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Team America: World Police - Matt Stone Q&A



Compiled by: Jack Foley

Q. Can you put the lie to a foul story that's been circulating - that you and Trey Parker are not working together any more?
A.
Yeah, I don't know where that came from. Well I do know, it came from an online thing. I did an interview a couple of months ago and I talked about how I was so tired from doing the movie, because it was such a hard experience, that it had ruined all these relationships in my life. I was kind of speaking metaphorically, about how my parents were pissed off at me and my dogs hadn't seen me in a month... I never said a thing about Trey, but somehow they've extricated out to Trey and I were mad at each other.
Quite the contrary, we worked this entire year so hard together, I mean we were working together 16 hours a day, almost every single day in 2004, and we never wanted to kill each other, which is kind of amazing.
But at the same time, he's in Australia now and I'm in Europe, so we tried to get as far away from each other as we could - you know, you spend so much time with someone, you just want to get away from them for a little bit.
But I don't know where that came from but with the advent of the wonder of the internet now, everyone in the world thinks it's true.

Q. Why puppets, or marionettes?
A.
Yeah, they're marionettes actually. I think pretty obviously it came from watching Thunderbirds. It was something I had seen when I was little, growing up in the States - I think it was on PBM, a public station - and Trey and I, three or four years ago, were just flicking through the channels, bored as hell, and there was Thunderbirds. And it was like one of those things where you instantly remembered it, you know, because, I mean visually it's just so different from anything else, especially on TV in America. And we instantly said 'god, this is so cool, don't you wish that it wasn't so boring, basically...' And so we started talking like, 'wouldn't it be cool if someone made this kind of look and this kind of hand-crafted feel, but today it's fast-moving and funny', and then I guess we kind of realised that the only people stupid enough to do that would be us [laughs]. So we kind of figured out that we'd try to do it.

Q. I don't think Gerry ever went as far as having puppet sex with almost a dozen different positions, though? Was that just because that with puppets, and with your sense of humour, you can go as far as you want and then some?
A.
Yeah, I mean obviously you couldn't show that sex scene in America with live action and get away with it. I don't know, Gerry Anderson is like... somebody said he was a comic genius if he would have just let his comedy go, because a lot of the Thunderbirds stuff is unintentionally so, but it's really funny. The funniest shit is when they're just looking at each other, like 'we've got to go save the world' and then walk out with these [mimics puppet arms on string]. That was really the seed of the movie, was some of the funny moments in Thunderbirds. Unfortunately, Gerry Anderson thought he was doing, or I guess he tried to convince himself he was doing serious things and people were going to think it was serious.
It's the same with South Park, you know, if you use a different medium you can get away with more.
In South Park, for instance, you have Kenny die all the time. A little eight-year-old boy dying in a real live action comedy, it would be tough to make that funny. But a little piece of construction paper is funny. And there's a visceral fun in watching Team America and making it, like taking a puppet and throwing it against the wall. Because it's not CG, there's something funny about it.

Q. How long was it before you got your first letter from Mr Baldwin's lawyers? And also how many of the people you pillared actually contacted you afterwards?
A.
Here's all I've heard of the whole thing. When Alec Baldwin heard we were doing a movie and he was going to be in it, he called Paramount and said he wanted to do the voice. And we said 'thanks but no thanks, that's ok'. That's all we heard from Alec Baldwin.
And Sean Penn wrote the letter where he got mad with me and Trey for doing the movie - and that speaks for itself, and speaks pretty badly for itself, but that's his response to the movie, and other than that I haven't heard a thing. Now you know all I do.

Q. Do you assume it's silent admiration?
A.
Hopefully, I think most of them probably have a sense of humour, you know. Even Sean Penn, if you've seen the movie, it's like he says 'kurplaw' out of Wrath of Kahn, and he's like 'two panthers'... I mean, like how could you really be that mad about that? Obviously he doesn't have a sense of humour.
I actually think that people like George Clooney and Matt Damon do have a sense of humour. Or maybe they're pissed off and they're silent. I don't know.

