Director's Notebook: 'Tammy' Director Ben Falcone Reveals How the Movie Almost Went Up in Flames

Director's Notebook: 'Tammy' Director Ben Falcone Reveals How the Movie Almost Went Up in Flames

Nov 11, 2014

In this monthly column we spotlight new Blu-ray/DVD releases by interviewing directors about the scenes that stood out most for them while making their movies. This month, we talk to Ben Falcone about the Melissa McCarthy comedy Tammy (on sale November 11).


Though Tammy is a zany comedy starring Melissa McCarthy in the title role as a down-on-her-luck outcast who after getting fired from her job and catching her husband cheating embarks on a road trip with her drunken grandmother (Susan Sarandon), for director Ben Falcone it’s not the comedy that stands out for him but the dramatic third act.

In this point of the film, Tammy is on the run from the cops after robbing a fast food joint to get enough money to bail her grandmother out of jail. Tammy and grandma Pearl find refuge at the house of Pearl’s lesbian cousin Lenore (Kathy Bates), who so happens to be preparing a raging Fourth of July party for that evening. In the midst of the fun, Lenore decides to give a Viking burial to Tammy’s Jet Ski. For Falcone, the scenes at Lenore’s house are memorable because the film’s tone dramatically shifts with Pearl and Tammy having a falling out leading to the following morning when Tammy thinks Pearl is dead.

Falcone, who shares screenwriting credit with McCarthy (the two are married), explains the reason for the serious left turn in a typical Hollywood comedy. But first, he recounts the scene that almost turned into a disaster.

 

 

Flaming Jet Ski

“The scene that was a little trickier than I anticipated was when Lenore gives the Jet Ski a Viking burial. [When writing the script] I was like, ‘Oh, it’s a party and everyone’s having fun, they are going to burn a Jet Ski.’ And the place we were shooting at was kind of a bigger location than I had anticipated and more people in the scene than I had imagined in my mind. Also the body of water was an inlet, and that can get really shallow, so we had guys checking moon charts to make sure the tide was high enough on the night of shooting. So there are hundreds of people on the dock and I’m on a camera barge. I’m looking back at them and I see a flash of lightening in the sky. I don’t really have a plan for that but I’m thinking we have to get going soon.

“The tiki torch that Kathy throws at the Jet Ski doesn’t have anything to do with the flames being ignited, it’s for show, but she still has to come close to it for it to look right. And thank God for Kathy Bates. She was great at doing a javelinlike throw with the tiki torch at the Jet Ski, but it wouldn’t light. And I’m now seeing more lightening in the distance. So we reset. She throws it again. It doesn’t light. Finally on the fourth throw it lights and now I’m starting to feel raindrops. So I’m like, great we got it, move on.

"But now the floating flaming Jet Ski is heading right towards us at the camera barge. And it’s a raging fire! So I’m looking at the monitors but at the same time we’re on the barge saying, ‘Let’s move this thing back.’ The shot is great but let’s not incinerate ourselves. We get out of the way of the flaming Jet Ski but then the barge loses power. And it’s raining really hard. And that’s when our DP, Russ Alsobrook, looks at me very seriously, and I can’t tell if he meant this or not, but he says to me and the camera guys, ‘Gentlemen, it’s been nice knowing you.’ Then like 30 seconds after that the barge regained power. It was three in the morning, we finally got the shot and then rain hit and we were stuck in that big house for an hour or so until it passed.”

 

Pearl Is Dead!

“We were happy how the Lenore house party sequence came out because we knew we were going to go into some more serious moments and sometimes that can catch people off guard. So there’s something nice about the Jet Ski burning sequence because it’s at the moment of the party when things get really dreamy and fun and then that usually leads to sobering moments, which in this case is Pearl getting up on stage and flashing the crowd and saying really nasty things to Tammy.

"We knew we wanted Pearl to have a really bad downward spiral to show that she does drink too much and this is what happens. It’s not all fun. And my favorite part of the movie is when Tammy thinks Pearl is dead on a lawn chair the morning after Lenore’s party. I just think Melissa gives a beautiful performance just breaking down thinking her grandmother is dead all the way to when Pearl wakes up. And honestly, the most important thing for me in the movie was that people really thought that Pearl was dead because what that means to me is that people knew we were playing for keeps. There’s a style of comedy that is out there that is totally funny, but in the style it’s in you’d never believe that Pearl is dead. We pushed it as far as we could.

“And there was one point when Melissa and I were doing another draft of the script in some diner in Burbank, and I did say to her, very dramatically, ‘Maybe we should just kill Pearl.’ And I got up and went to the bathroom and came back and said, ‘We can’t kill Pearl, Jesus!’ We did get close. But with me kind of opening that door Melissa came up with that lawn-chair sequence and really drawing it out and Tammy thinking she’s dead. Even the way we shot it came from Melissa. I think she drew out a rough storyboard of how it should be done. It’s cool because how we shot it is very, very close to what she came up with months and months before.”

For more, check out this exclusive deleted scene from the film below.

 

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