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Improvisation has become a ubiquitous part of comedy filmmaking in the modern era. As great as a script can be, delivered by talented writers, there is a strong argument to be made for hilarious comedians being allowed to do what they do best. It's an approach that does come with its own set of complications -- specifically when it comes to the amount of production time it takes up -- but in the making of the new Amy Poehler-Will Ferrell comedy The House, there was one particular scene involving a Town Hall meeting that director Andrew Jay Cohen just felt the need to basically hand over to his incredibly skilled cast. Said the director during a set visit.
It's really fun to let them explore, given a little bit of direction. Then you're like, 'Okay, well I've got that here.' And 'Town Hall Day' I let everybody improvise. I was like half a day over, because it was Rob Huebel, and Andrea Savage, and Lennon Parham and all these insane A+ comedians in a room, in a town hall meeting. I'm going to let them go off! That was one of my favorite days - but production is one of the biggest headaches, because we're behind, but I love going down the rabbit hole with actors, especially these ones, so I'll chase it all the time.
The House was primarily filmed on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, California back in late 2015 -- and while the movie was still in production, I had the opportunity to visit the set with a small group of other journalists. While sitting in a soundstage that housed the primary location for the film -- the suburban house converted into a casino -- we spoke with Andrew Jay Cohen about his approach to his directorial debut, and he explained how improv wound up playing a significant role during what he described as "Town Hall Day." While it apparently caused a fair amount of issues, he apparently just couldn't resist letting his assembled group of very funny people be naturally funny.
In the film, Amy Poehler and Will Ferrell play parents who find themselves struggling to pay for their daughter's college tuition, and with the assistance of their divorced, gambling-addict friend (Jason Mantzoukas) they establish a secret casino to raise funds. They are part of a tight-knit neighborhood, which is why they end up at a town hall meeting, and their neighbors just happen to be some of the funniest supporting actors working today. This is a list that not only includes the name-dropped Rob Huebel, Andrea Savage and Lennon Parham, but also Nick Kroll, Cedric Yarbrough, Allison Tolman and more.
As we learned during our interview with Amy Poehler, a big thing that helped the comedy really flow on the set of The House is that many of the actors have known each other for years and years. Between their backgrounds at Upright Citizens Brigade, Saturday Night Live, and various movies and television shows, these are performers who have shared stages before, and know how best to play off of each other. Said Poehler,
Jason [Mantzoukas] and I have known each other, I would say almost longer [than I've known Will Ferrell]. Maybe 15 years or longer. We used to perform together at UCB. The cast assembled on this film, there's a lot of UCB performers, Lennon Parham and Nick Kroll, and Jason Mantzoukas and Rob Huebel... so many that are speaking a very similar comedy language, so there's a lot of improvising. It's really an incredibly funny cast that feels like home. It feel familiar. It's nice, and that kind of chemistry, you just kind of have it or you don't, right away. And Will and I definitely think the same things are funny.
Obviously there are also big audiences that also share a sense of humor with Amy Poehler and Will Ferrell, and those fans will be able to see their latest collaboration -- including the improv-fest town hall scene -- when The House arrives in theaters on June 30th. Between now and then, be sure to stay tuned here on CinemaBlend, as we'll have not only more from the set, but also more interviews with the cast and director!