Compiled by: Jack Foley
Q: Christopher, I know that when you shot Best in Show, you
had masses of footage. Was this shot on a tighter rein and did
that effect the improvisation?
A: Its all improvised. Every words improvised
and we have 80 hours of film on this. The process is the same.
Eugene Levy and I worked for a period of months to work out the
story, the back histories for all the characters and obviously
the songs were all written prior to the making of the film. Every
scene is structured so we know what happens in every scene but
theres no dialogue written at all. Theres no rehearsal,
so what you see is whats happening.
Q: It must be a rare luxury to be able to shoot so much footage?
A: Well, we only shoot for 26 days. So its not really
a question of luxury. Its just that a lot happens. In one
day, we have more that happens than on some films in a week. A
conventional movie will shoot, say three pages of a scene in a
day. We will get the equivalent of 20 pages of script in a day.
Q: Given that you all know each other so well, is there a
spirit of competition that exists between you?
A: Its only obvious after the film comes out. Theres
no competitive aspect to this because if there was, we wouldnt
be able to do this kind of work that we do. It has to be a team
Q: And do you happen to have more than one idea as to who
might play each role?
A: When Eugene and I sit in an office, we talk about this
and it becomes apparent, quickly, as to who would be good for
which part. And the parts are generally conceived with those actors
in mind. Theyre not terribly interchangeable. Theyre
not many actors who can do this kind of work, and thats
why so many of the actors have been in these last three films.
All these parts are basically made for these people to do.
Q: Im ashamed to admit that I did end up liking quite
a lot of the music. Did you consider that far from spoofing the
music, you were actually helping it a lot, and giving it a bigger
A: To look at this music, its a very specific folk music.
I played folk music as a kid, but it wasnt this kind of
folk music. It was real folk, in contrast to this kind of commercialised
We needed to write the sort of songs that were enjoyable for people
to listen to while watching the movie and that were fun to play
for the musicians. Weve been now doing a tour in the States
of all the bands that feature in the film and its fun to
play these songs because theyre engaging in some way. As
to what happens after this, I dont know.
Q: Were any of you folk music fans before?
A: Again, to be specific, I still play whats called
folk music, but it bears no resemblance to what you see in the
movie, which is a desperate attempt by these people to be popular,
to make something that was good a couple of hundred years ago,
bad. We had to tread this line to make the songs interesting,
but have a few twists in the words.
Harry Shearer: The idea was not to write bad music. Both
in the performance of the characters and the performances of the
songs, were trying to make these characters real. Nobody
would pay money to watch people play bad songs. So you have to
make it believable that these people had a career and that anybody
would have come and seen them. So you have to hit that bar and
the thing that we share with our characters is a passion of writing
music, so we had to write music that we enjoyed playing and we
Weve been doing a concert tour in the States based on these
characters from this movie, and we love playing the music. The
people who come to see the shows love to hear us play the music.
I dont know whether itll help us re-form the Chattanuga
(?) Trio but weve sold a few CDs off this.
Catherine OHara: Im very proud when people
say they loved the CD. There are a few songs on the CD that were
not in the movie and I wish you werent ashamed that you
Harry Shearer: Theres probably a group you can go
to, to sort it out!
Q: Having said that, is there a genre of music that each of
you absolutely detest? And is there a CD in each of your collections
that youre ashamed to own?
A: [Looking puzzled] And your name is
.? Well, I have
that ventriloquism record
Harry Shearer: I would say, probably skating ring organ
music. Theres pretty much good examples of any other kind
of music. The easy answer is poker music, but theres good
Eugene Levy: I agree. Organ music at a hockey game is even
worse than elevator music. Something you dont want to hear
ever in your life is duh, duh, duh, duh
Christopher Guest: Sounds pretty catchy to me.
Q: Was the idea of reforming the team a big impulse behind
A: The main thing was, I wanted to make another movie, and
I wanted to have a lot of music in the film, and the folksmen
fitted into this idea. But it wasnt built around the folksmen.
Q: For an improvised movie, what counts as an out-take? And
also, how do you direct the action while youre in it? Do
you have another hat you put on, like Darth Vader or something?
