When I talk about Franchise Fred, people may assume it’s the big franchises, the Fast and the Furiouses (Furiae?) and Terminators. Some have already expressed surprise that Vacation is one of my number one franchises. I think you could send the Griswolds anywhere and it would be funny, so I was thrilled when they decided to bring them back, with Rusty (Ed Helms) all grown up and taking his kids on a road trip.
With the new Vacation hitting theaters this week, I got a chance to speak with producer Chris Bender, of BenderSpink about the newest, fifth Vacation movie, which includes Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo in cameo roles. Rusty and his wife (Christian Applegate) take their kids back to Wally World and it goes just about as well as it did the first time. Vacation is in theaters Wednesday, July 29.
Franchise Fred: I always loved the Griswolds and I thought you could take them anywhere and have it be funny. I actually wish there had been more Vacations with the original Griswolds. What did it take to bring them back in this form with Rusty’s family?
Chris Bender: I think like you, everyone involved had a deep love for the original franchise, the original cast and the tone of those movies. I know me personally, Vacation is probably my favorite comedy hands down. I’ve watched it hundreds of times in college and remember doing Vacation marathons when I was abroad. I’m a big fan of Chevy Chase so everyone had a love for the movie, a fear of potentially doing a disservice to the franchise, a healthy fear I think. When John and Jonathan thought about what the approach would be, as opposed to just taking the idea and remaking it with a new cast, I think they were thoughtful about it. Even though it doesn’t seem like a groundbreaking huge high concept idea, it is respectful to the original franchise because thematically it does connect our family with the original by making it Rusty. So they felt they didn’t need to stray too far from the notion of the first one. They didn’t need to weave in some sort of crime plot or big high concept idea and just make it simple like the first one. A family going on vacation and everything that happens that all of us experience in one way or another. Going back to Wally World was a debate because they could’ve been going anywhere. It kind of tied nicely to Chevy Chase’s character and how he had, in his mind, this memory of family vacations going a certain way and wanting to create that for his family, that his sons would feel the same way. As a dad myself I can completely relate to that.
Franchise Fred: I would’ve been really disappointed if you’d made a remake when it’s built in that it could just by Rusty. Was there ever any development on another Chevy Chase Vacation?
Chris Bender: It’s funny because I see that in some of the chatter online. There’s this notion of why didn’t they just bring back the original cast?
Franchise Fred: Well, you did.
Chris Bender: Meaning like the kids but that’s hard because there wasn’t really an original kid cast. There were multiple kids through the years. I think the idea was always to keep it in line with the original.
Franchise Fred: That’s interesting, I hadn’t heard anyone suggest using the original kids. Even if you went back to Anthony Michael Hall, was that ever a consideration?
Chris Bender: When you’re doing these movies, you’re always going to have a generational debate where you have an older audience wanting it to be more like the original or holding the movie in such high esteem that you can’t touch it. And then you’ve got a group that’s under 30. A lot of them have never heard of any of the actors in the original or even seen the original. Now hopefully they will. They’ll go back and watch them all. So you’re trying to walk that line of reintroducing the best aspects of the franchise to a new generation with a cast that they can relate to, while at the same time being respectful of the audience that loved the original. Since we all were part of that audience, having Chevy and Beverly in the film as grandparents and the passing of the torch was very important to us. I think without that, it would’ve been very hard for us to get behind making it.
Franchise Fred: Was Cousin Eddie ever on the table?
Chris Bender: I think everybody knows the Cousin Eddie issue. We’d have to go kidnap him from Canada I guess and bring him back. I think if he were acting and working and present, that would’ve been a conversation.
Franchise Fred: You’ve also produced the Hangover movies with Ed Helms, so with movies like that so popular, does it raise the stakes for what a disastrous vacation needs to be?
Chris Bender: Yes, it does. It definitely does. I think in general with comedies, it makes the PG-13 comedy hard to do because if you have to be as close to the way that real people speak and real issues to create a must see in the theater reaction from the audience these days. So rated R and pushing the envelope and taking big swings comedically, even if sometimes you fail, are really important. When you’re going to make these films, you can’t be safe.
Franchise Fred: When you got Chevy Chase to do his passing the torch scene, did he add a lot of slapstick comedy on his own?
Chris Bender: Yeah, he came to Atlanta and the night before, we obviously had the script and we sat down with both him and Beverly and went through all their scenes, and talked about things that we could do and try. He let us know the things that he felt Clark would not do or say. It was one of my favorite meetings of my career was sitting with the two of them and being able to talk about Vacation and hearing them give notes on the script from the perspective of their characters and their experiences. It was fantastic, so yes. There was a fair amount of input. On the day, while we were shooting, he had some ideas. The guys of course tried everything he wanted to do. In the end, for he and Beverly it was really fun. It was fun for them to come back and be those characters again. They were really enthusiastic about it and it was a fun few days of shooting.
