Before they were never stop never stopping, or telling Lego World that everything is awesome, or even offering up “Congratulations on the Sex!” cakes, the comedic minds behind The Lonely Island — Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone and Andy Samberg — were brainstorming ideas for a digital short late into an April 2007 week during “Saturday Night Live” Season 32.
“We were hard up for an idea because we had gotten through that we’d be making a digital short every week at that point,” Samberg said to The Huffington Post, referring to the pre-shot segments cooked up by the trio that regularly ran on the NBC variety show from 2005 to 2012. “One of us was like, ‘What about that “O.C.” thing? Maybe we could do that.’”
The “’O.C.’ thing” was an idea they’d hatched years before, after watching a 2005 episode of the seminal Fox teen show where Marissa (Mischa Barton) shoots Trey (Logan Marshall-Green) over a soundtrack of “Hide and Seek” by Imogen Heap (more commonly known hereafter in the pop culture lexicon as “Mmm Whatcha Say”).
“We were all kind of obsessed with it together,” explained Schaffer. “One day, Andy and Jorm took out our home video camera and, just around our apartment, kind of shot what I would consider the first 45 seconds, maybe minute’s worth of a short with no ending in mind ... but it was not for any intended audience or for anything, really. It was just for fun.”
The just-for-fun idea in their library combined with a looming deadline eventually morphed into the digital short we all now know as “The Shooting,” or “Dear Sister,” on April 14, 2007. (It helped that “The O.C.” itself had just finished its run two months before the short aired, so an homage felt appropriate.)
Translating the idea from its beginnings into something with an arc of sorts was a challenge.
“It took a while for us to figure it out, just ‘cause there was no logical end. We had to really invent something,” Taccone said.
“And then it became completely logical,” Shaffer added.
We took a walk down comedy-memory lane with Schaffer, Taccone and Samberg for the short’s 10-year anniversary.
Did you guys have to run the short by Lorne Michaels or anyone before it made it on the show? What was the reaction when you first showed it?
Samberg: The first time Lorne would see any of our shorts was at dress rehearsal at 8 p.m. so I don’t think this was any different.
Schaffer: Yeah, and it played really well, and we were all kind of pleasantly surprised by that. I don’t think we thought it was gonna not do well, but we kind of didn’t know how much people would be on board for it, because it’s kind of a weird art film.
That’s what we kept laughing about, that we’d made kind of a weird art film that didn’t really have anything you could exactly explain why it was entertaining or if it was entertaining. The music layers on itself at the end, and that’s what was making us giggle in the edit room, it was like, “Ooh, we’re making kind of an art film here!” I remember saying that a lot.
And then playing it at the thing, you never know how the audience is going to react. I didn’t think that they would hate it or anything, but I thought it would be maybe quieter than it was. But it felt like they liked it right away.
Samberg: What we learned was that the sort of cinema and TV trope of the gunshot off-camera and somebody, in slo-mo, seeing blood on their own hands and realizing it’s them was more popular than we realized.
Jorma Taccone: I think that we also realized that we had our finger on the pulse.
Samberg (exasperated): No, Jorm, don’t —
Schaffer: Jorm should work in advertising for a little while. You have to forgive him. He’s a big advertising guy now.
When you guys brought Shia LaBeouf on, did he have any ideas of his own to add or was he just game for it?
Schaffer: He was just game. We always had a great time with Shia when he would come host. He was one of our favorites. I don’t even know how much we explained it to any of the actors, honestly. I think Bill [Hader] knew what it was ‘cause his office was next to ours and we would always, in the writing process, share with Bill, Bill would be there. And everybody else, we would just tell wardrobe what to dress them in and tell them where to meet us, and they would just kind of show up. I don’t know that we even pitched to them ahead of time.
Taccone: That was also a late-night one too, that people were showing up pretty late. Like, what time was it?
Schaffer: That was definitely a Friday night shoot, which is the worst, ‘cause then you’re editing it straight up till airtime. The reason that it looks the way it does is because there had been no plan to do it. I mean, based on basically what we already told you, which is that we were so stuck for an idea that we thought worthy of doing a short that we had to go back into our library and find something two years earlier. So that tells you how much we had been kinda stuck that week.
So it was definitely a last-minute short, and the reason it looks like it does is ‘cause that’s just a hotel suite. When it gets to be Friday night and you haven’t figured it out, then the only thing you can do is rent a hotel suite, grab some lights, and film in there. And so that’s what it is, just a hotel room and some lights.
I remember [Jason] Sudeikis being asleep on one of the beds of the actual hotel suite because we had asked him and Fred [Armisen] to come, you know, in their police outfits — they didn’t even know what it was for — and now it was like, three in the morning and we hadn’t gotten to their part yet.
Samberg: Yeah, and we kind of made up the ending on set, right?
