Happy interview

When your film credits include the Crank movies, Gamer, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, and Mom and Dad, it’s hard to imagine getting any crazier than director Brian Taylor already has. But the first season of Taylor’s Syfy series Happy! featured kidnapped children, a three-headed dog, a killer Santa Claus, and the alcoholic corrupt cop as the good guy.

Based on the comic by Grant Morrison, Happy! is back for a second season and Taylor promises it’s 10 times crazier. Nick Sax (Christopher Meloni) has retired from the force and is trying to get sober. He’s getting to know his daughter Hailey (Bryce Lorenzo), and her former imaginary friend Happy (Patton Oswalt) is now Nick’s. There’s also exploding nuns and desecration of chocolate Easter bunnies.

Taylor spoke with /Film by phone about the new season of Happy!, his upcoming Brave New World series for USA, and why he won’t do a safe, studio friendly Crank 3.

Is the guy in the chocolate bunny officially the most fucked up thing you’ve ever done?

Oh, wow. No, I don’t think it’s close.

Really? It’s the most fucked up thing I’ve ever seen.

I don’t think it makes top three for this season. There are some bad things that happen this year.

Between the state he’s in and being exposed to kids did it for me.

It’s up there.

And I’m a guy who’s seen a lot, including all of your movies.

That was an interesting scene to shoot. After season one of Happy!, it’s a very ambitious show. There’s a lot of things that we try to do. Just on a production level, it’s a really ambitious show. It’s kind of like shooting a feature film with action and a CG animated character, wild set pieces every two, three weeks and then doing another and then doing another and then doing another. The level of the production is pretty crazy so when we got done with season one and started the writers room for season two, one of the first things I said was, “Guys, we’ve really got to contain it this time. We really bit off more than we could chew last time. We’ll have our moments but it just can’t be as crazy as last season.” Cut to two weeks later, it’s 10 times crazier than last season. Everything is more, everything is more difficult, everything is more ambitious. It just got out of control really quickly.

Did you get one bottle episode?

We didn’t. We didn’t end up doing a bottle episode. There ended up being so much story that it’s just really difficult to let an episode go without advancing all of the stories. Just from blowing up Sunshine’s scheme of world domination and blowing up the situation happening with Blue who seems to be possessed by some kind of demigod, struggling to get control of his body. There’s just so much stuff going on, I couldn’t do it. We wanted to do an animated bottle episode just with Happy, but he’s got a lot of story too. So a lot of stuff we thought was going to happen with that, he has a little love story in that…you were saying the most fucked up things that we’ve done on the show. Anyway, that ended up being spread out over two or three episodes, too. What started as a bottle episode shattered and now the shards of the broken bottle are scattered throughout all the other episodes for people to step on.

So Happy’s love story is fucked up too?

It’s not something I’m proud of. I’m kidding, it’s something I’m really proud of. It’s something you can never unsee.

I haven’t seen his episode yet, but is [Torque and Bodied director] Joseph Kahn a good fit for your style?

Oh, he’s great. I wanted him to work on season one and we couldn’t do it because of schedule. He’s a busy dude and pretty much works year round, but I’ve been hitting him for a long time and when he finally watched the show he was like, “Oh my God, this is like my show. This is so up my alley, I loved it.” I was like, “I told you.” So we finally got him in this season. His episode is rad.

I love that you have a yarn chart in one episode. My thing with those is whenever a movie shows someone making a chart connected by pieces of yarn, I have no idea what it means. Do you have a system or is it just string strung together to look as cluttered as possible?

We figured if we were going to [give] Meredith McCarthy a crazy person wall, we just had to go all out and make it the most ridiculous crazy person wall ever. I don’t even think she knows what it all means. We certainly don’t know what it all means.

Even in movies that play it straight, what does it mean? Why are pins tied together with yarn?

I guess, not to speak for every vigilante psycho ever in movies, but I guess the idea is you’re putting the pieces together. There’s a connection to this guy, to this guy, to this guy, to this guy. If you follow all of the strings then you finally get to the one person that connects it all and then you find the leader of the bad guys or the central force in the plot. I guess that’s the idea, but we just wanted it to feel like this is the inside of her brain made three dimensional.

I guess it speaks to the way I think, but if I was making a chart of connections, I would use columns and put people in the same column if they’re connected.