A: [Writing on his pad]. Get a hat! Well the process is different
than a conventional movie, as Ive said. When Im not
in a scene, I have a microphone and Im talking to
in this case, it was a woman shooting the film. Shes wearing
a headset and Im actually directing her, because its
all hand-held, where to go.
If its an interview scene, Im directing where the
zooms go, to two-shot, to one person
so its almost
like doing a live television show. If Im in a scene, I tell
her what the parameters are, but it somehow has a different effect.
If Im behind the camera, I can know whats developing,
but this is a group effort and people know how to navigate their
way through what has to be accomplished in a scene, and there
are times when we make each other laugh. Thats a good point
about an out-take. There are no real out-takes like other movies.
There are whole scenes and on the DVD of this, theres
an extra hour of material that are not in the movie, because
they just dont fit.
They are funny scenes but they dont fit into the story that
we neednt to tell. So there are times when we would do one
take, three would be the most we would do, but there are not out-takes
in the traditional sense.
Q: Do you make up your characters as they go along or are
they almost fully presented?
A: Gene and I do a very, very heavily worked out outline,
which talks about their characters and their back histories, so
thats very specific about their whole past life. The actors
add to that, but they cant change something on the spot
thats not what improvising is.
You have to base it on a very strict structure. They have a lot
of leeway in creating things on top of that, but you cant
be in the middle of a scene and start referring to your naval
career if thats not in the movie. Because thats just
going to throw everything.
Q: So theres no temptation to subvert?
A: Theres something called Second City, which was one
of the first theatre groups in the States where there were a series
of games that was built into it. I wasnt in this group,
but Catherine and Eugene were. And one of the first rules of improvisation
is that you dont violate the rules, because then you dont
get anywhere. If someone says, Hi. You look well,
and youre actually dying, you dont have a scene.
Catherine OHara: You say: "Yes, I do. Youd
never know I was dying."
Harry Shearer: And the thing is, as weve described, you
all have a great creative investment in a movie like this. Whether
its because weve written songs for it, or weve
all helped to create the look of our characters, so all of the
impulses are running in the opposite direction.
If youre in a scene, youre only thinking about what
your character is thinking about in terms of whats going
on in that scene. Theres no kind of prankish impulse going
on behind that, because we know there are few opportunities to
get this right and were all in this together. No one is
going to achieve anything by trying to sabotage it.
Christopher Guest: And thats not going to make it
funny. The equivalent would be a bunch of musicians and one of
them says: "Youre all playing in G, but Im going
to play in C."
Catherine OHara: I think of Chris as a good parent.
A really good parent who lets his child fly free, but guides them,
so you feel like youve come up with everything yourself,
even though youre being guided by this script.
The finished movie is the script, but the dialogue is all improvised,
and you have so much freedom in developing your character, and
Chris, basically, never says no. You rarely hear Chris
say Cut! its to roll-out.
Youll do it to roll-out and you might do another take or
maybe not. But the dialogue will change. Its fresh every
time and the beautiful thing that Chris does, is that he makes
you feel like you can do no wrong. Because he knows he can edit
Q: What has the reaction been from the real folk establishment?
A: Is there a folk establishment? I dont think there
is. Theres a current folk world in the States. Its
quite lively and every city has folk clubs, but theres no
real establishment, and it doesnt reflect anything in the
music industry in terms of record sales or something like that.
So its not like it was in the 60s, when it represented the
peak of what was happening in recording. These were all number
ones from Peter, Paul and Mary and The Kingston Trio, so theres
nothing like that now. Its on the fringes. Harrys
heard of something but I havent.
Harry Shearer: Yes, I get a lot of email because I do this
radio show. And people were emailing me before this movie came
out to say that there were folk chat-boards wondering whether
this movie was going to be good for them or not. And then somebody
saw a preview and said: "Relax. Its not about us!"
A friend of mine was attending a screening of this movie with
two guys, who were in this kind of folk music way back, and one
of them said of one of the songs: "Theyre way better
than we were." The other said at the end: "It makes
my skin crawl in a good way."