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It’s reasonable for any successful first time filmmaker to be concerned about a sophomore slump. With expectations raised and plenty of pressure, the second effort provides a chance to prove consistency but will undoubtedly find comparisons to the first. Director Ruben Fleischer is most certainly a candidate for this mindset. In 2009 he launched his feature film career with Zombieland, a horror comedy starring Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin. The movie was critically lauded for both its humor and horror and made more than four times its budget back at the international box office. Now Fleischer is ready to go head-to-head with the sophomore slump, and he’s charging in guns blazing with 30 Minutes or Less.
In the film, a slacker pizza boy, played by Jesse Eisenberg, runs into a bit of trouble when two low-rent criminals (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson) strap a bomb to his chest and force him to rob a bank. Teaming up with his best friend (Aziz Ansari), they only have a few hours to get the job done or they’ll get blown sky high.
Last August I was granted the incredible opportunity to pack my bags, hop on a plane to Grand Rapids, Michigan and visit the set of the new film and talk to the stars and filmmakers. There for a night shoot featuring a confrontation between almost every major player in the cast, the scene that I and a group of fellow journalists saw them filming was one of the scenes from the final act of the story, I can’t divulge every single detail, but I’m more than happy to take you behind the scenes and tell you everything I can, including what it was like to watch Nick Swardson fire a real-life flamethrower.
Setting off for the shoot at around 9:00pm, the scene being shot was set at the hideout of Dwayne and Travis, the two ape-mask wearing criminals played by McBride and Swardson. But if you’re thinking that this hideout is nestled quietly in the middle of a Michigan suburb, you are mistaken. Rather, we were in the middle of a giant scrap yard, surrounded by giant piles of metal shards, where the production had built a ramshackle house for the two hoodlums to live in. Featuring not one, but two separate showdowns between the main characters, it all goes to hell in a hand basket when Travis decides to pull the trigger on his homemade flamethrower.
One of the greatest things about Zombieland was not that it was a parody of the undead genre, but rather that it embraced it and found humor in the situations naturally. In much the same way, 30 Minutes or Less seems to be going in a much more grounded direction than your standard over the top comedy. Talking with the cast and filmmakers about their various preparation and inspiration, multiple non-comedy classics were mentioned, from Ansari’s repeat viewings of Heat, to Michael Pena’s references to Goodfellas and The Godfather. Fleischer, however, likens it to one of the best crime movies of the 1990s.
”This one has darker undertones and the best reference point would be Fargo. The groundness of it; the reality, but humorous. Hopefully this will be more actively funny than Fargo was because of the comedians. There’s definitely a grounded reality to it. It’s a crime story similar to how Fargo was as far as the messed up plot of it.”
In the film there is an elaborate car chase that sees our heroes trying to escape from a bunch of squad cars in a 1980 Datsun 280z. Filled with multiple crashes, flipping cars and more than 50 vehicles on the road, the chase reached speeds of 80 miles per hour through the streets of Grand Rapids. But, like always, it’s all in the preparation. Said Le Fevour,
“It’s all storyboarded. We’ll get a script and our director Ruben Fleischer had it boarded, and he’ll come to us and ask if it’s doable; if it’s safe to do. They found Grand Rapids, they’ve got some great locations; we’ve been shooting in the area for the last two months or so. The car chase was pretty elaborate.”Then, of course, there’s the flamethrower, the highlight of our evening. Staying later than expected so that we could watch Nick Swardson test fire the weapon, there was plenty of excitement on set, but also an air of concern as safety is always the highest priority. Even Fleischer, who watched the test with us, admitted to being anxious about the stunt. Asking if the huge action pieces were what drew him to the project, the director said,
“ The action comedy factor was really cool to me, but the flame stuff scares me. It's much more manageable than I expected it to be, but I was really nervous about all the fire stuff, that was the thing I was dreading during the shooting process. It turned out not to be as scary as perhaps I thought it would be, but lighting a dude on fire is no joke.”During our interview, Swardson wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit to start setting things on fire.
“This will probably be my last interview before I die, so you can tell my mom I love her.”Thanks to the success of Zombieland, there are going to be a lot of critical eyes on 30 Minutes or Less come August 12, but director Ruben Fleischer is absolutely prepared, and has made the film that he wanted to make. “It was a chance to do a smaller movie that I could craft and make my own and try and make an original film,” Fleisher said. “It was a chance to do something on my terms and do something I was passionate about.”
I’ll be posting more about my visit to the 30 Minutes or Less set throughout the rest of the week, so be sure to stay tuned to Cinema Blend. Be sure to click HERE for all of my set visit coverage! For now, check out the four new stills that have been released to celebrate the occation.