Interview: Doug Ellin Talks 'Entourage's' Evolution, Tone, Plot Points And Aquaman

When you're as a big a fan of Entourage as I am, 20 minutes with the show's creator isn't enough time. I could spend weeks picking the brain of Doug Ellin, who wrote and directed the Entourage movie in addition to creating and running the show for eight seasons, but 20 minutes would have to do.

Some of our talk you've already seen in my comprehensive look back at the career of faux-movie star Vincent Chase, but below we have the rest of it. We talked about a huge number of topics such as the way fake movies in Entourage have now become reality, the timeline between the movie and the show, Sex and the City comparisons, the new opening credits, favorite episodes, best cameos and nods to the show, how the film changed during the screenwriting process, the legendary Aquaman Variety ad and even a super meta joke in the film he didn't notice until I asked him about it.

If you like Entourage, I think you'll really like this interview. I know I loved conducting it.

/Film: So Warner Bros. is making an Aquaman movie, they did The great Gatsby, there's also a Ferrari movie in development and there are always Pablo Escobar movies in development. Are you vindicated or worried that Hollywood has caught up to Entourage with so many of these movies that you sort of created?

Doug Ellin: Not even vindicated, I just love it. The Aquaman thing is crazy to me. And I'm sure they're gonna turn it into a good movie. And that's why I'm not meant to make movies like that, 'cause it just sounded so ridiculous to me when we came up with it that. Everything was played into that only James Cameron can make this movie valuable. But I love it. I love that, I saw a quote that Ari Gold told him to do the Pablo Escobar movie, even though Oliver didn't ultimately do it.

So I think it's cool that we've had, you know, Peter Jackson. I get on the show and Peter's like "Do you mind if I like shoot this here with my bluescreen guys and all this s***?" And like I'm like "Yes, please." Like "Come direct all of them," you know? "Direct the movie." We've had some of the greatest filmmakers in the history of the business in this show and in this movie. Gus Van Sant, you know, is central. So to me, people go "Why do you wanna keep making this?" Because I get to hang around with the most interesting people on Earth. And the people I aspire to be.

Now The movie is coming out four years after we saw sort of the last episode. But the movie takes place like eight months later.

Yeah.

Was there ever a version of the script that took place more in real time? Or did you worry about that jump?

No.  I didn't worry about it. I just thought, like the show, we come up running and just go. I try to keep moving as fast as possible. And by the time people start to think about what it is or where it is, they're already into the movie or they're checked out, you know what I mean? I think people will be along for the ride and I don't think they'll be spending a lot of time thinking about what happened before, you know.

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Since the movie was first conceived, because of the HBO connection, there have been a lot of comparisons to Sex and the City. And obviously the success of that movie was huge and that would be something to aspire to. But on a different level, did that movie or anything else inspire your transition from a TV show to a movie? 

I didn't think about that at all. Honestly I always thought the show was a movie. I always thought the show was a half hour movie. I made two independent movies in my life. I shot the show exactly the same way. I shot the movie like I shot the show. And, you know, we were a very cinematic show. A very ambitious show given the time and the budgets we had to shoot with. Shooting live at Cannes and Yankee Stadium and U2 concerts. So it was always one of the biggest shows on TV. And certainly for a half hour, I don't think there was anything ever like it on television.

So every year we'd show it at a premiere at like a Ziegfeld Theater or something and people would go, "God, it looks like a movie." And that was the goal, to get a chance to do that. And I think the movie, obviously it's a comedy, but at the end of the day, I think it's a very visual, good looking movie. I think Los Angeles looks incredible in it.

I mean, as a fan of the show, speaking of incredible, the opening credits sequence is so beautiful. And it's so rewarding and nice to see the new version with the same song.

That was really one of the most stressful things about this entire movie. Because I love our credits for the show. But how do you make it more cinematic? How do you make it different, but not again, like you said, I don't wanna get away from what the show is. 'Cause I think that was kind of what happened with Sex and the City 2. They went in a different direction that I'm not sure the fans wanted. And again, you can only dream of us being as successful as them and getting to that second movie. But I think, you know, we had... I don't like to call it a formula, but we had a world that people were interested in.

