Exclusive Interview With Brad Copeland On Coffee Town

Coffee Town Copeland Groban

CollegeHumor’s first feature film, Coffee Town, blends an entertaining story with some great laughs, proving that the internet comedy website can indeed be a major player in the world of full-length movies.

Written and directed by Brad Copeland (writer/producer Arrested Development), the film’s all-star comedy cast includes Glenn Howerton (It’s  Always Sunny in Philadelphia), Steve Little (Eastbound & Down), Ben Schwartz(Parks and Recreation), Adrianne Palicki (G.I. Joe: Retaliation) and Josh Groban (Crazy, Stupid, Love).

It’s essentially the first workplace comedy for the generation that doesn’t have an office. When a 30-something website manager who uses a local café as his office learns of plans to convert the space into a bar, he enlists the help of his two best friends to help save his freeloading existence.

Recently, I had the pleasure of sitting down 1 on 1 with the film’s writer and director Brad Copeland to discuss the movie. We talked about getting the film’s cast involved, the difference between writing for TV and film, what it was like making a movie with CollegeHumor, and much more.

Check out the full interview below.

We Got This Covered: Where did the original idea for Coffee Town come from?

Brad Copeland: I was just in Starbucks one day, I have an office but I go in there to work occasionally just to be around people, and I just looked around at the other tables and saw all these people working on laptops. It just hit me that no one really told a story about them and why they’re there. It’s international. Every country I’ve ever visited in the coffee shops it’s the same thing. But no one’s really talked about why, so that was really the inspiration for it.

WGTC: How do you take your coffee?

Copeland: I take it black. I have a weak stomach so I can’t put anything in it. I really shouldn’t be drinking coffee but I do constantly.

WGTC: The film’s cast is phenomenal. Could you talk about getting all those actors involved?

Copeland: When I decided to do the movie with Ricky (Van Veen), it was kind of carte blanche with who we wanted to get. It was very much who’s funny? Who makes us laugh in these roles? There was no pressure to find a big name or any studio pressure. So we just kind of looked around the landscape of people we love.

I had worked a little bit on the first season of Eastbound And Down so I love Steve Little. He was the first choice for Chad. And our casting director Juel (Bestrop) actually cast Eastbound And Down so that was an easy call to make, and he was interested.

Glenn Howerton was our first choice for the lead. We were trying to find somebody that was low to mid-30s, that was likable but not a giant goofed broad person. Just someone that could be a sort of straight man. Like a 33-year-old Jason Bateman. (Glenn) was the first one that came to that list. He read it and loved it, and we got him. We were just on a streak.

Ben Schwartz I actually offered the role of the barista to. He just makes me laugh in everything. Gino, the police officer, was written as this muscular, Latino, I wanted like a Latino Tom Selleck, and we offered the barista to Ben Schwartz and he said, “No, I want to be Gino, I want to be one of the guys.” My head could not wrap around that version so he came in and just did it for us. He came an auditioned, and the entire character changed in my head. I’m like, “Of course, that’s much funnier than what we were doing.” We were just trying to make him the tough, good-looking, handsome guy – not that Ben’s not good-looking, but he just made it so funny and so special, so we hired him.

Josh Groban, his management called and said Josh was interested in the role of the Barista. And again, we obviously weren’t looking in the direction of opera singers, we were looking at like Aaron Paul, people like that. But they said, “Will you just sit down and meet with him?” So of course, who wouldn’t want to sit down and hang out with Josh Groban for a little bit? I did, and he said he would just come in and read it. He said, “Put me with Glenn and let me show you what I can do.” I’m a Gator, I’m a Tim Tebow fan, and I would compare it to Tim Tebow coming in and saying look I can play quarterback, just give me a shot. He was like, “Look, I can be an asshole barista with tattoos on my arms, just let me show you.” And you know, who am I to stand in his way? So we put him with Glenn and it was just unbelievable. At the end Glenn and I looked at each other and we were just like, “Wow! This Josh Groban guy was just a complete dick.” In an amazing way. That was it. It was done. And Palicki was just perfect and I couldn’t believe she wanted to do it.

WGTC: With all those talented comedic actors, how much that actually made it on screen was in the script and how much was improv-ed? 

Copeland: They improv-ed quite a bit, but not nearly as much as I wanted to. The problem with this, as opposed to shows like Arrested Development, is time. On most of those shows there’s a budget, like an Arrested Development episode costs $3 million and you’ve got 5 days to shoot 20 minutes. Well this cost half that, and we had 21 days to shoot 80 minutes. So what would happen is you really only get a couple takes per shot, so we had to be kind of on script. There just wasn’t too much time to improvise which was kind of heartbreaking. I think if we had a lot more time we would have discovered a lot more funny moments.

