“Nope. This can’t be right,” I thought to myself, quadruple-checking the address for my visit to the set of Vince Vaughn’s upcoming dramedy Delivery Man on the second to last day of shooting. I’d been told I’d be going to the Screen Gems’ sound stage, but midtown Manhattan is too crowded with skyscrapers to fit a studio right? Wrong. Minutes later, a short walk from Grand Central Station there I was in a compact but sufficient sound stage on the 6th floor of a inconspicuous building, and I was standing in the constructed and diligently cluttered Greenpoint apartment of 42-year-old manchild David Wozniak, the prolific anti-hero of the movie, who has accidentally fathered more than 500 children through sperm donations.
If you’re a fan of French-Canadian cinema, this premise might seem familiar. That’d be because Delivery Man is essentially the American remake of writer-director Ken Scott’s celebrated French-language comedy Starbuck.The story centers on Wozniak (Vaughn). A middle-aged screw-up who works for his father’s butcher shop as a delivery man, he owes money to thugs (one played by Cash Cab’s Ben Bailey) and is getting pressure from his cop girlfriend (Cobie Smulders) to finally grow up and take some responsibility once she discovers she is pregnant.
Trying to imagine what life as a father will be like becomes comically easier when he discovers his past get-rich-quick-scheme of many, many sperm donations has led to hundreds of offspring, over 100 of whom are suing the donation center to learn the identity of their bio dad. Wozniak’s best friend/lawyer (Chris Pratt) is the only one who knows about Wozniak’s herd of now twenty-something kids, and his only protection from them uncovering his identity. But while he looks over their profiles in the court documents, Wozniak finds himself tempted to get involved and play a sort of guardian angel role in his children’s lives.
It’s a charming albeit quirky story that has won tons of acclaim. After scoring box office success in Canada as well as a coveted spot at the Toronto International Film Festival, Scott hit the American festival circuit to try and get his story of fuck-up turned father tale to as big an audience as possible. Eventually he became convinced the story would appeal to the mainstream American market with just a few minor tweaks, and Steven Spielberg agreed; soon the DreamWorks co-founder along with CEO Stacy Snider and President of Production Holly Bario had snatched up remake rights and assigned Scott the task of re-imaging David Wozniak’s story for New York City.
As a major part of Delivery Man is quickly establishing the different backgrounds Wozniak’s kids have been raised in, Scott found New York City to be an ideal setting for filmic short hand. “So, if you see a kid that’s living in Chelsea, rapidly you sort of get a feeling of what this kid is about,” he explained to myself and a band of other bloggers in an on set interview. “If he’s in the Bronx, it’s another thing. So, it’s rich visually, but it’s also very efficient in storytelling perspective.”
To add color and texture to the production, Scott shot large sections of the film on location, most often in Brooklyn neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Windsor Terrace, though shooting also extended to parts of Staten Island (pre-Hurricane Sandy), where a BIG family gathering takes place. The last part was shooting all of the scenes for Wonziak’s apartment, which was stuffed to the brim piles of sports equipment, stacks upon stacks of CDs, and various other collections. Also spotted were some homegrown marijuana plants (plastic, I checked), and a wall where profiles of each of his kids hangs, most of them face down indicating Wozniak has not yet looked them up. The next day, after production wrapped, the set would be torn down and the strange little studio space itself would be closed for good, likely transformed into just another swanky apartment or office space.
Asked what other changes—aside from location—Scott brought to his script, he teased, “Well, we did it in English,” but added that while Starbuck’s hero has a passion for soccer—even being a part of his family business-sponsored team—Delivery Man’s Wozniak and his fam favor basketball. We got a bit of insight into how this plays into the film as we watched a scene play out in re[lay. Vaughn as Wozniak is clearly headed to a game—wearing a basketball uniform that reads “Wozniak Meats” with a silhouetted cow on it. But a scowling twenty-something named Viggo (Peter and the Star Catcher’s Adam Chanler-Berat)—who we’re told is the only one of Wozniak’s brood that has uncovered his identity—is sulking (and squatting) on his armchair watching TV. Before he leaves the apartment, Wozniak asks if Lugo would like to join him and play. The young man practically leaps with excitement and off they go.
It was a sweet scene, but brief. Another we watched shoot was far more tense. In it, Viggo is angry with Wozniak—to say why would be too big a spoiler—but he is essentially deciding to walk out on his bio dad with the scorching line, “Whatever the verdict, they can’t make you a father.” In multiple takes, Vaughn’s reactions to this news ranged from clearly crushed to seemingly relieved to feigned apathy. But the comedy star couldn’t help but push for the lighter side on one take, drawing chuckles amongst us bloggers. “Maybe less jokey this time?” he asks Scott between takes. “I had to get it out of my system,” he said shaking it off.
Vaughn’s energy can be felt throughout the labyrinth-like setup. His booming laugh bellows so loud off set that it took me a second to identify it as a laugh at all. When another take is marred by an unexpected sneeze from Vaughn, he abandons his lines and jokingly sneers at his onscreen son, “I’m allergic to that kind of talk. I’m allergic to being talked to like that in my house!”
But despite these moments of levity and spontaneity, both Scott and Vaughn said there was little improvisation on this set. “The film is very story oriented. There’s a story to tell, and the scenes are written already there,” Scott told us, “So on this project, he is an actor and he’s very interested in telling this story that is already written and that is already there on the page. But…he’s a very strong improviser. We did it a few times, and I was very impressed. But he was adamant about—you know he read the script, and he felt very strongly about this is a story that needs to be told in this way, in these words. So that was great. But the few times where I’d identify a few places where ‘Okay here we can improvise a bit,’—I was very, very, very impressed by what he can do just spontaneously.” (For his part, Vaughn went on to detail his personal pet peeves with the contemporary concept of improv, which you can read all about in our full set interview later this week. )
Both men also agreed that despite the humor in Wozniak’s manchild antics, there is a heavy dose of drama in the film as well. To Scott, this is what makes Delivery Man a great representation of fatherhood. “I feel that fatherhood is very much like a dramatic comedy. There’s some great moments. There’s some funny moments. There’s some more dramatic moments,” Scott, a father himself, insists. “So, naturally when we stay close to a theme, and we’re all explaining that theme in a hopefully authentic way, naturally we have all those emotions.”
We’ll all get to see how this balancing act of drama and comedy shakes out when Delivery Man opens on November 22nd. For now, check out the feature’s first trailer.