Greg Mottola, director of Superbad and some of the best episodes of Arrested Development, is having a “Superday” on Sunday courtesy of the Museum of the Moving Image. Mottola will be appearing at the day-long retrospective of his films, including a rare screening of his memorable, offbeat indie The Daytrippers (cast member Liev Schreiber will also be in attendance) and a sneak preview of his latest amusement park-set comedy Adventureland. Recently Mottola took some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions for us via e-mail on surviving in Hollywood, his worst job ever, and what he loves about geeks.
You graduated from Columbia film school in 1992, directed your first indie feature The Daytrippers in 1996, and then your next feature was Superbad in 2007. What happened after Daytrippers, and why did it take so long to direct your next movie?
After Daytrippers, I set up a movie to write and direct at Columbia Pictures. I even got a green light and started pre-production–but then the studio got cold feet and nixed the whole thing. I wasted a bit too much time trying to set it up at other studios, to no avail . . . and wasted even more time feeling sorry for myself. I finally gave up on that project and moved to Los Angeles to direct TV for a few years (the first show being Undeclared, where I met Judd Apatow, then Arrested Development and The Comeback). I needed to get past some fantasy of the career I thought I was going to have–and see the amazing opportunities in front of me . . . as soon as I did that, things got a lot easier.
You’ve said that you came to the film business without connections. Are there any benefits to doing it all on your own?
Hmm. Only the benefit of truly appreciating my good breaks later on.
What was the best piece of advice given to you about the film business?
Steven Soderbergh wrote this in his book about the making of sex, lies & videotape: talent + tenacity = luck. In other words, if you have some talent, hang in there and you’ll get your shot (assuming you don’t go mad from frustration).
You’re currently working on a film about geeks on their way to Comic Con, your latest, Adventureland, is about misfits at an amusement park, and then there’s, of course, McLovin. What attracts you to these geeks’ stories?
I’m drawn to stories of the struggles of people who haven’t gotten all the breaks. I’m interested in how people conduct themselves in imperfect situations and relationships. The misfits are often sensitive, thin-skinned types–I guess I’m one of those, too.
Adventureland is based on your experiences working in an amusement park on Long Island. Was that the worst job you ever had? And if not, what was it?
I’ve had worse jobs: I once worked in an unairconditioned elevator parts factory in Chicago for an entire summer. It was like being in a turn-of-the-century novel about factory workers who die from whooping cough.
Since you’re the star of Museum of the Moving Image’s “Superday,” which of these do you prefer:
Super Fly or Superman?
I’m gonna go Super Fly.
Super Mario Brothers or Super Street Fighter II?
Super Mario Brothers, since they are paisan.
The Supersuckers or Superchunk?
I’m gonna say Superchunk, by a nose.
New York or L.A.?
New York, by a landslide.