Absolutely. Now again, like I said, I literally re-watched the entire series both as a fan and research leading up to the movie. You definitely feel a difference between the first five, six seasons and that last two. And you took a little criticism for the fact it's sort of a little darker. So when you wrote the movie what was the mandate in your head? 

Go back to the early seasons.

To the fantasy, yeah.

Yeah, I mean, these guys were together all the time. And it used to be like 'God, I can't have another scene with these four guys together.' Now after three years apart, I wanted them to be together. And I looked at my favorite episodes. I looked at my least favorite episodes. And I tried to put in all of the things that I loved about the show in and get rid of anything that I thought was less successful. So...

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What are some of your favorite episodes?

My favorite episodes are, you know, like the Valley episode where Aquaman opens.

The Aquaman opening, that's my favorite.

And the one where Ari gets fired, which is Season 2 I think. And really the whole first season. I love the first season because it's so raw and we were so gunned with time and money and the guys were so young and no one knew who they were. So when I look back at it, I like it because it feels like a whole different thing to me. And so I really tried to get back to that.

One of the things you do to achieve that a little bit is, narratively, you sort of erase all cliffhangers from the series finale in the first two minutes. Johnny Bananas has been cancelled. E and Sloane are broken up. He takes Air Walker and throws it away in a sentence. What was the thinking behind that?

I just had to get going. I didn't wanna spend time on back story. And we did the Piers Morgan thing, which hopefully catches people up who don't know the show and tells them exactly what it is. But I just didn't wanna get caught up in back story. And I wanted to just get running. And I think you can come in, if you've never seen the show. It's like, okay, 'This guy has a girlfriend that has is pregnant. But they're not together.'

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Yeah. Well I will say as a fan, one of the things that the movie really does really well is give fans rewarding moments for the characters, Drama in particular. After watching 8 seasons I have a different appreciation for his story than someone who is just in with the movie.

Yeah. I mean, Dillon's so good. And it'll be interesting to see people who don't see. I mean, I remember, when Sideways came out. And I love, love, love the movie. But, that was Drama. We had that guy before and Thomas Hayden Church was so amazing. He was nominated for a the f***ing Oscar for it. But I feel like still if you came in the second Dillon comes on and Piers Morgan is going, 'Why do you live with your brother?' You're with this guy. Everyone knows that guy.

And  he's sort of the emotional heart of this movie.

Yeah.

But on the show, E is usually the emotional core. Yet in the movie, he's almost Vince he's getting so many girls. How early on did those role reversals happen?

Well, I think the difference is E, we've always seen as the conservative, nice guy who does everything. So it's gonna be changed with him. But Drama's always... E is the conscience. Drama was always the heart.

Obviously when you make a movie, the script's the most important thing. What was the biggest change from your earliest iterations of the script to what we see?

It's weird when you look back at it 'cause it all feels like it just came together. But Vince wasn't always directing, which I think is such a giant thing and we came up with that after like the second draft. And then the Dillon thing. I mean, Dillon was in the movie, but the Kevin Dillon storyline really just didn't come about until three, four months before we started shooting it.

The TMZ stuff and everything like that.

Yeah, but even more than that. It's my favorite moment and I don't know, you're gonna spoiler–

I can spoiler it.

[DOUG ELLIN REQUESTED SPOILER ALERT. HIGHLIGHT TO READ]

I mean, my favorite moment in the whole movie is when Dillon's like 'Please tell me  I'm not what he didn't like about the movie." And stuff that I usually didn't do on the show is real tight close-ups and Dillon's face is so unbelievably expressive and sad. It really is. You look at him and you just feel f***ing bad for him.

Yes, you do.

END OF SPOILERS

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What is your favorite nod in the movie back to the show? I'll tell you, mine is in the montage of the TMZ stuff when you see Dom. 'Cause that's a character that was so polarizing on the show. And then like you popped him up in there. I was like "Yes, that's great."

It's the craziest thing that that was so polarizing. It was nuts. My Mother called me right when it ended and she was like, "I just don't get this." And I said, "Ma, you don't know what you're talking about." And then phone calls just started coming in. But we look back at it, I don't think it was polarizing. I actually think it was galvanizing because what it was is people had started to love these guys and they didn't want someone coming in and really f***ing with them. And Dom was scary. And Dom [Lombardozzi, the actor] is he's the sweetest guy ever. A good friend, but people are booing him in New York and his name's Dom. So they're like, "F*** you, Dom."

