Celia Fox Talks WASABI TUNI
June 1st, 2004
Interview by Fred Topel
Celia Fox’s first produced screenplay, Wasabi Tuna, is out in select cities, expanding further through July. The comedy features a group of eccentric friends planning their costumes for the ultimate Halloween party, but along the way, they end up kidnapping Anna Nicole Smith’s dog. Wackiness ensues, including a group of drag queens called The Santa Anna Annas, who all dress like Smith. The film, by the way, is named after the costumes the group conceive of.
Fox is chairwoman and CEO of Café Entertainment, which she formed to produce films, television and other entertainment entities. Wasabi Tuna is their first production and Fox is a producer as well as the writer. Find out more about Fox, her company and the film in this interview.
Did you have a backup celebrity? I didn’t have a backup celebrity for this one, because I necessarily thought the story was actually funny with both. In the sense of you could do a sighting with an Anna Nicole kind of character if she said no, but I love the idea of these drag queens worshiping Anna Nicole Smith. I thought that was funny, and that they live 24-7 as Anna Nicole Smith. I really thought the B line story with Alexis Arquette and Brown Sugar Anna and Hot Spicy Anna and then Eenie Anna was strong enough without Anna.
What scenes were you most excited to see on film? I think my favorite scenes, some of them are with the Santa Anna Annas. And then I love the fight scene at the end. I love the scene also where they’re walking through the clouds. Where all the gangsters, all the basic actors are trying to be gangsters. I love that with Guillermo Diaz where he’s telling them all they look ridiculous. I love that.
Did you do any rewrites on Wasabi on the set? A ton. We did a ton of rewrites. There’s always a ton of revisions, about 10-12 just to get it to the point we can get it out to agents. Then there’s the working script. Then you’re on set and somebody, maybe an actor comes up with a funnier line and you’re rewriting that, or somebody feels that okay, this needs to be changed. You constantly are rewriting. You have your computer basically on set, you’re constantly rewriting. And then actors have a lot of input. This cast of course, we had really funny people. Tim Meadows is really funny. Jason London has a great sense of humor. Alexis Arquette has a great sense of humor. And they are really witty people and they’re constantly coming up to you saying, “What about this line? What about that line?” Those are great lines, we’ve got to put those in.
How did you conceive of the tone? I wanted to do something real light and fun, that definitely had a Rocky Horror Show or Pricilla, Queen of the Desert kind of feel to it, that was real bright colors and that was light. I saw a lot of heavy movies and a lot of dreary movies coming out, and I was a little burned out myself. I was also, at the time period, what’s going on with the war, what’s going on in politics, I wanted to do something- - definitely I had the intention of doing something light, whimsical that really was a fluffy, light movie.
Is comedy a risk in indies, because you limit your audience if they don’t share the sense of humor? I definitely think it is a risk. It’s not a Sundance film. You limit yourself in the film festivals automatically. It’s a huge risk. It’s much easier to get a type of audience doing a movie, say, Thirteen or Monster’s Ball because you definitely target an audience, you know the film festivals are going to accept that. But comedy also is, on a flip side, it’s worldwide. And it’s what I wanted to do with my background. It’s what I felt comfortable in, the media I felt comfortable with, so it was a natural to me.
And there are always festival exceptions like Clerks and Swingers. Could this follow that path? I think so. I mean, we really are honestly going for a theatrical mainstream kind of audience. We’re moving onto San Francisco. It is being booked into seven or eight theaters there. We’re doing press screenings. This is really being treated as any other comedy.
But it’s certainly different from mainstream comedies. Yes, in one sense. In another sense, it’s got broad humor. Another sense, it’s action-oriented humor. It’s not so specific to one audience. Yeah, I would say it’s not broad humor, you’re right. It is targeted to a specific audience, but we’ve screened it for so many different audiences, and so the feedback that I get from all different types of audiences, straight, gay, black, Latino, Asian, all different age groups is they get it. So I guess from that type of feedback, I thought, “Well, okay, maybe there is more of a mainstream appeal.
Had you tried to break into industry in other ways before forming your own company? I did do standup for about five years, and a one woman show and that type of thing. But I really loved more of the producing side when I was working. I really loved more of what went into creating shows, what went into- - basically what was behind the scenes. And I was just really drawn by the writing aspect of the industry, and then more of the producing side. So it was a love affair. When I really stepped behind the scenes is when the real love affair about.
What other scripts were you working on? I was working on a script called Newz which is slated as the next project. And then I also have been working on another project that came out of Wasabi that we are almost ready to release to. There was a couple other concepts. There’s a television entity that we’re working on right now. We’re mainly focused on the release of Wasabi Tuna. The theatrical release is what we’re doing now and then the DVD push.
