Franchise Fred Interview: Vacation Writer/Directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein


John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein on the set of Vacation with Ed Helms and Skyler Gisondo

John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein on the set of Vacation with Ed Helms and Skyler Gisondo

This may be the ultimate Franchise Fred interview. Vacation was maybe my number two franchise to revive. I still want Back to the Future IV, but it’s too late to have it come out in the real 2015. You can always take the Griswolds anywhere though, and if it’s been nearly 20 years since the last one, having Rusty all grown up, and played by Ed Helms now, makes perfect sense.

So I introduced Vacation writer/directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley to Franchise Fred, and they asked me the question I’ve been waiting for. So we discussed the joy of sequels, all my Griswold superfan minutiae, and the new aesthetics of Vacation. This was also the day after Daley and Goldstein were announced in talks to write the new Spider-Man but all day they were saying they couldn’t even acknowledge it. That’s fine by Franchise Fred. I only want to talk about the Griswolds. Vacation opens Wednesday, July 29.

Franchise Fred: You should know I’m Franchise Fred because I believe every movie should have more sequels indefinitely, no exceptions. So I thank you for bringing the Griswolds back.

Jonathan Goldstein: Interesting. I’m going to think of an exception. What about Schindler’s List?

Franchise Fred: I have been waiting for someone to say that. Thank you. So here’s how you do it.

Jonathan Goldstein: He’s got a pitch.

Franchise Fred: I know no one really wants to do Schindler’s List 2 but to prove how you could do it and not be offensive, Oskar Schindler saved over 1000 people. There were not 1000 characters in Schindler’s List

John Francis Daley: Ooh, the other 500.

Jonathan Goldstein: Yeah, one by one, one movie each. The girl in the brown dress, the girl in the yellow dress.

John Francis Daley: He didn’t save her though.

Christina Applegate and Ed Helms in Vacation

Christina Applegate and Ed Helms in Vacation

Franchise Fred: No, the red dress was a metaphor.

Jonathan Goldstein: I didn’t get that, I didn’t get that.

John Francis Daley: We right sh*t scenes. We don’t know nuances.

Franchise Fred: So I know Spielberg would never want this to happen, but I appreciate the example of your testing my philosophy. You could theoretically do a story of other survivors or what Schindler did after the world. 

John Francis Daley: I think you’re onto something.

Jonathan Goldstein: All right, franchise away, Franchise Fred.

Franchise Fred: So when Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo agreed to do a scene, did you ever have a thought of bringing the grandparents along on the vacation in more of a central role?

John Francis Daley: We did consider that but ultimately we wanted it to be about Rusty’s direct family. Because we have so many different character arcs for each of them, it would’ve muddied it if we had Clark and Ellen along for the ride.

Jonathan Goldstein: Plus, they would not have fit in the Prancer, so we would’ve needed a bigger car.

Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo are still Clark and Ellen Griswold (and you're not)

Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo are still Clark and Ellen Griswold (and you’re not)

John Francis Daley: Another row, but no, our attempt was to make this its own movie while nodding to the original. We had to incorporate them because it wouldn’t have been a Vacation movie without their stamp of approval.

Jonathan Goldstein: We wanted to include them because we also wanted it to be clear that this is a sequel, not a remake. They’re the grandparents now.

Franchise Fred: Grown-up Rusty is absolutely the right way to approach a new Griswold family vacation at this point.

Jonathan Goldstein: Thank you.

Franchise Fred: So in a sequel do you keep recasting Ed or now do his kids get recast every time?

Jonathan Goldstein: Shh, don’t tell him.

John Francis Daley: He’s going to be recast by Johnny Galecki. No, we love them so much.

Jonathan Goldstein: If there’s a sequel we would love to keep this cast.

John Francis Daley: We would break the mold of the franchise by being loyal to the actors.

Franchise Fred: Did you ever reach out to Anthony Michael Hall in any capacity?

John Francis Daley: We did not, although I will say he’s an incredibly talented performer and so very versatile. The fact that he made that jump from being the geeky guy to being a sort of sullen hulking, he’s huge now.

Jonathan Goldstein: Yeah, we felt that because he already exists in this universe, it would be weird to ask him to come play something else.

Franchise Fred: Was Cousin Eddie ever on the table?

Jonathan Goldstein: No. Not just because of Randy Quaid’s issues but rather we felt like he inhabits the broader side of the franchise that we were moving away a little bit from. Some of the later sequels had some pretty broad aspects.