That said, a lot of the improv stuff made it in. Like the Stevie Wonder thing where he’s covering his eyes and uncovering his eyes in the end. Stuff like that was completely off the cuff. But that was a scene we had more time than most to shoot. The guys were really excellent. They also came in and just brought the script to life. It was really clean. There was never a moment where you had to show them the script and be like, “No, here’s the line.” They just came in and it was perfect.

WGTC: Could you talk about the process of working with CollegeHumor on this?

Copeland: I turned the script in to UTA to get grammar notes. I wrote it really fast, in like two weeks, and I honestly read through it once. I don’t even know if I spell-checked it. I gave it to my agency to read on the plane and just said, “Give me your notes. Tell me if there’s any giant scenes missing or anything that feels weird.” Then they got off the plane and my agent Julian said, “I love it. I’ve already forwarded it to CollegeHumor.” He knew I wanted to be in business with them. I already had a general interaction with them. They had a couple other movies they were trying to get going, and nothing ever worked out in terms of me jumping on board. It was sent to Ricky before I even knew it. The next day Ricky called back and said, “We want it. We want to buy it. You can make the movie you want to make and we’ll finance it.” It was so fast.

To me it was really really exciting, because I grew up loving National Lampoon’s Vacation and the idea of CollegeHumor becoming a brand like that that could make other movies, and being the first guy that, not that I’m John Hughes who wrote Vacation, but being the first guy that could help them break into that part of the world is really, to this day, very exciting. I can’t wait to do another movie with them. It’s cool. There’s not very many brands out there comically that you can just hear attached to something and go, “Oh wow. I trust that. I know it’s going to be funny.” And that’s what I think CollegeHumor is going to become in the movies. If it’s CollegeHumor presents, you know it’s not going to be a clunker.

WGTC: With these being your directorial debut, how was that experience and are you planning on directing again soon?

Copeland: I am! It was great. I come from the TV world, and the TV writer, we’re kind of in charge. When you’re a showrunner, you get the final say and the director kind of works for you. If you don’t like something the director’s doing, you step in front of him and correct it. When I went into writing features it was kind of gut-wrenching to get put behind a director, because you don’t have the final say in features, and a lot of times you see something in your head and you see them doing it in a different way and you just have to sit on your hands. It was a really natural progression for me to direct. Just one more person I don’t have to convince to do it the way I see it. The only things I have to worry about are budget, time, and getting the shots quickly enough to where the sun doesn’t go down. So I loved it, and I’ll definitely do it again.

But I’ll also just write movies like I always have. I’m doing animated movies for Blue Sky, for Fox Animation. Stuff like that, I wouldn’t want to sit in a room for three years and direct an animated movie but it’s really fun to write them. It’s really fun to take my kids to them. Or something like Yogi Bear, which I wrote. I’ll always do stuff like that. And movies like Wild Hogs that cost $60 million. They’re not going to give me $60 million to make a movie I don’t think, at least not yet. I’ll always kind of keep a foot in each category.

WGTC: So no first time horror stories?

Copeland: No, I mean it was just the growing pains. There were definitely a couple things where I should’ve fought a little harder and some of it  you just assume people hear you and they don’t. The scene where Glenn was kissing the guy in the club, and Glenn, god bless him, he’s such a talented Juilliard actor, he’s like, “I’m going to kiss this guy, but I really only want to kiss him once.” And I’m like, “We need two takes. We at least need to have a coverage for safety.” So we agreed on two takes.

What I wanted to do was set up the camera move and stop the scene right before the kiss so I could know the move was right. And I did that, and I told the AD that, then we started rolling, and I just assumed I didn’t have to call “cut” because the AD knew, but the AD was thinking I would call cut. Before I know it, Glenn is making out with this guy and the cameras aren’t rolling. I’m running across there, but we’re sitting pretty far back, so by the time I get to him he’s already kissed him and been done. And I was like, “We weren’t filming that.” He looked at me and just laughed. He thought I was kidding. And I was like, “No we didn’t have it, we didn’t film that.”

So then he had to kiss him again. That was the second take, which was the first. Then we had to do it one more time, so I’m like, “This is it. I promise.” Now he’s on number 3 making out with this guy. As the camera rotates around, it hits the shoulder of an extra and bumps up into the air. So then I had to go up to him and convince him to kiss this guy for a fourth time, which he did without argument, just kind of a long, cold stare. So stuff like that, where if I would’ve just said, “cut” at the very beginning and not assumed someone else would do it for me, it would’ve saved him making out with a strange man for 30 seconds.

Continue reading on the next page…