The eagerly awaited 1980’s throwback comedy Hot Tub Time Machine starring John Cusack opens this Friday, March 26th so we talked with director Steve Pink, who is no stranger to classic John Cusack movies having co-written the scripts to Grosse Point Blank and High Fidelity. His latest film follows Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson and Clark Duke who, after an accident with a hot tub time machine, find themselves living out a 1980’s ski movie and either striving to get home or to relive their former glories, with hilarious results.
We sat down with Steve Pink to discuss the genesis of the project, Pink’s favorite ski school comedies, the rules of time travel (including the terrifying ramifications of the end to Back to the Future), some scenes that didn’t make it into the final cut and the casting some of the more memorable roles in the film.
CraveOnline: So at what point did you actually get on board the Hot Tub Time Machine project? Were you there from the beginning or was it presented to you at some point?
Steve Pink: No, it was presented to me. MGM and [John] Cusack and Grace Loh, the producer, called me. They were like, “Who can we sucker into this? […] Steve Pink’s a sucker! I’ve worked with him for 20 years!” And then they called me.
CraveOnline: Was it fully formed at that point? Was it just about a hot tub until you came along…?
Steve Pink: Wouldn’t that have been great if I could have said, “Well, it was called Hot Tub before I came on? And I brought Time Machine?”
CraveOnline: You would have been the genius. You would have earned that paycheck.
Steve Pink: Yeah, that would have been fantastic. I’m not nearly that, that, that, that… cool. Or smart. Yeah, a lot of it was put together. The script was of course, you know… The script in a comedy always keeps changing and evolving. So there was still lots of work to do on the script, and there was a huge production to get going, whether it was visual effects for a creepy-ass hot tub time machine, or making sure we didn’t lose the snow. We were fighting the snow the moment I got on. We were fighting the snow melting, so we had to reverse schedule and make sure that we did the ski stuff…
CraveOnline: One of the things that I thought was really interesting was that your basic premise is that your heroes, they have these melancholy middle-aged lives and they go back to a younger time, but you chose to illustrate the younger time through a 1980’s ski movie. And what occurred to me was that the ski movie wasn’t actually necessary. You could have done a beach movie, you could have done a frat house movie. What was it about the Ski School tradition that actually made that so compelling?
Steve Pink: Well, first of all we were freezing at about 10,000 feet in the middle of the night trying to be funny, and it did occur to me, “Why the f**k couldn’t we do, like, Beach Cove Time Machine?”
CraveOnline: You could have just intercut footage from One Crazy Summer.
Steve Pink: Yeah, like, “Why didn’t we do One Crazy Summer Time Machine, man?” I don’t know, it just seemed like a great genre through which to deal with it. You know, Better of Dead, of course, was kind of the really funny, brilliant part of that world. There’s that connection. Then there’s the awesome softcore porn ski movies. It seemed underexploited to me.
CraveOnline: Yeah, it’s an underappreciated 80’s sub-genre that I hope you bring back.
Steve Pink: (Laughs) – Yeah, what was the last one? Dumb and Dumber was in the mountains, right?
CraveOnline: Dumb and Dumber was in the mountains but that was only at the end so I wouldn’t call it a “ski movie.” […] I think the thing that kept it alive in people’s minds though, there was a “South Park” episode that parodied the Ski School genre, and that was actually where that song “Montage” came from. For me, though, I just always loved the actual classic movie Ski School with Dean Cameron.
Steve Pink: Right. Yeah.
CraveOnline: That was a really funny ski movie, and then at various intervals they would just awkwardly cut in softcore porn.
Steve Pink: I know, it’s awesome. I couldn’t believe… One of my favorite of those movies was Hot Dog. There was a sex scene, and you know how sex scenes have a certain length, and they then they end and you cut to the next, whatever, narrative piece? There’s one scene [in Hot Dog] where there’s a full-on sex scene, and then you cut, and then there’s another full-on sex scene! (Laughs.) It’s awesome! I think they went from the living room to the bedroom, and the second one is just as long if not longer. And I’m like, “F*****g Hot Dog rocks!”
So yeah, it just seemed underexploited and a really fun sub-genre to deal with, and I think it helped [bring] metal into it with Motley Crue and all that kind of stuff. It kind of allowed us to go anywhere with the sub-genres in the 80’s.
CraveOnline: How much of the music was actually in the script? Would you have been screwed if Motley Crue and Poison couldn’t get involved? Did you have backup plans?
Steve Pink: If Motley Crue and Poison didn’t get involved, I wouldn’t say “screwed” but I would say we’d have to rally. We would have had to rally to transform what the background of that world was, for sure. And I think Motley Crue’s so important to Rob Corddry’s character…
CraveOnline: If only phonetically!
Steve Pink: (Laughs.) Right. So we were very lucky those guys came on board.
