'Ibiza' Director Alex Richanbach On Jumping From Funny Or Die To Netflix [Interview]

Gillian Jacobs, Vanessa Bayer and Phoebe Robinson headline the new Netflix original movie Ibiza. Will Ferrell and Adam McKay's Gary Sanchez Productions made the film from newcomer director Alex Richanbach. Well, newcomer by name. You've probably seen a lot of his work on Funny or Die and other web shorts.

Harper (Jacobs) gets sent on a business trip to Spain. Her friends (Bayer and Robinson) tag along and Harper falls for the DJ Leo (Richard Madden) at a rave. The trio get into trouble following Leo to his next gigs. Richanbach spoke with /Film by phone about directing Ibiza, which premieres on Netflix on Friday, May 25, 2018.

Was Vanessa's pratfall in the hotel room difficult to stage?

No, we had a really good team out there. Vanessa and I knew that that was coming so it was something we had talked about and really figured out. We had a lot of fun. I did the fall a couple times on my own to test it out and make sure we were happy with how it was set up. We had a great stunt team. Vanessa's one of those people, she's so game for a joke whether it's a jump like that or it's a scene where she's got to eat a bunch during the scene, she'll just do whatever it is that she has to do to make the joke land.

So it's her, not a double?

It's a mix. It's very cleverly mixed. We didn't spend too much of our day on that but we definitely spent a couple hours. All those things take longer than they seem. The same thing when she's on the elliptical. We'd have her on the elliptical for two hours straight. We do a ton of takes. We roll a ton of footage.

Since it's about a DJ, did the music have to rock?

Yeah, music was huge on this one. A big important thing for me was to make sure this wasn't an EDM movie per se. That it was a movie that had EDM music in it and certainly there's a DJ that's a central character but I wanted the movie to have a much more diverse catalog of music in it. So for me, that was always essential. I worked really hard with our music supervisor to choose all the EDM music and make sure it was stuff that I really liked and I thought really connected with the movie and might connect with our audience. But then there was also, we had music from every era and every genre in the film. It was something we spent a lot of time and care making sure that it helped us tell the story.

Do you have to shoot the club scenes with no music for dialogue?

We do. We were able to really do a blend of that. We would have the club music going for a few songs just to keep everybody in the right mood. Keep everybody dancing and keep it feeling real, then we would cut it off and go, "Okay, let's do a couple takes with dialogue." Then we'd throw the music back on. In fact, some of the takes in the movie are takes where everyone's doing the dialogue but the music is playing for real. We had a great sound team that really worked with us to find some ways that we could do that and we had preplanned a lot of the music so that that could happen. It's so hard to make clubs feel real and especially in comedies, often the clubs don't feel authentic. That was such a key part of this that we really wanted to see if we could do it for real. So we really brought in 1000 extras and really played the music and we really put the cast right in the middle of the crowd. We did it all for real and then occasionally we would do a safety take to make sure that we got all of our dialogue and all that stuff taken care of. It was a pretty wild experience because I don't think any of us had ever shot like that before.

You didn't have to ADR lines over the music?

Very little. Honestly, a couple lines here and there. Sometimes it was even as simple as we were able to take dialogue from a take without music and match it in the spots where we were having trouble with the dialogue with music. For example, after Gillian sees the DJ for the first time and she's talking to Vanessa and Phoebe, most of that take before she goes backstage was shot with real music. We were able to piece it together with their real dialogue and with some dialogue from other takes. There's no ADR in that scene.

How did the sound geniuses figure out how to record dialogue while music's playing?

Well, it's one of those catch-22s. The trick of it is that music is playing but also the bonus is that music is playing. Especially when you're using the same song, how loud we're playing the music in the actual movie is kind of masking the fact that there's music recorded on their actual dialogue. Then we would do a lot of blending. We would have a thump track going so there was just a bass beat that we could actually tune out of the sound. We would keep the bass low enough that it was at a hertz level that could be tuned out. We could hear it while we were actually filming but in post it was so low, we were able to mix it out without losing any dialogue.

Were you editing in a certain rhythm for the whole film, not just the music scenes?

Yeah, I'm so glad you mentioned that. Josh Salzberg who edited the film, him and I have known each other for almost 11 years now. We also met on Step Brothers. [Screenwriter] Lauryn Kahn, Josh Salzberg and I were all assistants on Step Brothers who stayed in touch over the years and worked together where we could. Josh is somebody who I loved collaborating with. He brought on an incredible additional editor on this film, Oona Flaherty. The two of them were really instrumental in that process in figuring out how to make the pace of this movie unique. And worked with me really closely, when we were filming in Europe, I would shoot video diaries at the end of every night. I would tell them what we did during the day, what shots I thought worked, what the tone of the day became and how I thought it might fit into the movie. And then they would have those notes transcribed and they would have kind of my day of take on things as they started to edit. And they're just both very musically driven people and great with comedy. The three of us really collaborated toward trying to find a rhythm that kept us on our toes and kept the movie going really quickly, kept a real pace to it while also delivered the difference between doing dialogue jokes and big set pieces.

