July 2001
An Interview with Keenen Ivory Wayans : “Working around the clock from the Director’s Chair”

Interviewed by Alberlynne “Abby” Harris (Los Angeles)

Keenan Wayans

An Interview with Keenen Ivory Wayans : “Working around the clock from the Director’s Chair”

Keenen Ivory Wayans is no stranger to Hollywood or the director’s chair. In his latest family venture, Keenen faced new challenges in orchestrating the “fast track” development of the “Scary Movie” sequel. With “Scary Movie 2” audiences will once again be entertained by the collaborative comedic styles of Shawn and Marlon Wayans, under the direction of mature, creative master, and brother, Keenen Ivory Wayans. Keenen shares his thoughts with blackfilm.com about the quick creation and development of “Scary Movie 2.”

AH: So what are your feelings about the Sequel?

KIW: Everybody worked at a level they never worked before and will probably never work again. Because we knew, going in, it was not going to be easy we knew it was going to require willing yourself to top what you’ve done before. Not that our goal was to top what we did, but the goal was really not to disappoint the audience or be so far off the mark that people would wonder why we even decided to do another one. Hopefully, that was accomplished. I brought in people like Chris Elliott and David Cross who are guys that I admire as comedians. They brought things to another level. The casting definitely helped. It brought new energy and so I feel good about the movie and that the hard work paid off.

AH: The actors and actresses you worked with on “Scary Movie 2” described you in several ways: Cool, calm, a little intimidating, and overseer. Tell us more about your directing style.

KIW: I’m just calm under fire. I’m not intimidating at all. I don’t know why they’d say that. Its just that, you know, my brothers can be a little out of control sometimes and so somebody has to be able to keep them focused.

AH: How was it working with your brothers, Shawn and Marlon?

KIW: I have one thing I say to them that chills everything out. I just walk up to them and say, “Its your movie, what ya’ll wanna do?”

AH: So who came up with the “Hell House Idea” for “Scary Movie 2?”

KIW: That was sort of a collective thing. We were trying to figure out what we could do. We felt like we had done as much as you can do with the “slasher” genre and we didn’t want to repeat that. So we were trying to find the next group of scary movies that were ripe for parody. What we discovered with these films, they had enough common clichés that we could sort of build around.

AH: When did you decide on the “Exorcist” scene?

KIW: Well, we did that first, and it was always intended to be the opening scene. It definitely set off the movie because it is the icon of all scary movies. It was a change because there had been several attempts at parodying the “Exorcist” so we had to look back at “Saturday Night Live.” We did not want to retread.

AH: How can you tell if something is a good take?

KIW: I think a lot comes from having the experience of doing stand-up comedy. It allows you to kind of figure out the psychology of an audience; what things are funny and not. You can kind of feel when things are going to work out. But that is not always the case. You never really know until you put the movie in front of an audience and they confirm or tell you differently. So I am a big advocate of screenings, which are getting harder and harder to do nowadays.

AH: Do you grade/rate things in degrees of laughter?

KIW: Sure. I always prefer the big laugh. That is always the objective, especially with a film like this [“Scary Movie 2”]. But I also enjoy the character interplay. You want to go for as much of that as possible. Sometimes the audience is not laughing, but smiling, and that is almost just as good because it keeps them ready to laugh. So I put heavy emphasis on the characters and each of the actors really trying to define who their particular character is and making them appealing.

Keenan Wayans

AH: Tell me more about the rush involved in this project.

KIW: We had a very short post-schedule and had a very finite number of days to edit, mix, score, and test; all of the real components that make the movie. There are two phases to a movie. First you shoot the movie, and then you make the movie. Generally, your postproduction is longer than your filming. But with this one, they [the times] were probably about the same. We worked around the clock. July 4th is a big date and if you have the time to come out on that date…you do what it takes. To me, it is the ultimate date. So the studio agreed and I went for it. It was on me to deliver.

AH: Did you consider starring in Scary Movie 1 or 2?

KIW: I definitely have been a director who has starred, participated on both sides of the filmmaking process. But with this one, the workload was so strenuous and it being on such a fast track, all of my energy and all of my focus had to be on getting it done.

AH: Some of the jokes you included were so current. Do you see this “fast track” style as advantageous?

KIW: I put a scare in everybody to make the date even as I kept shooting. But see, that’s the good thing about coming form a low-budget world. All I need is a camera and I’ll make things happen. My whole philosophy about these kinds of movies is you want to be as current as you possibly can and the worse thing that can happen is you shoot something six months before you release it because a whole lot can happen in six months and you may miss out on all the things happening in pop culture.

AH: Which do you prefer; big budgets or small budgets?

KIW: I prefer the smaller budget versus the bigger budget because the mentality that goes along with big budget filmmaking doesn’t really suite me; the mindset that is that money is the answer. With the smaller budget world – it’s creativity. Creativity is the answer because you don’t have money. I always prefer the creative solution to an expensive solution.

AH: What’s been going on with your Stand-up career?

KIW: I still do stand-up, but I just do it locally. There is no need for me to go on the road. I don’t try to make a living out of it, but it keeps my mind sharp. It helps me, when I write. You [stay] current with what’s going on now, and where you are personally in life. It has nothing to do with you being funny sometimes. I remember one time, I opened for Prince at the Houston Coliseum in front of ten thousand people. I said, “Hi,” and they booed. They didn’t want to see me. They wanted to see Prince and so it may just be that you are in the wrong place, not your act. It can be a tough time though.