But my favorite call back, which so few people are gonna get and I had nothing to do with it. My props guy came up with it. It's when Richard Schiff turns over Kevin Dillon's resume and he's got the Apple logo on it.

Yes, that Turtle got him. 

I literally was like 'The people who get this are gonna think I'm a f***ing genius that I'm thinking this detailed.' But that was my props guy. And it's just one of my favorite things. And most people aren't gonna see it.

Having just finished the series, it was perfect. It didn't even occur to me it was a joke.

Right, I mean, that's 10 years ago. And just that Apple logo on there? I just loved it.

So good. There's another moment that's really great in the movie that I almost didn't pick up till I got a little nudge was Ari has a really good joke for Travis [played by Haley Joel Osment]. I won't spoil in the article, but the Forrest Gump thing. Was that something that was in the original script or did you add that in that once Haley got cast?

That was in the original script, yeah.

But Haley Joel Osment played Young Forrest Gump.

It was in the original script...It had nothing to do with it and, to be honest with you, until you just mentioned it right now. I didn't even think about it.

Really?

Swear to God. I thought you were talking about the Foghorn Leghorn thing and, I swear to you, I don't think that ever came up. I don't think Haley ever mentioned it to me. I don't think I've ever thought about it.

Because originally I heard Ari call him that, and it's funny cause he's kind of Dopey, then I realized he literally was the Young Forrest Gump.

You know, it's so funny, I swear to you it never came into my head.

That's so crazy.

Yeah.

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Another thing that was interesting in the movie is Vince doesn't really get a bunch of girls. He gets Emily Ratajkowski. We see them hanging out or whatever, but in the series Vince is always with chicks and always naked and stuff. 

He's naked so much less than most movie stars.

It's true.

Right. It's like Vince is actually a pretty nice, respectable movie star guy. But the thought on that was there just wasn't a lot of space. There was so much else to do and I wanted to get him with a great girl, which Emily was. So but there just wasn't a lot of space.

Also, the movie makes a mystery of how rich Turtle is. But on the show, we know he made four million dollars when Avion went public.

Yeah, but we don't know, the stock could be up, you know?

That's true.

The stock could be worth 20 times that right now. I don't know, once you get into the details with me, I realize how f***ing lazy I am 'cause I have no idea.

It's not lazy.

And I always think about like Damon Lindelof from Lost, that they had the mysteries and knew every single thing. I don't know anything. I saw on Instagram yesterday, someone posted a picture to me with Ari Gold's three kids from the first season. And they're like 'I don't understand what happened.' He had three kids, now he has two. And I just wrote back, 'Budget cuts.' But I can't keep all that in my head.

Right. But you make it the mystery a point in the movie.

Honestly it was just to be funny. I mean, the truth is the house that Turtle's living in would probably be a 40 million dollar house. You know what I mean? So if people really analyze the real of those houses that Vince has lived in, it would probably not work out well.

All right, well they're gonna grab me in a second, so I brought this that I've been saving. Tell me the story behind this. [I hand Ellin this, which was an actually 2 page ad in the June 19, 2006 issue of Variety]

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Which part?

Just the idea of putting the ad in Variety.

I loved that. It was definitely not my idea. And it was a great idea. The best thing that happened with this whole thing is Joe Kernen, who's a friend of mine on CNBC, announced that we had just broken the box office record. And the guy's brilliant. Of course he was joking. And people went crazy that they thought he didn't know that this wasn't a real movie. But this was a genius idea by someone at HBO. And I love that.

And I love that it's framed in E's office always.

Yeah.

Last thing, why do these always drink Red Budweiser. What is it with the Red Budweiser?

Mark.

Is it really?

Yeah, that's one of Mark's things yeah. I don't know, he always wants the Budweiser in there. So I don't have a problem with it.

All right, and Bad Santa 2, is that something you're still working on?

Yeah I'm supposed to shoot in September. We'll see what happens.

And with that, it was over. A huge thanks to Doug Ellin and Warner Bros for being so generous with their time. 

Entourage is now in theaters. Read a primer to the movie and our review here.