look perfect; it just looks perfect for Jackass. The coolest stuff we've ever done and it still has a Jackass aesthetic to it, you know? I love that. It's gotta have a handmade feel to it. They almost have dumb down their talents to fit Jackass, you know?
It has to be exhausting for you, though. Were you hesitant at all to make a third film?
No, I was psyched. We take four years each time, so you're ready by then. Like I'm shell shocked now. We couldn't make another Jackass next year. I was ready. But my nerves do get rattled. They were trying to get me all the time. And it’s real. Jackass is real. The stunts, the death-defying shit that's happening is real. You can’t make it safe, most of this sh*t. You can try, and we do our best to make things as safe as possible. But the guys often times don't want to wear any padding and so it's just a lot of rolling the dice and hoping it works out. And it's stressful for me. I don't want to be the guy that just killed my friends. (Laughs)
Luckily, none of the guys seem very litigious.
Yeah, luckily. They're much more happy to piss in my beer than see me in court.
Do you think this will keep going as long as Johnny's into it? I have to think he's the one essential piece.
He definitely was on this one. The second movie was my idea. I was the one who rallied that one. But this movie, he came around and brought it up. I think everyone was feeling ready and sort of hoping that Knoxville would come around, and Knoxville had switched over. He’d been wearing Nike high-tops for probably a year. And then, one day, he came into the office and he had his old Chuck Taylors on and I was like, hot damn, we're doing it.
So that was the sign?
That, and there was a stack of Tom and Jerry DVDs on his desk. So I was like, all right, something's happening here.
That's funny, because Jackass does definitely have a sort of Looney Tunes, Wile E. Coyote sensibility.
Yeah. It's a f**kin' cartoon. But we've made each of these as if it's the last. Right now, I think it's the end. But you know, see me in three years and I'll probably tell you were making another one.
Jackass 3D opens everywhere this Friday, October 15, 2010.
Well the verdict is in: Jackass: Number Two is not soft-core. In fact the stunts are more vomit inducing than ever before which in the immortal word of Steve-O is rad! All of your favorite Jackasses are back for more um fun. That’s right--Johnny Knoxville Steve-O Bam Margera Chris Pontius Preston Lacy Ryan Dunn Jason 'Wee Man' Acuna and others have returned to again defy death and sober logic as they take on more elaborate stunts. The stunts this time around involve guns rockets ramps terrorism and animals but not to be forgotten are the fail-proof anatomical gags some of which involve said animals and all of which are too vulgar to reference in any way shape or form here. In summation: more of the same tom-Jackass-ery we’ve come to expect out of these borderline-sane skate-punk dudes. A lot’s changed since Jackass’ early days as an MTV show--most of these “actors”/circus freaks have since gone on to stardom--but all the Jackasses still share an undying love for hurting themselves. Aww. With Jackass the secret weapon has always been the disparate personalities: No two of these guys react the same to their own demise and frankly it’s hilarious. Truth is the commentary’s half the fun! Knoxville brims with charisma and pulls off the rare feat of endearing himself to the Jackass faithful even after having become a movie superstar. His drunken (sounding) laugh is infectious and yes the guy with the most to lose takes the biggest beatings and risks in this movie--how can you not love that?! Then there’s Steve-O whose trademark drawl could be mistaken for a stoned Fran Drescher; he’s the resident self-mutilation whiz. And Margera renowned for terrorizing his folks actually displays a soft side in Number Two (to say more would give away the twist). Cameos from directors Spike Jonze and John Waters Miami Dolphin Jason Taylor Dukes of Hazzard director Jay Chandrasekhar and more only add to the fun. Indeed everyone wants to be a Jackass! While hard to pinpoint clearly there is talent necessary somewhere to make Number Two succeed like it does. That talent likely comes from the behind-the-scenes troublemakers like writers Sean Cliver and Preston Lacy and director Jeff Tremaine the latter two of whom appear in Number Two. Neither the reactions of the Jackasses nor their spontaneity during the stunts are choreographed but it does take a lot of advance preparation--i.e. contingency plans a portable hospital and it would seem booze by the boatload to get the mania into full swing--for a single scene to work. Furthermore to think up such absurdly elaborate ideas is either very painstaking and difficult or very easy--as in watching-episodes-of-Tom-and-Jerry-and-Roadrunner easy. Paramount though to pulling off each and every sequence is getting it all in one take for obvious reasons and Tremaine and co. manage to pull that off like they do everything else.
October 28, 2002 7:55am EST
If you have ever wondered what it would be like to hurl yourself into a spinning ceiling fan or snort a line of wasabi then Jackass: The Movie is right up your alley. Paramount Pictures and MTV Films have released the big screen adaptation of the series featuring a bunch of guys doing really gross and often dangerous stunts--all for your viewing pleasure. Here series regulars including Johnny Knoxville Bam Margera Chris Pontius Steve-O Dave England Ryan Dunn and Jason 'Wee Man' Acuna perform stunts they say couldn't be done on network television. In one gag for example Dunn inserts a toy car up his butt then visits an x-ray specialist to complain about some mysterious pain. When the doc shows him the x-ray with the silhouette of the car clearly visible Dunn asks him how it could have gotten there to which the doc replies in all seriousness "Maybe you stuck it up your ass." The lowbrow pranks however are nothing compared to having to watch the Jackass crew's pasty white butt cheeks as they prance around in thongs throughout the majority of the film. If you can stomach that then you're ready for anything.
When Knoxville wanted to turn his practical jokes into a career he approached Big Brother magazine editor Jeff Tremaine about turning his antics into a column. Tremaine instead suggested he videotape his stunts and the two released the Big Brother Video Trilogy which quickly became an underground hit. It's nice to see that despite his cult status and MTV fame Knoxville (whose real name is Philip John Clapp) is not above performing some of the movie's worst stunts including getting a beating from heavyweight boxer Eric "Butterbean" Esch which sends him to the emergency room. It is interesting to see the personalities of the some of the Jackass crew emerge like Steve-O's. Initially he was supposed to be the one pulling off the toy car prank but he backs out on camera citing health concerns. But later on we find out Steve-O simply didn't want to disappoint his father and drew the line at that stunt. Look out for some great cameos including BMX pro Matt Hoffman skateboarder Tony Hawk and former Black Flag frontman Henry Rollins.
Tremaine who directed the film stays true to the series and delivers a movie that pretty much resembles an extended episode with wackier stunts. The footage is shot in the same fashion with hand-held cameras and spy cams hidden in oversized hats. Although the first few gags are not the best (neither are the ones involving animals which are sad rather than outrageous) the film eventually unleashes its goodies saving the best for last. By the warning that flashes on the screen at the beginning of the film it's clear that everyone involved has a sense of humor about it. It reads: "The following stunts were performed by professionals so for your safety and the protection of those around you Paramount Pictures and MTV Films insist that neither you or your dumb little buddies attempt any of what you're about to see."