Schaffer: Yeah, We knew it would be police officers showing up and then they would shoot each other, but I don’t think we knew that we would have them do it over and over again. Or maybe they weren’t gonna shoot each other, and we came up with them shooting each other on set?
Taccone: I can’t remember which part we came up with on set.
Samberg: It might have been just show up and read the letter and that was the blow on the whole thing, “Oh, she’s gonna [read] the letter about how they were all gonna shoot each other. How ‘bout that.” And then I think on set we had it that the cops shooting each other was also in the letter.
Schaffer: The fact that the music was overlapping was in edit. It was gonna be that it kept resetting.
Taccone: That was accidental. ‘Cause we let it go long, and then you were like, “Oh shit.”
Schaffer: Yeah, exactly, and it was like, “Oh, that’s cool.” And I do wanna give credit to Sudeikis because I feel like he was the first one to say, “Oh, we should shoot each other.”
The feeling I had first watching “Dear Sister” felt similar to watching the “David S. Pumpkins” sketch in this season of “SNL.” I was wondering what you thought about slightly confusing absurdity becoming sort of viral and iconic.
Schaffer: That’s high praise. We’re big into David S. Pumpkins.
Samberg: Basically anything like that where it basically makes no sense but there’s somehow a set of rules, they’re just not the rules of reality as we know it, we generally enjoy.
Schaffer: Yeah. It’s not pure random, because then pure random’s never funny, it doesn’t really have any meaning. But somehow, David S. Pumpkins taps into something everybody understands. It just becomes a delight.
Taccone: Those are also two great songs, you know: Imogen Heap, for obvious reasons, and David S. Pumpkins has an equally great song.
After the short took off with fans and got a life of its own, did that affect the way you approached shorts in the future at all?
All three: No, not really.
Samberg: It’s always a surprise which ones got, like, tribute videos and stuff. I never would’ve guessed that, for example, “Threw It on the Ground” would’ve been one, but that turned into one that people really liked. Like, kids liked it a lot.
Taccone: That’s kind of the advantage of “SNL” too, is that every week, no matter what you do, there’s gonna be a show next week, and you have to kind of reset and start from scratch. You don’t really have time to even — I mean, we were always sort of conscious of not trying to repeat ourselves, but there was no trying to follow something that was popular, because you couldn’t ... there was no time to try to come up with, “Oh, is this gonna go viral?”
Samberg: Nothing ever went viral where, before someone made it, they said, “We want this to go viral.”
Taccone: This was early enough in the process that they didn’t clear music for internet use always and they weren’t putting things on YouTube, so it was especially impressive that it went viral considering it wasn’t put online. It was only put online by kids who were putting it online themselves. They only cleared Imogen Heap’s song for air, and so it didn’t even go online, so that’s how ... I don’t know.
Samberg: That’s how much we have our finger on the pulse.
“Nothing ever went viral where, before someone made it, they said, “We want this to go viral.””
Are there any sort of fun little moments that you guys remember from filming the sketch that most people wouldn’t notice when they watch it?
Schaffer: We were very impressed with Shia’s dead acting. When he hit the ground, he really let his head hit the ground. We were also impressed with how well he was able to hold his eyes still in a way that seemed, you know, whatever he was doing — thousand-yard stare — was really working for us.
The gun in it is also the gun, if you watched any of our pre-”SNL” short things we were making for our website — that gun was, I forget where we got it, but it’s like, shooting little plastic balls. We used it for everything that required a gun. That’s how homemade the digital shorts were at this point. We didn’t even ask the props department for a gun, we were just like, “Oh, yeah, we have that gun at home.” Everyone’s wearing their own clothes except for the costumes of the police, right? You guys, I think, are just in your own sweatshirts and stuff.
Taccone: To add to that gun story, what we did oftentimes with that gun — that was a little pellet gun — and we would ball up little wads of paper, when we all lived in Los Angeles together, and we would stuff them in the barrel and shoot each other with the gun and try to give each other little welts.
Samberg: Oh, yeah.
Schaffer: It was like an endurance challenge.
Was there anything else you wanted to add about the short?
Schaffer: We just love that people are taking interest in it. We loved it a ton and didn’t think it would become this popular, so it’s very fun to talk about.
Samberg: I guess the last thing I would like to say is: Shoutout to Josh Schwartz for creating “The O.C.,” and shoutout to Imogen Heap for making an incredible, timeless, classic tune.
Schaffer: I wanted to say to the kids to follow your dreams. When you watch this short, it requires nothing. Anybody could make it in their living room of their own apartment or house.
Taccone: Yeah, they could definitely get Shia LaBeouf to stop by.
Schaffer: We don’t have good lights, we don’t have anything. Except for cop uniforms, I guess. That would be — but anyone can go buy those at the Halloween store. My point is that there’s nothing fancy or unattainable about it, it looks like crap, it’s just an idea.
Taccone: I want to remind the kids to get out there and vote.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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