Franchise Fred: Like fiddling with the guitar or the spray bottle?
Chris Bender: That’s a perfect example. The guitar was something he wanted to try which as he was doing we all were just giddy because even if it’s not for the next generation, for anyone that knows Chevy Chase, you can’t help but love it.
Franchise Fred: When he picks up the kids, was that a stunt double? Because I understand Chevy’s in his ‘70s now.
Chris Bender: Yes, it was. It was his idea I believe to do that, if I remember correctly. But, yes, we had to bring in a stunt double and figure it out really quickly. I think he did the initial pickup, but then up the steps we needed somebody.
Franchise Fred: While you were producing Vacation, did you by any chance get to see the notorious ending of the original where they take the Wally family hostage?
Chris Bender: No, I’d love to see it. Chevy was telling us all about it. I’m trying to remember. I want to say that he or Beverly, someone has it or a version of it maybe. I would love to see that. It sounds crazy.
Franchise Fred: Me too. It’s never been on a DVD.
Chris Bender: And you’ve got to think, it’s one of the things, you hear it in the moviemaking world of today and you look back at the movies you loved as perfect, and then you realize they had some of the same issues that we all have in making movies today. Endings get reshot. It was actually similar with the remake of Arthur. The ending of the original was reshot as well.
Franchise Fred: I think we’re all glad to hear “Holiday Road” and “Chariots of Fire” in the movie again. Were any of those music rights difficult to wrangle?
Chris Bender: “Holiday Road,” no. That was always in the cards as something that had to be a part of the movie. What was cool was we discovered, as the filmmakers were putting it in the film, the original version just was too good to mess with too much. So it’s reprised in the film a few times. And then the “Chariots of Fire” thing was something that wasn’t in the film from the beginning. When they first cut it together, they just laid it in and we all laughed because you mentioned it’s a great callback and then we subvert the callback.
Franchise Fred: Did any cameo get cut out of the movie?
Chris Bender: There a reunion of John Daley, Martin Starr and Samm Levine. They shot a Desert Fest scene but that whole sequence, we ended up doing something different for, so unfortunately the reunion will live on the DVD at some point.
Franchise Fred: Were they all Wally World employees?
Chris Bender: Well, John Daley plays a Wally World employee. The car originally ended up crashing a desert music festival and that’s where the car ended up getting destroyed at one point. So they were part of the music festival in crazy costumes and things like that.
Franchise Fred: Do you already have ideas of where else you could take The Griswolds?
Chris Bender: We’re definitely talking about it. We haven’t landed on the thing yet, but obviously we want to take them on an adventure that allows us to do something fresh and different from what this would be. If everything goes well, we’re all ready to go. We had a great time making the film. I’d make Vacation movies forever if I could. I’d be thrilled. It’s such a great group and everyone really cared. Everyone would be excited to get back in and do their best to make another great movie.
Franchise Fred: Any destination, any of those resort, the Griswold attitude makes it funny. That clueless, well meaning, well intentioned disaster.
Chris Bender: I agree. I totally agree. I think that’s the part of it that’s so relatable. I know I’ve felt that in my dad. I know I feel that now as a dad, always trying to make the best of even the disasters and spin it positive until you eventually lose it. It’s a great character, great theme and it’s be fantastic to continue to be able to explore it and put it in different environments and settings.
Franchise Fred: For We’re the Millers 2, where are the Millers going next?
Chris Bender: We’re probably going to put them in the suburbs somewhere. We haven’t exactly figured out where but we like the idea of them having to continue to live this double life as a family but in a different context.
Franchise Fred: Are you still developing a Butterfly Effect remake?
Chris Bender: No. I don’t know what that was all about. One of the other producers on the film was trying to ramp that up but it wasn’t something we were involved with.
Franchise Fred: It sounded interesting if Eric Bress wanted to do it.
Chris Bender: You could explore a lot. After that film, one of the other producers did proceed to do a bunch of direct to DVD versions of it. That was one of those movies that a lot of weird things came together to make it work and work for the specific audience that responded to it. Ashton in that part was unusual and surprising to people. It was obviously very dark. For me, I’m happy to leave that one alone.
Franchise Fred: Do you really think The Hangover is over? I understand concluding the trilogy but do you think maybe in 10 years or more you might want to get the gang back together, or send a different group on another hangover?
Chris Bender: That’s a Todd [Phillips] decision and that gang, because I was peripherally involved in conceiving it. I wasn’t involved very much in making the movie so I don’t know. I think kind of like the American Pie franchise, it seemed like a fun idea to do the reunion. It felt organic. What’s nice about those ensemble comedies is people fall in love with the characters and the cast so there’s a television series, you just want to see what they’re up to next. So if it feels right and all those actors are available, they’re inspired by a fun reason that they would get back together, I could see that happening, sure.