Would you like to direct? Maybe. I don’t take it casually. So I have a lot of respect for directors, a huge amount of respect for directors. There’s a lot that goes into directing. It’s not something that I would do lightly just because I could.
What is your daily writing schedule? I usually write a lot of times early in the morning is what I find the best. I’ll usually wake up at four or five, write probably until 10 and then work at the company, the day to day working schedule of what has to be done businesswise. And then usually at night, a lot of times, on the weekends. I like to write too Saturday and Sunday during the day. But late at night I like to write and early in the morning is when I like to write.
How do you think of character names? I just think of them. I’ll be at a coffee shop and I’ll be somewhere out. A lot of pop culture, when I’m reading an article about something in Rolling Stone or Spin or Allure magazine, anything like that or watching something other than another movie. Names come to mind and I make cross connections. Oh, this’ll be good with this. What if I did this with this. Oh, news inspires me. Everything kind of inspires me but my ideas come from pop cultures. My ideas come from filmmakers, other films, old films sometimes, foreign films. I watch a lot of different types of films that inspire me into different ideas. I watch a ton of DVDs. I love movies.
Is the daily job of running a production company distracting from writing? Yes. And so I’m not writing as much as I used to write. Now it’s really the day to day business, and then what will happen is when I want to- - I’d written Newz before Wasabi. I’d written quite a bit of projects before I really got into the day to day. I don’t write as much now. There’s no way. Because it really is the focus of keeping the company going, getting this movie, Wasabi Tuna successful to the point where I wanted to be, and also moving on and doing other projects and all different types of projects.
Are you soliciting other writers? Not really. We’re developing in house. I have two writers here that are on staff and I have four others that are freelance that I work with. We are developing projects in house for Café Entertainment.
As a producer, how do you maintain your creative vision on the producer side? I have to pick the director really carefully. It really comes down to finding the directors, finding that relationship where they really get what you've written.
How did you first get an agent? I got an agent through stand-up. And then they really liked my one person show and they asked me to sign. And they basically said, “Can you write this as an animation? We have a project that we want to sell.” And I said, “Yeah, I can do that.” It’s through stand-up. A lot of doors in writing happened for me with that. The agents could come down and see me and then I could give them the script that day. So I think standup was a vehicle where I opened up a lot of doors. All my doors in writing happened through standup.
Do you still do stand-up? Occasionally I do. I do the clubs. I’ll go down to the Improv or the Ha Ha or the Laugh Factory or Comedy Store, a couple times a month, just have fun. But I really love what I do now. I love what I do now and it really was not about stand-up for me. It was about being creative.
How would you compare writing for standup and screenplay? I think what was great about standup is it made me understand that lines have to hit for an audience. When you write your screenplay, there is an audience of people. I really understood okay, this line has to hit. It has to hit like this. And I understood that through years of doing standup so that a line would hit. So I understood that there was an audience when I wrote and I really understand that now, that in a script you must have jokes. Especially a comedy. You must have lines that will hit for an audience and they have to hit hard. They have to hit every time. It was great training for me to really get that it’s not about what I think is funny. It’s got to hit for that movie audience or that theater audience or that comedy audience. It doesn’t matter what the audience is, but you must write thinking not for what you necessarily think is the greatest thing in the world, but what an audience is going to think is the greatest thing in the world.
How do you get such a good sense of your audience? Well, a lot of my audience, especially this targeted audience for Wasabi was my audience when I did standup. It was mixed audience, it was gay, black and Latino. It was different ages. So I necessarily just work for the exact same audience. And then you do reads and you do reads with other peoples and if the script hits, if it falls flat, you have to test stuff out. You must test out a script. You must read it with a lot of different people and I would bring lots of different audiences in, just to even just read the script. Different types of people. See what they’re laughing at and see what they’re not laughing at. I’m really into test marketing, even if it’s on the most basic level. Even if it’s hiring different readers, which is what I like to do too, from different demographics, from different companies, maybe Warner Brothers or maybe worked at William Morris. Maybe somebody who’s just a kid who’s at USC, UCLA. What do you think of the script? Is that funny? Is that not funny? I like my own judgement and there’s a point where it’s not about me. It has to be about the audience.
Does that mean you support test screenings? Well, only in the sense of that what the information is. I do, actually, support it. Your audience is your key. Your audience is where you’re going to get your information from. And yet it’s two different ways of thinking about things. That’s the way that I work. Other people are very much the style that they stick by and that’s their style and the audience finds their style. I pretty much like to see what my audience thinks is funny and cater more to the audience.
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