Dinner at Stone Crandall (Chris Hemsworth)'s house.

Dinner at Stone Crandall (Chris Hemsworth)’s house.

John Francis Daley: We wanted there to be that secondary character who’s related to them, but we also didn’t want it to be that same embarrassing gross guy. Stone Crandall is sort of the replacement to Cousin Eddie, only now he’s the one that emasculates Ed and basically makes him feel like less of a man. In a way, Stone Crandall makes the Griswolds look like Cousin Eddie’s family.

Franchise Fred: Did you ever pitch an homage to the old poster with the sort of oil painting epic image?

Jonathan Goldstein: We talked about it.

John Francis Daley: Yes, we wanted to have at least an alt poster for that but Warners marketing was too busy actually marketing the movie.

Jonathan Goldstein: That was another case where we didn’t want to be too enthralled to the original. We want it to be its own thing.

Franchise Fred: Right, you can see how much minutiae I remember, so I was happy to pick out what you chose, but I’m also curious about all the other decisions you had to make.

Jonathan Goldstein: We also didn’t do a Pac-Man on the television planning the trip.

Franchise Fred: I do have one more superfan question though. Did you ever consider the other Lindsay Buckhinham song, “Dancin’ Cross the USA” for the end titles?

Jonathan Goldstein: [Laughs] We did not.

John Francis Daley: No, that’s funny. We have two songs from the original in there counting Chariots of Fire as well so we figured it would’ve been overload if we had any more.

Jonathan Goldstein: And we have a couple covers of “Holiday Road” in the movie too.

Franchise Fred: Since you were working on Vacation, were you ever privy to the original ending of National Lampoon’s Vacation where they take Roy Wally hostage?

Jonathan Goldstein: Yes, Chevy told us about it.

Franchise Fred: Did you get to see it? It’s never been on a DVD.

John Francis Daley: We haven’t seen it. We are aware of it.

Jonathan Goldstein: He said he has it I think, Chevy did.

John Francis Daley: Locked away. We’d have to break into his house and find it.

Jonathan Goldstein: That sounded like a pretty grim ending. It didn’t sound cheerful.

Franchise Fred: I’d just love to see it though. Are you big theme park fans that you knew all of the crazy new developments you deal with when you go to one now?

John Francis Daley: He’s afraid of roller coasters. I love them.

Jonathan Goldstein: Hey, I’m not afraid. I just disagree with them. I don’t believe in them.

John Francis Daley: They’re against his religious ideals. No, I am a huge roller coaster fan. We had to embellish digitally on the Velociraptor.

Jonathan Goldstein: I think there was a concern that Wally World as a concept would date the movie too much back in the ‘80s so we made sure we made Wally World really cool looking. That involved a lot of digital amplification of the rides.

John Francis Daley: Also we liked the idea of the cynical updating of Marty Moose who now has a camera out and is taking a selfie. He’s got a deep V-neck and a beanie.

Jonathan Goldstein: It goes by quickly if you didn’t notice it.

Trying to recreate cinema history.

Trying to recreate cinema history.

Franchise Fred: I’ve seen it now. They let me take a picture with it and I tried to pose like I’m punching Marty Moose but I couldn’t quite get the angle. 

John Francis Daley: Oh, is it here in the lobby? Oh, nice.

Franchise Fred: When I post in on Facebook, everyone’s going to know what it is. An aesthetic question, it looked like you filmed a lot in low angle hero shots. Was that part of your aesthetic?

John Francis Daley: That was the intention, especially for Rusty since a lot of it is scene from his POV and he fancies himself the hero of the family. It only seemed right to see it in that way. When he’s standing there looking at the Prancer with the family, we intentionally shot that as a low angle because it is basically he’s so proud that he was able to acquire this amazing vehicle for them.

Franchise Fred: What did the swastika button do?

Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) and the new family travel vehicle the Prancer

Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) and the new family travel vehicle the Prancer

John Francis Daley: We’ll never know. If he pressed it then the Nazis win. This is our way of sticking it to them. Schindler’s List 2 all of a sudden comes out in theaters if he presses it.

Franchise Fred: Since I’m Franchise Fred, are you excited to be part of a franchise you can’t even talk about?

John Francis Daley: We can’t even talk about it.

Jonathan Goldstein: I don’t know what you’re talking about, but we are going to pitch Schindler’s List 2: The Reckoning.