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Interview

From 'Hell'

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From 'Hell'
Photo Source: Getty Images
To his detractors, Tucker Max is nothing more than a hatemonger who appeals to the lowest common denominator by writing stories about sex acts, bodily functions, and his intense dislike for short people and overweight women. To his fans, Max is a hero, a guy who says what they all wish they could and who lives a whirlwind life of willful debauchery.

One thing that no one can argue is his popularity: His website where he chronicles his tales became so popular it led to the bestselling collection "I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell." That book has now become a movie, with a script by Max and his friend Nils Parker, starring Matt Czuchry ("The Gilmore Girls") as Max.

The film chronicles Tucker's adventures with his soon-to-be-married friend Dan (Geoff Stults), aided by their mutual buddy Drew, aka "Sling Blade" (Jesse Bradford). The movie is determined to be as un-PC as the book; take the opening moments of the trailer, when a girl tells Tucker she's talking to pet turtles, he replies, "Are they telling you to kill that fat girl behind us? 'Cause that's what they're telling me to do."

Even if you don't enjoy Max's style, you have to appreciate that he's willing to take full responsibility for the product. After bad experiences with Hollywood, he turned down studio offers in order to finance the film independently and maintain creative control. He has also been involved in the marketing, asking his fans for feedback on cities to visit where he would then go and personally screen the film. The rest of the country will have to wait until Sept. 25, when "I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell" opens in theaters.

Back Stage: Your writing career took off with the success of your website, www.tuckermax.com. What prompted you to start blogging?

Tucker Max: In 2002, after we left law school, my friends and I all went to different cities to work. So instead of going out drinking and talking about things, I would have to send emails out. I'd write down funny stuff I did, and people would say things like, "The way you wrote that was so novel and cool! How did you think of the literary device of time stamping?" I was like, "Guys, I didn't think of anything—I was too drunk to write in complete sentences." That's why it's written like that: All I could do was belch out the barest of thoughts. But my friends started forwarding it around to all their friends, and it started reaching outside the group. I would actually get my emails forwarded back to me from people in other social groups who didn't realize I wrote it. So after my dad fired me from the family business in 2002, I wasn't sure what to do. My buddies said, "Clearly, business isn't for you. But writing is. You should put these stories on a website and do a book or something." So I did, and now here I am.

Back Stage: Did the book deal come about as a result of your website?

Max: Absolutely. Before I even put the website up, I put all my stuff out to every publisher and agent I could find an address for. Uniformly, without exception, they all rejected me. I didn't really have anything else I could do; I had to put up a website. God bless the Internet because if it wasn't for the Internet, at that point I would have given up and gone and done something else. But the website blew up. People just loved it. As usual, all the tastemakers in publishing were wrong and the fans were right.

Back Stage: Had you always been interested in writing, or was it something you just stumbled into?

Max: I absolutely, positively stumbled into it completely ass-backwards. I went to undergrad at the University of Chicago, which is not where you go to learn to be a writer, and law school at Duke. The idea of me as a writer never, ever occurred to me. It took me years, even after I had my blog up and was famous, to self-identify as a writer just because I never envisioned it. Now I love it and embrace it, but it's not anything I ever trained for.

Back Stage: So how do you respond to people who have worked for years to be writers and might resent your success?

Max: Here's the screwed-up thing about that: The way the world is now—and it's only been this way the last, maybe, five to eight years—if you have any talent at all and you have good material, someone is going to find you. And someone is going to want to do a book or movie. The hardest part used to be getting discovered; that's the easy part now. So many people now always ask me, "How'd you get this deal?" Dude, everyone has always come to me because my stuff was so good that I developed a fan base so fast that they couldn't ignore me. The sad part is, most people just don't write anything that's compelling. It's not that they're not talented. I would say that if you take all the aspiring writers and put them on a graph of talent, I'm in the middle third or bottom half. I don't feel that I have that much raw talent; definitely not more than a lot of people who have gone nowhere. The difference is, I am honest and authentic and raw in every way. I don't hide from my emotions, I don't hide from my reality, I don't hide from the truth—whether it's awesome or it's painful. I put everything out there for the world to see. And that is something that is extraordinarily, exceedingly rare in any sort of artistic medium. Those are the two things most people do wrong; they think it's about being discovered and not about great content, and they write the things they think they're supposed to instead of the things that are meaningful and authentic to them.

Back Stage: After the success of the book "I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell," were studios interested in turning it into a film?

Max: Almost every studio and production company came at me about this. Dimension Entertainment, Bob Weinstein's company…it got to the point where I was like, "Guys, stop calling me." They were ridiculous about it. But I'd dealt with Hollywood before I dealt with publishing because when my site blew up, Hollywood came calling. I was being offered TV deals and sold a show to 20th Century Fox that NBC picked up, and we had all kinds of arguments over the creative direction, and so it ended up going nowhere. Then I did the book and went back to TV and sold my show to Comedy Central and had almost the exact same problems. So I ended up getting together with my buddy Nils Parker, and we decided to do a movie because it was the only way we felt we would be able to maintain creative control over the work.

