Looking Back At Wayne's World 30 Years Later With Director Penelope Spheeris [Interview]

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Today marks the 30th anniversary of "Wayne's World," the second feature film to be adapted from a "Saturday Night Live" sketch. Mike Myers and Dana Carvey turned the public access duo into a box office sensation, spawning a sequel and a whole series of "SNL" films in the 1990s, for better ("Coneheads") and for worse ("It's Pat"). Though it's "SNL" mastermind Lorne Michael and his sketch comedy cast members responsible for bringing "Wayne's World" to life, it's director Penelope Spheeris who wrangled the short-form concept into a feature-length film. Sorting through endless pages of new ideas on set and working with a lot of big egos, Spheeris pulled off nothing short of a comedy miracle. In conjunction with a new 30th anniversary steelbook Blu-ray release of the movie, we sat down with the filmmaker recently to take a look back at the challenging production, what it's like working with Lorne Michaels, the possibility of seeing "Wayne's World 3" come together, and more.

"The challenge was just trying to grab the good jokes out of the air and swat the flies away."

Note: This interview has been edited for content and clarity.

It's wild to think that it's been 30 years since "Wayne's World" was released. Three decades on, how do you look back at your time working on the movie?

A very fun time making the movie, even though some people say it might not have been, but it was a fun time to make it. And I think about how hard I was trying at that point, because it was my first studio movie and I wanted to do a really good job. I think a lot about how life is so different now than it was back in those days, not with just filmmaking, but just life in general.

You mentioned some people saying that maybe there were some not great times on the set, and I've read about some of the challenges. Can you talk about what it was that made "Wayne's World" so challenging at the time? Do you think there was so much protection from Mike Myers, this being his baby and a character that he created? Maybe it's this concept coming from "Saturday Night Live" and having Lorne Michaels have a big investment? What do you think made it such a big challenge?

Honestly, what made it a big challenge was the timeframe and we had 34 days. The other thing was being given so many new script pages all the time from the writers, because on "Saturday Night Live," the writer is God. So I'd be directing, "Action." Then somebody would go, "Ah," with a piece of paper. And it's like, "I have to shoot what?" The challenge was just trying to grab the good jokes out of the air and swat the flies away.

"Wayne's World" came along before there was ever anything thing like bonus features on DVDs, so I was curious, because there was so much extra writing on set and improvisation, were there a lot of deleted scenes that ended up on the cutting room floor that have never been released?

That's a good point and a good question. But the fact of the matter is, with the limited shoot days, we didn't have a lot of extra footage left over. It was what they call B-roll. I shoot rather efficiently, I like to think, so I don't do more takes than I have to. A lot of times the boys, Dana and Mike, would request a lot of extra takes because they would go, "I could do this better." And I'm like, "No, I got it, man. You don't need to do it better. I got it." [They'd say,] "Trust me, I could do it better." Then I would do another take, and they would do it better. So I don't know. You only got 10 hours to shoot in the day, so you got to get it all in there.

"I said, 'What? Where am I going to get a mechanical hand?''

There's a featurette on the Blu-ray where you mentioned that you had a lot of options in the editing room because you shot it your way, you shot it Mike's way, you shot it Dana's way, and then you shot one for the writers, Bonnie and Terry Turner.

I probably exaggerated a little.

So I was curious, if you can encapsulate at all what the differences were between what each of you wanted when you were shooting any given scene?

I feel like I would shoot it my way first, and then Dana and Mike would come up with new ideas about it. I'll give you an example. We shoot the scene where Garth has taken the licorice out of the top of the car from the dispenser. Dana would say, "Could you put more licorice in there? So that I can do all my dialogue while I'm pulling down the licorice?" I'm like, "What's the point?" He goes, "It just feels better." "Okay, fine. We'll put more licorice in there so you can pull the licorice down for your whole dialogue set. Okay." So stuff like that.

On the commentary, you said that Dana was constantly trying to add different gadgets to the car. Do you remember what any of the other ones were besides the licorice dispenser?

Yeah. There was a time where, you know what, I don't think you ever saw this in the movie. I haven't seen the movie in 30 years, so you can tell me. When's the last time you've seen the movie?

I actually just watched it yesterday.

Okay. Were you ever in Garth's bedroom?

Yes, there's at least one or two shots in Garth's bedroom.

Yeah, but not much, right?


The things that [Dana] wanted in his bedroom were just unattainable. The prop department, the heads were spinning. He would keep trying to come up with the goofiest things that he would like to just have as props background in his bedroom. And I'm like, "Dude, we're not going to be in there that long. Not going to even have time to look at them. Don't have the time to see them." But yeah, he was always trying to come up with [more gadgets], and that mechanical hand thing, that was his. The day before we're shooting that he was like, "We've got to have a mechanical hand." I said, "What? Where am I going to get a mechanical hand?" "Just cut one off of a mannequin and we'll hook it up." I'm like, "Okay."

"I felt sometimes like it was a little too invasive and too controlling..."

Lorne Michaels seems like he was a pretty hands-on producer. In the commentary, you mentioned a lot of specific ideas that came from him. Was this just because it was a unique situation since "Wayne's World" came from "Saturday Night Live," or is Lorne Michaels really just that involved of producer?

Lorne was hardly there.

Oh, okay.

He was there, I'm going to say, tops, four days out of the 34 days. He might have come in for an hour or two. He comes in, he sits down, everybody's nervous and trying to make him laugh. Then he says, "So where would you like to have dinner this evening?" It's all about going to Mr. Chow's. So Lorne didn't bug us. He really didn't. He helped a lot, he would call me sometimes and suggest things, because he would look at dailies occasionally. I don't think he would watch dailies every day, but he would call me, and he would say, "You know Penelope, you can't ever go into anything negative, nothing negative. We only want positive stuff here."

