The subtitles didn't seem to faze the audience (they laughed in all the right places) at the first of two screenings Tuesday evening for Will Ferrell's Spanish-only brainchild called Casa De Mi Padre. Its South by Southwest Festival debut opened with a greeting from screenwriter Andrew Steele and director Matt Piedmont, both of whom are Saturday Night Live buddies with the comedy star.
"It's Will Ferrell speaking a language he doesn't speak, and he does it pretty well, you'll see. It's not Anchorman, so be prepared for that," Steele told the crowd at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema South Lamar. "It's a little bit odder, a little bit weirder, but I think you guys have been spending the week watching weird stuff, so you'll be ready for that."
Casa De Mi Padre (translated: My Father's House) opens nationwide Friday in 364 theaters and is set for 500 theaters in Mexico, where the movie supposedly takes place. In reality, it was largely filmed about an hour outside of Los Angeles in 22 days on a shoestring budget of $5 million, according to Steele and Piedmont.
They spoke with USA TODAY following a post-screening Q&A session moderated by Owen Burke, a Los Angeles-based pal who is part of Ferrell's cadre of clowns involved in the Funny Or Die comedy video website for celebrities and regular folks.
"For a movie of this size and scope, that's really not very much time, especially with the amount of money we had and the amount of days. Time is always your enemy and money is flying out the door every second, every day," Piedmont says.
The idea was Ferrell's, Steele says, and they went with it.
"Will wanted to do a movie in Spanish. He didn't have any takers. No one in Hollywood really wanted to do it. People don't like subtitled movies. Certainly, studios don't like subtitled movies," says Steele, who said Ferrell approached him about "this idea that no one wants to do. Would you like to do it?' And I said, 'No.'"
"My biggest concern was that I didn't want to make a one-note parody film. I started driving around L.A. and I then I started thinking-aayou know, because Will likes to take chances-aaof all the crazy things that I could do with the movie that would just be fun to do," Steele says.
The film, which also stars Gael García Bernal, Diego Luna and Génesis Rodríguez, aims for a '60s- and '70s-era Mexican cinema feel with a wave at the telenovela. Ferrell's somewhat simple-minded Armando Alvarez tries to save his father's ranch from a powerful Mexican drug lord, but the story gets complicated when his brother Raul comes home with his new girlfriend.
Steele says because they're friends, Ferrell "just gave me the freedom to go write whatever script I wanted to. He trusted me and he seemed to like it."
Steele wrote the script in English and then it was translated.
"It was intentionally bad English," Steele says. "I love that writing style-aaa little clunky here and there and then the translation process was a little fun in that sense because the translator would say 'You can't say that in Spanish' and I would say, 'You don't say that in English, either.' "
The challenge, they say, was for Ferrell to get it right. And there was no way to improvise.
"Basically, it was phonetic. He knows a little Spanish, but he really did have to rehearse the sounds of it. He had to memorize long passages in a foreign language," Steele says.
"In a specific Northern Mexican ranch accent," Piedmont adds.
He says they didn't want any overdubs, so that "everything in the movie was shot with Will speaking correctly."
"Usually, we would do one or two or three takes and Will would be 'We're done.' As soon as he got it, we basically moved on," Piedmont says.