Q. Was there a squabble between you guys over the voice of Matt Damon, as I see in the credits that you both do his voice?
A.
No, no, that's just complete laziness. Trey did a couple, I did a couple cos Trey was busy one day, and then they just ended up in the final mix and some credits person figured it out. I don't care!

Q. You mentioned you can get away with stuff because they are puppets, but the flip side of that is you got an R rating in America?
A.
Oh yeah. I wouldn't disagree that the film should be rated R with all the language and the sex and stuff.

Q. But it's a 15 here. What do you make of that?
A.
Yeah but rated R doesn't really mean much in the States. It officially means 17 or older. But very few theaters actually enforce it. And most theaters usually won't sell a ticket to a six or seven-year-old but they will to a 14 or 15-year-old. So it's about the same as it is here. They don't check ID most of the time, so the rating about makes sense to me, but it was just stupid that we had to cut stuff to get an R rating. That was what was stupid - we actually had to cut a few things out of the sex scene.

Q. Like what?
A.
Just some sexual positions. It'll be on the uncut versions.

Q. I guess there are some States in America where the sex you depict might be illegal!
A.
There might be actually! I don't know.

Q. I kept waiting for a joke about getting wood, which I believe the description is used...
A.
Yeah but the thing is our puppets really were fibre-glass and carbon fibre, there was no wood used. The Thunderbirds skeletons are wood.

Q. With puppets on the poster, how are you going to prevent parents from taking six-year-olds to see it?
A.
Well that's exactly where the rating comes in and where these kinds of stories are important. It's the kind of thing that Trey and I have dealt with for a long time, which is we've done cartoons for a long time - and because it's cartoons kids will want to see it. All we can do is say in every interview 'this isn't for kids', have it on, like South Park, after a certain time (after 10pm). All we can do is say it all, then the rating gets put on it, and it's up to parents to know that stuff. I don't know what else we could put on the poster besides puppets because that's what it is.

Q. Just how challenging was working with marionettes?
A.
Whatever is in the production notes times ten. The production notes don't quite do it justice. It started out as, you know, the first unit, second unit, third unit. We had, let's see 10 weeks, and the original schedule was 50 days the first unit, and we ended up having 14 weeks, probably 12 of which had three units. I mean, we had so many more shooting days and added cameras. I mean, you have to get it done in a certain amount of time, but we would average on one camera five shots a day, probably, because it was just so meticulous. You'd get it already and Gary would have to do this and his string would break and that would take 20 minutes, and then you'd get him all sorted out, and then Lisa's face would stop because her battery ran out, so we'd have to replace the battery and that would take 20 minutes. And then all the normal movie shit that happens, which is enough to make you crazy.
But this was an incredibly meticulous process and unlike a normal movie where you'd shoot a master, two shots and then coverage, and then you'd have your close-ups and edit it together and get a scene out of it, if you got this puppet to look right one time, then 'cut, got it, ok that's the shot we're using, now we'll go in'. You just did it almost like animation, where you just did each shot to get exactly what you need. There was very little we shot that we didn't use because it just took so long to get.

Q. To expand on the thing with the rating, in South Park: The Movie there is a scene where the South Park boys work their way into an R rating film. How do you film about ratings in that sort of sense, because it seemed like you were perhaps sending a message to the MPAA?
A.
I could talk for an hour about the MPAA, it's a very complex situation. But to be quick about it, I think there should be a ratings system; I think that parents should know what their kids are going to see, and I don't think this particular film, or the South Park movie, is right for 10-year-olds to see. So that's my opinion.
I think there's a workable situation for how to make that work, while also not censoring films, and the MPAA doesn't do it. I don't know if there's a censor board that works any better here but in America it doesn't work because what you have is something like we're not Stanley Kubrick or some great artist or whatever our film was still somewhat censored. It wasn't the end of the world but 'ok fine'. But then, I can guarantee, tons of 10-year-olds saw the movie. So it doesn't work on either end. It's like they censor stuff and still the kids get in. It's kind of ridiculous.

Q. There is a conspicuous lack of Bush-bashing in it. Did you think you'd already covered it in South Park? Or was there another reason?
A.
No, we don't really do any Bush-bashing in South Park either. If you want to find Bush-bashing in America you only have to walk about 10ft to find it and almost because of that, Trey and I are always kind of attracted to what other people aren't doing. Frankly, it wasn't the movie we wanted to make. There was also the idea of making a movie being the world police, or that concept has been around for... or that phrase 'America being the world's police' has been around since I was a kid. I remember when I was a teenager hearing it, and it will be around after George Bush is out of office. That concept itself narrowed the film's scope down to the last three years.
And also, in America at least, it felt like the movie would be seen as a Bush-bashing film, even if we only used him in one shot, instead of what we really wanted to make, which was a film about the emotions about being an American today and for the last three years obviously - but even beyond that scope.
And as soon as you put Bush in it, people go 'oh, they're making a movie about Bush', and it's like 'no, we're only going to make a movie about you and your country'. And it felt like it takes some of the onus off the audience and onus off the emotional target of it.
Even if he was just in one shot, I swear that would be in every piece of press, it would be everywhere, it would be the still that went out. Even Michael Moore, I mean you saw Michael Moore for like two scenes, and maybe even 20 seconds of the film, but Newsweek wanted his picture and Rolling Stone wanted his picture, so Trey and I had to be very vocal - we had to cut Michael Moore; we had to say you can't use Michael Moore pictures anymore because every press wanted to use him. The movie's not about Michael Moore. And Trey and I are very good about marketing stuff and sometimes, maybe, we should let that stuff go, but I know if we used Bush in one shot he would be in every piece of press for the movie.

 

Q. Given recent world events, are you expecting an outcry over the Panama sequence and seeing the bodies in the water?
A.
I don't think so. I hadn't even thought about that until I started taking questions over the last couple of days. I think people know that obviously it's not at all related to recent events. But if a couple of shots resonate a little bit, then you know, it's not necessarily a bad thing. And ok, it's not a tsunami but it is a terrorist incident and it's not any less sad that people are dying. And we went back and forth over such issues, and talked about them over and over, you know, what's the right sensitivity about that? It felt kind of cool to let that linger for a second instead of blowing past it.

Q. Is it me, or is there something of an outrageous Elmer Fudd in Kim Jong Il?
A.
Yeah, I mean Trey voices Kim Jong Il, which is pretty obvious because it sounds just like Cartman. But he's just such a great character and we actually... we worked with Scott Rudin on this film, whose legend precedes him as, like, the biggest Hollywood producer, and he's a monster. We actually modeled Kim Jong Il after Scott, and then we told him that after shooting. We were trying to figure out the character and, remember that scene where he says 'don't blow up the thing until I say so', and then goes 'ok, bye' [in accent], I could call Scott right now and that's the way he would say 'bye'. He's just a big guy; he has like eight phones around him.
We read the CIA profile on Kim Jong Il, as they profile leaders that we have no diplomatic relations with to try and figure them out a bit in times of crisis, and Kim Jong Il is considered a malignant narcissist, which is the psycho-therapy term to describe different kinds of narcissists. And we started reading what a malignant narcissist was, it was Scott Rudin! [laughs]
So then we figured, well we know Scott, we don't know Kim Jong Il, so we'll make it like Scott. And there is a little bit of that frustration in Scott. I mean Scott's brilliant, he's one of the smartest people I've ever been in the same room with, but he's just frustrated to death with everyone else, because no one's as smart as him, everybody's incompetent, and he hates himself and he has no patience, and maybe that's what Kim Jong Il is like.

