Adapted by the beloved bestselling book of the same name by Robert Kimmel Smith, The War with Grandpa is a hilarious comedy that your whole family will enjoy. With an all-star cast including Robert de Niro, Oakes Fegley, Uma Thurman, Laura Marano, Christopher Walken, Rob Riggle, Cheech Marin and Jane Seymour, director Tim Hill (The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie: Sponge on the Run, Hop) has crafted a hijinks-filled romp that also has a lot of heart and will speak to everyone, no matter your age.
I recently had the opportunity to speak over Zoom video with the multi-talented Tim Hill and the following is a condensed and edited version of our candid chat.
Brief Take: Hi, Tim! How are you doing?
Tim Hill: Good! I just completed the SpongeBob SquarePants movie, Sponge on the Run. It’s coming out on PVOD and it’s been in Canada in theatres already, and I think Netflix is taking it to foreign markets. But that is a movie that I wrote and directed, and I had a lot of fun with it. It was interesting trying to complete the movie while isolated in my garage, I’d never had to do that. [laughs] So that was challenging. I had a lot of weird gear back there that they brought in from the studio, so I could watch all the dailies and everything. But we finished and it’s a really good movie and a lot of fun.
BT: You must feel really proud having completed the film under those circumstances.
TH: Yeah. You know you really do miss going to an office. I don’t know how your life is, but I like to be in the room with people, talk to the editor, you know? It’s just hard. And it just goes on for hours. [laughs] But I’m not complaining. It was a lot of fun to make and we were just really doing post, but it extended the time that it would usually take.
BT: And now here we are to talk about The War With Grandpa. Congratulations on crafting a film that’s fun for the whole family and at a time when the whole family is gathered together at home and need a warm-hearted comedy.
TH: Thank you. I think it is a good family movie, especially for these times. Everyone can laugh at it and it’s something you can do together and it has a good story. It’s pretty funny and has great actors in it and has several themes that are good. I’m really glad it’s coming out. It took a little while, it had a journey, you know?
BT: But now it is coming out and I think it’s the right time for it to be coming out.
TH: I’m glad you’re saying that because I have no idea. [laughs] It’s weird because so many theatres are still shuttered here. I know in different parts of the country they are opening.
BT: For those that don’t know about the film, tell them what The War with Grandpa is about.
TH: Well it starts out with a little bit of “what do we do with Dad?”. He’s getting older, he’s backing his car into mailboxes, he’s hoarding, so his daughter comes to him and says “I think you should come live with us”. And that starts the whole story of “where do we put him?”, and they try to put him in Peter’s room, this 12 year-old kid, and that starts the war. Peter has to move to the attic while Grandpa takes his room, and he’s not going to take that sitting down. So he launches a series of pranks and little tricks he plays on his Grandpa to win the room back. But Grandpa is just as stubborn and wily as this kid, so they start pranking each other – messing with their stuff, taking hinges off of doorways, and all the things you may see in a college dorm. [laughs] So you have Robert de Niro playing teenage pranks on this kid and getting each other back, and it becomes spy versus spy, until it gets a little over the top and they go too far. I won’t say what happens after that but that’s the basic premise. And the title ‘war’ in The War with Grandpa is significant because the theme is this is a territorial battle but war is just not the answer. So when they go to war, they figure that out.
BT: Speaking of Robert de Niro, I read that he was very involved with the casting process, with speaking with the screenwriters, and in general he was very hands-on with the filmmaking. Can you talk a little about your collaboration with him?
TH: Bob de Niro is really great at saying his opinion. He’s succinct and he’s done a lot of movies, so he knows what he’s talking about. It was really fun to collaborate with him. I think when we first talked to him about the script, he wasn’t that into it, but then he read the book. It’s based on a book ‘The War with Grandpa’, and he liked the book a lot, so he said “why don’t we just make this?”. [laughs] I guess it was a little silly, the script, for him, and he was pushing to have writers come in and have a pass at it to make it more along the lines of the book. From then, and I did a bunch of outlines for us to talk about, before we went and hired the new writers, and for every re-draft and meeting that we had, he was very good. He wanted it to be deep and mean something, and he embraced it. I didn’t realize that that’s what it was about but he was really into the story. He himself is a storyteller, as I think a lot of actors are, they do that as part of their art. So it was really great, I’d love to do it again. He was really gracious and helpful. He did get involved in casting, too. We saw a lot of kids, like a lot of kids [laughs], and then we went to New York and read kids there, and it was a good long search, but he was there every step of the way. I think once he’s in, he’s committed.
BT: A few days ago, at the junket day for this film, Jane Seymour and Cheech Marin were talking about the trampoline dodgeball scene and how they were most intimidated by that, but it ended up the most fun for them. Can you talk a little about filming that scene?
TH: Yeah, the dodgeball scene came as inspiration from one of our producer’s kids, he was a Skyzone freak, just every weekend at Skyzone. They have this thing that you can play dodgeball with. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to one of these things but they’re a bunch of trampolines put together in a big pit with padded sides, and the kids just bounce around and they have teams, and I had no idea this was going on until I looked into it. So we went over to Skyzone and we were like “how are we going to get our actors to do this? This is for really energetic, bouncy kids.” So it did take some planning. It’s really hard to get the camera out on a trampoline. [laughs] Even just jumping and throwing, there’s a whole thing, so you have to practice, and we practiced a lot. But the cast was great, they were having fun. We made it through. It’s one of those things that it’s like you had never played tennis and suddenly you have to film yourself playing tennis. It’s a learning curve. But they were great. They were game. We did use some harnesses, obviously, and a lot of different camera techniques to get in there because it’s a really spongey surface, so if you’re holding a camera, even a steadicam would have trouble there, but we figured it out. It was a couple of really long days.
BT: I know you’re used to big green screen sequences as well as huge action sequences, but I imagine the end sequence from this film, the Christmas in July in Georgia, where it’s sweltering hot, was a whole new experience for you.
TH: I don’t recommend filming Christmas in Georgia in the middle of July, no. It’s a lot of that foam, the foam that looks like snow and you spray it around, and then some real ice thrown in. But as the sun gets high, everything just sags and melts. [laughs] You’ve got people in Santa costumes who are sweltering and everyone is hiding under an umbrella, it’s just a hard thing to pull off. What’s funny is we started this movie in Toronto and then it got moved to Georgia, but I was looking forward to shooting it in a real winter land. It was challenging, you know? But again, I’m really proud of the cast. They all came through and got through it. You can tell they had a lot of fun because they were all laughing and goofing around, and we had a lot of funny outtakes. So the Christmas scene was a lot of fun but a little warm I guess.
BT: I know you’ve been really busy, but what have you seen lately that you’ve really liked?
TH: I’ve been watching a lot of documentaries on the cosmos for some reason. I’ve realized that science is racing ahead of us and we’re discovering every day these great, crazy things in space. Have you seen My Octopus Teacher? I thought that was pretty cool. If you don’t know much about octopi, it’s really interesting. It’s a guy who befriends an octopus, basically. [laughs] It felt like a real narrative movie but it’s just underwater photography and you kind of learn how this animal operates, which is kind of mind-blowing. They’re really smart! That was the last thing I watched that I thought was pretty cool. What movies came out this year? I guess we’re waiting for them to come out. I didn’t see the big Tenet movie, that’s not my thing, but I would love to go. That’s the one thing I really miss – going to the theatre right now.
BT: Going back to this film, what do you hope viewers take away from it?
TH: Well I hope they take away the sense of having been entertained and the silliness and fun of it, that’s the main thing for me. There are thematic important issues in it, and that’s what Bob was getting at when he was helping us develop the movie, that it’s easy to say that we’re going to get in a fight or get in a war, but the hard part is when you get to the point of “how did we get here?”. “How did we get in this stupid war?” And that’s how most wars go, you know? There’s a world war and in the middle you think, “what are we doing? we’ve got to have peace”. So the actual act of saying “OK, this is war”, on a micro level too, there are bullies and people get in fights, and it’s really not worth it. There’s a better way. So that’s one of the big messages of the movie. And another part is about family and taking care of the people in your family, especially ones that are getting older and they need company or they need to be with their loved ones. And that’s what happens in this movie – Grandpa moves back in and everyone gets something out of it and everyone learns something. So in that way, it’s got a good family theme. Those are the intentional take aways.
The War with Grandpa is now playing in select theatres