Yeah, maybe just do it all on a big Excel spreadsheet. This definitely doesn’t seem like the best way to do it, which I think is why we like it so much. The plot, the Grant Morrison comic book, takes place over about three days, or two days even, and it’s really pretty simple and contained. But immediately when we started working on it as a series, it just started to get out of control. We just found that we kept adding story and adding layers and adding complication. The next thing you know, it was almost impenetrable even to us, which we figured was a sign we were doing something right. Maybe that red yarn wall kind of represents our writers room in a way. We try to sort through our own craziness and come up with fun things.

In season one, Meloni in the trench coat had a very iconic look. What did changing it up to the Hawaiian shirt give you for season two in the spring?

It’s a different season so we wanted to give him a different look. I know Chris Meloni definitely thinks of the trench coat and the scarf as being Nick Sax’s superhero outfit. That’s his Superman suit. So there’s a very good chance that the trench coat and scarf make a comeback appearance.

Have the Happy visual effects gotten any easier, and can you use him in more scenes?

I’m not the one to say if they’ve gotten easier or not. You’d have to talk to Axis about that. Those are the guys that actually create those shots. They’ve gotten better. I think the level of animation last year was kind of unprecedented on television and this year it’s better. So I think they have a better grasp on the character now in terms of performance. They’ve had a year to develop. They’ve upgraded their engine. They’ve upgraded all the texturing so he just looks better. He’s better integrated to the environment and just performance-wise, it’s like an actor playing a character for a second season. You understand better the way that he moves, his range of expression, the way he reacts to things so you’re able to get a lot more nuance and expression into every one of those moments.

I know you expanded the comics for season one, but was there anything from the comic you couldn’t fit in that you can now do in season two?

I don’t think so. I think we pretty much exhausted the comic book in about an episode and a half, season one. It’s just wide open now. The main thing is the idea of let’s make it a holiday for every season. So which holiday are we going to go for? There’s a couple of pretty big holidays that would’ve been sort of layups for this show, visually and conceptually. Let’s challenge ourselves to do a holiday that nobody cares about, that’s kind of aesthetically pretty lame and see if we can elevate it to something spectacular. Hence Sunshine’s plan to make Easter great again.

In success, by season seven would you do Arbor Day?

Yeah, at a certain point it’s going to get interesting. I guess you can do President’s Day. I don’t know.

Did you ask Syfy to slot you in the spring for the appropriate holiday?

It gets a little complicated. Obviously, we think it’s the strongest, and so do they, to put it out during the season or during the holiday that it’s about. It just seems to be the most zeitgeist-y way to do it. That said, schedules are difficult. When you try to do that, sometimes you end up shoehorning it or you have to really rush to make certain dates. It does complicate things and one of the ideas that we talked about that, if we were to do a season three of Happy!, maybe we just do season three and four to shoot them both. So that way we can just easily pop them in during their appropriate holiday without having to run into schedule conflicts. I don’t know if that’s going to happen.

Was Rebecca Black’s Friday a perfect song for Happy!?

Man, I think so. We went through a lot of songs trying to figure out what to use and now that that one’s in there, it’s pretty hard to imagine anything else. I don’t think any other show, there’s a lot of ways to do that moment ironically, like use a cheesy ‘80s song or use some pop culture song that everybody knows and is embarrassed to say they love it or they have some kind of nostalgia with it. That sort of seemed kind of tired and easy, but the Rebecca Black song is a level of stupid that most people are afraid to venture into. It’s almost risky to go that stupid. From Happy’s point of view, Happy thinks it’s the coolest song.

If you exhausted the comic book, what are the brainstorm sessions that lead to things like the musical number, the oil slick fight, exploding nuns, etc.?

Exploding nuns was actually pretty early on. Once we figured out we were going to do Easter, the early days of the writers room was really just like a free for all, just like people just throwing stuff out there. A lot of times we’ll come up with an idea or an image and then end up reverse engineering story in order to get there. That was something that I came up with pretty early on and just threw it out to the room. “I just feel like the season should start with a bunch of nuns with bomb vests running around New York blowing themselves up.” Then there’s a long moment of silence and everybody goes, “Well, okay, I guess we’ll have to figure out what that means.” By the way, that’s the way I do things a lot of the times, reverse engineering story. Even in the movie Crank, the idea that the hero was going to fall out of a helicopter at the end, make a phone call while he went down and then land into camera, that’s the end of the movie. I don’t know what the first hour and 22 minutes of the movie is but that’s the last scene. So how do we get there?