Q. I remember Michael Moore interviewed you in Bowling for Columbine. Any feelings of guilt, because you seemed to get on really well!
A.
Yeah [laughs]. I've hung out with him a few times. I really liked Roger & Me. He asked me to be in Bowling for Columbine because I grew up in Littleton, Colorado, and I said 'oh yeah, that sounds ok'. And he didn't mis-represent me in the film at all. What he did, and it really pissed off Trey, and kind of pissed off me too, was that he put animation right after us, that I think was mixed. And tons of people come up to us and say 'oh I love that animation you guys did in Bowling for Columbine', it's very South Park-esque, we didn't do it, I was offended by the cartoon, I thought it was retarded, personally, but that's just my opinion. And the only reason my opinion matters is cos people thought I did it, and it really was a bummer, and I think it was a good reference to what Michael Moore does in films; he doesn't necessarily explicitly say this is what it is, but he creates meaning where there is none by cutting things together. So we've been a personal kind of victim of that. I don't really hate the guy. I disagree with him politically about as strong as you can.
But I also know Matt Damon and he's a great guy. But if you're doing a movie and you give your friends better treatment, then you're kind of a shit-head. If you're doing that movie and you're trying to make Gary [Johnston] confused by the voices in the world, then you have to have Michael Moore be the voice of anti-Team America; I mean, he is, for better or worse, that voice in America right now - if you agree with him or not, he's that guy.
And, more than anything else, it was fun just to make a puppet of him and blow him up!
So there's the high-fa looting answer and then there's the low-brow answer.

Q. So I guess you have to come to terms with the fact that if you're going to cause offence, it has to be democratic. Everybody becomes a target?
A.
Definitely. We thought about putting ourselves in it at one point, but then thought it would be too weird. I mean, maybe we're celebrities that have lost our minds. But we're making a thing that's going to last forever, but it's really nothing personal. I have nothing personally against Michael Moore, except for what I said about Bowling for Columbine, and I thought it was pretty shitty, but I don't know him that well, and I don't have a personal thing against any of the actors. It's not personal, it's just a statement on celebrity.

Q. Even Michael Bay?
A.
Yeah, Michael Bay, though. People talk about offensive, I thought the treatment of Pearl Harbor in Pearl Harbor, that to me is offensive. They premiered it on an aircraft carrier. I mean, Trey was actually there, and he said it was just the most offensive thing. You know, this movie is as important as Pearl Harbor. You know, this is the events of 1941. And that's just offensive to me.
Do you want to hear a funny story related to that? I think a guy who worked on the second unit, I think his name's Hilbert, he was at the gym a few weeks ago, and they saw Michael Bay at the gym. And you know Michael Bay at the gym because he always wears a hat that says Bay on it.
He said that he and his friend purposely started talking about how much they loved Team America and how they loved this one part, and Michael Bay heard them and kept flashing them bad looks, so they went 'oh wasn't that great that song about Pearl Harbor', and he coughed 'arseholes' and walked away [laughs].

Q. And Ben Affleck? Will you get a Christmas card off him next year?
A.
Probably not, but he wasn't very good in Pearl Harbor. I don't think that's a big, brave statement.

Q. Can we look forward to further adventures for Team America? Is it something that can run and run, or do you see it as being pretty self-contained?
A.
I think it's pretty self-contained but if someone else wants to do it, then fine but not in puppet-form. I mean to do a movie that's essentially so hand-crafted and so shot-for-shot is so expensive, we could only do it as a feature film and it's too time-consuming. And the characters themselves are supposed to be these kind of rifts on archetype. I mean, you have Chris who's like 'hey, you think you're fucking cool?', that's in every movie. You have the guy that joins the team and the guy that hates him inexplicably. That's Iceman in Top Gun. And it was kind of a creative decision, which I don't know if it's that good, but they were supposed to be kind of just archetypes, you know, just like she's from Berkeley, she's the clairvoyant. So I don't know if the characters are that interesting to keep going for very long. Maybe Gary, maybe Kim Jong Il, and Spottswoode's a good character, or he ended up that way.
But I think we're just going to concentrate on South Park.