When the editing speeds up, are you generally cutting different takes together or jump cuts within the same take?

I think we tried a lot to use the same take because I think the continuity of performance is huge. A lot of times when we're jump cutting, we really are just using the same take and jumping ahead. We shoot a lot of cross coverage too which is how we allow for that much improv. We'll try to bounce around between different takes and piece together the best version of a scene, but I think part of the fun of doing the jump cuts and doing the improv is allowing you to stay in a particular performance for a longer period of time than you might normally. So as often as we could, we would try to hold certain takes. Then to keep the pacing, we came up with a few different stylized edits to make that feel part of the film.

ibiza trailerDo you approach the comedy any differently knowing Ibiza will be viewed privately on Netflix rather than a theater full of hundreds of people laughing?

A big challenge on this I think was to make sure that nobody thought about this as anything but a big movie. For me, the first time I ever saw Indiana Jones was at home on TV. When I thought about that, that was when it really clicked for me. You have to approach this like it's going to be in theaters and people will enjoy it just as much at home. I think the benefit of that is that with Netflix's audience, I really think that it empowered us to take some risks and push the narrative in a way that within the structure of another system, we may or may not have been able to do. I felt pretty confident that if we just treated this honest to the story and honest to the characters, that we didn't need to think too much about where it was playing. We just needed to make a movie that we'd all want to see.

Was there any extra material that didn't make the final cut?

Yeah, the first cut of the movie was two hours and 35 minutes. The cut of the movie now without credits is 90 minutes. With that cast, we had so many great outtakes and so much fun stuff but we really narrowed it down to keep that pace. If you want to think about the difference between Netflix and theatrical, that was one thing I did keep in mind. I always wanted the movie to be under 100 minutes. I felt like so many times I've clicked on something and gone, "Oh, that looked a little long for tonight." I didn't want anybody to ever look at our movie and go, "That's going to be too long for tonight."

How long have you been making motions towards directing features?

I did my first microbudget indie in 2011. It didn't come out until 2013 when Funny or Die put it out. That was my first swing at it. It was a movie I really loved making, was really proud of. In the time since that came out in 2013, I've had a couple projects, one in particular that was in and out of development over time. Each summer it was like oh, maybe this is the summer we're going to finally get to make it. Then for one reason or another, we wouldn't get to.

Which was that?

That was a different project that I was also doing with Adam McKay. It was called Idiots and it was a movie that I had written, that I was going to do with McKay. We were developing that at the same time that Lauryn Kahn was developing this. This actually came together. LK and I had been collaborating for years at that point. So both her and Adam asked if I would want to direct this. I'd always loved this script. It was something LK had sent to me as a rough draft while she was first writing it. So it was kind of a no brainer. It was a script I'd always loved at a time where it was something we were going to be able to make together, so I stepped away from the other project and jumped onto this one.

Is Funny or Die how you hooked up with Gary Sanchez?

Actually, one of my first PA jobs was on Step Brothers. I got to learn a lot from being around that set. Then I went off and did other PA jobs and made short films and worked odd jobs with an eye towards trying to get in at Funny or Die. I was taken with the idea that Funny or Die was creating this place where young directors and writers could come in and make stuff and work with big talent. There was just this opportunity to make things at Funny or Die that didn't exist really anywhere else. And, so I just kinda kept making stuff and trying to put it on Funny or Die and get their attention. Eventually, that worked and I was able to get a job there. Then through Funny or Die, that's where McKay started to become aware of what I was making and started reaching out to me and collaborating. It was an amazing experience there.

In between features, did working on shortform pieces help you hone your craft?

Yeah, absolutely. Probably in the five years I was at Funny or Die and the year between Funny or Die and this, between writing, directing and producing I was involved in something like 200 productions start to finish. It was all kinds of different things from making parody trailers where you're literally parodying a genre. So you're like okay, this week we're making an action film. To this little dialogue driven sketches and short films and everything in between. That was an opportunity to try a lot of different camera styles and work with a lot of different kind of crews. Really, I had done a little bit of improv getting into Funny or Die but I got to do a ton of it while I was there and really one that in. It was an amazing training ground for anything that could be thrown at you.

Is Idiots still on the table for a future project?

I don't know. It certainly is on the table. Up until the last couple weeks, I've still been working on Ibiza so I'm just starting to figure out what to do next. That's a script I really love, was really close to my heart. It may be that or something else. i'm starting to write something new as well and LK and I are looking for something else to collaborate on.

Will you do more comedy?

I love comedy. I've been working in comedy now for 10 years or so. It's my first love and it's something I'm really passionate about. This movie was such a rewarding experience. I'm just so happy how it's turned out, I just want to see how far we can push this. What can we do in comedy in the next few years that would be interesting to all of us.