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Hollywood's new puppetmasters   |   11 October 2004

With their latest film, Team America: World Police , set to premiere this week, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the team behind “ South Park ,” somehow found the time to talk with The Chronicle about the important things in life: puppet sex and hate mail.

Chronicle: What do you guys think it is about animation that people relate to so well? Shark Tale opened with $49 million in tickets sold, and there's a lot of anticipation for the release of your movie.

Trey Parker: I really have no idea because I thought Shark Tale looked like it must suck balls. I mean, I don't know what drove people to that movie. But I mean for us, it is just the ability to have a lot of control over things, especially with “ South Park .” It is the ability to sort of have the Chinese army show up if you need or whatever, make those kinds of jokes. With this movie, we really kind of learned as we were shooting it. It was way more like a live action movie than it was animation because everything really was happening right in front of you and you had to make it work. In terms of what people get there, I really don't know.

Matt Stone: But also, so many live action movies now, big action movies are almost animated anyway.

TP: True.

C: There is obviously a huge action influence on this film. Which action films influence you the most?

TP: We really modeled this movie after the classic [Jerry] Bruckheimer structure, which is really a horrible structure when you really look at it, which is really sort of a Joseph Campbell structure. ... Instead of sort of starting with the reluctant hero that has to grow into manhood and accept his quest in doing everything. He just starts with a guy who is fucking rad and thinks he is rad and then sort of in the middle starts thinking, “maybe I'm not so rad,” and then in the end decides he is really rad again. So that is the sort of the Jerry Bruckheimer hero.

MS: Both Pearl Harbor and Top Gun have the exact same scene. It is exactly the same scene where it is Tom Cruise and Ben Affleck. They are brass, they are young, they have so much ability. Then they get caught fucking around by their superior, and instead of getting busted, he sends him to Top Gun school or whatever. It is exactly the same scene. Just one is with Ben Affleck and one is with Tom Cruise. It is amazing.

C: According to the website, the movie still doesn't have a rating. I've heard rumors it's because of gratuitous puppet sex. Can you confirm or deny this?

TP: Yes, we confirm it. It is absolutely the most ridiculouss, stupid thing in the universe. Our puppets are not anatomically correct, they don't even have, like, pubic hair—they're dolls. And we put them in sexual positions, but obviously everything's completely implied. It's just a joke, and the MPAA was like, “No,no,no.” Meanwhile, we're taking other puppets and, you know, blowing their heads off, they're covered with blood and stuff, and the MPAA didn't have a word to say about that. It was all about the sexual positions. It couldn't be anything but missionary. I think that little boys and girls around the country are thinking that their dolls are doing the same stuff.

C: This movie was partly based on “ Thunderbirds ,” the popular 1960s British television series. But did you have any other puppet influences, maybe the greatest puppets of all time?

TP: Well, it was very much inspired by Gerry Andersen, and all of the Stingray stuff. It was just this fascination we had with this guy, and actually it was pretty cool because the guy Gerry Andersen just sent us a letter. He saw the trailer and he was pretty psyched, so we're going to try to get him out to the premiere and everything. But after doing a puppet movie, I think that guy is completely out of his mind. Because I would never, ever do another one ever again, and I don't know how that guy's done it for like 30 years—I have no idea.

C: You guys are some of the best known satirical writers in television. What role would you say satire plays in the post-9/11 frenzy that's going on right now?

TP: Well, especially in a post-Fahrenheit 9/11, it's really important (laughs). We live in a post-Fahrenheit 9/11 world. It's funny, because we never thought of ourselves as satirists. Well, we just sort of do comedy, and we end up doing sort of topical comedy, and everyone's suddenly saying we're satirists. It's not really a conscious thing. Even in this movie, while it is political, we've noticed as we've made it that the politics always sort of took a backseat. The politics became the setting, because they really aren't that funny. It really became a movie about making fun of movies. And I guess that's the most satirical part of the movie, the satire of “here's a Bruckheimer movie done with puppets.”

C: Are you brutally honest with each other about what's funny and what's not, or do you just instinctively know what works?

TP: No, we don't instinctively know at all. We just throw a lot of things on the easel and then cut a lot of things out. And when you're sitting on your 75th day of trying to make puppets look at each other, nothing's funny anymore. Luckily, we worked out most of the comedy in the script before we started shooting.

MS: It probably helps that Trey and I are both such dicks that we won't really fake laugh at anything. So we only really laugh at something we really think is funny.

TP: And we only laugh at our own stuff. If anyone else tries to throw in a joke, we tell them to shut up.

C: Have you guys ever received hate mail regarding your work?

TP: Well, we don't really get the hate mail. Comedy Central gets all the hate mail. They get fan mail and hate mail. Then they just send us the fan mail. So it could be like a 5 to 1 ratio of hate mail to fan mail, and we'll never know.Comedy Central knows. It's funny though, when people get pissed off, they really point their anger at Comedy Central. Even when it's just bad creatively, they blame Comedy Central—and we do, too (laughs). No, we don't get much hate mail, but we will after this movie.

C: How do you think you'd respond to hate mail you receive?

TP: I don't think we would, really. I mean, I think we would definitely sit down and hug each other and cry over it. We'd be really bummed out, and then we'd get in our big Mercedes and drive to our big houses. We'd be so bummed.

C: Are any members of Team America inspired by a real person or TV character?

TP: They're sort of just inspired from the very standard sort of Joseph Campbell mythology. You know, the mentor character, the emotional guidance character, and all of that stuff that you find in Star Wars and the Matrix . Well, the first Matrix anyway; all the rest of them fucked it up. It was also based on the standard Bruckheimer stuff.

C: There's a lot of obvious social commentary in your work. Is that just a product of the times?

TP: We very rarely sit down to write and say, “Ok, which social thing should we tackle this week?”

MS: I think it comes out of the fact that we have to do 20 shows a year, and we need subject matter, and there's the world around you. I mean, when you see big sitcoms like “ Friends ,” and they'll purposely stay away from social issues because they don't want to alienate anybody. So when one of the characters gets pregnant and is a single mom, there's totally funny shit having to do with the fact that she's going to be a single mom, but with “ Friends ,” it'll just be about, “Oh my god, I've got to find a fucking dress to fit my fat belly.” That's your 30 minutes. So, I mean, we have to come up with 20 shows, and we don't have good actors like Jennifer Aniston to pull off our stuff, so we've got to come up with shit like that (laughs).

[ source: COLUMBIA ]


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