Game Night combines the petty hilarity of competitive couples with the absurdity of immersive mystery theater. Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams star as a married couple whose host weekly game nights.
Max (Bateman) and Annie (McAdams) agree to let Max’s brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) host one night. Brooks plans a murder mystery evening, only some real criminals come after him and all the couples think it’s part of the game.
The comedy team of John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein directed Game Night. The fun of Game Night isn’t just the comic misunderstandings, but the real trouble into which the couples get themselves.
Monsters and Critics spoke with Goldstein and Daley in Los Angeles about Game Night’s biggest set pieces and standout supporting characters. Game Night is in theaters Friday.
M&C: The gun scene is a big moment in the trailer. Why is it a different take in the movie?
John Francis Daley: Well, a lot of people complain about the trailer giving away moments and that’s why we use alt takes. No, that actually wasn’t at all our decision. Marketing is its own world.
Jonathan Goldstein: Was it because he says blood in the movie and they wanted him to say…
JFD: I think they wanted the fun of the cutoff joke of him saying what the f— and then you cut away. It’s a device that works.
JG: They actually did that in the first trailer, I think the goon shooting the gun at the plane, it was a different take too. It was subtle. He says, “Not with that ass you don’t.” instead of “Not with an ass like that you don’t.” I don’t know why they do it.
JFD: A little movie trivia.
M&C: Was that already out of the cut when they made the trailer?
JG: It’s just an alt line.
JFD: They also get all of the dailies so they can basically pick and choose what they want it to be. We have the option to nix it but a lot of the times we don’t see why not.
M&C: What was the blood on the dog made out of and how cooperative was the dog?
JG: It was a nontoxic stage blood.
JFD: It’s generally corn syrup based. I think there might’ve been a little molasses in there.
JG: Potentially. Here’s a fun fact though. The thing they use to get the dog to lick that spot of blood was tuna juice.
JFD: Because that’s every dog’s favorite.
M&C: Did Jesse Plemons ever play Gary too pathetic?
JFD: Actually yes. There are a couple takes when he’s talking about his ex-wife Debbie where he had tears in his eyes. I think at one point, one of those tears escaped his eyes and rolled down his cheek and we thought, “Okay, this is too sad.”
JG: This is killing the comedy.
JFD: “This is too sad.” And that’s a testament to Jesse, how incredibly dedicated to the role he was. It could’ve been a terrible, terrible role if a different actor had inhabited it. Because he’s such a good and grounded dramatic, he made it work.
M&C: Was the single take chase in the mansion the most complex achievement of the film?
JG: It was. We knew we wanted to find a spot in the movie to do a oner and that lent itself perfectly to it. It took a day and a half to shoot and it’s 90 seconds on film. We actually had to do it out of order because of actor availability.
JFD: So sometimes when someone throws the egg up to someone else, by the time they’ve caught it, the person at the bottom is on a plane to New York or something.
JG: It was fun. It was super challenging.
JFD: What’s funny is it was described in the script as, “What ensues is a hot potato like chase with the egg through the house” and that’s it.
JG: One line and it took almost two days. It was six shots and one of the more complex was getting the camera from the first floor up to the second floor balcony where Rachel McAdams there.
Ultimately we wound up putting a ladder there, having our DP hand the camera up to a couple other guys.
JFD: Really technically advanced sh*t.
M&C: How did you come up with the transitions in the opening game night montage?
JFD: Through a love of storyboarding and pre-vising. What we wanted to do was time their meet cute to the Queen song.
So we actually, to the second, timed each little vignette and how we would transition out of it in an interesting and visually dynamic way.
That in itself was also technically a challenge because you have to figure out how to connect the two scenes together in a way that doesn’t feel like we’re breaking them up.
JG: Like the ceiling fan that becomes a drawing on the Pictionary thing that she tears off. That kind of thing, some of it was digital, some of it was practical.
We had to build actually their living room. That was a real location for the most part but for that transition, we had to build their set when we go overhead because you couldn’t do that in a real house.
M&C: Were the establishing shots with the game pieces also storyboarded?
JFD: Oh, you mean the tilt shift shot where it looks like it’s a miniature? We were talking about how we wanted to make this film visually interesting and also consistent with the theme of playing games.