Q. So what is next for you guys?
A.
The only thing we have going right now is just more South Park. Trey and I's only contractual obligation is to Comedy Central for another year, or maybe two if they want it, to do more South Park, which is the best job in the world. We want to keep doing that and I'm sure we'll figure out something to do but we worked to hard the last year, or 18 months, that we really need a break.
We also spent the last year sitting in an editing suite and having people bring food to us. So I have nothing... we have nothing to write about right now because we haven't done anything except sit in an editing suite for a year, you know. If we wanted to write a comedy about sitting in an editing suite, we could make it funny, but you got to go do stuff so you have something to say. And we really need to re-charge the batteries before we do that and do some more South Park.

Q. How expensive was it?
A. A
bout $30m. It might be a little more, or a little less.

Q. And was Gary Johnston based on anyone?
A.
Um, you mean look-wise or character-wise? No, I mean, the Hollywood actor thing kind of came to us because we wanted to do the whole... Alec Baldwin was kind of like Darth Vader and acting was like The Force and you had to use your power. And a lot of Bruckheimer movies, too, you can use your specific power the hero has for dark, or for evil, or for good, and Gary is torn between the two. It was an interesting study in character because when we started out Gary was like this character who was taken off the street and given to Team America and was like, 'what, what's going on?' And that's a comedy movie. A comedy movie was like, he was plucked off the street and 'hey, look we've got this, and look at our ships, and we're going to fight terrorists' and he was 'what?' You can definitely see a comedy character being like, 'oh, ok', like 'put this beard on', and 'ok', and you can see that unfolding as a comedy.
The problem is that doesn't work as the rest of the movie, because it has to be the Bruckheimer thing of 'you've got to save the world', and he's got to be [in actor's voice] 'I just don't think I can do it'. The movie could go one way if we did the comedy character, and the other way with the action character, and we ended up doing a little bit of both. Trey voiced him and in all of our movies where Trey plays the lead, he ends up playing more of that, every guy that's plucked out of regular life and put into this special world and 'you're all like crazy, what's going on?'
It didn't work with pairing it with the Bruckheimer movie because you needed him to look at somebody and go 'I just might be able to pull this off' and have that tone.
If anything, Tom Cruise in Top Gun. Honestly, that's it, that guy who's a maverick, renegade who needs to keep those skills under control; you might be able to save the world, but you need to grow up. Which is the Bruckheimer hero in all of them.

Q. Do you ever worry that musicals may be getting beyond parody?
A.
What's fun about this is, except for two songs, the rest of the movie no one breaks into song, so it's not a musical in that way, but it's more the Bruckheimer musical with, you know, the little mini-music videos put throughout the movie, which is like the Michael Bay thing. In Armageddon, the Aerosmith song, Take My Breath Away in Top Gun, and they're kind of musicals, they hit you over the head with emotions using music every once in a while, so we decided to kind of hit all those - we have the country song, montage, hit all those little musical moments and make kind of a different kind of musical. And there's as much music in this as there is in the South Park movie, it's just different.
And Trey's such a brilliant songwriter because the Team America anthem plays on both sides of it - it's both kind of a riff on 'rah, rah Americanism' but it's also kind of a weird embracing of America, fuck yeah.
I read this article recently that when the Americans were storming Fallujah that some of the psyche-operations, where they go through and they play music to freak everybody out on big speakers in tanks, they actually played America: Fuck yeah. And that completed my year - the joke was complete.

Q. Did you keep a puppet as a souvenir?
A.
Do you know what's really sad, and I just found this out maybe a month or two ago, is that we used latex for their faces, and that stuff disintegrates, turns to dust, so they probably are in shitty.... I mean we could make them again, because we have the moulds, so it wouldn't be that hard. But the actual face turns to dust.

Q. And do you have a favourite?
A.
Yeah, Kim Jong Il.

Q. Have you ever thought about branching out from animation into live action?
A.
Well we've done live action way back, Cannibal! The Musical and Orgazmo, and low-budget things. But yeah, probably. We always think of something stupid to do but not for a while. We're just going to do South Park this year.

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