I never knew that about the original Crank. That’s amazing.

Yeah, that was like a bunch of ideas for movies.

Does season two focus more on Happy’s relationship with Nick since he disappeared from Hailey?

Yeah, now he’s Nick’s imaginary friend. His whole outlook is different. He still cares about Hailey. He still keeps tabs on her and Happy thinks he’s the best expert on Hailey ever because it’s like, “I was her imaginary friend her whole childhood so I know everything about her.” But kids change so now Happy finds himself in a situation kind of like Nick, of being on the outside looking in, trying to understand this kid.

Is there a backstory to the kid whose imaginary friend was the poop emoji?

No, no backstory. Maybe we’ll explore that in season three. It is kind of funny when you see all these imaginary friends on these kids’ shoulders. They’re so bizarre, you start thinking, “What is wrong with this kid? Who has that friend?”

You got a musical number in Gamer. Are you always trying to work one into your shows or movies, and you did in episode three?

Yeah, musical numbers are fun. As soon as we got Ann-Margret on board, it was just a done deal that we were gonna do a musical number. For me, that number that she does in Viva Las Vegas with Elvis is one of the greatest song and dance numbers ever on film. It’s just one of those iconic things. So I knew I wanted to have her wearing orange and I knew I wanted her to do a dance with Happy and emulate some of that Ann-Margret/Elvis Viva Las Vegas moves. So once we were going to do that, maybe this weird musical theater virus that infects Sunshine’s compound, maybe that somehow infects Nick too and draws him into it. They’re all unwittingly drawn into this musical number.

Had Meloni ever done song and dance before?

I’m not sure if he has. He’s really good at it which makes me believe he’s probably done it. I don’t know anything in his body of work where he’s done it, but he’s good at it. He loved it. He wanted to do more. We actually, on a TV schedule, we were limited. We had to do that whole sequence in a day and a half, including all the fighting, Ann-Margret and everything. We were just limited by schedule but he wanted that sequence to be twice as long. He was like, “Let’s basically do the whole episode like that,” so he’s a big fan.

And now you’re doing Brave New World with Grant?

Yeah, that show is off and running. Grant and I helped develop it and it’s been ordered to series.

What was your involvement?

Grant and I were involved early in the process. We basically came up with the take, pitched it, sold it, got everything going and then we signed off on a showrunner, David Wiener, to help run the show because I knew I was going to be so buried in Happy! and Grant is obviously buried in 1000 things. We just weren’t going to be there day to day, so we built a team to see that one through and it’s going great.

Did it stay with the take you came up with?

It’s changed a bit. You want people to make it their own, but there’s new elements, there’s old elements.

It’s been a while since I heard anything about a Crank 3. Is that something you still hope to do one day?

You never know. So far there hasn’t really been – the planets haven’t aligned for that, but never say never.

Did you have a trilogy idea for Crank?

We’ve had a couple of ideas. I guess one problem with Crank 3 is that my feeling is there’s a reason why people like those movies. They may not be as much of a household name as like The Fast and the Furious franchise, but they’re not trying to be that. So there’s a reason people like them and if there were ever to be a Crank 3, I feel like it has to be as batshit relative to Crank 2 as Crank 2 was to Crank 1. It owes it to the spirit of the franchise and to people who love those movies to be just completely bonkers. A movie like that is not necessarily perceived as being as commercial as the studios might like. There have been proposals for what I would considered to be watered down or a little more tame versions of a Crank 3, but to me it’s like, why would you do that? What’s the point? I don’t get that.

Instead of pricing yourself out of business, you sort of out “crazied” yourself out of business.

Yeah, I guess you could look at it that way. The way I look at is if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. If it’s not going to be done right, it’s not like we’re all going to get rich off of Crank 3. It’s not that series. It’s not Avengers. It’s not some kind of super franchise that we owe it to ourselves to get the band back together. That’s just not the case. It would have to be a labor of love. It would have to be something for completely insane people who like those movies. If it seems like a process that’s going to be really creatively compromised, then I just don’t know why we would spend the time or effort to do it. It’s just not worth it. I don’t think anybody would be happy with it.

****

Happy! returns to Syfy at 10pm on Wednesday, March 27, 2019.

Cool Posts From Around the Web: