Writer/director Ken Scott discusses his superb comedy Starbuck and the focus on fatherhood, its unique brand of comedy, and why he returned for the Hollywood remake in our interview.
This year sees Starbuck arrive on our shores fresh from Canada, via a successful festival circuit. The unique, heartfelt and truly hilarious comedy sees hapless David Wozniak turn his life around when, thanks to his history of sperm donation, 142 of his offspring seek out his identity. Currently being remade stateside with Vince Vaughn in the lead role, Ken Scott, writer and director of both the original and the new Hollywood version, shares his thoughts on all things Starbuck; fatherhood, the importance of archetypes, the boundaries of comedy and the allure of Hollywood.
The idea of a comedy about fatherhood is one that has a long history in comedy. Often taking the form of a fish out of water story, Starbuck follows this tradition, but in a way that was very personal to its writer/director Ken Scott, who says;
“I co-wrote the movie with Martin Petit and I have three kids and he has kids too, so we were under the impression that there was a lot to say about fatherhood.”
However, Scott believes that it is very much a contemporary film, saying: “We were under the impression that fatherhood has changed a lot in last few years and we wouldn’t have been able to make the same movie 15 years ago. “That’s what we were exploring: what fatherhood today is all about.”
Starbuck certainly deals in a modern topic, with lead character David Wozniak falling foul to his own history as a prolific sperm donor when well over a hundred children seek out his identity. However, there was always some uncertainty towards this seemingly comic figure.
“We would question that number thinking that it’s too much. You know, we wanted this to be a believable story yet we wanted somewhat of an exaggeration to make sure that the comedy would come through.
“But each day we would come in questioning that number and we were actually working on the script for about six weeks and it came out in the paper that there was actually a guy that had 250, so we sort of realised that at 150, we were actually under what was happening.
“People think obviously that when they hear the premise, the whole story is very much a fantasy but it’s not, it’s happened, it’s out there.”
This realisation that the film’s comedic narrative is, in fact, credible makes the comedy of Starbuck even more effective, a fact that reflects Ken Scott’s personal taste in comedy.
“With this premise we could have gone broad comedy all the way, but that’s not the type of movie I enjoy. I like to tell the story more in a way like Starbuck, with a great story, to have a compelling main character. That’s the movie that I like to see.”
This compelling main character, played by Patrick Huard, is one that is incredibly important to the film, and Ken Scott is full of praise for his past leading-man.
“This character is in every scene, it’s all about him. So it’s very important to have a great actor, charismatic, and someone who really understands and is very confident in their comedy. I thought that Patrick really understood where we were going and didn’t try to reach too hard for the comedy because he’s confident so he did a great job.”
On the other side of David Wozniak’s hidden identity are the kids trying to find him. Filling this supporting cast with recognisable archetypes was a tactic that was very much a conscious choice for Scott.
“There’s all these children and obviously we want to meet them so we had to be very efficient in the way that we presented them. I was definitely trying to use archetypes, obviously not stereotypes which would be the negative of this.
“Whereas stereotypes are very two dimensional, archetypes are something that we recognise rapidly but we wanted always to make sure also that they were very unique. So that drug addict, she’s this young girl but she has an angel face, she’s not your typical drug addict, so we always worked at it in a way.
“There’s always a layer on that archetype that makes that character unique.”
This narrative strategy certainly adds to Wozniak’s experiences as a father finding his feet, and seamlessly allows for the inclusion of a wide range of supporting characters, and the experiences they lead to.
“We wanted to have very different experiences and stay with the idea of what can happen when you are a father. We felt that fatherhood is very much like a dramatic comedy. We were trying to be very honest about the feelings that you can have about being a father, or a parent.”
This honesty should be commended as, often, comedies have little interest in truth. However, this can lead to some questionable choices of taste where laughs are concerned. Whilst Ken Scott was aware of this, there was never any question of pulling punches when moments such as this occurred.
“The girlfriend Valerie says some pretty mean stuff about her feelings about being a mother and we felt it was very important to say those things. On the script some people were saying ‘are you sure you want to be saying these things?’ We absolutely did, we wanted to say these things and the actress pulled it off. She was saying some harsh things at times but it comes from a truthful place.
“It is scary to have kids, the most difficult thing we will ever do is to have kids so we wanted to be honest to that.”
Starbuck is certainly that; an honest work that is telling of a more cynical, and perhaps real, approach towards parenthood. This aspect of the film could be responsible for its increasing success, which has, in turn, lead to it being snapped up by DreamWorks for a remake. Of course, when a unique and heartfelt film such as Starbuck is apprehended by Hollywood, alarm bells ring. However, Scott’s decision to return to Starbuck in his original role as writer and director is one that will perhaps save it to some degree.
“I love this movie, I thought it’s a touching and original comedy so I’m excited to return to it. Obviously if the movie is made in English it can reach a broader audience that would not go see a movie that was subtitled so that’s basically why I had felt that I wanted to be there, to make sure that the ingredients were there.”
So with Ken Scott at the helm of the remake of his own film, perhaps The Delivery Man (honestly renamed to remove the film’s links to the coffee chain) may break the cycle of disappointing Hollywood remakes. We will have to wait for the answer to that, as the film is only now shooting, but hopefully it will in some small way recapture the warm joy of the original.
Starbuck is released in cinemas 23rd November.