Interview: ‘Nerdland’ Writer Andrew Kevin Walker on His Labor of Love, Working With David Fincher, and More
Posted on Tuesday, December 6th, 2016 by Jack Giroux
Tonight, for one night only, Nerdland is playing in theaters across the United States courtesy of Fathom Events. The wacky, wild, and bizarrely sweet animated film tells the story of two 30-year-old friends, John (Paul Rudd) and Elliot (Patton Oswalt), on the hunt for infamy. Sick of waiting around for fame to drop on their laps, the actor who doesn’t act and the screenwriter who barely writes decide to do whatever necessary to grab headlines.
Director Chris Prynoski‘s (Metalocapylpse) buddy picture sprang from the mind of screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker many years ago. Walker, best known for Se7en, spent plenty of time and money trying to make Nerdland. It was originally planned as a live-action film that David Fincher was going to direct, but after years of hearing “no,” Walker’s story finally got told as an R-rated animated feature, thanks to the fine people at Titmouse Inc., the animation production company behind The Venture Bros., Superjail!, and Metalocalypse.
Walker recently spoke with us about his love letter to Los Angeles, the Jonah Hill draft of Nerdland, working with David Fincher, and far more. Below, read our Andrew Kevin Walker interview.
When you first wrote Nerdland, was there as big of a hunger for fame in Los Angeles as there seems to be now?
I don’t think it’s gone up like… I think that there may be more people looking for some sort of renown or attention on different levels than a while ago. I wrote this script a while ago, I don’t even care to say how long ago, but some of the stuff just gets more intensely appropriate with each passing day. Some of the things that weren’t nearly as offensive a while ago are more offensive today than ever.
I think that so much of that desperation to get into the film industry, especially as a writer or a director, actor — I think an actor has more face to face rejection than even screenwriters have to put up with. I think that that desire to get in was just as strong years ago as it is now. I think there are more interesting ways to get yourself noticed, as far as making a student film, stuff like that.
This movie’s more about if I really wanted to get noticed, I could streak naked through a movie premiere or down Hollywood Boulevard. How would I utilize that brief attention that I got? By writing an 800 number on my buttocks? Whatever. To what ends will you go to kind of utilize the unfortunate ways that you can get attention, it seems like nowadays, that you couldn’t before? It is that question. It’s the choice between talent-based desire to get “fame” versus infamy.
The character in the movie, John, is based on a best friend of mine, Jon Silberg, and when we moved out to LA. A lot of it sprang from… It was just a day when we were in 7-Eleven around the corner from us in Los Feliz. We saw the two Columbine kids on the cover of some weekly huge news magazine. We’re like, “Well, what would we have to do to get on the cover of a magazine?”
The other thing I’ll say, just stepping back for one second, is when I wrote the script, and I don’t think this has changed a whole lot either, I think going to New York and trying to kind of break in has changed because New York has gotten so much more exponentially expensive. It seems like a harder place to go to kind of start out. I know kids still do it.
When I was right out of college, I went to Penn State, we moved to New York. There’s a bunch of us and we were all trying to break in. That’s where we started. It’s so expensive there I’m not sure how people are doing it unless they’re living out on like, 120th Street in Queens or whatever, whereas I started at Astoria. I was close to Manhattan.
When it comes to LA, when I wrote it I just thought, “Well, this is going to be the favorite script of every one of the people who moved to LA.” Some of us are going and writing scripts, some of us are working in the mail room, but we all live in these apartments that we have a tandem parking space downstairs that’s between concrete pillars. One roommate has to go move the car so the other can get out. Has that same rickety, kind of creaky, rusty gate that opens to let you out onto the street from underneath the apartment. You’ve got kind of like, a good living space, but you’re sharing it with two or three other people.
I think it’s a real recognizable version of Los Angeles or Hollywood. All the more recognizable because of the beautiful work by Titmouse and the neighborhoods they created that are based on the neighborhoods where they live and work and where I live and work.
What made you move to New York over Los Angeles? And what did you think of Los Angeles when you first arrived?
The reason we went to New York first was there was like, four of us and I couldn’t afford a car. You could live in New York without a car, take the subway. That made sense. We all PA’d on New York real low-budget stuff. I mean, I was there in New York in the late ’80s, very early ’90s. It was a very different city, obviously. There was a very vibrant, kind of low budget, low, low budget film community because of video cassettes. If you created a video cassette you could pretty much sell one copy to every video store from coast to coast. There were so many video stores coast to coast and so many racks of videos for rental, even in like, 7-Elevens.
Then when we moved, and I did move with my friend Jon, when we moved out to Los Angeles, I was terrified, first of all, because I didn’t want to have to learn a whole new city. Yes, it was the sprawling nature of Los Angeles that was so different from living five years in New York City where you could take the subway but once you were in the city you could walk pretty much anywhere. I could go on and on about why I think that is because of the fact that you can go from 55th Street to 80th, and it doesn’t seem that far when you get this feedback, which is 60th, 61st, and 62nd [Street]. I only have x amount [of blocks] more.
Here, you may think, “Oh, well, it’s an address on Wilshire Boulevard and it’s not that far away,” but then you get in the car and you spend an hour going seven miles. LA was a very different city. For anyone who’s come and seen the stars on the Walk of Fame, it’s not Hollywood as it might be sometimes imagined from a distance. It’s not necessarily as glamorous as sometimes advertised.
I really do love LA. I’m much more suited to a city, which is pseudo-suburban city where you have to kind of remind yourself, “Oh, wait, I live in a city. I don’t live in suburban Pennsylvania anymore.” I do love LA. It’s definitely the lack of zoning that’s really apparent in all the mini strip malls, etc.
I read you call the film a love letter to LA. As someone who likes Los Angeles, it’s always nice to hear someone say that.
Oh, absolutely, especially now. I mean, look, there was the cliché of … We’ll never in LA approach New York when it comes to theater, as far as scale goes. There’s actually a really cool theater here at the Geffen Playhouse and at the Mark Taper Forum, especially. That stuff’s amazing, and the Ahmanson Theater, etc.
It used to be kind of humiliating comparing Los Angeles’ art and museum scene to New York’s. It’s not anymore. I mean, they’ve really stepped up in the time that I’ve been here. Now I’ve been here more than 20 years. Yeah, I do love LA. I’ve said it a million times, Se7en was my love letter to New York City. Nerdland, in a way, is my love letter to Los Angeles. They’re obviously very different things, but there are certain thematic similarities in some of the preoccupations of each.
I mean, just to talk specifically about one story point in Nerdland. I look up at the Hollywood sign and I wonder how long it’ll be before they sex it up in some way. In fact, there was a point where someone was going to try and buy it and build a hotel that incorporated the Hollywood sign into it.
If you look at the concept, like paintings and drawings of that, it’s just insane. I think they’re probably somewhere on the internet that you could see them. It’s just insane. I love it. It’s just crazy, but I would really hate to see it because there’s not … There’s only so many things. If someone comes to town to visit, in my opinion, it’s a pretty short list of must-see tourist sites. I always take people to Griffith Park and at least they can see the Hollywood Sign from a distance. The zoo’s in my neighborhood. Obviously Disneyland and everything south of us. Drive around Beverly Hills and stuff. The Hollywood sign is one of our real identifying landmarks to be, I think, proud of.