We talked to our DP, Barry Peterson and came up with this fun device of basically making it seem like the world that they are living in is itself a miniature. That was with a drone and visual effects.
We talked about using an actual tilt-shift lens at first, but it would’ve been too difficult to get the focus where we wanted it to be. So the folks at Rodeo Visual Effects who did all of our visual effects for the film did a great job emulating that.
JG: And drones really opened up the possibility of doing a lot of that stuff a lot more easily. In the past, we would’ve needed a helicopter to do that.
We actually checked because there’s rules the studio has about how close you get to actors with a drone for the safety of it. So we came up right behind their car with that.
M&C: Is making the film visually interesting a hallmark of the comedies you loved?
JG: For sure. For me it was Monty Python, it was Woody Allen, both of whom are visual stylists. I say whom like Monty Python is a person, but Terry Gilliam.
Because so much of what’s funny is that it doesn’t look like a comedy. You think about Holy Grail, it looks like a historical epic. That’s part of what’s so absurd when silly sh*t happens in those movies. For us, we worked really hard to make this look as much like a thriller as it could.
JFD: It was something that probably doubled our prep time because we were very focused on making sure that we were true to the thriller form.
M&C: Was Game Night always going to be R-rated?
JFD: Yes. We talked very briefly about a PG-13 version of the movie but I think in some ways, what we felt like we needed for the film was that element of danger.
If you can’t have someone swear, not even for the comedy, but because that’s what they would actually do in the heat of that moment, you’re kind of defusing or diluting the natural tension that you want to evoke through out.
JG: I mean, our world is R-rated so once you go to a PG-13 world, you’re already taking certain things away that make it more of a filmic world than a relatable world.
JFD: And also the bullet removal scene wouldn’t have had that fun shot that’s going to put off half the audience.
M&C: Vacation didn’t do badly. Is there a chance there could still be another Griswold adventure?
JFD: We were approached.
JG: We were asked about it by New Line. We weren’t all that excited about doing another. We felt we had done what we wanted to do with the first one.
JFD: It’s funny. It’s a tricky franchise in that there is such reverence over the originals that to even step foot in the realm of that franchise today brings about a lot of angry people.
JG: They feel like you’re messing with their beloved thing, their childhood.
JFD: So that was something we knew we had to contend with just going into it, especially in preserving the tone of those movies which are incredibly juvenile, smart stupid where it’s funny and very often stupid but there is an underlying intelligence to it.
JG: I mean, you’re eating a sandwich that a dog peed on for example.
JFD: And that wasn’t even from ours.
JG: It’s liberating to be able to do a movie with zero baggage.
JFD: That’s kind of why we wouldn’t want to do a sequel, because we’ve been there and done that and now we want to focus on more original pieces.
M&C: Are they moving forward with other writers or directors?
JFD: I don’t think so.
M&C: Can you tell me now what the swastika button did?
JFD: We don’t know. It’s basically what Bill Murray whispers to Scarlett Johansson at the end of Lost in Translation.
M&C: Is Flashpoint going to be your next movie?
JFD: We’ll see.
JG: We’re in conversations about it.
JFD: We’re negotiating right now. We’re very excited the mere notion of being able to tackle that property.
M&C: When we last spoke, you just got the job writing Spider-Man: Homecoming. Hopefully it’s good luck that every time we talk you’re about to do a superhero movie and you get the job.
JFD: When there’s a lull in our careers we’re going to ask to do an interview with you because we know that something really exciting could be on the horizon.
M&C: Could you alternate between an original and a franchise?
JG: I don’t think we approach it as okay, we’ve got to do one kind of movie.
JFD: Any story that speaks to us and we think we can put a unique stamp on, I think we are interested in.
M&C: What could that stamp be on The Flash?
JG: All nude. An all nude version.
JFD: I don’t know.
JG: Hard to say. It’s early days, but all nude.
M&C: In the end there’s six writers credited on Spider-Man: Homecoming but which of your original ideas made it into the film?
JG: I would point out that we got story by credit and shared screenplay suggesting that a lot of our stuff made it into the movie. All the big set pieces originated with us.
JFD: The big scene with Peter in the car with Adrian Toombs.
JG: The Vulture being the villain was our choice, and the twist.
JFD: We were actually pleasantly surprised when we saw the first screening of how much of our script was still preserved in the film.