Back Stage: What was the process of writing the script like?

Max: I was kind of arrogant about it; I basically took the Austin road-trip story, which I thought would make a great movie, and I put it into a screenplay. It was 240 pages and just a complete, hot mess. A disaster. That's when I brought Nils on, because he is the smartest dude I know and probably the best writer I know. He actually went and bought Syd Field and Robert McKee's books and basically read the chapter headings. We ended up with a first draft to spec out that was pretty good. We thought it was a funny, solid movie, maybe a B+ script. We gave it to David Zuckerman to read; he was the original creator of "Family Guy" with Seth MacFarlane, and he's a good friend of mine. He's one of the best comedy writers in Hollywood. He read it, and he came back and said, "Look, man, this is very funny and you have great characters, but this is a crappy script. There's no real story here, and the plot is tenuous, at best. It's not a movie. It's just jokes." Of course, that fucking sucked. Nils and I thought our script was the tits, and Hollywood was going to fall over itself for it. But when Zuckerman tells you something, you listen to him. That's like having God tell you something about writing. So he walked us through what was wrong and why it was wrong, and he was 100 percent right. It was painful, but once you accept it and work towards improving and changing it, it's almost freeing.

Back Stage: Then your script ended up being in demand?

Max: The script we ended up with was so good that Fox Searchlight offered us $2 million for it. We didn't even spec it out. But we made it independently because I did not trust any studio to get this right. Our big thing was, we had to have full creative control of this movie. And that is just not on the table with a studio. We wanted to pick the director, we wanted to cast the actors, we wanted to be the ones making the creative decisions. We wanted a director who would be okay with us telling him how to block a shot or how a line should be read. And we couldn't do that with a studio. But the good thing about Searchlight offering us $2 million was, after that, every independent production company in Hollywood wanted to do the movie. Because Hollywood is like high school, you know. As soon as they wanted it, everyone wanted it. So we basically got our pick.

Back Stage: So you had a strong say in casting the roles—

Max: It wasn't a strong say; Nils and I picked the actors. We sat in the rooms, we did the readings, we cast it.

Back Stage: How did you decide on your leads?

Max: Jesse, at his core, is a bitter nerd. His agent sent him out to read for Tucker, and it became apparent in about five seconds that he was not Tucker. He goes, "Look, I know and you know I'm not good for the lead, but the character I really love is Sling Blade." I was like, "Bingo." He read for that and nailed it. Geoff Stults is Dan in real life. He comes in the room, and the casting assistant goes to his gym and he was breaking her balls about flirting with him. He didn't even have to read. He was so organically cool and comfortable, it was perfect. He kept flubbing his lines and screwed up his read, but it didn't matter.

Back Stage: What about casting Matt Czuchry as Tucker?

Max: We had to read 200 guys to find Tucker. He was one of the last ones to read and was so clearly the right guy, there wasn't even a second place. What Matt has that almost no other actor in Hollywood has is redeemability and likability. Lots of guys can be a fucking prick, but not many guys can do it in a way that you still love them. Matt pulls it off better than I do in real life, actually.

Back Stage: It's interesting you cite his likability because I read that you didn't like characters that are "safe for audiences to like."

Max: Well, he's not safe. He is definitely dangerous in a lot of ways. He's a narcissist. He has an edge to him, no question. But at his core, you still feel he's a great guy and you like him, in spite of his flaws.

Back Stage: So is your hope to always finance your films independently?

Max: No question. If this thing does well, we are set up so that we will never have to answer to anyone ever again creatively. We'll make our own decisions. I'm not a believer in the auteur theory of film, where everything comes out of the director. I'm a believer in the creative genius theory of film, which is one or two or three people at max come up with the idea and understand the process, start to finish, and do everything. It's like a kitchen; you have one chef and everyone else follows his or her lead. It's not like we know everything; there are tons of people on this movie who brought so much to it and made it so much better than we would have done alone. But there's got to be one or two people in charge. One mind.

Back Stage: Can you talk about your future plans?

Max: I mean, it's not, like, a secret. It really depends on how this movie does. If the movie completely bombs, then clearly we don't have a good film sensibility; we shouldn't be making movies. But if it goes the way it's been going so far on the premiere tour—it's been blowing up to a ridiculous degree—we'll definitely make a sequel. If the fans love it and they want to see more, believe me, we'd love to make more.

Back Stage: When you say "if it bombs," do you mean critically or financially?

Max: There's no such thing as a critical bomb to me. I don't care. There's no film critic on earth whose opinion means anything to me. What means something to me are the people who are paying to see the film. The fans. If lots of people like it and see it, that means it's good, and they'll pay to see more. If no one wants to pay to see this movie, even if every critic on earth likes it, then it's a failure in every way.

Back Stage: But sometimes a film doesn't find its audience right away.

Max: That's absolutely true. My statement assumes some sort of competent level of marketing and outreach to fans. We don't have a very big budget, but it's big enough to get it in front of enough of my fans to spread. If this thing is as good as I think it is—and I'm pretty sure it is—then word of mouth is going to carry it a long way.

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