Like when Garth goes into the club and hits a guy with the taser. Well, I shot that, and it was a little too real for Lorne. So he says, "You have to shoot that over again because it looked like it hurt. I don't want anyone to feel any pain. I don't want to see any vomit in this movie, because vomit goes over the edge, goes into the negative." He goes, "If Phil's got to spew, then he's got to not show any vomit. He's got to pretend." I'm like, "Okay, Lorne." So he kept me on track that way.

It was fascinating to hear, throughout the commentary, these little philosophies Lorne had on comedy and making sure "Wayne's World" never got too dirty. It was always on the cusp of being just a little bit naughty. Did that result in any creative differences?

Yeah, it was a little bit naughty. We were allowed to have Cassandra wear a bustier, but that's about as nasty as it got. You know what I mean? So are you saying there was — excuse me for not knowing this –  a commentary by Lorne?

No, there were just little moments throughout your commentary on the Blu-ray where you talked about certain moments that Lorne specifically wanted to keep at a certain level of clean.

Yeah, that's very true. I'll go dirty anytime. 

Was it difficult to hold back because of that in some cases?

A little bit, yeah, but Lorne kept it on track. I felt sometimes like it was a little too invasive and too controlling, but it's Lorne. You don't challenge Lorne, you just do what the hell he says, you know what I mean? So I followed his instructions, and I never let it get too negative. You know the scene where Stacy falls through the skylight? [Wayne's] ex-girlfriend.


Because I had shot "Hollywood Vice Squad" and "Boys Next Door," I knew how to shoot action, so I made that look really realistic. The piece of candy glass that we had to use was like $10,000 or something. So the stunt girl for Lara Flynn Boyle fell through the candy glass, and that was a great laugh. It was really funny, and it was a little bit over the edge in terms of violence, but they didn't ask me to shoot that over again. I figured out later it's because the candy glass cost so much. So you're not going to do a take two on that one.

"I knew I needed someone who could sing and play an instrument and perform on stage believably and still be a great actress."

You mentioned Cassandra, and with Tia Carrere, you guys got lucky, because not only was obviously a great actress, but she did all of her own singing. Do you remember if there was anybody else who was in the running for that role besides Tia Carrere?

Oh, yeah, I mean, everybody, because she was the star, sexy chick in the film, and everybody had their idea. We all have different ideas about that sort of thing, and everybody had their idea, and everybody kept submitting possibilities to play that role. I don't usually like to take the credit, because we all deserved it, but I have to take the credit for fighting for Tia. As a music video shooter, somebody that knows how to make music videos and everything, I knew I needed someone who could sing and play an instrument and perform on stage believably and still be a great actress. Plus, she spoke Cantonese. How do you find that one person?

Did anybody else come close to landing that role besides Tia Carrere?

Maybe for other people, but not for me. The minute I saw her, the minute I read her in an audition, I knew. There was never a question.

"It was just by the skin of our teeth that we got Reebok."

The product placement scene is one of the most memorable sequences in the movie. How difficult was it to figure out all the brands you were able to use? Were there any brands that you remember that you wanted, but you couldn't get for that scene?

Good question. We were up against the wall when we had to shoot that scene, because that is mega legal department clearance stuff. You can't go shooting something you don't have cleared. So it was funny, I said, "We have to have at least four or five things to make the joke work." And we didn't have the shoes cleared. We wanted Nike, and Nike would not agree. I'm shooting all day long, and finally I'm like, "You guys, I'm at the shoe scene. We got to have Garth with his feet up here and I got to see the logo. So what's the shoe?" They said, "We can't get Nike, but Reebok just came through." It was just by the skin of our teeth that we got Reebok."

Oh wow. That's great. Were there any others who didn't want to be part of it?

Probably, but I don't really remember because we got Pizza Hut, we got the pizza –

– Doritos.

Yeah, we had most everything. With such a short prep, there were times we were flying by the seat of our pants. Mike really wanted to have Aerosmith be in the film to do what Alice Cooper ended up doing. They didn't tell us until last minute, and I had to scramble and call up my — I knew Alice from doing other work with him. It was a lot of just really flying by the seat of your pants. We didn't really have a long prep. I think it was probably six weeks, tops. I didn't even get my contract signed until we were already shooting.

That's crazy.

I know, it was.

One final thing I wanted ask you about, there's a trailer for "Wayne's World" that is so unique, and they didn't do trailers like this a lot back then, and they don't even do them at all now. It's the teaser that played only before "The Addams Family" that has Wayne and Garth sitting in the graveyard and basically just saying, "Hey, 'Wayne's World' is coming." Were you involved with that trailer idea?

No. I did the "Bohemian Rhapsody" music video afterwards, but I remember when they did that trailer. That's the marketing department at Paramount, and I thought it was brilliant, to be honest with you.

Yeah. It's such a unique way to promote the movie and I wish that they would do more like that nowadays.

The only problem is you can't go to a theater and see it, you know? So there's that.

Any hopes for "Wayne's World 3" at all? Would you be down?

Of course I would, but I don't think Mike and Dana want to do it, or it would've been done by now. But I do imagine seeing Wayne and Garth as older people and acting as silly as they did back then, and I think it would be hilarious. But I don't know, I don't think I could convince them to do it.

I feel like with "Bill and Ted" coming back, Wayne and Garth can do it, too.

I know! Bill and Ted could do it, and everybody loved it. Come on, guys. Let's get going.