CraveOnline: We were talking about the Ski School movies, but this is also a time travel movie. And one of the things I like about it is… The problem with every time travel movie is that you have to establish “the rules.” Is it Primer rules? Is it Déjà Vu rules? Is it Back to the Future rules? And you kind of talked yourself out of that one by not having a scientist involved at all, but were there any rules that you established for yourselves? “We have to make sure that we don’t… ‘blank?’ That we don’t make the same mistakes that A Sound of Thunder did?”
Steve Pink: No, absolutely not. Actually, the opposite. We had more stuff, but it just became not important. We had more stuff in the script originally, and stuff that we shot where they continue to talk about what time travel kind of equation they’re in. We had Lake House jokes, you know, where they’d discuss the logic of time travel in Lake House. And then everyone was really upset that Nick (Craig Robinson) thought Lake House was a great movie. There’s one [in the film] with Butterfly Effect where Rob [Corddry] goes, “That was a great f*****g movie!” And that plays okay, but it would have played better… Because there’s a lot of them where they all had different preference in what movies they liked, and then they would talk about, “Didn’t you f*****s see Timecop?” So like there’s a bunch of material that we had where characters continue to question what time travel equation they’re in, and that was more important actually determining which one they’re in. That’s what we decided, because there are so many paradoxes anyway…
CraveOnline: I stopped to think about it after I saw the film, especially at the conclusion, when you see how everything came together at the end. My head actually exploded.
Steve Pink: [Moderate Spoiler Warning] – Yeah, I mean some of it makes more sense than others. Like, there’s better equations for one person or the other, if you broke it down per character? We were discussing like, in Back to Future, when Michael J. Fox goes back and sees that his parents are really cool and hip? And he was the cause of that? I think it’s because Crispen punches Biff and that gives him confidence… That’s the reason why he transforms and became the man he was instead of this weak man, hiding in the shadows. It seems like a lush, kind of confident world that he returns to. But does his real self, his parallel self in real time, did he live that experience? So presumably this Linear-Experiencing Time Dude would have had different memories and different experiences growing up with a different family, and therefore would be in fact a different person himself. So when he goes back in time, do the memories of his linear parallel self, I don’t know, get “injected” into his head when he returns?
CraveOnline: This is what terrifies me. It’s actually a scary ending. “Oh my God, my parents are so cool… Oh my God, I have no idea who they are.” Timecop had the same problem right at the end, when [Jean-Claude Van Damme] says, “Take me to my family,” and I’m like, “You don’t know your kid. You don’t even know his name! That’s going to be an awkward conversation!”
Steve Pink: Yeah, you don’t know his name, you don’t know… But yet, the paradox once again is that [Marty McFly’s parents] were living with someone. It’s not like his parents were wondering if their kid had disappeared for twenty years… So there was someone there. It’s almost like a body snatchers thing, where he then kind of walks into his own body not knowing who he is, which is exactly what we’re saying. But yeah, it would be terrifying if [Marty] said, “Hey Mom and Dad, let’s go for Chinese food.” And they said, “You hate Chinese food…”
CraveOnline: Awkward… Is this all material you’re going to use for Hot Tub Time Machine 2?
Steve Pink: Well, I’m superstitious, right? So I don’t know…
CraveOnline: I’d like to see Tanning Booth Teleporter.
Steve Pink: That’s really good. In fact, that’s really funny. At one point we had this tag for Chevy Chase where he picks them up in a limousine and it takes off Delorean style, and the sequel would be like, “Black Limo Time Machine.”
CraveOnline: Nice. Did you ever try to get Christopher Lloyd for that role (a “Hot Tub Time Machine” repairman)?
Steve Pink: Nuh-uh.
CraveOnline: That would have been too on-the-nose?
Steve Pink: No, just once Chevy entered the conversation we never looked back.
CraveOnline: Fair enough. He’s a funny guy. He’s really funny in it. But the guy who really shocked me, because he doesn’t get to be funny as often as he used to, was Crispen Glover. He’s great.
Steve Pink: Yeah, he really helped dial in all those set pieces. It’s like, it’s really funny on paper. It’s like an “It’s really funny till someone loses an eye” joke.
CraveOnline: You’re waiting for someone to lose the eye. That’s what funny about it. It’s a really perverse running gag if you really think about it.
Steve Pink: Oh, it’s horrible. I was really mixed about whether [Crispen Glover] should lose his arm. “Shouldn’t they help change his life in a way that in the end, they save him from losing the arm and therefore save him from a life of misery and being a bellman?” We have a really funny tag at the end [for him anyway]…
CraveOnline: No, sure, it comes together really well.
Steve Pink: …but yeah, it’s so horrible. […] It’s another time travel question. Are things inevitable or can you change stuff if when you travel through time, or despite your efforts in changing things are things destiny? You want to end this interview now, like I’m either smoking weed or freaking out?
CraveOnline: You can smoke weed and freak out. Actually, that would be a great button to the end of this.
Steve Pink: Yeah, I’m going to smoke weed and freak out right after I say this: This movie is a question of free will versus destiny. Like, some things are inevitable while some things you have control over.
Now, I’m going to smoke weed… and freak out.
Hot Tub Time Machine opens theatrically on March 26th, 2010.